The Best Defense

Question of the day: Was removing Saddam Hussein in fact a good thing?

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."

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The Best Defense

What Max Boot missed: A response about the future shape of the U.S. military

By Billy Birdzell

Best Defense guest respondent

I believe Max has missed Das Boot.

1. If COIN is 80 percent political, then the political construct is most important. French and British in Algeria and Malaya were conquerors with political and military control over the place for 124 years (ironic) before their insurgencies began. Please talk about expeditionary COIN. Russia in Afghanistan, U.S. Afghanistan, U.S. Vietnam, U.S. Iraq. Where else? The United States in the Philippines 1898-1913 was the Malaya example because we owned the place. Mixing up political contexts = fail.

2. No matter how good our tactics, cultural training, language ability, etc., we will never get out of the dilemma that the harder we try, the worse it gets. More money for AID and development = more corruption. More troops = accidental guerrillas and al Qaeda in Iraq type organizations. Joe Meyers and UBL call it defensive jihad, but whatever. Our very presence delegitimizes the government we are trying to prop up. It's a failed model and one that Galula said was the worst of all possible worlds. FM 3-24 is a manual for the worst case scenario -- that in which the military gets stuck with an insurgency that it didn't see coming. It can, at best, direct military force to get a slightly better political situation than running away. It is not a doctrine around which to structure the military.

3. I disagree that language, culture, etc. materially impact success. Using the military instead of the State Department for diplomacy is inherently flawed. The military's main contribution is destroying armed groups who challenge the government's monopoly on force and I'd like to see what percentage of intelligence was developed by native speakers/culture experts.

4. Tanks are fabulous for killing guerrillas in urban areas. Artillery is your friend and outbound rounds still make the sound of freedom. Flying machines are cool. Max fundamentally does not understand that COIN involves high intensity combat and our technology/firepower, USED APPROPRIATELY, gives us an edge.

5. I agree with Nagl that advisors a la Landsdale during Huk (20 PAX, later increased to 56), El Sal (55 PAX), JSOTF-P, and Columbia are great. However, like all other uses of military force, what is the strategy? What is the United States trying to achieve? What are we going to give up to do more/longer/better engagements with which partner nation forces? We can have the best advisors in the world, if the partner nations do not have real governments and a military with the will to fight, we're pissing in the wind.

6. The most important factors for success against irregulars -- partner nation governance and the local military's will -- are out of our hands. Those two issues are not discussed by people who want to rearrange the military and create all kinds of nonsense. If eliminating safe havens and supporting stable governments is our policy, then what kind of military deployments maximize the host nation's ability to create legitimacy and find their will to win? I argue that Max's concepts minimize them.

Billy Birdzell served eight years in the Marine Corps, was a platoon commander during OIF I and II and a team leader in MARSOC. He is now doing that Security Studies thing at Georgetown University.

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