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August 29, 2005

A Strategy For Winning This War

David Brooks has an interesting piece in the NY Times. Now that the January elections are over, the Constitution all but finished and we seem to be stuck in a Mexican standoff with the insurgency, the sharp focus of hindsight is being trained on the military to show us how things should have been done:

Andrew Krepinevich is a careful, scholarly man. A graduate of West Point and a retired lieutenant colonel, his book, "The Army and Vietnam," is a classic on how to fight counterinsurgency warfare.

Over the past year or so he's been asking his friends and former colleagues in the military a few simple questions: Which of the several known strategies for fighting insurgents are you guys employing in Iraq? What metrics are you using to measure your progress?

The answers have been disturbing. There is no clear strategy. There are no clear metrics.

Really? No metrics? How interesting. What do I keep hearing PAO brief to the press then? Must be my imagination playing tricks on me.

If you're thinking I sound skeptical, cynical, or even downright hostile that’s probably a pretty accurate assessment, because it seems to me lately that everyone and his uncle has a plan. Unfortunately, few of these plans take either the real-world constraints within which we currently operate or the rancorous debate leading up to the war into account. It's all very well to say we should have done this, that, or the other thing. The real question is: could we have done it? And that is a very different question indeed.

I see few scholarly treatises devoted to exploring those issues, however. It's so much more fun to throw out the constraints and try to solve the problem that way.

Brooks goes on to describe the latest critique of our counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq, which does sound very much like good sense. Called "oil spotting', it proposes an alternative to search and destroy missions in which we take and secure 'safe havens' of Iraqi ground, gradually using these 'oil spots' as focii from which we slowly spread a feeling of security and progress, much as a puddle of oil spreads inexorably across a flat surface:

Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.

Once you've secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

This sounds suspiciously like something I heard one of those eponymous 'advisors' say on the news the other night: "we've got to dismount - get out of our Humvees and circulate amongst the Iraqis". Or as my Dad likes to say, 'get out and walk amongst 'em'.

This all sounds fabulous except, as with most wondrous plans conceived in the blinding light of hindsight, it tends to overlook a few minor impedimenta... one of them being reality. The most pressing problem is noted by Brooks himself: we lack the sheer numbers needed to implement Krepinevich's plan effectively.

Another sticking point is opposition from both Iraqis and political opponents back home. Since the fall of Baghdad, paranoia about a US occupying force has been rampant. The Iraqis have been extremely touchy about anything that looked as though we were digging in our heels and making our presence permanent. This plan smacks of exactly that kind of permanance, which may well explain why we didn't try something along these lines in the first place - we were trying to keep a low profile to avoid arousing opposition from the Iraqis, not to mention cries of 'no permanent bases' and 'US imperialism' from the anti-war crowd back home. I remember just this sort of thing being discussed just after the fall of Baghdad.

It's true that the insurgency may have changed public opinion enough now that we could combine a stepped-up US presence with the in-training Iraqi Army, but that is a situation that did not exist several months ago.

And even if we could get the Iraqis to agree, political opposition at home would still be an issue. These military and academic solutions generally ignore the rancorous political atmosphere at the time we went to war. Increasing the size of the military, as some suggested we do immediately after 9/11, would have been impossible then. We were lucky to get the resources we did, when the Democratic Presidential nominee showed no compunction about lying about the cost of war if it would win the election:

There's little question that the Iraq war and its bloody aftermath will cost $200 billion, eventually. But so far, the bill for the war is still under $120 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Kerry runs the figure up to $200 billion by counting money scheduled to be spent next fiscal year, plus additional funds for the future that haven't even been requested yet. He also is counting money projected to be spent for operations in Afghanistan and to protect US cities, not for Iraq.

Kerry's stump speech uses the $200 billion figure repeatedly -- 14 times in one recent speech in Cincinnati alone. The $200 billion figure also is used in a Kerry-Edwards TV ad: "Wrong Choice" (see script at left) released Sept. 7. And it was also used by the Democratic National Committee in an ad called "Iraq" that ran in New York during the Republican National Convention there.

But he was hardly alone. Ted Kennedy was right there by his side claiming the war was a "fraud, made up in Texas". Not one to be outdone in the hyperbole department, Rep. Charles Rangel, (D, NY) chimed right in, saying Iraq was "worse than the Holocaust".

"This is just as bad as six million Jews being killed. The whole world knew it and they were quiet about it, because it wasn't their ox that was being gored."

Perhaps the real 'oil spot' strategy the President needs is not in Iraq, but right here in the United States? With a tough and utterly unprincipled counterinsurgency undermining his every move in both Houses of Congress and the media, the prospects for success are looking dim. Brooks comments:

Today, public opinion is turning against the war not because people have given up on the goal of advancing freedom, but because they are not sure this war is winnable. Why should we sacrifice more American lives to a lost cause?

Maybe a company of Marines, strategically deployed to Capitol Hill, could establish a beach head? Once the administration has one such 'safe haven', the people's confidence will be strengthened and we can pool our economic and political resources to grow it across Washington.

I agree. Quit fooling around, Mr. President..

Take Washington now.

Posted by Cassandra at August 29, 2005 07:57 AM

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Michael Yon discribes a man, LTC Kurilla, who was very effective at *getting out there amongst them*. It's a good read! http://www.michaelyon.blogspot.com./

Posted by: Lisa at August 29, 2005 09:02 AM

We're actually doing a lot of this sort of thing, from what I hear. The problem is that this news doesn't survive the news cycle. Thank God there are a few like Yon who are getting some of it out there. I wish there were more like him.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 29, 2005 01:54 PM

Hmm... I actually just wrote a piece describing a couple of metrics we could use here. It also mentions another piece on the DOD's attempt to find metrics, which you can read here.

Never trust anyone who tells you that the Defense Department doesn't have "metrics" for something. You're more likely to find out they don't have a regulation to govern some question about the fashion in which the uniform may be worn.

Posted by: Grim at August 29, 2005 04:22 PM

I also read Yon's articles and they are great.But Cassandra I'm with you the President can fight the war abroad but he's incapable of winning it at home.Where is this man's head?Our illegal immigration is out of whack and he's more concerned about being called a racist.also these other moonbats like Ted kennedy and others he should of dealth with them a couple of years ago.In our past we did have Presidents who didn't tolerate treason or sedition.Now look what we have,how many more attacks will this country have to take in order for them to take this aspect of the GWOT terror seriously.We got too many wimps and saps in our goverment and that is bad.Do you think that FDR or his cousin TR would've tolerated the bs the left has been allowed to do with impunity nowadays,in their time?I think not.Sometimes I wonder about blueblood politicans,some of em' are nothing but doormats and then the others act like lions, and tigers.I want someone to act like a lion instead of a cub.

Posted by: Lisa Gilliam at August 30, 2005 05:11 PM

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