US Strategy in Iraq for 2007?
A informed reader believes the eventual shape of the President's future plan in Iraq is taking shape. Pointing to informed speculation at Small Wars Journal, he thinks it is likely that there will be a "shift in mission" in Iraq, emphasizing a security solution over a political one: changing "our focus from training Iraqi soldiers to securing the Iraqi population and containing the rising violence. Securing the population has never been the primary mission of the U.S. military effort in Iraq, and now it must become the first priority," as the AEI study he quotes puts it. A lot of readers may say, 'finally the US is going to kick ass', but the informed reader notes the plan will also require a greater effort on the American part, in particular an extension of tours of duty. He also has reservations about whether the non-military capabilities of the United States are up to the task of the followup to combat. In earlier correspondence the reader noted the Belmont Club talking about mobilizing the nation to fight the information and political warfare -- the levee en masse -- or, as the reader put it, to redress the fact that "the rest of the elements of national power are not present on the battlefield in ways that they should be". The military may be able to clear, but what does the rest of the US government to for an encore? The quotable parts of his email are given below and I hope it will spark discussion among other readers.
I noted this post at The Small Wars Journal with interest a couple of weeks ago. Since then, every couple of days there has been a news story leading me to believe that the plan developed by General Keane and Fred Kagan at AEI is the one that the President is going to adopt and announce in January.
Some of these signs: statements by Bush at a press conference before Christmas; a dramatic increase in op-eds by Kagan in nearly every major newspaper, including some British ones; stories in outlets such as the NYT alluding to possible force increases; Gates' well-publicized trip to Iraq, with the ostensible conclusion that larger forces are needed; and now, Joe Lieberman's op-ed in the Washington Post (which is linked on Instapundit), calling for a larger force.
I encourage you all to follow the links to the AEI plan and read it -- it's a ppt presentation and in classic Pentagon course-of-action style -- indicating that it has been wargamed by military officers, not just academics or civilians such as the ISG.
I don't have time to blog about this, but these are my thoughts:
a) the plan calls for a surge in forces, but what is less publicized is the manner in which this surge will be sustained: by increasing the rotation time of Marine units from 7 to 12 months and Army units from 12-15 months. I wonder if this detail is the reason why the President is waiting until after Christmas to announce. Anyway, this jives with what I am hearing from several sources on the need for longer rotations for Marine units, due to the nature of counterinsurgencies and the length of time required to build trusted local networks.
b) the plan calls for what is a shift in mission: from a priority of training Iraqi forces to a priority of providing a secure environment for the people. This might get lost in the coverage, which will dwell upon the increase in forces -- along with cries of "escalation" a la Vietnam. But it is a very important shift. The coming year might see some new battles possibly on the scale of that of Fallujah in 2004, but this time in both Baghdad and Ramadi. This is a guess though and is not crystal clear in the plan -- the battles could also be smaller in scale, given the strengths of Iraqi forces in some areas.
c) finally, I feel the plan is not detailed enough when destructing reconstruction: the "build" part of "clear, hold, and build." There needs to be a dramatic decentralization of funding, a renewed commitment to the CERP program; full staffing of provincial reconstruction teams; and the USAID and State Dept need to become expeditionary and fully staffed virtually overnight -- there's no reason why USAID personnel shouldn't be asked to work at the company level. My thoughts here are not enough. I'm not a reconstruction expert. But several Marine officer friends have noted this problem. Robert Kaplan did so as well in an Atlantic piece not long ago. Basically, the rest of the elements of national power are not present on the battlefield in the ways that they should be.
I could be way off the mark: Bush might propose something completely different. But I'm calling this one: he's going with the AEI plan, perhaps with some modifications.
Having a good plan is one thing, but the enemy also gets to vote in its execution. He will kick back. As in the past, the enemy can be expected to emphasize political and propaganda countermeasures against any new US initiative. If the US shifts the mission to emphasize security, expect a plethera of articles to emerge decrying extended tours of duty, revealing more atrocity stories, etc. In general, expect a full-court press in both the political and media areas to blunt any new strategy. Washington DC will be part of Iraq battlefield. For example, incoming House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers is an instance of a powerful elected official who will be naturally skeptical of any new US efforts. Conyers, who has just admitted to using his government staff to work on his campaign, has also sponsored measures to specifically protect Islam, worked to impeach the President and charged that intelligence was manipulated to support invading Iraq. Speaker Pelosi has just reaffirmed that he will remain Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, his admissions of ethical impropriety notwithstanding. It's good odds that officials like Conyers will have their say, at least partially, in what happens next in Iraq. The President is not a dictator; so the execution of any new strategy in Iraq will really be the execution of a negotiated strategy; negotiated among the different branches of government. That's just a fact. And maybe this is all the more reason to find ways to mobilize private intiative to complement the kinetic warfare efforts. Securing the population in Baghdad will neither be entirely a military problem nor happen entirely in Iraq. It will, as always, be a politico-military effort, with local aspects and global aspects.