You've got to be pretty wonky to look forward to an evening of reading a history of U.S. Army doctrine, so I am coming out with my hands up to confess: When my copy of Walter Kretchik's book arrived in the mail, I couldn't wait to dig in. (For those scratching their heads, my pocket definition of military doctrine is: How a military thinks about what it does.)
When I put it down, I was not so happy. Kretchik's argument is that "the American Army has been far more adaptive and innovative than scholars have acknowledged." I wasn't persuaded.
This book is not a narrative history of how each version of the manual came to be. It doesn't explore the clashes over doctrine, nor even much the personalities involved. I found it more a once-over-lightly trot through what the changes to each edition of 100-5, as the Army's capstone manual was known for years. I think I learned more from Robert Doughty's history of the evolution of Army tactical doctrine from the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War.
Even so, the book is useful as an overview for people trying to track how Army doctrine has changed over the centuries, and especially since the Vietnam War. It usefully summarizes the contents of each edition of the Army's operations manual, highlighting differences and changes.
Bottom line: This one is only for the hard-core fan of American ground forces doctrine. The rest of youse who are only occasional doctrinal dippers would be better off sticking to the selected papers of General DePuy.
In case you missed it, Baroness Sky of Mesopotamia had a good article the other day on Foreign Policy about her recent travels (and fishing trips) in post-American Iraq.
Meanwhile, a big bomb killed or wounded nearly 200 pilgrims in Basra. And the police station in Ramadi was attacked, with 21 dead. And a bomb went off in Mosul. And there was a big roundup of “AQ” in Kirkuk. Yow. Perhaps most damaging of all, Iraqi police officials are arresting innocents and then demanding bribes to release them, reports Ghaith Abdul-Ahad of the Guardian (U.K.).
I felt like Rodney King as I was reading Michael Desch and Peter Feaver slug it out in the pages of International Security about the surge. I like both guys, even though they are political scientists, that most oxymoronic of academic specialties. Maybe one day they can become historians -- which is what both seem to be trying to be here. (I also aspire to be one some day.)
My take: Feaver is too Washington-centric in his views. President Bush's decision to fire General Casey and go with Petraeus and a changed approach was key, but after that, what happened in Iraq was more important than anything that happened in Washington. It was necessary (and difficult) to understand what was going on in both capitals, but more important to know what was going on in Baghdad, especially because Washington's consensus generally seemed to lag reality by about six months.
Fyi, this poll says Iraqis don't seem all that impressed with the surge.
The only thing I would add is that the older I get, the less I think that Samuel Huntington's Soldier and the State is an accurate portrayal of the way American civil-military relations work, or even should work. I recently read a good essay by Richard Kohn about the flaws of Huntington's book, carried in a volume titled American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era, edited by Suzanne Nielsen and Don Snider. To complete the circle, I met the former in Baghdad during the Surge in question.
The weirdest recent trend in foreign policy is the spate of former Bush Administration types berating President Obama for his handling of Iraq. Honestly, it feels to me like seeing Custer provide advice on how to handle American Indian tribes. Please, haven't you all helped enough already? (As for John Yoo advocating preemptive war with Iran -- that is clearly just him messing with us. Rick Santorum, too.)
Second weirdest trend: Attacks on Iraqi fortune tellers.
Tom Ricks: This
is a terrific book. Was it difficult to report and write? I would imagine so.
Did it invade your dreams? How did you, and those close to you, get through it?
Jim Frederick: … The book was difficult to write, but not quite in the way you suggest. The subject matter was dark, brutally so. But every time I started feeling oppressed or beaten down by it, I just reflected on the soldiers I was interviewing and remembered: They had to live it, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on telling their story. So it wasn't actually hard in that way. I tried to be compassionate without letting the subject matter invade my personal life or, as you say, my dreams.
Now, that being said, the book was extraordinarily difficult because while I have been a journalist my entire adult life, I had never felt such pressure to Get The Story Right. The soldiers I spoke to (and it was well over 120 of them, over several years, and I interviewed a core of about 20 or 30 main players over and over again over that period) trusted me to a degree I have never really been able to fathom. A lot of them claimed to hate the mainstream media, yet they trusted me far beyond the degree I would ever trust a journalist. And from their trust I felt just a massive, massive burden: that if I don't get this right, it will not only be a professional and personal embarrassment, but I will have let them down and confirmed all of their worst assumptions about journalists and modern journalism. Not that I wrote the book to please them, of course. I often told them that I had a professional obligation not to care whether they "liked" the book or not when it was finished, but it was a primary goal of mine to ensure those who were there thought it was accurate and fair-minded and captured the spirit of the deployment. Thankfully, I have heard from scores of the men in the book, and they have told me exactly that: that they might not have liked everything they read, but they thought that it was fair and accurate.
TR: I was down at "The Swamp," an outpost near the power plant just west of your guys' AO, in February 2006, and saw some of the unhappiest American soldiers I'd ever seen. I know that the Triangle of Death was tough, but so were a lot of other places, like Sadr City and Ramadi. Why do you think the 101st guys were so demoralized?
JF: I was not with, nor did I interview, the men of the 2-502nd who were in that AO around the Swamp, so I can't really speak to their particular situation. But if I can extrapolate from what I know about 1-502nd across all of the 101st Airborne during that time, I would say a lot of it had to do with them falling into a very muddled period of extreme strategic breakdown. They were at the tail end of the seek and destroy era of terrorist hunting, and it was not going well. This was the absolute darkest era of the war, when the men knew in their hearts that what they were being asked to do was not working, but there were no better alternatives at the time. This was a full year before COIN really got going so I think those days you got a lot of the hopelessness from the men on the ground who knew the current strategy was doomed a year before the White House or the Pentagon were willing to admit it.
TR: You do a great job of showing why the chain of command is in many ways to blame for the crimes that occurred. But as portrayed, the chain kind of fades out above brigade. It would seem to me that your argument is that the division commander, Generals Casey and Chiarelli, and Secretary Rumsfeld above them, are also to blame for what happened. Is that correct? Did you ever get a chance to interview them for this book?
By David Palkki
Best Defense department of dictatorial archives
I'm grateful to Tom for inviting me to present a few highlights from The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant's Regime, 1978-2001, which Cambridge University Press just published. I had the good fortune to co-edit this study, with Kevin Woods and Mark Stout, at the Institute for Defense Analyses for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy). Our book is based on a review of several thousand audio files (and a smaller number of video files) that U.S.-led forces captured from Saddam Hussein's regime. The recordings cover several decades' worth of Saddam's meetings with his cabinet, Revolutionary Command Council, generals, tribal sheikhs, visiting dignitaries and others.
The book is intended more as an invitation to scholars to conduct research using digital copies of the original records (and translations) at the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) than as an effort to compile definitive conclusions or policy recommendations, yet certain patterns and insights have surfaced as a result of our efforts. In this blog I'll touch on three.
--First, Saddam was not in America's hip pocket during the 1980s. In fact, he was far more antagonistic toward and skeptical of the United States, even at the height of U.S. support for Iraq during the 1980s, than scholars have acknowledged. The United States was behind the Iranian Revolution, Saddam privately asserted, "to scare the Gulf people so they can have a [military] presence and arrange the situation in the region." After Iran-Contra revelations made clear that the United States had clandestinely armed Iran and provided it with military intelligence on Iraq, Saddam complained to his inner circle that the Americans were still "conspiring bastards." From Saddam's perspective, the entire episode was intended to harm Iraq (not to help the Contras or free U.S. hostages). He referred to the incident as "Irangate," held at least seven meetings to analyze the significance of the revelations, and described U.S. behavior as a "stab in the back." In May 1988, Saddam instructed his advisors, "We have to be aware of America more than the Iranians" because "they are now the police for Iran, they will turn anything they find over to Iran." In September 1988, just after the war had ended, Saddam expressed conviction to his advisers that the United States was behind a recent attempt on his life.
The U.S. Embassy just tightened restrictions on movements of American personnel inside the Green Zone.
Meanwhile, when someone is right, I listen. Adam Silverman called Iraq right this year. Here are his thoughts now.
By Adam L. Silverman, PhD
Best Defense guest columnist
A little over a month ago Tom wrote a column dealing with the US's rapidly approaching deadline to leave Iraq. At the time I sent him some remarks, which he asked me to pull together for a guest column. I agreed on the condition that I would have the time to tone down the tenor, if not the content, as this topic hits close to home for me - as I'm sure it does for many Best Defense readers, as well as many other Americans (and our coalition partners as well).
As we are within final month in Iraq, we are once again beginning to see reports of new violence. As I have written here at Best Defense, as well as other sites, I think this is likely to become the Iraqi reality once we draw down to just the military personnel assigned to the Embassy. Part of the reason for my take is that the Iraqis have been communicating to us - in words and in deeds -- for several years that this is what is going to happen. Even as the Sawha/Awakenings was first gathering press, it was clear in what little reporting there originally was on the movement, its leaders, and its goals that their long term intention was to strike at the Shi'a, specifically the exile Shi'a that we had empowered, once they were able to do so (as in once we were gone). I interviewed dozens of tribal and religious leaders, (local) elites, notables, non-elites, and internally displaced Iraqis. The vast majority of them, both Sunni and Shi'a, had grave concerns over the government we helped to empower, as well as the members of that government and their ties to Iran and how this all related to the average Iraqi.
The Shi'a exile dominated government of Iraq, especially Prime Minister Maliki, has made no pretense of indicating it wanted to roll up the Awakenings' members. From a very heavy handed Sons of Iraq (SOI) transition that failed to foster and promote societal reconciliation and civil society reformation to cracking down on both the Awakenings and the SOI, Maliki has demonstrated that his goal is consolidation of power. One of the three Iraqis elected to parliament on the Iraqiyya list earlier in the year, then suddenly faced with an arrest warrant by Maliki's government in order to change the electoral outcome was an Awakenings and SOI leader (full disclosure -- he was also the subject of one of my social history/tribal study interviews, which you can read at the link). Add to this the fact that the Kurds still have plans of their own for Kirkuk, let alone an independent Kurdistan, and post U.S. presence Iraq looks to be unsettled and unpleasant for a long time to come.
When it comes down to it, and what I think has so many so upset, anxious, and out of sorts regarding the looming US departure from Iraq, is that it did not necessarily have to be this way. To paraphrase the Best Defense reader and commenter who asked about accountability in regards to Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- at what point do journalists, let alone the American people, hold those who made wildly inaccurate assessments, predictions, estimations, and gave absolutely horrid, hugely uninformed, gigantically incorrect policy advice responsible for the strategic failure that is Iraq?
I think that as the United States leaves Iraq and shuffles toward the exit in Afghanistan, we need to think about how to answer that question when veterans of our wars there pose it.
This is a difficult one for me, because I think the war in Afghanistan was the correct response to the 9/11 attacks, but was mishandled for years after that, and I think the war in Iraq was an unnecessary and very expensive distraction from that response. Also, we may well see further violence in both countries that will raise questions about exactly what we achieved.
Also, today's vets tend to have good BS detectors. Recently I walked past a small monument to graduates of a high school who were lost in the Spanish-American War. It stated that they died "for humanity." I don't think so.
I think my response would be along these lines -- but I'd welcome your thoughts. "When your country called, you answered. You did your duty on a mission your country gave to you. In our system, thankfully, the military does not get to pick and choose what missions it will undertake -- that is decided by the officials elected by the people. Those officials are not always right, but they are the leaders we chose to make that decision. No matter what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, you have the thanks of a grateful nation for answering the call."
Is that enough? I don't know. If someone said that to me, I suspect I would think, Yeah, well where was everyone else? Why did my friends die and yours didn't?
I don't know. Help me out here.
The U.S. Army/Flickr
I've seen lots of nutty stuff about counterinsurgency, mainly the badly mistaken Gentilian notion that it is soft-hearted handholding, a belief that could only be held by someone who was not in Baghdad in the spring of 2007. But I was surprised to see James Kurth, whose thoughtful work I have enjoyed in the past, advance the theory that counterinsurgency is what a nation does when its foreign policy is controlled by financial elites -- in our case, Wall Street.
Here is the nut of his argument, made in the November/December 2011 of the American Interest:
... the American experience in the first half of the 20th century suggests that a strong industrial sector will tend to think in terms of big wars against great powers ... Conversely, the British experience in the same era suggests that a strong financial sector will tend to think in terms of small wars and imperial policing, since it calculates that only these wars will provide an acceptable mix of costs and benefits.
I didn't realize the same people who brought you the Great Wall Street Debacle and Bailout of 2008 apparently are behind the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I think Kurth can only arrive at this conclusion about our history by neglecting a big chunk of American military experience of the first half of the 20th century, which began with the Army fighting guerrillas in the Philippines and raiders along the Mexican border, and continued with the Marines conducting small actions in Nicaragua and Haiti. In fact, the Marine Corps summarized its experiences of that time in a terrific document called, oddly enough, "Small Wars Manual."
On the other hand, whenever something like this article provokes such a strong reaction from me, it makes me wonder if there is a kernel of truth in it.
There's a memorable line here: "I was able to graduate college not despite being a combat veteran, but exactly because I am one."
By Edgar Rodriguez
Best Defense guest columnist
Every year, Veterans' Day stirs up mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I am proud that our country takes a day out to honor those that have served in uniform. On the other hand, I am dismayed that too often praise for veterans feels empty and insincere. It is insincere because most Americans only have a vague idea of the struggles that veterans go through. This lack of understanding is particularly true in regards to combat veterans, a group that I am a part of. I fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 as a Navy Corpsman attached to a Marine Corps unit. (Corpsman is Navy terminology for medic.)
In meeting people I often find that they cling to two stereotypes about combat veterans. One is of a broken-down drunk and the other is of the post-military Rambo-like figure that is inches away from losing control because he cannot readjust to American society. Often, they are surprised that I do not fit into these stereotypes making comments like "You don't look like a combat vet." Sometimes, people also ask strange questions ranging from the highly inappropriate "Have you ever killed anyone?" to the downright idiotic "What did you guys do on the weekends over there?" (Military personnel typically work everyday when deployed to combat zones).
But most of all, I have found that people are often genuinely perplexed that I have been able to be successful after leaving the military "despite" being a combat veteran. It is almost as if I am obligated to be doomed because of my combat service. I first encountered this attitude during the final months of my enlistment. After informing my Chief of my decision to leave the military he did everything he could to convince me it would be a mistake. He even went as far as making me see our Command Master Chief and speaking with him about my decision.
In my meeting with the Master Chief, he spoke of sailors that he knew that had gotten out with intentions of becoming successful but had their hopes dashed because they did not know how to function outside of the military, emphasizing that as a combat veteran I would be especially prone to failure. After sharing these sad stories with me he then went about offering me pretty much anything I could have wanted as long as I reenlisted, at the end saying, "Don't throw your career away Rodriguez. You could be a Master Chief!" I thanked the Master Chief for meeting with me, but I told him that I still intended to leave the military, leaving him noticeably disappointed. While I know that the Master Chief only had the best of intentions, I found it unusual and disheartening that he thought I could accomplish amazing things in uniform but at the same time accomplish nothing worthwhile out of uniform.
As disheartening as the meeting with the Master Chief was, I would later be grateful for it. The meeting prepared me for the array of uncomfortable situations I encountered after leaving the military. Once, during a doctor's appointment, the physician was surprised that I was a combat veteran and at the same time had no prescriptions for Zoloft or Prozac, saying, "Are you sure you were there?" Last year, during a research program at the University of Maryland, I attended a group lunch with two professors that I was working with. At one point one of them told me that if I had any issues that I should talk to his assistant. I told him that the program administrators handled all the administrative issues. To which he replied, "No, I mean if you have any veteran issues. Like if you go crazy or something."
In speaking with fellow veterans I have found that these sort of situations are not unique. These misunderstandings occur because the gap between veterans and nonveterans has grown to the extent that most Americans view veterans as an abstract idea instead of fellow citizens. Currently, veterans are 2.6 percent more likely to be unemployed than nonveterans and every day an average of 18 veterans commits suicide. I don't believe that a society that truly understands and does right by its veterans would have these sort of issues.
Society's lack of understanding makes the trauma of combat worse for veterans. As a combat veteran, I understand this intimately. Before Fallujah, I had intended to make the military a career. After Fallujah, I decided to leave. I left because while I was always proud to be a Corpsman, after Fallujah, I found that I had stopped enjoying it. Like many veterans, I signed up for the GI Bill upon entering the military, although I doubted I would ever use it. However, unsatisfied with the options left for me after the military I decided to use it and give college a shot. It didn't look like I had much of a chance of succeeding. There weren't any college graduates in my family and I myself barely graduated high school.
I started off at my hometown community college and while I did well, I found it academically unchallenging. I wanted something better so I transferred to another community college eventually transferring to the University of Florida. At the University of Florida I accomplished my goal of getting a degree, graduating with high honors with majors in Political Science and Linguistics. And I am proud to say that I was able to graduate college not despite being a combat veteran, but exactly because I am one. Combat is one of the most intense experiences a person can go though and it changes a person forever. But while combat is an intense and negative experience, it does not have to be destructive, it can it be constructive. If anything good can be taken from war, then that must surely be it.
In the past, when speaking to people about the struggles veterans face, I would sometimes say, "People are all about supporting the troops, so long as they don't actually have to care." And while that statement may seem mean and cynical, I thought it held a great deal of truth. I still do.
In my opinion, what veterans need are not acts of empty gratitude, holidays, or memorials. What veterans need more then anything is to know that they still have a stake in their own country after they've served. It is something simple, but it is also something profoundly important.
Edgar Rodriguez is a Iraq War veteran and a University of Florida graduate. He fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 while attached to the ground combat element of the 31st Expeditionary Unit. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.
This is the best book I've read about being blown up in Iraq, nearly dying, and recovering. Kim, one of the more courageous people I've ever met, is donating all profits to charities for wounded soldiers. So what are you waiting for? Click here!
If there is one phrase I could expunge from the U.S. military vocabulary, it would be that "Failure is not an option." Of course it is. And refusing to think about it seriously actually makes a bad outcome more likely.
Yesterday morning one of my smart CNAS colleagues, Shannon O' Reilly, was wondering aloud why the Pentagon didn't plan more for the option of the United States being kicked out of Iraq. The excuse being given, apparently, is that there was worry that such planning would leak.
I think that is just too damn convenient an alibi. I actually think that the bureaucracy dislikes planning for anything less than victory. No one likes planning retreats. The Army especially emphasizes optimism even when it isn't called for.
The problem with this is that, as David Kilcullen has pointed out repeatedly over the years, the host government you establish in places like Afghanistan and Iraq must at some point stand on its own two feet and demonstrate its independence. Inevitably, it will have to distance itself from the U.S. government. Basically, we should have expected to be kicked out at some point. In fact, had we done so, it might have been spun as a sign of success. But that would require some unconventional thinking, some serious consideration of the American relationship with host nation governments --and some long-term planning for that day of expulsion.
40 Maxims on Strategy would be a much better title for Gray's book than the actual one, which is Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace and Strategy. I was put off by that title but bought the book after I saw Gen. Mattis recommend it.
It is good stuff. Here are some of the things I underlined:
The socio-cultural context has been emphasized here because it has been, and remains, the prime area of strategic weakness in the behavior of the U.S. superpower.
... strategy must convert one currency (military behavior) into another (political effect).
Competent strategy is all but impossible in the absence of a continuous dialogue between policymakers and soldiers.
Tom again: These aren't the only reasons, of course. But they are a good start.
Gray also made me think I should go back and read Thucydides again. Last time I used a tiny print Penguin Classic edition because I was reading it on my commute on the Metro. This time I think I will try the big fat Landmark edition with all the maps, which I have lying around somewhere.
The next six months in Iraq will indeed be interesting. Secretary of State Clinton said on Meet the Press yesterday, "Now, are the Iraqis all going to get along with each other for the foreseeable future? Well, let's find out." I saw that movie! Feeling lucky, Iraq? Well, do ya?
Here is the worried assessment of retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who in 2006 played a major role in fixing U.S. strategy in the war. I suspect various factions and external actors have been keeping their powder dry while U.S. troops were still on the scene. No one wanted to mess much with "the biggest tribe," especially because those fighters and weapons might be handy once that tribe left. It's like the Jets and the Sharks making nice while waiting for Office Krupke to move along. With Uncle Sam out of the way, it will be interesting to see which players -- internal and external -- seek to fill the vacuum. Why am I such a "pestamist"? -- to borrow a term my daughter invented as a child. Because none of the basic questions that led to the civil war of 2006-07 have been resolved-how to share oil revenues, what the role of the Kurds will be, and basically how to govern the country. (On the other hand, supporting the Clinton view, I have heard the argument that the U.S. presence is the factor that had enables Iraqi politicians to keep questions hanging fire.)
Think I'm being paranoid? OK, here is Yochi Dreazen's account in National Journal of a recent visit in Basra:
The Iranian consulate here dominates a section of this oil-rich city's skyline. An enormous Iranian flag can be seen from half a mile away, ringed by a welter of radio towers and satellite dishes. The walled compound houses three large villas and six smaller buildings. It's protected by well-trained Iranian and Iraqi troops. On a recent visit, I stopped my car and stepped out to take a few photos. Within seconds, a dozen men in tracksuits rushed out of adjacent houses and stores and surrounded me, handguns drawn. My translator assured them that we were journalists. The men, unsmiling, ordered me to hand over my camera and then methodically erased every picture I had taken since arriving in Basra four days earlier. They shoved us back toward our car and slammed the doors. Leaning into an open window, one of the guards told us to leave the area and not return. He was speaking Farsi.
When I read that, I thought of three things. First, someone telling me years ago that Iran doesn't want to control Baghdad, which is uncontrollable, it wants Basra, which is oil exports. Also, of two things Ambassador Ryan Crocker said about Iraq a couple of years ago:That the events for which the war will be remembered have not yet happened and that he kind of expected Iraq to wind up looking like Lebanon. I think he is still right on both counts.
A CNAS colleague recently asked what she should assign her students to read about Iraq since the surge -- which after all began more than four years ago. I was surprised that I couldn't think of a book that captured the post-surge era. What I came up with was the writings of Toby Dodge. Another CNAS colleague suggested also the work of Joost Hilterman, especially this article. I'd be interested in any other suggestions from all of youse. (Maybe for the West Point faculty, we could compile a list of the 10 best articles and books on Iraq since the surge.)
I also really liked the overview provided by a recent article by Safa Rasul al-Sheikh and Professor the Lady Emma Sky in Survival. (She's slumming at Oxford now.) It provided a pretty good overview of what has happened in Iraq since 2006, especially from the perspective of Iraqis. A couple of their conclusions:
The Sunni insurgents were driven to negotiate because they came to the realisation that they could not overthrow the new regime, that they were losing Baghdad to the Shia militias, and that Iran was a bigger threat to them than the United States.
Iran eventually succeeded in making a second-term Maliki premiership inevitable by putting huge pressure on the Sadrists to support him.
Tom again: Meanwhile, over the weekend I read a pretty new book, The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant's Regime, which consists of edited transcripts of captured recordings of Saddam Hussein's official meetings. No major Nixonian revelations, but a useful addition to the historical record. Among other things, it appears to confirm what some people have written, that he really believed he had prevailed in the 1991 war, because the Americans unilaterally had given him a ceasefire. As he tells aides on one tape made after the 1992 election, "Bush fell and Iraq lasted." And in an aside Saddam confirms that the Iraqi military really was shaken by the battle of al Khafji early in the 1991 war-a crucial development that Norman Schwarzkopf didn't grasp.
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos/ Flickr
I recently re-read The Generals' War, a history of the 1991 Gulf War by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor. I thought it was a good book when I read it the first time, when it was published 16 years ago, but now I think it is even better. I would say, just terrific.
Their analyses have been borne out by time, especially of the failings of General Norman Schwarzkopf -- that his planning lacked imagination, that he didn't appreciate the political implications of the Scud attacks on Israel (and so failed to consider in his planning whether to insert Special Operators to go after Scuds in western Iraq), that he and General Powell didn't grasp the implications of the Khafji battle (which the authors say showed that Iraqi ground forces could be damaged considerably by air attacks), and so devised a war plan that backfired. Schwarzkopf wanted to use a Marine attack from the south to fix the Iraqis in Kuwait so they could be destroyed by Army forces attacking from the west. Instead, the Iraqi forces were so weakened by air attacks and desertion that the Marines pushed the Iraqis out, like a cork popping out of a bottle, and the Army arrived on the scene too late.
In a foreshadowing of the Iraq war in 2003, Schwarzkopf apparently gave no thought to the day after the war ended.
Sidenotes: I hadn't realized how much I had forgotten about the '91 war. Also, an odd sensation to be making a transition in the book I am writing from history I didn't experience (World War II, Korea, Vietnam) to history I did.
BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: Security sources said today that an intelligence official was killed following an armed attack against him west of the capital, Baghdad.
The source told Aswat al-Iraq that the assassins crossed his road and shot him dead.
No other details were given.
Maybe one of those Scandinavian mystery novelists my wife is always reading needs to move to Baghdad.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
By Stephen Donnelly
Best Defense guest respondent
I was surprised to see Foreign Policy providing so high a soapbox for Peter Van Buren, a State Department Foreign Service Officer who, by his own admission, "meant well" during his brief and unproductive jaunt as an Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (EPRT) leader in Iraq in 2009, but, according to him, caused more damage there than most any other individual I have ever heard of or witnessed.
Two articles and a blog spotlight in just a few days.
Obviously, Van Buren never got the drift of PRTs, a decisive and controversial 2007 effort by the State Department's Office of Provincial Affairs' Director Ambassador Henry Clarke to break through the failed bureaucracy of top-down US colonial administration programs by forcing decision-making out to committed civilian reconstruction staff on the ground. Clarke always knew that the Achilles Heel of PRTs was poor assignments of unqualified individuals, and that the only defense against the Peter van Burens was to have many PRTs so that the failures did not pull down the whole mission.
The real Iraq PRT story is not pretty, fraught with bureaucratic snafus, and involved much waste, fraud, abuse, and war wreckage: the best laid plans of mice and men seldom survive a powerful IED, regardless of bravery or the best of intentions! But it is not the story that Peter van Buren tells which inaccurately paints a very bad light on the entire Foreign Service, with which he seems very dissatisfied.
The military, as Clarke often explained, had a "do it now" attitude that compelled each new brigade to launch one "quick hit" program after another to have Iraqis pick up the trash. The PRTs had to break that mold by focusing on the real problem: the Iraqis had no system, post-2003, to pick up their own trash. PRTs had to work across the rotational boundary with Iraqi counterparties, down to the local and provincial levels, to create permanent solutions for Iraqis' technical, resource, and administrative problems or we would be locked in Iraq forever. The real conflict was the damaging one between U.S. bureaucracy (the Embassy and agencies) and the field, where localized Iraqi solutions had to be found and nourished.Read the rest of the post here.
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos/Flickr
This news article sounds like the beginning of a crime novel set in Iraq. I wish someone would write one.
BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: Two Iranians were found dead, two cops were assassinated and other two wounded, police sources said.
The source told Aswat al-Iraq that the Iranians were identified by their passports, while the cops were on duty in a check point in Doura area, south Baghdad.
No other details were given.
The culprits fled the crime scenes.
Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images
Speaking of students who are veterans, Alex Horton, whom I've followed since he was a bubblegum-chewing, hard-blogging infantryman in Iraq, has some interesting observations about starting as a student at Georgetown University: "... an associate dean spoke about development of the whole person, sound in spirit and mind. I could not help but think of my own development on the training grounds at Fort Lewis and the rooftops of Baghdad, where notions of spirituality and existence were taught at the velocity of molten shrapnel."
I like those last 11 words.
By Peter Van Buren
Best Defense guest unraveller
When wars end, usually there is a winner and a loser. Greeks burn down the city for the win; Trojans accept a dummy horse for the epic loss, like that. As we near the end of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq, and note the beginning of the State Department occupation (the formal mission handover is Oct. 1), it is a good time to decide who lost and who won, and what that means for the future of Iraq.
For the minority, all-around Washington guy (now stopping off briefly to be Secretary of Defense) Leon Panetta thinks we and the Iraqis sort of won. Leon said, "But the bottom line is, whether it's diplomatic or whether it's military, we've got a long-term relationship with Iraq. We've invested a lot of blood in (Iraq). And regardless of whether you agree or disagree as to how we got into it, the bottom line is that we now have, through a lot of sacrifice, established a ... relatively stable democracy that's trying to work together to lead that country."
Tune into your favorite right-wing blog, and there is lots of mumbo-jumbo about the surge and sacrifices and all that false patriotism stuff that no longer even makes for a good country and western song.
On firmer ground, it is less clear that the United States or Iraq won anything.
The United States lost 4474 soldiers (and counting), with thousands more crippled or wounded, spent a couple of trillion dollars that helped wreck our economy at home, and did not get much in return. Blood for oil? Only in the sense that one of out of every eight U.S. casualties in Iraq died guarding a fuel convoy. Iraqi oil output is stuck at pre-war levels and will be for some time. A drop in world oil prices would wreck the Iraqi economy. Despite Panetta's patter about Iraq being a country willing to work with the United States, Iraq as a political entity follows its own path, virtually allied with Iran and unsupportive of American geopolitical dreams. The U.S. government will sell some military gear to the Iraqis and make some money, but in the end George Bush went to war and all we got was a low-rent dictatorship turned into a low-rent semi-police state. As this is written, it is even unclear if the United States will snag any permanent bases in Iraq, and whether any troops will be allowed to stay on past the end of this December.
As for Iraq being any sort of winner after being stomped on by the U.S. military, no. Iraq had its civil society shredded, underwent eight years of sectarian civil war, saw over 100,000 killed and is home now to a small but bustling al Qaeda franchise. The United States left without brokering a deal between the Kurds and the Arab Iraqis, leaving that kettle on full boil. The United States also failed to establish stable borders for the Kurds, such that the Iranians shell "Kurdistan" from the east, while Turkish jets drop bombs in the west. Turkey is part of NATO -- imagine the U.S. government sitting silently if Germany bombed Poland next week.
What many people do not know is that one reason for the drop in sectarian violence in 2008 was that both sides had done much of the killing they needed to do. The fighting then was a civil war, Shia versus Sunni, and the death toll was high enough on both sides to achieve the level of segregation and redistribution of power desired at that time-they ran out of reasons for the war to continue at that level of intensity. Ominously, however, the Sunnis and Shias did not fully settle the score and so that pot sits bubbling on the stove as well.
Sectarian tensions do still run high in Iraq, and the United States has been left powerless to do anything about it. Except for some technical assistance and perhaps some very low-key special operations help, the U.S. government has taken a sideline seat to the sectarian violence over the last few months, leaving the fight to the Iraqis. Whether zero or 3,000 or 10,000 U.S. troops stay on in Iraq, it is unlikely that such a smaller U.S. force will intervene, given that a larger one declined to do so.
The tinderbox nature of things is such that the Iraqi government is seeking to ban a television drama about events leading up to the historic split in Islam into Sunni and Shiite sects hundreds of years ago. The Iraqi parliament asked that the Communication and Media Commission, a media regulator, ban "Al Hassan and Al Hussein" on the grounds it incites sectarian tensions and misrepresents historical facts. "This TV serial includes sensitive issues in Islamic history. Presenting them in a TV series leads to agitated strife," said Ali Al Alaq, a politician who heads the religious affairs committee.
Needless to say, a glance at the daily news from Iraq will reveal the ongoing steady low hum of suicide bombings and targeted killings that is now all too much a normal part of life. The occasional spectacular attacks (instantly blamed on al Qaeda by the United States) make headlines, but every Iraqi knows it is the regular nature of these killings as much as the death toll itself that is most disruptive to society. Iraq is hardly a winner.
Who won the war? Iran...
Army Maj. Jayson Stewart summarizes his 2008 tour of duty as an advisor to a unit of the Iraqi border patrol that actually was based more than 40 miles away from him. "There was a period there where I didn't get out for four months, and I was only able to entice them to come and see me probably once every two to three weeks."
I see this maybe as a Tom Hanks movie. Or John Candy, if he were still with us.
I hope that nobody else has to go through that same experience, because it did suck. I was able to build my own little stadium seating inside one of the more concrete rooms and turned one of my Armed Forces Network receivers and hooked it up to the one-eyed monster and put it on a seven-foot by eight-foot screen and was able to watch football, because I couldn't go anywhere and I couldn't do anything.
I think that fits my definition of hell: Isolated in southern Iraq with nothing to do and a year to do it in.
Reading Joel Wing's roundup of violence stats from Iraq, and thinking about today's bombing and yesterday's massacre of 22 Shiite pilgrims, I began to wonder if the U.S. withdrawal from the war is succeeding -- that is, not ending the war, but simply decoupling from it. According to Wing, even as no American troops were killed in Iraq last month, the upward trend in violence increased. Here is the average daily death count:
The war in Iraq continues. Suppose we gave a war in Iraq and nobody here cared? Not clear what the deal is to keep U.S. forces in Iraq. But keeping just 3,000 troops worries me -- that's more like a big kick-me sign than a force that can support and protect itself. (Unless it is a cover for about 12,000 more mercenaries.) I mean, Mookie already has threatened to whack American advisors remaining into next year. Meanwhile, Turkey conducted a bunch of airstrikes against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq.
It is also going to be harder to see one more American die in Iraq now that Iraq has lined up with Iran to support the beleaguered regime in Syria. Leaves a kind of even emptier feeling. (But at least we got Iraq's stockpiles of WMD!) Old Juan Cole sees an emerging Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran alliance. A new axis of evil?
Ken Pollack is worried that Iraq is on the precipice, again:
There is extensive scholarly literature on how civil wars start, end and recur, and Iraq's experiences over the past eight years conform to these patterns frighteningly closely. Historically, states that have undergone an intercommunal civil war like the one in Iraq have an unfortunate tendency to slip back into such conflict. This is especially true when the state in question has major, easily looted resources-like oil.
This same history demonstrates that a slide into civil war typically follows a period of time when old problems come back to haunt a country but everyone sees them as relatively minor and easily solved, and thus they do not take them seriously or exert themselves to nip them in the bud. Then, seemingly small and simple-to-overcome issues snowball quickly-much faster than anticipated-and a resurgence of civil war that people believed was years or even decades away reignites overnight. Unfortunately, the point where civil war became inevitable typically is clear only in the rearview mirror.
Speaking of Iraq, it is good to see old Joel Wing come off the injured reserve list.
It didn't take Jim Gourley long to get back on the board with this powerful observation about August: "This was the first month that there were no American combat deaths in Iraq. So we can say with certainty that more veterans of that war died as a result of PTSD/depression at home than they did of direct enemy action in country."
Meanwhile, here is another vote for marijuana as a PTSD palliative. I wonder if this is what ultimately may lead to legalization.
By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent
Is this your first visit to Syria, the passport-control man asks me. No, I tell him, I came here once before over a decade ago. He stamps my passport. I had been very lucky to get a Syrian visa this time. The travel advice was not to visit. The Syrian regime is very wary of foreigners, fearing that journalists and spies are inflaming the situation further. I collect my bag and walk through customs, passing a poster, of modest size, of President Bashar al-Assad with the words in Arabic proclaiming: "Leader of the youth, hope of the youth."
I jump in a taxi. I ask the driver how are things in Syria. Things are fine, he assures me. There has been some trouble around the country, but things are OK in Damascus. As we drive, we chat. He points out the area where Druze live. With his hand, he waves in another direction to where Palestinian refugees live, and then again to where Iraqi refugees live. Alawites are over there and in villages. Christians this way and in villages. Sunnis are around 65 percent of the population. Kurds live in the north. Many different peoples live in Syria. I ask him how he knows who someone is or whether they are Sunni or Shiite. He tells me that he does not know and it does not interest him to know: There is no sectarianism here in Syria. We pass Damascus University. Outside there are lots of flags and pictures of Assad and his deceased father. Across the city, the Syrian flag is flying strong and photos of the president are omnipresent. As I ride through al-Umawiyeen Square, I see lots of young men and women gathering, holding Syrian flags. It is not a demonstration, a Syrian tells me; it is a celebration -- a celebration of the regime. Later, I watch the event on television. It has made the international news. Tens of thousands of Syrians have come out to al-Umawiyeen Square to show their support for President Bashar al-Assad in a lively celebration that includes pop singers and fireworks.
When I had visited previously, the city had been filled with huge pictures of Hafez al-Assad; and Bashar, his son, had been studying ophthalmology in London. The death of Bashar's elder brother, Basil, in a car crash, propelled him back into the family business of ruling Syria.
In the evening, I stroll down the street to a restaurant. It is very modern and Western. All-you-can-eat sushi for $20. I try to read my emails on my BlackBerry. I switch between two different networks, but can only receive GPS, not GPRS. The restaurant claims to have Wi-Fi. I ask the waiter. There is Wi-Fi, he tells me, but it is not working at the moment. Nor is Facebook. Internet access is limited.
I walk through Souq al-Hamidiyah in the old city of Damascus. It is a wide, pedestrianized street, two-stories high, and covered. It is buzzing with life. Store owners sit outside their shops, trying to entice potential customers. Traders sell their wares down the middle of the street. Walking with the flow of people, I emerge to find the Umayyad Mosque directly in front of me.
I go to the ticket office, pay the entrance fee for foreigners, and collect a hooded gray cloak to cover myself. The cloaks come in three sizes. A woman sitting there directs me toward the smallest size. The cloak stinks, and I wonder when it was last washed and how many women have had to wear it in the sweltering summer heat. I put the cloak on over my clothes, pulling up the pointed hood to ensure my hair is covered. I enter the Umayyad Mosque -- built on the site of a shrine dedicated to John the Baptist -- looking like a member of the Ku Klux Klan except dressed in gray, and carrying my shoes in my hand. I wander into the covered area where hundreds of people are praying, men in one area, women in another. I walk out to the courtyard. In one area, a group is seated on the ground. One man is kneeling, raising his arms, weeping "ya Hussein." The others follow suit, tears flowing, looking quite distraught.
The rest of this article can be read in its entirety: here.
I was looking at the Army's list of brigadier generals nominated for two stars, released yesterday, and was struck by how many of them I knew as battalion commanders during the first days of the response to 9/11. I am glad to see this happening. But it does seem to me that a decade is an awful long time for battalion commanders to move to division commander during wartime. Maybe it is a good thing, but it certainly is a departure from big wars of our past that I've been studying.
This looks like the next bounce for the BGs picked by the board led by General Petraeus a couple of years ago. Which makes it all the more puzzling to see a big hole in this list. As two friends, and several commenters on the Dempsey item yesterday, pointed out: Where is "probably-our-best" Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster on this list? What up with that?
Here's the list:
Army Brig. Gen. Ralph O. Baker has been nominated for appointment to the rank of major general. Baker is currently serving as director for operational plans and joint force development, J-7, The Joint Staff, Washington, D.C.
Army Brig. Gen. Allen W. Batschelet has been nominated for appointment to the rank of major general. Batschelet is currently serving as deputy chief of staff, G-3, U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army, Germany.
Army Brig. Gen. Heidi V. Brown has been nominated for appointment to the rank of major general. Brown is currently serving as director of integration, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, U.S. Army, Washington, D.C.
I think Gen. Martin Dempsey really hit it out of the park in Tuesday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Here is his meditation on two of the big lessons he learned in Iraq.
So I would -- I would -- looking back on it, at least my own personal view about Iraq in 2003 was that Iraq had a particular problem, and it was a regime that was destabilizing in the region and that we should take action, that -- it was my recommendation that we should take action to change the dynamic inside of Iraq and that the region itself would become more stable. I'm not sure it turned out that way. I mean, it probably -- it is, but it didn't happen exactly as we intended it, and that's because I don't think we understood -- let me put it differently. I didn't understand the dynamic inside that country, particularly with regard to the various sects of Islam that fundamentally, on occasion, compete with each other for dominance in Islam, and so -- Shia, the Shia sect of Islam, the Sunni sect of Islam -- when we took the lid off of that, I think we learned some things that -- and I'm not sure we could have learned them any other way.
I don't know, I've reflected about that a lot, but I've learned that issues don't exist in isolation. They're always complex. And I've been scarred by rereading a quote from Einstein, who said if you have an hour to save the world, spend 55 minutes of it understanding the problem and five minutes of it trying to solve it. And I think sometimes, in particular as a military culture, we don't have that ratio right. We tend to spend 55 minutes trying to -- how to solve the problem and five minutes understanding it. That's one of the big lessons for me in developing leaders for the future, not only in the Army but, if confirmed, in the joint force.
Another one is the degree to which military operations in particular, but probably all of them, have been decentralized. You know, you'll hear it called various things: decentralized, distributed operations, empowering the edge. Whatever we call it, we have pushed enormous capability, responsibility and authority to the edge, to captains and sergeants of all services. And yet our leader development paradigms really haven't changed very much. They are beginning to change, but I think that second lesson on the enormous responsibility that we put on our subordinates' shoulders has to be followed with a change in the way we prepare them to accept that responsibility.
I think those would be the two big lessons for me."
He also referred to H.R. McMaster as "probably our best brigadier general." Good for him.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Fayetteveille, NC, apparently is becoming more and more like Baghdad was a few years ago -- hot and humid, dog-threatened, and with a lot of Army guys wandering around.
I keep on thinking of the Arab who said around the time of the American invasion of Iraq, "You Americans think you will change the Middle East, but I think we will change you."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.