A guide to our Middle East Wars – change you cannot see

We elected Obama as President on a platform of “change” from the policies of Bush Jr.  After all, we spent thousands of our soldiers lives and one or two trillion dollars in Iraq — with little to show for it in terms of our national goals. 

We now have a policy statement from each President.  From Bush Jr about his Middle East War (dated November 2005); from Obama about his Middle East War (brand new).  Let’s compare them.  One by an old white Harvard grad.  One by a young black Harvard grad.  Can you tell match the President with his statement?  Are their policies different, or do we have new people at the top, but the policies and deeds remain the same?  The election was an echo, not a choice.


  1. When will we see  conservatives — who warned about the leftist extremist Obama — admit that they were wrong?
  2. Gian P. Gentile gives a good rebuttal to both these statements in “Let’s Build an Army to Win All Wars“, Joint Force Quarterly, 1st Quarter 2009.
  3. At the end are links for more information on this topic.
  4. I have substituted XXX or XXXX for the “Iraq”, “Pakistan”, “Afghanistan”, and “Afghanistan and Pakistan”.  Also NATO has been substituted for “UN” and “Coalition.” 

Excerpt from Statement #1


Achieving our core goal is vital to U.S. national security. It requires, first of all, realistic and achievable objectives. These include:

  • Disrupting terrorist networks in XXX to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.
  • Promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in XXX that serves the XXX people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.
  • Developing increasingly self-reliant XXX security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.
  • Assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in XXX and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of XXX.
  • Involving the international community to actively assist in addressing these objectives for XXX, with an important leadership role for NATO.

Summary of recommendations for XXX

The following steps must be done in concert to produce the desired end state: the removal of al-Qaeda’s sanctuary, effective democratic government control in XXX, and a self-reliant XXX that will enable a withdrawal of combat forces while sustaining our commitment to political and economic development.

(1) Executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy in XXX.

Our military forces in XXX, including those recently approved by the President, should be utilized for two priority missions:

  1. securing XXX against a return of al Qaeda and its allies, to provide a space for the XXX government to establish effective government control and
  2. providing the XXX security forces with the mentoring needed to expand rapidly, take the lead in effective counterinsurgency operations, and allow us and our partners to wind down our combat operations

Our counter-insurgency strategy must integrate population security with building effective local governance and economic development. We will establish the security needed to provide space and time for stabilization and reconstruction activities. To prevent future attacks on the U.S. and its allies – including the local populace – the development of a strategic communications strategy to counter the terror information campaign is urgent. …

(2) Resourcing and prioritizing civilian assistance in XXX

By increasing civilian capacity we will strengthen the relationship between the XXX people and their government. A dramatic increase in XXX civilian expertise is needed to facilitate the development of systems and institutions particularly at the provincial and local levels, provide basic infrastructure, and create economic alternatives to the insurgency at all levels of XXX society, particularly in agriculture. …

(3) Expanding the XXX National Security Forces: Army and Police

To be capable of assuming the security mission from U.S. forces in XXX, the XXX National Security Forces must substantially increase its size and capability. Initially this will require a more rapid build-up of the XXX Army and police up to YYY,000 and YYY,000 over the next two years, with additional enlargements as circumstances and resources warrant. …

(4) Engaging the XXX government and bolstering its legitimacy

International support for the election will be necessary for a successful outcome. We should do everything necessary to ensure the security and legitimacy of voter registration, elections, and vote counting. The international military presence should help the XXX security forces provide security before, during and after the election. International monitoring will also be required to ensure legitimacy and oversee XXX’s polling sites. …

(5) Encouraging XXX government efforts to integrate reconcilable insurgents

While XXX’s hard core that have aligned themselves with al Qaeda are not reconcilable and we cannot make a deal that includes them, the war in XXX cannot be won without convincing non-ideologically committed insurgents to lay down their arms, reject al Qaeda, and accept the XXX Constitution. …

(6) Including provincial and local governments in our capacity building efforts

We need to work with the XXX government to refocus civilian assistance and capacity-building programs on building up competent provincial and local governments where they can more directly serve the people and connect them to their government.

(7) Mobilizing greater international political support of our objectives in XXX

We need to do more to build a shared understanding of what is at stake in XXX, while engaging other actors and offering them the opportunity to advance our mutual interests by cooperating with us.

(8) Bolstering XXX-XXX cooperation

We need to institutionalize stronger mechanisms for bilateral and trilateral cooperation. During the process of this review, inter-agency teams from XXX came to Washington, DC for trilateral meetings. This new forum should continue and serve as the basis for enhanced bilateral and trilateral cooperation.

(9) Engaging and focusing Islamabad on the common threat

Successfully shutting down the XXX safe haven for extremists will also require consistent and intensive strategic engagement with XXX leadership in both the civilian and military spheres. The engagement must be conducted in a way that respects, and indeed enhances, democratic civilian authority.

(10) Assisting XXX’s capability to fight extremists

It is vital to strengthen our efforts to both develop and operationally enable XXX security forces so they are capable of succeeding in sustained counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. In part this will include increased U.S. military assistance for helicopters to provide air mobility, night vision equipment, and training and equipment specifically for XXX Special Operation Forces and their Frontier Corps.

(11) Increasing and broadening assistance in XXX

Increasing economic assistance to XXX – to include direct budget support, development assistance, infrastructure investment, and technical advice on making sound economic policy adjustments – and strengthening trade relations will maximize support for our policy aims; it should also help to provide longer-term economic stability. … Assistance should also support XXX efforts to ‘hold and build’ in western XXX as a part of its counterinsurgency efforts.

(11) Exploring other areas of economic cooperation with XXX

We need to enhance bilateral and regional trade possibilities, in part through implementing Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (which were recently re-introduced in Congress) and encouraging foreign investment in key sectors, such as energy. In addition, assisting Islamabad with developing a concrete strategy for utilizing donor aid would increase Islamabad’s chances for garnering additional support from the international community. …

(12) Asking for assistance from allies for XXX

Our efforts are a struggle against forces that pose a direct threat to the entire international community. While reaching out to allies and partners for their political support, we should also ask them to provide the necessary resources to accomplish our shared objectives. They have the same interest in denying terrorists and extremists sanctuaries in XXX that we do. …

Excerpt from Statement #2

(1)  Victory in XXXX is a Vital U.S. Interest

  • XXXX is the central front in the global war on terror. Failure in XXXX will embolden terrorists and expand their reach; success in XXXX will deal them a decisive and crippling blow.
  • The fate of the greater Middle East – which will have a profound and lasting impact on American security – hangs in the balance.

(2)  Consequences of Failure in XXXX

  • XXXX would become a safe haven from which terrorists could plan attacks against America, American interests abroad, and our allies.
  • Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurances of support for democracy and human rights in the region – a historic opportunity lost.
  • The resultant tribal and sectarian chaos would have major consequences for American security and interests in the region.

(3)  The Enemy Is Diffuse and Sophisticated

  • The enemy is a combination of XXX, XXX, and terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. Distinct but integrated strategies are required to defeat each element.
  • Each element shares a common short-term objective – to intimidate, terrorize, and tear down – but has separate and incompatible long-term goals.
  • Exploiting these differences within the enemy is a key element of our strategy.

(4)  Our Strategy for Victory is Clear

  • We will help the XXXX people build a new XXXX with a constitutional, representative government that respects civil rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and keep XXXX from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. To achieve this end, we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three broad tracks, which together incorporate the efforts of the XXXX government, NATO, cooperative countries in the region, the international community, and the United Nations.

(5)  The Political Track involves working to forge a broadly supported national compact for democratic governance by helping the XXXX government:

  1. Isolate enemy elements from those who can be won over to the political process by countering false propaganda and demonstrating to all XXXX that they have a stake in a democratic XXXX;
  2. Engage those outside the political process and invite in those willing to turn away from violence through ever-expanding avenues of participation; and
  3. Build stable, pluralistic, and effective national institutions that can protect the interests of all XXXXs, and facilitate XXXX’s full integration into the international community.

(6)  The Security Track involves carrying out a campaign to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency, developing XXXX security forces, and helping the XXXX government:

  1. Clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe-haven;
  2. Hold areas freed from enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the XXXX government with an adequate security force presence; and
  3. Build XXXX Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society.

(7)  The Economic Track involves setting the foundation for a sound and self-sustaining economy by helping the XXXX government:

  1. Restore XXXX’s infrastructure to meet increasing demand and the needs of a growing economy;
  2. Reform XXXX’s economy, which in the past has been shaped by war, dictatorship, and sanctions, so that it can be self-sustaining in the future; and
  3. Build the capacity of XXXX institutions to maintain infrastructure, rejoin the international economic community, and improve the general welfare of all XXXXs.

(8)  This Strategy is Integrated and its Elements are Mutually Reinforcing

  • Progress in each of the political, security, and economic tracks reinforces progress in the other tracks.  For instance, as the political process has moved forward, terrorists have become more isolated, leading to more intelligence on security threats from XXXX citizens, which has led to better security in previously violent areas, a more stable infrastructure, the prospect of economic progress, and expanding political participation.


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Some posts about the war in Iraq: 

  1. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
  2. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
  3. Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
  4. Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008

Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
  2. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  3. Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
  4. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008

Some posts about the war in Pakistan:

  1. Is Pakistan’s Musharraf like the Shah of Iran? (if so, bad news for us), 8 November 2007
  2. NPR tells us more about America’s newest war, in Pakistan, 14 September 2008
  3. To good a story to die: eliminate legitimate grievances to eliminate terrorism, 9 December 2008

10 thoughts on “A guide to our Middle East Wars – change you cannot see”

  1. I suppose it fits — as our armed forces are taught to be an international police force, our police increasingly adopt a military metaphor.
    * “Law and Disorder – The case for a police surge“, William J. Stuntz, Weekly Standard, 23 February 2009
    * “Do America’s Inner Cities Need a ‘Surge?’“, Radley Balko, posted at The Agitator, 16 March 2009
    Fabius Maximus replies: The militarization of our police is IMO a serious problem. And rapidly getting worse.

  2. electrophoresis

    That’s a good point. Another way of putting it is that both America’s police and their army are converging toward the same paramilitary state, with a large helping of privatized mercenary forces thrown in. While everyone that Blackwater (now Xe) and other private mercenary forces have for all practical purposes taken over many of the functions of the U.S. army abroad, fewer people realize that private rent-a-cops patrolling private businesses have increasingly been given full police powers.

    This convergence of both state army, local police and private security firms toward the same paramilitary model is what we would expect from the wholesale militarization of United States society. In turn, the complete militarization of our society is predictable when America spends roughly 1.4 trillion dollars per year on our military (broadly defined to include the Pentagon plus NSA, NRO, CIA, VA, veterans retirement, Pentagon “black” projects, etc.). 1.4 trillion dollars probably represents somewhere in the ballpark of 14% to 16% of American GDP — a Soviet level of expenditure. We would naturally expect the same results the Soviets got, namely, the total militarization of society from top to bottom, with private police turning into secret police, the army (in our case, the DHS) patrolling the streets, etc.

    I say our annual expenditure on the U.S. military “probably represents 14% to 16% of U.S. GDP” because we now know that the numbers bruited about for America’s GDP pre-financial-meltdown are entirely bogus accounting games. (The delightful new term for such massive fraud is “Ponzimonium.”) The official number we’re all familiar with for America’s GDP cannot possibly be correct, and we may be absolutely certain of this because it includes a significant percentage of made-up phony fluff like the imaginary “profits” from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the fantasy “returns” accrued by firms like Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, et al. Financial services have for 30 years now represented an increasingly large percentage of America’s overall industrial profits, and the financial meltdown has shown us that the “profits” in those financial service industries were largely imaginary. That part of the U.S. GDP involved guys in boiler rooms on Wall Street trading pieces of paper and arbitrarily valuing those worthless pieces of paper at astronomical sums, so as to give themselves big bonuses at the end of every quarter. As we now know, those worthless pieces of paper have little or no value (that’s the whole issue with TARP and “toxic assets”) and consequently the contribution to GDP represented by our financial sector must be drastically re-valued down.

    Right now no one is sure how much we must re-value America’s GDP. From 13 trillion down to — what? Nobody knows. 5% lower? 10% lower? 20% lower? No one is sure today, in part because we’re still in the middle of the financial collapse. Various financial assets continue to devalue, and no one is sure where it will eventually end up. One thing we can be certain of: the real American GDP is lower than 13 trillion, since the financial sector’s contribution to that number over the last 15 years cannot possibly be as large as it was claimed to be.

    If America winds up re-valuing its GDP to 10 trillion after the financial wreckage is over, that means we’re spending 14% per year on our military. If our real GDP is lower than that, say, 8.5 trillion, that means we’re spending 16.47% per year on our military…and so on.

    If cutting 3 or 4 trillion from America’s GDP sounds outlandish, recall the amounts of assets which have evaporated overnight from AIG and Goldman Sachs and other large firms: eye-popping losses like 3.6 trillion dollars have gotten tossed around by Nouriel Roubini and others. The real losses may be higher when it’s all over. Now do the math on the expected return on investment a bank typically makes when lending on a mortgage property. We may be lucky if America’s real GDP turns out to be 8.5 trillion instead of the fantasy number 13 trillion we were told during the height of the recent bubble. That would put our current military spending at well over 16% of our actual GDP.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is rapidly going off track. Per the comment policy, please keep comments brief and relevant to the post — which discusses our Middle East wars.

  3. electrophoresis, two addenda —

    (1) As time passes, PLUs (people-like-us from the elites’ point of view) serve in the military and police at lower and lower rates. Thus our soldiers and officers are drawn from other sources.

    (2) When estimating the ephemeral froth of the Bush years that must be subtracted from annual GDP to arrive at a more realistic number, remember to divide by eight (or so).

  4. You are underestimating the amount of genuine change that Obama is bringing. Instead of 0.5 trillion dollar deficits, Obama is bringing 1.5 trillion and soon 2.0 trillion dollar deficits. The national debt of 10 trillion dollars will double in a mere 5 years. This is not Bush league nickle and diming. This is big time high rolling all encompassing government that will brook no opposition from the private sector or citizenry. Obama will fire your ass and your entire board of directors if you so much as raise an eyebrow at him. The media will crucify you, starting with Jon “Bobo” Stewart. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

  5. electrophoresis

    (1) If you mean that our soldiers and cops and private security guards will increasingly be drawn from the lower quintile of the economic distribution in America, yes, that’s certainly true because of the recession. Soldiers have traditionally enlisted per capita at much higher rates in red states, and particularly in red states with the worst poverty and lowest literacy rates. This will get even more skewed because of the recession. However, the elites stopped serving in the military after Viet Nam, so that trend has been going on for quite a while. There are now only a tiny handful of senators’ sons or daughters serving in front-line combat anywhere in the world, to my knowledge. A far cry from WW I or WW II. The elites have removed themselves from the military so it’s not obvious how their numbers could dwindle further. The main change in the composition of the U.S. military will be a move toward the bottom quintile with worst poverty and lowest education.

    (2) It’s not that simple. The financial sector will shrink to a much smaller portion of the GDP because it will be re-regulated and also because no one will trust Wall Street for at least a generation. But the lack of willingness to take risks with capital will also pound down GDP growth, so the financial sector will doubly implode. At the same time, the ongoing destruction from all those toxic assets will keep leeching capital from the system and force the U.S. economy to underperform for quite some time. In Japan they got a “lost decade” of severely sub-par GDP growth. We don’t know what’s going to happen in America as a result of this financial meltdown, but Krugman suspects we’re making the same mistakes Japan made and (as Thucydides put it) “having done what men could, [we will] suffer what men must.” I tend to agree with Krugman. But we just don’t know. When the Japanese collapse hit in ’89, the entire world wasn’t headed full-tilt boogie into a massive implosion of most of the bedrock industries in the developed nations the way we are today. Right now, we’re looking at peak oil destroying the automobile industry and the the internet is blowing apart the newspaper business, the publishing business, the music industry, the movie industry, now just recently the videogame industry (bigger than the movies and it’s not disintegrating under pressure from free online open source games and the incredible cost of developing games like Bioshock or Halo 2, which now tops 25 million per game), and so on. Programming, materials science, biotech, aerodynamic and mechanical engineering, robotics, chip design, wafer fabs, graphic design, advertising, accounting, you name it…all these major industries are moving offshore, leaving mainly low-wage jobs in America. We don’t know exactly how badly this will slam down America’s GDP, but it’s likely to be severe.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is rapidly going off track. Per the comment policy, please keep comments brief and relevant to the post — which discusses our Middle East wars.

  6. Gentile’s article cites Douglas A. MacGregor’s 2003 book, Transformation under
    Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights. MacGregor’s latest article, in the April 2009 Armed Forces Journal, is titled “Refusing battle: The alternative to persistent warfare.

    “Despite the seriousness of the present economic crisis, the greatest danger to the future security of the U.S. is Washington’s inclination to impose political solutions with the use of American military power in many parts of the world where Washington’s solutions are unneeded and unsustainable….

    Far too often, national decision-making has been shaped primarily by the military capability to act, not by a rigorous application of the purpose/method/end-state strategic framework….

    As a declaratory goal of U.S. military strategy, conflict avoidance is not merely a restatement of deterrence or a new affirmation of collective security. It is a policy stance that stems from a decent regard for the interests of others, regardless of how strange and obtuse these interests may seem to Americans. It is an explicit recognition by Washington that no one in Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Latin America wants American troops to police and govern their country, even if American troops are more capable, more honest and provide better security than their own soldiers and police….

    Treating conflict avoidance as a declared strategic goal should give pause to those in Washington who think counterinsurgency is something American military forces should seek to conduct. For outside powers intervening in other peoples’ countries as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, so-called counterinsurgency has not been the success story presented to the American people. Making cash payments to buy cooperation from insurgent groups to conceal a failed policy of occupation is a temporary expedient to reduce U.S. casualties, not a permanent solution for stability….

    A strategy of refusing battle that routinely answers the questions of purpose, method and end-state in the conduct of military operations is the best way for the U.S. to avoid following in the footsteps of the British Empire into ruin.”

    Fabius Maximus replies: An excerpt from this article goes up later this week, with this intro:
    “On rare occasions we are blessed with essays both brilliant and timely, words that meet our immediate needs. Here we have one such by a veteran and military expert.”

    I have long advocated something like this, a defensive strategy. Here are some posts about this:
    * A solution to 4GW – the introduction, 12 March 2008
    * How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I, 7 June 2008
    * How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II, 14 June 2008

  7. FM replies: “The militarization of our police is IMO a serious problem. And rapidly getting worse.

    I wonder how much of this has to do with PR. Local “action” news is filled with stories about the Big Drug Bust, etc.. While a lot of these stories are television, the decline of the newspaper is material here.

    There has been a lot of blather about how this decline is a threat to democracy because local governments will not be examined, etc.. Well, maybe mid-sized newspapers, such as those in Atlanta, San Francisco, and Boston, but small town newspapers do not Woodward and Bernstein city hall. Their reporters are fresh graduates from J-school, who lack the standing, experience, credibility, information, or backing to challenge anyone. Meanwhile, the local paper is a monopoly that enjoys a comfortable relationship with local advertisers. etc. George Babbit would be proud. If your local newspaper could have a jacket lapel, it would have an American flag put on it

    While local televisions would probably survive the current downtrend, insofar as craigslist and other internet media are providing alternative community outlets, the local media monopoly is being subverted – and that is good, very good.
    Fabius Maximus replies: While interesting, this is totally off-topic for this post. Additional comments about police and newspapers will be deleted.

  8. Electrophoresis’ discussion of GDP may be off topic, but his opening comment about militization of US policy is valuable and definitely related to the original post. Post 9-11, and at every opportunity throughout the Bush years, we’ve seen a gross glorification of the military way, both as a noble calling, a fulfilling personal life, and as the highest example of patriotism. This is highly dangerous, not only as a wrong-headed approach to foreign policy, but as a distraction from the critical task of reconstructing our economy and re-imagining our purpose as a nation.

    As to the original question of the post, who is speaking in which quotation, to my ear the simplistic rhetoric of the second, especially its emphasis on “terrorism” as an almost animal presence, sounds like Bush, while the careful technocratic manner of the first selection is typically Democratic. Republican rhetoric is generally high in visceral content and strong emotion, while liberals are identified with a more nuanced, intellectual, pragmatic style. Like two different flavors of ice-cream, either is perfectly acceptable to empire.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a great review, nicely expressed!

  9. Perhaps both the policy statements were actually written out by inconsequential clarks in the State Secretary’s office and put out for the consumption of the credulous part of the American population. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who has even a modicum of education or awareness these days knows that both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are about the US dollar as a reserve currency and great game control over oil and oil logistics. I suspect a few erudite folks will continue to deny this obvious fact and make ever more complex seeming justifications for these barbarian wars.Bah! Who has time to read twenty pages of fiction about why mass murder needs to be conducted somewhere far away on a pretext of very noble sounding ideals?So much for Obama’s “that kid looking up at the helicopter” foreign policy speeches.

  10. If I was an insurgent leader in XXXX I’d be rubbing my hands and packing my lads off to get their free night vision goggles ‘n goodies ASAP .

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