4 years, 11 months ago
In Concerning the U.S.-Iraq Security Arrangement we discussed the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq over exactly what the U.S. force presence should look like in the future. We concluded with the position that an empowered Iran would result from a rapid stand-down of U.S. forces in Iraq, and that a once-in-a generation opportunity existed to impede Iranian intentions of hegemony by our continued existence in Iraq.
I’ve been helped in thinking about the future of Iraq by conversations over the past week with Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer and an expert in counterinsurgency. He was a key member of the team that drafted Gen. David Petraeus’s Iraq campaign plan. He was speaking in a private capacity at an academic conference sponsored by the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies — and he stressed that he was offering ideas about the future, rather than a critique of past or present strategy.
Kilcullen’s key point is that we need to use the breathing space the surge has created to transition to a presence in Iraq that is less costly and more sustainable. By congressional estimates, we’re spending about $400 million a day on the war; at that rate, we are walking into the trap Osama bin Laden described in 2004, when he said he wanted to draw us so deep into conflict that we would eventually leave the region exhausted and bankrupt, the way the Soviets departed Afghanistan.
Kilcullen argues, as Abizaid did, that our heavy military occupation of Iraq has created enemies unnecessarily. It’s human nature: People don’t like to see another country’s army patrolling their streets. It’s the “antibody response,” he says. “Our large-scale presence, although essential for current stability, also creates an angry reaction — and therefore can’t be a permanent solution. We need to focus on what General Petraeus has called ‘sustainable security.’ ”
The alternative to our big, uniformed force in Iraq is a lighter, smaller, more nimble residual force. This force could concentrate on the tasks that most Iraqis and Americans seem to think are sensible — fighting al-Qaeda terrorists and training the Iraqi military and other proxy forces. “Over the long run, we need to go cheap, quiet, low-footprint,” argues Kilcullen.
Is The Captain’s Journal out of accord with Kilcullen? Not by a long shot. In fact, we heartily concur with Kilcullen’s position, as any regular reader knows (see Observations on Timeliness from the Small Wars Manual, where we feared that the protracted operations were leading to the perception of the U.S. as occupier rather than liberator).
There are seasons in counterinsurgency, and a finite period of time in which to accomplish certain important milestones and results. We were advocating the “surge” and “security plan” from the inception of The Captain’s Journal. We have also been among the first to raise warning flags about Operation Enduring Freedom, advocating vigorously for more troops, a change in rules of engagement for NATO troops, and a comprehensive strategic approach.
This buildup of troops, we have known for some time, could only come from a decrease in troop presence in Iraq. But we also know that after pacification of parts of Iraq and standing up the internal Iraqi system, further troops presence would only cause a diminution of the view of the U.S. mission among Iraqis. The Marines in Anbar should be standing down very soon, if they haven’t already. The season of combat is over, the season of transition teams and proper governance is in full swing, and even that will be standing down soon.
We advocated more rapid confrontation of the problematic Shi’a South for the same reasons that we advocated a rapid buildup in Afghanistan. Seasons run their own course, and cannot be repeated or slowed. Kilcullen is right on the money concerning footprint. It should have started large in Iraq, and had to wait on the surge. It will end small, but the very concerns we are addressing here speak volumes about the campaign in Afghanistan which is older than Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It is necessary to end with the right force size and mission in Iraq, and this doesn’t mean complete withdrawal any more than it means continued heavy force projection. The campaign in Afghanistan has yet to see the right size force.