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America's Occupation Trumps the "Surge" and Petraeus' Counterinsurgency Manual

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As three months of news reports of escalating violence in Iraq undercut widespread American propaganda about the "surge's" success, increasing numbers of Americans, once again, are reaching the conclusion that the Bush administration's illegal, immoral and incompetent invasion and occupation of Iraq is a war that never should have been fought. According to the results of CNN/Opinion Research Poll reported on 1 May 2008, 68 percent of Americans now oppose George W. Bush's war in Iraq.

These Americans have (belatedly) gotten it right. Moreover, five years after viewing the sick "Mission Accomplished" propaganda, it's now becoming clear that the "surge" and the implementation of the counterinsurgency strategy detailed in General Petraeus' Counterinsurgency Field Manual were last-ditch and largely propaganda gimmicks chosen by Bush to avoid admitting his stark defeat in Iraq. Thus, Bush and Cheney are sacrificing lives while playing for time -- time to escape office without being impeached and convicted, time to assert that the war was not lost during their watch.

Simply consider the words of Andrew Bacevich, in his recent article "Surging to Defeat." Not only are American and Iraqi forces still suffering from nearly 500 attacks per week, "the United States today finds itself with too much war and too few warriors."

Or consider the words of Steven Simon, in the May/June 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Simon concludes: "A strategy adopted for near-term advantage by a frustrated administration will only increase the likelihood of long-term debacle." Why? Because the bottom-up counterinsurgency strategy adopted by President Bush and General Petraeus has strengthened "the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism."

More fundamentally, as Jonathan Steele has concluded in his recent book, Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq, America guaranteed its own defeat and humiliation as soon as its so-called war of liberation became an occupation. As Steele notes: The central problem was not that the Americans made mistakes. The occupation itself was the mistake." [pp. 1-2]

Moreover, as Professor Truman L. Cross has demonstrated in his remarkably insightful, acerbic and hilarious review of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Bush's "surge" and Petraeus' bottom-up counterinsurgency strategy would only validate Steele's somber conclusion. With Truman's kind permission, I publish his review below:

Counterinsurgency Field Manual, forwards by General David H. Petraeus and Lt. General James F. Amos and Lt. Colonel John A. Nagl; with a new introduction by Sarah Sewall (Chicago, 2007).

Reviewed By Truman B. Cross

Although Petraeus gets credit as "the guy who wrote the book," the Manual is the result of an unusual agreement between high level Army and Marine officers to put lower ranks to work gathering material to be collected and edited for publication. This information and much more about the genesis and gestation of the Manual is in the forwards. Ms. Sewell's introduction is an intelligent critique of the Manual. She is the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy in the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard. Sewell's critique appears in the University of Chicago edition under review here. The authors intend the Manual for the use of majors, colonels and other field grade officers; it explains the doctrine of fighting counterinsurgency wars. It is dreadful to read.

Training manuals are artifacts of historical circumstances. Some are very simple-how to clean and maintain weapons as they make their way into and out of arsenals. Some are complex, as this field manual is, because it draws its main lessons from recent anti-colonial wars, a sour irony because European colonial powers lost all of these wars to "rebels," going back to the American War of Independence, subsequent wars in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, where Japanese troops drove out or fatally weakened the Europeans. One must admire Japanese statesmen for realizing that selling all sorts of goods was far more profitable than trying to hold colonies. It took the Europeans longer to figure this out; the Russians are now at work on the problem; Americans lost nearly 60,000 soldiers in the futility of Vietnam, and now they are arguing about Iraq. This Manual plays a part in the American argument. It makes a case that a major power can win an anti-colonial war, a feat that has never been done. The Manual uses the terms insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) to avoid the use of the more accurate phrase: anti-colonial war.

In fact, the word "colonial" does not appear in the index or anywhere else in the Manual. In General Petraeus' introduction there is brief reference to "resistance" movements and a list of insurgent war types. Here is the list:

· Conspiratorial
· Military-focused
· Urban
· Protracted popular war
· Identity-focused
· Composite and coalition

Discussion of these COIN types follows, always under the general caution that one may face any or all of these options during an LLO, Logical Line of Operation, within any HN, Host Nation. Under "military-focused" appears a new word - "focoist" - which Petraeus attributes in part to Che Guevara. That flatters Guevara whose reputation rested not on theory, but on charm, valor, and dedication. At any rate, it seems just plain obstinate if not obtuse to avoid the right phrase: anti-colonial war that may indeed have several forms for which no one was or is able to prepare in advance. The colonial era in world history is coming to a close; what is left is nasty fighting over which local group/dictator/party gets the lion's share of the former colony, i.e., Host Nation. [There is a three-page list of abbreviations that are used to stupefying effect throughout the text. One can easily imagine a group of young men in starched desert fatigues at some military college having a conversation that is really a test of whether anyone can remember what DOCEX, DOTMLPF, GEOEVT, METT-TC mean.]

The Manual explains how each insurgent type exhibits itself and suggests how to respond. One need not be much of mathematician to note immediately that, starting with just six types or methods, the possibilities of combination would arrive at a vast number. And that huge number ignores the key issue of identifying which method one faces at any given time; nor does it consider that any opponent would be as deceptive as possible. There may also be six new types just over the horizon. In fact, there is no possibility of a clear definition of any of the six types, and the liberal use of acronyms and abbreviations means that anyone using the Manual is actually doing some sort of algebra that has no connection to real world humans engaged in killing each other.

The Manual recognizes that it is suicidal to engage the United States armed forces in "conventional" warfare, so one has to learn to use fighters in COIN, all the while taking care not to make enemies in the general population of the HN, indeed making friends as one devastates the HN, an abbreviation that deserves some special attention. One must remember that HN actually stands for some political/geographical unit. One must also never forget that HN competence is the goal of COIN and a prerequisite for COIN success. That is, war is still a means to a political goal, in this case, lest one forget, a stable HN. One should note well that HN is a euphemism for government.

In normal discourse, host means a person (or government) who offers an invitation, in this case to invade one's territory. But war in Iraq is, as far as anyone can tell, a no-host event. Just what constitutes a "nation" is a subject one opens carefully, but it is necessary in this case because it is questionable whether Iraq ever qualified. Vietnam did qualify. Vietnamese had defined themselves over two millennia of war and conflict with Chinese, Thais, Laos, Dutch, and French. They knew who they were. Did Indonesia belong in the club of nations after 1945? Does India, with only about 300 years of state unity going back to 2500 B.C.? Pakistan? There are at least four main groups of people living in what used to be West Pakistan until a ghastly war in 1971 split off Bangladesh. Military government holds many of the world's states together, and many of them are nations of peoples who would not have chosen to live within the state from which they currently suffer. Iraq came into existence in 1921 because Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence convinced Winston Churchill it was a good idea. (See the priceless photograph of the three of them, and others, mounted on camels in Georgina Howell, Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations (New York, 2006).

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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