Victory in Iraq

I’ve avoided blogging much about the war in Iraq (other than youtube videos) because I’ve not fought that war. If you want the personal perspective of a trooper on the ground, there are several excellent blogs to visit. Just look at my blogroll.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it a lot. My first tour in the Army was in Hawaii, with the 25th Infantry Division (Light). At the time, the light divisions were very focused on counterinsurgency warfare, though they tended to view it through the prism of Vietnam with a possible application to the Phillipines or elsewhere in the Pacific.

To be honest, most of our focus was on the kinetic aspects of COIN, rather than the soft power side of working with the populace to gather intel and generate support. Still, many of the fundamentals of guerrilla war remain the same.

Soon after the initial invasion of Iraq, when it became apparent that there was an insurgency, many of my (non-military) friends claimed there was no way to win an insurgent fight and we should just throw in the towel. “We’ll be stuck there forever! No one has ever won a guerrilla war!” All gloom and doom.

My response? Six to nine years. History tells us that most insurgencies fail. Even most insurgencies against an imperial power. They do tend to  last a long time though. Say, 6 to 9 years.

When it became clear that Gen. Casey and the rest of the leadership was engaged in a bastion defense, I was flabbergasted. The very core of counterinsurgency is protecting the population. That’s the whole fight. You can’t do that when you are buttoned up in a FOB. Further, being holed up gives the insurgents freedom of maneuver, so that when you do travel outside your forts, you are vulnerable to attacks such as ambushes and IEDs. To hole up is to surrender the initiative to the enemy. You spend all your time reacting to him, rather than making him react to  you. John Boyd must have been spinning in his grave.

We saw the results of this stupid policy through 2004, 2005, and most stunningly in 2006. Despite a great deal of blood, sweat and tears, and much truly heroic soldiering by our troops, the situation continued to deteriorate.

It wasn’t until General Petraeus was nominated to lead the effort in Iraq that we began to see changes. Petraeus was the guy who wrote the book on counterinsurgency. He didn’t come up with anything particularly new, but he did learn the proper lessons from history. Soon, American troops were no longer sitting inside their camps, but rather working side by side with the fledgeling Iraqi National Army, giving them a concrete example of what their army could and should be. The US Army became far more aggressive, pursuing insurgents and terrorists with a renewed vigor. And as the Iraqi people saw that our forces were there not as an occupying army, but rather the first line of defense against the barbarian forces of Al Queda in Iraq, they began to cooperate. Cooperation usually spelled actionable intelligence. Which lead to greater successes on the battlefield. Which lead to greater cooperation.

John McCain ran in the primaries on the strength of his support for the war in Iraq. Barrack Obama ran in the primaries on his opposition to the war. In the end, the war had little to do with the election. Why? You’ll notice that the war has not dominated the headlines lately. Because it has been won. Oh, the fighting isn’t quite over. But there is no real chance that, failing some spectacular stupidity by the new administration or Congress, the insurgents can win.

Don’t just take my word for it. Michael Yon phoned in to The Instapundit with an update. Yon was one of the first to raise the alarm over the way the war was being fought. When Yon tells you you’re losing, your losing. But when Yon tells you you’ve won, you really have won.

9 thoughts on “Victory in Iraq”

  1. I spent a lot of time over there working inside the “palace” as supporting the Multi-National Force. There’s a lot of things I don’t feel comfortable mentioning for obvious reasons. But I do feel comfortable saying the difference in the troop’s morale between 2005 and 2008 is 180 degrees and up. To some degree, having the media step out of the way (and cover the elections) and allow the troops fight the war made a difference. The surge worked, and now it’s a non-story.

    The buzz is now Afghanistan is “lost” since we were distracted. Such assessments are as far from the truth as I am from Jupiter.

  2. Actually, the war had a lot to do with the election. It helped put Obama over Clinton in the primaries.

    It had less of an impact on the general election; it’s doubtful McCain could have run any stronger against Hillary given the financial mess. The Dems would still have taken the ring, but it’d have been a different Dem.

  3. Don’t forget that it was under Rumsfeld that the Anbar awakening became fully fledged. Patraeus’ theory of population protection assumes a hostage population not a hostile population, but the Sunnis were very hostile at the beginning of the war. We just kicked them out of their ruling position. Rumsfeld’s force protection strategy left Al Qaeda no alternative but to attack Iraqis, so as to create the negative news for the Western media

  4. Alec,
    I’m sorry, I must disagree. I think you give too much credit to Rumsfeld.

    You suggest there are only two states a population might be in, hostage or hostile. But in fact, the status of a population is always some blend of the two states, and at any time is some place on a spectrum between the two states.

    Petreaus’ theory of COIN (and it ain’t his, it’s history’s) is applicable regardless of where on that spectrum the population is. The tactics employed will vary based on the assesment of where the population is at any given time, but the theory, or strategy if you will, remains unchanged.

    You imply that Rumsfeld had some great insight into this theory that things had to get worse before they got better. Maybe things did have to get worse first, but I cannot credit the administration with that as a policy. They certainly never acted like that, either in their statements or actions.

    My personal opinion is that the administrations stubborn refusal to change its approach in Iraq was in part a reaction to the incredible hostility of the domestic political opposition. They were afraid that any change in policy would be seen as weakness and possibly lead to Congress forcing withdrawl. It wasn’t until events on the ground showed indisputably that their plan was an utter failure that they were forced to look for alternatives.

  5. caswain, I did my second tour in ’05-’06 with 2nd Brigade, 101st. I’d love to discuss the subject off-line. I’m azrael556 at hotmail.

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