Easter weekend open post 2
The New Republic has second thoughts about blaming Donald Rumsfeld after discovering that individual Generals also made "mistakes" in fighting the counterinsurgency. Spencer Ackerman uses the difference between the Marine, the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne methods in Iraq to discredit the criticisms of General Swannack.
OK, General Swannack. I understand you want to oust Donald Rumsfeld from the Pentagon ... Secretary Kettle, meet General Pot. When Swannack commanded the 82nd Airborne in Iraq in 2003--which had responsibility for the western part of what was then called the Sunni Triangle--the discriminating application of force that marks counterinsurgency wasn't exactly his calling card. Perhaps most significantly, in April 2003, the 82nd handled a protest in Falluja by firing into the crowd, and while the situation was by all accounts a tremendously confusing one for well-intentioned U.S. soldiers, Fallujan sympathy for the then-nascent insurgency immediately took root. In March 2004, the Marines took responsibility for Anbar Province and set to work reversing Swannack's force-over-politics approach.
Ackerman implies that Swannack used too heavy-handed an approach. He quotes author George Packer (who wrote a feature article in the New Yorker praising success at Tal-Afar) to contrast the 82nd not only from the Marines but also from its sister Army unit, the 101st.
In the first year of the war, in Falluja and Ramadi, Major General Charles Swannack, of the 82nd Airborne Division, emphasized killing and capturing the enemy, and the war grew worse in those places; in northern Iraq, Major General David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division, focused on winning over the civilian population by encouraging economic reconstruction and local government, and had considerable success. "Why is the 82nd hard-ass and the 101st so different?" Hammes [a retired Marine colonel] asked. "Because Swannack sees it differently than Petraeus. But that's Sanchez's job. That's why you have a corps commander."
The New Republic article concludes:
All this is to say that when it comes to counterinsurgency, and the Iraq war more generally, not all the failure, and the blame, lies in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. And after writing that, I feel like I need a shower ...
But this is slightly unfair to Swannack. There were always a multiplicity of approaches to the counterinsurgency, not only with respect to place but also to time. In Bing West's No True Glory, an account of both battles of Fallujah, West recounts how the Marine approach to the Fallujah problem shifted over time. At first the Marines tried dealing with the sheiks using reconstruction money. They later discovered the sheiks were ineffective and found that the Imams were pulling the strings. After several iterations, the Marines were prepared to use force to clear out the city, but were prevented from doing so because it would split up the Provisional Government. Balked, they tried using Saddam-era Generals to contain the growing terrorist cells in the city only to discover these men had lost their former influence to newly arrived foreign terrorist cells. In the end the Marines assaulted through Fallujah, killing and capturing the enemy. But wait, wasn't that what Swannack wanted to do in the first place? Maybe Swannack's timing was wrong. Maybe. But how do we know?
"There is a tide in the affairs of men ...". We are all familiar with the quote, which signifies in this context that the correct approach may vary in place and time. Ecclesiastes puts it even better than Shakespeare, one of the few instances when the Bard is trumped.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance ...
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
And a time to understand that this is so. The men who judge what works in their area of operations are the Commanders. Sometimes they will be wrong and sometimes get it right. The only demand one can make of command going up the line is to learn from their subordinates' experience and reflect it downward in changed guidance. The failure to adapt is the ultimate command failure. Stupidity was not sending men into the face of machine gun fire in August 1914 when that weapon was encountered in large numbers for the first time. What was stupid was to keep doing it even in the Somme in 1916. For that reason the New Republic's article, though slightly off-base puts its finger on the most disturbing aspect of the debate over the War. The press has made consistency in the prosecution of war a virtue; just as it has made the "failure" to live up to the initial plan the ultimate sin. In consequence so much of the debate consists of archaeology. What George Bush said to Tony Blair in Downing Street. What Joe Wilson heard in Darfur. Yet consistency in war is often not virtue but vice. The hobgoblin of small minds.