Saturday, January 08, 2005


"Rethinking" tactics (updated)

The announcement by the Pentagon that it is sending retired general Gary Luck to Iraq to conduct "a comprehensive review" has been duly and dutifully reported. The media so far have not delved into the reasons for this, and if they ever do, there is little likelihood that they will get a straight answer from the Pentagon.

Julian Borger reports in the Guardian

A retired four-star general, Gary Luck, is due to arrive in Iraq next week to conduct an "open-ended" rethink of tactics, troop levels and the training of Iraqi forces, reflecting growing concern in Washington over the resilience of the Iraqi insurgency.

"He will have a very wide canvas to draw on," Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, told journalists. General Luck is due to report to the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, within a month.

NPR this morning ["Senate Panel Seeks Answers on Iraq Security Training"] quoted Senator Jack Reed as saying "sending an assessment team to Iraq is the kind of thing you do when you don't know what else to do." Certainly we may take the mission as an admission that the present tactics, troop levels and training of Iraqi forces are not going as the administration would like. But I find Sen. Reed's assessment of the meaning of the mission hard to accept.

I am reluctant to believe that this exercise represents anything that might qualify as an "open-ended rethink." There is nothing to suggest that anyone in this administration—least of all Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld—is willing to listen to anything other than the voices in their heads. It would be out of character for these guys to be soliciting advice.

Instead, I believe it signals that they've already hatched a scheme for which they will need cover. It is Gen. Luke's job to provide it.

President Bush has offered to clarify the meaning of it all, which we can always count on for comic effect—

"What you're beginning to see is an assessment of how to make sure our policy dovetails with the elections in the post-election period1

"And that's precisely why the assessment team is going to Iraq: to make sure that, at this historic moment in the history of Iraq, there is a focused, determined strategy to help the new government to stand up the forces necessary to defend themselves."

When we analyze the statements of this administration, we must throw out considerations of syntax and simply look at the words themselves, in isolation. So let's see what, if anything, we can do.

Troop levels

The U.S. has already augmented troop levels for what it says is an anticipation of increased pre-election violence, but not nearly to the strength advocated by either General Shinseki before the war or by Senator McCain currently. It is an increase of only 12,000 troops.

The truth is that the increase in troop levels has precious little to do with the elections. The fiction that this is all about the elections gives the public the impression that there is some near-term goal in sight, which in turn allows the administration to increase troop levels without a great deal of public outcry. The election fiction also allows Bush to blather on about how the insurgents resent our "freedom."

Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post wrote of the troop increase over a month ago—

"The purpose is mainly to provide security for the elections, but it's also to keep up the pressure on the insurgency," Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon briefing.

Other military experts, however, said the escalation reflects the more intense nature of the war after the U.S.-led assault on the rebellious Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

"The ferocity with which the war is being waged by both sides is escalating," said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It is not just that the number of incidents are increasing. The war looks to be changing in character."

Retired Army Col. Ralph Hallenbeck, who worked in Iraq with the U.S. occupation authority last year, said he is worried that the move represents a setback for the basic U.S. strategy of placing a greater burden on Iraqi security forces to control the country and deal with the insurgency. "I fear that it signals a re-Americanization2 . . . of our strategy in Iraq," he said.

Some observers said the latest announcement indicates that the Pentagon is recognizing just how long the effort in Iraq may take. "This announcement makes it clear that commanders in Iraq need more troops and that this will be a long and very expensive process for the United States," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who recently returned from a visit to Iraq.

Reed, who served in the Army with the 82nd Airborne, also said in an interview that it is becoming increasingly clear that Iraqi forces will not be capable of taking over from U.S. forces for five to 10 years. [emphasis added]

Strategic goals

The neoconservative strategy in invading Iraq has been unswerving—

These are the matters that are driving this war, and any tactical shifts will have to flow from them. So far there is no indication that the strategy is being "rethought."


What have been our tactics so far? Militarily, they have consisted of "shock and awe" bombings, recently repeated in Fallujah, search and destroy missions, intimidation of the population, torture, and propaganda.

The plan to reconstruct the Iraqi army and turn security over to them, as noted by Sen. Reed above, is "five to ten years away."

According to the Guardian,

One of the key issues General Luck will address is the training of Iraqi forces. They represent the key to the US exit strategy, but their numbers and performance so far have disappointed some American commanders. Just over 120,000 Iraqi troops and police have been trained. The target is 273,000.

But this morning's NPR piece ends by noting that there are now 9500 in the Iraqi army. I have no idea how to reconcile these numbers, but 9500 seems more likely to approach the truth of the current situation.

The elections

Reconstruction and elections were supposed to pacify the population. Reconstruction is clearly impossible, and it will shortly be seen that elections are impossible as well.

Borger writes,

A senior US officer in Baghdad warned yesterday that the violence could worsen dramatically, with the possibility of "spectacular" attacks in the days before the election.

Brigadier General Erv Lessel was quoted by Associated Press as saying: "I think a worst case is where they have a series of horrific attacks that cause mass casualties in some spectacular fashion in the days leading up to the elections."

Notice that both officers speak of the days before the election. Perhaps they do not dare speak of election day, January 30. There may be a shortage of poll workers.

My own conclusion, for what it's worth, is this: The administration knows that the violence will not end with the elections—if they're held, that is—and that additional troops are going to be needed into the foreseeable future if the neocon strategy is to be pursued. Somehow this has to be made palatable to the public.

That's where General Luck comes in. Luck will return with his report, which the administration will declare to be "sobering." The report will have two essential conclusions—(1) that more troops are needed and (2) that far more time will be needed to train the Iraqi security forces than had been anticipated, which is to say that American forces will have to stay longer than planned.

Armed with this new "intelligence," the Congress will be asked to increase the size of the army. Who knows? They may even be asked to reinstitute the draft.

Michael Hirsh and John Barry of Newsweek are reporting that Rumsfeld is considering the "Salvadoran" option: death squads—
Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell Newsweek.

Related post
U.S. assumptions continue to be dashed on the I-rock of reality (12/23/04)
Iraqi insurgents couldn't wait this time (1/5/05)


1 The President has picked up, probably from his dad, the odd notion that when his mouth is moving he is having a thought. I defy all comers to make sense of the phrase "our policy dovetails with the elections in the post-election period." [back]

2 Re-Americanization? Who does Col. Hallenbeck think has been conducting this war? Let's try another countrification. How about "Vietnamization"? [back]

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