9 years ago
In my judgment, it is inadvisable to speak in superlatives regarding a military engagement such as the one in which we are involved in Iraq, such as: “if we’ll just do this we can win,” or “if we do that we’ll lose,” or “the insurgency is comprised of exactly this group of people.” This includes the idea that there is such a thing as a typical insurgency and the idea that Iraq is precisely at civil war. As we have seen, the scene in Iraq is a nasty brew of many problems, including lack of reconciliation between competing political groups, 1000 or more years of hatred among religious sects, foreign fighters such as AQI and AAS, suicide bombers who have as their motivation religious commitments, and power grabs by legitimate tribal communities and illegitimate criminals, thugs and other rogue elements. So it is with some suspicion that I initially read Stephen Biddle’s analysis of the situation in Iraq. However, he makes some interesting points, and his commentary is worth studying.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Biddle, you just returned from a four week stay in Baghdad where you had been asked to advise General Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq. Did you come back with a sense that he has a workable idea on how to improve the situation in Iraq?
Stephen Biddle: I am very impressed with the general’s ability. I think he is an extremely able public servant. If anyone is able to make the best of this, it’s him.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: General Petraeus is known to be an expert in counter insurgency. In fact the entire administration seems to think that this should be the focus. You on the other hand have argued that counter insurgency is not what is needed in Iraq. Why?
Biddle: A classical ideological insurgency is a war of ideas in which a sub-national group is challenging the ideas by which the government runs the country. In this kind of war of ideas, you can in principle win by changing people’s ideas. Given that, the classical strategy for waging counter insurgency is oriented around winning hearts and minds. You engage in a process of political reform in which you introduce democracy to make the government’s ideas legitimate. You engage in a campaign of economic development assistance. And you try and train an indigenous military to wage the war. All those strategies are what the Bush Administration’s approach to Iraq has been. They make some sense, if the problem you are trying to solve is a classical ideological insurgency. Except, Iraq is not.
Continue reading Stephen Biddle’s analysis at Spiegel Online: Why There is No Insurgency in Iraq.