Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hanson

Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Fixing Our Mistakes

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

Dear Max,

I wouldn’t necessarily conflate being more aggressive with being more brutal. We can patrol more, embed more advisors, shoot and arrest more insurgents, all without being gratuitously cruel or needlessly overbearing to civilian sensibilities.

Here is what I think happened in Iraq after April 2003. Bolstered by a 70-percent approval rating, and still smarting from all the prewar hysteria from the Left, the Bush administration felt that it could run out the clock, so to speak.

Thus, each time a challenge arose—looting, the Fallujah outbreak, the Sadr uprising—their idea was to finesse the crisis as much as possible. They were afraid to squander the capital of hard-won public support through (unneeded?) escalation, escalation that would increase casualties and only encourage further domestic and international condemnation of the war.

As a result of this policy, public support vanished anyway, in dribs and drabs, each time we did not react strongly and decisively enough to a provocation. The administration thought, apparently, that using more aggressive tactics would only further incite the growing anti-war movement and that the good news of progress in reconstruction would only continue to be ignored by a biased media.

And so with a whimper rather than a bang, our complacency and over-sensitive attention to perceived public opinion made us ever less aggressive and ever more attuned to “force protection”—at precisely the time more and more offensive operations were needed to break the insurgency and win back public opinion.

Now we must shatter that complacency and do in nine months what textbooks warn takes years. It is still not too late; history might still record as a considerable military achievement the removal of Saddam and the creation of a constitutional government in Iraq. The President and the military believe they can pull it off, while the opposition (whose proposals to withdraw are not matched by votes to reduce budget appropriations) remains, to say the least, doubtful. But the American public’s patience will, apparently, tolerate this final effort.

I am tired of reading the latest declarations of moral outrage from politicians and pundits blaming Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Abizaid, etc., for “their” three-year-long occupation that ruined “our” perfect three-week war. What happened in Iraq pales when compared to the horrifying mistakes our government and military made in the Civil War, in World War I and World War II, in Korea and Vietnam. What would this generation of politicians and journalists have said after Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness, after the two-year-long nightmare of the fall of France, after our World War II losses in the Atlantic, after the debacle in Greece, after the surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk? One can only imagine.

All that matters now is correcting our mistakes, countering the defeatists, and defeating the insurgents. We have to keep firmly in mind the correct notion that a functional democracy in Iraq would be the worst nightmare of jihadists the world over, of Iran, Syria, and the royal Gulf “moderates.” Allowing Iraq to devolve into the Lebanon of the 1980’s or the Afghanistan of the 1990’s, on the other hand, would restore al Qaeda’s lost sanctuary and provide a new base of operations for Iranian-backed terrorists. To paraphrase one commentator, such a failure would inflict “1,000 Mogadishus”-worth of damage on the reputation of the U.S. military and on a nascent and necessary U.S. Middle East policy, a policy seeking to transcend the dangerous (and cynical) “realism” of the past.

Best,
Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IV

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Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Smart Aggression

Dear Victor,

My reaction to your call for more aggressive tactics can best be summed up with that classic phrase beloved of Supreme Court justices: concur in part, dissent in part.

I am all in favor of aggressive action to stamp out the insurgency. But we need smart aggression. Dumb aggression can do more harm than good. That’s what we saw in 2003-04 when many U.S. units employed large-unit sweeps supported by heavy firepower. Those kinds of conventional tactics never work against a counterinsurgency—they failed for the Americans in Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and were failing for the British in Malaya in the late 1940’s, before Britain adopted more appropriate tactics in the early 1950’s.

The difficulty lies in the fact that insurgents are seldom obliging enough to mass their forces and then wait patiently to be destroyed by superior firepower. Guerrillas almost always melt away before large opposing forces, snipe at their flanks, and return in force only when the army has gone back to its bases.

The only way to defeat this tactic is to garrison the area with small outposts of soldiers who interact with locals and develop the intelligence needed to identify insurgents. Once identified, that’s where the good kind of aggression comes in—anyone taking up arms against the government needs to be killed or captured. The problem is that Western militaries, including our own, have a surfeit of aggression but usually lack the patience and know-how to figure out whom to focus their aggression on. Unfocused displays of brutality only serve to alienate the population and recruit more manpower for the insurgency.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten it right. Our soldiers (and also contractors) have displayed too much casual brutality toward the populace of Iraq, often (understandably) motivated by “force protection” considerations. I’m thinking of Humvees or armored Chevy Suburbans careening through traffic, causing accidents, their occupants shooting at vehicles that get too close; soldiers opening fire at checkpoints and riddling cars full of confused civilians with bullets; or soldiers cordoning off neighborhoods and breaking into houses in the middle of the night.

When it comes to dealing with actual insurgents, our troops have had their hands tied, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal in the spring of 2004. Aggressive interrogations are out. Detainees in American custody have the option of remaining silent, and they have an excellent chance of being released through one of the multiple layers of legal review, Iraqi and American. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of success.

Of course there are limits to how brutal American—or any other Western—troops can be without causing a backlash on the home front, as the French learned in Algeria. The Iraqis have much more freedom of action; nobody would be terribly shocked if they behaved the way the Algerian or Egyptian security forces did in putting down Islamist uprisings in the 1990′s. The problem is not so much that the Iraqi Security Forces are too brutal; it’s that they are stupidly brutal—or rather that their brutality is too often designed to advance a sectarian, not a national, agenda. They are murdering and torturing Sunnis indiscriminately, not reserving their venom for actual insurgents. Again, there has to be a balancing act, and the Iraqis aren’t getting it right—perhaps can’t get it right.

I should add the obvious: it’s much easier to describe the balancing act while sitting in the safety of one’s study than to actually figure out how to act while under fire. That’s why counterinsurgency has been described as the graduate level of warfare. Our troops are slowly acquiring the skills they need but, as we both agree, the big question is whether they will have the time and support needed to apply what they’ve learned.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson III

Dear Victor,

My reaction to your call for more aggressive tactics can best be summed up with that classic phrase beloved of Supreme Court justices: concur in part, dissent in part.

I am all in favor of aggressive action to stamp out the insurgency. But we need smart aggression. Dumb aggression can do more harm than good. That’s what we saw in 2003-04 when many U.S. units employed large-unit sweeps supported by heavy firepower. Those kinds of conventional tactics never work against a counterinsurgency—they failed for the Americans in Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and were failing for the British in Malaya in the late 1940’s, before Britain adopted more appropriate tactics in the early 1950’s.

The difficulty lies in the fact that insurgents are seldom obliging enough to mass their forces and then wait patiently to be destroyed by superior firepower. Guerrillas almost always melt away before large opposing forces, snipe at their flanks, and return in force only when the army has gone back to its bases.

The only way to defeat this tactic is to garrison the area with small outposts of soldiers who interact with locals and develop the intelligence needed to identify insurgents. Once identified, that’s where the good kind of aggression comes in—anyone taking up arms against the government needs to be killed or captured. The problem is that Western militaries, including our own, have a surfeit of aggression but usually lack the patience and know-how to figure out whom to focus their aggression on. Unfocused displays of brutality only serve to alienate the population and recruit more manpower for the insurgency.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten it right. Our soldiers (and also contractors) have displayed too much casual brutality toward the populace of Iraq, often (understandably) motivated by “force protection” considerations. I’m thinking of Humvees or armored Chevy Suburbans careening through traffic, causing accidents, their occupants shooting at vehicles that get too close; soldiers opening fire at checkpoints and riddling cars full of confused civilians with bullets; or soldiers cordoning off neighborhoods and breaking into houses in the middle of the night.

When it comes to dealing with actual insurgents, our troops have had their hands tied, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal in the spring of 2004. Aggressive interrogations are out. Detainees in American custody have the option of remaining silent, and they have an excellent chance of being released through one of the multiple layers of legal review, Iraqi and American. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of success.

Of course there are limits to how brutal American—or any other Western—troops can be without causing a backlash on the home front, as the French learned in Algeria. The Iraqis have much more freedom of action; nobody would be terribly shocked if they behaved the way the Algerian or Egyptian security forces did in putting down Islamist uprisings in the 1990′s. The problem is not so much that the Iraqi Security Forces are too brutal; it’s that they are stupidly brutal—or rather that their brutality is too often designed to advance a sectarian, not a national, agenda. They are murdering and torturing Sunnis indiscriminately, not reserving their venom for actual insurgents. Again, there has to be a balancing act, and the Iraqis aren’t getting it right—perhaps can’t get it right.

I should add the obvious: it’s much easier to describe the balancing act while sitting in the safety of one’s study than to actually figure out how to act while under fire. That’s why counterinsurgency has been described as the graduate level of warfare. Our troops are slowly acquiring the skills they need but, as we both agree, the big question is whether they will have the time and support needed to apply what they’ve learned.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson III

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Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Taking Our Gloves Off

Dear Max,

I agree that we should have more forces in Iraq and more in reserve. But there are considerations that transcend numbers. Remember Vietnam: 530,000 Americans on the ground in 1968 didn’t make Saigon any safer than in 1973, when our military presence numbered 50 personnel. Also consider the Second Boer War. The British began to win (after nearly 250,000 troops failed to secure the disputed territories) only when they changed tactics and began to make use of aggressive, small-party raiding, relocation of insurgents, and rules of engagement specifically loosened for asymmetrical warfare. They began to win, in other words, when they took their tactical gloves off.

Our problems in Iraq can be ameliorated, but not solved, by more manpower. Part of the West’s commitment to Enlightenment ideas proclaiming the value and dignity of human life is a belief that inflicting casualties on the enemy is, in moral terms, not all that different from outright murder. We are fighting a war in which a few seconds of tape on al-Jazeera, showing the effects of our campaign, can be lethal to morale at home.

With the surge, the existing U.S. forces, other coalition troops, and the Iraqis, there will be nearly 500,000 allied soldiers in the field. Even if half of this force is of questionable quality, it is no more ill-equipped or ill-trained than the insurgents. So the questions remain: why and how is a relatively small force holding such a large one at bay?

We discussed possible answers previously, but, as you imply, better leadership and better communication are essential. Our political leadership at home must explain, clearly and forcefully, why asymmetrical warfare intrinsically favors the enemy, why there will continue to be collateral damage, and why the media will continue to report the war the way they do.

All this will serve as a means of preparing the American people for the considerable struggle yet to come, if we are to win. It will also serve a larger purpose: apprising the global audience that whatever downside a greater use of force on our part entails, it is far, far outweighed by the specter of a jihadist victory.

One of our serious mistakes has been trying to fight the war with one eye on the 70 percent approval rating our first actions in Iraq garnered. By keeping troop levels low, granting Moqtada al-Sadr a reprieve, and a whole host of other actions, we’ve attempted to pacify our increasingly vocal critics at home and in Iraq and keep the war’s violence at “tolerable” levels, thereby maintaining much-needed public support.

But the effect of these half-measures was to erode public support for the war anyway. More aggressive tactics would have had a better chance of defeating the insurgency and creating the necessary window for economic and political reforms to take effect, and for Iraq’s nascent democracy to flower.

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

I agree that we should have more forces in Iraq and more in reserve. But there are considerations that transcend numbers. Remember Vietnam: 530,000 Americans on the ground in 1968 didn’t make Saigon any safer than in 1973, when our military presence numbered 50 personnel. Also consider the Second Boer War. The British began to win (after nearly 250,000 troops failed to secure the disputed territories) only when they changed tactics and began to make use of aggressive, small-party raiding, relocation of insurgents, and rules of engagement specifically loosened for asymmetrical warfare. They began to win, in other words, when they took their tactical gloves off.

Our problems in Iraq can be ameliorated, but not solved, by more manpower. Part of the West’s commitment to Enlightenment ideas proclaiming the value and dignity of human life is a belief that inflicting casualties on the enemy is, in moral terms, not all that different from outright murder. We are fighting a war in which a few seconds of tape on al-Jazeera, showing the effects of our campaign, can be lethal to morale at home.

With the surge, the existing U.S. forces, other coalition troops, and the Iraqis, there will be nearly 500,000 allied soldiers in the field. Even if half of this force is of questionable quality, it is no more ill-equipped or ill-trained than the insurgents. So the questions remain: why and how is a relatively small force holding such a large one at bay?

We discussed possible answers previously, but, as you imply, better leadership and better communication are essential. Our political leadership at home must explain, clearly and forcefully, why asymmetrical warfare intrinsically favors the enemy, why there will continue to be collateral damage, and why the media will continue to report the war the way they do.

All this will serve as a means of preparing the American people for the considerable struggle yet to come, if we are to win. It will also serve a larger purpose: apprising the global audience that whatever downside a greater use of force on our part entails, it is far, far outweighed by the specter of a jihadist victory.

One of our serious mistakes has been trying to fight the war with one eye on the 70 percent approval rating our first actions in Iraq garnered. By keeping troop levels low, granting Moqtada al-Sadr a reprieve, and a whole host of other actions, we’ve attempted to pacify our increasingly vocal critics at home and in Iraq and keep the war’s violence at “tolerable” levels, thereby maintaining much-needed public support.

But the effect of these half-measures was to erode public support for the war anyway. More aggressive tactics would have had a better chance of defeating the insurgency and creating the necessary window for economic and political reforms to take effect, and for Iraq’s nascent democracy to flower.

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Just Enough to Stave Off Defeat

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Boot and Hanson, Round Two: Wild Cards

Dear Max,

So I think we agree on what the problems are and the preferred solutions, but we are not sure whether the U.S. can implement them all, given a variety of wild cards that we might discuss: (1) the autonomous Iraqi government, (2) the political consensus back home, and (3) the region as a whole

1. We didn’t just establish rule by plebiscite, as some have alleged, but rather we helped to fashion a constitution that is both transparent and independent of us. So we are in a Catch-22 situation: we deal as equals (of sorts) with a new and weak but legitimate government, but that same government has empowered, or at least been too lax with, our enemies. Our leverage, as supporters of democracy, is to threaten to leave, cut off aid, or both. But that in turn might play to those in the Shiite-dominated government, and the region at large, who would like exactly that to happen.

2. The departure of Rumsfeld, Casey, and Abizaid, along with the appointment of General Petraeus, has tempered Democratic opposition. So too, as I suggested in a previous post, has the unspoken fear that there might be a sudden turn-around in Iraq that would embarrass shrill anti-war liberals. Nevertheless, by autumn, the verdict will be in, and if things are not quiet on the ground, the polls will reflect popular frustration, and new resolutions will come fast and furious in the shadow of 2008. Our counter-insurgency efforts might take longer than five years (successful ones usually do), but in this case it will be five years or nothing—and the enemy knows it.

3. If we fail in Iraq, gone is any notion of a comprehensive program for the Middle East based on liberalization and reform, an approach that might break up the wink-and-nod alliance of illegitimate autocracies and jihadists. To salvage things in that event, the U.S. would have to galvanize regional “moderate” dictatorships and corrupt monarchies in Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf against Iran and Syria, withdraw to Kuwait and perhaps Kurdistan, seek to pressure Israel for concessions, and in general return to the sort of realism and appeasement of the 1980′s and 1990′s, whose ultimate dividend was 9/11. I pass over in silence the effects of such a failure on the reputation of U.S. ground forces, moderate Democrats, reformers in the Middle East, and principled Europeans who supported us.

So? I think the answer is that we must constantly and without interruption go on the offensive in Iraq, militarily, politically, and economically, with the understanding that the country, the region, and the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy and American prestige now hang in the balance.

I hope there is that sense of urgency in both Washington and at Centcom, a sense that the ante has been raised and that our success or failure in the next six months will determine the course of our policy and of the region for years to come.

Best,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

So I think we agree on what the problems are and the preferred solutions, but we are not sure whether the U.S. can implement them all, given a variety of wild cards that we might discuss: (1) the autonomous Iraqi government, (2) the political consensus back home, and (3) the region as a whole

1. We didn’t just establish rule by plebiscite, as some have alleged, but rather we helped to fashion a constitution that is both transparent and independent of us. So we are in a Catch-22 situation: we deal as equals (of sorts) with a new and weak but legitimate government, but that same government has empowered, or at least been too lax with, our enemies. Our leverage, as supporters of democracy, is to threaten to leave, cut off aid, or both. But that in turn might play to those in the Shiite-dominated government, and the region at large, who would like exactly that to happen.

2. The departure of Rumsfeld, Casey, and Abizaid, along with the appointment of General Petraeus, has tempered Democratic opposition. So too, as I suggested in a previous post, has the unspoken fear that there might be a sudden turn-around in Iraq that would embarrass shrill anti-war liberals. Nevertheless, by autumn, the verdict will be in, and if things are not quiet on the ground, the polls will reflect popular frustration, and new resolutions will come fast and furious in the shadow of 2008. Our counter-insurgency efforts might take longer than five years (successful ones usually do), but in this case it will be five years or nothing—and the enemy knows it.

3. If we fail in Iraq, gone is any notion of a comprehensive program for the Middle East based on liberalization and reform, an approach that might break up the wink-and-nod alliance of illegitimate autocracies and jihadists. To salvage things in that event, the U.S. would have to galvanize regional “moderate” dictatorships and corrupt monarchies in Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf against Iran and Syria, withdraw to Kuwait and perhaps Kurdistan, seek to pressure Israel for concessions, and in general return to the sort of realism and appeasement of the 1980′s and 1990′s, whose ultimate dividend was 9/11. I pass over in silence the effects of such a failure on the reputation of U.S. ground forces, moderate Democrats, reformers in the Middle East, and principled Europeans who supported us.

So? I think the answer is that we must constantly and without interruption go on the offensive in Iraq, militarily, politically, and economically, with the understanding that the country, the region, and the entire framework of U.S. foreign policy and American prestige now hang in the balance.

I hope there is that sense of urgency in both Washington and at Centcom, a sense that the ante has been raised and that our success or failure in the next six months will determine the course of our policy and of the region for years to come.

Best,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Boot and Hanson, Round Two: Step by Step

Dear Victor,

Though a virtue in interpersonal relations, agreeableness is not necessarily a good thing in an online exchange, where a clash of views is often needed to spark excitement. Yet, at the risk of putting readers to sleep, I have to confess that my reaction upon reading your initial posting was: ditto.

You write that we need not only to increase the number of troops but also to change how they operate. I agree. You stress the need to win a military victory before we can carry out sociopolitical reforms. Here too I agree—and more importantly so does David Galula, author of the classic how-to book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964). One of his primary admonitions: “Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand.”

Unfortunately, lack of support for the war effort on the home front makes it ever more difficult to convey the impression to Iraqis that we are the winning side. But at least we can do a better job of protecting civilians and threatening aggressors. A higher troop-to-civilian ratio is a prerequisite for this. But beyond that we need to take other important steps:

• Get troops out of their giant forward operating bases, where they have been sealed off from the population. They need to establish a 24/7 presence in embattled neighborhoods—a strategy successfully carried out in such smaller Iraqi cities as Tal Afar and Qaim.

• Conduct a census of the Iraqi population, starting with Baghdad, then issue biometric ID cards to everyone, and equip security forces with wireless data devices linked to a central registry. Most American police departments have such a setup. But we have been mysteriously remiss in bringing this basic technology to Iraq, making it difficult to identify insurgents.

• Stop the “catch and release” policy which you rightly decry. It is obvious that more violent offenders need to be incarcerated, but it’s not easy to see how to accomplish this goal given the limited resources of the Iraqi legal system and its American military counterpart. Simply arresting a lot more people (the strategy tried by some U.S. units in 2003-04) isn’t the answer, since they may be innocent. We need better intelligence to identify the bad guys; we should impose martial law in order to keep them locked up for the duration of the conflict.

• Increase support for the Iraqi army. We need to dramatically increase the number of U.S. advisers embedded in Iraqi units. (Currently the total is about 4,000; we probably need closer to 20,000.) We also need to provide more armored vehicles and heavier weapons to the Iraqi army while expanding its overall size. The police are so compromised by corruption and sectarian loyalties that it’s not clear they can be at all useful; the army at least shows some promise.

If anyone can pull off the impossible it’s David Petraeus, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up unduly. The best we can hope for in the next year is to get Baghdad to the state it was in back in 2003—hardly ideal but certainly better than today. Then we have to build on that achievement, somehow, to increase longterm stability—all the while avoiding the implosion of our overstretched armed forces and the complete collapse of support on the home front.

Yikes!

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

Though a virtue in interpersonal relations, agreeableness is not necessarily a good thing in an online exchange, where a clash of views is often needed to spark excitement. Yet, at the risk of putting readers to sleep, I have to confess that my reaction upon reading your initial posting was: ditto.

You write that we need not only to increase the number of troops but also to change how they operate. I agree. You stress the need to win a military victory before we can carry out sociopolitical reforms. Here too I agree—and more importantly so does David Galula, author of the classic how-to book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964). One of his primary admonitions: “Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand.”

Unfortunately, lack of support for the war effort on the home front makes it ever more difficult to convey the impression to Iraqis that we are the winning side. But at least we can do a better job of protecting civilians and threatening aggressors. A higher troop-to-civilian ratio is a prerequisite for this. But beyond that we need to take other important steps:

• Get troops out of their giant forward operating bases, where they have been sealed off from the population. They need to establish a 24/7 presence in embattled neighborhoods—a strategy successfully carried out in such smaller Iraqi cities as Tal Afar and Qaim.

• Conduct a census of the Iraqi population, starting with Baghdad, then issue biometric ID cards to everyone, and equip security forces with wireless data devices linked to a central registry. Most American police departments have such a setup. But we have been mysteriously remiss in bringing this basic technology to Iraq, making it difficult to identify insurgents.

• Stop the “catch and release” policy which you rightly decry. It is obvious that more violent offenders need to be incarcerated, but it’s not easy to see how to accomplish this goal given the limited resources of the Iraqi legal system and its American military counterpart. Simply arresting a lot more people (the strategy tried by some U.S. units in 2003-04) isn’t the answer, since they may be innocent. We need better intelligence to identify the bad guys; we should impose martial law in order to keep them locked up for the duration of the conflict.

• Increase support for the Iraqi army. We need to dramatically increase the number of U.S. advisers embedded in Iraqi units. (Currently the total is about 4,000; we probably need closer to 20,000.) We also need to provide more armored vehicles and heavier weapons to the Iraqi army while expanding its overall size. The police are so compromised by corruption and sectarian loyalties that it’s not clear they can be at all useful; the army at least shows some promise.

If anyone can pull off the impossible it’s David Petraeus, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up unduly. The best we can hope for in the next year is to get Baghdad to the state it was in back in 2003—hardly ideal but certainly better than today. Then we have to build on that achievement, somehow, to increase longterm stability—all the while avoiding the implosion of our overstretched armed forces and the complete collapse of support on the home front.

Yikes!

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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Boot and Hanson, Round One: Victory Before Peace

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Max,

The surge, in my opinion, could very well work—if it is the catalyst for a change in tactics. In COMMENTARY and elsewhere, many observers have noted that the number of troops, per se, has not been, historically, the sole arbiter of military success. If the administration sends more soldiers to Iraq without new, clear directives, it will only breed more Iraqi dependency, create more targets for insurgents, and cost America more prestige.

But if we change our way of doing business tactically, operationally, and psychologically—stop the arrest-and-release insanity, eliminate key militia leaders and disband their followers, expand the rules of engagement, accelerate cash payments for salaried Iraqis, patrol the borders, all while maintaining the veneer of Iraqi autonomy—even at this 11th hour we could entice the proverbial bystanders (a majority of the country) to cast their lot with the perceived winners: namely, us.

And if we can kill more insurgents, we can still overcome what has been our chief obstacle throughout this war—the lingering idea that Iraq was simply to be liberated, without its military (and paramilitary organizations) first being conquered and humiliated. It is hard, as we have seen, to achieve full reconstruction (which is what is entailed in bringing constitutional government, a market economy, and civil rights to Saddam’s Iraq) when “peace” means killing thousands of terrorists under postmodern rules of engagement before the world’s hypercritical television audience.

So where does that leave us? In a race of sorts. On the one side, the Democrats realize that anger over the perceived stasis in Iraq has brought them the Congress and possibly the White House in 2008. On the other side, the administration’s personnel changes, the surge, and a belated public-relations counteroffensive have bought six months to a year (at most) to secure and quiet Baghdad. Democratic critics claimed that they wanted more troops, Rumsfeld’s resignation, and mavericks like General Petraeus in charge—thinking, probably, that President Bush would probably never accede. Now that he has, it will take a few weeks for the Democrats to re-triangulate and refashion credible new opposition to their own earlier demands. (And they must tread carefully while doing it: if the surge works as planned, the Democrats will end up looking foolish on the eve of the 2008 election.)

Meanwhile, the terrorists know that the more carnage they inflict and Americans they kill, the more this window of time closes. So in fine American fashion (consider Grant and Sherman’s onus of turning the tide of the Civil War in 1864, or the assumption that Ridgeway was to save post-Yalu Korea), our national subconscious has decreed: “OK, General Petraeus. Preserve Iraqi democracy and don’t lose any more Americans in the process. You have less than a year. By the way: we’ll be passing hourly televised judgment on your progress!”

Yours,

Victor

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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