Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dave Kilcullen: The surge explained

Here's an article which my super top-secret mole (known on Internal Monologue only by the codename "Maestro") high in the government pointed out to me. Really, this mole exists. I promise you. And this mole does work in the Bush administration. OK, maybe not high in the Bush administration. But the tip did come from a .gov address, and I know my mole is not particularly skilled in e-mail address falsification, unless Maestro has learned these skills recently as part of some super top-secret training program. I fear for Maestro's job security in communicating with a known subversive such as myself, but fortunately for Maestro the article in question is already highly public and has been commented on by numerous folk, including Andrew Sullivan, so I'm surprised I hadn't come across it already.

The article is titled "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq" and was posted by Dave Kilcullen on June 26, 2007. It is an insider's view of "The Surge" and the strategy behind it. Although I think our entire presence in Iraq is hopelessly stupid and immoral, I did find the article useful in understanding what we are trying to accomplish:

When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain – as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled” don’t overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.

Some of the strategy does seem to have a "more of the same" ring to it:
Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they’re secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.
This sounds an awful lot like, "As they stand up, we'll stand down, except this time they actually will stand up." Any US plan for Iraq that has contained the phrase "viable local security forces" does not have a lot of successful predecessors to look back on. When the "really decisive activity" will be police work, you need really good police who have not been infiltrated or co-opted by an armed militia or other group that doesn't have the national interest at heart. And so far that has proved extremely difficult. I just don't think the Iraqi government is up to the task, because it is too weak and commands too little loyalty.

And even if this surge does manage to decrease the amount of insurgent, terrorist, sectarian, revenge-driven, and criminal violence (and Iraq seems to be suffering from all of these) for a while, what does this accomplish? It gives room for "political development", but from all I've seen the politicians aren't particularly interested in national reconciliation. They seem more interested in using the might of the U.S. military to take out their rivals. If there was a broad national consensus on what post-occupation Iraq could look like, but that vision was being sabotaged by a few violent extremists, then perhaps a "surge" would have a chance of working. But I do not think there is such a consensus.

One of the biggest doozies in this article is where Kilcullen says:
On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual “surge of operations”. I have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing.
AACK! (Emphasis mine.) Viable long-term footing? What the hell is he talking about? I thought the whole point of the surge was to build a security environment so that the Iraqi government could take over and we could get out. Now Kilcullen is saying that the surge is setting the stage for "viable long-term footing". Who wants to be in Iraq long term (aside from Halliburton and a clique of deluded imperialists)? What does long-term mean? My understanding is that logistically the army is going to have to start drawing down in March. Things are already completely over-strained. And politically, American support for this cratering, as it ought to. So what exactly is Kilcullen saying when he's talking about "long term"? There is no long-term for the U.S. in Iraq.

As Sullivan said of this article, "I'm still a skeptic, but I'm a better-informed skeptic after reading this." I think I'm more than a skeptic, but the same sentiment applies. Numerous right-wingers have seized on this article to justify their continued support of the war. But I remain deeply unconvinced. The fundamentals are still wrong: nobody here, there, or anywhere else wants the U.S. occupying Iraq, there's no broadly accepted plan for a peaceful Iraq, a majority of the Iraqi population approves of attacks on U.S. forces, and the Iraqi government does not have the power (either moral, political, or military) to overcome the sectarian divisions in Iraqi society. And the overall level of violence does not seem to be decreasing over time. Oh, and we have about 1/4 to 1/3 as many troops as standard counter-insurgency doctrine suggests we should have for pacifying a country with Iraq's population. How is our presence making things better? Why are we still there?


Blogger Heraldblog said...

The surge is not a strategy - it's a tactic. There's a huge difference, and Bush, the Harvard MBA, doesn't seem to get it. That's because the US does not have a firm strategy in Iraq. Just tactics.

Building support for stable, elected government, secured by a competent security force, is a strategy. Unfortunately there's little reason to believe that will happen under this President.

6:34 PM, July 11, 2007  

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