Saturday, December 25, 2004

Not just a river in Eqypt

Denial, according to Tony Cordesman of CSIS, is also a method of Counter Insurgency Warfare.

As late as July 2004, the Administration’s senior spokesmen still seemed to live in a fantasyland in terms of their public announcements, perception of the growing Iraqi hostility to the use of Coalition forces, and the size of the threat. They were still talking about a core insurgent force of only 5,000, when many Coalition experts on the ground in Iraq saw the core as at least 12,000-16,000.

Such US estimates of the core structure of the Iraqi insurgency also understated the problem, even if the figures had been accurate. From the start, there were many part-time insurgents and criminals who worked with insurgents. In some areas, volunteers could be quickly recruited and trained, both for street fighting and terrorist and sabotage missions. As in most insurgencies, “sympathizers” within the Iraqi government and Iraqi forces, as well as the Iraqis working for the Coalition, media, and NGOs, often provided excellent human intelligence without violently taking part in the insurgency. Saboteurs can readily operate within the government and every aspect of the Iraqi economy.

The piece is not long – 23 pages – but it’s worth reading. Or rather, I think it’s worth reading because it corresponds nicely to my own way of thinking about the situation and I feed on that sort of self-affirmation. It’s fun to compare Cordesman here:

These Ba’ath groups are not generally “former regime loyalists,” but rather Sunni nationalists involved in a struggle for current power.

To the Wall Street Journal editorial board in “The Enemy in Plain View" here:

"[The killing of the election workers in Baghdad] ought to put to rest the canard that what we are facing in Iraq is some kind of "nationalist" uprising opposed to U.S. occupation. The genuine Iraqi patriots are those risking their lives to rebuild their country and prepare for elections. They are being threatened, and murdered, by members and allies of the old regime who want to restore Sunni Baathist political domination. Or to put it more bluntly, we haven't yet defeated Saddam Hussein's regime."

Talk about fantasyland. Does this sort of thing explain these poll results?

Opinion is even more sharply divided over the outcome of elections. Seven in 10 Democrats and five in nine independents believe elections will not produce a stable government in Iraq, while more than two-thirds of Republicans believe they will.

But I distract myself. Anyhooo, that difference matters, because it then influences how you combat the insurgency. As I wrote elsewhere last week, discussing the pull out of the major U.S. contractor because they couldn’t manage the security challenge, a lot of people were focusing on the deteriorating security aspect to this piece. And very rightly so. The security challenge is a problem, no doubt. But how about the departure of these contractors? Is that a problem? Well, it is if you are like Cordesman and believe that we are facing an insurgency in Iraq that draws recruits from pools of disaffected Iraqis because as long as those Iraqis are without the basics and without jobs they’re going to be prime candidates to join the ranks of the insurgents.

If, however, like the WSJ, you see the Iraqi enemy as a finite number of die-hard Baathists, the last gasp of the Saddam Regime, then the pull out of contractors shouldn't present that much of a strategic problem. If that were the case, couldn't we just suspend reconstruction efforts and just focus on finishing killing leftovers from the regime, get that done with, and then return to reconstruction tasks? Wouldn't everything else naturally fall into place? (As an aside - you ever notice how estimates of enemy strength never seem to fall by anything near the estimated amount of enemy killed. Why is that?). Sure it might disappoint the Iraqis waiting for the water and power to be turned back on, but if this isn't a nationalist, or perhaps better "popular" uprising, then what's the strategic cost? I mean, it's not like your random non-regime-die-hard Iraqi would be inclined pick up arms, right? And then we could turn to reconstruction in a more peaceful environment and probably complete projects faster in the long run anyway.

But my money is on Cordesman's assessment.


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