Changing Course in Iraq Before It’s Too Late
Phil Carter believes there’s still time to get it right in Iraq. Giving that he philosophically opposed the war and has just returned from a tour of duty there as a recalled Army Reservist, his credibility is high.
He makes several points but two bear especial emphasis:
[T]he U.S. military must reverse its trend of consolidation and redeploy its forces into Iraq’s cities. Efficiency and force protection cannot define our military footprint in Iraq; if those are our goals, we may as well bring our troops home today. Instead, we must assume risk by pushing U.S. forces out into small patrol bases in the middle of Iraq’s cities where they are able to work closely with Iraqi leaders and own the streets. Counterinsurgency requires engagement. The most effective U.S. efforts thus far in Iraq have been those that followed this maxim, like the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar, which established numerous bases within the city and attacked the insurgency from within with a mix of political, economic, and military action.
Since at least the debacle in Somalia, force protection has been paramount to mission accomplishment once we’ve left the major combat operations phase. Not only does that approach make it harder to get the job done, it paradoxically makes it harder to protect the force, too.
To combat the insurgency, America must adopt a more holistic approach than simply building up the country’s security forces. We have the seeds of this in Iraq today—the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams. I worked closely with the PRT in Diyala to advise the Iraqi courts, jails, and police, and I saw their tremendous potential. However, having been hamstrung by bureaucratic infighting between the State and Defense departments, these teams now lack the authority, personnel, and resources to run the reconstruction effort effectively. America should reach back to one of its positive lessons from Vietnam, the “Civil Operations and Rural Development Support” program. There, the United States created a unified organization to manage all military and civilian pacification programs, recognizing that only a unified effort could bring the right mix of political, economic, and military solutions to bear on problems.
Indeed, while we’ve spent hundreds of billions in the post-regime change phase of Iraq, we’ve scrimped on civilian reconstruction. Partly, this is owing to that that counterinsurgency efforts have diverted our resources and partly it’s a recognition that our enemies will sabotage these projects given their importance.
UPDATE: Max Boot thinks we’re on the wrong path in training the Iraqi security forces, too.
[S]ome of the best and brightest American officers are being steered away from Iraqi units. Everyone in the U.S. armed forces knows that the way to the top is to command American units, not to advise foreign units — even if the latter task is more difficult and more important.
One Army officer who has served in Iraq and would be well qualified for an advisory role told me recently that he was asked to become an ROTC instructor at home but not an advisor in Iraq. Those he sees being sent to help Iraqis tend to have “marginal career prospects.” “No one is diverted from a school or command,” he told me. “No one is sent after a successful command.”
Another experienced Army officer with a Special Forces background — exactly the kind of advisor we should be sending — actually tried to volunteer. He recalls being told by a personnel officer: “Boy, I would hate to waste you with an assignment like that. With your background and file quality, there are so many other billets I could assign you to.”
… T. X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, believes that 20,000 to 30,000 advisors are needed and that we should be sending officers who have successfully led American battalions and brigades. “We’re at least an order of magnitude off,” Hammes told me. “If our main effort is advisory, why aren’t our best people going to become advisors?”
Kevin Drum isn’t too far off the mark when he says, “the U.S. Army is still culturally allergic to counterinsurgency and security training.”
There have been numerous attempts to change that culture in recent years. Bill Clinton made Hugh Shelton, a Special Forces officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Don Rumsfeld brought Peter Schoomaker, a retired SF guy, out of retirement to make him Army Chief of Staff. That kind of duty is no longer a career killer. Still, there’s no doubt that the WWII-Cold War mindset of the “right” career path is still strong.