Monday, December 18, 2006

Iraq: Choosing More Victory

Also at Kos.

During a farewell ceremony at the Pentagon last week, Dick Cheney called outgoing cabinet member Donald Rumsfeld the best Secretary of Defense the United States ever had. Apparently, no one in the audience laughed, a sign that sanity has yet to be restored at the Pentagon.

Nor does sanity regarding what to do about the situation in Iraq seem to be busting out all over Washington D.C. On Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopolous, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) that he might "go along" with a plan to add more troops in Baghdad as long as "it's part of a program" to get U.S. troops out of Iraq by some time next year.

I don't think putting more troops in Baghdad is a sound strategy for getting all the troops out of Iraq, and I don't think it's intended to be.

The Baghdad strategy, which Mister Bush is rumored to be favoring, is based on a report titled "Choosing Victory: a Plan for Success in Iraq" prepared for the America Enterprise Institute (AEI) by Frederick Kagan. The AEI is a neoconservative think tank closely associated with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Kagan, a former professor of military history at West Point, has a long association with both AEI and PNAC. His brother Robert Kagan is a confederate of PNAC founder and Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol. Bob Kagan, Kristol, and others in the neocon-controlled media are touting Fred Kagan's "fundamentally simple" plan as the one that can "succeed."

I'm skeptical of this "plan for success" on two counts. First is that it's coming from the very people who pushed us into this quagmire. Second is that Fred Kagan's plan is a compendium of the same kinds of glittering generalities, appeals to emotion, questionable assumptions and PowerPoint aphorisms we've been listening to all along.

Fools, Fanatics and Familiar Phrases

"Victory is still an option" Fred Kagan claims in the opening of the executive summary to "Choosing Victory." America, after all, has more than ten times the population of Iraq, and America's economy is greater than Iraq's by orders of magnitude, and we have more than a million soldiers and Marines that can "regain control" of the war torn country.

That sounds encouraging, and it might mean something if we were actually at war with Iraq, but we are not. Iraq is at war with itself, and our troops are stuck in the middle of it. America's population, the size of its gross domestic product, and numbers of personnel under arms in its service serve little purpose when it comes to saving a smaller country from imploding on itself.

"Victory in Iraq is vital to America’s security," Kagan says. "Defeat will lead to regional conflict, humanitarian catastrophe, and increased global terrorism."

We already have regional conflict in the Middle East, and humanitarian catastrophe as well. Global terrorism has already increased. And these things have all occurred subsequent to our occupation of Iraq. Increasing the size of the occupation is more likely to expand the regional conflict, humanitarian catastrophe and global terrorism than it is to diminish any of those things.

In a conflict like the one we presently experience in Iraq, the terms "victory" and "defeat" have no real meaning. Tactical success against pockets of guerilla forces do not produce a political "win," and nobody is going to coerce our troops into laying down their weapons and letting themselves be led on a Bataan-style death march. Nor will Mister Bush and Congress have to submit to terms of surrender.

Kagan's Junk Art of War

Fred Kagan alternately describes Baghdad as the "decisive factor" and the "center of gravity" in the Iraq conflict. In the scholarship and practice of military art, these two terms are so ubiquitous and so vaguely defined that they're next to meaningless. A discussion of the proper use and application such warfare terms is enough to put the entire student body of a service war college into coma for the rest of the semester, so I'll spare you my lecture on the subject other than to say that Kagan is so far off base a six-year old sitting in the bleachers could pick him off at first.

Put in real person terms, Kagan insists that control of Baghdad is the key to victory in Iraq--an assumption that is questionable at best.

Kagan argues that the most pressing need in Iraq is to establish a secure environment for the population, and that Iraqi forces cannot establish that. I agree with that a great extent, but am not convinced that control of Baghdad can accomplish that goal.

The obstacle to security in Iraq is the amorphous collection of militias, terrorists and miscellaneous criminals and evil-doers presently operating in that country. If positioning significant U.S. troop presence in Baghdad could lure all those disparate groups of combatants into the city to conduct an all-or-nothing, win or lose decisive battle, then Kagan's idea might have some merit.

But that won't happen. Guerilla fighters know better than to offer decisive battle to superior conventional forces. The most likely outcome of an insertion of more U.S. forces into Baghdad will be that the guerillas will pack up and disappear, and regroup in places like Ramadi and Fallujah, where we've already played this cat roping rodeo game. And what happens then? We send all our extra cowboys from Baghdad to round up the cats in the provinces, and the cats all come back to Baghdad, and we start all over again?

We've been there. We've done that. And lamentably, thanks to the machinations of Fred Kagan and the rest of the core neocon cabal, it looks like we may go there and do it again.


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


  1. Anonymous2:38 PM

    *A discussion of the proper use and application such warfare terms is enough to put the entire student body of a service war college into coma for the rest of the semester...*

    Too late. Kagen's class was a snoozer, always.

    Not that I would know......

  2. Care to share any more details? ;-)

  3. Anonymous4:34 PM

    Not only that , but the locals are getting wise & cunning The IED tech is getting quite impressive, causing real losses. I do not see any discussion on how to counter that problem.....

  4. We need to start playing by the *real* Pottery Barn rules. If you go into Pottery Barn and start breaking stuff because you're a clumsy blind oaf who stumbles over your own feet and keep lurching into the displays, they don't make you stick around and fix what you broke. No, they hustle you out the doorway as quickly as they can, handing you a bill while doing so, and then fix it themselves. Because they know far more about fixing or replacing broken dishes than you ever will. If we were following the real Pottery Barn rules, we'd be out of Iraq, and handing over some dough to pay for the damage that our soldiers ineptly thrashing about looking for insurgents has done to the country. (And before you call me "anti-troop", our Army is designed to kill enemies of our nation, not as a police force... asking them to be a police force results in what we see in Iraq, because policing is totally different from killing people, most cops spend their entire career without ever removing their pistol from its holster).

    The first rule when you're stuck in a hole and can't get out is, "stop digging!". It appears, alas, that Kagen's answer is "Start digging deeper, and eventually you'll come out in China and be out of the hole!". Err, not exactly...

    - BT

  5. Anonymous5:11 PM

    Hi Jeff, Redroach here. Fred Reed's got a good take on this:

  6. Anonymous5:39 PM

    "The first rule when you're stuck in a hole and can't get out is, "stop digging!". It appears, alas, that Kagen's answer is "Start digging deeper, and eventually you'll come out in China and be out of the hole!". Err, not exactly..."

    Actually, when Mr. Kagan digs straight down from Bagdad, he will come out in the middle of the south Pacific, and will immediately drown.....

  7. Thanks, as always, to everyone for conributing to the discussion. Much appreciated at my end.



  8. Kagan and the other PNAC'ers need to take up arms go over to Iraq and do the dirty deed themselves!

  9. Amen! After reading over and over again about how I don't get "it" its nice to read some common sense ideas for a change.........

    Greetings from a fellow (former) hummer guy!

  10. SOS,

    Never happen.


    It's been my observation that people who tell you you don't get it can't explain it to because they don't get it themselves.

    Good to hear from another hummer guy.

  11. Fred Kagan's approach is the same one as the guy using spray adhesive and duct tape to fix a leaky faucet: "Hey! it's leaking someplace else now! Spray more! and faster! That'll fix it!"

  12. Anonymous12:38 PM

    So there's really no good way out of this. It's like a bad dream. Either we stay (and surge) playing whack-a-mole and the evil-doers melt away until we leave. Or we leave now and our global credibility is shot (unless it is already?).

  13. Jeff,

    In a nutshell, my friend.


    I'd say there's no great way out of this, no "victory." There are good options, the best of which I've seen is Murtha's idea of redeploying to the periphere, one that Rumsfeld himself suggested might be the way to go just before he resigned.


  14. Anonymous2:35 PM

    Jeff, maybe that's one of the reasons why Rumsfeld was dumped. His new view or realization of such an option (a Come to Murtha Moment?) was so at odds with what the president et al believe that W had no choice, in his own mind, but to demand his resignation.

    A thought.

  15. Anonymous1:54 PM

    The really interesting question is: What does the Decider in Chief actually mean? What is the plan? He`s obviously going for a limited "surge"-option to buy some time, the question is what he is buying time for. Is it simply to pass the buck onto the next administration? Personally, i think so, I think that the prez is quite comfortable with loosing a couple a soldiers a day and running up bills for his friends in the military industry. Heck he sleeps well at night, as he says himself.

    You`ve come to the Sun-King stage of the play now, with Mad King George sitting in the ruins of his Grand Aspirations, all alone in his madness, surrounded by sychophants. Don`t be surprised if Cheney has a mild heart-attack that allows him to leave the stage due to health-problems round about now.

    And dont be surprised if Al Quaeda is mobilizing to hit your mainland again. If I was a guerilla-leader fighting the Empire, I would deliver a punch just about now, with the enemy overextended and the pockets of resistance already formed. Theres no way in hell the US could invade Waziristan or the North West-territories now, so the real enemy has a good solid base inside Pakistan. And over there, the ones who have returned from Gitmo are folk-heroes and the stuff of legend.

  16. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Ah, yes. Fred "I'm shaped like a ham hock" Kagan. The guy's a regular McNamara--all charts and numbers, but no real solutions. As a matter of fact, Kagan's numbers change with every article--in one, he says 20,000 troops will be needed to secure Iraq; in others 40,000. Why not go for a cool million, Porky?

    This was the most hilarious part of his most recent article: He claims that after the surge, permanent U. S. troops stationed in Iraqi neighborhoods will quickly gain their trust, especially if we give them "incentives" of added cash for turning in their own people. This, he says, will help bring us victory.

    Uh, no, Porky--actually what'll happen is this: Like the Vietnamese, the Iraqis locals will learn to milk the system. In other words, they'll turn in anyone just to get paid. Millions of more American dollars will disappear as helpful local "leaders" acquire whores, bribes, political influence, and quick wealth. And those poor, angry, Iraqi youths, so ripe for insurgency? They'll remain that way--poor and angry.

    Hey, we gotta keep the door of death and mistrust open for another generation, right?

  17. Anonymous10:20 PM

    Okay, let's just say the surge works...

    Does anyone in Washington think about what will happen to the social and cultural structure of Iraq AFTER we're done? Think about it--one reason America is a cohesive society is because (for the most part) Americans trust each other, and we have strong ties to each other. In Iraq, the people no longer trust each other because (1)they've been encouraged by the enemy to kill each other(2) encouraged by the coalition to turn each other in (3) sucked dry by local leaders and (4) started looking out for their own interests. As the end of the Vietnam War proved, you can't make a truly free and safe country out of people that don't trust each other.

    But is Kagan worried about this? He and the Bushies figure if everyone can just vote for their favorite Iraqi puppet while having more than four hours of electricity a day, everything will be fine. The other stuff--the fact that we've created an entire refugee culture and destroyed the countless family ties that are necessary in communities for trust to build--is irrelevant.

    But hey, at least Kagan's honest about it: According to one of his articles, "we're not here to make Iraqis happy; we're here to protect our own interests."

    And the band played on....

  18. Kagan's just plain horrible.