Yes, it is. Not yet as horribly as it may be, but badly enough that the influx of returnees has become a flood of refugees. People are voting with their feet, and they aren't happy feet. I'm distrustful of the quality of reports and reporting coming out of Iraq - on all sides these days - so I'm always looking for some basic indicators. Real estate prices are up? Doesn't happen in disaster areas, and it was recently happening in Baghdad - but not any more. Deaths and violence? Horrible, but not to the level of a full-scale internal war like Lebanon. But the local folks know what's going on and what's coming better than I do, and they are headed to anywhere that they can get out into. So yes, I'll stand up say that Iraq is simply f**ked (asterisks to make sure this gets through nanny filters at work).
Is it a complete humanitarian and military disaster as claimed by many? No, not yet. But it could be, and it could be soon, which means we'd better deal with this issue, and not keep hoping it just goes away. But it is clear that our overall strategic direction (as I - a reasonably well-informed citizen - know it) is wrong, and needs to change.
Let me talk first and foremost about what to do. Then a little bit about what I see is happening. And then in retrospect about how I think we got here.
I'll talk more in Part II about why, but simply put and as hard as things may be, I continue to believe that we have no choice but to succeed. A bogus "declare victory and leave" solution, as appealing as it may be to many of us in terms of domestic politics, will only result in a bloodbath within Iraq, will embolden the exact movement we went into Iraq and Afghanistan to push back, will strengthen the hand of the anti-American forces within Iran, and will almost certainly lead to a wider and bloodier set of wars within the Middle East - either with the United States as a participant, or with Israel if they are left on their own.
In early 2003, I wrote:
We're in this for the long haul. We don't get to 'declare victory and go home' when the going gets tough, elections are near, or TV shows pictures of the inevitable suffering that war causes. The Marshall Plan is a bad example, because the Europe that had been devastated by war had the commercial and entrepreneurial culture that simply needed stuff and money to get restarted. And we're good with stuff and money. This is going to take more, and we're going to have to be willing to figure it out as we go.
There are no good examples of this that I can think of in history. The postwar reconstruction of Japan comes the closest, and it's not necessarily a good example, because the Japanese by WWII were a coherent, unified, hierarchical society that could be changed by fiat from the top. The Robert Kaplan-esque world we're moving toward isn't.
Nothing has changed that view in the last three+ years. If it makes you better to call this "we broke it, we bought it", so be it - although one of my points is that Iraq was f**ked before we invaded, and had been so for a long time. We're now a party to the f**king, though and so have to own up to our responsibility.
So now the question is what to do.
In my mind, there are three legs to the problem. Iraqi, Domestic, and Foreign.In Iraq, the military leg is the easiest. From Phil Carter at Slate:
This violent weekend proves that America needs to radically change its course in Iraq, while some form of victory still lies within our grasp. First, the U.S. military must reverse its trend of consolidation and redeploy its forces into Iraq's cities. Efficiency and force protection cannot define our military footprint in Iraq; if those are our goals, we may as well bring our troops home today. Instead, we must assume risk by pushing U.S. forces out into small patrol bases in the middle of Iraq's cities where they are able to work closely with Iraqi leaders and own the streets. Counterinsurgency requires engagement. The most effective U.S. efforts thus far in Iraq have been those that followed this maxim, like the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar, which established numerous bases within the city and attacked the insurgency from within with a mix of political, economic, and military action.This meshes perfectly well with the Boyd work on counterinsurgency that I read and wrote about some time ago (from Boyd's "Patterns of Warfare" (pdf) presentation, available at the DNI site):
Second, the United States needs to reinforce the most successful part of its strategy so far - embedding advisers ($) with Iraqi units. Our embedded advisers achieve more bang for the buck than any other troops in Iraq; one good 12-man adviser team, living and working with an Iraqi unit, can bolster an entire Iraqi battalion. Without these advisers, Iraqi army and police units remain ineffective - or worse, they go rogue. However, these advisers are drawn primarily from the reserves and the staff ranks, not from America's military elite, so they represent the B Team of today's military talent. The military needs to invest its best people in the job. If necessary, it should shatter existing units to cull the best officers and sergeants - those selected for command positions - for this critical duty. And the United States cannot afford to lavish advisers on the Iraqi army alone, as it has largely done since 2003. It must extend the embedding program to the police and the Iraqi government, down to the province and city level, to bring critical services like security, electricity, and governance to the Iraqi people.
At the same time, we must recognize the limitations of our strategy to raise the Iraqi forces - it is a blueprint for withdrawal, not for victory. At best, it will enable us to substitute Iraqi soldiers and cops for American men and women. But simply replacing American soldiers with Iraqi soldiers and cops will not end the insurgency; it will merely transform it into a civil war where the state-equipped army and police battle with Sunni and Shiite militias, with Iraqi civilians frequently caught in the crossfire.
To combat the insurgency, America must adopt a more holistic approach than simply building up the country's security forces. We have the seeds of this in Iraq today - the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams. I worked closely with the PRT in Diyala to advise the Iraqi courts, jails, and police, and I saw their tremendous potential. However, having been hamstrung by bureaucratic infighting between the State and Defense departments, these teams now lack the authority, personnel, and resources to run the reconstruction effort effectively. America should reach back to one of its positive lessons from Vietnam, the "Civil Operations and Rural Development Support" program. There, the United States created a unified organization to manage all military and civilian pacification programs, recognizing that only a unified effort could bring the right mix of political, economic, and military solutions to bear on problems.
Although we copied some parts of the CORDS model in Afghanistan and Iraq when we created the PRTs, we did not go nearly far enough. It has become clichÃ© to say that the insurgency requires a political solution; in practical terms, that means subordinating military force to political considerations and authority. Today's PRT chiefs need to have command authority over everything in their provinces, much as ambassadors have traditionally exercised command over all military activity in their countries. We must also empower the PRTs to actually do something besides diplomacy - that means money. Like battlefield commanders, PRT chiefs need deep pockets of petty cash (what the military calls the Commander's Emergency Response Program fund) to start small reconstruction projects and local initiatives that will have an immediate and tangible impact.
The Iraq Study Group led by James Baker will reportedly propose many significant adjustments to our diplomatic strategy and our relationship with the nascent Iraqi government. Failing that, the panel will recommend a strategic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. I believe that there is still time to secure Iraq and stave off what some believe is an inevitable civil war. Bolstering Iraq's security forces and our own reconstruction efforts may not be enough, but these practical fixes represent our best hope for pulling Iraq back from the precipice. We must act quickly, though, before more cities explode like Balad and Duluiyah.
[Slide 108] Action:
Undermine guerilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of the people - rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.*
Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots.*
Infiltrate guerilla movement as well as employ population for intelligence about guerilla plans, operations, and organization.
Seal-off guerilla regions from outside world by diplomatic, psychological, and various other activities that strip-away potential allies as well as by disrupting or straddling communications that connect these regions with the outside world.
Deploy administrative talent, police, and counter-guerilla teams into affected localities and regions to inhibit guerilla communication, coordination, and movement; minimize guerilla contact with local inhabitants; isolate their ruling cadres; and destroy their infrastructure.
Exploit presence of above teams to build-up local government as well as recruit militia for local and regional security in order to protect people from the persuasion and coercion efforts of guerilla cadres and their fighting units.
Use special teams in a complementary effort to penetrate guerilla controlled regions. Employ (guerillas' own) tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, surprise hit-and-run, and sudden ambush to: keep roving bands off-balance, make base areas untenable, and disrupt communication with the outside world.
Expand these complementary security/penetration efforts into affected region after affected region in order to undermine, collapse, and replace guerilla influence with government influence and control.
Visible link these efforts with local political/economic/social reform in order to connect central government with hopes and needs of people, thereby gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.
Break guerillas' moral-mental-physical hold over the population, destroy their cohesion, and bring about their collapse via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize stealth/fast-temp/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.
*If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides.
(emphasis and footnote his)
This ties closely into the CORDS model (pdf), and the kind of warfighting that Phil Carter proposes above.
It also hits on the need for us to live and project some level of moral superiority - one of the key justifications for my opposition to torture as a practice. Boyd said it again:
[Slide 118]Observations Related To Moral Conflict
No fixed recipes for organization, communications, tactics, leadership, etc.
Wide freedom for subordinates to exercise imagination and initiative - yet harmonize within intent of superior commanders.
Heavy reliance upon moral (human values) instead of material superiority as basis for cohesion and ultimate success.
Commanders must create a bond and breadth of experience based upon trust - not mistrust - for cohesion.
I'll come back to this when I talk about domestic issues.
So the short version is that we need to get the troops out of the huge bases and into the villages where they can interact with the Iraqis; we need to combine military, political, and humanitarian efforts in ways that have been done - successfully - but somehow have not become widespread policy. In part, I'm guessing that a big piece of this is the military and political leadership's desire to have an "uncontroversial" war - a decision driven largely by the desire to make no political waves at home.
Politically - within Iraq - we have also made some serious mistakes. Potentially much bigger than our military ones. The biggest error was our over-focus on elections as a metric of success - and I was a more-than willing participant in the hype.
The reality was that while the elections were good metrics for the sentiment of the Iraqi people - their desires - that they were in fact a Potmekin event, designed mostly to support the belief that we were almost done in Iraq and could start preparing for success.
I'm bitter about this, because my own feelings were so high about the elections, and because I was so swept up in the enthusiasm - as were so many others.
And more, because we created a kind of cargo-cult around the appearance of democratic institutions, rather than their substance, and sold it to the Iraqis when we - and they - should have known better.
Should we have focused on elections? Or should we have focused on nation-building - on building infrastructure, institutions, the sense of a nation under laws?
Elections are sexy and easy. Infrastructure, institutions and laws are boring and hard. Was it misguided idealism that led us to this choice, or the desire for stage settings for domestic politics? I wish I knew.
I do know that domestic political considerations have driven far too much of the war policy. One reason I'm not unhappy about the results this week are that they now dramatically shift the political ground underpinning the war, and remove the apparent desire by the Administration to keep the war off the front pages so that the Republicans won't have to risk much in the elections.
OK, that problem's out of the way.
And now that the Democrats have the keys to one branch of Government, we'll quickly see what I expect to be a sharp argument over what to do with them. My guess, and hope - and the place I'll stand in line to help push forward - is that there will be a faction advocating departure and reparations and one advocating finding a way to win. I'm obviously on the latter side.
That's the lead in to the Domestic part of the piece, which I'll get to tomorrow if I can.
Note that while I'm convinced that winning in Iraq is central to winning the larger conflict, when I say "win" I'm talking about the war, not the battle. Wars are seldom won by losing battles, but it's equally true that losing a battle does not equal losing a war. The possibility still exists to do both.