How we lost the war in Iraq
October 30, 2012 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
Hindsight is an easy coign from which to criticize, but it's a powerful lens through which we can discern the faulty logic of COIN, the U.S. Counterinsurgency tactical plan. Detailed in FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency, COIN sets out the step-by-step plan for success in dealing with insurgent movements. It doesn't work.
Based on a faulty set of strategies and tactics it has proved to be a failure with respect to its goals. In Iraq we destroyed a regime and tried to replace it with a modern state that is an ally of the U.S. We didn't come close. Iraq is now a puppet of Iran, one of our more dangerous foes. General Gates told us we were in Afghanistan for the destruction of Al Qaeda. We didn't come close. Our efforts turned into a massive recruitment aide to Al Qaeda and other 'insurgent' groups. The killing of Osama Bin Laden As an operational framework COIN it is a proven failure.
The problems with COIN are varied and date back at least to the Generals' insistence that our efforts in Vietnam were successful. We lost that war, too, and protestations to the contrary deny the outcome. After great expenditure in life (Vietnamese as well as American) and material the Viet Cong were still able to drive us out and gain the territory we fought over.
Insistence upon defining our actions as victorious, regardless of the truth, persists in the military's analysis of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the simplest level one has only to follow the money. Congressional funding flows to success and admitting failure risks the loss of billions of dollars in support of the Generals' activities and plans for the future.
COIN suffers from an idealistic view of how to fight insurgents and veers from reality in many ways and I've outlined a few of them here:
Certainly the time-frame is not realistic. Its long-range window is 5 years. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have run at least twice that and not produced the predicted result.
The section on Root Causes insists that insurgents have discreet political goals. This fails to identify AQ's focus of disruption for the sake of disruption; terrorism as acts of expression and not goal-oriented events. COIN refers to terrorists as individuals determined to 'achieve a result' and does not take into account the symbolic act that has no goal other than itself as a moral act.
There is a COIN assumption that religious fundamentalism is at the heart of most insurgency. This belies the a-religiosity of Al Qaeda's work and AQ's 'new fundamentalism', one based upon a grand morality that transcends religion in the old sense. One has only to note the notices in AQ's literature, captured in training camps, that 'religion is not to be discussed.' This, evidently, because of the broad set of beliefs represented by the foot soldiers of AQ.
COIN makes explicit reference to Osama Bin Laden as seeing himself as an agent of Islamic history, failing to comprehend the importance of AQ's break with history and OBL's vision of a new Islam, freed from historic bounds.
Lastly, COIN ignores the impact of lawless mercenaries who flaunt the rules and act without accountability. Local populations are acutely aware of such activity and this deeply undermines the effort to 'win hearts and souls.' It even pushes many to join insurgent groups as a means of revenge.
In an ass-backward logic we took the falsehood of 'winning in Vietnam', codified the tactics used there in COIN, and transported COIN to Iraq. We further twisted reality by linking our 'success in Iraq' (another falsehood) to 'the surge,' and added that to the COIN arsenal. This neatly avoided having to acknowledge the Sunni Awakening movement that was primarily responsible for declining violence in Iraq. We then transported all this to Afghanistan expecting to win. Another folly as we prepare to leave not having come close to destroying Al Qaeda.
We lost the war in Iraq because a) we failed to understand the enemy, and b) COIN is tarnished and needs to be replaced with a more realistic policy, strategic-tactical view of what we are really capable of accomplishing by violence.
And if the answer points to non-violent tactics then so be it, even if the military loses in billions in funding. We can find a better use for those dollars (and the lives saved).
sourced in part by:
Gen. Gian Gentile, Seminar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, October, 2012
Major Chris Rogers, Armed Forces Journal, Jan. 2008
Field Manual FM 3-24.2 Tactics in Counterinsurgency
Sebastian L.v. Gorka and David Kilcullen, An Actor-centric Theory of War
Iraq War Facts, Results & Statistics at January 31, 2012 By Deborah White
Howard Zinn, The Impossible Victory: Vietnam from A People's History of the United States