Summary: David Kilcullen and Spencer Ackerman provide a rare moment of truthful insight about the Iraq War. Such things are considered inappropriate for public consumption in 21st century America (they disturb the proles), so both ask us to ignore their impolitic remarks and get on with the long war.
America’s expedition to Iraq will give future historians many moments of glee amidst their somber contemplation of a war costing so much, yielding so little, yet declared victorious by so many. One such lighter moment occurred this week. In this, as in so many key moments about the Iraq War, David Kilcullen is a central figure.
Kilcullen speaks honestly about the Iraq War
“A Counterinsurgency Guide for Politicos“, Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, 28 July 2008 — Eighth in a Series: The Rise of the Counterinsurgents. Excerpt:
After nearly seven years of costly strategic ignorance in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a coming handbook written mostly by a former top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus seeks to instruct senior civilian policy-makers about the complexities of counterinsurgency.
“Counterinsurgency: A Guide for Policy-Makers” takes the lessons learned by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and elevates them to the highest levels of national strategy.
… Asked for comment, the handbook’s chief author, David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who is now an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, explained that it tells policy-makers to “think very, very carefully before intervening.” More bluntly, Kilcullen, who helped Petraeus design his 2007 counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, called the decision to invade Iraq “stupid” — in fact, he said “fucking stupid” ** — and suggested that if policy-makers apply the manual’s lessons, similar wars can be avoided in the future.
“The biggest stupid idea,” Kilcullen said, “was to invade Iraq in the first place.”
Kilcullen attempts to back away from his comments
“My Views on Iraq“, David Kilcullen, posted at the Small Wars Council blog, 28 July 2008 — Like all his writings, it is brilliant and subtle. The opening:
Spencer Ackerman, in yesterday’s Washington Independent, claims I told him the Iraq war was “f*cking stupid”. He did not seek to clear that quote with me, and I would not have approved it if he had. If he HAD sought a formal comment, I would have told him what I have said publicly before: in my view, the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was an extremely serious strategic error.
Ackerman gives Kilcullen some covering fire
“Sources Holler Back: Kilcullen Edition“, Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, 29 July 2008 — Excerpt:
In the course of a piece I’m proud of about David Kilcullen’s forthcoming strategy-level counterinsurgency handbook, I included a profanity-laden quote from him about the wisdom of the Iraq war. This was a mistake on my part and I take full responsibility for the fact that it overshadowed what I consider Kilcullen’s valuable, serious, and hard-learned counterinsurgency insights.
… In the course of our conversation about his handbook, Dave made these and other points about the war, which are included lower down in the piece. I included the profanity because I thought it underscored the depth of his commitment to try to dig American strategy out of the morass of Iraq, which I and many others view as uncomplicatedly admirable. What I should have realized is that the profanity overwhelms the broader points presented in the handbook and about Dave’s personality and professional vision. For that, I apologize, not only to Dave, but to my readers, who I hope will pay attention to those broader points despite my error in judgment.
The media, handmaidens to modern war, kick sand in our eyes
“Iraq war stupid, Aussie David Kilcullen tells US“, The Australian, 2 August 2008 — Excerpt:
DAVID Kilcullen, the Australian counter-insurgency expert who advises US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has stepped into a political minefield after being quoted as saying the decision to invade Iraq was “f..king stupid”.
… Dr Kilcullen told The Weekend Australian yesterday that he had been misquoted, but in a lengthy blog he posted this week on the Small Wars Journal website he did not deny the comment, saying the journalist reporting it “did not clear the quote with me”.
… He had said previously the Iraqi invasion would be tougher than the Bush administration had anticipated, but his blunt statement this week shocked Washington insiders. … Asked if the comments damaged his position at the State Department, a spokesman told The Weekend Australian: “David never claims to have said what you say he said. I believe this is much ado about nothing. As he says himself, his views in general have been pretty clear.”
That concludes this week’s moment of truth about the Iraq War.
We hope you did not find this too disturbing. You are to immediately forget all this, so that we may continue preparations for the next several foreign wars. These efforts include intensive propaganda to convince you that the Iraq War is both victorious and beneficial for America — necessary beliefs to prepare for the larger war in Afghanistan and the wars following that.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more about Kilcullen, including links to most works by and about him: The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen.
Go here to see an archive of my posts about the Iraq War.
My reviews of Kilcullen’s work
- Why we lose at 4GW: an analysis of Kilcullen’s “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency”.
- What if bin Laden were smart, like Dr. No or Ernest Blofeld? 28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America
- America takes another step towards the “Long War“— a comparison of Kilcullen and that key figure of the Cold War, George Kennan.
- Stories or statistics? Read and compare to find the truth! – a discussion of Kilcullen’s “Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt”.
- Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War – a discussion of Kilcullen’s “Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Theory and Practice.”
- Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s? – Kilcullen talks about roads, in Rome and Afghanistan.
- Another “must-read” presentation by Kilcullen about COIN – Kilcullen discovers the “Darwinian ratchet.”
14 thoughts on “A moment of truth about Iraq; apologies quickly follow – please forget this ASAP!”
One can imagine an earlier Kilcullen, sixty-three or so years ago, calling the Nazi invasion and occupation of most of France “f***ing stupid,” but nevertheless selling his expertise to the occupiers on how to overcome the French occupation resistance while calling himself a “counterinsurgency” expert.
For those not having read my earlier posting, a resisted occupation is not an insurgency against an established government, and so the Nazi occupation of France was not a counterinsurgency. The distinction is important beyond the semantics. Citizens of any country are much more likely to resist an alien occupation then they are to rise up against their own government as insurgents.
Fabius Maximus replies: I agree, the legitimacy of the local government not “just” semantics but goes to the heart of any COIN debate (note its role in FM 3-24). From America we can only guess about these things, but I believe that the Iraq peoples have taken steps to establish legitimate governments. Kurdistan has one; the Shiite Arabs are somewhere in the middle of this process; as are the Sunni Arabs.
I have written several posts about this process:
Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq (29 December 2005)
The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace (13 March 2007)
Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq (27 September 2007)
Iraq, after the war (20 May 2008)
Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible (18 July 2008)
We shall now resume our regularly scheduled programming :P
Fabius Maximus replies: “… about our victory in Iraq and the effectiveness of our COIN theories.”
Much of modern philosophy in the past 3 centuries has discussed the role of myths in creating and supporting a political regime. Modern America shows that this remains true, although Christianity is near death (very dead among our elites, although with a large remnant in the lower classes).
Also, what does this say when an on-the-record interviewee doesn’t understand that he will be quoted!
Notice it was not “I did not think I wan on the record”, but “he didn’t clear the quote with me.”.
Fabius Maximus replies: Just a guess, but I suspect that there is a backstory to this. Perhaps Kilcullen spoke without awareness of the effect his words would have. It is easy to do, even for folks with far more media and political experience than Kilcullen.
Note Kilcullen never actually disavowed the remark. I would note here that Australian culture is a lot less prudish about foul language, and indeed about argument generally, than American official culture – it’s like the British attitude but more so. Further, open opposition to the Iraq war was much more socially acceptable in either the UK or Australia than it was in the US, and that includes the military establishment.
That is quite the understatement. And you say this man works for Condi now? Truth will go no place around that wench.
We seem to be on the verge of an escape from Iraq with most of our military swagger still intact. I hope that same can be said whenever we leave the mountains of Afghanistan. We will need some when Latin American comes to a boil.
This is JUST F***IN’ GREAT! From a gov’t official at that. Long live the Aussies!
Were the US to decide, unilaterally, that genocide is occuring in Darfur, and invade it, I can easily imagine lots of folks saying it’s a big strategic mistake. But I would still favor it, as I favored Operation Iraqi Freedom to overthrow Saddam.
In 2003, I noticed the critics were NOT stating any measures of success, so I (somewhat arbitrarily) created my own, in terms of US deaths (by the time Bush leaves office):
< 2500, Bush gets an “A”
< 5000, Bush gets a “B”
< 10 000, Bush gets a “C”
I’ve been pretty comfy with this Body Bag calculus for me, but most folks are quite uncomfortable with it. I’m much more uncomfortable with those who say “the Iraq war cost too much”, but refuse to say how much it should have cost for them to support it. What makes it “too much”, or “not worth it”?
Any defeat, like the Dems’ choice in Vietnam in 1974 & 1975, makes it seem like any effort was too mcuh, and not worth it. Victory often has the opposite effect — since D-Day succeeded, it was worth it.
On the less important money issue, the US was silly in not offering more loans to Iraq cities, municipal bonds, with the idea that the local gov’t decides what to spend the cash on for reconstrution first, but also that they cash has to be paid back. In some sense, loans are not “aid” because the repayment means that the cash was recipients.
Fabius Maximus replies: Your measure of success makes little sense to me. Victory involves comparison of costs vs. benefits. American expenditures of blood and money are our major costs. If cost is the only criterion, than not invading was the superior choice.
What about benefits from the war? What if our situation is (as suggested below) worse as a result of the invasion?
As that great political icon Paris Hilton might say, Kilcullen’s remark is, like, so true. I would add that his stature is such, he will suffer no ill repercussions — in fact, given that we are in something of an interregnum, he may well be simply repositioning himself.
“In 2003, I noticed the critics were NOT stating any measures of success, so I (somewhat arbitrarily) created my own, in terms of US deaths (by the time Bush leaves office):”
< 2500, Bush gets an “A”
< 5000, Bush gets a “B”
< 10 000, Bush gets a “C”
How about an (avowed enemy) Iranian backed government running a country with the second largest untapped oil reserve. While the US military displays it’s inability to defeat 5000 poorly armed insurgents in a population the size of Belgium.
When they say “strategic mistake of the first order” they aren’t talking about a few thousand American dead. They are talking about a collapse of US influence in the middle east and the humiliation of a superpower.
Bush’s presidency changed the future for your children and grandchildren.
Pakisatan, Iran, Somalia, proxy wars with Lebenon, Syria. Of course Russia as well. What next, get the UK proxies to attack France (bit hard since France is buiding its carriers)?
“Grand Strategy”? This is insanity. Or, is the neo-cons, who drive this on another Grand Strategy .. destroy the US and its closest allies? That is possible, if somewhat paranoic (which I’m not, I’m a skeptic) interpretation of what is going on.
Humourest moment: Are Bush, Chaney, et al, realy Russian moles? Activated as a revenge for the end of the Soviet Empire? ‘Ok they defeated us, but we will bring them down .. activate “Gerald” tell him Plan Samson’. Hey good plot for a book, don’t tell Tom Clancy, I’m working on it first. As realistic a scenario as anything I’ve seen for the last 6 years.
Or is this another chapter in the neo-con plan as summarised by Ron Paul:
– They agree with Trotsky on permanent revolution, violent as well as intellectual.
– They are for redrawing the map of the Middle East and are willing to use force to do so.
– They believe in preemptive war to achieve desired ends.
– They accept the notion that the ends justify the means—that hardball politics is a moral necessity.
– They express no opposition to the welfare state.
– They are not bashful about an American empire; instead they strongly endorse it.
– They believe lying is necessary for the state to survive.
– They believe a powerful federal government is a benefit.
– They believe pertinent facts about how a society should be run should be held by the elite and withheld from those who do not have the courage to deal with it.
– They believe neutrality in foreign affairs is ill advised.
– They hold Leo Strauss in high esteem.
– They believe imperialism, if progressive in nature, is appropriate.
– Using American might to force American ideals on others is acceptable. Force should not be limited to the defense of our country.
9-11 resulted from the lack of foreign entanglements, not from too many.
– They dislike and despise libertarians (therefore, the same applies to all strict constitutionalists.)
– They endorse attacks on civil liberties, such as those found in the Patriot Act, as being necessary.
– They unconditionally support Israel and have a close alliance with the Likud Party.
Me? I’ll go for the Russian mole theory, makes as much sense as anything else I can think of.
Fabius Maximus replies: We will soon test your thoery. After November’s elections the neo-cons will be just a memory, no matter who wins. A massive majority for the Democratic Party in Congress and perhaps President Obama will change everything you consider the causes of our policiies.
But will our defense and foreign affairs policies themselves change? I suspect they will change little and only slowly, as they have throughout the post-WWII era. They are largely bi-partisian, like the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
score one for FM on the prognostication board.
“the Nazi occupation of France”
Not a fair comparision. Apples and oranges. If we had a conscript military and used Nazi rules of engagement there would be no issue of counterinsurgency in Iraq because there would be no insurgency to counter. Anyone who dared to resist us would be either dead or hiding by now.
Fabius Maximus replies: That is the consensus opinion. In “The Changing Face of War” Martin van Creveld gives what I consider a devastating and perhaps definitive rebuttal (chapter 6, page 214 – 219).
Well put FM about the “Nazi occupation”. In reality they faced increasing problems with Russian ‘partisans” (as they were called by us then). Creveld puts it well, even if Germany had beaten the USSR then, how long could they have held it? With increasing ‘partisan’ actions in the west (helped of course by the UK and US) it is interesting to spoeculate hof long the Reich could have really have held those areas. Look at China for example, Japanese ruthlessness made the Germans look like cuddly toys, even without WW2 how long could they have held it?
LBJ sent US troops to South Vietnam because Le Duan decided to change the guerrilla war into a regular units war of maneuvre using the North Vietnames Army (NVA). So our forces went into South Vietnam to fight North Vietnam’s forces, not to fight a war against South Vietnamese guerrillas. By 1967, according to Hanoi Commanders, Westmoreland had won the attrition struggle, causing the desperate Tet 168 Offensive by Hanoi, setting off, not to win militarily, but to make points at the Paris negotiations. As Le Duc Tho told a Viet Communist Party Historical Review in 1984, the Viet Cong was a minor annoyance to Saigon and it had no power in the cities. As South Vietnam went from 85% rural to 75% urban, the peasant sea left the gurrilla high and dry, going “bourgeois” as urbanites, per Hanoi Radio. So, we lost politically but honorably. By contrast, it is no wonder that Kilcullen called Iraq “that stupid f–en war.” WE CREATED THE IRAQ INSURGENCY because we went into Iraq intelligence blind, language deaf and culture dumb. To keep down our losses we humiliated the Iraqis and destroyed any feeling that we were liberators by behaving as occupiers, no, colonizers. The generals knew we were too few so they sought to terrorize Iraqis with out night time raids, mass arrests and massacre from the air with drones. We created 80% unemployment and removed the Saddam Welfare State, replacing it with “free-crooked-enterprise” for Bush’s corporate friends, leaving Iraqis to starve. Bangladeshis were imported to do the job of serving our occupation because they were cheap and would not expose their crooked Halliburton employers to the press. Besides, no one trusted Iraqis in their own country . We offered them mysery and humiliation whil our “allies” the the Saudi/Kuwaiti bankers offered them cash to blow us up. Seeing the Sunni uprising and US Army’s helplessness (except to massively massacre, a la Fallujah, as trained to do by the Israelis), the Iranians broke their deal with Bush and began supporting a Shia counterinsurgency. America’s response was war crimes because the Pentagon followed Israel’s advice: “the only good Arab is a dead Arab.” The surge is a myth and Kilkullen is a mere propagandists who knows that Americans suffer from the “ain’t my kid going to Iraq” disconnect syndrome and will accept any reasonable sounding excuse to cover the real reason for their support of the war: TO FILL ‘ER UP CHEAP OUR SUVS. That the surge is a myth was obvious from the start in that it payed cash and guns to insurgents to support the US presence without caring a fig if the “elected” Baghdad Government was against it. Petreaus calls it “victory” because US casualties were temporarily decreased. But he calls it “fragile” because he knows that our killer squads did not destroy the hate of US occupation so if we stop paying them, the Sunnis will shoot us in the back as we leave. The surge pushed all the Shias into Iran’s camp, including Prime Minister Maliki. For this Americans and ten times as many Iraqis payed with their lives? It is up to the autor of DERELICTION OF DUTY to call the genrals ” star whores” for the way they were parrots of Rumsfeld’s shoulders and then covered up the no-strategy phony “victory” Bush needed for long enough that the failure of Petraeus’s COIN ” fragile victory” collapses and will by then be called “Obama’s War.” NO one can claim to be a loyal American unless he/she considers all our troops as “my” kids and not allow to be done to them what he/she would not allow to be done with his/her biologic kids. Our generals are like our citizens: self-centered and short-sighted… that spells the end for the American version of the Roman Empire.