Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Fallujah today is a boom town" for construction

Video-link briefing from Marine Col Larry Nicholson, Regimental Combat Team 5 Commander (The Fighting Fifth, the Marine Corp's most decorated unit).

Facts on the ground, the rest of the picture:

  • Elected, functional city government, despite intimidation campaign
  • populace has returned following violence / earlier pacification campaigns,
  • relative safe-haven status vis-a-vis current Baghdad,
  • U.S. troop drawdown from 3,000 to 300; nine Iraqi battalions - needs to double
  • Americans working alongside Iraqis, including businessmen; but police development is slow.
  • Six entry points to the city,
  • everyone with ID-resident badges (no refugee camps - families in Fallujah help those displaced in need),
  • five (5) incidents a day, including non-lethal, in overall city of 400,000
(paraphrase) "In the middle of a Sunni insurgency, but we are the best friends of the Sunni population here. The Iraqis we're working with here thoroughly understand that."

Video Link

Quotus re Quotus - Counterinsurgency quote for the day

Unlike Alice talking to the Cheshire cat, sometimes you don't know where you are, even if you know where you are going:

From the Princeton Project on National Security (link):

...both counterinsurgencies and counterterrorist campaigns share another troublesome similarity: the difficulty of determining who is "winning." Body counts and other measures of effectiveness (MOEs) drawn from traditional conventional wars provide misleading indicators... Indeed, as ... Rumsfeld pointedly asked in 2003, "are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the [religious schools] and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?"*...

Even in retrospect, it is difficult to determine which factors had the most impact on the course of the fighting and if and when a turning point occurred. Given these conflicts' protracted nature and the absence of major military engagements, it is also important to understand the adversary's measures of success and to distinguish between short-term MOEs (terrorist leaders eliminated, funds blocked, etc.) and long-term indicators of progress (democratization of the Middle East, de-legitimization of terrorism, etc.).

The American Experience in Vietnam underscores this measurement problem. The CIA established a Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) to provide MOEs for the pacification campaign. This computer-based system incorporated monthly feedback ... Despite these endeavors, the HES could not overcome the perception that it exaggerated progress in pacification, especially before the 1968 Tet offensive.

History provides other examples of the difficulty in assessing an ongoing insurgency. In Algeria and Vietnam, the French and Americans "won" almost every battle until they lost the war, while for a long time in Malaya the British justly feared another defeat in their effort to retain their original colonial empire. Terrorist campaigns also have been replete with rapid and unanticipated changes in fortune. In the early 1980s, the Lebanese terrorist group Hizbollah achieved a sudden triumph after several of its operatives inflicted devastating suicide strikes...
*It has been reported, as I recall, the Rummy's DoD actually went through this estimation exercise and that the preliminary results were not laudatory, therefore the reports were sent back for re-working. I don't have a reference, but I believe I read it either in RicK's or Suskind's reporting.

A Page from Counterterrorism History

The missing metrics. The need to retool the DoD for a long conflict, in terms of incentives, training, and more. New governmental/organizational approaches to deal with the long-term nature and comprehensive character of the problem:

Have we fashioned the right mix of rewards, amnesty, protection and confidence in the US?

Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip and focus to deal with the global war on terror?

Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

Do we need a new organization?

That was Donald Rumsfeld, in October of ... 2003.

The need for bold initiatives and long-term planning was on the CIC's desk back in 2003, not shifts in tactics under the rubric of stay-the-course.

Zakaria: Extricate Now from Sectarian Strife

The assumptions for the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq are probably violated by the emergence of sectarian violence, either entrenched but small or passing but escalating/large.


In his recent piece, Zakaria goes one step farther, suggesting that the appropriate re-make of that strategy is retrenchment in the form of exit.

I have a question about whether the U.S. can walk a middle line, without becoming truly hated for its efforts. Would it be possible to add more troops to stall the Sunni Insurgency and to strengthen the lawful constraints on the Shia government, either by fiat or by manipulating the levers of the government to keep the "extra-judicial" Sadrists 'contained' or 'constrained' under judicial enforcement. In other words, is there a way to position the effort so as to continue to fight for law-and-order, which is how the U.S. might garner credibility and where others can lose legitimacy?

A guarantee of the sanctity of the ballot box is another reason to argue for a continued U.S. presence. Perhaps that doesn't make sense in a full-blown civil war scenario, the upshot of which is the consolidation of the ballot box by violent means. Still, if the outcome is imperfect, the U.S. might have a role to play, rather than turn the whole course of events over to other parties.

One wonders if the Arab street might ever turn against further sectarian violence. It wasn't so long ago that there was great hand wringing that non-Muslims were going to destroy the ancient city of Baghdad (bombs), but what about the al-qa'ida, the sunni insurgency, and the reprisal militia destruction? Can that all be forgiven, without even a groan?


There are other political cards to play. Withdrawal is not the only way to incent Iraqi cooperation. It might be possible to suggest an end to a central government, for a period, on the grounds that it is not supplying any public goods (and violating its constitutional oath).

It might also be possible to curb Iran by threatening an independent Kurdish state, something that would be very dangerous to the Iranian Mullah oligarchy (of course, Turkey would have to be insiders to this threat).

Syria can be easily pressured too, in a true game of brinkmanship. If both Iraq and Lebanon fall into a broad-based civil war in the next 12 months, Syria will be at its weakest point in decades, maybe.


None of these are guranteed, but it does seem that there are political pressure points yet to be pressed. Perhaps President Bush doesn't have the mind for this kind of chess. He seems to prefer a business-like or Texan way of "looking people in the eye" and saying that they are "a man of peace" or "deserving of a chance".

In some ways, the CIC seems hampered by his or his general's willingness to 'think Big', not in ideological terms, but in practical terms of what might be required to tip the scales beyond mere capture and kill. I cannot help but think that there would be a sharp psychological impact, in the short run, if a massive force of 50,000+ troops marched into Baghdad (U.S. or otherwise). Declaration of martial law, a high-tech intelligence effort to find out who is in the city and where, and the holding of municipal elections, so that the Sunni can have another try at getting included in local councils and the political track can have a chance.

The temporary use of large-scale force can have some effects, like returning a temporary sense of normality, re-iterating that there are true political choices to be made (not just chaos/hopelessness to be submitted to). A large, mobile force could also be re-deployed for perimeter operations elsewhere, which are also a part of clear-hold-build, at various stages.


Separately, I have to say, with great sadness, however, that I've seen the first convincing evidence for the second of my own two conditions for prescribing a stand-aside strategy on the blog that Zakaria mentions, Model Iraq. (I don't say what they are, lest they become self-fulfilling).

On my own account, the campaign is on borrowed time, playing against the odds, as it were, for an outcome that will not involve substantially more violence. The only thing that prevents more conviction on this score is that I continue to feel that I don't have sufficient information about the whole situation.


Iraq is not Vietnam. There are reasons to believe that a full-scale civil war might be self-contained, but also reason to believe that it could draw in other partners, especially as part of the end-game. In other words, if the Shia start to "win", the temptation for neighbors will be to assist the Sunni, etc. The Yemeni civil war drew in outside participants, lasted seven years, and ended in a compromise as the parties realized that foreign offers of help weren't going to resolve the situation.

Update: Suadi Arabia signalling in strongest possible terms that it will not stand aside in a Iraqi Civil War precipitated despite or because of a U.S. withdrawal:

Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn't meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn't attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq. As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world's Sunni community (which comprises 85 percent of all Muslims), Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene.

Writing in the WaPo, the author is a Saudi insider.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Newt, Pre-empting the Iraqi Study Group

link - Newt takes up the Iraqi Study Group

1. Does the Commission Have a Vision for Success in the Larger War Against the Dictatorships and Fanatics Who Want to Destroy Us?

I think that few are left who do not realize that there is a larger struggle for legitimacy, or as Tony Blair has put it, "Whose values will lead into the 21st Century", but not many agree on what the implications of that are for tactics, duration, resourcing, involvement.

I would bet dollars that the Study Group will have recommendations on how to confront radical ideologies within Islam. However, they may end up too vague, like "adopt a comprehensive approach" or "adopt long-term strategies".

2. Does the Commission Recognize That the Second Campaign in Iraq Has Been a Failure?

Their staff may not be able to agree why it has been a defeat, even more so without a classified clearance, so it may not be productive to declare a defeat.

3. Does the Commission Recognize the Scale of Change We Will Need to Adopt to Be Effective in a World of Enemies Willing to Kill Themselves in Order to Kill Us? Learning to win requires much more than changes in the military. It requires changes in how our intelligence, diplomatic, information and economic institutions work.

It seems unlikely that there will not be a battery of bureaucratic recommendations and changes to institutionalization, many including taking the military out of the 'lead', if Newt is ready for that ...

4. Does the Commission Describe the Consequences of Defeat in Iraq?
What would the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq look like?

The larger military question is whether so much matters. In a purest sense, there are no such thing as 'unacceptable consequences' - war is Hell. When you go to "war", you accept even the unintended consequences, the Pandora's box that it opens, yes?

All quagmires are political, not military. As such, the Iraqi campaign is on borrowed time, by many metrics.

5. Does the Commission Understand the Importance of Victory? Winning is key. Time is on the side of those seeking nuclear and biological weapons to use against the civilized world.

Yet, time is exactly what is required for the scale of transformation that is necessitated.

"Victory" is misstatement or a poor choice of words. The near-term goals are containment, the mid-term goals are pressure, and the long-term goals are attenuation. The more one thinks in terms of a decisive "victory" the LESS likely it becomes.

6. Does the Commission Define What It Means to Win, or Simply Find a Face-Saving Way to Lose? Winning is very definable. Can we protect our friends and hurt our enemies?

It seems contradictory to suggest that the second campaign was a defeat but to suggest that a third is possible to "win".

It would not be reasonable to calibrate goals beyond what the facts on the ground make possible.

What's more, it seems to me more robust to come up with a perspective in which all outcomes are covered by a set of goal statements, recognizing that a significant portion of the outcome is not in the control of the U.S., either in the hands of an Iraqi government or others.

7. Does the Commission Acknowledge That Winning Requires Thinking Regionally and Even Globally?


Well, Saudi Arabia is spending millions on a medium-term (3+year) project to seal its border electronically with Iraq.

Newt sounds like he is looking for military escalation here, with "direct confrontation" of Syria and Iran. Of course, if he means "Karine-A" type evidence, then he ought to say so. That kind of evidence could be used quite successfully in non-military ways.

8. Any Proposal to Ask Iran and Syria to Help Is a Sign of Defeat. Does the Commission Suggest This? Iran and Syria are the wolves in the region.

Any proposal? Even "enemies" can cooperate to prevent the plug from being pulled on them both ...

9. Does the Commission Believe We Can 'Do a Deal' With Iran? The clear effort by the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons and Ahmadinejad's assertion that it is easy to imagine a time in the near future when the United States and Israel have both disappeared should be adequate proof that the Iranian dictatorship is the active enemy of America. Couple that with the fact that the Iranians lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency for 18 years while trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Either this is a dangerous regime we need to fundamentally change, or it is a reasonable regime with which we can deal.

Too much either/or thinking, here. Besides, what nation lives 'without enemies' in modern times?

Nuclear proliferation has to be put on a separate plate than other issues, and cannot be, as Newt suggests, a matter of 'friends and enemies', at least among nation-states.

The rest of the issues with Iran are more nettlesome and what are the options to doing deals or making agreements, really?

10. Does the Commission Believe We Are More Clever Than Our Enemies?
The al-Assad family has run Syria since 1971.

Well, Syria is needed for a settlement of the I/P issue, one way or the other ...

11. Does the Commission Recognize the Importance of Working With the Democratic Majorities on a Strategy for Victory? The Democratic victory in the 2006 election should not be used as an excuse to do the wrong thing. The Democrats are now confronting the responsibility and burden of power. Opposition to continuing the failed second campaign should not be translated into opposition to an American victory.

The burden of power? The burden of prior mistakes ...

The issue of a third-campaign is whether it meets its burden of proof, empirically, not ideologically. And that's how it ought to be.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Grim Visage of the Infernal Invitation of Terrorism ...

From TNR (hat tip, AS), a picture of how clear-hold-build is a strategy that has not been executed too often in favor of shuttling around troops in a whack-a-mole approach.

As one officer remarked to Congress, how can you leave [pull out or drawdown] and then expect the populace to welcome you back when or if you return? It's a relentless effort to get it right consistently, a constant pressure campaign that requires forward motion, a steady struggle to maintain whatever trust and predictability has been built.

But either way, a persistent and tragic theme of our operations in Iraq has been the one-step-forward-two-steps-back sliding of towns and regions in and out of security: Through immense effort American forces will calm a city, then troops there will be drawn down and all their work will be lost; and on, and on, and on. Lawrence has written several persuasive stories for us on Tall Afar, the insurgent Northern Iraq outpost tamed by innovative and amazingly intense military efforts to connect with its population; he also lamented what may happen when these particular now-expert troops are blindly rotated out of the town as was scheduled
What is more alarming is this conclusion, that al-qa'ida is able to consolidate politically gains from the chaos they impose:

By Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; Page A01

The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military's mission in Anbar province.

This conclusion is debated in the story by an intelligence official. The TNR picture is also a mosaic truth.

Together, these imply that the uncertainty is still very high.

However, one does start to get the sense that al-qa'ida, alongside the insurgency, have gotten quite good at refining tactics: Random violence and post-verbal evil to tear at the fabric of society (al qa'ida) and fear, greed, and intimidation to consolidate political power (the insurgency).

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Knife's Edge: Beyond Constructive Tension, At the Limit of Reason

Nothing to add to this. Speaks for itself.

KING ABDULLAH: Well, ..., the difficulty that we're tackling with here is, we're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq.

And I hope that my discussions, at least, with the president will be to provide whatever we can do for the Iraqi people. But at the same time, we do want to concentrate ourselves on the core issues, which we believe are the Palestinians and the Palestinian peace process, because that is a must today, as well as the tremendous concern we've had over the past several days, what's happening in Lebanon.

And we could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands. And therefore, it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear, and I see could possibly happen in 2007.

The al-qa'ida strategy to increase sectarian strife ... works.

Is the 'logic' of retaliation inexorable? Are the forces of chaos always stronger in the short term? The long-term? Are people necessarily at the mercy of their prejudices, even in the face of a greater enemy? Can 'conditions' be arranged that 'force' retaliation, and a spiral of escalation? Can a few dictate the path for the whole, in that regard, without fail? Is it a question of once it starts, the chance to stop it has ended, the fate sealed (a one-shot deal; an pound of prevention to prevent a disease that must run its course if caught)?

Are there any gains to be consolidated from sectarian strife? Is it really a path to military success and political control?

There may be some game-theoretic approaches to these question. One wonders if the Army is up to speed on that, let alone the civilian leadership.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Is the Government Following its Own 'Strategy for Victory in Iraq'?


General John P. Abizaid, the man with more stress in world than Atlas in the Old World, offered up a careful assessment of the current situation in Iraq.

Is there evidence that the Government is following its own announced Strategy for Victory? How do we get over the hump of whether more is needed before less is accepted, if we can? There are so many issues/questions to look at, I'll just confine to these two.


It is easy to lob criticisms from every direction imaginable at people who are trying to run with the ball, as much as we have relegated the military to do so, for this conflict, with a sort-of closed-door vision of what to do and how to do it.

Yet, we still have the basic document that is meant to be informing the public about what are the steps to getting to goal, the administrations National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.

That document calls for short-term, medium-term, and longer-term goals. We don't see any of the present status reporting broken out into those categories, even if people are thinking of it. We appear to continue, even at this late date, to be asking questions about what the administration lists as a 'short-term' goal, namely the standing up of Iraqi Security Forces.

I may have surely missed them, but I didn't see much discussion about whether long-term goals were being met in places that had more stability, like the North and the South.


To reach the proverbial New World, the National Strategy document breaks down three conceptual areas, with the following strategies:

Political Track: Isolate, Engage, and Build
Security Track: Clear, Hold, Build
Economic Track: Restore, Reform, Build

Elsewhere the document invokes 'expanding political participation'. In the details, one finds the assumptions on which this strategy is conditioned.

Ambassador Satterfield injects a new "three pillars" element, but this is not new to the overall position, just, perhaps, a new area of rhetorical emphasis.


The rise in sectarian violence isn't covered by the National Strategy document.

What appears to have happened is that the an urgent emphasis on 'reconciliation' in the Political Track, which has involved a re-work of the Bremer-era de-Ba'thification, has been legislated in conjunction with a new military emphasis on Baghdad in the Security Track, supplied by soldiers from some other effort.

The Ambassador notes the simulataneity of the equations for each track; however, he suggests that only from the safety of a secure situation can the right compromises be reached. Elsewhere, the General suggests that only faced with the need to provide for their own security will the Iraqis themselves stand-up, so that the US soldiers can stand down. Apparently, these two seemingly opposed positions are resolvable.




[to be continued after the show]

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rumsfeld Posts His Resume on Web

There is a lot more to be written about and by Rumsfeld.

Donald-the-Liberator is not waiting, however. He's taken the time to list the most important things that occurred on his watch (see pic/link).

What was in his letter of caveats to Bush-43? Did he really want to turn Iraq over to the former Army and leave - if so, was he prepared to resign as a matter of conscience when it was clear that others wanted to prolong a U.S. stay? The list goes on. So much more yet to be told "For the Record".

Monday, November 13, 2006

No Separate Peace ...

Dr. Johnathan Shay pens a tomb that attempts to frame the soldier in society.

What is the way back home? Can't sleep? Feel detached, even from loved ones? Flashbacks. No desire to talk about "it". Alone in a crowd. Hopelessly alienated from a hum-drum work-a-day world?

All these and much more about the combat adaptations that can cause temporary injury or that can fester and get worse, as with any wound.

From Houghton Mifflin, a step-by-step experiential survey from the flipside, from those for whom "deployment" is a household term.

A journalist wife of an army chaplain, Kristen Henderson tells it simple and straight (Hemmingwayesque). She includes a Resources and Actions list, that includes "10 Ways to Really Support the Troops" and link to TAPS (support network for survivors).


I was visiting Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the Army's Fort Bragg, when a friend said he knew a woman who needed to talk to me. He introduced me to Beth.

"This is our first deployment," she said.

Her eyes were wide and blue green and shadowed by her straight, dark hair. She gave me a level look before withdrawing her gaze and adding, "They say it's supposed to get easier but it's been four months and so far it's just been hard. When does it get easier?"

"Oh," I said, and the oh dragged itself into a sigh while I tried to decide whether or not to lie. I wanted to fix it for her; I wanted to make it all right. But I knew the only thing that would make everything right would be for her husband to walk through that door right now, safe and whole in body and mind, the same man he was when he left. So in the end, I couldn't. I couldn't lie to her. When does it get easier?

"It doesn't," I said. "Wartime deployments are always hard."

"Don't tell me that," she said.

But they are, they're just so hard. Eventually you figure out ways to cope -- or not. But they never get easy. A wartime deployment is always a mountain, no matter how you climb it.

Forever a Soldier - Stories from the Veterans History Project

Drawn from the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project, Forever a Solider is a compendium of stories from on generation of soldiers on down the long gray line and more.

The editors have brilliantly organized the book into general topics with first-hand stories that include a few veterans of today's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

An earlier sister volume, Voices of War, chronicles over sixty veterans stories and has a similar, brilliant organization.

On homecoming:
“Strangely, my sympathy was quickly going to our former enemy, the German civilians.” –William Whiting

Saturday, November 11, 2006

At Dawn's Early Light - Can you See the Flag Clearly?


Two years ago I wrote what I thought was an succinct and eloquent piece about the power of the tools that terrorists and insurgents and jihadis use. The context, at that time, was an Iraqi who had walked up to a marine and shot him at point blank range, very nearly. This type of thing sows mistrust between the populace and those trying to protect it. It highlights the information asymmetries of an army policing a population without a local knowledge or system of identifying who is who among them.


Now a new book comes out with an outline of all of that and more, called "What Was Asked of Us", complied by journalist Trish Wood.

By turns inspiring and heartbreaking, What Was Asked of Us is a landmark book, the first time our troops in Iraq have been able to speak at length about their experiences. From the thrilling highs (a spectacular rush by the 3rd Infantry Division into Baghdad) to the devastating lows (an account of what it was like to be a soldier at Abu Ghraib, witnessing the abuse of prisoners), this book lets the troops speak for themselves. As a result, it offers the most emotionally powerful and revealing account of the war and is necessary reading for anyone who cares about our soldiers and our country.


This book is a putative effort to keep faith with the troops.

Many (most?) feel their cause to be right and just, but many of them question that and have felt the brunt of fighting for an Iraqi populace that is frightened, confused, indifferent, and hostile, in certain cases.

There are huge non-financial costs to waging war, costs to the soul. These are exacerbated if veterans feel separated from their warring public or imperfect government.


So, support the troops by looking here, see what they did and honor them by learning enough about the conflict to make good a citizen's duty, an informed opinion.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Year Rejects

This repulsive blogging activity, pictured above, bears notice here.

Here we have eight soldiers (MN national guard 34th ID, 1st bridage), making a political statement in uniform. This unprofessionalism is a breakdown in discipline and a disgrace to the Army. (cf. DOD Directive 1344.10; Aug 2, 2004, which I assume is promulgated under the UCMJ).

One can only imagine the grave threat to the good order of the corps if other soldiers went down to the Baghdad morgue and sent back a photo with, "Correct, Mr. Cheney, the war is going 'Remarkably Well'. Hoo-Frickin'-Ahhhh....!"

Faced with a photo of this conduct disgraceful to the uniform, is it withdrawn? No. As you can see, it is proudly added to the permanent banner display and the publisher uses it recklessly to politicize the military. If one reads the type below, it actually solicits activities for a particular political party (and elsewhere, money too).

Who is boldly holding up this unprofessional and probably illegal behavior, even after it having been pointed out in the writings as such? A pundit? A loudmouth? No, it is a Professor of Law.

Such Professor, in one column, further suggests:

"Whether or not the old media carries the picture on front pages today (which would have been an obvious decision in any newsroom not deeply biased against the military and in favor of Democrats)" -Nov 2, 2006.

Such drastic indictment begs the question whether the publishers of this photo, (self-reported offshoot of The Heritage Foundation), took anytime themselves to get permission to use the photo, determine who was in it, determine if it is authentic, and consider the implications of further politicizing such activity, before allowing one of their own to abet such misdirected behavior while proclaiming themselves as civilian defenders of the military only in order to trump up support for their political party.

All these actions are surely no defense of the military, but a threat to its good order; and the willful purveying of this photo cannot be understood as poorly formed 'good intentions', after the wrongfulness of it had been raised.

Thus, we have on hand more election year rejects.


(White House photo: Paul Morse)

Rumsfeld's story will make a fascinating book one day. He is a complex individual who has had an enviable array of experience that he has pulled off with a character all his own.

Accordingly, there is so much to write, I'll confine comments to the following questions and observations.


This swiftness of Rumsfeld's departure caught me by surprise, as I had been thinking if it were to come it would be after the Baker report, not before. However, the timing suggests that the President was prepared for the shift that occured in the elections; and he acted quickly in order to keep the initiative on his side, to avoid looking pushed around later on, to keep the opposition from being able to leave its own imprimatur on an effort that the President, IMO, expects will yet turn out well.

Perhaps the President was also influenced by the hard-hitting exchange between the DOD leadership and the "chorus of criticism".


To answer that we have to know what Rumsfeld did wrong, to know whether he is being held falsely accountable.

The Army Times's editorial lays out its case that Rumsfeld had lost credibility with the military because of a welling up of misgivings about the war that threatened dangerously to spill over:

"Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war’s planning, execution and dimming prospects for success."


"And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt. "

In a hard hitting reply, the DOD (perhaps Rumsfeld himself), laid out the counter-case, suggesting that the basis of the criticisms was water under the bridge, not newly soured milk on any topic. It's a hunch that the President was not comfortable with this frank exchange of views.

The time to settle credibility problems was in the 2004 election, quite arguably, when the WMD failure ought to have been politically adjudicated and those who had clear problems with the conceptualization of what could be achieved in Iraq, in either the short-term or the mid-term or within projected cost, ought to have carried the day. As it was, the "truth" of the SmearboatVets prevailed instead.

On that accounting, We The People are guilty and the Congress is guilty as well for having ceded such authority as they did, without seeing to it that the war was robustly planned, given the lack of a margin for error.

Firing Rumsfeld now, which is really just code for firing the President himself as the two are so closely allied on principles, is a collective mea culpa; and an amazing display of how inconsistency (irrationality?) in democracies can actually turn a ship upright. So, in the larger picture, Rumsfeld's departure is a kind of expiation of all our collective failure. This, however, will not assuage his own sense of having been unjustly turned on, I suspect, except if he comes to accept that it was useful to protect the military from blame, as the ATimes article concludes.


I will miss Rumsfeld's ability to encapsulate an issue in just a few words ("Rummyspeak"), a product of his wonderful intellect and now part of our national heritage, thankfully.

In the Oval Office, he talked about how the war was little understood and complex. He may have meant that as a defense, in the sense that circumstances post 2001 had required action in advance of comprehensive thought or that action had been taken with the best understanding that was available at the time.

However, it is more instructive as a comment on the current problems and some of his own failings. If folks are uneducated about "the war", perhaps he shares some blame, because his political instincts, seems to me from afar, are to hold information (classified or otherwise), until such time as his opponents need to 'take an education', as it were, usually at their expense. Rumsfeld is a politician and not a professor in that respect. And his skills and discipline are formidable.

Perhaps this is where Gates will do better. Armed with the work that is coming out of the Iraq Study Group (via Jim Baker et. al.), work that ought to have been done as part of the State Department's 2002 Project for a Future Iraq, Gates may have a chance to adopt a different posture and close what daylight there is. And judging by the Pentagon's latest effort to get the word out (For the Record), there is plenty.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Footnotes to the Absurd ...

Just to show how wide the gap is between what is being thought and what is being taught, I'll mention this tidbit.

Ken Mehlman, RNC power ranger, offered up a new focus of pre-emptive war or preventive war (paraphrase): "There is a goal out there and the goal is to prevent Iraq from becoming another Afghanistan."

Now, it's probably a bit unfair to single out this comment when so many are flying about that are equally eye-popping, but just take a moment to soak that one up, if you will.

It was also a good week for Counterinsurgency


Counterinsurgency was the coin of the realm at the Cato Institute, in a panel discussion of where the military is on The U.S. Military and Counterinsurgency: What We Have Learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The current state of the aggregate knowledge about counterinsurgency matters more in prospect than does the retrospect, and focusing only on retrospect would likely require re-titling the panel, "What we wished we might have inculcated sooner" and, to some extent, "How the costs were mis-estimated by this generations' best and brightest" (somewhere in the room was the ghost of Robert McNamara, it seems).

Now that the Army is closer to sure footing, there is a chance that they can be more rigorous about self-evaluation. One potential issue, not explored, is the impact that thin troop levels may have had on willingness to be self-critical, in certain ways.

The hard question about whether anything much now is too little too late is probably too hard to answer, from afar. The ultimate question about whether the Iraqi populace's increasing anxiety - fears are rising as fast as hopes, it seems to me - hangs in the balance, with new Iraqi governments willingness to cooperate sufficiently on all aspects of counterinsurgency dangling in a way that could tip the scales.


In a crafty piece of writing, The American Way of War: Cultural Barriers to Successful Counterinsurgency, Jeffrey Record of the Air War College (Alabama) fleshes out a nuanced version of why wars of attrition are not hard in general for liberal democracies, but hard in particular for America. Among the points:

"The American way of war is, as British strategist Colin S. Gray observes

  • apolitical - not focused on warfare or counterinsurgency as an extension of policy (or ideology).
  • impatient
  • ahistorical - unwilling to take serious or learn the lessons of the past (unlike Fawaz Gerges who puts a brilliant tenor on unable to understand how history is important and culturally important to non-Americans)
  • culturally ignorant
  • technology-infatuated - mostly in regard to arms
  • firepower-focused - a version of "cowboys with guns", rather than diplomats with a range of tools
  • profoundly conventional - the bureaucracy (and its personnel policies)
  • sensitive to casualties - (debated during the Q&A)"


The question is roundaboutly raised about what we can conclude so far about "military transformation", based on new data.

In the old world, if one "really read the Weinberger-Powell doctrine, you wouldn't never use force unless our shores were being attacked."

Of course, the newer formulation is that the status-quo is more risky than action. But there is a twist to that: The strategic choice to try to get by with as small an army and effort as you possibly can. It seems to me that any strong empirical conclusions about pre-emptive war, or wars against the status quo, are not possible without reference to that Bush-43 choice.

That choice, in turn, brings up the issue of cost, as Preble points out, or, more precisely cost-benefit. How it came to pass that President Bush (and the U.S. Congress and the US Press) put so little thought into how it might go wrong and end up with costs perhaps outreaching benefits is the key institutional failure, in my humble opinion. When there is little or no margin for error, when it is clear that there is going to be a race for control on the ground by forces seeking their own political autonomy (legitimately or illegitimately), the Rumsfeldian "known-unknowns" have to take a much higher priority than they were given.


Last, mission objectives, like 'set the conditions for democracy to emerge', come into debate as the incompletely specified set that I suspect that they were intended to be all along.

Ricks questions how much specific actions are more "revolutionary" (deep change from the status quo) in character than "stability operations" (which require a reference to 'something politically stable' to be meaningful, i.e. a "thing" that may not exist or, if it does, may be inimical to institutionalization).

And the jury is still out whether throwing a nation into a quasi-Hobsian state-of-nature and then expecting the military to pull a liberal democratic rabbit out of the hat using counterinsurgency methods and largely military staffing can be done.

Given that, is a scaled back objective of a democratic Iraq that is self-sustaining and an ally in the war on terror more reasonable (or a comedown from hubris?)? Perhaps. The only question is, over the mid-term, who is going to guarantee the sanctity of the ballot box? A standing US army in Iraq?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

It was a good week for Counterterrorism as a topic


The International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies held a conference that was available via C-span (unfortunately it is not available for replay..arg!).

US Politicians are behind - far behind. This likely has to do with the wrong conceptual footing that was the gambit of the haplessly phrased "War on Terror" that has infected domestic politics since. As with any journey, if your first steps are in the wrong direction, it takes double the time and effort to re-do them.

Whatever the case, one can hardly imagine a US Senator today giving the kind of far-reaching and perspicacious speech given by The Honorable Gustavo Manuel de Aristegui y San Roman (Member of the Spanish Parliament and Spokesman in the Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Commission for the Popular Party). I haven't been able to find a transcript, but all we'd need is a few good Senators with this breadth of comprehension to get back on track.

Such speeches and comprehension start to pave the way for a transition from 'brain storming' about counterterrorism to crystallizing some worthwhile public diplomacy (I mean, almost anything to replace the "We're gonna win the war" rhetoric might be an improvement).


Brookings offered up a redux of the Politics of National Security. Those who are interested in an in-depth look at how politics-as-usual or politics of the unusual are denying the public interest, the common good, and arguably national security itself can peruse a transcript.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stepping up to Step Down by Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria has started to flesh out what I will call a "stand aside" exit strategy from Iraq, by redfining the goals there. His article is here.

There is a lot to disagree with in his article, so I just want to focus on what I see as one key strategic point.

I wondered aloud in one of my comments whether the Shia groups were ready yet to "buy off" the Sunni insurgency, with money and temporary political advantages that might cover a strategic 'political transition period' of say 10 years, maybe 3-5 years for 'reconciliation commissions' and the like.

Zakaria has this to observe, to the contrary:

What is equally obvious is that such a deal does not seem to be at hand. The Shia leadership remains extremely resistant to any
concessions to its former Sunni overlords. The Shia politicians I met when in Baghdad, even the most urbane and educated, seemed dead set against sharing power in any real sense. In an interview with reuters last week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also said he believed that if Iraqi troops were left to their own devices, they could establish order in six months in Iraq.

Now, I think it would be worth testing the thesis that the Shia really do know how to bring order, and we can argue about whether it is by force or whether they really do have some ideas on how to 'buy off the Sunni insurgency' politically.

The point is that the Shia can think strategically too, even though they are fractious. From their perspective, by already having political majority and also a more organized set of 'official' and 'unofficial' troops, to date, it is the US that is their strategic concern, arguably, not the Sunni. They might be concerned, for instance, that the US will do something like disarm them, or worse, turn back the clock on the gains that they have consolidated so far. This is why the focus on disarming the Shia militias by Baker et al., while completely rational based on experiences such as Lebanon, is a non-starter politiclaly with the Shia.

Their appropriate strategic move is to keep the status quo. The Sunni violence works to weaken the US as does time. Later on, they can make a pact with the Sunni, maybe in six months, as suggested.

In sum, the observation that even the most erudite Shia are against settling, that the opinion is so univocal, may not be related to sectarian animosity. It may be that it is so plain to everyone that continuing to drag the US along is the best strategy to weaken their main strategic opponent, the US.

We'll see if that is too much of a bad-faith characterization. The U.S. says it has worked on benchmarks with the new government, but Rummy insists from the DoD podium that their are no penalties contemplated for missing them. Is that too tempting a blank check? I suspect so.

Of course, they could get the US out by making a gambit on the Sunni insurgency now, but one wonders if they are spiteful enough to deny the US (Bush?) a 'victory' of that kind. I suspect the odds are at least 50/50.

History catching up with GOP: Newsweek publishes list of must reads

I had been making my own list; but, some people are getting paid to do that!

Newsweek online has published a list of what they call 'must-read' books on what has really happened in Iraq, so far.

My two-cents is that this list is probably too long for most people. To be an informed citizen, my guess would be some competence in understanding radical Islam, some competence in understanding terrorism (political violence) and counterterrorism strategies, and some complex combination of mistakes made (missed opportunities), regional politics, and projection of upcoming choices.

Anyway, here is the list in title form:

  • The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End by Peter W. Galbraith (Simon & Schuster)
  • Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin) Generation Kill by Evan Wright (Putnam)
  • My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell (Putnam)
  • Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor (Pantheon)
  • The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
  • The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind (Simon & Schuster)
  • State of Denial: Bush at War Part III by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster)
  • Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (Crown)
  • Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Knopf)
  • The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq by Rory Stewart (Harcourt)
  • Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer (Times Books)
  • Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq by T. Christian Miller (Little, Brown)
  • Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq by Riverbend (Feminist Press at CUNY) The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq by Fouad Ajami (Free Press)
  • The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr (Norton)
  • Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid (Holt)