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Thread: Iraq war will haunt west - Emma Sky

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Iraq war will haunt west - Emma Sky

    Emma Sky is a remarkable lady and The Guardian has an exclusive interview with her (Part One published). She is virtually unknown to the British public and well known to some of the American leadership who served in Iraq.

    A very short bio sketch:
    was political adviser to America's most senior general in Iraq, and was part of the team that implemented the counterinsurgency strategy that helped to control the civil war that erupted in the country. The appointment of an English woman at the heart of the US military was a bold and unprecedented move, and it gave her unique access and insights into the conduct of one of the most controversial campaigns in modern history.

    In all, the Oxford graduate spent more than four years in Iraq, including a spell as civilian governor of one of its most complex regions. She met Tony Blair and Barack Obama in Baghdad and earned the trust of senior Iraqi officials, as well as many of the country's leading politicians and community leaders, some of whom remain her friends.
    The haunting, which I have yet to fully absorb:
    A lack of understanding of the Arab world also meant the west struggled to grasp why it had provoked so much violence, and who was responsible for it.

    "We've been fighting the war on terror for 10 years" said Sky. "At times it seems we have been fighting demons. We behaved as if there were a finite number of people in the world who had to be killed or captured. And we were slow to realise that our actions were creating more enemies.

    "It has been seen by many Muslims as a war on Islam. Now, we are saying, 'We've pulled out of Iraq, we are pulling out of Afghanistan, and it's all over now.' It may be over for the politicians. But it is not over for the Muslim world. Well over 100,000 Muslims have been killed since 9/11 following our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly by other Muslims.

    "We have to ask ourselves, what do we think this has done to their world? And how will they avenge these deaths in years to come? It is not over for the soldiers who have physical injuries and mental scars, nor the families who have lost loved ones."
    The opening article:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012...on-us-military

    The longer interview:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012...ky-us-military
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    What's so haunting about it?
    It's the most common sense stuff.

    Too bad that common sense was not particularly involved in the whole GWOT.


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    Council Member MikeF's Avatar
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    Default Violence Begets Violence

    Friends,

    I wanted to share this recent series of Guardian interviews with Dr. Emma Sky questioning the impact of the Long War on both the troops and the effected populace. Emma, along with Dr. Nancy Roberts, Dr. Anna Simons,and Dr. Jill Hazelton served as waypoints to me as I navigated the storms of the last ten years, and I am grateful for their time and mentoring.

    Looking past strategy, these women are trying to understand what happens when a sole superpower violates the Clausewitzian trinity.

    In the first, she succinctly describes how the professional military deliberately ignores emotional intelligence through indoctrination and training in order to allow the soldier to survive combat.


    “There was so much violence that it was almost too big to comprehend. The military has a language that is not accidental; it is used to quarantine emotion.”

    This quarantine, or so-called compartmentalization, over extended deployments, will lead professional soldiers towards a breaking point of PTSD if they cannot find alternative means (family, friends, and socio-economic structures) to process the deliberate bifurcation of emotions (hearts) and actions/thoughts (minds). Coupled with repeated concussions or traumatic brain injury (TBI) from repeated or spectacular blast, this brain damage can become debilitating, a nascent insurgency brewing within one's own mind. The body is a closed, organic system which is not equipped to split the heart from the mind. Rather, it brings to mind wasted valor.


    In the second, Emma describes the prolonged effects of extended intervention,

    “We've been fighting the war on terror for 10 years" said Sky. "At times it seems we have been fighting demons. We behaved as if there were a finite number of people in the world who had to be killed or captured. And we were slow to realise that our actions were creating more enemies.

    "It has been seen by many Muslims as a war on Islam. Now, we are saying, 'We've pulled out of Iraq, we are pulling out of Afghanistan, and it's all over now.' It may be over for the politicians. But it is not over for the Muslim world. Well over 100,000 Muslims have been killed since 9/11 following our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly by other Muslims.

    "We have to ask ourselves, what do we think this has done to their world? And how will they avenge these deaths in years to come? It is not over for the soldiers who have physical injuries and mental scars, nor the families who have lost loved ones."

    She added: "The world is better off without Saddam. But nobody has been held accountable for what happened in Iraq, and there is a danger that we won't learn the right lessons, particularly related to the limitations of our power.”
    Emma shows shades of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. What she warns seems warrant to immerse into fiction if not boiled and embroiled by the facts of the day. Emma espouses my own worst fears, and I am left wondering how to unmuddle a way out of this wicked web of problems.

    Best

    Mike

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    Mike:

    The brutality of Iraq for the twenty years before 2003 was unprecedented, systematic, institutionalized, long before we came along...

    The idea that we missed in our Light Brigade mission was that there was a deep inherent problem---we told our military to go and kick that particular Hornet's Nest but without prep, resourcing or accurate PROBLEM DEFINITION, that just let all the demons fly, and created many of our own.

    Back to my original premise: Planning for War has to begin with Planning for Peace (the rough and tumble end state), and then to create a credible path to that.

    Dumbass civilian planner that I am, I know that had we, in transition, have become a real partner with Iraq's existing ministries (for better or worse with Baathists or not) for things like Water, Infrastructure, Food, etc....we would still be welcome and much needed partners, have all the eyes on Iraq we we ever needed, and the opportunity for a less inflammatory occupation period, existed.

    What military or intel group has ever modeled those kinds of alternatives? (A quick and nasty take-out-the -baddest-guys and tinker within existing remnants.)

    Now, as she says. We are out, and where do we go from here?

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    A couple of comments stood out for me. One was this:

    there is a danger that we won't learn the right lessons, particularly related to the limitations of our power.
    That danger seems very real to me, and in that sense it might be a good thing if the specters of Iraq and Afghanistan haunt us for a good while. If the haunting reminds us that while force can remove a government, it cannot make a new one or build a nation, it will at least serve some purpose.

    I also noted this:

    "We think it is about us, and it is about our security. But in the end, it is about their politics … success in Iraq was always going to be defined by politics. We needed a political solution, a pact, a peace."
    and I couldn't help noting the "we". Yes, we needed a peace. Arguably the Iraqis needed or need the same. You could say the same about the Afghans. That doesn't mean a pact or a peace will come any time soon, or that we can make one happen. IMO, of course... but realistically, when external force removes a government, there's a power vacuum. That vacuum is filled by the removing power, or local powers will fight to fill it themselves. The ideal solution, for us or for the people, might be a peaceful agreement between all of those parties. Whether or not we can bring that ideal solution to pass is another question altogether, one that must be realistically assessed before we decide to create the vacuum in the first place.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Private Hobgoblins

    I am not saying we didn't hose this up. No one could defend that position.

    Sky admits the CPA simply could not meet these expectations and no amount of hard work from many experienced British and American volunteers could make up for the lack of planning before the invasion. It left the CPA – which was assembled in haste and from scratch – attempting to restore public services, disband the security forces and build new ones, as well as introduce a free market and democracy.
    'No organisation would have been able to implement such an agenda, particularly without the consent of the population'.
    But she came in with a specific expectation and agenda and discovered that things were not what they seemed.

    I had arrived ready to apologise to every Iraqi for the war. Instead I had listened to a litany of suffering and pain under Saddam for which I was quite unprepared. The mass graves, the details of torture, the bureaucratisation of abuse. The pure banality of evil...
    She makes a number of valid points that I can agree with, and I give her credit for going out and doing something rather than sitting at home and complaining about it, but I think she is looking at things through the lens of her own "private boarding school" upbringing. She assumes that we could talk this all out. As others have pointed out, even internally initiated nation building and transitions are messy things. If the Iraqi people had done this on their own does she really believe that the Sunnis would have been treated better?

    Retribution is the new law of the land in Libya. Summary executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and indefinite detention have emerged while the judicial system remains in a state of paralysis.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationwo...,4794359.story

    Guess I find it all a bit self righteous.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 07-17-2012 at 06:06 PM. Reason: Citations in quotes, PM to author
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

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    Curmudgeon:

    The immortal and heartfelt words of Jack Nicholas in Mars Attacks: "Can't we all just----get along?"

    As Dahyan says: Who is the WE?

    Steve

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post
    What military or intel group has ever modeled those kinds of alternatives? (A quick and nasty take-out-the -baddest-guys and tinker within existing remnants.)
    Believe it or not the Air Force has and they have proposed that concept since the 1950's starting with "Project Control" but because it was an AF idea people don't pay much attention to it.

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    Slap:

    Right. The pathways are there but they never meet in the operational plan.

    The one thing myself and other keep coming to is: How to engage the actual people that are the focus of all of this.

    As a civilian planner, the first thing you learn in a well-implemented community engagement process is that planners define the issues and rough-out options and CHOICES.

    Then you go to the intended audience who invariably adds either nuances you missed or wholesale changes (different problem definitions, different solutions), after which, you start again.

    This nasty business of community engagement---confounded in blood conflict (instead of just general community conflicts)---is just DAMNED hard, yet will never stick from some ferner telling locals what to do.

    We cannot be both the occupier and fill the shoes of the occupied. If they have problems, they must find solutions to them.

    Rule 101 in disaster relief---help where you can, then engage the community to rebuild itself. It can not work any other way.

    Steve

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    Guess I find it all a bit self righteous.
    Post-mortem introspection often is, and I can forgive that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post
    The one thing myself and other keep coming to is: How to engage the actual people that are the focus of all of this.
    What I keep coming to is the need to accept that engaging actual people becomes extraordinarily difficult when the engagement begins with you invading and conquering their country. It makes an already difficult process infinitely more difficult.

    I don't doubt that poor planning for the aftermath of invasion was a major cause of the disarray and the generally unsatisfactory results. The danger in focusing on that, of course, ist that we might easily reach the conclusion that if we just plan a bit better, we could pull off regime change without a disorderly aftermath. I'm not convinced that we can do that, or that we should be trying.
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 07-18-2012 at 12:15 AM.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Dahuyan:

    Agree with the BIG insight: Planning better was not the problem, nor the route to the "if only we would have...." solution.

    First, planning better should have materially changed the task/mission.

    Second, as you say, the occupying power can not be the occupied, nor create the legitimacy to or of them. No matter how many cups of tea or soup eaten with knives.

    The occupier has to find its legitimate role and stay within that. Huge pressure, huge influence is OK, but the outcomes of that can not become the local solution---just the occupier's quick hit.

    Sustainable solutions have to emerge from and be rooted in them, not us.

    Finding a different path AFTER you went down a road is very very tricky.

    Like most on this site, we were not involved in the big decision---just what followed---and doing the best with what was in front of us.

    Maybe, with Ken's wisdom, it has and always will be that way, but the question that Emma Sky leaves behind: What next? is still unanswered.

    Personally, as ugly as it may look: Iraq is doing what I expected---finding its sea legs in a very tough circumstance---but with some good fortune (a short boom in oil prices).

    Afghanistan, on the other hand: Boy, I hope some decent transition planning starts soon.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I dunno who the guy with wisom is, Steve...

    Howsomeever, this ol' dumb Ken has always contended that it'd be the halfway point -- 2018 -- before any real degree of stability was shown and the the full 30 years to 2033 before Iraq was a functioning semi-rule of law State in accordance with world -- not Western; definitely not Western, not ever -- norms. That to be true only if there was no major disruption in the ME in the interim. I said that in 2003 and little I've seen or heard since has caused me to change my mind. Nor do I at this time see any major flaps in the ME, just a slew of minor ones...

    They're nervous over there -- and they should be; they have to fix that. We cannot.

    FWIW I disagree with Professor Sky. Iraq will not "haunt" us; the world will move on and lurch to another crisis. 'It' -- the lurching factor -- has indeed always been this way and always will. The Perfesser is a smart Lady but she's young and reading about doesn't give all the subtleties that living with a spasmodically improving world does. Nor does it show well the resilience of humans...

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    Ken:

    Used to hear folks talking about the books they were gonna write about Iraq when it was over. Always wondered who they were going to sell these books to. Iraqis---the real target audience---would have no interest in them.

    Dumb american ideas about their country.

    The 30 year horizon. Lifetimes, generation spanning. Real life. Open-ended. Self-defining and re-defining. Who knows where its is headed, or how it will get there.

    Just doesn't fit in to our operational efforts.

    Like dwelling on Huntington's CORDs critique (which has a lot of substance and reference), but gets in the way of "Don't Just Stand There, Do Something."

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    It's well know in the upper circles of power that after the next election Ken will ask Iran to give up their Nuclear weapons program......they will comply!

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post
    We cannot be both the occupier and fill the shoes of the occupied. If they have problems, they must find solutions to them.
    That is exactly what the Air Force believes or at they used to. I have a copy of a letter to the editor of our local paper from just after the overthrow of Sadam where Colonel Warden tried to warn whoever would listen what would happen if we disbanded the Iraqi military and implemented some kind of de-bathistazation(spelling?) program. Pretty much fell on deaf ears.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    FWIW I disagree with Professor Sky. Iraq will not "haunt" us; the world will move on and lurch to another crisis. 'It' -- the lurching factor -- has indeed always been this way and always will. The Perfesser is a smart Lady but she's young and reading about doesn't give all the subtleties that living with a spasmodically improving world does. Nor does it show well the resilience of humans...
    I think she's correct in the sense that the Iraq war and the memories of it (memories that may or may not be accurate, on all sides) will have an influence on our relations with the Middle East and the Muslim world for a long time to come, just as our Cold War legacy of installing and/or propping up dictators we perceived to be anti-Communist still complicates our relationships with much of the developing world. Whether or not we will recognize the influence or its antecedents is of course another question.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post
    Used to hear folks talking about the books they were gonna write about Iraq when it was over. Always wondered who they were going to sell these books to.
    Other Americans, of course.

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    That is exactly what the Air Force believes or at they used to. I have a copy of a letter to the editor of our local paper from just after the overthrow of Sadam where Colonel Warden tried to warn whoever would listen what would happen if we disbanded the Iraqi military and implemented some kind of de-bathistazation(spelling?) program. Pretty much fell on deaf ears.
    Were those ears deaf, or were they also considering what could happen if we didn't disband the army or get rid of the Baath? It's easy to look back and say that was a mistake, but we don't know that the road not taken would have led anyplace better. How do you think the Shi'a and the Kurds might have reacted if we'd proposed to keep the army intact and the Baath in power? I'd guess they'd have been pissed, to put it mildly.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    Were those ears deaf, or were they also considering what could happen if we didn't disband the army or get rid of the Baath? It's easy to look back and say that was a mistake, but we don't know that the road not taken would have led anyplace better. How do you think the Shi'a and the Kurds might have reacted if we'd proposed to keep the army intact and the Baath in power? I'd guess they'd have been pissed, to put it mildly.
    Except he said it would be a mistake BEFORE not after. I don't care what the Shi'a or Kurds think that isn't Americas problem.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    Except he said it would be a mistake BEFORE not after. I don't care what the Shi'a or Kurds think that isn't Americas problem.
    I said going there would be a mistake, before not after.

    What the Sunni thought became our problem when they started shooting at us and planting IEDs. What the Kurds and the Sunni thought would presumably have become an issue under similar circumstances. Of course we could have left the army intact, put some more or less congenial general in charge, and walked away to watch the ensuing civil war from a distance, but that would have raised a whole range of issues of its own, all of which would likely have become our problems sooner rather than later.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    What I keep coming to is the need to accept that engaging actual people becomes extraordinarily difficult when the engagement begins with you invading and conquering their country. It makes an already difficult process infinitely more difficult.
    As a general rule I would agree. In the case of Iraq I disagree. By using the term "their country" you assume the population has an interest in seeing the current regime continue. That they are vested in it. That they find it legitimate. I don't believe that was the case prior to the invasion in Iraq. I believe that the majority of the population wanted Saddam and his sons out of the picture. I believe that manifest itself in the relative good will we have in the three to four months after the invasion.

    We hosed it up, but not because of the decision to invade. It was the decisions on how to handle it afterwords that screwed us. In my opinion to walk away from this believing that the right lesson to learn from Iraq is that it is better to just sit on the sidelines and do nothing would be misreading the autopsy.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 07-18-2012 at 11:57 AM.
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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Come on, just because the people don't have a say in their governance, it does not mean it is not "their country." That is a dangerous bit of rationalization.

    "We had to destroy the country to safe the country" Right? This is an easy trap to fall into, and we are better served by admitting that we did than we are by rationalizing away our most important lessons that we should be learning from this.

    There is a WIDE range of options between "sit on the sidelines and do nothing" and "Invade and occupy."

    One such option was the UW concept put on the table early to simply go in and leverage the Kurdish separatist movement. No one wanted one more SF-centric quick success though. We (DOD) were looking for a big gunfight that everyone could play in; and the Whitehouse was looking for an option that took out Saddam once and for all - and that is what we got. Now, what did we learn from that?

    All the lessons learned I am seeing being captured are about how to do the wrong thing better. It is time we start putting a bit more wattage into thinking about how we could have done better things.
    Last edited by Bob's World; 07-18-2012 at 12:05 PM.
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