John Robb on Iraq and the Taliban Victory in Swat

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 5 months ago

For those who follow John Robb at Global Guerrillas, John turns our head with a couple of recent posts, and they are related (the mistaken narrative in the first informs the view in the second).  First, Robb conveys some strange musings on Iraq and the lack of applicability of our experience there to Afghanistan.

Perversely, the US military doesn’t see what happened in Iraq as luck.  Revisionist history is now attributing it to the successful application of COIN doctrine and secret weapons (arg!).  As a result of these assumption errors, it isn’t using the lull in the conflict as a window of opportunity to withdraw.  This would be the smart thing to do given the fiscal crunch in the US.

The second pertains to the Pakistan’s truce with the Taliban in Swat.

To the extent there is an upside,

  1. Open warfare will slow, curtailing the bad effects of a unpopular guerrilla war on Pakistan’s military.
  2. These groups can now be negotiated with, since it is likely that by giving these Islamic groups local control, it forces them into a position of defending gains.  They now have something to lose.
  3. Internal opposition will mount as these Islamic groups over reach with their application of Sharia.

Attaboy!  Only John Robb could find good in the settlement with the Taliban and bad in the success in Iraq.  Let’s unpack this a bit.  But stay tuned for some personal revelations on this ridiculous notion of luck (and maybe a bit more)!

First off, Robb assumes that the Taliban have no global interests and will negotiate in good faith.  The past three years in Pakistan have shown this to be a false axiom, and we have discussed this in our own articles.  Says Baitullah Mehsud,

“We want to eradicate Britain and America, and to shatter the arrogance and tyranny of the infidels. We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

The second point is just as important and related to both his comment on Swat and his view of the successes in Iraq.  It is absolutely critical to get the correct narrative on Iraq.  Without it the wrong lessons will be learned and thus will become institutional obstacles rather than tools.

The Captain is a Calvinist, and so to The Captain’s Journal, luck doesn’t exist.  But without a doubt The Captain’s Journal has many readers who do not see things through the lens of the Calvinian perspective.  But those who don’t can’t define luck in a philosophically defensible way.  Luck is something that is without power and lacking as a causative agent.  Luck doesn’t effect change or cause things to happen.  “Luck” is what people say when they haven’t thought clearly enough about it to say what really happened.  Luck is when people throw up their hands and refuse to think any further because they are mentally lazy or their system is philosophically bankrupt.

But Robb isn’t really lazy, and he doesn’t ascribe the success to something nonexistent.  He is just using the term loosely.  Writers and analysts shouldn’t do that.  Earlier in the article he summarizes what he believes happened in Iraq.

… a low level civil war that put two front pressure on guerrilla groups, a commander (Petaeus) that was able to abandon doctrine in favor of developments taking place on the ground (local commanders reporting that Sunni tribal groups were willing to work with the US), [creating] a crack in the Iraqi open source insurgency that enabled the US military to turn hundreds of guerrilla/tribal groups into US funded/armed militias.

It’s all about the tribes to Robb.  The tribes were a significant part of the turnaround in Anbar, to be sure, but without the proper context this narrative can be misleading.  As we have discussed before, Colonel MacFarland noted the state of the tribes upon his arrival to Anbar.

… the sheiks were sitting on the fence.

They were not sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but they tolerated its members, MacFarland says.

The sheiks’ outlook had been shaped by watching an earlier clash between Iraqi nationalists — primarily former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party — and hard-core al-Qaeda operatives who were a mix of foreign fighters and Iraqis. Al-Qaeda beat the nationalists. That rattled the sheiks.

“Al-Qaeda just mopped up the floor with those guys,” he says.

Similarly, Abu Ahmed in al Qaim, Iraq (the Western part of Anbar), lost to al Qaeda until the U.S. Marines joined the fight at his behest.  The tribe-only approach to the success in Iraq, or in other words, the either-or approach to the narrative, is flawed in that it fails to recognize the symbiotic connection between the indigenous and U.S. forces.  No one “reported” that the tribes were willing to work with the U.S. forces as if waiting for approval.  U.S. forces worked with tribal sheikhs from the beginning in Anbar, and this persistence it eventually paid off.  Rather than either-or, it was both-and.

With a foreign army (referring to al Qaeda) having invaded Anbar, the tribes needed another army to help drive it away.  Without a functional Iraqi army, they turned to the U.S. forces.  Similarly, the tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan will not be able to drive out the Taliban alone.  Force projection and strength are required.

This is the crucial point where Robb fails to grasp the fundamental nature of the problem with the Taliban and al Qaeda.  He reaches the stunning and inverted conclusion that having achieved victory is the only thing that will bring the Taliban to the bargaining table, and that the circumstances alone will defeat the insurgency.  This coheres with Robb’s usual position that insurgencies cannot be defeated.  Getting the narrative wrong is perilous, and lessons learned and applied can only redound to success when they are the right lessons.

Prior: The Anbar Narrative

You are currently reading "John Robb on Iraq and the Taliban Victory in Swat", entry #2292 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Tehrik-i-Taliban,The Anbar Narrative and was published March 1st, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (677)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (31)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (7)
Ammunition (22)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (66)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (41)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (49)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (17)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (5)
Body Armor (17)
Books (2)
Border War (7)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (27)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (2)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (8)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (215)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (122)
Department of Homeland Security (13)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (6)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (3)
Featured (176)
Federal Firearms Laws (17)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (451)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (40)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (400)
Guns (936)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (45)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (38)
Islamists (58)
Israel (18)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (78)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (49)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (240)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
Media (23)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (23)
Mexico (30)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (10)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (17)
NATO (15)
Navy (20)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (216)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (28)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (2)
Police (201)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (238)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (106)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (28)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (158)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (24)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (2)
Survival (12)
SWAT Raids (53)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (92)
Thanksgiving (5)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (12)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (5)
U.S. Border Security (13)
U.S. Sovereignty (14)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (3)
Uncategorized (42)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (3)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (17)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2016 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.