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Thread: Misreading the History of the Iraq War

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    Default Misreading the History of the Iraq War

    Misreading the History of the Iraq War by COL Peter Mansoor at SWJ Blog.

    In his latest missive on the U.S. endeavor in Iraq (Misreading the Surge Threatens U.S. Army's Conventional Capabilities), Army Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile claims that the Surge forces and the new U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine had little effect on the situation in Iraq. Rather, U.S. forces paid off the insurgents, who stopped fighting for cash. Once again, Gian Gentile misreads not just what is happening today in Iraq, but the history of the war.

    To borrow a quote from Ronald Reagan, "Gian, there you go again."

    Gentile's analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and his narrative is heavily influenced by the fact that he was a battalion commander in Baghdad in 2006. His unit didn't fail, his thinking goes, therefore recent successes cannot be due to anything accomplished by units that came to Iraq during the Surge.

    The facts speak otherwise. Gentile's battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I'm certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Mansoor
    The Surge succeeded on a number of levels. Lieutenant General Odierno brought the operational level of war back into play
    Quote Originally Posted by Gian
    "I think Andrew Bacevich, at the policy-strategy level, has basically nailed it," Gentile said, referring to the retired Army colonel who contends that Iraq is an irredeemable strategic mistake. "He points out the limits of what American military power can accomplish."
    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Bacevich
    The purpose of the surge, as it was explained by its architects, was to create the opportunity for Iraqis to negotiate some kind of political reconciliation that would bring the conflict to an end. It is certainly true that the surge reduced the occurrence of violence in Iraq. But it has not brought about that political reconciliation. Iraq has become a dependency of the United States, rather than a sovereign nation able to manage its own affairs.
    I agree with every quote above: operational, but not strategic success.

    I agree with Mr. Mansoor. We're going to be in Afghanistan - and possibly Iraq - for a long time. Let's get better at COIN.

    I also agree with Gian. COIN is very resource intensive. An infatuation with it that doesn't recognize it's strategic limitations can potentially lead to a situation where the military can't fight other battles.
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Well, no one can fault you for not being agreeable.

    Something for everyone.

    Just one minor point: COIN in a given nation is in fact the Operational level of war, ergo no success in such a an operation can or could be by itself a Strategic success. Even if it could, that 'success' could not be determined until the operations ceased, having failed or succeeded.

    The Strategic issue is the total content of the Long War (or whatever name one wants to apply to the Strategy) and Iraq is merely the most visible but not necessarily the most important part of that Strategy. That comment also applies to an extent to Afghanistan, both are simply pieces of the picture, not the whole puzzle. Thus there will be no determination of success or failure of the Strategy until more pieces -- and more than those two --fall in place and the picture emerges.

    I suspect that will take another 15 years or so, perhaps a bit longer. So all impatient folks are going to get really frazzled and upset. And that's okay...

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    Council Member Xenophon's Avatar
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    He rights. The change in to a more COIN-like approach is not having an effect. But not because of any fault of the doctrine, but because as much Generals Petreus and Odierno are preaching it, the military is not practicing it.

    Here in Diyala the Army only ventures outside its comfortable FOB with at least three stykers, oftentimes six or more. They do commute to the neighborhoods, and when they do they don't go without a ridiculous amount of security. Even when they poke their heads out to visit my MTT living out in town with our IA battalion, they stay buttoned up in their armor and fire warning shots and anything that moves, even IA HUMVEES. Meanwhile, we're playing a game of soccer with the local kids without even a pistol between us. And they wonder why they don't have a relationship with the people and they get with IEDs 10 feet from the front gate.

    Even Army MTT teams commute- COMMUTE!- to their IA battalions. There are whole areas of the U.S. battalion's AO that go unpatrolled because, according to them, it's "too dangerous." Too dangerous? What did you sign up for, the KBR food? We've been fighting the Army for a week now to clear a stretch of road of IEDs so the civilians can use it again, but the Army refuses because their stykers can't make it down the road even though we're going to maintain security. You can walk can't you?

    Things are a little better in Anbar (spent a month there before moving here to Diyala), but not by very much.

    Bottom line is: The new doctrine is good but, since it is not even close to being implemented on the ground, it can't have contributed to the success in Iraq.

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    Default Ken, I must take issue

    with you over the level of war we are dealing with. For the Iraqis and Afghanistan their wars are strategic, no matter what level we are on. For the US, I would suggest that GEN Petraeus (and Amb Crocker) is fighting a theater strategic war while his deputy (fomerly Odierno) controls the operational fight. But since Clausewitz notes that the boundaries between the strategic and tactical often blur - and we've added the operational since the late 70s - those boundaries are often blurred as well. Which means that I can live with your formulation for the US but not so easily for our hosts.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    John,
    You bring up some good points. Outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan I believe do have strategic consequences, although we (big Allied "we") have trouble articulating and agreeing on them, and as such the HQs of those efforts are plugged into the broader strategic pictures (I'll use a geographical reference of regional and global because its easier to think about). We have CENTCOM with responsibilities both to support those 2 wars, but also in charge of a much broader area with strategic importance, and finally there is US SOCOM with synchronizing responsibilities in the larger (global) war, but we still have all the geographic COCOMs that have responsibilities.

    Is this C2 structure appropriate in terms of achieving our strategic ends? I think from an operational standpoint, it probably is - but I'm not sure it links the operational to the strategic levels in a way that helps us see clearly how the broader strategic ends are effected by our efforts in one location or another. It seems we could wind up missing strategic decision points because the layers form stovepipes into specific areas. The idea that success or failure in one area might be contingent on the success or failure in another area is something I think we have a tenuous grasp of (at least it feels that way.) To be certain we can and do think in terms of the allocation of means (time, political focus, $$$, troops,etc.) - but I wonder if we are missing something? A strategic communications plan that discussed how our various public efforts across the spectrum of national power were being employed (the UNCLASS parts, or in just a philosophical way) in different locations to enable our strategic end(s) would go a long way. I think that should come from the NSS (however it might could come in an abbreviated document called "Strategy for the Long War". It could build on speeches and policies given by the President, and by his Secretaries (as his agents of authority in the Executive).

    I'm sure I did not do that last paragraph the justice it deserves for such an idea, and I apologize for suggesting something I have not fully developed as an idea - its just a feeling that nags at me as being incomplete, that somehow we are still struggling to understand the scope and consequences of the "Long War", along with the "what we should do about it" and "why we should do it" in terms of the consequences. I'd touched on this with my response to LTC Nagl's piece on the blog - but I was still working through it there too.

    Best, Rob

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    Default Organization...

    Rob--

    I really do agree with the points you made here (however inartfully)

    My own feeling is that there are rarely organizational solutions to substantive problems. All organization can do is enable leaders and followers - or hinder them. It can't solve their problems. I love the quote John Nagl uses from Monty - "We must have a plan. Secondly, we must have a man. When we have a plan and a man, we shall succeed: not otherwise." Applied to Iraq, the man is Petraeus (or is it Crocker?); the plan is classified but its base is 3-24. Putting one of those 2 guys in charge would help (organization) but they can make it work without.

    I guess my point is that we need the plan more than structural tinkering to achieve what you desire.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Default Rob,

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    Outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan I believe do have strategic consequences, although we (big Allied "we") have trouble articulating and agreeing on them, and as such the HQs of those efforts are plugged into the broader strategic pictures (I'll use a geographical reference of regional and global because its easier to think about).
    At the National Strategic level, I believe our involvement will profoundly change the political dynamics in The Middle East. Furthermore, I'm not privy to the inner workings of the Cabinet, NSC or State, but I believe that was the goal.

    If (when) we succeed, we will have accomplished the following:

    1. Toppled a brutal dictator who was fairly broadly despised bu most of the Iraqi people as well as in the rest of the Middle East.
    2. Helped the Iraqi people to establish their own representative government.
    3. Left.


    At present, the Middle East, and especially the most brutal and oppressive parts of it, are victims of a ruling class ("Kleptocracy" in many cases, such as Hussein) that has used Israel as the whipping boy to distract from their own failings. None of the facts surrounding the Balfour Agreement, or the foundation of the current state of Israel ever make it into discussions of Middle East tension. For good reason - the state of Israel isn't the real cause. It is, however, convenient to point to in order to distract domestic attention and anger. I suspect that the last thing the leaders of countries such as Syria or Iran want is for Israel to go away.

    Now factor in the successful accomplishment of the goals I listed above. Israel didn't beat the Iraqi's down, their own people (Ba'athists) did. Israel didn't go into Iraq, the US did. Contrary to hard left propaganda (including that of many Muslim government), the US isn't behaving like a conquistador, we are very clearly trying to help the Iraqis stand up their own government. Israel and the US aren't oppressing the Iraqi's; to the contrary, the US is helping them establish a modern country with rule of law, a market based economy that is already leading to a higher standard of living, modern infrastructure, etc.

    None of this bodes well for the authoritarian regimes that have kept the pot boiling for decades.

    And that, I think (hope) was the intention. Once it is seen that the Iraqis can establish a stable, modern, prosperous, self governing state, the pressure for change is on.
    John Wolfsberger, Jr.

    An unruffled person with some useful skills.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Me,too...

    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    ... Which means that I can live with your formulation for the US but not so easily for our hosts.

    Cheers

    JohnT
    Further, Rob said:
    "...Outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan I believe do have strategic consequences, although we (big Allied "we") have trouble articulating and agreeing on them, and as such the HQs of those efforts are plugged into the broader strategic pictures (I'll use a geographical reference of regional and global because its easier to think about)."
    Agreed -- but I do not see that as a problem, or as a negation of my earlier statement: ""The Strategic issue is the total content of the Long War (or whatever name one wants to apply to the Strategy) and Iraq is merely the most visible but not necessarily the most important part of that Strategy. That comment also applies to an extent to Afghanistan, both are simply pieces of the picture, not the whole puzzle.""
    "I wonder if we are missing something? A strategic communications plan that discussed how our various public efforts across the spectrum of national power were being employed (the UNCLASS parts, or in just a philosophical way) in different locations to enable our strategic end(s) would go a long way.'
    My personal belief is that if that were done honestly it would make some folks happy, others distinctly unhappy and would result in more harm than good.

    I think J.Wolfsberger has it about right and while I realize that is not enough to satisfy many, I suggest the more you lay out clearly and publicly what you wish to do, the easier it is for someone to counter you. Thomas Jonathan Jackson had it right on that score...

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    Default I would argue that its quite the reverse....

    Quote Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
    At present, the Middle East, and especially the most brutal and oppressive parts of it, are victims of a ruling class ("Kleptocracy" in many cases, such as Hussein) that has used Israel as the whipping boy to distract from their own failings. None of the facts surrounding the Balfour Agreement, or the foundation of the current state of Israel ever make it into discussions of Middle East tension. For good reason - the state of Israel isn't the real cause. It is, however, convenient to point to in order to distract domestic attention and anger. I suspect that the last thing the leaders of countries such as Syria or Iran want is for Israel to go away.
    This is often claimed, but there is really no evidence for it. On the contrary, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict delegitizes regimes far more than it legitimizes them.

    In Jordan and Egypt, leaderships are forced to explain why they have peace treaties with Israel while the nightly news shows image after image of Israeli occupation. The Jordanian regime in particular regards the continuing conflict as a grave national security threat.

    In Syria, defeats in the conflict with Israel have helped propel more than one regime change since 1948, so it is hardly a legitimation strategy! Certainly, under Asad (both late and current) the projected image of being a steadfast confrontation state has bolstered regime legitimacy. However, a peace deal with Israel that recovered the occupied Golan Heights would be far, far more valuable to the regime in terms of strengthening its domestic position.

    Elsewhere in the region, populations generally rate the Palestinian issue as important--but rate Arab handling of it poorly, which hardly helps the regimes.

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    Default Officer Questions Petraeus's Strategy

    In this morning's Wall Street Journal - Officer Questions Petraeus's Strategy by Yochi Dreazen.

    ... Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, a history professor here who served two tours in Iraq, begs to differ. He argues that Gen. Petraeus's counterinsurgency tactics are getting too much credit for the improved situation in Iraq. Moreover, he argues, concentrating on such an approach is eroding the military's ability to wage large-scale conventional wars...

    Col. Gentile is giving voice to an idea that previously few in the military dared mention: Perhaps the Petraeus doctrine isn't all it's cracked up to be. That's a big controversy within a military that has embraced counterinsurgency tactics as a path to victory in Iraq. The debate, sparked by a short essay written by Col. Gentile titled "Misreading the Surge," has been raging in military circles for months. One close aide to Gen. Petraeus recently took up a spirited defense of his boss...

    Col. Steve Boylan, a spokesman for Gen. Petraeus, said the surge deserved credit for enabling the other dynamics contributing to Iraq's security gains. "The surge was definitely a factor," he said. "It wasn't the only factor, but it was a key component."

    Col. Boylan said that he was familiar with Col. Gentile's arguments but disagreed with them. "I certainly respect the good lieutenant colonel," he said. "But he hasn't been in Iraq for a while, and when you're not on the ground your views can quickly get dated."...

    Col. Gentile's arguments have drawn fierce criticism from counterinsurgency advocates, in particular from Gen. Petraeus's chief of staff, Col. Pete Mansoor, who is retiring from the military to teach at Ohio State.

    In a posting to Small Wars Journal, a blog devoted to counterinsurgency issues, Col. Mansoor wrote that Col. Gentile "misreads not just what is happening today in Iraq, but the entire history of the war."...
    Additional links at SWJ.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    In Jordan and Egypt, leaderships are forced to explain why they have peace treaties with Israel while the nightly news shows image after image of Israeli occupation. The Jordanian regime in particular regards the continuing conflict as a grave national security threat.
    Yet the same regimes are immune from criticism when Muslims and Arabs are killed in Darfur, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, and all over the Middle-East, by other Moslems and Arabs or in Bosnia by Christians. The only difference in Palestine is that they are killed by Jews.

    At least 30x More people have died in Darfur, in 7 years than have died under Israeli occupations in WB & G.

    Even rough figures show that Israel accounts for less 1% of total deaths of Muslims in Wars since 1948, YET - this is the issue they get energised about.
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    Here in Diyala the Army only ventures outside its comfortable FOB with at least three stykers, oftentimes six or more. They do commute to the neighborhoods, and when they do they don't go without a ridiculous amount of security. Even when they poke their heads out to visit my MTT living out in town with our IA battalion, they stay buttoned up in their armor and fire warning shots and anything that moves, even IA HUMVEES. Meanwhile, we're playing a game of soccer with the local kids without even a pistol between us. And they wonder why they don't have a relationship with the people and they get with IEDs 10 feet from the front gate.

    Even Army MTT teams commute- COMMUTE!- to their IA battalions. There are whole areas of the U.S. battalion's AO that go unpatrolled because, according to them, it's "too dangerous." Too dangerous? What did you sign up for, the KBR food? We've been fighting the Army for a week now to clear a stretch of road of IEDs so the civilians can use it again, but the Army refuses because their stykers can't make it down the road even though we're going to maintain security. You can walk can't you?

    Things are a little better in Anbar (spent a month there before moving here to Diyala), but not by very much.
    PM sent

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    Default mis-identification of the enemy

    One of the biggest problems I see with the current state of the "Long War" is that we've mis-identified the enemy to maintain "political correctness." bin Laden and Saddam are/were both only bit players in the real struggle.

    The real enemy is irrational, religion-inspired totalitarianism that demands that individuals enslave themselves to some "supernatural" being and "sacrifice" themselves to some mythical world inhabited by the dead. Islam is the biggest offender here, and the source of that Islamic totalitarian impulse is the mullahs and ayatollahs based in Tehran.

    Opposed to the Islamists is the equally mythical and false philosophy of altruism: the belief that the collective is of greater value than the individual. This is the philosophy of socialism and christianity that demands that individuals "sacrifice" their well-being, happiness, and indeed their lives to the "greater good."

    I invite you to read an excellent article about the so-called "Just War Theory" which is based on this philosophy of altruism:

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/...war-theory.asp

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    Default illustration of the moral bankruptcy of "Just War Theory"

    A perfect illustration of the moral falsehood of "Just War Theory" is the story of "Lone Survivor" Marcus Luttrell who was on the Seal team with Medal of Honor "winner" Michael Murphy when Murphy was killed.

    Three goatherds came across Murphy's team and the team sacrificed themselves rather than prevent those goatherds from reporting the team's presence to the Taliban forces. Murphy was awarded the MoH for exposing himself to Taliban fire to call for backup. The backup forces were destroyed by the Taliban who shot down their hellicopter.

    22 of America's finest, most highly-trained warriors were "sacrificed" for 3 ignorant religious zealots. If that is "Just" then somebody's got their concept of Justice wrong!

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Interesting posts...

    You should go here (LINK) and add an introduction of yourself to the thread. Thanks.

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    Three goatherds
    warriors were "sacrificed" for 3 ignorant religious zealots.
    Ummm...yeah, we need to wind down a little bit. Being an Afghan does not make one a religious zealot no more than being a goatherd makes one ignorant.

    Advancing arguments this way is not how business is done withing the Small Wars Council. We love arguments, and get into them all the time...but we try to make sure they are substantive and well-thought out.

    And yes, please post that intro.

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    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dubya View Post
    One of the biggest problems I see with the current state of the "Long War" is that we've mis-identified the enemy to maintain "political correctness." bin Laden and Saddam are/were both only bit players in the real struggle.

    The real enemy is irrational, religion-inspired totalitarianism that demands that individuals enslave themselves to some "supernatural" being and "sacrifice" themselves to some mythical world inhabited by the dead. Islam is the biggest offender here, and the source of that Islamic totalitarian impulse is the mullahs and ayatollahs based in Tehran.

    Opposed to the Islamists is the equally mythical and false philosophy of altruism: the belief that the collective is of greater value than the individual. This is the philosophy of socialism and christianity that demands that [U individuals "sacrifice" their well-being, happiness, and indeed their lives to the "greater good."

    I invite you to read an excellent article about the so-called "Just War Theory" which is based on this philosophy of altruism:

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/...war-theory.asp
    The referenced article is a caricature of just war theory. As a counterweight to this invective, I suggest a reading of
    this relatively short essay by Karl Jaspers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    Ummm...yeah, we need to wind down a little bit. Being an Afghan does not make one a religious zealot no more than being a goatherd makes one ignorant.

    Advancing arguments this way is not how business is done withing the Small Wars Council. We love arguments, and get into them all the time...but we try to make sure they are substantive and well-thought out.

    And yes, please post that intro.
    Are you saying the Taliban are not religious zealots? If Taliban are such zealots, then being a supporter of the Taliban makes one either a) a religious zealot or b) intimidated by religious zealots.

    WRT to ignorance, I don't disagree there is no evidence they are ignorant (i.e., uneducated), but the likelihood is high. What passes for "education" in much of Pakistan and Afghanistan and many other areas where islam is the state religion is memorization of the Koran. This is indoctrination, not education.

    I take the goatherds' reporting the presence of Murphy's team to the Taliban as evidence of the goatherds' support of the Taliban, whether by affinity or by intimidation and ignorance.

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    I take the goatherds' reporting the presence of Murphy's team to the Taliban as evidence of the goatherds' support of the Taliban, whether by affinity or by intimidation and ignorance.
    That is your take, and you are entitled to it, but you also seem to be inflammed by the incident. As I said, advancing an argument that way is not how we do business here.

    You couldn't have know it, but I had my moderator hat on when I replied to your post in this thread. For all you know, I may adhere to Islam and may not take to kindly to an open attack on my religion...I recommend that you take a deep breath and explore the site for a while. It will make for a more enjoyable posting experience.

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