Degrees of Freedom
The Small Wars Council has an interesting set of comments on the counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar. It raises several questions without quite answering them, but the questions themselves are valuable to consider, whether or not we know the answers. First: apparently the Anbar tribes have quit "playing both sides" and come down on the side of the US. What does that suggest about who tribes think is going to win? And why do they think that? Another commenter at Small Wars Council shrewdly understands, from the apparent progress in Anbar, that the correct interpretation of "changing the rules of engagement" doesn't mean "taking the gloves off" but increasing the degrees of freedom that the commanders in the field are allowed to exercise. Mandatory severity may be just as damaging as compulsory leniency. Perhaps the real lesson of Anbar is to let men on the ground do what they think is right. But the real gem is buried in a link to the blog Talisman Gate, which relates how a Jihadi satellite TV station has gone from broadcasting Islamic Internet attack video to criticizing al-Qaeda. Talisman gates says:
I was wondering how the current spate of jihadist-on-jihadist strife is going to be revealed to the public at large, but I never contemplated that it will be done on a jihadist satellite station, Al-Zawra, and through the person of the slimy nutcase who owns it, Mishaan al-Jebouri.
Al-Zawra TV had become the premier jihadist propaganda tool; it was mostly focused on entertainment programming but began to air pro-insurgency rhetoric after Jebouri was stripped of his parliamentary immunity on charges of corruption and aiding the insurgency. What Al-Zawra basically did was to retransmit the jihadist videos that are being posted on the internet—mostly scenes of attacks on U.S. soldiers and Iraqi troops—to a much larger pan-Middle Eastern audience through the use of satellite technology; an audience that for the most part is not connected to the web. This made Al-Zawra immediately popular across the region, and it was being lauded by jihadists everywhere, even though some had expressed doubts over its ‘opportunistic’ management.
But a few days ago, Al-Zawra began running some anti-Al-Qaeda messages in its news ticker, and the jihadists began to mumble and some even penned invectives against al-Jebouri.
Yesterday, however, Al-Jebouri gave a whole anti-Al-Qaeda speech and this drove the jihadists berserk: the premier jihadist organ had begun to badmouth the jihad!
These are al-Jebouri’s main points:
-Al-Qaeda provoked the Shi'as and then failed to protect the Sunnis from retaliation.
-Al-Qaeda is forcing all the other insurgent groups to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and is punishing the hold-outs.
-Al-Qaeda is killing and abducting Sunni notables who were part of the insurgency.
-Al-Qaeda wants to impose a Taliban-like Islamic State on Iraqi Sunnis, who are the worse for it—they don’t even have enough to eat.
-Al-Qaeda killed an emissary sent by al-Jebouri, who has wanted to negotiate with al-Baghdadi.
-Iraqi Sunnis across the board are preparing to clash with Al-Qaeda as is already happening in Anbar Province.
Al-Jebouri gets into details and names names, and he addresses his speech to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, questioning the validity of pledging allegiance to an anonymous phantom.
Apart from the fact that al-Jebouri's rant sheds light onto why the Anbar tribes may have decided to throw in with the US; and why al-Qaeda's doctrinal fixity may have cost them in "degrees of freedom"' and why the US counterinsurgency in Anbar may be outhinking, as opposed to outgunning the enemy -- it also raises the question of whether al-Zawra is a Black TV station. For those who recall the history of the Second World War, Black Stations were Allied radio station which impersonated enemy radio by initially broadcasting enemy propaganda and later subtly shifting the message to Allied ground. In this case, al-Zawra might have broadcast Jihadi video to win an audience and then used it as a forum to broadcast grievances against the brutal al-Qaeda. Classic bait and switch and pretty damned brilliant -- if it's a Black Station. In case anyone should think I've lost my marbles, it's fair to point out the same thought has occurred to Talisman Gate also, but in a more conspiratorial and convoluted form.
My own little reading of al-Jebouri’s little speech is that this was spurred on by Syrian Intelligence. Sure, some may say it’s the Barzanis, or the Jordanians, or even the CIA. But al-Jebouri, who is now hiding-out in Damascus, may have been prodded into this by his Syrian hosts who, according to a source, are getting information that Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is moving resources and personnel from Iraq to Syria in preparation for launching operations against the regime there and beyond in Lebanon and Israel. There is a cryptic line that al-Jebouri says that seems to add credibility to this theory: “We will not allow Iraq to turn into a dangerous place that threatens the countries of the region under any pretext…”
If so then the US has truly achieved a subtlety and lethality beyond anything available in the days when firing hundreds of cruise missiles at a target was the only available response; back when it had a walnut-sized brain full of options. But then the recent destruction of a Qods bus in Iran by 'representatives of al-Qaeda' may be another example of the changed "rules of engagement" made possible by new capabilities. Although this is speculative, various commentators like Bill Roggio have expressed the opinion that just maybe the US was behind the carbomb attack on the Iranian special forces. All of this raises the tantalizing possibility that a qualitative change in US warfighting has arrived in theater, much like the arrival of Hellcats, VT fuzes, computing sights and radar silently transformed the Pacific in 1944. To a casual observer the ships looked the same as they did in 1942 but they were radically different. Who knows?
But returning to the subject of "degrees of freedom" and walnut-sized brain responses, one wonders at how useful it is to keep seeing the world through the prism of the Vietnam War. Clearly for many of the Democrats in Congress who have just supported a nonbinding resolution aimed at "bringing the boys home", 2007 is 1967. One wonders whether for certain people every year will be always be 1967. However that may be, as much time has elapsed from 1967 till today as between the time Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released and the end of the Silent Movie era. Rep. Sam Johnson. (R-Texas) responded to Murtha's "slow bleed" strategy with an argument taken from the same era but with this difference: Johnson understood the price of having his fate, as a young man, decided by old men living in their past. Now, astounded to find himself in Congress, Johnson wonders whether it isn't the job of the old to let the men in the field shape their world.