September 21, 2007


Hatched by Sachi

Now that General Petraeus' Counter Insurgency (COIN) plan is working, the obvious question is "why didn't we do this sooner?" Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes agreed with each other last week on the Beltway Boys that "we should have done this back in 2005." But I now believe we could not have done it then or anytime earlier than we did. (This may exonerate Gens. George Casey and John Abizaid.)

This afternoon, I was listening to Hugh Hewitt read from Michael Totton's report from Ramadi. The report was extremely upbeat: After many years of abuse by al-Qaeda, the Sunni tribes are sick and tired of the horrible lives the terrorists forced upon them. When the Americans approached them early this year to join forces against AQI, they were more than ready... they were eager.

With the cooperation of local Sunni tribes, American and Iraqi troops were able to kick al-Qaeda out of Ramadi, completely transforming a once hellish place into, not a Garden of Eden, but at least a place where troops and journalists feel safe without body armor and a helmet. People are now friendly and trustworthy. I heard an identical story from Falluja, and similar ones from the notorious Haifa Street in Bagdhad.

These three observations jibe with what Lt.Col. Dave Kilcullen -- senior COIN advisor to Gen. Petraeus -- wrote in his post at Small Wars Journal describing the development of the "Anbar awakening". Kilcullen paints a portrait of tribal leaders driven to the end of their tether by the rabid authoritarianism and bloodthirst of al-Qaeda, finally snapping and hurling themselves into battle against their erstwhile allies.

The mechanism is clear: Sunnis (and Shia) became so disgusted by and enraged at the high-handed dictatorship of al-Qaeda (or the Shiia militias, depending) that they could not tolerate another minute under the leash. But the operative point that must be understood is that the disgust and anger comes not from the abstract contemplation of rights denied but the palpable experience in thrall to fanatic extremists.

Now to the theory. One vital element of COIN is getting the cooperation of local citizens; a "counterinsurgency" does not work when the whole countryside is against us. The citizens of Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin, and the Sunni areas of Baghdad must become the eyes and ears of our troops; and they must not betray us to the evil-doers. If the Sunnis sympathize with the insurgents more than they trust us, COIN does not work.

In 2005, neiher Sunni nor Shia trusted Americans; they believed we would side with one or the other faction, try to install an American puppet, or just get tired and leave. They thought of us as conquerors and occupiers. They thought we went to Iraq to steal their oil and their women. When al-Qaeda (or some Shiite Militia) promised to kick out the infidels and bring power to the Iraqis, the people simply believed them.

This was before al-Qaeda forced people to obey Taliban-like rules, and before the leadership began to rape the women and kill the sons of the communities. In other words, when ordinary Iraqis still thought they could coexist with the terrorists.

So how did we go about gaining their trust and their alliance against the insurgency?

I do not believe the Iraqis would ever have been convinced by us simply telling them how evil the terrorists were. I believe the Iraqis needed to experience for themselves the inhuman hatred and violence of al-Qaeda. They needed to come to the conclusion themselves that terrorists are not their friends; in fact, they are the invaders, not Americans. They had to learn what life was like when their rulers considered them inferior beings.

People in Iraq also needed to know that Americans do not give up when going gets tough. They needed to know they could trust us to stay for as long as it took. Iraqis had to overcome anti-Western prejudice and start trusting Americans. They needed the past four years of experience.

I initially supported Secretary Rumsfeld's "small footprint" operation, with MNF-I commander Gen. Casey and CENTCOM commander John Abizaid. Many people now think that was a failure, and I too thought so for a while. But today, I don't think it was either a mistake or failure. The Iraqi people needed to learn just how totalitarian and vicious were al-Qaeda and the Shiite militias.

But if, as Mort and Fred suggested, we had tried this strategy in 2006 of 2005, it would have been an abject failure. The grand military theorist Edward Luttwak believes that if a region is begging to have a war (think of Xugoslavia just after the breakup), you cannot impose a peace upon them until they fight themselves to collapse; then and only then are the combatants willing to look at negotiation with favor. By the same reasoning, then, until the insurgent enablers among the larger population experience the horrors of a one-party sharia state, they cannot know how awful it will be.

Therefore, by luck or by careful planning, we held our ground -- yet allowed the flowering of sharia, so long as it did not directly threaten us. As anyone could anticipate (though few of us did), familiarity bred a great deal of contempt.

But take the personal experience out of the equation, and it would have been darn-near impossible to end up with an "Anbar awakening" -- or a Diyala, Baghdad, or even Basra awakening. Thus, the answer to the question, "why didn't we do this back in 2005?" is that it would not only have fallen apart, it would have increased the distrust and mutual animosity between America and the Iraqis.

Had we done what so many now claim they told us (in retrospect, without witnesses) we should have done, we would still have an insurgency; but we would already have discredited our own COIN operation. In that sense, therefore, it's actually a good thing that we did not decide to try a counterinsurgency until now... so that the unanticipated miracle of the "awakenings" could sweep through Iraq.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, September 21, 2007, at the time of 4:00 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Terrye


I agree, it is a lot like an alcoholic hitting rock bottom. They have to want to change, you can not make them do it.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 4:18 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/21/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 8:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: Pam

Dafydd, how in the world do you stay so positive? God bless you man; I appreciate your insight and communication skills. Now, do you think you can send some of the positive insight to the Red Sox; they sure could use it.

The above hissed in response by: Pam [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 9:23 AM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

I think you're right, the counterinsurgency effort could not have gained any traction until the evil of the aQ/Taliban/whatever had been experienced first hand.

The Palestinians are a similar issue, until they get sick and tired of their own terrorists, there can be no peace. How did Golda Meir put it? "We won't have peace until the Palestinians love their children more than they hate Jews."

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 9:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

"You cannot impose a peace upon them until they fight themselves to collapse..."

This reminds me of the Hiroshima argument. That it took Hiroshima for the war to truly and finally end with Japan. The Japanese people had to come to the realization that the path they were on held absolutely no future before things could change.

I wonder a lot about "small" wars. Sometimes they work (Panama comes to mind). But only when a majority of the population really does despise the dictator. In the case of Germany, or Japan it takes something catastrophic to change the course.

Initially we thought Iraq would fall into the small wars category. It was a reasonable assumption. After all, the Kurds and Shia already hated Saddam. Maybe enough Sunnis secretly did too.

Unfortunately many Sunnis didn't hate Saddam, or rather, they feared the Shia more than they hated Saddam. And the Shia had their own dysfunctional pathologies to fall into. Only the Kurds behaved as expected. So the small footprint - quick war thing didn't pan out.

And, as most people may not realize, the Arabs are conspiracy nuts. They just thrive on the stuff. Arab leaders have exploited this for decades. It took time for things to change in that regard.

I think the longer we stay the better things are going to get. Hopefully we got a hard bounce from hitting bottom.

And what people miss - the upside for success in Iraq is HUGE. Imagine a stable, democratic, oil-rich, multiethnic, state in the heart of the middle east that owes us a few million favors.

Now the question is Iran - big or small war?

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 10:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

Sherman's march to the sea. Same difference.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 1:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

Sachi, I totally agree and in fact submitted the following as a comment on another site back on August 13. What I wrote then was,

"My goodness, the left are all John Kerrys. They were for the surge (screaming for years that not enough troops were sent to Iraq) until Bush sent more troops (the surge at which time they were suddenly against more troops) until now when they are suddenly for the surge and the effect it is having. Yet I wonder how effective the surge would have been had it been carried out earlier and with as few troops as are now being used. Perhaps I’m very wrong, but I am left wondering if things didn’t have to get very bad in some areas of Iraq before the Iraqi people were willing to recognize that they needed to assess which direction they should go. The fact that more and more Iraqi people are now willing to inform on the terrorists might well be the result of all the violence which has taken place.
In the aftermath of the Second World War the United States attempted a couple of examples of nation building. What most people overlook, when assessing how successful those efforts were, is that both countries, Japan and Germany, were practically destroyed. Perhaps even exhausted might be applied to the citizens of those two countries. In the Iraq war it was over so quickly that the majority of the citizens of that country were little affected and so they had no idea of how much worse it could be. Now that they have seen some of how much worse things could get, they seem to be making some progress towards wanting a stable and functioning government. While it hasn’t yet reached as high as the Iraqi Parliament, progress is being made in smaller areas of government such as cities and their equivalent of counties. In many ways that mirrors how things work in the U.S. Ideas are tried in cities and counties and if they work they spread. Eventually, if appropriate, they even work their way clear up to Congress and are applied throughout the whole country.
As for our nationally elected idiots who are screaming that little or no progress is being made by the Iraqi Parliament, I would suggest they look in the mirror. How many years have they taken August off when the Social Security shortfall has not been fixed, or when a solution to the immigration issue has not been agreed upon? I could go on and write pages of things that have not been addressed in a meaningful way, but those two should stand out to everyone. To be blunt, I think the Iraqi Parliament is doing fully as well as our Congress. At least they aren’t passing all kinds of bills that will only screw things up. And I would remind them that they have said, many times, that they need to go home and see what their constituents want as an excuse for their August recess, so why will they not allow the Iraqi Parliament to do the same? Of course only time will tell, but perhaps the time off will allow cooler heads to prevail and the knowledge gained by the members of the Iraqi Parliament on their break might help them come to some agreements.
Now personally I don’t expect much from the Iraqi Parliament until security has stabilized more, and never did. Politicians are creatures of shifting winds and always want to keep their options open. Only when there is enough of a consensus within the country are they willing to take a stand. In that they differ from true leaders. So, my thoughts are that when things stabilize more with regards to security, and more people come together in the cities and other units of government, the Parliament of Iraq will come together. To me it seems ludicrous to expect them to make decisions when there is doubt about the outcome. Like their examples in Congress, they are unwilling to stick their necks out, but at least they have reasons for acting that way. If they guess wrong, they and their families could very well wind up dead where our elected leaders will only fail to be reelected. I wonder how many members of our Congress would do better under their circumstances. I fear very few."

I think you did a better job of explaining it. Well done.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 2:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: YOURMOMMA

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It's so good to read an analysis that isn't tainted by revisionist hindsight. Iraq has always been a read place with real people, not a wad of clay. Why did anyone expect the Iraqis to behave any differently than any other people, such as we Americans?

The above hissed in response by: YOURMOMMA [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 3:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: elvin

I've wondered about the type of person AQ is sending to Iraq. My guess is that instead of sending a rapist or punk to jail and humilating his family, the Arab locals in Eygpt, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria connect him to AQ and send him to jihad in Iraq. This gets rid of a lot of local problems as well as giving the satifaction of maybe killing a few Americans and having old Abudullah's son die a martyr instead of convict. Just maybe, the average AQ recruit is a glorified criminal without much of a future. Give these psychopaths a gun and a rationale for violence and it is inevitable that they commit horrific crimes on their hosts. AQ doesn't seem to realize what terrible public relations problems this type of recruit brings in the long run. The savagery of their tactics, in my opinion, is backfiring not only in Iraq and the West (albeit slowly), but also across the Muslim world. If this is what al-Qaeda offers, 95% of the world doesn't want it.

The above hissed in response by: elvin [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2007 7:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terry Gain

The role of al Qaeda in rise of the Anbar Awakening has been explained for months now by Roggio and Engram. The decimation of al Qaeda in Iraq needs to be trumpeted.

Your analysis is okay but doesn't explain why the Surge is working in Baghdad. It is working because that there are now enough IA and IP forces to hold and build what has been cleared, whereas in 05 and 06 there were not.

The influx of Iraq forces into Baghdad, working alongside the coalition, is a key factor in the success of the Surge.

You are not alone in your failure to take into account the marvellous job Iraqis are doing in fighting for their own freedom. Unfortunately you've pulled an O'Reilly by claiming it's been 6 years when in fact it's been 4 years. The progress has been phenomenal by historical standards and the criticism of the effort phenomenally ignorant.

The above hissed in response by: Terry Gain [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2007 1:27 PM

The following hissed in response by: F. N. Owl

Terry Gain: You're right. Their was no point in just clearing areas, until the Iraqis were able to hold them. Giving people a chance to develop a thorough hatred of Al Qaeda was presumably an accidental byproduct.

A number of people have argued that we didn't kill enough Iraqis in the original invasion, to put the survivors in a WWII German or Japanese frame of mind. It may have taken several years and some painful experience to get there by a different path. Someday the think tanks and academics will do the analysis, but I suspect it took fewer dead Iraqis this way. It took a lot of dead Germans and Japanese.

The above hissed in response by: F. N. Owl [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2007 3:50 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terry Gain

Thank you FNO. The consequence of killing more Iraqis to show them who was boss would have been to create more resistance, more insurgents and eventually more enemies.

The consequence of sending 500,000 troops (which we didn't have) would have been to convince Iraqis they were in a state of real occuaption, not the alleged occupation the opponents of the mission speak of.

And what would have been the result of the implementation of the vaunted Powell doctrine?

I say, without fear of contradiction, that the course of the war would have been as follows:
1. The insurgents would have seen it would be suicide to oppose such massive force;
2. Iraqis would have seen no need to sign up to defend their country;
3. Given the massive costs and the obvious lack of need for such forces the demands that U.S. forces be withdrawn would have been acceded to. Victory would have been declared and the withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. forces would have followed.
4. The insurgency would have then commenced. It might not have succeeded but the sacrifices to put it down would have been much greater than experienced to date.

Finally, isn't it interesting how people who have demonstrated no particular brilliance at their day jobs all understand so much better than the Generals conducting it, how the war should have been conducted.

Alas that includes me. But I'm beginning to think however that I'm one of the best of the least. This probably makes me delusional but at least I'm not a leftist- i.e. a person who insanely wants to see his country defeated by Islamists because it will improve the electoral fortunes of his party.

The above hissed in response by: Terry Gain [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2007 4:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: DaveR

I've wondered about the type of person AQ is sending to Iraq.

Good point, elvin. And how about we ask: What kind of person did America send to Iraq? Think an army of conscripts would have been able to do what the well-educated and idealistic men and women we sent have done?

The last 4 years have been a struggle between the worst kind of monsters and the best kind of saviors. Are our folks perfect? Of course not, they are just much better people on average than any army we have ever fielded. And these saviors are not bleeding-hearts - these know how to kick ass.

Now we need to watch our soldiers' backs to prevent them from being ambushed here at home. Believe me, the Petreaus ad was just an opening gambit from the Democrats and the media, because American victory in Iraq is totally unacceptable to them.

The above hissed in response by: DaveR [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2007 2:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: AMR

I thought that once the "AWAKENING" started, but who knew that al Qaeda would be so darn dumb and it would work before the media convinced the American people all was lost. But a hint of what should happen in Iraq could have been provided by the media had they actually looked in detail at the end of our deployment in Vietnam or more recently in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance. The brutal tactics of the VC were legend (and most times ignored by the media even when they were on our side) and we certainly had a heavy handed method of defending the people from the VC. However, unfortunately any shift in South Vietnamese public opinion was clouded by Tet where the Viet Cong were basically destroyed and the war shifted to a North Vietnam Army practicing more conventional military tactics with the media missing both. Somehow, I don’t see the American civilian authorities knowingly practicing tough love in Iraq until the Iraqis realized their problem.

Heck, the NYT would have by now released the finding about how callous the President and his war council was allowing the 650,000, or is it 1,000,000 now, Iraqis to die before changing tactics. The Left could then revise the Vietnam War story to make us more brutal than were the VC. Well ya, I almost forgot, Lt. Kerry did testify to that some time ago. The Left certainly would have a ball with this thought about the situation in Iraq though.

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2007 11:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Terry Gain:

Unfortunately you've pulled an O'Reilly by claiming it's been 6 years when in fact it's been 4 years.

Oops, that may have been my mistake. Sachi posts are usually collaborations between us: She writes the initial post, I edit it into the Big Lizards style. I'm not sure which of us added that line; it could easily have been I.

Thanks for catching it!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2007 6:35 PM

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