Saturday, April 16, 2005

Iraq War: "We'll get by with a little help from our friends..."

I can't keep up with the latest media fads about Iraq.  Are we enjoying new confidence and progress this week?  Or are we seeing disturbing signs of potential problems?  Is a wave of democracy still sweeping the Arab world?  Or have we moved on to some other groundless slogan this week?  It gets hard to follow after a while.

"Tipping point" seems to have become for the Iraq War what "light at the end of the tunnel" was for the Vietnam War.  Gains in Iraq but no 'tipping point' by Peter Grier and Faye Bowers Christian Science Monitor 04/15/05.  No doubt, military press people will try to retire the "tipping point" phrase from the vocabulary as soon as possible.  Grier and Bowers:

For US forces in Iraq, the good news is that they appear to be making progress in their battle against an entrenched insurgency. The bad news is that the insurgents are far from defeated - and it will be some time before Iraqi government forces can fight the rebels on their own.

They cite a recent paper by military analyst Anthony Cordesman:

When it comes to the Iraqi security situation "we still have no tipping point, and we face at least a tipping year," writes Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a new assessment of the situation. The most recent news from Iraq has been tragically reminiscent of the bad days prior to the January Iraqi election. Twin suicide car bombs killed at least 15 people during Baghdad's morning rush hour on Thursday. US forces said that two other bombs were found in the area and detonated safely by ordnance experts.

These attacks followed a spate of car bombs and suicide attacks that occurred throughout the country on Wednesday. And an American contractor kidnapped earlier this week appeared in a videotape released by his captors, looking pale and frightened and pleading for his life.

It's possible that these attacks represent a new insurgent offensive. US officials were particularly worried about the degree of sophistication shown by an attack on the Abu Ghraib prison earlier this month, in which a large group of 60 fighters detonated car bombs and fired rockets and mortars before US forces beat them back after an intense firefight.

Cordesman's paper, Iraq’s Security Forces: 150,000 or Bust? 04/14/05, is available as a *.pdf file at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Web site.  (The Christian Science Monitor article does not cite the paper by name, but this is apparently the one they quote.)  Cordesman's breakdown of the current official numbers on Iraqi forces is informative (emphasis in original; also, if there's a magic trick to reproducing smooth-looking tables here in the AOL Journals, I haven't stumbled on it yet - it looks better in the original):

The portion counted as military is only 67,000, and is counted as follows:

"Operational" Ministry of Defense Forces:* [* Ministry of Defense Forces: Unauthorized absences personnel are not included in these numbers]

Army (including low-grade National Guard Forces
integrated into the Army in January                                 66,895
Air Force                                                                         186
Navy                                                                                521
Total Military                                                            67,602

Most of the Guard is still far too lightly equipped and trained to perform more than limited security missions, and only one operational battalion is something like the armor needed to fight in the highest threat areas. If one is counting manpower with some comparability to US forces the total is well below 67,602, and probably well below 20,000.

The rest of the 152,617 men are in the 85,015 "Trained and Equipped" men in the Ministry of Interior forces which at least one MNC reports actually include 30,000 men awaiting training.

Cordesman goes on to report that the good side of the picture is that the Iraqi regime has made "serious progress in generating the kind of Iraqi forces thatboth Iraq needs, and that can ease the problem of American overstretch."

The fact that only about 20,000 of the security personnel are fully-trained soldiers is not quite as discouraging a figure as it might appear.  To conduct a successful counterinsurgency war, Iraq would need military, paramilitary and police forces capable of a variety of tasks.  Cordesman also observes:

Far too much of the writing on Iraq ignores the fact that it is criminal activity that is the most serious day-today threat and concern of the Iraqi people, and that many forms of counterinsurgency are best carried out by police, gendarmerie, and other police forces.

However, a good point of comparison is the prewar level of Iraq's army, which included about 400,000 regular soldiers, not including the Republican Guard, police and domestic spies.  Even without a guerrilla war to fight, Iraq has a long border to patrol with potentially hostile neighbors on pretty much all of them: Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan.  Even assuming that a much smaller force would be needed for an Iraq with smaller regional ambitions than Saddams' regime, an army of 20,000 effectives isn't even close to what a peaceful Iraq living in favorable diplomatic conditions would require even without an active insurgency.

Since our Republican war fans and what we still generously call a "press corps" tend to process all Iraq news in terms of its affect on Republicans partisan posturing, I'll mention here that from my own particular perspective, I wish there was more actual progress happening on the "Iraqization" of the war effort.  I don't believe that anything much beneficial comes from having American troops in Iraq, and I would personally like to see them out as quickly as they could be withdrawn without unnecessarily endangering them during the process of withdrawal.

The quicker the American public believes that Iraq has sufficient forces, the greater the pressure will be on the administration through Congress to draw down the American forces.  So, in the most short-sighted pragmatic sense, critics of the war can find reason to cheer the administration's exaggerated propaganda about the massive Iraqi security forces being trained.

But, then, those of us old-fashioned types stuck in the "reality-based community" just find it difficult to look at things that way.  We still believe there is some value in trying to understand what's really going on.  Cordesman writes:

The key point as people rush out to talk about early exit strategies, and timelines for US withdrawal, is that creating Iraqi forces does not make them combat effective or capable of ending crime, and that it is far from clear how effective any given new element of Iraqi forces will be.

It is also still unclear how well the new US plan to help make up for a lack of combat experience, unit integrity, and leadership by placing large cadres of US advisors in new Iraqi units to train and "stiffen" them will really be.  There also is no unclassified plan for actual withdrawal from Iraq and giving it all of the heavy forces it needs.

In short, the MNC [the "Multinational" Command] and its training command need time and patience. Puffing up the very real good news with an inflated figure is almost certain to lead to demands to move too quickly and forget about quality and effectiveness.

Two other recent papers by Cordesman are available at the CSIS site.  One is Resources versus Strategy and Force Transformation:  Iraq and the Challenges of "American Overstretch"  04/12/05 (*.pdf file).  In Pentagonese, everyone talks about "transformation," which means in its broadest sense the use of current technology to improve the efficiency of US forces and to organize and staff them in the most appropriate way to meet emerging military challenges.  So discussions of those issues are often put in terms of their effect on "transformation."

Consequently, this paper is worded more in "coded" terms than others I've cited by Cordesman.  A lot of it requires translation.  For example:

Let’s begin with the mistakes we made in planning and conducting the [Iraq] war. We did demonstrate that we could fight the war we planned to fight: a conventional regional war with remarkable efficiency, at low cost, and very quickly. The problem was that we chose a strategy whose goals were unrealistic and impossible to achieve, and we only planned for the war we wanted to fight and not for what was almost certain to follow.

The fact we failed to plan effectively for stability operations and nation building is a major strategic mistake, and though it is not overstretch in the normal sense of term, it created much of today’s strain on our forces.

That is Pentagonspeak for saying, we were prepared to fight an essentially unilateral conventional war.  We were not prepared to fight a war of liberation that required an extended occupation, military government of the country for a period of months or years, and combatting a major insurgency.

In the bullet-points that follow, he does describe the disaster in more understable terms:

A State Department-led Interagency process proved able to diagnose many of the problems that were likely to emerge in Iraq, but failed to create an operational capability to deal with them in the field. Under pressure from neoconservative ideologues in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, we let the Interagency process collapse, and effectively excluded it from the actual execution of stability and national building operations in Iraq. At the same time, both the US military and Office of the Secretary of Defense chose to focus almost exclusively on the effort to defeat Iraq’s conventional forces, and planned for instant liberation and not for meaningful stability and national building operations.

We originally planned for a short period of occupation, with major reductions beginning three months after the fall of Saddam; did not have a meaningful plan for economic and military aid, and ignored the need to help the Iraqis deal with their lack of political experience and capable governance. As a result, virtually the entire effort had to be improvised after the fall of Saddam Hussein and after it became clear that our original approach, as exemplified in ORHA’s small staff and resources, was unworkable.

He also comments on the success of the staffing of Viceroy Jerry Bremer's occupation authority, which Steve Gilliard memorably characterized as "Young Republicans Abroad":

We recruited short-term civilian teams, many chosen for ideological and political reasons, and without area expertise to make up for the lack of trained and experienced personnel, and rotated by civilians and military through the country far too quickly to develop the expertise, interpersonal relations with Iraqis, and other skills they needed and then have the time to use them effectively.

In other words, they were unqualified for their jobs and useless in practice.

Oh, and that brilliant idea about outsourcing (or "privatizing") key support functions?

We tried to improvise a contractor approach to key elements of stability operations where it was clear that we did not have the talent necessary to manage the program and the contractors lacked core competence; and we then tried to force the contractors to hire mercenaries to protect themselves. (my emphasis)

Not to quibble, but under international law, nationals of an occupying power who act as soldiers-for-hire do not qualify as mercenaries.  If they violate local laws, they count as local criminals.

Going back to Pentagonese, Cordesman raises a critical point for the future:

There is an obvious danger in defining "overstretch" in terms of the requirements stability operations, nation building, and counterinsurgency have placed on US forces in Iraq. Simply planning our forces to deal with the problems of the last war is almost certain to ensure we are not ready for the different requirements that will emerge in the next one.

Translation: If the United States decides as a matter of policy that will are going to wage a series of Iraq War-style wars of liberation, aka preventive wars that are illegal under international law, the military as a practical matter needs to be staffed for that purpose.  On the other hand, if we are going to prusue the pre-Iraq War "no more Vietnams" policy, or something like it, in which we make it a point to avoid counterinsurgency wars - then we'd better not proceed with new wars of liberation like we did in Iraq.

Alot of that paper is dealing withsome broad questions of military policy, much of it in Pentagonese, including some budget numbers rather dubiously expressed as a percentage of US Gross Domestic Product.  What does it matter if our military spending is more or less as a percentage of GDP than in 1941 or 1971 or 2001?  The real question is, is there any sense whatsoever in the United States, with maybe 3% of the population of the earth, spending 50% of the military budgets of the entire world?

Cordesman is a very experienced analyst, though, even when he relies on arcane Pentagonspeak.  This kind of jumped out at me from one of his bullet points:  "The out of area capabilities of NATO will be politically and militarily limited even if NATO does not become an 'ala carte alliance.'" (my emphasis)  The "even if" clause indicates that he's working on an assumption that is rarely discussed so specifically in the mainstream press: that NATO as a functioning alliance may well be effectively dead.  I don't want to put words in his mouth here; he doesn't express it that way.  But that's my reading of the underlying assumption.

The other paper is Iraqi Force Development: The Challenges of Partnership in Nation-Building by Anthony Cordesman with the assistance of Patrick Baetjer and Stephen Lanier 04/07/05 (*.pdf file).  This one is long, and the title page notes that it is the draft of a book manuscript.  For this post, I'm going to include a long quotation from the first part of the paper, a section entitled "A Legacy of US Failure."  Just a wild guess, but I doubt you'll hear anything like this on FOX News or junkie bigot Rush Limbaugh's show.  Heck, or on CBS or NBC for that matter.  The emphases are mine:

This was a [US] failure to understand the strategic situation in Iraq and the realities of Iraqi politics. It was a failure at every level to prepare for a coordinated US effort at nation building. It was a failure by the US military to prepare for the military aspects of stability operations, and by the US State Department to recognize the need to create effective police forces. It was a failure to react to the growing reality of the insurgency in Iraq and for the need for Iraqi military, security, and police forces that could be true partners in fighting that threat.

These failures were partly failures driven by inexperience and by the wrong kinds of planning and doctrine. The US military was unprepared at the senior command level for counterinsurgency, and especially for forging serious partnership and interoperability with the new Iraqi forces it was seeking to create. The civil aid effort was organized around creating the wrong kind of police forces for a kind of nation building that could only take place in a far more permissive environment. Creating effective police and security forces for high-risk environments is a mission for which the State Department and USAID are unprepared and which should be part of an integrated effort linking the creation of effective military, security, and police forces.

No one who talked to the US advisors who served in the field from the earliest days of the advisory mission to the present can have anything other than respect for what they tried to do. They exhibit a deep concern for the forces they were training. The advisory teams saw the Iraqis as both partners and as people.

At higher levels, however, the US government and the US military were slow to react, and focused on US forces and US priorities. The end result was that the US inadvertently exploited a situation where Iraqis had no economic choice other than to volunteer, and sent them unprepared Iraqi forces into the field.

For political and other reasons, the Administration, CPA, and US command also came to emphasize manpower quantity over force quality in their initial reaction to a growing pattern of terrorism and insurgency. The end result was that far too often poorly prepared Iraqis were sent out to die.

And please note in the following paragraph that this is not Michael Moore or or any of the other groups that the Republican wing of the Democratic Party are bashing right now:

Ironically, this led to a flood of criticism by those who chose to ignore the fact that Iraqis were far more vulnerable and less prepared than Coalition troops and faced far more serious shortfalls in equipment than US and British forces. The fact that Iraqi forces had experienced failure after failure under such conditions was inevitable, and the fact that some died as a result of US incompetence and neglect is little more than the equivalent of bureaucratic murder. The men did not fail the system; the system failed the men.

Yes,  he said "little more than the equivalent of bureacratic murder."  Gee, I wonder why Moqtada Sadr could bring out hundreds of thousands of people into the streets in Baghdad the other day to pull down effigies of George Bush and Tony Blair along with one of Saddam Hussein and to demand that the US leave their country?  They hate us for our freedoms, I guess.

This is why it pays to give some attention to what military analysts who are trying to look seriously at the pragmatic lessons of the Iraq War and other conflicts are really saying.  It often is radically different from the puffery we hear from our more-patriotic-than-thou war-loving ideologues.

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