Thursday, September 01, 2005

Brooks Talks Krepinevich

The New York Times' David Brooks is just wild about Andrew Krepinevich's proposal to adopt an "oil spot" strategy in Iraq.

"The strategy has one virtue," Brooks says. "It might work."

Yeah. And it might not.

In either case, it will take us at least another decade to find out.

If that's "virtue," cigarettes are a cure for lung cancer.


As Dr. Krepinevich describes in his now celebrated article "How to Win in Iraq," an "oil spot" strategy is the opposite of search-and-destroy tactics our troops presently pursue.
Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot. Such a strategy would have a good chance of success.

...It would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels than are engaged at present.

One has to wonder if Dr. Krepinevich has been watching the same war as the rest of us. At current force levels, we can't secure Iraq's capital city, or the road from downtown Baghdad to the airport. How are we going to secure other "key areas" with "lower force levels than are engaged at present?"


Part of the appeal of the "oil spot" approach for Brooks and others is that the British used in successfully in Malaya in the 1950s. We can argue indefinitely about how "successful" that operation actually was. But more importantly, everybody needs to wake up to a harsh reality of warfare: there is no such thing as a "proven" strategy.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn't repeat itself, though it often rhymes. Just because the present situation in Iraq sort of sounds like what went on in Malaya half a century ago, it is not identical. In fact, there are more differences than similarities.

And no strategy is ever exactly duplicated. We used an oil spot strategy in Vietnam called the "strategic hamlet" concept, and it didn't work for the same reason it's not likely to work in Iraq. You can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. Yesterday's friend is tomorrow's foe.


Referring to the prospect of higher casualties and enduring military presence, Krepinevich says, "If U.S. policy makers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly."

He describes creating a "democrat Iraq" as a "goal." What he doesn't tell us is that a democratic Iraq is merely an enabling objective (a "decisive point" in military art jargon) to the ultimate--and unspoken--war aim: a permanent base of operations in the heart of the Middle East from which we can control the region and its oil reserves.

This is the choice Krepinevich is really talking about: America can settle for something short of permanent military control of the oil in that part of the world,


...Commit to another ten years or more of war at roughly the same intensity and cost we've experienced so far.

The administration realizes that Americans are unlikely to support the latter option, which is precisely why Mister Bush has not presented our choices (and our real goals) in plain language.

But if Americans were to decide to "stay the course" for an unlimited duration, there's no rational reason to believe that Dr. Krepinevich's oil spot strategy would work any better than what Rumsfeld and his field generals have our troops doing now.

And there's even less reason to expect that another decade or so of conflict will produce a better situation in Iraq and the Middle East than we would have had if we'd just waited for Saddam Hussein to die of old age.


  1. Since Bush has boxed himself into a corner politically, I don't see any result but further chaos in the Middle East, a serious meltdown in the U.S. military, and dire economic repercussions in the U.S. I'd be glad to see my concerns are unfounded but I'm not optimistic.

  2. Your concerns are not unfounded.