Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career

Rob Farley takes a look at the recent joint US/Iraqi military operations (involving giant "sweeps"), and comes away unimpressed. Such sweeps, like airstrikes, are actually anathema to sound counterinsurgency practices.

Part of the point of the Surge was to allow the possibility for traditional counter-insurgency operations, in which insurgents were forced to launch their own offensives against American forces, and consequently be destroyed. This was, given the trivial size of the Surge compared to what Petraeus own counter-insurgency manual demanded, a forlorn hope. That the US has apparently returned to pointless and destructive sweep operations may be a recognition of that within the command structure. These operations are emotionally satisfying, but by and large have never worked, and almost inevitably cause more damage than they prevent.

Farley is right that the Surge was doomed from the get-go due to the logistical shortcomings (not enough troops, too late in the game) and the fact that the violence was a symptom, not the cause, of the various civil wars and insurgencies (especially now that they have become an entrenched and self-sustaining phenomena).

As is the case with most other issues surrounding the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the proponents of The Surge mostly fall into two categories: (1) Those that are well-intentioned, yet unduly optimistic and ignorant of the scope of the problems and tools available to address them; or (2) Those that are cynically willing to support, re-brand and re-package the same set of bankrupt policies in the desire to ride out the wave of opposition so that they can either pass off the mess to the next (likely Democratic) administration, or get to the point where long-term, residual military presence in Iraq is tolerated and seen as a compromise position (beneficial oil laws, also a priority).

The entire concept of The Surge was based on the Tal Afar model, but any halfway astute observer should have noticed that the "clear, hold and build" operation in Tal Afar would require many times the number of troops available if it were to be replicated throughout Iraq (even in all of Baghdad). As Farley notes, it's what the Petraeus counterinsurgency manual says! But we got The Surge anyway - at least in the form of a full-court press PR campaign and the dribbling into Baghdad of a too-small contingent of forces.

That our military is changing postures should come as no surprise. That we should wait until September - or later - for Petraeus to inform us of the obvious is entirely unnecessary. The Surge was DOA.

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