April 12, 2007

Was McCain Really an Early Advocate For "Counterinsurgency?" Actually - Yes!

Hatched by Dafydd

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ, 65%) has recently been claiming that he was an early advocate of the counterinsurgency strategy we're now using so effectively in Iraq. For example, during his speech to the Virginia Military Institute:

After my first visit to Iraq in 2003, I argued for more troops. I took issue with the statements characterizing the insurgency as a few dead-enders or being in its last throes.

I criticized the search-and-destroy strategy and argued for a counterinsurgency approach that separated the reconcilable population from the irreconcilable population.

That is the course now followed by General Petraeus and the brave Americans and the coalition of troops he has the honor to command.

It is the right strategy.

But I confess, that statement left me puzzled, because I didn't recall any such specific criticism. I knew McCain was a forceful advocate of the Iraq war, and I knew he had repeatedly called for "more troops" in Iraq... but that's the not the same thing, is it? That's all I ever heard in the sound bites that the TV and radio news chose to air; that's all I read in the brief McCain quotations in the MSM print medium.

So I Googled around a bit -- and lo and behold, I discovered that McCain is actually telling the literal truth here: He really did advocate a counterinsurgency strategy eerily similar to what we've just embarked upon under Lt.Gen. David Petraeus.

It just wasn't covered by the mainstream news... only by a few blogs and other web sources.

I don't know the first time he did -- I can't say for sure it was in 2003, right after the Saddam Hussein government fell -- but it was certainly well developed as far back as 2005. See what you think about this McCain position paper on GlobalSecurity.org from November 2005:

To build on what has been accomplished, and to win the war in Iraq, we need to make several significant policy changes.

Adopt a military counterinsurgency strategy. For most of the occupation, our military strategy was built around trying to secure the entirety of Iraq at the same time. With our current force structure and the power vacuum that persists in many areas, that is not possible today...

The battles of Tal Afar, like those in other areas of Iraq, have become seasonal offensives, where success is measured most often by the number of insurgents captured and killed. But that’s not success, and “sweeping and leaving” is not working.

Instead, we need to clear and stay. We can do this with a modified version of traditional counterinsurgency strategy.... Rather than focusing on killing and capturing insurgents, we should emphasize protecting the local population, creating secure areas where insurgents find it difficult to operate. Our forces would begin by clearing areas, with heavy force if necessary, to establish a zone as free of insurgents as possible. The security forces can then cordon off the zone, establish constant patrols, by American and Iraqi military and police, to protect the population from insurgents and common crime, and arrest remaining insurgents as they are found.

In this newly secure environment, many of the things critical to winning in Iraq can take place – things that are not happening today. Massive reconstruction can go forward without fear of attack and sabotage. Political meetings and campaigning can take place in the open. Civil society can emerge. Intelligence improves, as it becomes increasingly safe for the population to provide tips to the security forces, knowing that they can do so without being threatened. The coalition must then act on this intelligence, increasing the speed at which it is transmitted to operational teams. Past practice has shown that “actionable intelligence” has a short shelf life, and the lag involved in communicating it to operators costs vital opportunities.

As these elements positively reinforce each other, the security forces then expand the territory under their control. We’ve done this successfully in Falluja. Coalition and Iraqi forces cleared the area of insurgents, held the city, and today Iraqi police and soldier patrol the streets, with support from two American battalions. And when the Iraqi forces are at a level sufficient to take over the patrolling responsibilities on their own, American troops can hand over the duties. Falluja today is not perfect, but our aim is not perfection – it is an improvement over the insecurity that plagues Iraq today.

In fact, McCain even singles out Gen. Petraeus, complaining that he isn't being used:

Keep senior officers in place. The Pentagon has adopted a policy of rotating our generals in and out of Iraq almost as frequently as it rotates the troops. General Petraeus, a fine officer who was the military’s foremost expert in the training of Iraqi security forces, now uses his hard earned experience and expertise at Fort Leavenworth.

I really was quite surprised. I had never heard him say any of this before, despite paying close attention to war-related news.

This fascinates me, because McCain also talked about the need to explain our strategy to the American people and keep them up to date on how it's doing; he is very emphatic about that. Yet the same forces that cripple the president's efforts to explain the purpose of the war to the American people also interfered with McCain's effort to explain the strategic difference between a counterinsurgency operation and other types of warfare.

The fact that I -- and presumably others; I don't believe myself to be uniquely ignorant about this -- were not aware of what McCain, himself, was advocating for at least the last year and a half (and possibly the last four years, if he is correct about the timeline) reinforces just how difficult such communication is... and that the elite media is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

But why is the media so unhelpful? Several forces contribute:

  • Bias against the war (of course);
  • Reluctance to get "into the weeds" of military strategy -- or indeed, any other technical subject;
  • Finally, simple ignorance: the media's complete inability themselves to understand the strategic distinction.

Of the three problems, I suspect the last is most determinative in this case:

  • There is always a market for long, detailed articles on various subjects of interest, and our military strategy during a war is certainly one such subject;
  • It would have been very easy to spin such an article in 2004, 2005, or 2006 against the Bush administration's conduct of the war by focusing on the fact that they're not fighting the sort of counterinsurgency strategy they should have been... thus it could be fit into the standard, anti-war, anti-Bush bias.

That leaves only one insurmountable obstacle: The vast majority of reporters working in the elite, big-box, drive-by media have no military experience, no interest in military matters, and -- to put it bluntly -- don't understand the differences between counterinsurgency, force on force, search and destroy, clear and leave, and clear and hold strategies.

I don't mean they're not up to the level of someone who has actually attended the Army or Navy War Colleges; who would be? Even Tom Clancy is woefully out of date; he doesn't even understand the enunciated purpose behind the Iraq war -- a necessary first step, even if you plan to disagree with it.

I mean reporters are not even up to the level of the average John Q. Public, who has at least enough interest in military matters to watch a few war movies (and who probably knows a soldier or two). We Were Soldiers (the Mel Gibson movie) did a great job of explaining the ROE problems in Vietnam, for example.

Most of us here at home -- and even most soldiers and combat veterans -- couldn't have explained exactly how each one worked (until recently, when several military strategists and historians have done a great job laying them out for us -- particularly Arthur Herman, as we wrote about last week). But we at least all knew that there were such things as different strategies, and that a military campaign was victorious or defeated primarily on the basis of whether it adopts the correct one.

We could easily have guessed that you use a different strategy to fight an enemy nation's opposing army than you would use to fight a terrorist group (which rarely has tanks, air support, ICBMs, or a blue-water navy). I sincerely doubt most in the news media know even that much. I base this judgment on the stories they have written... particularly now, anent the misleadingly named "surge."

For example, from everything I read, journalists really do think that the "surge" consists entirely of sending an additional 21,500 troops into Iraq -- and that's all. They simply don't get the main point, that we changed strategies from search and destroy (which failed in Algeria and Vietnam) to counterinsurgency (which succeeded in both).

The increase in troops is a byproduct of that change, not its core: The core of the strategy is turning pink zones to white and red zones to pink (see our Arthur Herman post linked above). Everything else -- the change in rules of engagement (ROEs), redeploying the troops, better integrating American and Iraqi forces in Joint Security Stations (JSSs), and yes, the "surge" in troops by five brigades -- is just the means to the end of turning red to pink to white.

I honestly believe that if reporters had understood what John McCain and others were saying in 2005 or earlier, they would have written article after article explaining it -- and explaining why the strategy of Gens. George Casey (former commander of Multinational Force - Iraq, MNF-I) and John Abizaid (former commander of CENTCOM) simply wasn't working in Iraq.

They would have published those analyses to bash Bush. Fine; he can take it. Maybe it would have alerted him to the problem earlier, and we could have switched to a counterinsurgency strategy a year or two ago.

Elite-media ournalists who understood military strategy the way Michael Yon and Bill Roggio do could have done a much better job of getting out the message of John McCain and others: They would have published detailed analyses in the Sunday New York Times and explicated the strategic differences during a lengthy interview with McCain or Petraeus on CBS 60 Minutes... remember, the context would have been to bash Bush, so bias would be no bar.

We're just starting to see such articles now -- for example, the Arthur Herman piece on the Algerian counterinsurgency of French Lt.Col. David Galula appeared in the Wall Street Journal. But it's still rarer than an honest Senate Democrat.

As bad as media bias is for the nation -- and I agree it's very, very bad -- the damage it wreaks simply doesn't compare to that wrought by media ignorance and stupidity.

I remember the famous comment by Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe, speaking of the execution of the Duc d'Enghien, Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Condé on trumped-up charges, and upon the direct order of Napoleon Bonaparte. This nasty bit of business set up the bitter and enduring enmity between the Bonapartists and the House of Bourbon. Boulay said:

It is worse than a crime; it is a blunder. (C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute.)

Letting ignorant elite journalists set the "story" of the Iraq war is worse than mere bias... it is a blunder of monumental consequence.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 12, 2007, at the time of 2:43 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/1983

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Was McCain Really an Early Advocate For "Counterinsurgency?" Actually - Yes!:

» Incompetent Media elites: they're not deliberately misreporting GWOT news, they haven't the slightest clue about what they're covering from discarded lies - hyperlinkopotamus
Incompetent Media elites: they're not deliberately misreporting GWOT news, they haven't the slightest clue about what they're covering [Read More]

Tracked on April 14, 2007 9:08 PM

» On the Media Elite... from Something... and Half of Something
and the politics of war... Was McCain Really an Early Advocate For "Counterinsurgency?" Actually - Yes! This essay by Dafydd ab Hugh sums up exactly what is wrong with news coverage of the war in Iraq. No, its not all... [Read More]

Tracked on April 15, 2007 6:45 AM


The following hissed in response by: AMR

I have followed the war intensely and do not remember Senator McCain putting forth a counterinsurgency option. If you and I missed it, someone was not doing their job; I don’t think it was us. I wonder why Mr. McCain was not more forceful with this portion of his message. I have been ranting about our ROE and lack of a capture and hold policy for some time. If I remember correctly it took us about the same number of years to figure out what was needed in Vietnam than in Iraq, but the change in tactics was too late in Vietnam and maybe so in Iraq. I wonder if we could have even started a War of Independence if the attitude of our citizenry then was as it is today. This damn Groundhog Day sequel is not making me happy. Do we ever learn from history; oh, that’s right we don’t teach history in school anymore. ‘Nuff said.

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 12, 2007 7:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: Tomy


Great post. I have long thought that MSM writers, generally, are simply lazy. They have no interest in doing research and are rewarded only for creative output. And sadly, their readers often believe what is written.

I believe the underlying problem is the laziness of the writers, and the lack of military knowledge when writing about military operations is but one sign of the problem. Whenever a subject requires more than a little research, the readers will get a creative but misleading product.

Also, we need to remember the news of early 2005:

  • Victory in Fallujah
  • Successful elections
  • Liberal writers openly questioning their previous oppostion to the war
The obvious need to move to a counterinsurgency strategy did not occur until 2006, when the opposition moved into Baghdad.

Finally, please expand on this sentence:

Even Tom Clancy is woefully out of date; he doesn't even understand the enunciated purpose behind the Iraq war -- a necessary first step, even if you plan to disagree with it.
What is the enunciated purpose?



The above hissed in response by: Tomy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 12, 2007 9:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


The enunciated purpose is to set up a democracy -- not a Jeffersonian democracy, but an Attaturkian -- in the heart of the Middle East, so that:

  1. We have a base of operations for future actions in that corner of the Non-Integrating Gap;
  2. We have an ally in future action (economic, political, or even military) against global jihad;
  3. Most important, so that young Arabic men have something else to do besides sit around feeling alienated from their society, thus becoming prime recruiting targets for al-Qaeda or Hezbollah (depending which side of the Great Divide they sit).

Clancy has opposed the war from the start and seems to believe we went into Iraq to seize its oil. He heaps scorn on the idea that Iraq will ever be a perfect, Jeffersonian democracy (as if that scores some sort of point). And he expresses bafflement that we don't simply partition Iraq and be done with it. He sounds exactly like Hammerin' Hank Kissinger -- I suspect Clancy fancies himself a Realist.

I believe Tom Clancy is still fighting the Cold War... just looking around for the next Soviet substitute (Red China? North Korea?) He is very much like the Pentagon DASDs that Thomas P.M. Barnett would run into every time he was there doing his briefing: They just had a hard time wrapping their brains around the fact that the Cold War was over, we won, and the next conflict will look nothing like the Fifty Years War.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 13, 2007 12:12 AM

The following hissed in response by: SDN


This is something that no one points out, including you. It doesn't matter if the Republican Party grows a spine like a Stegosaurus. When the dominant sources of information, the media and academia from kindergarten on up, are prepared to lie 24/7 about Bush and the war, the Republicans have no chance. The only answer is for Republican money folks to buy at least two of the networks and the NYT, then start firing lying journalists. Meanwhile, at the state legislature level, start repealing tenure laws, monitor the curriculum, and fire as needed to get the lying crap gone.

The above hissed in response by: SDN [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 15, 2007 2:47 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved