When President Bush announced his “surge” strategy for Iraq in January, he replaced General Casey, the last in the conga-line of Rumsfeld yes-men, with perhaps the sharpest General in the whole Iraq campaign, General David Petreus. Gen. Petreus is described as a warrior intellectual by the US military, and in taking on the daunting Iraq project, he assembled a team of unique advisors to assist in changing the paradigm in combating the insurgency.
Members include a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders.
That quirky Australian anthropologist is Australian Colonel, David Kilcullen. Killcullen had been highly critical of the approach in Iraq, and had published a paper now famously known as the Twenty Eight Articles. Which is, in effect, a ‘How-To’ manual for counterinsurgency tactics in the field. It’s a fascinating read, and not surprisingly it grabbed the attention of General Petreus, who appointed Kilkullen as head of counterinsurgency in Iraq.
Amazingly Kilkullen posts occasionally on a blog called the Small Wars Journal, where he engages in dialogue about the tactics and realities of the situation in Iraq, and no matter what you think of Iraq, it is clear that Kilkullen and Co. are dedicated professionals, applying some pretty shrewd observations on human nature to their almost impossible task.
Last week the ABC’s Background Briefing ran a typically excellent program that gives a fascinating insight into the interplay between the Iraqi insurgency, the coalition forces and the use of new media, especially the internet. The insurgency, some say, is using the new media more effectively than the coalition. The use of blogs and video material tailored to local appeal with souk music, and floral arrangements, that stand in stark contrast to the Western style. Violent content aside – the insurgency has got the cultural inside running. Kilkullen’s regular spot on Small Wars Journal is a deliberate strategic response to the insurgency’s effectiveness with the new media but targeted to a different audience. It is an attempt to have cogent, well argued, and rapid rebuttals to inaccurate or damaging articles appearing in the global media.
A striking example of this effect, which reflects today’s fundamental Iraq debate Should we stay or should we go? is the response to neoconservative, Edward Luttwak, who once wrote Give War a Chance and in a Harpers Magazine article published in February, called the tactics being employed by Petreus a kind of malpractice. Luttwak describes the problem and why he believes the coalition response will not work.
when you have an insurgency and insurgents out-terrorise you, because you cannot engage in mass terror, then there’s no way you can win.
Luttwak, a scholar of the strategies of the Roman Empire, argues that an empire would be able to win in this situation because it would have no qualms about brutalising the civilian population. He says that an insurgency, in a position to coerce the locals to hide and protect them under threat of violent reprisal, will always have the advantage over an occupying force that refuses to play the same game. Luttwack’s logic then is the coalition must leave Iraq, now. For the coalition will never be willing to mete out the necessary brutality, and without that it will fail. So better to leave now and save coalition lives than lose more blood and treasure.
The answer is go home, and if this means that they can gather and plot terrorism against you and once they become visible, once you are not there and they start walking around acting openly, bomb them. We bombed Gaddafi and his behaviour improved notably
Killcullen responded to Luttwak a few days ago. In fact the exact day that the ABC background briefing piece went to air. Quite possibly the SWJ crew, who had been interviewed by the ABC were keeping tabs on what went to air, and deemed that the Luttwak views needed a return serve.
Kilcullen’s response is unfailingly polite, as you would expect from a professional, but the little jabs are noticeable.
He is not a specialist in counterinsurgency, but his opinions carry much weight and we should all welcome his recent foray into the field
I am unsure when Dr Luttwak was last in Afghanistan, so he may have more recent information than me.
Kilcullen explains entirely convincingly that the brutal approach used by empires past were never successful in the long run. And also gives some fantastic insights into the complex and fluid social dynamics in Iraq. Nuance of a type that somehow never quite makes it into Prime Ministerial statements or The Daily Telegraph for example. Here’s a nice example showing Kilcullen’s reply to one of Luttwak’s tabloid moments.
Dr Luttwak argues that the vast majority of Afghans and Iraqis, assiduous mosque-goers, illiterates or at best semi-illiterate, naturally believe their religious leaders (who, Dr Luttwak suggests, incite violence with claims that America seeks to destroy Islam and control oil resources). Again, this is at variance with field observation. In fact, neither Iraqis nor Afghans are particularly assiduous mosque-goers. And religious figures are prominent on all sides of both conflicts, in moderate and extreme political groups; there is an extremely wide range of clerical opinion, ranging from quietism through support for democratic government, to extremism. More fundamentally, in these societies, religious faith is not a function of ignorance and credulity, as Dr Luttwak implies, but a widespread cultural norm that infuses all social classes, political orientations and education levels.
Killcullen is clearly a bright fellow, and he rebuts Luttwak effectively. However, one point he hasn’t adequately addressed. Perhaps because Luttwak doesn’t state it clearly in the Harper’s article, but he certainly does on the ABC.
The answer is go home
Kilcullen pulls apart Luttwak’s coarse and typically vulgar neoconservative logic, which leads to the conclusion that the forces should leave, but does that mean that Luttwak’s, conclusion (that we should leave now) is wrong? I think not. For me a commenter to Kilcullen’s post hits on something far closer to the truth, and comes far closer to the real reason why we should leave.
All systems have inherent energy and this energy is a product of the elements, relationships, issues and forces in play inside the system. If a system is in a high state of turmoil the energy flows inside the system are likely to be enormous. Containing such a system and bringing it back to close to equilibrium requires a number of steps not least working out how to bleed the excess and harmful energy out of the system. Sometimes this means letting things run their course rather than truncating them with equal or greater force or walls for that matter!
What the commenter is saying is that the problem will not go away, the civil strife will not end, until the energy is dissipated. This is similar to the view put by Britain’s former Iraq ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who aside from having much more nuanced views about Iran that we normally see, says this about Iraq.
I believe that Iraq will not get rid of violence until the people as a whole are exhausted with it. And that will come when they’re on their own and there’s no longer a coalition there, they’ve been through a further terrible period of bloodshed, and then they’d begin to pull themselves to their senses. Or some leader, probably with the help of the Iraqi Army, which has a historical status in Iraq, begins to reform the structures of a united country. I think it will go through that process.
And that seems to me to be the brutal truth. There is no fix that the West can apply to the problem of Iraq. Only time. Things will need to get a lot worse before they get any better.