Friday, August 19, 2005
The Epilogue, Part III
As advertised in Parts I and II, I said I would do my bit to offer advice for how to better conduct our operations in Iraq. Most of what I will say will rely on experts and seasoned policymakers, and may not be new to many of you, so to the extent that you were anticipating a novel approach, I may have to disappoint. Generally speaking, the extent of my wisdom lies in recognizing the brilliance of others, not in formulating unique approaches myself, though I occasionally have a moment of clarity. Enough with the caveats though.
The first thing that must be done vis a vis Iraq would be for Bush the "Leader" to level with the American people. The mythos of Bush is that he is the straight shooter from Texas, the un-nuanced anti-Clinton and the politician that doesn't care about polls. Well, if any of that is more than just clever marketing, it is well past due that he started showing it vis a vis Iraq.
Credibility gaps are dangerous disconnects to create between a leader and his or her public when trying to conduct a protracted war. The entire Iraq campaign was built upon a wobbly edifice of mismanaged expectations in terms of justifications, costs, difficulties, the reception we would receive, the duration our troops would be in Iraq, the political ramifications for the entire region, etc. The Bush administration has been slow to correct the early propaganda, instead relying on a series of events designated as the next tipping point, such as the deaths of Uday and Qusay, the capture of Saddam, the transfer of limited sovereignty, the election and the now-delayed Constitution. The more the American people hear about "tipping points" that never tip, corners that never turn and last throes that last forever, the more they will lose patience. To echo Joe Biden, Bush must at long last come clean about the struggle that lies ahead, the likely duration, the prospects for "success" (a term he should define somewhat) and the tenacity needed to realize any and all of those goals. And he must ask the American people to sacrifice - more than the soldiers and their families.
Bush must, absolutely must, ask the wealthiest Americans, who have benefited so immensely under his leadership, to forsake some of their multi-tiered, multi-packaged, multi-trillion dollar tax cuts so that we can continue to fund this war, purchase the armor for our troops and their vehicles, pay their medical expenses, and not run up the deficit to dangerous levels so that it itself becomes a national security issue. There are more than a trillion good reasons why no nation in the history of the world has cut taxes during a time of war. Bush and his fellow Republicans have done it three times (at least). Time to admit your error Mr. President, and attempt to right the ship. If Iraq is truly as important as you've said it is, then show us the money.
Next I would recommend to all in the Bush administration, that they commit themselves to learn (or apply) the contours of counterinsurgency warfare. This will benefit their efforts in Iraq, and in the War on Terror in general. This passage from the Military Affairs article cited in Part II is a good place to start.
The focus of all civil and military plans and operations must be on the center of gravity in any conflict - the country's people and their belief in and support of their government. Winning their hearts and minds must be the objective of the government's efforts.Got that? In other words, you must appeal to the actual people you are trying to....well, appeal to. A practical application of this could be informing how we conduct and oversee our detention facilities. We simply must do better than we have done at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and elsewhere if we want to even make a dent in the effort for hearts and minds. War supporters, most of all, should be leading this charge if they truly value success. But all too often they are the ones shouting the loudest that the horrific treatment of Iraqis, Afghanis and other Muslims is really nothing to be concerned about. "They're all terrorists," they say, despite the fact that many at Gitmo are innocent of all charges (12 year old boys?), Abu Ghraib releases between 70-90% of its captives, and that story of misidentified innocents is similar at Bagram and elsewhere. Here's the self-fulfilling prophesy: if you treat every Iraqi like a terrorist/insurgent, pretty soon every Iraqi is going to side with the terrorists/insurgents in one form or another. Apply that lesson to the battle for Muslim hearts and minds generally speaking. This is not, or shouldn't be at least, a controversial suggestion.
Then, take this lesson and extend it to all conduct of our military and intelligence operations - to the best of our oversight abilities - from roadblock/checkpoint rules of engagement, to intrusive home raids, to the use of anti-personnel cluster bombs in populated areas to name but a few. We must try to minimize and mitigate the alienation and creation of enemies that would result from otherwise callous policies.
Nadezhda, graciously, provided us with a mini-handbook for counterinsurgency 101, with strategies broken down in terms of efficacy:
That is an excellent starting point. Consume, vet, hone, integrate and repeat. Next I turn to Larry Diamond, a former official with the CPA in Baghdad. Many of you might be familiar with Larry Diamond's recommendations for improving the situation in Iraq, but for those that are, they bear repeating.
-Emphasis on intelligence.
-Focus on population, their needs, and security.
-Secure areas established, expanded.
-Insurgents isolated from population (population control).
-Single authority (charismatic/dynamic leader).
-Effective, pervasive psychological operations (PSYOP) campaigns.
-Amnesty and rehabilitation for insurgents.
-Police in lead; military supporting.
-Police force expanded, diversified.
-Conventional military forces reoriented for counterinsurgency.
-Special Forces, advisers embedded with indigenous forces.
-Insurgent sanctuaries denied.
-Primacy of military direction of counterinsurgency.
-Priority to "kill-capture" enemy, not on engaging population.
-Battalion-size operations as the norm.
-Military units concentrated on large bases for protection.
-Special Forces focused on raiding.
-Adviser effort a low priority in personnel assignment.
-Building, training indigenous army in image of U.S. Army.
-Peacetime government processes.
-Open borders, airspace, coastlines.
There are four key elements to a political strategy for diminishing the violent resistance in Iraq. First, the Bush Administration must declare that the U.S. will not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. Second, we should declare some sort of time frame (but not a rigid deadline) by which we think we can withdraw militarily - if Iraqi groups that are supporting or tolerating the violence will instead help build the new political order. Third, we need to talk directly to the (largely Sunni) political groups connected to the insurgency, some of which have been seeking to talk to the U.S. for almost two years. Fourth, we need an honest broker to help mediate these discussions and build confidence in the process; this might be a small international contact group including representatives from the United Nations and one or two of the European embassies in Baghdad.I agree with each and every of those recommendations. Mr. Diamond then weighed in on the Bush administration's performance along these lines:
The Bush Administration is refusing to take any of these four steps. It won't renounce the bases because it wants them. It won't consider any kind of timetable, even without fixed deadlines, even dependent on the cooperation of the other side, because it doesn't want to look weak, and it doesn't really know when Iraqi forces will be ready to assume the burdens of maintaining order (against an insurgency that is fueled in part by the lack of an Administration strategy). It has refused to talk to the insurgent groups because, again, it fears this being misinterpreted as a sign of weakness, and because, once you have said about the insurgency, "Bring them on," they are just "evildoers," what is left to discuss? They have taken steps to bring the marginalized Sunnis into the political process. The Sunnis have a place on the constitution drafting committee in large measure because of American pressure. I do give the Administration credit for that. But this is only the beginning of a political strategy.Diamond's advice would be wise to adopt for a few reasons. First, it is built on the notion of "marginalizing" the insurgents. By making our intention to leave, eventually, clear we could separate the nationalists and Baathists (who want us out of Iraq no matter what), from the foreign fighters, thus driving a wedge between the camps and better isolate the die-hards. Appealing to the Sunnis politically, and through offers of amnesty, would further support this effort. Synergistically, this should be our goal in the broader War on Terror as well, and I recommend Nadezhda's post on the subject of marginalization strategy as an excellent resource. The question is, will the Bush administration relinquish its designs on permanent bases in order to try to weaken the insurgency? It is becoming clearer every day that a decision will have to be made here one way or another.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, our armed forces cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely, or much past the end of 2005 at its current troop levels, and our allies are heading for the exits, one after the other. Thus, if we do not contain the insurgency in some meaningful way prior to our impending troop reductions, the situation will deteriorate. If you think it's hard to whack a mole with the current troop levels, just wait until we have half that amount in country, relegated to remote bases. This makes Mr. Diamond's recommendations more than a passing criticism. Something must be done soon, because like it or not, many of our troops will be coming home in the next year.
In Part I of this series, I said I disagreed with Matt Yglesias' column which called for a withdrawal of US forces after the finalization of the Constitution and the subsequent elections. Instead, I argued, we must stick around in Iraq in order to stabilize the situation and forestall potential widespread violence. But perhaps I was being unfair to Yglesias. I mean to say that if the Bush administration has no intention or plan for altering the flow of events in Iraq, if they are not willing to make the hard choices to try to tamp the insurgency, then I think we should withdraw ala Yglesias. The current strategy is unwinnable, and will only result in a further bleeding of money, military assets, lives, credibility, intelligence assets, and collective foreign policy brainpower that could be better utilized in other hot spots around the globe.
So, the time is now Mr. President, or better yet two years ago. If you value the mission in Iraq, if you think it worthy of the sacrifices that have gone before it, it is time to put away the swagger, the bluster, the feel-good chest thumping, the "bring 'em on," the flight suit, the Mission Accomplished sign, and all the other accoutrements of the war president that you have seemed to covet. It is time to cut your record-setting vacation short and get down to doing the dirty work: abandon dreams of World War IV, admit error (at least internally), level with the American people, be realistic about turning points, repeal some of the multi-trillion dollar tax cuts to fund this war, demand leadership in the Department of Defense that grasps the nature of the counterinsurgency warfare as present in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, and take Mr. Diamond's advice, or at least vet his suggestions to come up with viable alternatives. You can't stay this course unless you change it, now matter how many times you change the name.