Thursday, February 22, 2007

Petraeus 'Gets It'

There is a good chance that things will improve in Iraq, now that General David Petraeus is in charge of the US military. What took us so long to get to this point? Based on Gen Petraeus' previous successes, he should have been the top man at least 3 years ago.

Newsweek speaks of a do-over. And the likelihood that under the new Petraeus plan for Iraq, we're going to be there a long time. It's frustrating to me that we've spun our wheels with crap plans from non-thinking people for about 4 years now. But ineptitudes aside, I consider The Do-Over to be our only option.

Like only a few others, David Petraeus has been successful in combating the insurgency where he has tried it before. Thomas Ricks' stellar overview of our last few years in Iraq, entitled Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, points out that the adventure has had its bright spots. And Petraeus' tactics have been some of the best and most successful.

Gen. Petraeus took seriously the counter-insurgency tactics learned in Vietnam as he served over the 101st Airborne in Mosul in 2003. His maxim: Violence is a last resort.

(CI) realizes that the indigenous population is a crucial element to success. CI understands as best it can the culture and seeks to maintain human dignity at all costs. As opposed to anti-insurgency, which breaks in doors, points weapons at innocent people in a show of defiance, and rounds up all men in the area and carts them off to prison, CI understands that if you seek to understand, you will be understood.

CI realizes that constantly bringing the attack to the ever-elusive enemy is an exercise in frustration, which will only marginalize that portion of the populace that is your only hope for success. Anti-insurgency reaps ever smaller intelligence returns on its in-your-face investment. CI works among the people, learns the language, cultures, and frustrations, and seeks to help them overcome the problems that beset them--and inevitably gets far better intelligence information as to who the insurgents are. Where CI has been tried, two things have generally happened: (1) The place has gotten much more peaceful, and (2) the successful US military unit has been replaced by a unit that neither gives nor understands two cents about successful counterinsurgency tactics--and the place gets violent again.

Ricks provides an anecdote that captures the essence of Petraeus' engendering of success. When one of his brigade commanders heard of a rumor that Iraqi men thought American night-vision goggles could be used to see through Iraqi women's clothing, the commander had a town meeting where anyone who wanted to could look through the NVGs to see what they were really for. This generous act led to a a monthly convention of what came to be known as the Tigris River Valley Commission, which accomplished a great deal.

It's about time that they put Petraeus in charge. Imagine where we might be now if someone like him had been in charge from the beginning--someone who shows respect for the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Things are Going Much Better...Boom!!!

Each time the announcement is made that the coalition is getting the upper hand on the insurgency, another large scale attack occurs. Is it because the insurgency wants to prove the announcement wrong, or is it because the insurgency wants to give everyone a false sense of security and then further demoralize them? I suggest we stop announcing that we have things under control when we really don't.

The Christian Science Monitor reported the following from Nouri al Maliki yesterday regarding the Baghdad security crackdown:

Two days of relative calm in the capital prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to declare a "dazzling success" in the security clampdown, as officials reported an 80 percent drop in violence.

That was before yesterday when sixty people were killed in dual car bomb attacks in a market area. And before a US military installation was attacked and 3 soldiers were killed and several others wounded.

That was before today when when a suicide bomber insinuated himself into a funeral procession and killed at least 18 people.

This seems to be the modus operandi of the insurgency. Periods of relative calm followed by a shattering of that calm. I'm not sure where the correlation lies. Is it because of the deliberate psychological effect of shattering a false sense of security? Is it because they want to prove wrong them (Coalition Provisional Authority, US Military, Nouri al Maliki) who announce that things are going much better? I think it's the latter.

Maybe the trend of violence and death really is down. Maybe it's a good thing to talk in terms of reduced numbers of deaths. But that is a precarious supposition anyway, especially when many insurgents seemed to have left Baghdad until the 'storm' clears. Last February, we were sure we had turned a corner because the number of US deaths was the lowest in several months. And then boom!!! The Samarra Mosque was bombed.

I guess my underlying point is this. From square one, we have underestimated the insurgency. And we continue to underestimate the insurgency. We needed 3 times as many forces in Iraq than we had following the invasion. And we need that many now. Iraqi military forces have made significant improvements, but not to the tune of the 250,000 more US troops we need. Insurgents can still come and go essentially at will.

It would be wonderful if it worked, but I don't imagine that the surge will work. The insurgents will continue to strike with abandon until we have enough forces to ensure that they cannot come back to the strongholds that we flushed them out of. There are places near Baghdad that we have not even patrolled yet. There are "black" areas that we do not even patrol because of their danger.

I'm sure the surge is making things marginally better in Iraq, but it's ironic to say that we're having "dazzling success". It encourages people to put their guard down so that they're ripe for the next knockout.

Until we start doing it right, it's going to be a long and usually discouraging haul, punctuated by periods of apparent gain, which are then followed by large scale attacks to remind us that we're really not doing it right. Until we stop fooling ourselves, we won't take the steps necessary to bring true peace to Iraq.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Desert Fox" and the Absence of WMD

The timing of the attack was extremely suspicious, but in retrospect, Clinton's decision to attack Iraq's military infrastructure in 1998 is probably a major reason that we did not find much in the way of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq in 2003.

'Everyone' knows who Monica Lewinsky is. But not nearly as many know what Operation Desert Fox was. They happened at the same time, and the latter was thought by many to be nothing more than a cover by President Clinton of the scandal created by his involvement with the former.

Beginning on December 16, 1998, a three-day missile and bombing campaign, known as Operation Desert Fox, struck 97 separate sites in Iraq, most of which were believed to contain weapons of mass destructions, their precursors, and/or the facilities to create them. Some sites struck during the bombing were command and control sites.

At the time, President Clinton was being impeached. I thought, and many Republican politicians expressed their opinions that, the strikes were a way for Clinton to divert attention from himself. They really probably were, but the end result is interesting just the same. The strikes were probably more of a 'card up Clinton's sleeve'.

David Kay had been a senior weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in 2003 entered Iraq as a representative of the United States with a fair amount of confidence that WMD would be found. Some of them may have been whisked off to other places, but not enough to make a huge difference. At any rate, WMDs were not found, and Kay counted himself among those surprised by this turn of events.

In reality, the timing was probably more fortuitous for Clinton than suspect. On December 15, 1998 a UN report stated that Iraq had failed to cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors. The next day, the US attacked. Coincidentally, a month prior to the strikes, Clinton hinted that Saddam Hussein needed to be replaced.

The results of the missile and air strikes was beyond anyone's imagination. It nearly had the single-handed effect of ruining the Hussein regime. In his book The Threatening Storm, Kenneth Pollack wrote:

Saddam panicked during the strikes. Fearing the his control was threatened, he ordered large-scale arrests and executions, which backfired and destabilized his regime for months afterward.

Intelligence sources in and around Iraq confirmed that there was "palpable fear that he was going to lose control." Ironically, a sentiment that was apparently completely lost on the Bush administration, leaders of other governments in the Middle East worried greatly at the prospects of Saddam's overthrow. You topple this guy, you'd better have a good plan in place, they said. Otherwise the whole region could descend into chaos.

Based on David Kay's research in 2003 in Iraq, his conclusion was that Desert Fox completely threw Saddam's WMD capability on its head. A high-level Iraqi energy official surrendered early on and explained that after 1998, Iraq had almost no ability to produce WMD's despite all of Saddam's bluster to the contrary.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"I'd Like You to Take My Seat"

Never suppress a generous thought. That's what my friend taught me. I thank all those generous Americans who have been so generous to the men and women of the United States military. It helps us to remember what we're fighting for--goodness.

A friend recently told me a story about an acquaintance of hers that was flying home from a trip someplace. Because of a unique circumstance, she was upgraded to first class, and she was very excited about it. But as she was waiting to board, she noticed a lone female soldier waiting to board as well. A strong impression occurred to the lady: "Give her your seat."

She was, however, a bit shy in offering, and was excited to experience first-class flying for the first time. But again the impression came.

The lady then asked a nearby steward to help her find the young soldier on the plane. Soon the lady and the young soldier had exchanged seats. A few minutes into the flight, the soldier came back to where the lady was now sitting in her former seat. She said simply, "Thank you, ma'am. You'll never know how much this meant to me." She handed the lady a note and walked back to her seat.

The lady opened the note, which contained a small metal cross, one which were inscribed the words "God loves you." The note said: "You couldn't possibly have known how much your giving up your seat to me has elevated my spirits. You see, I'm returning home from Iraq for a fews days to attend my mother's funeral, and then I have to return. My mother was killed in a car accident. I began to think that I hated God, because he had abandoned me in my greatest time of need. But your actions have been as those of a guardian angel, and now I love God because you have helped me to remember that He still does love me."

As my friend closed her story, she finished her speech by reminding us, "Never suppress a generous thought."

It made a strong impression on me when I was returning to Iraq from my 15 day leave a year ago that the airlines gave me an upgrade to first class. I do not know if someone gave up their seat for me that day, but if you did, I salute you.

Serving in the Iraqi 'tornado' is without doubt the most difficult thing that most of us have done in our lives. Sometimes we make bad choices, and the Iraqi people have suffered for it. But with your generosity, hopefully we are more apt to realize that because the folks back home care about us, we will strive to serve with more dignity to help the people of Iraq enjoy the blessings that Americans take for granted.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Best That America Has to Offer

America was once thought of as "A shining city on a hill" whose values were recognized by all as timeless and appropriate for all mankind. We attempted to broadcast those values to the world and influence them with our words. Now a cacophony of alternative "values" are being transmitted into the Middle East. Values that Americans should be ashamed of, values that make Iraqis distrustful of America, and values that run completely counter to our expressed intentions of achieving liberty for the people of Iraq.

Not long before coalition forces invaded and occupied Iraq, America shut down its Voice of America broadcast in the Arabic language. Shortly thereafter, the Farsi-language broadcast ended as well. In its heyday, Voice of America broadcast American values, democratic values, and deeply meaningful discussions about social and political issues.

In the transition, what remains of VOA broadcasts, according to a former VOA director, is a putrescence of alternative American values. Ones that I'm embarrassed by. Ones that do nothing to endear Arab and Persian Muslims to the American way of life.

In the Spring of 2003, Robert Reilly, a former director of Voice of America, was in Baghdad. A young Iraqi journalist ran up to him and asked:

Why did you stop broadcasting substance and substitute music?

Instead of lessons on civics and social issues, what do people in the Middle East hear on Voice of America?

Britney Spears. Justin Timberlake. Eminem. Snoop Doggety Dog or whatever his name is this week. Iraqis are looking for freedom, not licentiousness.

That kind of filth masquerading as music irritates me to no end, but I live in a society that has been conditioned to accept it. Can you imagine how much distrust such broadcasts engender among the Iraqi people (not to mention others) who have never even heard such drivel, and who once believed that America represented things positive, like charity, public service, strong families, and devotion to God?

Reilly states:

We do not teach civics to American teenagers by asking them to listen to pop music, so why should we expect Arabs and Persians to learn about America or democracy this way? The condescension implicit in this nearly all-music format is not lost on the audience that we should wish to influence the most — those who think.

Some, of course, suspect that the United States is consciously attempting to subvert the morals of Arab youth.
I think there are entertainment forces in America who are subverting the morals of American youth, so the Arabs and Persians are probably not too wrong in their suspicions. The Iraqi people are much smarter and more civilized than we give them credit for. They know what America is supposed to stand for, but they can easily see that great swaths of American culture are decaying.

If we can't even keep our own society from failing on so many fronts, the Iraqis must think, how can we expect to help them? If this is the kind of help we're giving, I suspect they won't want it much longer.

If that's the best America has to offer, then we deserve to fail in Iraq.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Adam Galvez Street

In the midst of all of the politics surrounding the Iraq war, we often forget the American men and women who are proud to serve their country. Even when they give the "last full measure of [their] devotion", we often don't notice for very long. As a result of an Eagle Scout project in Salt Lake City last week, Corporal Adam Galvez will be remembered. His family will ever be proud that their son served.

"Junior Cruz did about the coolest Eagle Scout project I've ever heard of," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said during a ceremony at Franklin Elementary School. "Junior, I think you'd make an awesome governor some day."

On Friday, February 2, 2007, a portion of 300 South Street in Salt Lake City was renamed "Adam Galvez Street".

Marine Corporal Galvez was one month away from returning home when he was killed by a roadside bomb on August 20, 2006. He had the full love and support from his family in a service he was proud to provide.

To show their support for the United States military, and especially those Marine friends he left behind, his parents have started a care package project called Cool Marines.

Corporal Galvez--thank you for your service and your ultimate sacrifice. You will be remembered.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tikrit and ar Rutbah: How To and How Not To Serve Iraq

A lot of members of the military are fighting machines. Not so many of them are understanding of and friendly with the indigenous people among whom they serve. Developing a rapport is, however, a critical facet of a successful counter-insurgency. Here are some examples of how it was done correctly and how it was done miserably in two places--Tikrit and ar Rutbah.

The other day I walked out of my office and found the parking lot encased in a construction fence. No one had given any warning that construction was about to begin, but it was clear that we would not be allowed to park in our parking lot for several months to come. There was a lot of talk the next day at work about how someone had come unannounced onto our turf and barred us from using it in the way that we were used to.

Imagine, if we felt so violated by a simple construction fence, how the Iraqi people felt when the coalition forces not only broke the Hussein regime, but then stayed and occupied their country. Some military leaders understood and sympathized with the indigenous people and encouraged them to invest in their own future, while other military leaders ignored the high dividends that such mutual understanding would engender. One of the most important facets of counter-insurgency tactics is to build a rapport with the people and let them know that you are there to help them achieve peace and living enjoyment. In essentially every case where this has been implemented in Iraq, it has worked marvelously. But then there are those who come in and screw it all up.

Here are two stories of how, at first, large amounts of mutual trust and understanding were built up, and then how after a battle handover, new units in the area ruined pretty much all the goodwill that had been created.


The first Marine Division had occupied Tikrit in 2003. They established a good rapport with the people of the city, particularly its leaders, considering the negative feelings the people were bound to feel for an occupying force. Then the 4th Infantry Division arrived. As the Marines gave the soldiers a tour of the city and were introduced to its leaders, who were working very peacefully with the Marines, they began to get the feeling that the 4th ID people didn't share the same priorities as they did.

The 4th ID initially assumed that the Tikritis were their enemies, and the 4th ID's oppositional tactics formed accordingly. The Marines threw a farewell party for the Tikritis, but the 4th ID representatives who were invited refused to attend. The adversarial perception became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It took a couple of months before the gains the Marines had achieved were completely wiped out in Tikrit. A city that had developed understanding and trust for the Americans now hated them.

Ar Rutbah

Ar Rutbah is a fairly small city of about 25,000 in far western Anbar province. Despite having initially taken some hostile fire from the city, Major Jim Gavrilis approached its leaders in a non-hostile fashion. He tried to understand the feelings of the people, and because of this he was able to build strong relationships. He dined with them and got to know their concerns. He encouraged members of the local police force to take part in local checkpoints. He put sheikhs in charge of monitoring looting and other crimes. He handed relief supplies to the local leaders to be distributed as they saw fit. "The laws and values of their society and culture were just fine," he said. They just needed to be enforced.

The unit that replaced Gavrilis' unit had other ideas as to how to function in Ar Rutbah. No longer were the Iraqis treated as equals. No longer were American troops integrated into the social structure of the city. Quickly the situation deteriorated, and Americans came again to be seen as the occupying enemy.

It is common sense that when an army occupies another country, it will not for long be perceived as liberators. Unless--unless those who occupy make an attempt to understand the people and their history and culture. In those cases where an empathic attempt has been made, it has reaped huge dividends. Where such an approach has either not been tried or has been overturned, it has reaped the whirlwind.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Iraq Gotsta Decide Who to Dance With

Did you ever get asked to the high school dance by more than one person? Was it pretty hard to decide who to go with? Iraq is entwined in the same dilemma. It has two suitors, and it can't make up its mind which one it likes best. Or maybe it can.

When you got asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance in high school by two different girls, what did you do? Were you the guy who made the decision to go with one of them and then lived with it, or were you the one that tried to go on two dates the same night? Did it make it worse that the two people who asked you out hated each other's guts?

Iraq has a big problem. The United States and Iran have both asked Iraq to the big dance. I think I know which one she wants to go with, but she won't make up her mind. As it stands, Iraq cannot hope to please both America and Iran, whom to call titanic adversaries is an understatement.

A recent article from the Chicago Tribune captures the dramatic irony:

"We want to maintain good relations with our neighbors, especially Iran," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told a news conference Thursday in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. "We have long borders with them, we have local interests with (them) and we would like to have this relationship not in the shadow of the others."

"We want good relations with everyone, whether Iran or the U.S.," he said. "The problems between the U.S. and Iran must not get solved in Iraq."

It ain't gonna work.

For several months, the US has claimed that Iran is involved in inflaming the passions of violence and war in Iraq. Recently this fact has become obvious. The problem comes for the US when the Iraqi government calls for the release of Iranian personnel who are clearly involved in stirring up contention and death in their neighbor country.

We all know the maxim "dance with the one that brung ya". Well, it's high time that Iraq decide who they got brung by. Was it them? Or us?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki recently stated:

"There's a contradiction because America sees Iran as an enemy, whereas the Iraqi government sees Iran as a friend," he said. "The most important country with influence in Iraq right now is Iran, and these issues should be well and thoroughly discussed between America and Iraq."
And a Kurdish member of parliament said:

"Any escalation between Iran and the U.S. will be negative for us," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. "If you exclude the Sunnis, the majority of Iraqis think of Iran as a friend."

Maybe they already have decided.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ignoring the Lessons of "Provide Comfort"

In 1991, President George Bush, Sr. encouraged the Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north to rise up against Saddam Hussein. But when the uprising occurred, the US military was required by the civilians in Washington to sit on the sidelines. Kurds flew from the wrath of Saddam into the mountains. Only after their dire straits became evident did the Bush administration send assistance, in the form of Operation Provide Comfort. We learned a lot about the Iraqi people and culture during that time, but very little of that knowledge was implemented in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As operation Desert Storm came to a close, President George H. W. Bush encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against their dictator, Saddam Hussein. US aircraft even dropped leaflets into Iraqi units in the field encouraging them to overthrow Saddam.

Then suddenly, the Bush Administration declared the war over. American military units sat sometimes within visual and hearing distance of the resulting slaughter perpetrated by Iraqi helicopter gunships on the rebellious Iraqi populace.

As Saddam wreaked revenge on the northern Kurds, they began to flee by the thousands into the northern mountains. Their situation was dire, with obviously poor sanitation and very little food. Finally, in late July of that year, President Bush relented and offered hope and help to the beleaguered Kurds.

General Jay Garner, later put in charge for a very short time of Iraqi reconstruction, commanded the operation. General Anthony Zinni was Chief of Staff for Provide Comfort. John Abizaid, then a Lieutenant Colonel, led the charge southward into Iraq, occasionally fighting and usually intimidating Iraqi military units into submission

We learned a great deal from Operation Provide Comfort. Ironically, not much of the lessons derived were used in what little preparation there was for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Three of the main players, who developed a great deal of practical knowledge about Iraq, its people, and its culture, were either persona non grata in the Bush administration or were required to take their orders:

  • Jay Garner was given little time to prepare to lead the Iraq reconstruction effort, and was barely in Kuwait when the gig went down. When Bush's pie in the sky dreams went south, Garner's head was the first to roll.
  • Anthony Zinni, who had been in the thick of Iraq during Provide Comfort, was dismayed at the cavalier attitude with which many in the Bush administration approached the Iraq invasion. Despite his warnings that America's leaders had grossly underestimated the task ahead of us, Bush jumped pell-mell into the fray.
  • John Abizaid, recent commander of CentCom in Iraq, appeared to grumble under his breath often at the instructions of the Bush administration. After recently expressing his doubts about the Iraq "surge", he announced his retirement from the military.
The Bush Administration thought the whole Iraqi thing would be a quick feather in their cap. And they paid no heed to the intelligence and military types who said it would be much more difficult than their wildest imaginations. Karl von Clausewitz said "[do] not [] take the first step without considering the last." Sun Tzu taught that "To win victory is easy; to preserve its fruits, difficult."