“No sh*t, Sherlock!” dep’t

Most depressing news story of the decade: the idea that our occupation army in Iraq needs to protect Iraqi civilians is just entering U.S. military doctrine. Unbeforkinglievable.

From Thursday’s NYT:

The United States Army and Marines are finishing work on a new counterinsurgency doctrine that draws on the hard-learned lessons from Iraq and makes the welfare and protection of civilians a bedrock element of military strategy.

Duhhhhhh…REALLY? Ya mean, if ya wanna rule a buncha A-rabs, ya gotta MAKE IT SO THEY FRIGGING GET SOMETHING OUT OF THE DEAL? I mean, whodathunkit?

(Besides Xenophon, that is.)

If this stuff is only now becoming U.S. military doctrine, that explains not only why Iraq has been so completely FUBAR’d, but how we lost the war in Vietnam.

It’s one thing to be unable to deliver protection and services in the face of an insurgency (and, in the case of Iraq, at least 50% of a civil war). It’s another thing entirely not to know from the git-go that providing protection and services is the name of the game.

One sentence in the new field manual sums up the problem. Perhaps if Bush and Rumsfeld both had it tatooed on their foreheads, they might remember it when they meet:

Tactical success guarantees nothing.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

8 thoughts on ““No sh*t, Sherlock!” dep’t”

  1. Supposedly David Galula's "Counterinsurgency: Theory and Practice" has been assigned reading at the Pentagon for years, but no one seems to have actually learned anything from it. I suppose it really matters little at this point. Iraq has become a really bad imitation of Mad Max and Afghanistan is, to quote Coolio, a gangsta's paradise.

  2. Why do you use an asterisk instead of an "i" in "shit"? Surely you are not concerned that readers will be offended by "shit" but not by "sh*t," or care about readers who are silly enough to be offended? My concern is that you are promoting the magical thinking — the belief that certain words have magical power — that causes Congress to tell the FCC to impose large fines on broadcast stations for use of those words, which in turn prevents serious programs from being broadcast.

  3. When Westmorland & Kissenger claim that they "had Vietnam won," they are convienently forgetting that business about tactical success. According to Woodwards new book, in which Henry the K tells Rumsfeld to "get it right this time," Kissenger also told Rice that in Vietnam "we didn't have time to get the politics right." Starting from when, I wonder? Geneva Conference in 1954? Diem taking over in 1956? Diem's CIA murder 1963? (an attempt to get the politics right if there ever was one!) Post Tet Offensive in 1968? The man is delusional & now we find he had a hand in driving this administrations reckless adventure in Iraq? So when are we going to get the politics in place, I wonder, so that Iraq can become a shining democratic beacon in the ME.

  4. Henry:
    Some filter programs embody magical thinking. I'd like to get through the filters. But in any case, I don't mind acknowledging that there are some words still not in polite usage.

  5. The Marines and the 101st airborne and a few isolated SOCOM units have been practicing COIN in Iraq for a while. Usually they were directly overruled by their superiors, even though in all documented cases their operations were highly successful. In one now infamous case, the Marines who were well-liked in Haditha were called out for Fallujah 1 and 2. Of course, Fallujah 1 and 2 were ordered over the objections of the Marine general in charge, who wanted to use "soft as fog" COIN operations like he was using in Haditha.
    When the Marines got back to Haditha after Fallujah 1, their police comrades were mostly dead. They reconstituted much of the force, but were far less effective. Then they were ordered out for Fallujah 2. Upon their return the insurgents had full control of Haditha, and the carnage that followed is well documented. Haditha is still not under coalition control.
    I think the units with organic support, or light support, and the expectation of independent operations and the right ethos adapted to COIN well, if haphazardly, while in Iraq. The main body of the US army has no institutional interest in this kind of thing, let alone the patience or tolerance for units that do. There are several cases of regular army commanders trying to toss out the more effective Green Beret teams because they perceive the latter as undisciplined and outside their control (see also Black Hawk Down for examples of the disconnect between main line officers and SOCOM).
    If this were early 2004, these kind of issues would be par for the course: a huge conventional army unwilling or unable to adapt and win. What you need in this kind of situation is leadership that 1) understands the subtleties and political (and here I mean the domestic political issues: force protection is less important that effective operations) problems of COIN, and 2) has the cojones to make the army brass grovel at their feet and beg to please adopt the right strategy.
    But this is not 2004, and we have no leadership.

  6. No nym.
    Excellent analysis. To win guerilla wars you need an integrated top-down political military operation– the top man needs to have absolute command of both the political and military systems. See the British in Malaya or the Americans in the Phillipines.
    Half assed never works. What is going on in Iraq is half-assed. American soldiers, and Iraqis are paying the price.

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