King David Returns

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If Bush was serious last night, America’s destiny in Iraq is in the hands of Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, who is now leading US forces there. The big battle is to be waged counter-insurgency style inside Baghdad, probably most importantly against Bani Sadr’s supposed 60,000 guerrillas.

This sounds like the Battle of Algiers where, in the 1950s, the French Foreign Legion brutally attacked and overwhelmed the FLN guerrillas holed up in the Casbah. In the end, the French lost, with de Gaulle overseeing a peace.

Counter-insurgency has a long, unpleasant history. The French tried it in Vietnam after the second world war, actually planting their own troops into villages and intermarrying with the Vietnamese. It didn’t work and the French were routed at Dien Bien Phu. Ed Lansdale, who worked with the OSS and later became the CIA’s man in Vietnam, assisted the French in their losing battle, then went on to try and build up the South Vietnamese military.

Lansdale has often been called the true father of American counter-insurgency. He operated in the Philippines, living with Magsaysay before he became president, and was part of Operation Mongoose, Jack Kennedy’s plan to overthrow Castro. He was involved in attempts to assassinate Castro as well. Under Kennedy he ended up as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. When Reagan became president, Special Operations people in the military, along with scholars at the Heritage Foundation, urged U.S. policy makers to employ counter-insurgency tactics, or what was then called irregular warfare, in Central America. The Contras were the result.

Counter-insurgency depends on good intelligence and a supportive local population — neither of which the U.S. has in Iraq, certainly not in Baghdad.

The general idea, put forward in the Iraq Study Group report, is to embed American troops within the Iraqi army. That presupposes the Iraqi army can be trusted not to trick the Americans into an ambush and/or to provide decent intelligence, which seems questionable.

General Petraeus is well-liked, considered to be a successful commander in Northern Iraq. He wrote a new counterinsurgency manual for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. “Western militaries too often neglect the study of insurgency,” he writes in the manual. “They falsely believe that armies trained to win large conventional wars are automatically prepared to win small unconventional ones.”

“In fact,” the General continues, “some capabilities required for conventional success… may be of limited utility or even counterproductive in counterinsurgency operations. Nonetheless, conventional forces beginning counterinsurgency operations often try to use these capabilities to defeat insurgents; they almost always fail.”

Following, thanks to the Globe and Mail, are
Petraeus’s 14 Observations on Iraq:

1. Do not try to do too much with your own hands.
2. Act quickly, because every army of liberation has a half-life.
3. Money is ammunition.
4. Increasing the number of stakeholders is a critical component to success.
5. Analyze “costs and benefits” before each operation.
6. Intelligence is the key to success.
7. Everyone must do nation-building.
8. Help build institutions, not just units.
9. Cultural awareness is a force multiplier.
10. Success in a counterinsurgency requires more than just military operations.
11. Ultimate success depends on local leaders.
12. Remember the strategic corporals and strategic lieutenants.
13. There is no substitute for flexible, adaptable leaders.
14. A leader’s most important task is to set the right tone.

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