Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds.

One symptom of a nation’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop) is a disconnect of our national dialog from reality.  IMO this is the strongest evidence of America’s dysfunction.  A broken OODA loop means that we can neither recognize nor prioritize problems.  If uncorrected, we cannot effectively fix those problems that we do see.  We become a blind giant.

Wars magnify social prolbems, making them easier to see.  So it is with our broken OODA loop.  Today’s post discusses one example of this, posing it in question form.

Discussion of counter-insurgency theory has dominated our view of the Iraq War.  The role of well-known military natmes — such as General Petreaus, David Kilcullen, John Nagl — are associated with COIN.  FM 3-24 (see the PDF) was the most-discussed doctrinal change.  Military discussion sites — such as the small wars council — featured vast numbers of papers and comment threads on its intricacies and application.

The key question was seldom asked, and IMO never answered.  Let’s take a crack at it today.

Did COIN — in theory or practice — have any substantial effect on the Iraq War?

Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired), stated what should be considered the null hypothesis:

General Petraeus has abandoned the counterinsurgency manual in favor of the tactics which served us so well in Vietnam: massive firepower on civilian areas, search-and-destroy sweeps, and funding Popular Force militias.

These things are the trinity of counter-insurgency theory, the dirty reality beyond the shiny surface of COIN (or in Vietnam, unconventional warfare).

For details about this trinity at work in Iraq, see this Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant, 6 February 2009. It was obvious even then, and should be more obvious by now.  Please at least glance at this post before commenting.  It provides essential evidence.

The other force shaping Iraq was Iran.  Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was in exile there from 1982-1990.  Key elements of his government had long-standing ties to Iran.  The struggle for dominance within the Shiite Arabs between the factions headed by al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr was largely ended when Iran threw its support to al-Maliki.

In fact, a history of the Iraq War could explain almost every significant development without any mention of COIN.  Except for one aspect of the war:  the public relations battle in the US.   Here, unlike Iraq, COIN was a major factor clouding the discussion and obscuring events.

That’s my summary.  Let the comments flow!


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:

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

12 thoughts on “Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds.”

  1. FM note: I recommend reading this comment!
    Patrick Cockburn has a useful article on Counterpunch today on the situation now in Iraq {“A Whole New Ballgame in Iraq“, 15 June 2009}. He’s usually a pretty reliable observer. Surprisingly, to me, he seems to believe that US forces really will depart by the end of 2011. What’s left will be political rivalries, possibilities of violence in the north, disfunctional infrastructure and economy, but not the apocalyptic civil wars that some of us predicted a year ago. I think you’re right, FM, that the role of Iran has been much more important than recognized in the media.

    In a sense, COIN doctrine, actual military performance, changing leadership were accidents of the war, necessitated simply because we were there and had to be doing something, and, to an extent, in order to put a reasonable face on the war for the American public.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I very much doubt that the US will abandon those massive and expensive bases, which were the very first project begun after the invasion. Building these, from which we can project power thoughout the region, was IMO one of our major objectives. Maintaining these will become, I believe, our primary foreign policy objective in Iraq. Removing them might become Iran’s primary foreign policy objective.

    As for the rest of his article, I have been forecasting this since March 2007. See the links at the end of the post for details.

  2. It’s critical to stay connected to what IS happening. Well, I haven’t seen this question asked anywhere, yet (likely I just haven’t looked enough).

    What happens in Iraq, to al-Maliki, if the Iranian gov’t that’s been puffing him up suddenly gets a lot weaker? The Iraq gov’t was quick to congratulate Ahmedinejad, I guess as well they should. But: Is the situation stabilized enough, without the Iranians?

  3. mike J: it’s not stable, but stable enough to go on the back burner. The fantasy goal of installing a western-style democracy required that we name any agencies that opposed our presence an insurgency. Our goal was insubstantial in the first place, and the various opposition forces which erupted while we were there had a similar insubstantiality and ephemerality. That’s why our COIN tactics were in a sense irrelevant — real forces battling imaginary enemies — except under the category of the total havoc we created in Iraq.
    My view is that we never had any concrete aim at all there, except to produce some kind of failed state, with a weak government that would would not play a significant role in ME politics.

  4. FM note: I recommend reading this comment.
    The effect on Iraq seems arguable, but COIN has certainly had a substantial effect on America. See this: DoD Training Manual: Protests are “Low-Level Terrorism”, blog of Dennis Loo, 14 June 2009
    FM replies: the Loo post links to the following, which I strongly recommend reading!
    * DoD’s Level I Antiterrorism Training, letter from the ACLU to DoD, 10 June 2009

    This might prove similar to the unexpected effect of the US military’s “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training” (SERE – see Wikipedia for details). Run with the best of intentions, it combined with Special Forces and CIA interrogation training to provide familiarity with torture that seems to have encouraged its acceptance as a routine tool of war by elements of the US military.

  5. Here in Dupage, I don’t think there are many who know what COIN, or OODA mean. No one around here sees any military dysfunction. We get antiseptic sound bytes. Sometimes, a local gets killed – too bad – so sad. The local schools do a feel good memorial. Then, life goes on as before. I don’t think the idea of dysfunction will sink in until our forces get defeated in the field.

  6. FM note: this is an important comment!
    FM: “Did COIN — in theory or practice – have any substantial effect on the Iraq War?

    This sounds as if you are assuming the Iraq War is over.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for mentioning this; I should have discussed this in my post.

    In March 2007 I said the insurgency had ended. By that point “Iraq” had clearly fragmented into 3 pieces. There was still fighting, but not COIN (the Sunni Arabs surpressing al Qaeda was COIN, but on a small scale). The final relationship of the 3 pieces still evolves, and that might involve fighting. Perhaps long and intense. But not an insurgency. And it might not involve us to a large degree.

  7. Responding to mclaren’s comment and the overall OODA theme, the DoD classification of protests as low-level terrorism will further impair America’s OODA loop. Protests allow the American people to show that they disagree with American policy, in effect highlighting flaws in America’s Observation and Orientation. Preventing and restricting protests will retard America’s ability to correct its Orientation and reinforce the current strategic blindness from which it suffers.

  8. i bet some folks in the Iraq government are sweating bullets about what is happening in Iran. What will happen if the Mullahs are overthrown and the agents in Iraq are exposed?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am astonished how easily Americans assume governments are overthown. Esp when, as in Iran, little has happened so far.

    Consider how many times the US has experienced periods of internal violence, from the Whiskey Rebellow to the anti-Vietnam war riots. Fighting between sheep and cattle ranchers, ranchers and homesteaders, union and management, between political factions in NE cities, between the KKK and Blacks. Plus intermitent race riots plus violence by leftist and right-wing extremist groups (assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, etc).

    For example, consider the “race riots” than burned out many US urban cores in the late 1960s, major cities occupied by the National Guard to maintain order. Or the battles between workers and capital in the century before WWII, such as
    * The 1931 UMW strike in Harlan Country, a gunfight in which 3 deputies and 1 miner died.
    * “Bloody Thursday” in the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike, 2 strikers killed.
    * Memorial Day massacre of 1937 — Chicago Police killed 10 demonstrators during a US Steel strike.

  9. music video: Blindhammer

    Protests and demonstrations do not have a meaningful effect on the us government. Influence is available to any individual or group, foreign or domestic, via K-street, so mass demonstrations are superfluous.

    The US constitution is essentially a mechanism for protecting ‘the right to rebel’ as an individual right, even though rebellion is a collective, not individual act. The US’ security services are both effective at nipping the organization of rebellious groups in the bud, and have been given sweeping powers to do so, but do not have, and probably will not ever have the tools to necessary to preempt lone gunman, though after a lone individual declares himself an enemy of the state, he typically doesn’t last very long.

  10. The military’s widespread use of biometrics is connecting a lot of dots, although they obviously don’t help with first contact. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the need for anonymity to execute an insurgency.

  11. Who are we, who are they, the mismatch.

    1) Background.

    Book: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects (Paperback) by Dmitry Orlov. My impression from the book is the focus of the huge Russian companies on survival. Survive the soviet, survive the collapse, survive the chaos, and survive the current government.

    Afghanistan tribes. Survive Alexander, survive the British, survive the USSR, and survive the USA. In the past, family, meant the family business; the family patriarch was CEO; nepotism was normal, relatives don’t get fired. Tribe as one word for a big family business, self governing. One of the things that hold a family together is the observation of religion.

    Current USA elites consider family and religion to be low on the list of important topics, which makes problematic, dealing with people who place family and religion first and second.

    2) Military.

    In conversations with an unusual wars Green Beret: USA military command in Afghanistan want a national strategy, are uninterested in a proposed tribal strategy by the unusual wars people. Our Special Operation Forces divide into unequal camps: The large direct action camp, and the small unusual wars camp. The direct action people see all problems solvable by use of force. The unusual wars people have a few extra tools.

    3) Conclusion or more unanswered questions?

    Do USA elites have an OODA loop, or are they placidly waiting for the rest of us to go away and stop bothering them?

  12. FM:
    I hope you don’t consider me one of “those americans”. i’ve cautioned people at work not to listen to the pundits “that this time they are going to overthrow the regime”. the iranians protest every election. it\’s too early to call it. i made comment #8 because there is a probability it will be different this time and there are people that should be worried about the outcome.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I should have more clear. The reference was to the previous round of wild guessing about an overthrow of Iran’s theocratic government (2001, I believe).

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