Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Iraqi Security Plan

I participated for the first time at a roundtable telephone conference with Maj Gen William Caldwell, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Effects of MNF-I, attended by approximately half a dozen bloggers. The major message was that the security plan in Iraq is working, but needed time -- months at least -- to fully achieve its goals, a fact the nation needed to understand if it were to have the patience to allow the plan to succeed. Patience needs a reason and there are now only indicators the security plan is working. They are encouraging indicators and I felt (and this is subjective opinion) that Caldwell did not want to make too much of them in order to avoid prematurely raising expectations. One blogger participating detected even in recent press coverage a note of guarded optimism (except in publications like the NYT) in the recent coverage that was surprising, to say the least. Whether this is just the bloom on the rose or whether the media are picking up collateral confirmation of real progress remains to be seen.

Certainly the enemy will do everything possible to defeat the new security plan, probably through the use of large explosive devices directed against large civilian targets. This counterstrategy, which has been to project a feeling of intimidation and helplessness; their "insecurity plan" so to speak, has already shown its bloody hand in recent attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims. However -- and this goes to the heart of the "indicators" which are present largely atmospheric and not yet statistical -- the real story has been how the Iraqis have handled it. Just as Sherlock Holmes' dog didn't bark in the night when it was supposed to, the expected explosive backlash does not seem to be forthcoming. The discussion focused on two changes, one on the American side and the other on the Iraqi. Changes on the American side are marked by a shift in emphasis from large and heavily fortified bases to positions in the community itself. The traditional fear that this dispersal of forces may make them more vulnerable is in part offset by the fact that the forces do not have to deploy and return each day along known routes. "More exposure does not necessarily lead to more risk." The changes on the Iraqi side really amount to the fact that they are actually lifting up their end and taking increasing responsibility and although that may be tactically less important than the numbers, rotations, etc of the American forces it may in the end be more strategically significant. But that this mere fact should be so encouraging is also an indicator of how far the Iraqis have to go.

One item that skimmed past in the discussion but which deserved more attention was how early in the game this really was. Although the Iraqi government is legally four years old, in actuality it has only been in existence for several months. There have been four major changes in the Iraqi government leadership since its re-establishment and we are in its latest incarnation and this underscores not only the volatility of the political situation but the deep interaction between the military effort and politics in the campaign in Iraq. Although no one mentioned it in discussion, the thought went through my head (and it's my personal opinion) that the current security plan cannot be fully understood without calculating its intended effect on Iraqi politics. Though no one of course would put it that way. In other words, the current security effort will have an effect not only on the military balance on the ground, but equally importantly, on the political composition of the Iraqi government and on US public opinion.

Nor can it be separated from the diplomatic game that is now being played out in the region. The factors that MNF-I can influence are conditions on the ground. But it is really a cog inside a larger mechanism, and that mechanism is driven partly by forces both external to the theater and external to combat. And I guess that's why the message is 'the plan is working but we need time'. The military can only do so much. The rest is up to us.


Blogger nobs said...

If this is the last best chance, anyone who attempts in any way to thwart it should be shunned.

3/07/2007 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger commentor said...

Commenter attempts VDH impression by mentioning ancient Greeks in bid to appear sage.

3/07/2007 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 03/07/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

3/07/2007 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Aseclyst said...

Hmmm...this reminds me to try to work the Spartans into my next cocktail party conversation, even if they don't apply to the situation. If I were single, I wonder if young women would think VDH poseurs are cool.

by the way, I totally think Bush resembles Leonidas, not Xerxes. But after I see the Frank Miller movie I may feel differently. Hopefully Cheney is not the grotesque fat guy with swords for arms.

3/07/2007 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

This must be an error or misprint by LGF.

IDF Raids Fatah Intel Headquarters, Arrests Dozens

Why, (Oh, stop my beating heart!) Mr. Abbas is a friend, a partner in the “Peace of the Brave”, a staunch ally.

[Whether Israel confiscated any of the 3,000 M-16s and 1M rounds of ammunition shipped to Mr. Abbas recently by the State Department (with Mr. Olmert’s approval) is not reported.]

3/07/2007 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

gee wretchard, I see you didn't use the phrase "turning the corner".

This post reminds me of so many you've made in the past though you seem to be more guarded in your optimism.

Things will probably calm down a bit for awhile (they aren't stupid - they'll lie low) but our ability to maintain the increased force presence for any extended period of time is limited and the pools of hatred run deep in Iraq and those hatreds extend throughout society even in the military.

3/07/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


The thing I consistently hear from people who have either just returned or are currently deployed in Iraq is that while the situation is challenging, we are beating the enemy. Whether or not this is "objectively" true time will tell though it is apparently a source of irritation that they should think so.

However I will say that in my estimation, very few of the people I have personally heard maintain that we are winning -- there I've said the dreaded words -- is particularly stupid. In fact they are singularly well informed. And they are well informed in a way that an observer can never be.

3/07/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Wretchard, sir,

Was there any mention of this meeting of neighbors and UN Security Council members? That seems a most curious engagement, I'm wondering if it's a "with us or agin us" moment.

I've read reports that the Saudi/Iran Pres. meeting this past weekend ended somewhat poorly. Perhaps Iraq is not "A Bridge Too Far" and maybe we really have created an airborne beachhead in the heart of the battleground.

There is an alarming story in this week's AWST: "The Bush administration for the first time says it has intelligence proving detailed and ongoing collaboration between Iran and North Korea in the development of new ballistic missiles. The Pentagon has also just released previously secret intelligence data on new Iranian and North Korean ballistic missiles under development."

It's easy to see how that could give the neighbors the willies.


Heh - Speaking of ancient Greeks - the Athenians proved how bloody true democracy could really be. Virtually all their generals and admirals either died in battle, were called home and executed, or were fined and exiled. (VDH, "A War Like No Other")

3/07/2007 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...


I have no doubt that we win virtually every engagement but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be helping to squelch the violence in Iraq. Note how US soldiers are able to march from house to house with virtually no resistance in Sadr City. Has that render Mookie impotent? Have they come to accept the benevolent intentions of the US occupiers? No, they are simply biding their time accepting US help when it suits their cause and opposing them when it doesn't. Add to that the typical antipathy Arabs feel toward foreign occupiers and it doesn't paint a peaceful picture.

The above only deals (very superficially) with the US relationship to the Iraqi. Add to that the tribal/sectarian aspects of their own blood feuds and it really isn't clear what it would mean to 'beat the enemy' in Iraq.

3/07/2007 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gene Felder said...

When’s the next Iraqi election? What has already occurred is quite remarkable for the Middle East, a peaceful transfer of power from Iraq Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to Ibrahim al-Jaafari to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Nonetheless, my liberal friends giggle derisively when I ask what about the three times Iraqis risked their lives to participate in democratic elections in 2005.

It would be shameful for the US to abandon voters who dipping their finger into indelible purple ink defied the terrorists and voted to elect their government representatives. However, the US is not using military force and spending money in Iraq just to be nice guys and help the Iraqis. Rather, it is in the national security interest of the United States to have functioning democracies in the Middle East.

General David H. Petraeus oversaw the drafting of the new US Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual. FM 3-24 is at

From Sarah Sewall, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense, see
“Petraeus is almost unique among senior Army leaders in fully embracing both the theory and practice of counterinsurgency. During two previous tours in Iraq, he provided relative security and fostered economic and political reform in Mosul and Nineveh province and later overhauled the coalition's training of Iraqi forces. He incorporated lessons from these experiences directly into FM 3-24, the revised counterinsurgency field manual whose preparation he oversaw. The new manual challenges the Army to think differently about how it conducts war.”

Sounds good to me and worth the effort to implement, but any anti-American or Jihadist worth his salt ought to be doing everything possible to cause the US strategy to fail. We are not talking about establishing a perfect democracy, governments on the level of Columbia or New Orleans would be sufficiently powerful examples to influence neighboring states. The mullahs in Iran should and do fear a democratic Iraq and Afghanistan on its border.

3/07/2007 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


No, the talk centered on the security plan with no discussion to diplomatic initiatives nor reference to foreign involvement. It was very much a domestic as in "Iraqi" discussion. So the talk was of conferences with this community and that community; coordination with this and that Iraqi command group; the pros and cons of this type of approach and that type of approach.

Personally I found that very reassuring in the same way that, when discussing a software problem with another developer you can see that he can point out the specific problem areas of code and like he's traced through everything and knows where all the moving parts are. It is very easy to get the sense from simply reading the papers that the US military in Iraq consists of a bunch of numbskulls from Hollywood Central Casting. The truth, I am convinced, is that they know far more about the problem than even the most well-informed analyst overseas, whether liberal or conservative.

So when someone says, "we are winning, but it will take time" it has a little more content than the usual stuff you see churned out of the op-ed mill. It's more like your car mechanic saying "we'll fix it but it'll take an engine rebuild" or a developer saying "it may take four to six weeks to get the system to a beta" or even a doctor giving you a prognosis. Not that the car mechanic or software developer or doctor is God but it's not an opinion you will disregard lightly. If they say "I need more time" it's a request one should take seriously. Sorry for running on so.

3/07/2007 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...

The military analysis coming out of Vietnam proved to be...ummm...inaccurate. Those folks were specialists on the ground as well. Didn't they also go on about more time as well?

3/07/2007 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Gene Felder said...

Some remember the US withdrawal from Vietnam blissfully. Let’s recap the facts:

Despite the signing of the1973 Vietnam Peace Accords with the last US combat troops leaving Vietnam on March 29, 1973, Democratic liberals abandoned our allies in Vietnam failing to fulfill our treaty obligations. Saigon fell April 30, 1975.

We abandoned our allies not to the Vietnam insurgency, but to a large conventional North Vietnamese army that invaded South Vietnam in violation of the Peace Accords.

3/07/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


The spin coming out of the White House during Vietnam had varying degrees of accuracy. You would be surprised by the accuracy of the assessments of the boots on the ground. Oh, before you bring up Westmoreland, he was the creature of politics.

Old, tall tales never die.

3/07/2007 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


I know you would never indulge in gratuitous harping and carping. Consequently, for your edification, I offer for your examination a study, proving the unparalleled intellectual firepower brought to bear on meticulous military planning. My compliments go to Uncle Jimbo, Blackfive, and Ron Kessler.

Iraq re-construction plan we ignored

War College Professors Warn Against Iraq Pullout

Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario

Do note, Ash, this series proves conclusively, I think, that even a fine Lambroghini can be turned into a manual farm implement.

Please, let me know what you think.

3/07/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Prent Rodgers said...

You can listen to the General Caldwell blogger conference call in its entirety on my podcast at Wizbang. See here.

As to Ron's point ("Didn't we, um, beat the Germans and Japanese in less time?") about the duration of WWII, would he have us spend the same portion of our GDP on the military as we spent in WWII, which was for the survival of our nation, on this front in the war on terror?

And as Ash said, "they are simply biding their time accepting US help when it suits their cause and opposing them when it doesn't", Gen. Caldwell would respond, we don't have to stop all the violence, just enough so that the Iraqis can build their strength to do it themselves. If the enemy is just waiting to resume the battle, they will find the Iraqi security forces far stronger in several months than they are now.

3/07/2007 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger Ash said...


You seem to hold a similar opinion as Friedman - that the Iraq adventure idea was a good one and that it was simply the incompetence of the administration which botched.

I disagree.

I do agree that the administration botched it but even then the 'plan' was fatally flawed. That fatal flaw stems from the fact that, essentially, it was a 'go it alone' operation. The US could reconstruct until it turned blue in the face but it wouldn't really matter. The stench of America's self interest, the black gold that lay beneath Iraq's sands, renders any action taken by the US as sullied because of its addiction.

The only hope for something like the Iraq adventure to succeed (and even then I'm not convinced it would in the case of Iraq) would be for a broad coalition to remove Saddam at the behest of an international criminal court indictment, such as the ICC. Then, maybe, the Iraqi might actually believe the force applied and the institutions established were created for their benefit.

3/08/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...


Your nobility is commendable; however, you did fail to seek the blessing of the Almighty.

How does it feel be responsible for Darfur? I ask, because the impediments you impose are essentially those that make places like Darfur an unmititgated shambles.

3/08/2007 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...


By the way, Ash, I asked you at the Elephant Bar the other day whether you regret the removal of the Islamists pseudo-regime from power in Somalia. You did not answer. So, was the American intervention in Somalia commendable or not?

3/08/2007 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/08/2007 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

So, Allen, are you suggesting that America should invade and occupy every trouble spot in the world? That to not do so render one responsible for all that is bad? That seems to be an absurd position to take.

There is much evil in the world and much tragedy and some highly complex problems. No, I'm not convinced that US involvement supporting Ethiopia overthrowing the Islamic regime in Somalia was a good thing. By what right does the US assert to determine how Somalians govern themselves? I find it commendable that the US is aiding the African peace keepers being deployed but to overthrown the previous regime simply because they adhere to Islam is not commendable. I would agree that my depiction of the conflict is a simplification but there is much trouble to be had be trying to determine, especially through the use of military force, how the Somalians form their government.

3/08/2007 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...


Thanks for the timely reply. I believe it satisfactory to my end.

3/08/2007 09:15:00 AM  

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