The Long Range Iraq Plan and its Critics

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

The broad outlines of the long range plan being formalized by senior military leadership was divulged several days ago.  The plan includes an extension of force deployment in Iraq to provide security, along with pressure on the government and various political and religious factions to resolve differences.

Fred Kaplan weighed in on the plan at Slate in an article entitled Interesting But Doomed: Why Petraeus’ Ingtriguing New Iraq Strategy Will Probably Fail.  The plan has numerous critics, but Kaplan’s most recent article warrants close study, including (we think) at the same time both misperception and compelling argument.  In order to mine his complex thoughts on the matter, his article will be cited at length, followed up by commentary and analysis.  Kaplan writes:

If the U.S. military had, say, 100,000 more troops to send and another 10 years to keep them there; if the Iraqi security forces (especially the Iraqi police) were as skilled and, more important, as loyal to the Iraqi nation (as opposed to their ethnic sects) as many had hoped they would be by now; if the Iraqi government were a governing entity, as opposed to a ramshackle assemblage that can barely form a quorum—then maybe, maybe, this plan might have a chance.

But under the circumstances, it seems unlikely. One officer who’s familiar with Iraq planning put it this way to me: “No one who understands the situation is optimistic. I think the division among those who have thought deeply about the situation is mainly between those who are still fighting and trying to influence the outcome and those who have concluded that the principal objective must now become disengagement.”

Kaplan outlines in broad form the known problems with the Iraqi government and culture, and then summarizes his opening remarks by citing bleak insider views about the situation.  Then he gets specific.

First, to define “localized security” as including “Baghdad and other areas” is to finesse the major challenge. Securing Baghdad and securing “other areas” have long been considered two separate goals. The former involves pacifying the capital, to give the national politicians enough “breathing room” to make their deals. The latter involves keeping the rest of the country—or at least the major cities—sufficiently secure that democratic politics can function from the ground up as well as from the top down. Ever since late last year, when President Bush ordered the “surge” and hired Gen. Petraeus to create a counterinsurgency strategy, the plan has involved securing the capital and the provinces simultaneously.

The problem—a familiar one—is that we don’t have enough troops to do this all at once. No one who has seriously analyzed the problem ever believed that a “surge” of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. combat troops would be sufficient. It was assumed from the outset that at least two or three times that many would have to come from the Iraqi army (whose soldiers, furthermore, would have to take the lead in many operations) and the Iraqi police (who would need to maintain order once the troops seized new territory).

Yet Iraqi forces have not materialized in anything like the necessary numbers. Many army units are infiltrated with sectarian militiamen. Many, if not most, police units are thoroughly corrupted.

The second, “intermediate” phase of the plan is more intriguing, but ultimately unpersuasive. For a few months now, U.S. field commanders have formed alliances with Sunni tribesmen, especially in Anbar province, for the common goal of crushing jihadists. The new plan, as the Times puts it, is “to stitch together such local arrangements to establish a broader sense of security on a nationwide basis.”

But in these alliances, we’re dealing with tribesmen who are cooperating with us for a common goal. It is not at all clear on what basis these various local Sunni factions can be stitched together into some seamless security quilt—or why, because they’ve agreed to help us kill jihadists, they might suddenly agree to stop killing Shiites, compromise their larger ambitions, redirect their passions into peaceful politics, and settle into a minority party’s status within a unified government.

Kaplan has within a few words hit on three salient themes: (1) force size, (2) ‘whack-a-mole’ counterinsurgency, and (3) the inability to utilize Iraqi security forces and police to assist in the COIN campaign due to corruption and sectarian divisions.  Kaplan then targets the strategy of alliance with the Anbar tribal leaders and explains why he believes that this ultimately will fail (or at least, most probably will fail).

Alliances of convenience rarely outlive their immediate aims. Josef Stalin formed an alliance with the United States and Britain for the purpose of defeating Nazi Germany. But once the war was over, he had no interest in integrating the Soviet Union into the Western economic system.

The idea of extending the alliances may have come, in part, from Stephen Biddle, a military historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who, according to the Times, was a member of the “Joint Strategic Assessment Team” that helped conceive the new U.S. strategy.

In a July 12 interview at the Council, conducted by Bernard Gwertzman, Biddle said that the only way to secure all of Iraq is “to negotiate a series of cease-fire deals with Iraq’s current combatants in which, even though they retain the ability to fight, they decide it’s in their own self-interest to … decline to fight.”

He referred to Anbar as “a model” for this concept, and added, “There are now similar negotiations ongoing in a variety of other places around Iraq.” In Anbar, he said, the alliance “dropped into our lap”; the Sunni sheiks came to us and asked for help. “If it’s going to happen elsewhere, we’re going to have to take a more proactive role. … We have to start using the military not as a device to secure everything uniformly but as a device for creating incentives and disincentives—sticks and carrots—to push along the process of local cease-fires with particular factions.” For instance, he said, we would have to tell each faction: “We will defend you if you cooperate; if you don’t cooperate, we will attack you” …

Some set of “sticks and carrots” could conceivably extend the alliances of convenience into a sustained cease-fire of normal democratic politics. But if so, the deal would have to be hammered out by a recognized government in Baghdad. Neither Gen. Petraeus nor Ambassador Crocker (nor, for that matter, President Bush) has the political authority to make such a deal—much less the military firepower to enforce it.

Analysis &  Commentary

Stephen Biddle notwithstanding, reconciliation with the indigenous insurgency in Anbar has been ongoing for quite a while.  It is absurd to claim that the peace between the Anbar tribes and U.S. forces merely “dropped into our lap.”  As we observed in Al Qaeda, Indigenous Sunnis and the Insurgency in Iraq:

… terrorization of the population (and competing groups) managed to achieve its goal of keeping the population in submission, at least until the Marines prevailed over the course of several years at hunting down and killing many of the rogue elements.  It has been observed that  

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You are currently reading "The Long Range Iraq Plan and its Critics", entry #561 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,Islamic Facism,The Long War and was published July 30th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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