Los Angeles Times

Surge or purge?

Today, the two Iraq veterans discuss the military options in Iraq. Previously, they debated involuntary service, the overstretched services and the need for a larger military. Tomorrow they'll discuss the leaner/meaner model of warfare.

Friction, suck, catastrophe, victory By Austin Bay
"You are damned if you are heavy, and damned if you are light: both cause problems."

That sentence appeared in an email I received this week from a thoughtful Vietnam War vet reflecting on "how devilishly difficult counterinsurgency really is."

In his formulation "heavy" roughly correlates to General Petraeus' "surge and hold" operations in Iraq and "light" to the "patrol and quick reaction" operational scheme directed by Generals Abizaid and Casey.

The military component of the "surge" consists of changes in operational and tactical emphasis designed to achieve the original strategic goals. Iraq as a Strategic Project is and has always been about choice. A free, economically and politically stable Iraq creates a democratic choice in the politically dysfunctional Muslim Middle East, a region trapped in the terrible yin-yang of tyrant and terrorist—which is no choice for those who value life and liberty. 9/11 made it clear that economic and political development—the expansion of the sphere of economically and politically liberal states—was key to America's 21st century security.

But development takes a long, long time.

In other venues I've argued that a "sudden" increase in troop strength alone is of minimal value. Reinforcements and withdrawals have always been an option.

General David Petraeus has changed the "level of sustained presence" in violent areas. (At the tactical level that means manning Joint Security Stations.) Petraeus' relentless targeting of Shia and Sunni extremist organizations is a far more important feature of what Iraqis are calling "the new security plan" than simply sending more U.S. troops into the streets.

Since Petraeus took charge, the economic and governmental (Iraqi political) "lines of operation" have received increased public emphasis. This new emphasis is very much a part of the "surge." The "surge" is commonly referred to as if it were solely a fighting strategy; in reality, the intent is to work synergistically with economic and political activities. For example, the Iraqi parliament is on the cusp of passing the "Hydrocarbon Law," a major economic and political initiative. Provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are being revamped. This is a belated recognition of the importance of unified action (which I mentioned Monday). Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national reconciliation program remains the key Iraqi political endeavor. And, as it is anywhere in the world, in Iraq economic and governmental progress is a frustratingly incremental and painstaking effort.

So is it working? I said two months ago it would take at least eight to twelve months before we'd know if the approach had made a significant difference. Petraeus promises an evaluation in September so he is a month ahead of my time frame. The year 2012 is probably a better time to evaluate it.

Yes, I just wrote 2012, which is not one but two U.S. elections away. This leads to a crucial point: A truly grievous American strategic weakness (which the surge does not address) is our own political cycle. Al Qaeda's jihadists plotted a multigenerational war. That means we must fight a multi-administration war, which means bridging the whipsaw of the U.S. political cycle.

The Bush administration has not prepared the nation for that—at least not in any focused manner. And that omission constitutes negligence. However, Bush critics who advocate withdrawal are even more negligent, for withdrawal without insuring Iraqi stability is a self-inflicted defeat leading to extremely dire consequences.

Is there hope? Of course. The Iraqi people themselves provide an example of vision and perseverance. The February 2006 attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra, brought Iraq to the precipice of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "strategic" sectarian war but even that failed to produce the apocalyptic schism al Qaeda desired. The Iraqis understand the value of an open, productive political system.

Every war is a series of mistakes—bloody, expensive mistakes. Carl von Clausewitz called it "friction." American troops call it "the suck." France's Georges Clemenceau provided a more elegant rendering of the terrible hell of it: War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory. Ultimately winning any war, but especially this intricate, multi-dimensional war, demands perseverance and creative adaptation. War winners understand this real world paradox.

Austin Bay is an author and syndicated columnist. He is also a retired US Army Reserve colonel and an Iraq veteran.


Tactical gains and strategic losses By Phillip Carter
I agree with you Austin that there is always reason for hope. But in the case of Iraq, I think it's time to temper our hope with realism about the situation on the ground, and the implications of the Iraq campaign for our larger goals in the world.

I believe Gen. David Petraeus and his brain trust have devised the best possible security plan for Iraq, given the time and resources constraints they face. However, as Petraeus himself says, "Military action is necessary but not sufficient." Even if we achieve successes at the tactical level, as we have with the Joint Security Station strategy you mention, our advisory efforts, and well executed counterinsurgency in the Anbar province, we may not consummate those victories at the strategic level. I should also note that these successes are being won at tremendous risk, as shown by recent attacks on small U.S. compounds in Tarmiyah and Baqubah.

I wrote last month that Maliki's government was the Achilles heel of our effort. That was a rhetorical understatement. It's much more of a sucking chest wound, one which will kill the patient unless tended to with immediate, invasive, and dramatic action.

When I came home from Iraq last fall, I could not reconcile the paradox that we were succeeding in standing up the Iraqi security forces, but failing to improve the overall security situation. In other words, we were achieving tactical success but strategic failure (or stagnation). I reconciled this paradox by concluding that we were, in fact, fighting multiple overlapping conflicts where our efforts in one had effects on the other. As Stephen Biddle wrote, our efforts to build Iraqi forces were achieving some gains in that area, but they were also training and equipping the partisans for Iraq's sectarian war, making that conflict worse.

Recent reports about the Maliki government bring this picture into sharper relief. It's becoming increasingly clear that this government and all of its key agencies are rotten to the core. We may succeed in developing Iraqi forces, securing Iraqi neighborhoods, and pursuing much-needed reconstruction projects—but we will fail unless the Maliki government abandons its sectarian agenda and demonstrates that it serves all Iraqis. This is what Gen. Petraeus means when he says that military action is necessary, but not sufficient. We can occupy Iraq for generations to come, but unless the Iraqis reconcile their political differences, we will never achieve lasting peace or stability.

Finally, I think the time has come to step back from the Iraq war and evaluate it from a strategic perspective. I agree with those who say that immediate withdrawal would result in bloody chaos. However, I also believe that the Iraq war now does great harm to American strategic objectives in the Middle East and the world, and that a change of direction is needed.

Instead of the current "surge," I favor a rapid transition to an advisory model of operations, which would reduce the U.S. force structure in Iraq by up to one-half. Enough troops would remain to contain the sectarian violence, support the Iraqi government, and prevent a regional war from erupting, but the force levels would no longer strain the U.S. military to its breaking point, as we discussed on Tuesday. War is the province of chance, as Clausewitz said, and this strategy may not work. But it would reduce our level of risk in Iraq to an acceptable and sustainable level, while enabling us to rebuild our military strength to be ready for what lies ahead.

Phillip Carter, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP in Los Angeles, is a former Army officer and an Iraq veteran.

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