Sunday, May 25, 2008

Losing my timing

Weekend reading from the NYT. With the Mahdi Army in full flight, the lessons of Basra are being examined: was there too little British involvement? Or too much? Which view is correct?

During those years, many resentful Basrawis say, the British were involved in a war that was deeply unpopular back home, and therefore had no stomach for sustaining the casualties necessary to restore order.

“I have been very frustrated at the British,” said Brig. Gen. Edan Jaber, a police commander in Basra. He said the British “gave a high priority to their own security” and “were not forceful with the cases they faced in the street.”

The viewpoint for the other side is:

“There’s no doubt that for some parts of the community, we are as much part of the problem as the solution,” Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders, the British commander of the Fourth Battalion of the Rifles Regiment said last July. “We need to leave. There is no question about it. The only way that you can solve the problems of Basra is with an Iraqi solution.”

Only minutes before, a Mahdi Army mortar attack had forced him and his men to drop to the ground at the riverside Basra Palace headquarters, a site they would soon evacuate.

He added: “As long as we are here the Iraqi security forces are far less inclined to confront the militias,” because “the militias will then see them in the same way that people might have seen the Vichy government in France.”

There are a number of analysts who will argue that for Iraq to succeed, America must remove its presence. Whichever side of the issue one takes, there remains the matter of timing. It is said that every defeated general utters two words: "too late". It is also possible for them them to lament, "too early".

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Blogger RKV said...

Interesting. This gentleman is from the same country where self-defense is more or less outlawed (google up Tony Martin for an example). The British police are there to draw chalk lines around your corpse, and not make things difficult for the criminal class. My take is that it shows in their military leadership also. Contrast the performance of the American military who worked to arrest a corrupt, but effective senior police leader in Hit.

5/25/2008 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I keep thinking the Brits have been hamstrung by a lack of funds to help them in their mission. If you don't have body armor, if you don't have up-armored trucks and humvees, if you don't have big hulking tanks to crash through walls, if you don't even have enough bullets, then you MUST go softly softly and hope that the locals are friendly.

And god only knows what they've been taught in their training if their sailors were told to give up to a few flouncy Persians without a fight and to allow themselves to be paraded in front of Arab TV in tacky Kruschev-looking suits.

I think we had to take the Brits at their word initially that they were ready to play with the Big Boys. But it is something to remember that the Yurp definition of "Big Boys" is *way* different than the American (and Aussie) definition.

Maybe next time around, we can just put them in charge of Abu Ghraib and taking care of the places in the rear that American soldiers have already subdued. I wonder if they'd be capable of preventing looting, for example.

5/25/2008 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

What occurred in Hit would not have been possible without the trust of local citizens and respect of tribal leadership. That would not have been the case, if the Awakening movement had not gotten off the ground, and the Awakening required that Al Qaeda rule be brutality applied and rejected.

In Basra the local leadership and the local security arrangement was nothing like the challenges faced in Al Anbar. With no serious initial insurgency and a population presumed loyal to the government, the tactics employed by the British probably should have worked. However, with two militias fighting for patronage and political spoils, and their respective clerics seeking support in Iraq and Iran as well as the funding that sort of dominance can bring, the idyllic pacification role of the British degenerated into a situation where the Basra natives grew disgusted with the local militias and with the British response. It was a lose lose proposition for the Brits because the Iraqi Militias could not contain their rivalries. Add Iran to the mix and it is easy to see that the Brits (or any external force) were over their heads and while treading water, not treading it very well.

Fortunately the Iraqi Army and Security forces had grown in strength, and experience and were able to bring that Iraqi solution necessary for the citizens of Basra to strive for what the citizens of Al Anbar had already achieved.

Both rejected extremist and both embraced a representative form of government that is Secular yet respectful of the rights of individuals. We will see if they can keep it.

5/25/2008 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I think the whole NYT article omits the most important factor. The investment in the Iraqi Army. The foreign presence is going to be a holding action until local partners can be brought onstream.

In the meantime the foreign presence has to be robust enough to maintain stability while the local forces are being stood up.

This process of building local security must be matched to institution building -- a constitution, elections -- etc. The "purple fingers" are nothing in themselves. But in combination with all the other stuff it plays an important part.

However, this approach is massively expensive when applied to a country as big as Iraq. Yet if it works, it will be far cheaper than these endless UN missions which go on for decades and do absolutely nothing.

It's like a knee operation versus an aspirin. The operation might be more expensive than the aspirin, but you can take the aspirin for a thousand years and still need the knee replacement. So in some situations the operation is actually cheaper than the aspirin.

But I'm not sure that either the Brits or the US started off knowing what they were going to do. The US advantage was that America had the hardware. After gaining experience it could perform a software upgrade. Better strategy, doctrine, etc. The software could run on the hardware.

On the other hand the British may have initially had better software (doctrine, etc) but they were limited by their hardware constraints. Sometimes you can only run what your platform will support.

5/25/2008 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I am wondering though whether some smart guys are distilling the lessons learned so that we can "port" the successful software to a cheaper platform.

One of the questions to think about is whether the Brits could, by making even greater improvements to their software, do the job despite the resource constraints.

The other question that is not answered is how many of the limitations were not, strictly speaking, resource constraints, but political constraints. That is to say, software constraints themselves.

5/25/2008 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger RKV said...

Ah yes, political contstraints. Us MBAs would say "management will." I think that is more important that overwhelming firepower or overwhelming monetary commitment. What I do contend, is that so-called "soft power" is vastly over-rated. It's impossible to to resist the Jihadis when you can't defend yourself. The Sons of Iraq program (much akin to the militia found in the early Republic of the USA) makes a huge difference, eh, Wretchard?

5/25/2008 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

“I have been very frustrated at the British,” said Brig. Gen. Edan Jaber, a police commander in Basra. He said the British “gave a high priority to their own security” and “were not forceful with the cases they faced in the street.”

That sounds like what our guys were doing until Patraeus took over.

RKV, your point is well taken. I see shows on the Discovery Channel every now and then talking about how our whiz-bang technology makes for some real kick-@$$ weapons. I say that is all good and stuff but if you are afraid to pull the trigger all it is, is an encumbrance.

A guy willing to pull the trigger on his .45 acp has more firepower than one afraid to push the button on his weapons, super-weapon though it may be.

5/25/2008 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Pieta said...

First, the SW needs a solid HW base:

The Brits cover up their soft hardware underbelly and even softer backbone politics by purporting that their "softly, softly" is the smarter, empire-tested approach over the hard-ass charges of the dumb cowboy Yanks.

Meanwhile, the American final clear-out operations in Sadr City painstakingly set up over the preceding many days have again been frustrated by the latest Maliki accord with Sadr, which only admits the IA into Sadr City and totally precludes the entry of any American troops into Mahdi territory.

So you have the spectacle of IA units idling in Sadr City streets along JAM militia, who are again availing themselves of the respite to rearm.

5/25/2008 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger vnjagvet said...

For those of you who watch college or pro football, I give you two words which the British tactics remind me of.

"Preeeevent Defense".

For those who don't watch football, that is a soft, non-aggressive defense designed to prevent the long touchdown pass or a long gain. All of the defensive players spread out and try to react and keep all the action in front of them.

Trying not to lose is generally a precurser to not winning in football. So it is generally in war.

5/25/2008 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Go easy on the Brits.
They held Basra long enough.
Be greatful.
By my reconning we have won a tremendous victory. To have the Iraqi army go in and clean out Sadrs Mahdi militia is a great thing that could not have happened earlier.
The Brits held Basra, while the marines crushed Al Qaeda in Anbar. We could not do everything.

We too had our political problems with a State Department too chicken to serve in country.
The real question is how best to build the Brits up so they can help again. They are pulling some weight in Afghanistan.
At least they are fighting.

Their domestic politics are much worse than ours. Blair was roasted for the support he gave us.
What did he have to give up in his other goals to support us in unpopular Iraq??
Think think!
Support your friends who support you. We should not ask for perfection, but honor those who were part of this victory in Iraq.

5/25/2008 08:40:00 PM  
Blogger vnjagvet said...


I agree with you. But choosing the passive defense route may not have been the best tactic, even considering the difficult politics of the situation.

Tony Blair was a stand up guy. Sometimes even stand up guys are given bad advice.

5/25/2008 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I don't think there is any purpose to be served by basing the British Army. I think Michael Yon said it best when he described is respect for their professionalism.

The point is really more academic. In a world where only America can afford to do things the American way, and even that on a limited scale, it would be nice to consider whether what the key factors for success were and if there were any way to do things with fewer resources.

My own thinking is that just as there is no purely military solution to problems like this, there is no purely political one either. Security is part of the equation.

So if the British were essentially just "holding the ring" until the Iraqi Army could get stood up as an economy of force measure it would have been a valid effort. Hold em off until the cavalry arrives.

But that is a different argument from maintaining that the British Basra strategy, in and of itself, was a complete answer. I don't the British themselves will claim that. In fact, I'm not sure anyone was "wise" in the beginning to what would work. In retrospect some things are easier to see.

5/25/2008 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

The incentives facing the British and the Americans are profoundly different.

America has a permanent incentive to explore what can be achieved on the offensive, because it has the means to implement offensive options. For Britain, military professionalism, while still real, has come to mean no more than a well-executed (and often no more than temporary) defense.

It was always true that standing up new Iraqi armed forces was the only way to victory in Iraq, and Bush never claimed otherwise. The war is not however entirely about Iraq. It's easy to forget now how widespread and firmly rooted had become the assumption in the 1990's that America could not fight and win in third world cities. Plans were being made on that assumption, and the impact was great because increasingly that is where most of the global population lives. That critical assumption about American impotence has now been publicly if not exploded then at least substantially modified, changing the entire strategic landscape of the twenty-first century.

America's global military capability is a learning machine. It learns fastest when it is being applied to a problem. The things Britain brings to the table are basically scraps of knowledge it derived in the same way, more than a century ago when it possessed comparable strategic options.

5/25/2008 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

In determining whether or not the Brits have had a successful mission in Iraq, it might prove more beneficial to compare them to the Aussies than the Americans.

At this point, from what I can determine, I would rather have soldiers from Australia beside me than those from England. There is just simply more of a clear-cut black/white, right/wrong attitude and less jealousy.

I think we can support our allies such as Britain, but isn't support the same thing as recognizing reality and not over-loading the poor beast unto collapse?

5/25/2008 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger CorporateCog said...

After watching the Iraq Army stand up in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul the big question is: Is the INA capable of taking on Hezbolla? Will it ever be?

If the INA can take on Hezbolla, then perhaps this will be a vindication of the Neocon plan.

One thing is clear, when the INA go into a muslim city or neighborhood, the rules of engagement are completely different and casualties are covered completely different by the media.

5/25/2008 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

The Australians have a very small commitment to Iraq. I attended a talk by a very responsible Australian officers who will plainly said there was only one country playing 100% to win in Iraq.

Whatever the politicians say in public the pros know that the defense of the West is anchored on the USA. All that talk about the "European way" is drivel to those who know which way is up.

Really when you think about how shallow the bench has become, it's scary. It is well that we live in a period of comparative peace because the West isn't really geared up for a really serious challenge.

What worries me sometimes about the ideological left is that they truly believe there's a lot of fat that can be cut; a lot of things that can be safely ignored; a lot of problems that aren't real. And like a man living from paycheck to paycheck there's really very little contingency for the unexpected crisis.

5/25/2008 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger 2164th said...

"Think think!
Support your friends who support you. We should not ask for perfection, but honor those who were part of this victory in Iraq."

Well said Rob. Damaging and humiliating friends in deed is one sure way to ensure you will have none in need.

5/26/2008 02:48:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I think the big failures in the war weren't the military forces but the development and diplomatic arms of government. They couldn't keep up with the armed forces because they couldn't provide their own security and were not designed to operate in the terrorist environment.

But they were vital in a conflict in which delivering services, improving efficiency and reducing corruption were key components of the solution. The US solution was to create embedded PRTs so that diplomats and aid workers could be protected.

The other solution track was to utilize large numbers of private contractors for logistics provision and other services.

This suggests is that the diplomatic and development establishments are prime candidates for reform if we are going to fight the war on terror more cheaply. There are vast swaths of the world that are just completely dysfunctional. And we have no non-military tools to effectively fix these problems, nor any non-military organizations that can complement a campaign like that in Iraq.

I'd go so far as to say that the entire structure built on traditional diplomacy, the UN, development banks and NGOs is a prime candidate for reform. While people talk about the inadequacy of a "purely military" solution, there isn't much thought given to ensuring the non-military components can be delivered. Retooling captains into warrior-mayors is an expedient.

I think we can exploit remote control technology to leverage the home front into providing many services that are too dangerous for civilians to deliver in person. Anything from driving trucks to remote diagnosis or even surgery might be practical to provide from Europe, Japan or America in the future.

In an ideal world, the kinetic forces would be complemented by a vast array of translating, logistical, developmental and institution building capabilities; all either secured or remotely delivered.

Using NGOs, the UN or traditional aid delivery mechanisms may be necessary for now, but I think it is rapidly becoming an obsolete methodology.

5/26/2008 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Actually, I think the problems are a little different than a software, hardware sort of deal.

After Vietnam the US Army decided it don't do windows or counterinsurgency and simply stopped preparing for those missions. Instead it prepared for Tank Battles in Central Europe. So we got the Abrams Tank instead of the Abrams Counter Insurgency and Nation Building School.

The lesson of the first Gulf War was that the US military would big foot the problem and coalition countries would then do "the nation building." This was always more hope than a doctrine -- even a Powell Doctrine.

Ironically, it was the State Department that produced the best study for what the Army should do after liberating Iraq. They predicted wide scale looting and the need to quickly restore order. Of course the State Department did not actually have to do this. I suspect the best suggestions for what the State Department should do came from the Army.

Gen. Sanchez put some good trains on the track. But I don't think he had "a coherent dogma" that he was working from: Just the notion that the US Army does not do windows or nation building. It might be interesting to revisit that speech he gave -- last August, was it? I thought his defeatism was a leading indicator of success (He was no longer in the army).

I think in Iraq many senior officers wanted to keep their personal association with the mess at a minimum before they retire (call it the Gen. Franks effect). More Junior officers knew that defeat would be a blot on their careers and the institution they would have to lead would suffer the fall out. As these Colonels and One Stars moved up in rank, the Army not only acquired the plan but the burning desire to put it in effect and succeed.

As for the State Department: one gets the feeling that many at the junior level thought victory in Iraq would be a blot on their careers. And who can argue with that?

5/26/2008 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

I am under the impression the British thought their approach was the more sensible for the south, and the amount of armed military presence necessary was little more than to hold a civil society civil. I am certain that it was felt the fall of Saddam was the major development that would open the floodgates of cooperation between the Shi'ah rank and file and civilians. Dealing with the deep enmity that existed especially between groups like Sadr loyalists and Baath party that extended beyond the war of liberation make setting up a cohesive society very challenging, and I believe was underestimated by the Brits..

So while there was got some cooperation initially, with the deterioration of the situation in the Sunni provinces the Shi'ah were not too willing to trust any but their own for self defense. IMO It was a perfectly legitimate response given an apparent lack of recognition of tribal affiliation, knowledge of local security requirements and the trust level that coalition forces especially given recent history, possessed. All the initiatives I am aware of started out with great promise and declined due to the Militias interference with the local police and local judges, who became secular targets of the criminal and other organizations that allowed the people of the south to survive under Saddam. It was a vacuum of a bully government left by Saddam and filled by militias, the Brits did not, perhaps could not fill nor use to their advantage in the bigger regional picture.

I am sure someone with a closer vantage could easily point out the short comings of my analysis of both the situation and how that relates to what might have been done differently.

It seems clear to me, the Iraqi's organized insurgency extended far beyond what we initially believed the anti Saddam insurgents or the dead enders were capable of. There was more, much more to it. When the Iraqi Army disbanded, the Shi'ah in the south reacted to what they had to know was up in the north. A plan or plans, to answer attempts to subjugate anew the country or take control of the oil port in the event of a precipitous coalition collapse appears to have been set in motion, with various actors . The plan appears to have been to meet fire with fire. Whether JAM, as some would have us believe, was up to the task it set for itself given the ferocity of the Sunni insurgency, is a whole other question. Convincing JAM to start trusting fellow Iraqis appears to have been the largest stumbling block.

Doing it differently, I think the bottom up aspect of security and aspects of local control have got to play into the mix. Knowing better the local leadership and understanding their interrelationships would have been a daunting task given the condition of Iraq under Saddam, especially in the last few years of his reign. But upon establishing control, an initial inventory of who’ who among locals, and use of sympathetic members of either the former government or military to make initial contact with local sheiks, so agreement could be made as to what our expectations of them are as well as what they could expect from us.

But given the nature and location of Basra, determining what level of force would be required to retain local cooperation is up for debate. Given the high degree of tribal influence and associated graft and corruption, setting standards of behavior is sure to insult the locals whose response was to seek out a militia or Sheik to intercede on their behalf. So the Brits policy of providing mediation while letting the locals determine what was what and who was who backfired as the locals used the mechanism to reestablish the very sorts of behaviors and the very forms of local tradition that are not agreeable to western standards of accounting or to the requirements of democracy in Iraq.

Establishing early and firmly what criteria exist to get certain things done and working out the details of operation with the local populace may have preempted or blunted much of the South’s reaction to insurgent activity. But the size and structure of the force necessary to establish such a system throughout the south, much less the country means addressing force protection of small units in scattered locations as well as establishing guidelines for local government with an eye on laying the foundation for eventual self governance.

I hope this ramble of mine adds some observation of value to the mix. (Even if it concluded the author is brain addled that may be of some value to someone, some where.)

5/26/2008 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...



After Vietnam, you claim the US Army decided it didn't do counterinsurgency?

It was obvious in the 1960s-1970s that insurgency was the continuous war of the future. Insurgency required only abundant cannon fodder, astute and targeted propaganda within the enemy's home country, and crude cheap (yet startlingly effective) ordnance against a high-tech enemy military.

So, the US military post-Watergate thus decided that it wouldn't (or, couldn't) do counterinsurgency? Your claim is utter nonsense.

5/26/2008 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

"In an ideal world, the kinetic forces would be complemented by a vast array of translating, logistical, developmental and institution building capabilities; all either secured or remotely delivered."

Given the trauma of terrorist regimes and circumstances under which US or other troops are called upon to establish order, the use of persons who have established rapport with the locals in a meaningful way are the ones to shoulder the load. Support delivery and advisment are the proper functions of the DOS and other wonks (CIA?). Unfortunately due to the nature of the conflict, severity of recent trauma and the level of trust that must be established and retained to be successful the military must be the primary agent for such stuff, and the attitude of "we don't do windows/counterinsurgency" is something that should have been vanquished for good in the 80's in CA. Why it lingers on is a testament to that lingering cold war dividend I guess.

Using NGOs, the UN or traditional aid delivery mechanisms may be necessary for now, but I think it is rapidly becoming an obsolete methodology

I think that even now the risk is too great to place so much in the hands of those who view themselves as having no stake in the outcome. The specter of OIF and Kofi are too recent and too much a legacy of this GWOT to even think of letting the UN engage in it. I cannot imagine a quicker or surer route to defeat.

5/26/2008 06:23:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

A happy Memorial Day to one and all!

Wretchard wrote: "The US advantage was that America had the hardware. After gaining experience it could perform a software upgrade. Better strategy, doctrine, etc. The software could run on the hardware."

About software: The complete lack of a national-domestic war-waging defense software was evident at the National Cathedral memorial event for the Sept. 11 victims. You may remember seeing on the stage some sullen Sunni-Wahabbist military chaplain, wearing his angry-militant sunglasses,if memory serves me well. I thought to myself: "They (State? Defense? Executive branch?) don't know the difference between a Saudist and a Sufi. Get a Sufi, you dunces, and some persecuted minorities such as Bahais or Ismailis!" But no, we got, and continue to engage with radicalists of the jihadi kind.

When we see the government launch a good propaganda campaign, one that reduces Islamist-jihadists to laughing stocks, then we'll know we've got the right software. For an example of what I mean, read the chapter in 'Freakonomics' on the deflating and demise of the Ku Klux Klan.

About the overall subject of this thread: Looking back, I'm not sure that any of the USA options in Iraq would have resulted in anything other than using a different colored band-aid. "Establishing security" early on sounds good, but would it have done more than create an insider faction that exploited other factions? As much as I regret having to say it, blood was probably going to flow and plans go a-gley whatever well-laid plans our mice and men developed.

5/26/2008 07:15:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Wretchard: It is well that we live in a period of comparative peace because the West isn't really geared up for a really serious challenge.

Perhaps we live in peace precisely because the West isn't geared up. After all, the last two World Wars were initiated by Western (German) agresssion, and even the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly resulted in World War III, rolled out from the U.S. installing medium range nuclear missiles in Turkey pointed at the heart of the S.U.

5/26/2008 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Sorry, John, I guess the US Army was prepared for what they found in Iraq. My mistake.

So: standing by watching Iraqi criminals tear apart the infrastructure of the country was actually part of our counter insurgency doctrine. Well, how did it work out?

You wrote:

So, the US military post-Watergate thus decided that it wouldn't (or, couldn't) do counterinsurgency? Your claim is utter nonsense.

Actually, John, I did not mean to imply that, though I suppose I did. As for me uttering nonsense, well, I only wish I could make a living at it -- a good one.

I was speaking on a institutional level. For the Pentagon Counterinsurgency was something Special Operations did inside the Pentagon and something the Pentagon would help other nations do. Large scale counterinsurgency and nation building was not a mission the Pentagon (or the US) would itself do. The fact that the generals of high command appeared generally clueless about how to handle the Iraq occupation certainly points in that direction.

Perhaps the "wouldn't and couldn't" of counterinsurgency after Vietnam had more to do with political will than the US military. The lack of preparation for a major "nation building" efforts would be the Pentagon's quick reply to any politician that wanted to get them involved in a situation that the politicians would then run against in the next election.

Hence, the emphasis on a quick "exit strategy." Counterinsurgency requires years of effort, not weeks or months. I think the Pentagon's idea was more a "we'll kick their butts and let them stew in their own juices" strategy. That seemed to be our approach to Saddam's Iraq. After 9/11 that was not much of a choice.

I referenced Gen. Sanchez's speech from last fall (Iraq as "unending nightmare") because it did not display -- even after the fact -- a good grip on what the situation in Iraq required. At that time classic counterinsurgency doctrine (i.e. leaving the big bases and protecting the population) was only recently applied but already showed signs of success. But Gen. Sanchez couldn't see it, even last Fall. Was that because he was a well schooled believer in the doctrine? Or because he wasn't?

Once again, I think Gen. Sanchez and the other commanders did many things right. And I think the media coverage he saw probably convinced him political support would quickly dry up. The reelection of President Bush, despite the media storm, gave the US a second bite at the apple. Let us hope it is enough -- for Iraq's sake and our own.

I notice no one objected to what I said about the State Department. If the State Department worried about stuff, they might worry about that.

5/26/2008 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Mr. Coupal - it's against the rules to parachute in, hurl a few exclamation points, call someone an idiot, and then leave. It's just so Progressive, you know. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to give some examples, cite some links, refer to some statistics to flesh out your argument. Otherwise, you're just another lameoid Democrat.

* * *

"Establishing security" early on sounds good, but would it have done more than create an insider faction that exploited other factions?

What I was thinking, too. When we first landed in Baghdad we didn't even have translators, let alone the means to determine who the good and bad sheikhs were. Or even that there *were* good and bad sheikhs or what the hell a sheikh is any way, so why should we care.

I think maybe both the Sunni's and the Shiites had to suffer quite a bit before it became apparent to them that their way was not working. I don't know that Americans, no matter how warm and caring, could have convinced them to the side of the Force without few years of hacking, beheading, exploding and drilling holes in each other.

Six years later, there are still problems with trying to weed terrorists out of the police, the Iraqi army, and Maliki's government.

We always overlook the massive number of crooks and criminals that Saddam had released from jail right before we went in, but I have to believe that simple thievery was responsible for the looting, and a crook will *always* sell his soul to the highest bidder. If the paymaster is Iran then the Americans looked to be large, juicy targets who would provide enough income to bring home the Muslim equivalent of bacon.

5/26/2008 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger RattlerGator said...

responding to John J. Coupal:

I think you'll find there is tremendous confusion in America on this point with much disinformation shuttled around in part due to intra- and inter-service rivalries, etc. It's regrettable but unavoidable.

It clearly isn't accurate to say the U.S. Army decided it didn't do COIN, etc. Elements in the Army? Yes. But the overwhelming majority of our American Special Operations Forces -- to this day -- are Army personnel. Rangers, Green Berets, Delta. Beginning in the 1980s, they have never had greater influence. And, decade after decade, it is only increasing.

About Basra and the British, as far as this hack is concerned:

Michael Yon has repeatedly made it part of his mission to lavish praise on the British. Okay. I genuinely have no interest in bashing them; I know they have a fine fighting force. But they screwed up in Basra, plain and simple. And it wasn't just about British politics; it was their military command, too. They made the same mistake, but on a larger scale, that the Marines initially made (velvet glove, velvet glove, velvet glove -- remember all that crap?). I'd be very curious to see a British After Action Report on lessons learned from Basra.

The bottom line in Iraq is this: we were right, the Iraqi Army needed to be flushed and a re-start initiated. With persistent antagonisms from Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia -- nothing substantively could be done until sufficient new Iraqi troops could be stood up.


Everything else was essentially a holding pattern of shaping the non-military battlefield under very difficult internal and external circumstances.

That's where we are right now. The internal pieces have been sufficiently set, the external Iranian gameplan sufficiently observed and countered. In this respect I think the Talisman Gate guy is correct -- this isn't primarily about the genius of Petraeus and Odierno. Enough of the Iraqi stakeholders are now (more or less) meeting us halfway.

Thank goodness for that.

Off topic point (perhaps):

While admitting this is a simplistic point to make, is it too simplistic to say the British approach to Basra (as opposed to the American approach elsewhere) approximates for why we like football and they like soccer? I've had a soccer fan seriously try to make the sports comparison of soccer to basketball. To an American, this is absurd. An earlier comment was correct: defense, defense, defense. First and foremost, that's the soccer fan's mentality. They don't even see it because it's so accepted.

That explains Britain in Basra, doesn't it? It is much, much better to walk tall. To hell with this softly, softly mess.

5/26/2008 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Fred said...


I don't blame the British Army at all for what happened at Basra over the few years since 2003. No one should. They were given a mission by political leadership that was constrained by the British public. I've thought that to be the case all along. The fact that Iran had made such deep inroads into Southern Iraq should be laid right at the doorstep of Parliament, Labour, and the British public, not their Army.

If the British Army had been more aggressive, its casualties would have been a lot higher and the tensions with Tehran a lot tighter. I do not think the British public and British companies (who wanted more commercial ties with the regime in Tehran)would have tolerated this.

The U.K. is a reluctant ally in this overall fight against Islamic jihad. We had best accept this hard fact and move on from it.

5/26/2008 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I've had a soccer fan seriously try to make the sports comparison of soccer to basketball. To an American, this is absurd. An earlier comment was correct: defense, defense, defense. First and foremost, that's the soccer fan's mentality.

Ooooh, Gator. I like it. It does explain so much. But you'd think they'd notice after a couple of centuries that defense alone has cost them their empire. And now that they refuse to rein in their Muslims, they're perilously close to losing their whole country.

5/26/2008 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Fred said...


If Britons lose their country, it is almost a done deal with Mr. Brown's ramming the new Treaty of Lisbon through Parliament and over the heads of the British people. The U.K. is now a province of the E.U.S.S.R. They no longer have an independent foreign policy or military.

We had best adjust our expectations and regard "the special relationship" as a relic of the past. It would be a major mistake to try to cling to this wisp of a vision in the fog. Our new alliances are out there in the Pacific and in India.

5/26/2008 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

WEll wadeusaf, here is where I make you sound like the soul of coherence:

I say we hire mercenaries.

A fairly good start has been made by turning the logistical effort over to Haliburton, et al. If we were trying to run Iraq with the lst Logistical Command (Leaning Outhouse) of Vietnam, I rather imagine things would have become unsustainable before General Petraeus could do anything at all.

Once you have done away with an evil establishment by conventional muscle (Iraq) or by Sneaky Pete derring-do (Afghanistan)you will find that there is never, ever any existing force structure, or equipment, or anything else needed
to occupy that place in such a manner as to eliminate the need for continuous occupation.

Everything, and I mean everything,
has to be built from scratch.

So hire it done. Pay people a stipend while they are working on their sector of the country in question, then pay them a VERY large sum if and when their sector
is a secure portion of a federal system of governance. If they do not suceed, fire them, hire somebody else.

Paging Cletus Graeme and John Christian Falkenberg! Your services are sorely needed.

In other words, after toppling Saddam, we should have immediately starting recruiting that special-purpose force called The Army of Iraq. It would operate under the auspices of but seperate from the Regular Army. Then morph it into an all-Iraqi force. First as local policed, then as regional/provincial "National Guard" and finally as Iraqi regulars. Along the way, let the locals determine who will command
their portion of the set-up.

All of this is as beyond the ken of the SF chain of command as it is beyond the ken of the conventional chain of command. So start a new business instead of corrupting existing ones.

And oh yes, you can too hire Brits, Aussies, Filipinos, Gurkhas
etc for the purpose. You can also buy whatever equipment is best suited for your needs. So forth and so on.

Recognizing that this posting is an over-simplification of what needs to be done, I stoutly maintain that it is pointed in the right direction. And Wretchard, it should at least partially answer your (very serious) concerns
about "the bench".

Enough from me. Now fellows, evaluate the proposal, please>

5/26/2008 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Fred, agree. But given the discussion on Brit performance in Basra, it really doesn't seem like we'll be losing too much.

I wonder what the White House/Pentagon response will be the first time the new United States of Europe sends its member state England across the pond, begging favors and protection on the grounds of our used-to-be "special relationship" with England.

5/26/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

P.S. In being forced into becoming part of the EU without a vote, the English are reaping the consequences of their decision to throw out a perfectly good Prime Minister in Tony Blair, and to replace him with a Brown bureaucrat. I haven't figured out yet what Brown is *for*, but his dithering around certainly does remind me of another famous Western politician, Jimmy Carter.

5/26/2008 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

DAve, one question: who's gonna pay for it? That was the thing about the UN, is that all the member states are supposed to share in the costs of stopping genocidal wars, helping in disaster relief, and providing education and health care to the 4th world.

Wretchard has the lovely idea that America will continue to just skip from hellhole to hellhole to hellhole, merrily spending taxpayer dollars in an attempt to teach the world's down-trodden how to be human beings.

When to this American taxpayer, a few nuclear bombs strategically dropped would be a hell of a lot less expensive, and rebuilding from the smoking ground up a hell of a lot less dangerous.

Why is it America's responsibility to go in and foreably rebuild these places, any way? When Pakistan / North Korea/ Zimbabwe / Burma finally falls, I do NOT want to have to rebuild what Musharref et al have torn asunder ... although logistically your idea on how best to do it is sound.

5/26/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...


I have no idea what you're comments regarding my post are about. If you wish, please elaborate.

BTW, I'm a Conservative Republican.

5/26/2008 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger some said...

"This suggests is that the diplomatic and development establishments are prime candidates for reform if we are going to fight the war on terror more cheaply."

Sure, but how? Political will won't ever allow it short of another 9/11-level event. But even then... what kind of catastrophe could force reform of an establishment unscathed by Rwanda, Oil-for-Food, etc etc etc?

Having these functions replicated inside an institution where results matter (the US military) may be the only way.

5/26/2008 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Nahncee: But you'd think they'd notice after a couple of centuries that defense alone has cost them their empire. And now that they refuse to rein in their Muslims, they're perilously close to losing their whole country.

What does that mean, lose their whole country? Does that mean the Muslims are going to kick out or kill all the Brits? With what guns? Did you know that the UK is saturated with enfiladed cameras on every street corner? Big Brother in deed. Or maybe you mean the people are just going to roll over and chuck out a thousand years of law and tradition so they can accept Sharia Law, because the Archbishop of Canterbury says so. We're talking about the only country that stood up to Hitler from 1939 until 1944 when the Americans belatedly joined the party.

5/26/2008 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

Feith's text "War and Decision" reflects on the difference between plans and studies. Curious how little of the book has been reported.

Wretchard, I'd be interested in your thoughts about what the book suggests about the players and institutions, strengths and not, and if demobilization is the answer? All these institutions seem to decay over time after the initial crisis that forced their creation or growth. Given a clean sheet, we'd certainly build them differently than what they've evolved into today (“we” meaning others who have built large and successful enterprises).

5/26/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gary Rosen said...

"As much as I regret having to say it, blood was probably going to flow and plans go a-gley whatever well-laid plans our mice and men developed."

Mark, I believe you are right on the money here. We've had all kinds of Monday-morning quarterbacking from "we didn't have enough troops" to "we shouldn't have broken up the Iraqi army". But Iraq was a country of no experience with democracy, coming off thirty years of rule by a savage, brutal tyrant. It's not clear to me that any clever strategy could have avoided the ensuing bloodshed.

5/26/2008 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Wretchard said...


I wish I had Feith's book and the time to read it. I'll try to do so. Recently, I've been busy building a map of bloggers through the world at

There's a "Blogmap" menu item that's open to the public on the portal.

5/26/2008 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger 5050noline said...

All - A decent plan of action to be put in place after the initial 'war' was over would have been nice, but was not thought about by the great minds that planned for a 'war' but not for the follow up.....

Brits asked for this but were sidelined by Donald R - 'The US knew Best'. Not sure if any Yanks really knew the difference between a Sunni and a that time. Knowledge now hard gained...

Some real dildos put in the driving seat there!!!The Retired General whose name now escapes me, that was all that was needed to sort the place out ... NOT! I think he only lasted a month or so....

So maybe if you (The US) had at least pretended to listen to your 'friends' things may have run a little more smoothly. It would have been nice to be 'involved', y'know.

But I have to say, 'Thank God for Petraeus' - eventually...

Brits do not have the resource that the US does. I don't think anyone can dispute that. Don't start whinging at us now. Don't - just don't dishonour our dead.

Nahncee - You ever set foot in Britain? You seem to know a whole lot about us and how we are about to roll over to the Muslims? We happen to have a socialist gubbermint at the minute - Tony Blair be damned...He presided over the destruction of a decent country.. All you guys know about him is that he supported GWB in Iraq - But wait a bit, the pendulum swings and the decent folks are NOT HAPPY right now. And don't believe the BBC propaganda for a start!

The Aussies are fine soldiers. I served alongside them in the mid '60's to late 70'S, but there are not that many of them, they work on an even tighter shoestring than us Brits, and they are not well supported by (Labour) governments - now that John Howard has gone, Rudd will emasculate them in due course.

Otherwise, I find your blog very interesting, Wretchard.

Brit: Ex-UK serviceman and ME contract officer.

5/26/2008 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

5050noline: But I have to say, 'Thank God for Petraeus' - eventually...

You do realize that last Thursday Petreus testified before the Senate for his job as the new CentCom and he said we need to bring our diplomatic forces to bear as well when dealing with Iran. Which makes him an "appeaser" along the lines of Obama and Neville Chamberlain, according to Bush-McCain. But Pakistan trading land in their northwest for peace from the Taliban, they aren't appeasers, they are allies in the war on terrah! P-shaw.

5/26/2008 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...


Good question as to who will pay for it. However, the first question is not who, but how.

And the answer is simple; it is the same one that Samuel P. Chase
came up with for Abraham Lincoln.
Borrow the money, tax just enough to provide debt service plus a cushion, pay off the debt when things calm down. New issues of currency can also be appropriate from time to time. Take a look how Sam Wilson printed money for Wendell Fertig on Mindanao as well as Chase's greenbacks.

If it can be done under their circumstances, being able to acess the fractional reserve system makes it even easier these days.

And of course, one may employ the services of currency traders and speculators. You win, they get really rich. You lose, they go broke. Sorta like my Johnny Reb ancestors and their Confederate bonds.

In short, warfare SHOULD be looked at as another form of productive enterprise. The emotional aspects make this a little difficult, but the principle should always be kept in mind.

Also, those who like you do not care to participate should be given maximum opportunity to drop out-----provided you promise not to interfere and post a performance bond to that effect.

Finally, I find that the notion of
eliminating threats/problems by eliminating populations as impossible as it is unethical. Enemy capabilities are never reduced and rendered harmless by indiscriminate methods. Resist that temptation at all costs!

5/26/2008 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

"For two years British troops staked out a presence in this small district center in southern Afghanistan and fended off attacks from the Taliban. The constant firefights left it a ghost town, its bazaar broken and empty but for one baker, its houses and orchards reduced to rubble and weeds.

But it took the Marines, specifically the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 96 hours to clear out the Taliban in a fierce battle in the past month and push them back about 6 miles."

5050 - you're in a world of hurt when even the NY Times is laughing at British soldiers.

5/26/2008 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Kirk Parker said...


"Retooling captains into warrior-mayors is an expedient."

An expedient, no doubt--but orders of magnitude more feasible than turning our State Dept folks into warrior-diplomats, don't you think?

5/26/2008 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...

kirk parker:

We in the US are in a sad state when we have no effective way to re-tool the US State Department into something - anything - that will do something constructive policy-wise and action-wise for the American people, and on a consistent basis.

5/27/2008 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

Would the Iraqis be cooperating this much if the situation hadn't gotten as bad as it did? I suspect that, in the long run, the outcome will be better because of the low points, not in spite of them.

5/27/2008 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

"Which makes him an "appeaser" along the lines of Obama and Neville Chamberlain, according to Bush-McCain."

When did Bush and McCain say that diplomacy has no place in the Iran question?

5/27/2008 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

exhelodrvr1: When did Bush and McCain say that diplomacy has no place in the Iran question?

Bush before the Knesset Thursday before last, when he said, "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history." McCain subsequently said Obama must explain why he wants to talk with rogue leaders. I know these items probably never filtered out onto Rush and Hannity and O'Reilly, so it would be news to the Belmont Club, but they happened.

5/27/2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Wretchard - However, this approach is massively expensive when applied to a country as big as Iraq. Yet if it works, it will be far cheaper than these endless UN missions which go on for decades and do absolutely nothing.

I disagree. The costs of letting 3rd world shitholes fester is low. Iraq may cost us 2 trillion in actual costs and another 2 trillion in oil surcharge costs. Before the Neocon's "Excellent Adventure", it was costing us about 6 billion a year in UN contributions and patrolling the "No-Fly Zone".

And about 3 trillion of that Iraq War cost is real money lost - to the oil exporters, to China's sovereign wealth Fund to finance our war while Bush gave tax cuts to the rich. People that say it is cheaper than another 9/11 are wrong. Actual damage from 9/11 were under 40 billion...the figure of 1.5 trillion lost was all on paper as it affected the equities float which was all recouped in a year.
Then Bush's post-9/11 "Homeland Defense" 70 billion a year add-on costs for chem warfare defense of Podunk, Indiana and guarding against toenail clippers and shampoo bottles on planes appears to be money down the toilet that gave us little real security gain - it was just a giant Republican pork&and wealth redistribution project.

Even if it works in Iraq, it is unlikely to be repeated. Unless it is in America's VITAL INTERESTS, compellingly demonstrated, the Iraq Adventure will not be repeated for a long, long time.

5/27/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

"I know these items probably never filtered out onto Rush and Hannity and O'Reilly, so it would be news to the Belmont Club, but they happened."

You seem to have a low opinion of the Belmont Club. My own opinion differs, I guess.

5/27/2008 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Squid said...

I say give the squaddies the benefit of the doubt. I was there in '06-'07, and it was no picnic. They had practically the most shelling of any FOBs in country, and it was not their ROEs that prevented serious counter-battery, it was the ROE set by Parliament. You heard me. It wasn't the GOC at Div HQ at the airport, or MOD, but rather Labor backbenchers in the Commons who set British Army ROEs -- and you wonder why they had their hands tied. The Danes and Italians had no better ROEs, and if you'd seen the vehicles we drove around in you would not call them cowards -- the Danes in particular drove around in open vehicles. And this in MND-SE, which had more EFPs than anywhere else. And when off the leash, they took the fight to the enemy without any complaints; their snipers did excellent work around the Palace too. As other comments have said, it is the home governments that are the problem, not the defense ministries -- and that applies just as well to, say, France and Spain (but not Belgium).

5/27/2008 04:40:00 PM  

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