Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Fog and Friction of War and Politics

In politics, as in war, the Clausewitzean concepts of fog and friction apply. We can't always see ground truth, and things seldom work out the way they're supposed to.

The similarity between war and politics is a natural occurrence. War is, after all, a political act. But wars don't get much more political than the one we're currently conducting in Iraq, and we've seldom seen this amount of fog and friction in U.S. and global politics.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a GOP backed "non-binding" bill that rejected any withdrawal timeline. Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected two amendments to the defense bill proposed by Democrats that called for things that were described by Republicans as "timelines."

And then…

The Iraqi government announced its plan that calls for, among other things, a timeline for withdrawal of foreign troops.

And shortly after that…

General George Casey, U.S. commander of coalition forces in Iraq, announced his plan for sharp U.S. troop level reductions by the end of 2007.

And Sunday morning on Meet the Press, Senator Russ Feingold (D Wisconsin) said that Casey's plan sounds almost exactly like the amendment he proposed that the Senate defeated.

Are we staying and playing or cutting and running?

The Best of Both Buzz Phrases

In December 2005, Congressman Jack Murtha (D Pennsylvania) said "It is time for Iraqi leaders to take control of the future of their country."

During his surprise visit to Iraq two weeks ago, Mister Bush told Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that, "Iraq's future is in your hands."

Does anyone else suspect that for all their animosity over the Iraq issue, the Dems and the GOPers are actually pretty much on the same page?

Hopefully, everyone understands by now that there will not be an "end" to our military presence in Iraq for a very long time--probably decades. Most likely, we'll wind up with a posture that looks like a combination of Jack Murtha's redeployment plan and young Mister Bush's "stay the course." We'll keep an over the horizon Marine force embarked on amphibious ships in the Gulf, Army forces in peripheral countries like Kuwait, and some amount of ground presence in Iraq itself.

As for "permanent" or "enduring" bases in Iraq, well, yeah, we'll pretty much have to do that; partly because whatever number of troops we keep in Iraq will need a safe place to stay and partly because if the redeployed troops on the periphery need to un-redeploy, they'll need a place to stage out of.

In that light, despite the pre-election political posturing going on in the U.S., I think the roadmap is already drawn.

There are, however, two major bumps in the road that political types in both America and Iraq will need to navigate around. Malaki's proposed 28 point deal with Iraq's internal insurgent groups seeks to embrace them and isolate the relatively small al Qaeda affiliated terrorist forces located in that country. But a couple of those points are sticking in the craw of American politicians from both sides of the aisle.

The point everyone is talking about is the offer of amnesty to insurgents who attacked occupying coalition forces. I'm not entirely wild about the idea, but think that from an Iraqi perspective, it makes a lot of sense. If they're going to form a true unity government, they're going to have to make some concessions to factions that acted, at least from their perspectives, as "freedom fighters."

The other contentious point that's still flying under the radar is the one that promises an end to coalition anti-terrorist operations in insurgency strongholds. That essentially puts the U.S. military commander under control of the Iraqi government, limiting his freedom of action. He can only conduct offensive operations sanctioned by the Iraqis or purely defensive operations in defense of his own troops. When our force's primary mission is to defend itself we're back in a Beirut situation. The troops are in harm's way with no objective, and shouldn't be there.

The Moral of the Story

Senator Chuck Hagel (R Nebraska) is talking to Wolf Blitzer, saying that the future of Iraq is up to the Iraqi people, and that his party's "cut and run" rhetoric is self defeating palaver. Good for him.

I'm of the camp that says whatever moral obligation we had to the Iraqi's for breaking their flowerpot has been met. If they want to descend into an internal Hobbesian war, that's on their moral scorecard.

Protecting Iraq from an external invasion is another matter. Having taken their country down to parade rest, we certainly owe them protection a coordinated attack by, say, Syria and Iran . But such an attack is highly unlikely. Having observed the mightiest nation with the mightiest military in human history bog down into a quagmire in Iraq, why would any third-rate country care to repeat the experience? If Iraq comes under the influence of neighboring countries like Iran, that influence will more likely be of a diplomatic and economic nature.

Even if Iraq's neighbors turn irrational--which I don't believe they will, however often the war hawk right may describe them as psychopaths--and consider bringing military force to bear against it, the kinds of peripheral troop redeployment that Murtha describes will be more than enough to deter such an action. (Keep in mind that over the last few decades the Middle Eastern nations have decisively illustrated that when it comes to conducting combat operations, their militaries suck.)

Expect to see a lot more political vitriol on what to do about the Iraq situation. But don't expect to see anything done about it that looks a whole lot different from what Jack Murtha proposed in December of 2005.

It's just a matter of how much more political fog and friction the American public is willing to put up with before the inevitable happens.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his weekday commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Good commentary, and as always I agree with 99% of what you write, because it passes both the logic and reality tests.

    I do take some minor quibbling exception to your statement that Iran and Syria, having observed the Chinese firedrill of American occupation, want no part of external invasion of Iraq. On the contrary, I have a sneaking suspicion that such an invasion (after the inevitable repeat of Saigon, 1975) would be greeted with flowers and candy. Mind you, just the professional pessimism the US Army built into me.

    Unification. Allah. Sexy.

  2. Lurch,

    Anything's possible, but we've heard that "greeted with flowers and candy" stuff before. It seems to me that if they really thought they'd be greeted like that, they'd realize they didn't really need to invade.

  3. Oh, I'd also say that the Saigon and Iraq situations are too different to use the former as a case study to predict what might happen in the latter.

    But I'm certainly looking forward to hearing any and all further thoughts you have on the matter.

  4. Is the Saipan in the Gulf?

  5. Don't know for sure, Gus. I'll see if I can find something on it.

  6. If we end up doing what Murtha suggested, then so much the better. And speaking of Murtha, I've had my fill of seeing him get slammed by conservative talking heads. There was a local guy on the radio this morning who said (and I'm paraphrasing) that whatever else Murtha is, he's no longer a Marine, and that he's betrayed the nation and the Corp.

    What? Murtha spent something like 37 or 38 years in the Marines. That's a long time spent in service to this country and its armed forces, and he has continued to support the armed forces throughout his tenure in Congress. What has this radio commentator done besides blow hot air into a microphone.

    Damn that really made me angry. I tried to call in, but couldn't get through the phone lines. The most pathetic commentary on the whole thing was that most callers were agreeing with the host.

    Back to your post, Jeff - do you really think we'll be in Iraq for decades? It seems to me at some point the people there are going to demand their government ask us to leave, and if they do we'll have little choice but to listen to them.

  7. Jeff, I know you've perused the "Sensitive" cable sent to StateSec Condi Rice by the US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. If notm it is available here:

    I remember, but cannot cite, commentary that an earlier cable, Khalilzad to Rice stated that quite a few local embassy employees had expressed concerns that they would be abandoned when the Americans pulled out.

    Just because we're building a larger enbassy this time, and made it into a reinforced concrete fortress, complete with integral power supply, food storage, on-campus residential facilities and a helicopter field, don't presume we won't be fighting off hysterical and desperate Iraqis when the time comes, and we are "asked" to leave.

    Logic impels me to believe we will be leaving one day, and probably quite abruptly. Innate pessimism tells me we will be leaving, because Bu$hCo would screw up a two car auto accident.

  8. When the time comes, there will be no rebellion on the Right. Their Party commissars will tell them that today the chocolate ration has been raised to 5 grams, and they will utterly forget that yesterday the chocolate ration was 6 grams. That's how they work. They tune in to their Party commissars (you know, Rush, Malkin, Faux News, that bunch?), who tell them what to believe today. It could be 100% different from what they believed yesterday. That doesn't matter.

    - Badtux the Orwell-reading Penguin