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.
Counter-insurgency (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have generally happened: (1) The place has gotten much more peaceful, and (2) the successful US military unit has been replaced by a unit that neither gives nor understands two cents about successful counterinsurgency tactics--and the place gets violent again.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.