Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Harnessing the Desert Wind

Joe Klein of Time notices that not everything is going al-Qaeda's way in Iraq.

There is good news from Iraq, believe it or not. It comes from the most unlikely place: Anbar province, home of the Sunni insurgency. ... This is a result of sheiks stepping up and opposing AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] and volunteering their young men to serve in the police and army units there." The success in Anbar has led sheiks in at least two other Sunni-dominated provinces, Nineveh and Salahaddin, to ask for similar alliances against the foreign fighters. And, as TIME's Bobby Ghosh has reported, an influential leader of the Sunni insurgency, Harith al-Dari, has turned against al-Qaeda as well. It is possible that al-Qaeda is being rejected like a mismatched liver transplant by the body of the Iraqi insurgency.


Viewed from the standpoint of managing human resources winning wars is all about retaining institutional expertise at a greater rate than the enemy can. The classic example was Japanese naval aviation versus the USN. At the start of World War 2, Japanese naval aviatiors were arguably the best in the world. But unfortunately for the Empire, the IJN saw fit to keep its best aviators on the frontline and eventually lose them to attrition. Their wisdom went down in flames with their aircraft. On the other hand the US successfully passed on the lessons learned by its aces to new recruits. The institution gradually learned what worked and didn't. It seems like a trivial thing but it wasn't. By late 1944 a newly deployed Japanese aviator stood so little chance against his better trained American counterpart that they were of no other use than as Kamikazes.

Many seemingly plausible ideas also collapsed under the test of combat. Whole weapons systems were discredited. Battleships, unescorted bombers, American naval torpedoes -- things upon which entire doctrines were developed -- were consigned to the scrap-heap or modified to work. And wholly new concepts were developed. Generally speaking war both creates and destroys. It destroys the futile in order to make room for the effective. Today in Iraq the US is apparently starting to learn how to organize Iraqis at the most basic of levels to counteract al-Qaeda. The idea was not novel, having been employed by TE Lawrence, Mao Tse Tung and Edward Landsdale, but its acceptance was. Klein writes:

As I reported in September 2005, there is also the scandalous reality that an alliance with the tribes was proposed by U.S. Army intelligence officers as early as October 2003 and rejected by L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority on the grounds that "tribes are part of the past. They have no place in the new democratic Iraq."

Give it time and Bremer may be right yet. By directly empowering grassroots organizations in the fight against terrorism, the US military may be indirectly subverting the power of Baghdad. Blackfive recently linked to a letter by General Petraeus to the Iraqi people. It would be one of history's true ironies if American soldiers and not Iraqi politicians turn out to be the fathers of post-Saddam Iraq. But those difficulties, if real, lie in the future. For the present Bremer is proven wrong, and the American ability to organize and mobilize Iraqi allies is a vital capability which confers many advantages.

Unlike most military weapons systems, this "capability" doesn't consist of hardware. There are fundamentally no bombs, computers, rockets or death-rays involved in this organizing power, at least not directly. The ability to work effectively with indigenous populations consists in the institutional memory, human skill, language capability, cultural familiarity, in the fragile spiderweb of personal networks that Americans have painstakingly created and are striving to pass on. Like all capabilities based on human flesh, it is an extremely perishable commodity. This weapons system -- the one that has driven al-Qaeda from Anbar -- actually resides in an enumerable set of Americans and Iraqis, in their skulls and remembered conversations; it cannot be stored away in some missile silo and kept there for a distant decade. It is as fleeting and as powerful as the wind.

And its superiority is relative. While US forces have the temporary upper hand because they keep killing off experienced al-Qaeda cadres and tipping them off balance by constant pursuit, the advantage could evaporate in a moment if the enemy were given a chance to regroup. That would give the enemy a chance to rebuild their institutional memory; to learn from its mistakes. It could evaporate if bad political decisions drive experienced personnel from the US Armed Forces and and out into other jobs. The tribal networks themselves could even be turned against America should they feel betrayed. Such advantages as exist in Anbar are like embers in the time before matches. The fire must be passed on or it will go out. The value of tempo in warfare essentially consists of making temporary advantages last for the duration of the war. Once you are ahead, never relinquish the lead.

But the skill of organizing the tribes is but the first in a whole series of new capabilities that the West must acquire to combat the networked insurgency. It has not yet learned how to neutralize enemy sanctuaries across international borders without a conventional invasion. It has not yet discovered how to counter the insidious and hate-filled propaganda of al-Qaeda. It has not yet even learned to convey its successes to the Western public. But it has learned something. And it shows.

26 Comments:

Blogger USpace said...

Good one, hopefully the Sheiks and the Tribes will continue to realize that Al Qaeda will never do anybody any good; and thus they must continue to work together to marginalize and destroy AQ.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
don't slaughter your enemy...

see a job worth doing
not a job worth doing right
.

5/23/2007 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

The tribal networks themselves could even be turned against America should they feel betrayed.

Exactly.

The question one ought to answer is how one can keep Anbaris from feeling betrayed. The obvious answer is to not betray them. Yet, in a context of a dangerous environment, abandonment is as likely to be construed as betrayal as overt backstabbing.

It may seem wonderful for American soldiers to play with Iraqi boys, but when fighting the insurgency meant less time for civilian contact, the result was often resentment against abandonment. An elephant will feel betrayed when his handler leaves.

American as I am, my basic attitude is to get the job done and get out. This comes at cross purposes with the necessity of making our foreign allies feel as wanted in peacetime as they are in wartime. Although Mr. Kissinger and the Shah were content to betray their tribal allies in Iraq, such perfidy would do us no favors in the war against the al-Qaeda and its ideological fellow travelers.

5/23/2007 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger R said...

What a sweet and sensitive article: I feel fuzzy all over! Who's kidding who here? If the ancient Greeks wanted their people to be strong in "body, mind, and soul" how should we address our world and that world in the middle east? This simple question seems to beg for a simple answer. From my American perspective, it would seem the middle east is one land dominated by the "soul" and little else. Anyone seen the "hand of God" in this mess...oh yea, everyone who wants to play there does! No wonder the Bible is filled with warring, god speaks from many angles, especially through his mighty messengers on earth, at least it seems that way.

The war on terror is a good fight, but the war we're waging in Iraq may not be the best fight we could have picked. Or perhaps we have discovered a number of those generals left over from Clinton's years really aren't warring generals at all. Very confusing.

And so very sad. Joe Klien should stay home and ponder just what kind of a so called journalist he has become over the years. He toots a horn for who?

Meanwhile, we all should be honoring those fallen in the line of duty and rally for those in our military and veteran hospitals. Our culture demands such.

5/24/2007 05:33:00 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Wretchard - a great piece of writing. Sometimes you really hit the groove.

Re - Bremer's rejection of the Shiekhs back in 2003 on the grounds they were "old" Iraq. Turns out he may have been right.

A few weeks ago I read this article :

http://www.military.com/newscontent/0,13319,134179,00.html

describing how the US became allied with Sheikh al Rashawi.

Turns out the Anbar Salvation sheikhs are "second tier" shiekhs, as the "first tier" sheikhs all peed off to Jordan to wait out the insurgency.

So basically a generational takeover has since taken place.

Another great story from the US commander is of how the shiekhs had previously decided to sit out the war after they had witnessed a clash between the Baath insurgents and the AlQ, and AlQ had "mopped the floor" with them.

If true, story means that just as we are witnessing the emergence of "New France" and "New Germany" we may also be witnessing the emergence of the Shiekhs of New Iraq!

5/24/2007 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

That link didn't translate properly. Should be:

http://www.military.com/newscontent/0,13319,134179,00.html

5/24/2007 06:11:00 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Dunno what's wrong.

Add after last comma 00.html

5/24/2007 06:13:00 AM  
Blogger Soldier's Dad said...

The desert presents some unique challenges to nomadic people.

The reality is that one can not move ones goods to market without taking shelter in the encampments of other tribes. Nature is the common enemy.

So the desert peoples...prior to the existance of religion created a couple of rules.

1) You must grant shelter to travelers from other tribes in your encampments.

2) When enjoying shelter in another tribes encampments you will conduct yourself as a guest and not attempt to take control of the encampment.

AlQueda broke rule 2 when it created the Islamic State of AlQaim in September 2005.

5/24/2007 06:35:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...

barbara said...

just as we are witnessing the emergence of "New France" and "New Germany" we may also be witnessing the emergence of the Shiekhs of New Iraq!

France and Germany will emerge based on evidence, albeit evidence of decay.

Shieks of the New Iraq will never emerge.

You have to stop thinking that the Middle East has a future.

Of all humanity, they know it.

ADE

5/24/2007 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Perhaps they could be dubbed the "My Gen Sheikhs?"

Soldier's Dad - that was a wonderful illumination.

Ade - hey, they're human like all of us in the end.

5/24/2007 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

"Information" in Iraq seems the wrong word. What Teilhard de Chardin (he of the Piltdown hoax) called the "noosphere" would be more apropos. Abstractions are notoriously fragile; yet they are also most robust. As "learning" descends to habits of mind, subtlety gives way to experiential norms. As action and "quick reaction" become key, flexible habits render defenses increasingly effective.

Every generation learns these lessons: Crucial elements evolve as Darwinian survival mechanisms. Where staffs short-circuit such inputs, you get the good old Duke of York, mayhap the Light Brigade.

Islam offers darkness and death. Extirpating murderous Salafist and Wahabi terrorists will take time, but absent petrodollars the Mullahs' tide must ebb. Westerners have at best a generation to correct their list-to-port... absent dupes or nuclear attack(s), the Prophetologists' barbaric nihilism can only peter out.

Should Ahmadinejad or others of his ilk press their timetables, the proper response will be to convert Mecca and Medina, among other pestholes, to bubbling nuclear craters for 10,000 years.

That too would be the Will of Allah. Take my camel-- please.

5/24/2007 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Chavo said...

wretchard, you've disable posting on "Infidels, you are infidels", so I hope you don't mind this post as it is not germaine to this thread.

There’s several layers to the “Progressive” delusion. Number one is their ardent desire for a one world government, as typified in the UN. It seems counterintuitive that the ones who want this transnational system are the ones who cry the loudest about globalization. But their mantra is “Imagine”. It’s funny while watching American Idol last night Green Day sang Working Class hero, (didn’t have the courage to sing You’re all f*cking peasants, as far as I can see, but you get the sense that the progressive’s animus to “globalization” is that the big bad west is screwing the “masses” in some third world country. I’m sure they’ve never heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Secondly, there is a general animus to GWB going back to the 2000 election. AlGore would’ve done the country a really big favor, if he’d had the grace to accept his defeat and move on, as did Nixon when he lost to Kennedy. This Bush hatred to my mind is what fuels a lot of current political theatre today.

Thirdly, and the media is just as guilty of this as the left, they simply refuse to recognize what the jihadi’s are telling us because once one recognizes a problem, then you have to do something about it. That would mean a repudiation of all the above, at least in the foreseeable future.

VDH over at PJM has a great (as always) post where he refers to the usefulness of the left, money quote:

“What, then, is the radical Left good for? Mostly psychological cover. It is our version of the Athenian elite demagogue’s dung on his boots or Medieval indulgences or the Bible in the hand of the philandering fundamentalist. Its rhetoric alone allows Edwards to enjoy his mansion, Gore his jet, the Kennedys’ their drink and drugs, Bill Clinton his sex, and Soros his billions—and China its cutthroat acquisitions abroad and its suppression at home. Proclaiming to be a man of the people these days can cover almost anything from living like 18th-century royalty to making the foreign policy of the United States look downright saintly.”

If you read the post, take the time to scroll down to the comments are read Mr. Kevin Merkelz post – it really choked me up.

5/24/2007 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger pelted said...

They're about a month behind this story.

5/24/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

chavo:

Is a wilful ignorance about al-Qaeda part of the ghost dance of socialism?

5/24/2007 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

OT -

wretchard -

your closed to comments post on infidels/journalists made me think of the Lewis Carroll's Red Queen:


'There is no use trying', said Alice; 'one can't believe impossible things'.

'I dare say you haven't had much practice', said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast'.

'Off with his head!'

5/24/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

Alexis, I'm not sure if willful ignorance of AQ is the progressives' ghost dance, more likely it is a stubborn belief (engendered by thinking in large nouns, i.e., the masses, the people, et al)that if they can just communicate their message, they'll (AQ and the like) will be convinced and join the club or at the very least leave them alone.

Or just as likely, it is better just to ignore it, like the noisy neighbor who has all manner of crap parked in the front yard, and maybe it'll just go away.

Then again, there's genuine fear. It's easier to pick on Christians and Jews cuz they're not going to pin a note on your chest with a very large knife.

Unfortunately, AQ and their ilk's belief system is very much stronger than that of the progressive. Stalin had a way to deal with that...

But today's modern progressive with it's modern day Malthusians, Luddites and Gaians just don't have the gumption.

They don't even have the cajones to reproduce.

Did I make a pun?

Know what I mean?

5/24/2007 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

The IJN had other glaring comparative disadvantages:

1. Manual labor to build/repair airfields vs the US Seabees which were Civilian construction firms drafted en-masse with all their staff and equipment.

2. Aircraft maintenance and availability - 10-20% vs US 60-80%. ( Spare parts, mechanic training, high caliber maintenance officers)

3. Sortie Rate for IJN was 0.5 per pilot per day vs 3-4 per pilot per day for the US.

4. The IJN had few Coastwatchers where the US had tons of them as well as help from the Indigenous population,

5/24/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

This is our enemy, courtesy of Drudge. The macabre drawings notwithstanding notice the smiling faces of the perpetrators.

Really creepy.

Link here

5/24/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

There is the possibility that taqyyia is in action. If the enemy is stronger than you, you are supposed to retreat and return when you have strength.

5/24/2007 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Barbara - Unfortunately, there is more to the story about the tribal alliances - they were not "sitting it out" - they were told by the US in 2003 that they could have an exciting new life under noble purple-finger freedom loving Shiite rule, but no deals would be cut for retention of the tribal system.

Soon after, Al Anbar province became the wild west, as tribes killed around 800 US soldiers (not Al Qaeda). It also allowed the tribes to begin to give safe haven for AQ and Ba'ath insurgents out to use car bombs, IEDs to trigger a civil war with the Shiites.

After that waste of lives, the US began doing what military on the ground recommended in the 1st place but were overruled by Neocon idiots:

From Klein's article As I reported in September 2005, there is also the scandalous reality that an alliance with the tribes was proposed by U.S. Army intelligence officers as early as October 2003 and rejected by L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority on the grounds that "tribes are part of the past. They have no place in the new democratic Iraq." The damage caused by that myopic stupidity may never be repaired: it gave al-Qaeda a base in the Sunni tribal areas, which enabled the sustained, spectacular anti-Shi'ite bombing campaign, which, along with the Sunnis' historic disdain for the Shi'ite majority, created the conditions for the current civil war. "Just because the Sunni tribesmen have joined with us in Anbar doesn't mean they like the Baghdad government," a senior Administration official told me. "They just hate al-Qaeda more."

I of course deplore the days of Stalin. But I have to admit it sure would be satisfying to stand up Bremer, Doug Feith, Wolfowitz in front of a firing squad like Stalin did with Commissars and officers that totally botched a job.

5/24/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Elijah said...

mike h. -

i had an interesting discussion with an individual at the Guardian Unlimited in April on the topic of al-Taqiyya.

The individual stated:

On taqiyya - in fact, all four Sunni schools of fiqh reject taqiyah as contrary to the faith. The Shi'a school of Ja'fari fiqh *only* accepts taqiyah as a strictly confined practice, restricted to the concealment of one's status as a Shi'a Muslim - and only then is it acceptable if the believer can show good grounds for believing that his/her life would be in danger if he/she were to reveal that they were a Shi'a.

It has hardly any usage in modern Arabic...even in religious circles - it took my wife, who is an Arab, some considerable time before she was even able to grasp what you were going on about. In fact, this political use of the term taqiyah is entirely - a figment of the fervid imaginations of the Islamophobic press in the West - and makes no sense in the Arab world at all. As an Arabic speaker, married to an Arab, and as a Muslim, I think I know of what I write. I also happen to live in the Arab world.
.................................

tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies -

1

2

3

5/24/2007 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Elijah said...

The thread topic -

There is good news from Iraq, believe it or not. It comes from the most unlikely place: Anbar province, home of the Sunni insurgency. ... This is a result of sheiks stepping up and opposing AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] and volunteering their young men to serve in the police and army units there." The success in Anbar has led sheiks in at least two other Sunni-dominated provinces, Nineveh and Salahaddin, to ask for similar alliances against the foreign fighters. And, as TIME's Bobby Ghosh has reported, an influential leader of the Sunni insurgency, Harith al-Dari, has turned against al-Qaeda as well. It is possible that al-Qaeda is being rejected like a mismatched liver transplant by the body of the Iraqi insurgency.
...................................

"Of course, we can also exploit our opponents' disharmonies. For example, let us say that one of our opponents is a religious grouping. In a town where we have a presence, a local feud results
in the killing of a clergyman by members of the same grouping. In itself, this is a minor tactical
event. But if we use our own information warfare to focus the public's attention on it, pointing
out how the tenets of the religion are not being observed by those who claim to speak for it, we might create a “moral bomb.” A physical action would play on the moral level, just as a tactical
action would play on a strategic level. Here we see how the classical and new levels of war
intersect."

"We constantly try to identify
factional divisions among the insurgents. When we find one, we try to escalate it, to ramp up
friction within the other side. We use lies and deceptions to bring one faction to the point where
it wants to whack another, then we find discreet ways to help them do that. We do it in such a way that they all start blaming each other. Often, the insurgents do our most difficult jobs for us, killing their own leaders out of fear of being stabbed in the back. Remember, this isn't a culture
that has much trust in it."

5/24/2007 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

R,
"The war on terror is a good fight, but the war we're waging in Iraq may not be the best fight we could have picked."

*Shrug*

Then again, it may. That is the nature of war. One does not know what things look like on the other side of the chessboard until the end. And even then, things that neither side completely understands may still have had an influence that remains unseen by either. That is why Clauswitz wrote of "the fog of war". That is also why Von Moltke wrote that no plan survives contact with the enemy, hence the need to improvise as needed. In the end it matters little whether attacking Saddam (Not Iraq, Saddam! Why is it I wonder that liberals are such monarchists that they lack the ability to know the difference between a ruler and the nation he rules? Did they never get tired of dancing to "Camelot"? o_O) after Saddam had launched one provocation too many was the *best* course so long as it was a way that worked. The fact that liberals fail to understand this is among the reasons that the Democrat Party is currently unfit for office. ^_~

Cederford,
"I of course deplore the days of Stalin. But I have to admit it sure would be satisfying to stand up Murtha, Ramsey Clark, Nancy Pelosi in front of a firing squad like Stalin did with Commissars and officers that totally botched a job."? o_O

That is what you wrote whether you know it or not. Little Stalin wannabes should keep in mind that one cannot play the role of Marius
without bringing a Sulla to life in return. :P

BTW, you might be interested in learning that Stalin's Russia became an inefficient pesthole under him. At the time of the Tsars Russia was a notable exporter of food. By the 1940s Russia was already an importer of food and a victim of serial famines thanks in part to Stalin's support of Lysenko and thanks in part to the war against Russia's farmers that he and Lenin were stupid enough to wage. It is also the reason Stalin was too weak to stand against his ally Hitler when the two of them fell out like the thieves that they were.

This is what Communism is, this is what Communism does. It is a lesson in blood from the 20th Century that only a fool would forget. It is fortunate that no one here would be such a fool. ^_^

5/24/2007 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger Red A said...

Ignoring the tribes, disbanding the army entirely (could have been kept on the payroll at least) and no oil trust:

This Bremer guy is looking less good all the time.

5/25/2007 03:22:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Red A,
I was wrong about many things, but my instincts on Bremmer were almost always right.
---
From C4, above:
"After that waste of lives, the US began doing what military on the ground recommended in the 1st place but were overruled by Neocon idiots:

From Klein's article As I reported in September 2005, there is also the scandalous reality that an alliance with the tribes was proposed by U.S. Army intelligence officers as early as October 2003 and rejected by L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority on the grounds that "tribes are part of the past. They have no place in the new democratic Iraq."

The damage caused by that myopic stupidity may never be repaired:
"
---
Not only did U.S. Army intelligence officers as early as October 2003 propose an alliance with the tribes, but Gen Petraeus was DOING just that up in Mosul.

The learning curve in this effort was not just pathetic, but often negative, and Viceroy Bremmer led the way.
---
Towering:
"Interestingly, perhaps the only opponents of Lysenkoism during Stalin's lifetime to escape liquidation came from the small community of Soviet nuclear physicists.

But as Tony Judt has observed,

"Stalin left his nuclear physicists alone...
[He] may well have been mad but he was not stupid."[1]
---
And today, the "right" includes some neo-Lysenkoists, but luckily, unlike the left, they do not have the political wherewithal to conduct purges. ;-)

5/25/2007 04:53:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/25/2007 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger R said...

towering barbarian, you may offer up a "shrug" to my thoughts on the choice of warring in Iraq; however, in honoring our dead this weekend, I do wonder how far you would march on behalf of those who paid the ultimate price for defending our constitution?

Those leaders who we elect have serious responsibilities. Sending troops to war is, perhaps, the most serious. When I watch video of our warring in Iraq of a few years ago, when I note those Rules Of Engagement as applied, and see how they greatly hindered our progress, and note how our country has turned a sour ear to this campaign today, I wonder how the families of those fallen warriors must feel.

So when you offer a "shrug" I suppose you are looking at your old uniform of years ago, wondering why, if Iraq was the best and most right choice, it has not gone in the direction we all thought it would and were sold it would.

Perhaps a "shrug" with humility might be more in order.

The best fight we could have picked appears to be within us, this generation which many have labeled one dominated by narcissism: "Do you own Thing!"

Dying for something should be important, real important. Visit a National Cemetery this weekend, look at and touch a few headstones, it may offer more than those words from the so called great writers of warfare.

5/26/2007 05:09:00 AM  

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