The sheikh says Twitter is bad, and that anyone using it "has lost this world and his afterlife." A bit extreme, but I understand the sentiment.
Myself, I would have put it in a more Wordsworthian way. I think that most social media are a sordid boon, and that late and soon, twitting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
So I say: Tweet less, live more. Technology is only liberating if you control it, rather than the other way around. We should not confuse data with meaning.
Colin Kahl's new report on containing a nuclear Iran (done with a couple of his homies) is long, but worth it. I was asked to suggest cuts to a draft and honestly couldn't find any. It is the best thing I have read about Iran policy in a long time.
The problem is that much what he is recommending for containment is expensive stuff like forward-deployed missile defenses and conventional forces, and defense budgets are going in the other direction. He also wants us to get more involved in Syria and in attacking Iranian networks of "covert operatives, surrogates and proxies" across the region.
My CNAS colleague Phil Carter, reacting to yesterday's item about how the experience of Iraq is affecting the Obama administration's consideration of intervening in Syria, sent me this thoughtful note:
Iraq has replaced Vietnam as the lens through which we see foreign policy decisions. However, I don't like the term "Iraq syndrome" -- in large part because it suggests there's something wrong, and that this is a condition to be ameliorated or recovered from. Instead, I prefer to think of our national sense of the Iraq war as "Iraq experience" or "Iraq wisdom." We gathered this experience and wisdom the hard way, acquiring it at a cost of trillions of dollars, and tens of thousands of killed or wounded, to say nothing of the cost to the Iraqis. We ought not casually discard this wisdom and experience, or set it aside so that we can once again go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, to use John Quincy Adams' memorable phrase.
Tom again: I think he is right, but I think there also is a generational aspect to this. I think younger people -- and to me, that means anyone under 40 -- are more affected by this than are older people.
One of the great things about CNAS is that we actually have conversations like this. In my experience, not all think tanks do. You can find out more by coming to the annual hoedown on June 12. It is, as we have noted, the Woodstock of wonkery. But with better refreshments.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Quote of the day: Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, tells Dexter Filkins in this week's edition of the New Yorker that in considering intervening in Syria, "Here's what we wrestle with: there are huge costs and unintended consequences that go with a military intervention that could last for many years."
Another White House official tells Filkins, "The country is exhausted." I don't think that second comment is quite accurate. It is more that the country is tired of being involved on the ground in the Middle East and deeply skeptical of the efficacy of another try.
Filkins also quotes an academic expert who predicts that eventually all of Syria's Alawites will be pushed into Lebanon, with the eventual refugee flow doubling that nationette's population.
The vibe of the article is that the Obama administration increasingly is leaning toward intervention -- from the air, in aid and intelligence, but not with ground troops.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
By Joel Wing
Best Defense officer of Iraqi statistical analysis
Iraq recently saw a huge increase in the number of attacks and casualties in April 2013. Iraq Body Count recorded 561 deaths for the month, the highest since August 2009, while the United Nations reported 712 killed, the most since June 2008. That caused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to go on national TV to call for calm, and warn against the rise of sectarianism and violence. (3) The cause of the deterioration in security is the combination of an ongoing offensive by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and retaliatory attacks by other insurgent groups for the government raiding a protest site in the town of Hawija in Kirkuk province. The former will eventually end, while the latter could lead to increased support for militants. Either way, it appears that talk of a renewed civil war is premature. Yes, militants are becoming more active in the country, but they are for the most part isolated in certain areas; Shiites are relying upon the government to respond to them rather than militias, and the majority of the population is going about their business.
Al Qaeda in Iraq launched its latest offensive in December 2012. That was marked by increased casualty rates, high profile, mass casualty attacks, and bombings in southern parts of the country. On April 29, for instance, two car bombs went off in central Karbala, two more detonated in Amarah in Maysan governorate, followed by another vehicle-based device exploding in Diwaniya the next day. Operations in southern Iraq are a hallmark of AQI's offensives, and take advanced planning, intelligence gathering, and the stocking of supplies, because they take place outside of where the group usually works. Recently, al Qaeda has been able to launch larger offensives and sustain them for longer, because they have witnessed an increase in fighters, and a lack of resistance by the Iraqi security forces. After the U.S. withdrew in 2011, it emptied its prisons leading to many detainees going right back to fighting. The Iraqi army and police also no longer carry out counterinsurgency operations after the exit of the Americans, and are more of a reactive force now carrying out raids and mass arrests, which cannot prevent attacks, and cause resentment against those areas that are targeted. This campaign will eventually end, likely in a month or two, as AQI runs out of supplies and has to restock. That will cause a decrease in deaths, until it ramps up again in the summer as it has during the last few years. The media usually misses this ebb and flow in insurgent operations, focusing instead upon the monthly casualty totals, rather than analyzing the larger trends.
Another source of increased instability is the reaction to the government's raid upon a protest site in the town of Hawija. On April 23, Iraqi security forces moved into the camp looking for assailants who had attacked a nearby checkpoint, which killed one soldier and left three wounded. The demonstrators had been given an ultimatum to turn over the attackers, but did not respond. The organizers were also connected to the Baathist Naqshibandi Army insurgent group, providing another impetus for the government to act. Following the raid, protesters and militants carried out a series of retaliatory strikes across Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, Ninewa, and Tamim provinces, while several activists said they were giving up peaceful protests and taking up armed opposition to Baghdad. This is far more dangerous than the al Qaeda in Iraq offensive because it could mark a sea change in public opinion amongst some Sunnis. Some protest leaders like Sheikh Abu Risha of the Awakening Movement in Ramadi have called for moderation since the Hawija incident, but the vast majority is pushing for arming themselves, at least in self-defense, if not outright opposition to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This could turn many young Sunni men towards militancy, and give groups like the Naqshibandi and the Islamic Army of Iraq a new source of support and recruitment. These organizations have a much broader appeal to Iraqis than al Qaeda, because they have presented themselves as nationalist groups out to protect Sunnis from the Shiite government, rather than being part of a global jihad against the West. If the insurgents are able to make headway with the demonstrators, that could increase violence over the long-term.
Still, the combination of al Qaeda in Iraq's offensives and growing support for the wider insurgency does not mean that Iraq is heading towards a new civil war. First, most operations by militants are in specific cities, and even then only affect a small percentage of the population. (10) Even cities like Baghdad, that have the largest number of deaths, might only have 100-150 per month out of population of over 7 million. Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar can see a steady stream of dead and wounded each month, while Haditha and Rutba hardly have any throughout the entire year. This localized nature of violence means that the vast majority of Iraqis are not affected unless they live in certain areas or neighborhoods. Second, the Iraqi civil war from 2005-2008 was marked by Sunni insurgents being met by Shiite militias. So far, the Shiite community is relying upon the government to take care of security rather than taking matters into their own hands. This is despite constant efforts by al Qaeda in Iraq to incite them by bombing every religious holiday and event. All together that means that Iraq is in for a rough immediate future with casualty figures likely going up, but it is nothing like the peak of violence when Sunnis and Shiites were at each others' throats and large swaths of the country were being cleansed. The real problem in Iraq is not the activities of the insurgency, but rather the political deadlock in Baghdad. That's likely to take a generation to resolve, and should get a lot more attention than the daily images of bombings and shootings in the country.
Joel Wing is an Iraq analyst at the Musings On Iraq blog.
AZHAR SHALLAL/AFP/Getty Images
By Emma Sky
Best Defense bureau chief, Iraq
The famous Iraqi sociologist, Ali Wardi, wrote about the dual personalities of Iraqis. For many of us who served in Iraq, this is something we also seem to have developed.
I spent the weekend in Texas, staying with American friends I served with in Iraq. Although we had not seen each other in years, conversation came easily. Our shared experiences away at war had created life-long bonds. We reminisced about our time together -- the sense of purpose, the camaraderie, our small victories. We laughed. We drank. We ate unhealthy fast food. We gossiped about people we knew. Together, we visited the memorial at Fort Hood to pay our respects to the 450 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division killed in Iraq.
But all weekend I also surfed the Internet for news and chatted with Iraqi friends. Iraq is spiraling out of control. Following the arrests in December of the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, Sunnis took to the streets, revealing their widespread sense of alienation in the new Iraq and demanding the end of what they consider a government policy to marginalize them. As with other protests in the Arab world, they were initially driven by legitimate grievances. But against the backdrop of provincial elections, little was done to address the concerns of the protestors -- despite calls to do so from the top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani. Politicians instead exploited the demonstrations for electoral gains. President Maliki took the opportunity to distract attention away from the lack of services and rampant corruption, presenting himself as the defender of the Shia, in the face of Sunni regional powers intent on overthrowing Shia regimes -- Syria first, then Iraq. Sunni politicians, for their part, sought to benefit from the demonstrations to rail against government oppression to gain support for their own electoral campaigns.
Last week, the Iraqi Army entered Hawija, near Kirkuk, to arrest people accused of attacking Iraqi Security Forces. In the ensuing violence, 200 people were killed. There are reports of desertions from the Iraqi Army. Kurds have moved peshmerga into positions in the disputed territories. Tribes are forming militias to protect themselves from the Iraqi Army. Five Iraqi soldiers were killed in Anbar -- and the province has been put under curfew. Ten satellite channels, including al-Jazeera, have been banned, accused of spreading sectarianism. Bombs exploded in Shia towns. The speaker of parliament called for the government to resign and for early elections.
By seeking to eliminate his Sunni rivals, Maliki has removed the wedge that the U.S. military drove between Sunni extremists and the Sunni mainstream during the Surge, at such great cost. There is a growing sense that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are merging into one, with Shia regimes, backed by Iran, battling against Sunnis, including al Qaeda elements. We may be witnessing the breakdown of the post-WW I settlement and the nation-states established under the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Many Iraqis still cannot fathom how the United States could lose interest in Iraq and simply walk away after so much investment. They explain it in terms of conspiracy theories: a "secret agreement" between the United States and Iran; a "deal" between Biden and Maliki to divide up Iraq.
Will our legacy from the Iraq war be a regional power struggle ignited by the resurgence of Iran, the contagion of sectarianism into Syria, the horrific violence of jihadist groups? Is this in our national interest? Can we not do more to make Iraq a more positive influence in its neighborhood?
As the situation deteriorates, I wonder, will the United States proactively develop, articulate, and adopt strategies to engender a better balance of power in the region -- or reactively respond to the inevitable fallout with tactical measures.
Emma Sky is a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute. She served in Iraq 2003-2004 as the governorate coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 2007-2010 as the political advisor to General Odierno.
Lady Emma Sky
The other day a couple of commenters discussing innovation in the military mentioned one change (fwiw, the company-level intelligence cell) as a big reason why "we won in Iraq."
Hmm, I thought: Did we actually win that war? I am not sure. It doesn't feel like it. Yes, we got out with our shirts on. But win?
I thought about this again when I read this thoughtful comment by Lt. Gen. James Dubik in the May issue of ARMY magazine:
America is confusing "withdrawing from a war" with "ending a war." The two are very different. A war ends when strategic objectives are met or an enemy is defeated and recognizes its defeat. In Iraq, the war continues -- albeit at a level that the Iraqi security forces are, so far, able to handle and the Iraqi government can manage.
By Noel Koch
Best Defense guest columnist
In the run-up to President Obama's trip to the Middle East, apologists for Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy civilian convicted of spying for Israel, urged Pollard's release. This has become a recurring event led, strikingly, by Israeli leaders.
Here are two reasons why it is absurd to consider ever releasing Jonathan Pollard:
First, the Israelis have never told us who his co-conspirators were.
Second, the Israelis have never told us how much of the information they obtained was traded to nations hostile to the United States.
Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 while trying to escape into the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In March 1987 he was convicted in a plea bargain that permitted him to avoid a public trial, as a result of which there would be no public record and thus no public awareness of the full extent of his crimes or why he committed them.
The narrative aggressively promoted by his supporters in Israel and the United States paints Pollard as a committed Zionist prompted by his love for Israel and concern for its security. It ignores other facts, e.g. before he began spying for Israel, he had already reached out to other foreign intelligence organizations, one of which actually was an enemy of Israel, in an effort to capitalize on his position as an analyst with access to classified U.S. information. The plea agreement also helped obscure the fact that Pollard was bought and paid for by the Israelis; his motive was money, not warm feelings for the Jewish state.
Israel's damage control efforts included the contention that the Pollard escapade was a rogue operation not carried out through the nation's normal espionage channels. This much would prove to be true. Pollard was not being run by Mossad. As is often the case with missteps between states, this one was rooted in personal animus. Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger's reluctance to put the lives of American military personnel at the disposal of Israel's interests promptly produced the usual result: a smear campaign in which Weinberger was implied to harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Especially ill-disposed to Weinberger was his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. Among other things, Sharon was convinced Weinberger was refusing to share intelligence of interest to Israel. Accordingly, Sharon set about to get the alleged intelligence on his own.
Sharon's agent in this endeavor was legendary Israeli intelligence operative Rafi Eitan. Rafi found his dupe in the buyable Jonathan Pollard. Here begins an aspect of the matter hidden from public view by the manner in which Pollard was prosecuted. It has served the Israeli narrative for Pollard to be seen as some sort of super spy. He was nothing of the sort. He simply exploited his trusted access to Navy computers to withdraw information his handlers instructed him to get. At least some of the documents were secured behind alpha-numeric designators. Pollard had no idea what these designators represented. He was simply told to extract the associated documents.
Thereupon rests one reason Israel has from the outset been anxious to retrieve Pollard, and one of several very good reasons Pollard should remain in prison to the end of his life sentence. U.S. intelligence personnel have long known that Pollard didn't act alone and that there were other, still unidentified (or at least unprosecuted), traitors to America involved in this undertaking. Who identified for Pollard the specific documents he was to pull out of the computers? Israel hasn't told us.
In the netherworld of espionage, competent national agencies trade information. It is known that the information Israel bought from Pollard was exchanged with other national agencies to the detriment of U.S. interests. Some of the damage to the United States is known. Some may not be. In any case, Israel has never given the United States a complete accounting of what was stolen (to be sure, Pollard himself doesn't know) and what was passed to enemies of the United States.
Jonathan Pollard got what he wanted: money, jewelry, and paid trips in exchange for his treachery; he got what he deserved: life in prison. Unlike Judas, who had the grace to hang himself in shame, he lives in the hope that his purchasers will spring him so he can enjoy the apartment set aside for him, the money they have been banking for him, and the hero's welcome they have promised him for betraying the United States.
Noel Koch served in the U.S. Department of Defense from 1981 to 1986. During this time he worked with Rafi Eitan, advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on terrorism, and later with Amiram Nir, who held the same position with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
Fifty Shiite gunmen invaded the offices of four newspapers in Baghdad. They smashed equipment, stabbed some people, and threw one reporter off the roof.
Let freedom reign?
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
Ricks: We are almost out of time. Speaking of mutually shared decisions, the U.S. government is probably going to face one this year on Iran. How has everything we've been talking about shaped how we are going to be thinking about Iran down the road?
First David, then Michèle.
Crist: Well I think it's all interrelated -- issues in Afghanistan, issues in Iraq, all affect how we look at Iran and how we are positioned to be able to do something about Iran. I think it's all interrelated. Lessons I think have been institutionalized at least within senior leaders on some of the problems we had in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially second- and third-order effects. What are the consequences of different actions we take? What are consequences of conflict in general? Is regime change a viable option? Isn't it a viable option? If not, then how do we...? I mean, all that is in the background of all the discussions. And I think it's been very healthy in many ways.
Ricks: One of the issues that we've been talking about is the quality of civil-military relations and straightforward, candid, honest advice from generals to civilian leaders -- for which we have apparently just seen General Mattis quietly fired. [Ricks note: I should have said "pushed out early."]
Crist: On the record I won't comment on General Mattis's views.
I will say and I can say this with a certain honesty since I've helped draft many of the memos: He has been very candid on what his views of what needs to be done. I haven't seen anything like the Rumsfeldian approach to stifling alternative views, and so as a consequence while...And some people in the U.S. military -- maybe the political leadership isn't as receptive as they would like on authority issues and some other response...the dialogue is there, and frankly a lot of it gets to these ideas of what I have always thought of as one of the intangibles where you have breakdown in discourse between civilian and military leadership is as you say trust. And a lot of it is personality based. Just personalities of the individual players and how they personally get along, as well as concerns of political leadership.
Ricks: And you have seen a trusting, candid exchange?
Crist: I have from my level, absolutely. And I've sat in many -- not as many as Michèle and some of the others here -- but a number of meetings with senior leaders on both sides of it. And I have seen it be quite candid.
Ricks: My impression is that the Obama administration has been almost afraid of Centcom under Mattis and Harward -- the mad-dog symptom with two incredibly aggressive guys. But I see Michèle shaking her head. Michèle, jump in.
Flournoy: I would say of all the issue areas that I was exposed to in the deputies committees process, there was none where we took a more deliberate, strategic, questioning, and very candid approach than Iran. And it really started back -- this goes a few years back now when it was started up when Gates was still secretary of defense -- and I think the thought that was put into exactly what words the president says to describe our objective in Iran: Is it "prevent"? Is it "contain"? That was debated, the consequences downstream of choosing one versus the other, multiple senior leader seminars, war games looking at different options, going down the road of different scenarios, very close partnership with the military in actually setting the theater so that we are now communicating a degree of deterrence to back up the policy of sanctions and negotiations.
So I actually think on Iran, probably more than on any other issue that I've seen, it's been very strategic, very comprehensive. There's no idea that you can't bring to the table. There's no idea that hasn't been debated. And people may have very strong views and disagree. But this is not one where -- this was one where there was a real constant coming back to what are our interests? What are our objectives? How do we make sure we are applying rigor and not just going down the road towards confrontation with no limits or no boundaries or no sense of what we are trying to achieve?
Crist: I would add one more point in having looked at U.S. strategy for a long time on Iran. One thing that I found interesting that has evolved over the last few years that I haven't seen earlier is looking even beyond the nuclear issue. What is our long-term relationship with this country? Are we long-term adversaries? If so, how is that going to play out across the region? And how do we counteract that? And also, are there areas, I think, which despite the engagement piece, seemed to have died off, there has been a lot of thought given -- are there areas where there is mutual cooperation? And what will that lead to long term? Can we have maybe not rapprochement but some kind of détente with Iran?
Ricks: So can we start to get Putin to be aggressive again and drive Iran into our hands?
Crist: Yeah, it's tough because in my personal opinion we are for a host of reasons adversaries in the region. We have two different strategic views of what we want out of it.
But the issue is bigger than just the nuclear issue. The nuclear issue is a symptom, more than a cause, of our problems.
THE END... -- or is it?
Ricks: Michèle, you looked like you were about to say something.
Flournoy: I think that this discussion is about the alignment of objectives. Are they consistently aligned with our interests? And is the level of cost bearable and appropriate, given the nature of our interests?
I saw that sort of insight applied to subsequent cases. I think the experience of Iraq -- the inherited operations of both Iraq and Afghanistan -- caused us to have a very fundamental strategic discussion about Libya, for example, and why we weren't going to put boots on the ground, invade the country, own it, et cetera. People have said, you know-- it's the caricature of leading from behind, and that this is some terrible mistake for the U.S.
What it was, was really circumscribing our involvement to match what were very limited interests, to say we are going to play a leadership role that enables others who have more vital interests to come in and be effective. But we are not going to be out in front; we are not going to own this problem; we are not going to rebuild Libya.
I think that the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan -- working through how do you get operations back onto a track where your interests and your actions are aligned -- also informed things like Libya, like Syria, and so forth. You can argue whether or not that we made the calculation right, whether we got it right or not. But I'm just saying that the conversation -- the fundamentals conversation -- did happen in subsequent cases because of, I think, the experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ricks: Would you say that President Obama -- to put you on spot -- is good at having that sort of conversation?
Flournoy: In my experience he is. If the staff doesn't -- if the process doesn't serve it up to him -- he's usually pretty good at saying you're not asking the right question, the right question is "x."
Brimley: I mean just as a two-finger on that. That was my first month at the White House when that happened. And it was an amazing process to watch almost from start to finish as a case study in how a president considers the use of force.
Ricks: You're talking about Libya?
Brimley: Yes. When you read the history it seemed to me that with the decision to invade Iraq, there might not have been a formal National Security Council meeting where the benefits were voiced in open session in a proper process. But [on Libya] the president held at least three or four full National Security Council meetings and dozens of deputies and principals meetings to weigh that issue.
Ricks: And was the question why front and center?
Brimley: Yes, very much so.
Point No. 2: When you look at the mechanics of what we did in Libya, we provided a set of capabilities that were unique. We had unique comparative advantage: air- to-air refueling, ISR architecture, command-and-control architecture.
Alford: Geography mattered on that too.
Brimley: Geography, yes absolutely. The fact that we had a presence in the Mediterranean already was very helpful.
Alford: And you have an ocean.
Brimley: Right. We provided this set of unique capabilities that were enabling for other partners, to include partners from the Gulf to act in ways that they hadn't before. Every situation is different.
But I think that process, at least for someone like me relatively young, as a case study in how we think about how we think about use-of-force decision-making and the way we provide unique capabilities in the future is hugely informative.
The second thing I'd say on Libyais that as a young person, my limited experience dealing with these issues has been informed almost entirely by Iraq and Afghanistan. So when we were debating Libya, people in my generation were very sort of hesitant to really almost do anything. Almost a hard-core realist approach of "it's not really core to our national interests; we shouldn't get involved." But the people, I think, who had came of age in the Clinton administration who dealt with limited uses of force -- no-fly zones -- were much more willing to entertain creative solutions. So people in my generation, I think, going forward will tend to be an all-in or all-out.
Ricks: There's an article to be done there on the generational qualities in foreign policymakers.
Brimley: I think the people within the Clinton administration having dealt with a couple of these use-of-force decisions in the ‘90s were much more creative in how they thought about ways in which we could use force but not go all in.
Alford: A great example, real quick. I was a second lieutenant in Panama when we took out Noriega. And by December 26th the Panamanian people were on our side, but that could have easily been a counterinsurgency fight, but the Panamanian people were very Americanized. We invaded that country, took out its leader, and rebuilt it. And it happened like that because the Panamanian people said yes. By February I was home, drinking beer.
(More to come about, especially about the relationship between golf and force structure)
David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George Bush the latter, writes:
"For a long time, war with Iraq was discussed inside the Bush administration as something that would be decided at some point in the future; then, somewhere along the way, war with Iraq was discussed as something that had already been decided long ago in the past."
Ricks: Rajiv, you have been unnaturally patient. [Gestures dramatically with open right hand] This is a man who, in Baghdad, was famous for shouting at people, "Right now, right now, right now!" He was a great bureau chief.
Chandrasekaran: I'm just taking all this in. It's fascinating. I find myself agreeing with an awful lot of what's being said around the table.
Just sort of building on a lot of this, I feel like the military does a great job of looking at troop-to-task calculations. We don't we do that on the diplomatic side of things? There was this assumption building on, all right, September 12: Was the Taliban really our enemy? We then -- fast-forward a couple months -- think that we can have a reasonably strong central government, civilian government, in a country with zero institutions, with no human capacity. There just, from the very beginning, weren't the necessary questions asked about what this would take, not from a military point of view, but from a whole-of-government point of view.
All these assumptions get baked in that wind up being completely contradictory and counterproductive to any efforts to build a stable government, and at no point do we step up and say, "Wait. This doesn't make sense." Part of it's a bandwidth issue. Part of it is, I think, civilian sides of our government aren't doing the necessary sorts of calculations about: Is this in our best interests? Is this doable? What would it take to do it? And then, even further, getting right back to the beginning, the question of space; one associated issue with this -- and I don't mean to blame the victim here -- we don't do a good enough job of saying no to the partners we're trying to help. Not just internationally, but the Afghans themselves. You know, when the Afghans say, "We want to centralize power in Kabul because, you know, Ashraf Ghani says it's going to help fight corruption," we don't push back meaningfully and say, "Yes, but it's completely unrealistic given the capacity of your government." When [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai says, "We want you ISAF forces to go push into these districts because we've got bad guys there," we don't do a good enough job of saying, "Wait a second; it doesn't make sense to do that."
Ricks: General Jabouri, listening to this, as someone who has dealt with the Americans, what do you think of Rajiv's analysis? Are the Americans able to say no? Do they make intelligent decisions, from your perspective as an Iraqi general and a mayor of a city?
Jabouri: I think the Americans, in the beginning, always take the ally from who said, "OK, do everything they want." And they're strong. Like Chalabi, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, someone, they always say to them, "OK, I'm from this hand to this hand [extends hands, palms up]." But after that discover they chose the wrong man. The ally is not the man who says it is always OK to do things.
Ricks: So again, a lack of sufficient thought, of understanding, going into the situation.
Jabouri: I think also they depended totally on the people outside Iraq, not from inside Iraq. The do not make a balance between that, but now we see the result in Iraq, with what happened.
Ricks: Ms. Flournoy?
Flournoy: I think this point about really being thoughtful about your political objectives and what's the goals and the strategy to achieve them and not being all things to all people is really important. And I think it is something that we really struggle with. When you ask why, I do think it does also speak to the imbalance in our own investment as a government. I mean, we have this tremendously -- well, at least historically -- well-resourced military, well trained, well cultivated. Obviously when you put thousands of Americans in harm's way, a lot of attention is going to rightfully be focused in that direction to make sure we know what we're doing and are managing that well.
But again, if you think what drives the success or failure of these operations, it is your political objectives and your political strategy and how well you frame those question. I would argue we don't grow on the civilian side grand strategists, we don't grow political strategists. You occasionally find them, and I can list a few I admire and respect. But I remember one of the most difficult moments of the Iraqi government formation, sitting in the embassy in Baghdad saying, "Well, what're we going to do? What's our strategy to help them cohere?" Not that the U.S. was going to dictate the outcome, but how are we going to help get over this hump and move forward? Having the senior political officer at the time tell me, "Well, that's not my job. My job, as the political officer, is to observe and report." And I said, "I'm sorry. We invaded a country. We are occupying this country. Your job is thinking about the political strategy that's going to help put it back together again on sustainable terms." But that's not what we train people to do; it's not what we resource them to do. And I do think it's connected to this fundamental imbalance of resources and that we didn't put enough time, attention, thought, focus, resources into the whole civilian side of what we were doing.
Dubik: In conflicts that are essentially not winnable, militarily. The military operations are necessary, but they're not sufficient. They're not even decisive.
Ricks: Emile Simpson makes this very good point in his new book, War From the Ground Up, as a young British officer who fought in Afghanistan that you've got to turn Clausewitz on his head and look as this as violent politics, not as warfare that leads to a political outcome. A lot of it is political operations coming out of the barrel of a gun.
By Col. Ted Spain, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
1. Secretary Rumsfeld's deployment plans did not include an adequate number of military police to control the routes during the ground war, nor sufficient military police to help control the streets after the ground war. This contributed to the Jessica Lynch fiasco and the chaos on the streets of Baghdad.
2. Law and order was not given sufficient attention in the pre-war planning. This failed to provide a police system to provide security to the Iraqi citizenry and to instill a sense of trust in the U.S. Army.
3. The categories of the thousands of detainees were never clear, causing confusion as to the proper legal treatment. Were they enemy, terrorist, or criminal? What's the difference?
4. The process of collecting intelligence from detainees was flawed from the pre-war planning sessions, during the ground war, and during the subsequent occupation. This set the stage for abuse, including the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal.
5. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the warden of Abu Ghraib Prison, was the wrong leader at the wrong place at the wrong time. Her appointment resulted in scandal and loss of trust in American forces by Iraqi citizenry.
6. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of all military forces in Iraq during the occupation, was in over his head and continued fighting the ground war long after it was over.
7. The Coalition Provisional Authority, under the leadership of L. Paul Bremer, dismantled the Iraqi Army and the highest level of the Ba'ath Party. We lost some of the most experienced personnel that were so vital in putting Iraq back together again.
8. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik was more focused on padding his résumé and getting camera time than helping stand up a viable Iraqi Police Services.
9. Because standing up an Iraqi Police Service was focused on quantity, not quality, we never completely knew who we could trust.
10. President Bush's coalition of the willing was only a coalition in name. Even those that were willing were not able. Only a couple of countries contributed to gaining stability in Iraq.
Colonel Ted Spain commanded the U.S. Army's 18th Military Police Brigade during the ground war and first year of the occupation of Iraq. He was responsible for thousands of military police and Iraqi Police across Baghdad and Southern Iraq. He is the co-author, along with Terry Turchie, a former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI, of Breaking Iraq: The Ten Mistakes That Broke Iraq, which is being published this week.
Flournoy: Two things, and especially because I think in Iraq, because the fundamental premise for the war was shown to be false, that should have triggered exactly the kind of discussion that: "Uh-oh, here we are. We've discovered there are no WMD, so what are we trying to do here, and what is our strategy and what are the risks and what are the tradeoffs and how much in resources are we willing to put in?" And then, the perverse effect is that it also affected Afghanistan because once the focus was on Iraq, Afghanistan really did become an economy-of-force effort for the first many years, which also takes the oxygen out of the fundamental strategic discussion.
Fastabend: I discovered this dilemma in Iraq. I wasn't in charge of strategy; I was in charge of operations. From the strategy guys, I would get the strategic conditions I was supposed to achieve: "Secure the borders of Iraq; end the violence. Our job is done. Make it happen." And no choices had been made, no options, nothing really was useful with respect to strategy.
Ricks: Shawn and Michèle, you both effectively held strategic positions. In fact, Shawn had the title, director of strategy for the American Empire.
Glasser: That's a capital "E"?
Ricks: Again and again we're coming back to original sin, fruit of the poisoned tree, and strategic confusion at the outset, where the system did not work, where the differences were not examined, and where assumptions were not examined either.
Brimley: Right, so I think we have a profound inability to make hard, clear strategic choices, but then I think that forces us to react, right? It forces us into a reactive posture. And for years I've heard the phrase, "Oh, Shawn, you know the enemy has a vote. The enemy has a vote." But we have a veto, right? And as we think about the years ahead, as we think about a constrained fiscal environment, we're going to have to make hard choices. And the enemy is going to try to lure us to do things that are not in our comparative advantage, so we're going to have to face up to the notion that we can veto that. We have a choice, and that's in how we prosecute these things. Those choices carry inherent levels of risk, but we should embrace that, not run from it.
Ricks: Michèle, why doesn't the system make hard choices?
Flournoy: Well, I can speak to what I experienced in the Obama administration. A lot of what we're talking about here happened in a much earlier period. I'm just guessing, I'm speculating, that part of why this initial fundamental strategic rethink didn't happen in Iraq is that, in the middle of [the war], you've gone in and you've broken the china, and now you have to say, "Whoops. The fundamental premise was wrong. Now what are we going to do?"
That's a very politically fraught thing for an administration to do when it's got tens of thousands of Americans in harm's way on the ground for a mission that was very controversial from the beginning. I think it would have been an extraordinary act of leadership for, whether it was the president or the national security advisor, you know, the team, to sort of say, "Hey, wait a minute. This is not what we thought it was. What are our interests? How do we clearly define a new set of objectives and make some choices about how we're going to prosecute this?"
Ricks: That explains Iraq, but does it explain Afghanistan?
Flournoy: In Afghanistan -- again, I wasn't there in the early days-- I think that we were very good at getting in, very poor at seeing the way out. And I think part of the reason why we migrated from the focus on al Qaeda to "What are we going to do about Afghanistan writ large?" is getting caught in the sense of: What is a sustainable outcome? If you take too narrow an approach, it's like taking your hand out of the water. Once you leave, you're right back in the exact same situation where you have a government that's providing safe haven and you're facing a threat again. And yet we never really resourced, fully resourced, a counterinsurgency strategy until very late in the game when Obama did the review. But that was like coming in the middle -- the symphony had been playing for a number of years. You're inheriting something and now trying to say, "Well, now, given the interests at stake, clearly define who is the enemy, who is not. What's the limited outcome we're going to try to achieve, and how do we go after that?" But it's a lot harder to do coming into the middle of an operation with a lot of history than it is to do it right from the beginning. And I think that we probably would have defined it differently had we had that opportunity to shape it from the beginning, but given where we were and what we inherited, I think, you know, we did the best we could.
Ricks: Jim, it seems to me that what this conversation is saying is that there's something profoundly wrong at the civil-military interface, and your initial question speaks to this.
Dubik: The sense that I'm getting is we spend too much time worried about control and autonomy and less time talking about shared responsibility in strategic and operational decisions. The civil-military discourse is defined by civilian control of the military -- absolutely essential to it -- but all relationships are more complex than one formula can ever describe. So, while control and autonomy are part of the relationship, the shared responsibility is a huge part that doesn't seem to get as much play in the professional military education or in the development processes that are used for producing civilian strategists and leaders.
Ricks: This is an unfair question, but let me ask it anyway. If you could rewind us to Sept. 11, 2001, how should civil-military discourse have been conducted at that point?
Dubik: Well it certainly should have been centered around the fundamental questions, not of how, but of why and what.
But I'd like to kind of challenge the discussion a little bit, in the sense that we didn't have these analyses. When I went back and reviewed your books [gestures at Ricks], Woodward's books, Michael Gordon's book, your book [gestures at Chandrasekaran], I see a very similar pattern with respect to Iraq for sure. There are at least eight or nine major strategic reviews that clearly identified that what we were doing was not working. Yet we didn't make really a big shift until 2007. My bet is you could go through and find papers about Afghanistan that say the same thing, that until you [gestures to Flournoy] did the review in 2009, that there were plenty of evidence that what we were doing wasn't working, but we had no shift. Back to your original question. The first question was more about how and not enough about why and what, and then we couldn't adapt. It wasn't just in Afghanistan that we were treating it as an economy of force -- we were -- but it was an economy of thought. There wasn't the attention.
Flournoy: Because there's no bandwidth.
Brimley: There's only so much bandwidth for policymakers, and what you see early in Afghanistan is all the planning power on the military and civilian side gets sucked into the Iraq problem. And it is sort of on autopilot: Things are going well; there's not a lot of thought that needs to be given to it.
Ricks: Bandwidth? When I go back and read the papers of George Marshall and other senior leaders in 1939, 1940, '41, they're dealing with much bigger problems, global issues, and they are making really hard choices, such as: Let the Philippines go, keep the sea lines of communication open to Australia--but win in Europe first. These are basic, fundamental things.
So I would argue with the bandwidth thing. What's clogging them up nowadays?
Crist: The initial question I raised was: Do commanders have to think? And I think it gets to what General Dubik said about getting focused on shooting the close-in target.
We don't think about the long-term ramifications of the actions and the strategy. In my view, the great failing of Tommy Franks, he never asked about that the assumptions were coming down about what this campaign would look like -- assumptions being facts in the campaign design. Those assumptions were never challenged. In many ways, as I describe in my book, there was no red team to look at, "OK, how is this going to impact Iran? Does it open opportunities for them, or does it have a deterrent effect?" And so I think that, having sat down with a number of top commanders and staff, that piece of it isn't done. It's almost discouraged because "that's the policymakers' realm, it's not ours."
Dubik: Well that's the civil-military issue. It's control and autonomy. So, at least on the military side, the bulk of the training is deductive training. You are given a mission, you are given an end state, you are tossed over the transom the strategy, and just. . . .
Ricks: When you're talking about shared responsibilities, it seems to me you're talking about trust. Trust is the essence of that shared responsibility -- the sense of a common future, that we trust each other, we'll be working on this. It seems to me you're saying there's a fundamental lack of trust in our civil-military system.
Mudd: Hold on. One interjection that relates to bandwidth is the difference between choices and questions. I think [back in 2001] we blew over the questions. You said it's not "how," which is what we did on Sept. 12; it's why and what. On Sept. 12, 2001, can you imagine asking the question: Is the Taliban really a threat? Today, 12 years later, I'd say, "Well clearly it's not a threat! In fact, they're going to be in the government!" But we blew through the question, which led to space, because you have to have space because the Taliban's a problem -- in retrospect, they weren't. So we made a choice, but we didn't know we had a choice.
I'll close by saying there's a bandwidth issue; part of this is the speed of decision-making in Washington. Can you imagine at the Washington Post, sitting back on Sept. 12 and saying, "Wait a minute; you sure the Taliban's a threat?" You would have been crushed. That, clearly, would have been a good question.
Ricks: I want to go to two things here. Dave Fastabend, you talk about the inability to make hard choices. How do we get the system to surface and make hard choices?
Fastabend: I think we need to relook at what we teach about strategy and train people about how these decisions are made. I think we should teach strategy much like the Harvard Business School teaches strategic decision-making in business, on a case-study basis. There's lots of good history out there where they could teach people what were, in essence, the choices people had in various situations. You [Ricks] very articulately described the ones Marshall had. Talk about what the options were, how they made the trades and came to it. But don't take people through these ridiculous exercises about define the ends you want and go see if someone can make a path to it.
(and more yet to come)
Crist: I agree on the notion of the tendency of the U.S. military. In Vietnam, they used to call it the "Little Brown Man Syndrome," which is: The Americans come in and show you how to really fight your war. But I think with Afghanistan the fundamental problem is a lack of a long-term strategy. What do we want Afghanistan to do? And I see we sort of evolved into it without a lot of thinking.
The initial force went in; we got enamored with the idea of SOF [special operations forces], light footprint, using the Northern Alliance -- in fact we probably should have had more conventional forces. We missed a lot of opportunities as these guys skirted across Pakistan, and we, frankly, allowed them to do it because the Afghans wouldn't go after them. If they wanted to sit up in the hills, the Northern Alliance was more than happy to let them sit in the mountains, and we didn't have that capability.
Then the problem is, as we slowly evolve with, frankly, not a lot of thought -- if you look at the force incrementally increasing, it's not a well-articulated strategy. Then it comes to the point where, well, we have the force, we need to start doing this ourselves, and we sort of fall back on our natural patterns and tendencies and things that are comfortable with an effective military that likes to solve problems. So I lay it on the long-term strategy that went in in 2001.
Jabouri: Let me say something from my experience: I think American forces focus just on the enemy, on al Qaeda, and they forget about the people.
I think if you want to win the war against al Qaeda, you should protect the people first. The American forces always, in the beginning, in Iraq, they put their eyes on al Qaeda, and they don't care about the people. I think the security forces can't create the security without the long-term forces. If you now go to Kurdistan in Iraq, if you see the images, Kurdistan has very good security, but they do not have many checkpoints or forces. The people have, and the government has the security forces to keep the security. They are the people in other parts of Iraq, the people not interested in the security forces of Iraq because they do not have to create the security.
Ricks: This seems to go to Phil Mudd's question of space versus targeting, but it seems to me also to Colonel Alford's comments because one of the answers to reconciling space and targeting is to have local forces occupy the space, not American forces that alienate locals.
Dubik: But a strategy, correctly or not, a strategy that emphasizes local forces, building local conditions, is de facto a long-term strategy. It gets right back to the question of -- we backed into both these wars.
Ricks: Not unlike in Vietnam, where we put in ground troops originally to protect the air bases.
Dubik: And it sucked us in. We just backed ourselves into the problem we faced, and had we thought that the solution was going to be a 10- or 15-year solution, we certainly would not have committed. We would have changed many of the decisions that we made, but we didn't adopt the indigenous force because we thought we could solve it and leave.
Fastabend: I think the reason we do that consistently is, as I hinted at in my question (I really liked your question; I'll explain to you why), is because we think strategy and we keep strategy, and our theory of strategy is the linkage of ends, ways, and means, which is how I got here, which is how I'll do my job tomorrow.
It is pablum; it is a way to avoid making a real choice, so no one in or out of the government ever said to themselves, "Let's decide what we're going to do. Are we going to target individuals regardless of space, or are we going to go in there and have space?" No, what we said is, "We need a stable government in Iraq, so therefore, you need a stable government in Iraq." Deductive logic tells you that you need to control everywhere in Iraq. And then you have to worry about the security forces; you've got to make sure they've got border patrols. And we never went back to the fundamental choice about what do we really need to do. We hide choices. We never talk about choices because choices are hard and choices mean making a decision. Choices mean taking responsibility for who makes the choice and which choice they take -- and that, in my view, is the biggest flaw we have institutionally in this country, is we've got very shallow theory and doctrine about what strategy really is.
Ricks: This is a great comment.
(Much more to come)
Ricks: What I hear from around this table is a remarkable, surprising consensus to me. I'm not hearing any tactical problems, any issues about training, about the quality of our forces.
Instead, again and again what I'm hearing is problems at the strategic level, especially problems of the strategic process. To sum up the questions, they are asking: Do our military and civilian leaders know what they are doing? And that goes to the process issues and to general strategic thinking. That's one bundle of questions. The second emphasis I'm hearing, and this also kind of surprised me, is, should we have, from the get-go, focused on indigenous forces rather than injecting large conventional forces? That is, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have we tried to do El Salvador, but wound up instead doing Vietnam in both, to a degree?
Mudd: Just one quick comment on that as a non-military person: It seems to me there's an interesting contrast here between target and space. That is: Do we hold space and do we help other people help us hold space, or do we simply focus on a target that's not very space-specific? And I think at some point fairly early on we transitioned there [from target to space], which is why I asked my initial question. A lot of the comments I hear are about the problem of holding space, and should we have had someone else do it for us? And I wonder why we ever got into that game.
Ricks: Into which game?
Mudd: Into the game of holding space as opposed to eliminating a target that doesn't really itself hold space.
Alford: It's our natural tendency as an army to do that. To answer another question, it's also our natural tendency as an army to build an army that looks like us, which is the exact opposite of what we should do. They're not used to our culture. One quick example, if I could: the Afghan border police. The border police, we tried to turn them into, essentially, like our border police and customs agents. Right across the border, the Pakistani Army uses frontier guardsmen. Why do they do that? They use their culture -- a man with a gun that fights in the mountains is a warrior. He's respected by his people. He's manly. All those things matter, and it draws men to that organization. We always talk about how our borders on [the Afghan] side are so porous; it's because we don't have a manly force that wants to go up into the mountains and kill bad guys, because we didn't use their culture.
Ricks: So we're already breaking new ground here. We're holding up the Pakistanis as a model!
Alford: On that piece. It's a cultural thing.
Dubik: I agree with the second comment. On the first point, in terms of why we held space, I think it's how we defined the problem. We defined the problem not as al Qaeda -- it was "al Qaeda and those who give them sanctuary." And so we couldn't conceive of a way to get at al Qaeda without taking the Taliban down, and because of the problem definition, we inherited a country.
Ricks: So what you're saying is actually that these two problems I laid out come together in the initial strategic decision framing of the problem.
Fastabend: I don't think there was such framing.
Ricks: The initial lack of framing...
Fastabend: Getting back to Ms. Cash, we didn't really decide what the questions were. We thought we knew the question. You know, we thought we had in each case [of Afghanistan and Iraq] governments to support that would hold space, and that was a secondary thing that came on us when we got there: that actually the sovereign government wasn't so sovereign.
Ricks: I just want to throw in the question that [British] Lt. Gen. Sir Graeme Lamb sent. He couldn't be here today. General Lamb said, "My question is, given the direction I had -‘remove the Taliban, mortally wound al Qaeda, and bring its leadership to account' -- who came up with the neat idea of rebuilding Afghanistan?"
Mudd: It's interesting. If you define threat as capability and intent to strike us, then I think there's confusion early on with the Taliban, because I would say they had neither the capability nor intent to strike us, but they provide safe haven. If you look at areas where we have entities that have those twin capabilities or those twin strengths -- Yemen and Somalia come to mind, maybe northern Mali -- we're able to eliminate threat without dealing with geography. So there are examples where you can say, "Well, we faced a fundamental -- I mean, not as big a problem as Afghanistan." But you look at how threat has changed in just the past two years, and I don't think anyone would say that the threat, in terms of capability and intent, of Shabab or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is anywhere near where it was a few years ago. That's because we focused on target, not geography.
Glasser: Just to go back to this question, was the original sin, if you will, focusing on U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan, versus working from the beginning to create or shore up local forces? I want to probe into that a little bit. How much did people at the time understand that as a challenge? I remember being in Kabul for the graduation of the first U.S.-trained contingent of Afghan army forces, and they were Afghan army forces. These guys worked for warlords that had come together, Northern Alliance warlords who made up the fabric of the Defense Ministry. They had nothing to do with an Afghan force, and that's why we're still training them now.
Ricks: But Colonel Alford's point is that, those are the guys you want to work with, though. But don't work with them on your terms; work with them on their terms.
Glasser: But that's what we did. That's what we do. We worked with the warlords in Afghanistan. That's who our partners were in toppling the Taliban.
Alford: But we never turned it over to them, though. In '04, I was [in Afghanistan] as a battalion commander. We never would let them fight unless we always led the way. It's part of our culture, too, as soldiers and Marines. You send an infantry battalion into a fight, they're going to fight. It takes a lot to step back and let the Afghans do it, and do it their way. Provide them the medevacs and fire support -- that's the advisory role for those missions we're going to switch to this spring, and I'm all for it. We should have done this four years ago, but now we also need to see if this is going to work over the next almost two years. We need to be ruthless with young lieutenant colonels and colonels who want to get out there and fight, or generals who do, to support the Afghans and then see how they do against the Taliban. I'll tell you how they're gonna do: They're gonna whoop 'em. The Taliban does not have the capability to beat the Afghan army if we get out of their way.
By "Pierre Tea"
Best Defense guest columnist
Two months from now, in May 2013, the debate on COIN, as applied to Iraq and Afghanistan, will become academic, historical, and ripe for serious post-application analysis beyond the walls of the Pentagon.
The COINs will have all been spent, the PRTs' tents folded, and whatever hearts and minds purchased, leased, or lost can be counted, weighed against our costs, and their results. To quote Omar Khayyam, "The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on."
No credible analysis could avoid the obvious: that "something" had to be done about Saddam Hussein who ruthlessly threatened his neighbors (our allies) and his own populations, and about Osama bin Laden and his list of supporters, who directly attacked the United States. How did the "something" done work out?
As a first-hand civilian witness to the application and aftermath of "money as a weapon" surged by the billions into active and highly-fragmented war zones, I look forward to post-application debates on the key questions of COIN and PRTs: Did they help, hurt, or just fuel the multi-year conflicts to which they were continuously re-applied?
The U.S. dream of a peaceful and democratic Iraq and Afghanistan, however, has not been realized, and instability in adjacent Syria and Pakistan threatens to unravel anything enduring that we may have, through COIN, hoped to purchase from these two countries without any agreement with the Old Man in the Mountain (Iran), whose negative influence remains substantial, and undermines an accurate audit of what actual hearts and minds were purchased, for how long, and to what end.
My suspicion is that once all the COINs are spent, serious post-engagement analysis will end and the domestic shroud of myths needed to justify the honored dead and injured's contributions will drop in place, with little institutional learning, and even less than myths to show for it.
Leave it to Hollywood to mythologize the region, its history, and the heroism of individuals and incremental missions accomplished and we guarantee that history will repeat itself.
"Pierre Tea" probably has shaken more Afghan sand out of his shorts than you've walked on. This post doesn't necessarily reflect the official views of anyone but it sure does reflect the unofficial views of some.
By Emile Simpson
Best Defense terrorism movie reviewer
Yemeni security forces recently fired on protesters in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, apparently wounding up to 30 of them. In the Hands of al Qaeda hydrates such headlines: In this gripping documentary film, released last year, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul Ahad unpacks the complex dynamics of the conflict. At its core, this is a film about the fight between al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Yemeni Government -- government versus insurgents -- but this polarized dynamic is situated within broader kaleidoscopic elements: How many south Yemenis see the security forces as northern occupiers? Why do some tribes support AQAP and others fight them? This provides a nice illustration of the erosion of the boundary between the military and political domain in contemporary armed conflict.
The centerpiece of the film is Ghaith Abdul Ahad's coverage of the AQAP heartland east of Aden, at the centre of the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen. For example, in Ja'ar we encounter a city of 100,000 fully controlled by AQAP. This is truly fascinating; the tension of the documentary at this point is palpable. Since Ja'ar was retaken by Yemeni forces in the summer of 2012, this film offers a rare glimpse into what ground-holding by the international jihadis of AQAP looked like: While we see an extreme form of sharia law practiced, so too is there an active print and internet media operation, and real efforts to gain local support by AQAP water and electricity projects.
AQAP's carrot and stick approach during their overt, ground-holding phase does not seem so distant from COIN doctrine, albeit in a far more brutal form (an example of mirror imaging?). The film draws out the contrast with the no carrot, big stick, U.S. drone approach that appears to strike fear not just into AQAP, but also into the civilians who live under the drones' gaze: Much of the local population's political support is lost, but U.S. objectives against the AQAP leadership nonetheless appear to be met. Whether this represents campaign success more broadly presumably would depend on how one conceptualizes the conflict -- are you fighting physical networks or an idea? Perhaps too the film illustrates in Yemen a U.S. move back to a more conventional understanding of military effect against an enemy, for better or worse. While the film is not about COIN or drones per se, and is indeed admirable in its objectivity, a viewing would no doubt form an excellent basis for discussion of the pros and cons of these approaches.
In the Hands of Al Qaeda (2012)
Executive Producer: Tracey ‘H' Doran-Carter
Producer: Jamie Doran
Director: Safa Al Ahmad
Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).
You'd think ARMY magazine would welcome a free piece about Iraq from a best-selling author. Apparently not -- they have declined to run this response I wrote to their two articles about my new book, The Generals. I even said they could run it as a letter to the editor, but no. They didn't say why. I am sorry to see them turn away from what might have developed into a good, vigorous debate about what the Army should learn from its time in Iraq.
Make up your own mind -- below is the letter apparently too hot for them to handle.
Thank you for carrying articles about my new book, The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today, in both your January and February issues. I appreciate the attention. However, I think that Brig. Gen. John S. Brown's commentary, "Do We Need an Iraqi Freedom Elevator Speech?", requires a response.
General Brown makes several questionable assumptions in the article.
The first is that in 2003 the Army did in fact understand unconventional warfare in Iraq. Sure, there were isolated instances of individuals, such as the one he cites. I interviewed many of these people and wrote about many of them in my 2006 book Fiasco. But one swallow doesn't make a summer. General Sanchez and other senior leaders did not act upon such instances, and instead focused on large-scale indiscriminate roundups of "military age males." The fact that they did not take advantage of those moves underscores the point of my new book that the troops did not fail in Iraq, but that the Army's leaders at the time did.
Also, throughout General Brown's piece, there runs an assumption that having more troops would have made a major difference during the initial year of occupying Iraq. This is an unproven point. In my opinion, given the poor leadership of Lt. Gen. Sanchez, having twice as many troops on the ground in 2003-04 might well have resulted in having twice as many angry Iraqis driven to support the insurgency. Given the indiscriminate roundups and associated abuses that occurred that year by the units at Abu Ghraib, by the 82nd Airborne and by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Anbar Province, and by the 4th Infantry Division in north-central Iraq, such a result seems more likely than not. In addition, those roundups stuffed thousands of people into the detention system, overwhelming the system and clogging the interrogation of suspected terrorists, as well as helping provoke riots inside the jails.
Did the Army really give a good account of itself in Iraq, as General Brown asserts? If so, I would counter, why did it take the Army until early 2007 to begin operating effectively in that war? The preceding period of maladaptive operations, from 2003 to 2007, lasted longer than the U.S. Army fought in World War II.
General Brown depicts the Army as a surprisingly passive institution. Things just kind of happened to it. For example, in passing he mentions Lt. Gen. Sanchez. But who selected Sanchez to command in Iraq? Who thought that he was the best person for the job? Did that just happen to the Army, or was its leadership simply a group of bystanders? The Army had a responsibility to provide the very best of leadership, talent, resources, and priorities to the fight in Iraq. Did it?
Yes, I understand that the relationship between the defense secretary and the Army's leadership was toxic in the spring of 2003, a crucial period that shaped much of what followed. But this does not excuse the failure to have an adequate Phase IV plan for Iraq, or for Army generals to say that they had all the troops they needed if they indeed believed they did not, or to insist that things were going well when it was clear to anyone on the streets of Baghdad that they were not. All this cannot be blamed on Ambassador Bremer and other civilians. At any rate, I would say that part of the duty of generals is to speak truth to power, even with it makes civilian overseers uncomfortable. It is not clear to me that the Army's generals did this in 2004-06.
The bottom line is that General Brown's commentary could only be written by someone who never actually witnessed our war in Iraq.
The issue here is more important than someone simply misunderstanding my book. I worry that a narrative is emerging in today's Army that holds that the military pretty much did everything right, but that the civilians screwed things up. Certainly, the Bush administration made huge errors in invading and occupying Iraq. I've written more than one book that looked at those.
But the military also made mistakes, and I don't see those being addressed. This should be a time of sober reflection, not of hunkering down and refusing to listen to reasonable criticisms. Why do we not see now reviews akin to the Army War College's 1970 study on the state of the officer corps? Until we see such hard, probing analysis that does not spare the feelings of our generals, the accounts of the Iraq war that capture the attention of the public and the Congress are indeed likely to be written by outsiders.
Thomas E. Ricks
It's still there -- and may even be merging with Syria's crisis. Here are headlines yesterday on Aswat al-Iraq:
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
By Peter Maass
Best Defense guest columnist
Ten years ago, I rolled into Baghdad's Firdos Square with photographer Gary Knight and the Marine battalion that famously draped a flag atop a statue of Saddam Hussein before tearing it down in front of the world's television cameras. As we all know, this moment of promise was followed by a lot of pain. The last American troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, and our attention has turned away, but the invasion's 10th anniversary falls next month, offering a chance to remember and explore the still-painful aftermath.
How can we best do this?
A few years ago, I began working on a story that reconstructed the statue's toppling; it was published by the New Yorker in 2011 but the most important thing is that while reporting it I met Lt. Tim McLaughlin, whose flag was placed on the statue. Tim had left the Marines, gone to law school and was a lawyer in Boston. He shared his war diaries with me, and I realized, when I thumbed through the first pages and sand fell from them (Tim had not touched them since Iraq) that I was holding an amazing document. I had been a foreign correspondent for many years, and had seen lots of documentation about war, but this was the most original and emotional -- war as seen by the combatant, in the combatant's handwriting, written in his downtime between battles. It wasn't filtered by the media, by politicians or generals, and it didn't even suffer the visual flattening of a computer font.
The content stunned me. Tim was at the Pentagon on 9/11 and was a tank platoon commander in his tip-of-the-spear battalion in 2003. His diaries contain raw descriptions of everything from the smoke-filled corridors of the Pentagon on that tragic September day to the violence of the Iraq invasion and the craziness of the toppling of the iconic statue. The agony of firing too soon and shooting civilians, and firing too late and losing a fellow Marine to enemy bullets, as well as the boredom and humor and exhaustion of the invasion--these searing things are in the diaries, in addition to Tim's evocative maps and pictures. While the diaries are remarkably personal, they reflect multiple facets of the combatant experience of war.
To cut a long story short, Gary and I discussed the idea of an exhibit centering around the diaries, and Tim readily agreed. The exhibit is called "Invasion: Diaries and Memories of War in Iraq," and it will open in New York City at the Bronx Documentary Center on March 15, just a few days before the invasion's 10th anniversary. The exhibit will feature large-format reprints of pages from Tim's diary, and on some days it will display his American flag, which has not been on public view since its Baghdad cameo. The exhibit will also feature invasion photographs by Gary, who like me was a "unilateral" journalist driving from Kuwait into Iraq in a rented SUV (mine came from Hertz). There will be a few texts by me, as well as videos that feature Tim and news footage from the time. Tim, who is president of a non-profit that provides free legal advice to veterans and the homeless, has received a 50 percent disability rating from the VA for his PTSD diagnosis, and that will be in the exhibit, too.
It's an innovative exhibit that, we hope, will get people thinking about the war and its legacy -- things that are slipping into a collective memory hole. We launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign earlier this month and we're nearing our goal but we're not yet there. If we can reach it and go further, we will start working on stage two of our project -- to assemble and publish war diaries from other combatants and civilians. Yes, this post is a bit of a fundraising pitch, though we also want people to just know about the exhibit and not let the anniversary pass without remembrance. In mid-March, Foreign Policy plans to publish an online series of photos and stories about Tim's diaries.
For Tim, Gary, and me, it has been an uphill battle. Part of the backstory involves being turned down by a number of galleries and museums before the non-profit Bronx Documentary Center agreed, enthusiastically, to host our exhibit. The fancy places were not interested in Iraq -- old news, time to move on, tired of war, there's no money to be made in war diaries, etc. We have been working on this as a labor of love, because we think it's a unique and provocative way to fight the tide of forgetting.
Please come visit the exhibit when it opens on March 15, and if you can help our fundraising, we would be delighted, too. Also, if you are affiliated with an organization that would be interested in hosting the exhibit after it closes in New York, please give us a shout.
Peter Maass, author of Love Thy Neighbor and Crude World, has written about Iraq and Afghanistan for the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. Gary Knight is a founder of the VII Photo Agency and director of the Tufts University Program for Narrative & Documentary Practice. Tim McLaughlin is a lawyer in Boston and president of Shelter Legal Services, which provides free legal advice to veterans and the homeless.
Peter Maass/Tim McLaughlin
By Charles Krohn
Best Defense department of second thoughts
Is it an honor or a cruel joke to read "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on the headstone of a fallen soldier?
Given the irony of OIF in a historic context, the question is not irreverent, but it is relevant. This wouldn't be true, of course, if our invasion had yielded results intended and predicted, however imperfectly.
As an old soldier who has carried one too many body bags out of the battlefield, I feel a great kinship with the next of kin of the fallen. Few memories hold greater pain.
I wouldn't even ask this question if I didn't wonder if some in the Gold Star community weren't also asking it, even to themselves. And if any read this, please accept my reverence for you and the deceased. I know your loved one answered the call of the nation, understanding great risk was necessary to protect our country and help spread freedom among the oppressed. What could be more noble?
Is it not just as honorable now to recognize the prospect of freedom in Iraq as originally postulated is remote? As others have written, there is still great confusion about who will lead Iraq. The only thing most agree upon is that Iran, once held in check by Iraq, is now spreading its virulent reach deeper into the region, with a nuclear threat just around the corner.
Simply stated, the inspiration for Operation Iraqi Freedom was a dream. Does it honor or dishonor those who fell to perpetuate this myth on their headstones?
Should the matter be swept under the rug as an incidental slip of history or should next-of-kin have the option of a new headstone, marking sacrifice without promoting an idea whose time has passed?
Charles A. Krohn is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet. Now chilling in Panama City Beach, Florida, he served in Iraq in 2003-2004 as public affairs adviser to the director of the Infrastructure Reconstruction Program, and later as public affairs officer for the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Recently I was at a foreign policy discussion in which a participant said that everybody agrees that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, despite everything else that went wrong with the boneheaded invasion of Iraq.
I didn't question that assertion at the time, but found myself mulling it. Recently I had a chance to have a beer with Toby Dodge, one of the best strategic thinkers about Iraq. He said something like this: Well, you used to have an oppressive dictator who at least was a bulwark against Iranian power expanding westward. Now you have an increasingly authoritarian and abusive leader of Iraq who appears to be enabling Iranian arms transfers to Syria.
And remember: We still don't know how this ends yet. Hence rumors in the Middle East along the lines that all along we planned to create a "Sunnistan" out of western Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war, which we left just over a year ago, continues. Someone bombed police headquarters in Kirkuk over the weekend, killing 33. And about 60 Awakening fighters getting their paychecks were blown up in Taji. As my friend Anthony Shadid used to say, "The mud is getting wetter."
Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum's rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way -- not because he went all "mad dog," which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, "And then what?"
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed -- at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I'd call him a tough-minded realist, someone who'd rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Presidents should feel free to boot generals anytime they want, of course -- that's our system, and one I applaud. But ousting Mattis at this time, and in this way, seems wrong for several reasons:
TIMING: If Mattis leaves in March, as now appears likely, that means there will be a new person running CENTCOM just as the confrontation season with Iran begins to heat up again.
CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn't like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want. Had we had more back in 2003, we might not have made the colossal mistake of invading Iraq.
SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today's Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal. Mattis made famous in Iraq the phrase, "No better friend, no worse enemy." The Obama White House should keep that in mind.
I'm still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don't trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.