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POINT OF VIEW: Awaiting The New Bush Strategy In Iraq January 8, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News, White House.
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NEW YORK (Dow Jones)–The nation’s attention will turn this week to President Bush’s long-awaited, new Iraq policy, which is generating controversy and debate even before it is formally unveiled in a major policy address Wednesday night.

As a result of widespread leaks in Washington, the broad outline and some of the key details of the plan are known. They include a staged “surge” into Baghdad of up to 20,000 more U.S. combat troops as well as additional Iraqi forces to help secure the capital, $1 billion for jobs and reconstruction efforts, and the appointment of a new American military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus.

The effectiveness of the president’s latest strategy will be determined by events on the ground in Iraq, which almost four years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime remains embroiled in an insurgency and sectarian violence bordering on civil war that has cost more than 3,000 American lives and $400 billion.

But past experience and a close reading of the military’s own doctrine for counterinsurgency operations – the principles and guidance it provides for Army and Marine leaders – suggest that the odds against success are long, even though Gen. Petraeus brings superb skills and background to his daunting assignment.

In 2003, he commanded the 101st Airborne Division as it battled its way to Baghdad and emerged as a central figure in Rick Atkinson’s book, “In the Company of Solders-A Chronicle of Combat.” According to Atkinson, the general presciently and repeatedly said, “Tell me how this ends,” as he anticipated and worried about the challenges of the post-combat occupation.

An intense, thoughtful soldier-scholar with a master’s degree and a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University’s Woodrow School of Public and International Affairs, Gen. Petraeus gets high marks for the creativity and commitment with which his soldiers tackled counterinsurgency tasks in Iraq. After a second assignment building the Iraqi army, he assumed command of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he has played a major role in updating the American military’s approach to counterinsurgency.

Two major publications resulted from this effort: the first new field manual on counterinsurgency for the Army and Marine Corps in two decades and a complementary “Counterinsurgency Reader,” published as a special edition of the Military Review, the professional journal of the U.S. Army.

The latter contains Petraeus’ own lengthy article, “Learning Counterinsurgency: Observations from Soldering in Iraq,” which makes sobering reading as he prepares for his third duty tour duty in that war-torn country.

His first observation is taken directly from T.E. Lawrence, the British officer who is celebrated today as “Lawrence of Arabia” and in 1917 advised, “Do not try to do too much with your own hands,” adding, “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not win it for them.”

In Gen. Petraeus’ view, “Lawrence’s guidance is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in his own time in the Middle East during World War I. Like much good advice, however, it is sometimes easier to put forward than to follow.”

Observation number two is equally pertinent. “In a situation like Iraq, the liberating force must act quickly, because every Army of liberation has a half-life beyond which it turns itself into an Army of occupation,” he says. “From the moment a force enters a country, its leaders must keep this in mind, striving to meet the expectations of the liberated in what becomes a race against the clock.”

Clearly, the relatively small force with which the U.S. invaded Iraq, adequate to bring down the regime but not to provide the populace with vital security and prevent the chaos that ensued, is a major strategic failure with irreversible consequences for the success of American policy.

The new Army-Marine field manual also provides reasons for caution in evaluating President Bush’s plan. Of particular significance is the discussion, on page 1-13, of the size of forces required for success in battling insurgents. While noting that “no predetermined, fixed ratio of friendly troops to enemy combatants ensures success,” it goes on to state that “twenty counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective” operations. Given Iraq’s population of 27 million, about one quarter of which is in Baghdad, the number of U.S. and Iraqi forces seems woefully inadequate.

Indeed, Anthony Cordesman, a leading military analyst at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, has said of the emerging strategy for Iraq: “Unless such an effort is seen as a possible cover for eventual withdrawal, it also presents critical problems in terms of scale and duration. It may well mean too few troops for too short a time to do more than “win” temporary victories where the insurgents and militias are forced to remain quiet, disperse, or shift their operations to areas, but can easily outwait a temporary U.S. presence.”

Regardless of the results produced by the new strategy, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the efforts of the Army and Marines to increase their effectiveness in counterinsurgency. As Gen. Petraeus wrote early last year: “The insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan were not, in truth, the wars for which we were best prepared in 2001. However, they are the wars we are fighting, and they clearly are the kind of wars we must master. America’s overwhelming conventional military superiority makes it unlikely that future enemies will confront us head on.

“Rather, they will attack us asymmetrically, avoiding our strengths – firepower, maneuver, technology – and come at us and our partners the way the insurgents do in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is imperative, therefore, that we continue to learn from our experiences in those countries, both to succeed in those endeavors and to prepare for the future.”

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