...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

February 10, 2007

Surge Strategy

There's a reason why I haven't written whether I think the Surge Strategy will work or whether it's a good idea. I'm not an expert in any of the disciplines necessary for my opinion to have any value. In fact, most of my knowledge regarding the Iraq War comes from secondary sources, written by other people who are similarly ignorant, i.e. the press.

The vast majority of reporters and columnists who write about Iraq and pretend to know what they're talking about are completely incompetent to do so. Not only is their journalism degree inadequate for the task (it's a glorified general ed degree) but their undisguised bias robs their output of any credibility. Yet, from my desk chair, I'm forced to rely on these people almost exclusively for my information. So, as a result, my opinions are just about as worthless.

That's why I'm taking a wait and see approach. I do consider myself an expert on another thing, though: I'm an expert on the domestic battlefield. This is why I have said over and over again that we must achieve success in Iraq quickly, because if Americans don't see progress soon, our next president will pull the plug on the whole noble enterprise.

So I was very encouraged when the President yanked the most recent generals in charge, good men though they might be, and replaced them with guys who understand the need for a change in strategy. Today is General Petraeus's first day on the job. His resume is impressive.* He's had success before.** I wish him and his new strategy well.

Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen is an advisor to Gen. Petraeus and an expert on counter-insurgency strategy. He's also a Duntroon grad and a veteran of East Timor. In this post at Small Wars Journal, Kilcullen outlines the two schools of thought regarding counter-insurgency.***

An illustrative anecdote:

In Timor in 1999 I worked closely with village elders in the border districts. I sat down with several of them one afternoon to discuss their perception of how the campaign was progressing, and they complained that the Australians weren't securing them in the fields and villages, that they felt unsafe because of the militia (the local term for cross-border guerrillas) and that we needed to do more to protect them. In actual fact, we were out in large numbers, securing the border against infiltration, patrolling by night, conducting 14 to 21-day patrols in the jungle to deny the militias a chance to build sanctuaries, and working in close in the villages to maintain popular support. There had not been a single successful attack by the insurgents on the population for more than two months. So, "objectively", they were secure. But -- and this is the critical point -- because our troops were sneaking around in the jungle and at night, staying out of the villagers' way and focusing on defeating enemy attempts to target the population, they did not see us about, and hence did not feel “subjectively” secure. This was exacerbated by the fact that they had just experienced a major psychological trauma (occupation, insurgency, mass destruction and international intervention) and as a society they needed time and support for a degree of "mental reconstruction". Based on their feedback (and that of lots of other meetings and observations) we changed our operational approach, became a bit more visible to the population and focused on giving them the feeling, as well as the reality, of safety. Once we did that, it was fine.

In other words, we had to shift from a more enemy-centric approach to a more population-centric approach to adjust to the developing situation. My personal lesson from this experience was that the correct approach is situation-dependent, and the situation changes over time. Therefore the key is to develop mechanisms that allow you to read the environment, to be agile and to adapt . . .

Adaptation is the key, and I'm glad to see that we're trying something new. I hope it works.

You can see how the above example illustrates the need for more troops and contact with the population. It's more than just switching to a zone defense from man-to-man. At least in the short run, our new strategy will provide the enemy with more opportunities to kill Americans. We're not going to like that here at home, and I have no illusions that the media will understand what's happening or that a different strategy is at work. The commanders in theater, and the President must realize that the home front will not cut them any slack and they have to get it right this time.

* But so was McClellan's.

** But so did Hooker.

*** The comments are especially interesting.

Posted by annika, Feb. 10, 2007 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


Fallujah delende est.

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 10, 2007

Why should a lack of expertise stop you from commenting?It should qualify you to become Speaker of the House

Posted by: corwin on Feb. 10, 2007

But is visibility a good thing in Iraq?

I'm thinking of Saudi Arabia circa 1990, where the people may have been thankful for our protection, but they probably DIDN'T want to see us strutting around with our short sleeve shirts and our Bibles and our other infernal gear.

In the ideal world, Saddam would have been removed by a coalition of forces from Muslim countries. Of course, the post-Saddam outcome might have been the same; Palestine isn't quite the peaceful vacation spot just yet.

Posted by: Ontario Emperor on Feb. 10, 2007

Nicely Done

I cannot understand the hysteria over the President wanting to move 2% of the troops from one location to another.

Posted by: Jake on Feb. 10, 2007

As always a good analysis of the situation.

My opinion of the problem is the GW has been doing all the heavy lifting with the Iraq problem. I'm kind of glad that the American people are reacting to this conflict dragging on as long as it has. Maybe it'll put some spine in the Iraqi leadership to consider that we might just leave them alone to deal with the consequences, or the US military to start using some imagination in their operations.

Also I was in the gym and digging through the pile of magazines and one was a Newsweek from like Jan 1, 2007. It had a great article on Denmark, Moslem's and the controversy's they've had to deal with. It was reported that there was so little conflict in Denmark that the Moslem's had to basically export the issue to get any attention.

Finally, where is the analysis on the real news... Anna Nichol Smith? This great American goes on to the "other side" and no opinion about it? Are you going to make me read the Drudge Report?


Posted by: Drake Steel on Feb. 10, 2007

I met her in Tahoe during a 4th of July bash a few years back and - this may stun you - the girl was kinda dingy. To be fair, though, she was very nice and even talked to us non-star types. I remember thinking that despite being sort of heavy at the time she was a strikingly attractive woman in person.

Posted by: blu on Feb. 10, 2007

Annika -- I wanted to point out Mudville Gazette's post on the Surge in case you haven't seen it. Even as close to the battlefield as we Army families are, I wasn't properly versed in what the Surge meant. I think it's been really glossed over and misrepresented in the places I've heard about it. Anyway, I was ignorant before I read this post, so I'm spreading the word. http://www.mudvillegazette.com/archives/007609.html

Posted by: Sarah on Feb. 11, 2007

Thaks so much Sarah, for that really informative link.

I, like most Bush supporters, have been wondering why he didn't explain the details a bit more. But this article makes it pretty clear what the "surge" means, and why it now makes a lot of sense to me.

I've just sent it to over 300 people who are, mostly, like minded. I hope that it gets wide circulation.

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 11, 2007

OK, I'm willing to bet that of all the candidates for President of the United States right now, there is only one who has read Petraeus' book on counter insurgency.

And he won't even be a candidate until September.

The next POTUS.

Can you say "President Gingrich"?

Posted by: shelly on Feb. 11, 2007

What about the Dixie Chicks and their surge strategy? I believe that the Dixie Chicks will bounce back, thanks to the political friends they know in high places that seem to have pulled a few strings for them prior to the Grammys, as I've noted in this song:

Playin' Politics (With the Dixie Chicks)
Dr BLT (c)2007

Posted by: Dr BLT on Feb. 16, 2007

A brief note of sincere applause to Annika for (1) admitting that she is not informed in a certain subject and (2) refraining from commenting on it until she becomes more informed.

Anyone who has the humility to do that consistently is light years ahead of 95% of the population.

I liked this too:

"Not only is their journalism degree inadequate for the task (it's a glorified general ed degree)"


Posted by: Mark on Feb. 19, 2007