Saturday, July 22, 2006

Wash Post Lists The Ways U.S. Military/Bush Administration Fucked Up Iraq War

As the neo-cons and administration apologists look to pass the blame for the Iraq mess, it's important to remember that a combination of ignorance, arrogance, and stupidity on the part of both the Bush administration and the military brass helped bring about the current bloodbath:
There is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.

On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation agency, had issued his first order, "De-Baathification of Iraq Society." The CIA station chief in Baghdad had argued vehemently against the radical move, contending that, "By nightfall, you'll have driven 30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground. And in six months, you'll really regret this."

He was proved correct, as Bremer's order, along with a second that dissolved the Iraqi military and national police, created a new class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders.

Exacerbating the effect of this decision were the U.S. Army's interactions with the civilian population. Based on its experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Army thought it could prevail through "presence" -- that is, soldiers demonstrating to Iraqis that they are in the area, mainly by patrolling.


The U.S. military jargon for this was "boots on the ground," or, more officially, the presence mission. There was no formal doctrinal basis for this in the Army manuals and training that prepare the military for its operations, but the notion crept into the vocabularies of senior officers.


The flaw in this approach, Lt. Col. Christopher Holshek, a civil affairs officer, later noted, was that after Iraqi public opinion began to turn against the Americans and see them as occupiers, "then the presence of troops . . . becomes counterproductive."

The U.S. mission in Iraq was overwhelmingly made up of regular combat units, rather than smaller, lower-profile Special Forces units. And in 2003, most conventional commanders did what they knew how to do: send out large numbers of troops and vehicles on conventional combat missions.

Few U.S. soldiers seemed to understand the centrality of Iraqi pride and the humiliation Iraqi men felt to be overseen by this Western army. Foot patrols in Baghdad were greeted during this time with solemn waves from old men and cheers from children, but with baleful stares from many young Iraqi men.

Complicating the U.S. effort was the difficulty top officials had in recognizing what was going on in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at first was dismissive of the looting that followed the U.S. arrival, and then for months refused to recognize that an insurgency was breaking out there. A reporter pressed him one day that summer: Aren't you facing a guerrilla war?

"I guess the reason I don't use the phrase 'guerrilla war' is because there isn't one," Rumsfeld responded.

Rumsfeld went on to fight the "non-guerilla war" by having the U.S. military round up tens of thousands of Iraqis and imprison them in Abu Ghraib for aggressive interrogations that resulted in the torture and killing of some detainees and p.r. nightmare for the administration. The army later estimated 85% of those detained "were of no intelligence value". But the photos of abused detainees from Abu Ghraib were seen the world over and became excellent recruiting tools for the insurgency. By the time the military fixed the abusive culture in the prison and interrogation system, the damage had been done.

The article says more than once that the administration and the U.S. military command refused to learn from the past:

That summer, retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, an expert in small wars, was sent to Baghdad by the Pentagon to advise on how to better put down the emerging insurgency. He met with Bremer in early July. "Mr. Ambassador, here are some programs that worked in Vietnam," Anderson said.

It was the wrong word to put in front of Bremer. "Vietnam?" Bremer exploded, according to Anderson. "Vietnam! I don't want to talk about Vietnam. This is not Vietnam. This is Iraq!"

This was one of the early indications that U.S. officials would obstinately refuse to learn from the past as they sought to run Iraq.

One of the essential texts on counterinsurgency was written in 1964 by David Galula, a French army lieutenant colonel who was born in Tunisia, witnessed guerrilla warfare on three continents and died in 1967.

When the United States went into Iraq, his book, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice," was almost unknown within the military, which is one reason it is possible to open Galula's text almost at random and find principles of counterinsurgency that the American effort failed to heed.

Galula warned specifically against the kind of large-scale conventional operations the United States repeatedly launched with brigades and battalions, even if they held out the allure of short-term gains in intelligence. He insisted that firepower must be viewed very differently than in regular war.

"A soldier fired upon in conventional war who does not fire back with every available weapon would be guilty of a dereliction of his duty," he wrote; "the reverse would be the case in counterinsurgency warfare, where the rule is to apply the minimum of fire."

The U.S. military took a different approach in Iraq. It wasn't indiscriminate in its use of firepower, but it tended to look upon it as good, especially during the big counteroffensive in the fall of 2003, and in the two battles in Fallujah the following year.

One reason for that different approach was the muddled strategy of U.S. commanders in Iraq. As civil affairs officers found to their dismay, Army leaders tended to see the Iraqi people as the playing field on which a contest was played against insurgents. In Galula's view, the people are the prize.

"The population . . . becomes the objective for the counterinsurgent as it was for his enemy," he wrote.

From that observation flows an entirely different way of dealing with civilians in the midst of a guerrilla war. "Since antagonizing the population will not help, it is imperative that hardships for it and rash actions on the part of the forces be kept to a minimum," Galula wrote.

The problem with the current administration and the current preznit is that David Galula's text on counteinsurgency is just a little too subtle for them.

Where Galula says the rule of counterinsurgency is to apply the minimum of gunfire so as not to lose the populace to the insurgency, the preznit and his neo-con advisors think a massive show of force works wonders in all foreign policy situations. This is true not only of the administration's policy in Iraq but for the entire war on terror.

Right now in Lebanon, the administration is quite happy to see Israel try to bomb Hezbollah to kingdom come. They think Israel's massive use of force will "send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah." But what they fail to realize (or are too stupid, too arrogant, or too ideological to realize) is that Israel's massive use of force and the thousands of innocent casualties that is coming with it may simply earn Hezbollah the sympathy of the Lebanese people and create more terrorists and hundreds of thousands more followers the world over.

I don't understand why it is the administration and so many on the right can't get this strategy straight. Sometimes a massive use of force is both warranted and productive; sometimes it's unwarranted and counterproductive.

It takes brains to figure out when to use massive force and when not to use it, of course. Unfortunately the idiots currently running things not only lack the brainpower to figure this out, they're proud that they lack that brainpower. Thus the preznit's bragging that he's "decisive" and makes big decisions from the "gut". Those words are code for "too stupid to think these policy decisions through."

And as the Middle East burns and Iraq explodes into civil war, we can see the result.

I suppose we can always hold out hope that maybe somebody in the administration will take Galula's text to heart yet.

Nah, that'll never happen.

Arrogance? No question.

Everyone in this admin is old enough to remember Vietnam, but they're making the same mistakes. Iraq is Vietnam without the draft.

The idea seems to be if we can just kill enough of them, they'll give up. But they won't. Iraq is their home. They just get more determined to get us the hell out.
You're right, abi - the idea does seem to be kill enough of them so that the rest will give up. But didn't even Rumsfeld admit back in 2004 that it's hard to know when you're succeeding at that game? And yet, here we are in 2006, still going at that game.
Rumsfeld also reflected on whether the war would take 6 days or six weeks, doubting it would run to six months.

That was five years ago. England was there for 28 years. We don't learn from anything or anyone.
It's amazing that four years later, Rummy's still got his job running things at the Pentagon, especially when you consider how most of the neo-cons blame Rummy for the mess.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?