View Full Version : What should we do in Iraq?

Fabius Maximus
12-10-2006, 04:30 PM
Part II of a new series by Fabius Maximus. In his capacity as chair and sole member of the DNI Iraq Study Group, he offers his thoughts on our options in Iraq.

Please post your comments and analysis!


Bill Moore
12-10-2006, 06:09 PM
While I agree with many of the points in your post, I am disappointed that you didn’t address potential regional solutions to bring an acceptable close to the war. You also only briefly mentioned the very important geopolitical consequences of departing Iraq while in it is in the midst of chaos, which is the very real probability that it will lead to regional instability, and threaten the West’s and developing nations of Asia’s access to oil in the region, which will lead to devastating global inflation.

You will find very few supporters within the SWJ on how the war was managed, it was inept, but this is no longer the point. The point now is what do we do? You implied there was a total disconnect between our tactics and strategy, yet failed to show the disconnect in my opinion. As you pointed out, withdrawing into Kurdistan is admittedly stupid on many accounts, and it will create another U.S. to Israeli like relationship that will cause our nation more harm than good, but I haven’t seen anyone that has real influence even suggest this. Then you attacked the strategy of withdrawing our conventional forces out of the urban areas, while at the same time attacked the strategy of using more force. Just where do you stand?

I think you mischaracterized the withdrawal from urban areas strategy completely. It is an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the war and take away a face that obviously inflames the Iraqi people (ours). We have the option of going back into the cities in force if needed to back up the Iraqi military, but if we do, we should be the supporting effort, not the supported. Will it work? Not right now obviously, but it is worth moving in that direction, which is why we’re sending more advisors. I see a connect between tactics and strategy, though I’m not convinced it will work unless we escalate our level of force for a period of time to weaken the various militias and to include punishing attacks across Iraq’s borders against those who are supporting instability in Iraq. I understand carrots as well as anyone else, but we seemed to have forgotten that effective counterinsurgents have two tools, carrots and sticks. Where did we put our stick?

Fabius Maximus
12-10-2006, 06:41 PM

Thank you for your comments on my article!

You primary point is quite correct. That is the Part 3, to be posted in a week or so (time subject to the vagaries of the crack DNI editing team).

The dynamics of the web produce an inverse relationship between length of article and its readership. Articles of less than 2,000 words are ideal (this one is 3400 words). Unfortunately, this results in complex issues discussed in baby-talk. So I issue the articles out in pieces.

This works well by allowing deeper questioning of each component, and often reveal flaws that would otherwise be embarrassing in the next segment.

So, stay tuned … there will be a proposal.

Where do I stand? We’ve lost. Everyone loses on occasion. It's what happens next that determines the fate of nations. There is always another round in the Great Game. Let’s learn from our mistakes, evaluate our alternatives, and move on.

“I think you mischaracterized the withdrawal from urban areas strategy completely.”

How? I agree with everything you say. It’s the result that I find problematic. Whoever wins will likely tell us to get out. Will our airpower prove decisive in aiding whomever it is we’re helping.

More important, is the COIN model applicable here? There is no Iraq Government, hence no insurgents. The folks in the Green zone are, as I said in the article, mostly a combination of colonial lackeys, pretenders, and representatives of local leaders. Calling them a Government does not give them any of its attributes: sovereignty, authority and legitimacy. They do not levy taxes, control borders, enforce laws, etc.

There is a government of Kurdistan (boundaries uncertain). The rest of Iraq is run by local militia, controlled by local ethnic and religious leaders. They are now the establishment, not insurgents.

They are striking into each other’s zones of control, and fighting for disputed areas. Perhaps this is a “civil war”, or the preliminary to State formation. Or something else. Whatever, our mental models must become more closely match the reality on the ground.

Bill Moore
12-10-2006, 11:47 PM
The claim that we lost is painful to a great many of us, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. I agree that COIN models will not work in Iraq, because it is not a true counterinsurgency for the reasons you stated. I don't think any of us truly understands the nature of this conflict, and without this understanding any strategy will be doomed to failure unless we simply get luckly and guess correctly.

I want to discuss your claim that we lost. What does that mean? Did we simply lose one battle in the war on terrorism, or is it more significant than that? Iraq wasn't part of the war on terrorism initially, but it sure as heck is now, so losing in my opinion would likely lead to the following:

1. U.S. loses credibility to lead coalitions in the near future (at least next five years), so this administration's stink will rub off on the next administration. The bottom line is we handicapp our nation's ability to pursue our international interests. (If we have lost we need to admit it, take the next step so we can begin the healing process, so we can get back on both legs sooner). This is a moderate to serious consequence.

2. Al Qaeda and other extremists become emboldened. They will sense that victory is possible and will aggressively exploit their revolution into other nations in the region and beyond. It will be a decisive victory for them psychologically, much as their perceived victory in Somalia was. When the chips are down they can refer back to the great fight in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan (against the Russians), etc. A key to defeating insurgents and terrorists is to defeat their sense of hope, but in this case we are giving them hope, reason to continue on with their maddness. This is a serious to catastrophic consequence.

3. The entire region becomes destabilized within the next 3-5 years resulting in oil prices sky rocketing beyond a $100.00/barrel. The global economy will go into a depression. Globalism could die, and we could see a resurrgence of nation state wars where nations are competing for access to critical natural resources. This is why I am not an advocate of downsizing our conventional forces any further in an attempt to convert them into 4th Generation Warfare forces. We need 4GW forces, but our strategic requirements for conventional forces are as great as ever. Result: Economic disaster, it will take years to recover, we'll end up with new economic models, etc. Buy gold!

4. Our future leader's hands will be tied by domestic politics due to the mistrust garnered by the inept management of this war. It could lead to serious consequences, but most likely will lead to more Rwanda type situations where we could have easily intervened and prevented a humanitarian disaster that still haunts the region. President Clinton simply didn't have the resolve after pulling out of Somalia.

Our current administration talks tough, and compared to Clinton they are tough, but they're not tough enough. We're still waging a war where our hands are tied by various forms of political correctness. We have permitted safe havens in Pakistan and Syria, and I suspect support from Iran is flowing into Iraq also. If it is global war then wage it.

If you don't concur with my projected consequences of losing, I like to hear your counter arguments. I am looking forward to reading your next article.

Fabius Maximus
12-11-2006, 12:11 AM
Again you go to the key points. Let’s bifurcate them – a bit of an artificial divide, but makes thing simpler to see.

Inherent consequences of defeat: almost certainly # 1 & 2, perhaps 4 to some degree. So it goes.

Possible consequences, which depend on what we & the other players do next: #3.

We’ve lost one round. All the players are still at gaming table. Relative strengths have changed, that’s all. We need some clear & prioritized goals, based on an accurate understanding of the situation. And of course better execution. Perhaps then we can at least stabilize the region and achieve something of value.

This is all in Part III.

We are more likely, I fear, to continue screwing-up through poor thinking and incompetent execution.

To start at the beginning, are our assumptions valid? Let’s take one that you lightly mention. Does al-Qaeda exist in any substantial form?

When events -- as presented in the media -- follow patterns of Hollywood movies, perhaps we should pause for thought.

Bin Laden and al-Q are classic movie villains -- as we've seen in James Bond movies and countless imitators over 40 years. The mad, evil, rich leader and his secret global organization of bad guys.

Or perhaps al-Q is nothing but shadows. A consensual hallucination, where our enemies adopt the form we most fear and on which we project our fears.

The media reports about al-Q are, in my opinion, almost certainly false in many respects. We've capture #4, their vice-president for this and that, and so forth. I very much doubt that it is organized like IBM or the State Department.

Just guessing, I suspect it is a brand name under which many local organizations or group now operate. Even if B.L. provides no support, operating under this brand gives immediate global attention to ones ops. Unlike claiming to have blown up a 7-11 in Indonesia as the "Local Sunni Fundamentalists Union, chapter 12."

Until little points like this are resolved, I suspect effective geo-strategic planning & policy will be impossible.

History provides many examples of States fighting enemies whom they did not understand. An expensive and on occasion fatal hobby.

12-11-2006, 01:24 PM
Maybe it is just my hyper-sensitivity to this issue; however, it appears as if in your poll question, there are two options that have a positive connotation, three that have a negative connotation, and one neutral. What does "cut and run" mean? What does "retreat back to our bases" mean? If you were asked to provide courses of action to your boss, I doubt you would frame them with these words.

12-15-2006, 02:37 PM
Well accepting the fact that we have already screwed the situation in Iraq past the point of achieving our stated goals; starting with the grandiose democratization of the Middle East (delusional at the start) to the modest stable unified Iraq (increasingly unlikely) we need to think about a controlled crash. By this I mean leaving Iraq in such a way as it does the least damage to our future foreign policy objectives, and at the lowest cost of US men and materials. This would most likely take the form of a draw down and Iraqization of the war. Simultaneously we should also quietly work with the political powers in Iraq to attempted to set the stage for a very decentralized Iraq; or more likely no Iraq, when the civil war comes try to make it quick allowing for the rapid dissolution of Iraq and re-stabilization of the area.

Obviously this is not the option any one would have wanted but it maybe the best one left. Also the enemy or enemies will get a vote and we will need to work with neighbor countries to pull this off. Finally of course this path of action is unlikely to happen, it is to politically unpalatable for Washington to swallow. In the end I voted to “to cut and run” since I am sure that is what it would be labeled as. To me it is more of cut and fade away but if anyone cared what I thought we would not have invaded Iraq in the first place.

Fabius Maximus
12-20-2006, 12:35 AM
Part 3 is now posted. Here are the links to the full series.

part 1 (only the first page is relevant here, as an overview))

Part 2 -- options for Iraq

Part 3 -- more options

Part 4 -- my proposal, coming soon.