In my earlier post, I noted the disconnect between governance and military strategies in Afghanistan. Generals are less willing to paper over problems than many diplomats; military leaders’ metric charts involve not money allocated but rather lives lost and letters written to next of kin. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many generals have barely concealed their antipathy toward diplomats and other civilians whom they consider to be out-of-touch with the realities on the ground. (The generals’ respect for Ryan Crocker is a notable exception).
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has sought to bypass the civilian policy and governance roadblock by doing what it takes to ensure security at a local level. For many generals, this has meant co-opting and empowering local militias. Empowering local militias not beholden to central command or necessarily loyal to the central government has obvious drawbacks. In 2004, Gen. David Petraeus cast aside objection from Baghdad and empowered former Baathists and Islamists in Mosul. They turned around and stabbed the Americans in the back, leaving the unit who came to Mosul in the wake of Petraeus’ departure to pick up the pieces. The same strategy failed again in Fallujah, where the Fallujah Brigade presided over a six-fold increase in car bombings. Still, the U.S. military tried again. They helped form the “Awakening Councils” in the Al Anbar governorate, Sunni Arab militias who turned on al-Qaeda and provided the support and blood upon which the success of the Surge depended. At no time, however, was the interplay between the Awakening Councils and the central government in Baghdad well-defined. And while it is possible for American advocates of the surge to blame Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s sectarianism for the lack of the Awakening Council’s subsequent integration into the Iraqi security apparatus, the fact remains that the Awakening Councils were just as sectarian, perhaps even more so, than political leaders in Baghdad. In effect, the embrace of the Awakening Councils fulfilled a short-term goal at the expense of Iraq’s long-term stability.