War on Iraq  
comments_image Comments

Rumsfeld's Attempts to Rewrite Himself on the Right Side of History Are Laughable

The failed defense secretary pens a historical cover-up on Iraq and reveals more wild stupidity with his advice on Afghanistan.

Continued from previous page


Rumsfeld purposely misses this point when he claims that there had been earlier "surges" before Gen. David Petraeus' 2006 surge:

"In 2005, troop levels in Iraq were increased to numbers nearly equal to the 2007 surge -- twice. But the effects were not as durable, because large segments of the Sunni population were still providing sanctuary to insurgents, and Iraq's security forces were not sufficiently capable or large enough."

It didn't work because the problem was strategy, not troop numbers. Rumsfeld wasn't alone in refusing to think about counterinsurgency. Most of the Army officer corps associated "counterinsurgency" with Vietnam and wanted nothing to do with it, as Lt. Col. John A. Nagl acknowledges: "It is not unfair to say that in 2003 most Army officers knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency." Counterinsurgency tactics are the exact opposite of the "shock-and-awe" strategy Rumsfeld had been pushing in Iraq. Rumsfeld's notion of war involves maximum firepower; counterinsurgency warfare stresses getting to know the locals instead of firing blindly every time a patrol is ambushed. Counterinsurgency is slow, people-centered and low tech.

Naturally Rumsfeld, a lifelong advocate of high-tech, airpower-based warfare, opposed it until 2007, when the situation was so bad Petraeus finally got his chance.

When Petraeus finally took command, most of his moves were counterinsurgency basics that would have been put in place years ago by any other occupying army in history. One of the first moves was starting neighborhood census programs so troops could start sorting out who was who, who was new, who didn't belong in the area. The worst of it is that Rumsfeld isn't content to skew the Iraq story in his own favor. His essay in the Times shows he's still pushing denial as a way of dealing with Afghanistan, by insisting we can't talk to the Taliban: "The current suggestion of ‘opening negotiations' with the Taliban may well win over some low- and midlevel supporters, but if history is any guide, offering the hand of peace to hardened fanatics is not likely to prove successful."

I remember when I was a kid, the same argument was used to prove we can never talk to "Red China": they're evil fanatics! You can't talk to them! So the United States pretended there was no China for decades, and dealt with Taiwan as if it was a little island in the middle of nowhere.

Then Nixon, a guy nobody ever accused of naïveté, changed everything by pointing out, while on his way to shake Mao's hand, that evil or not, those "evil" Red Chinese controlled a fourth of the world's population and weren't going to go away. 

Denial didn't work then, didn't work in Iraq and won't work in Afghanistan. Whether the Taliban are "evil" or not I have no idea, but the fact is that they represent most of the Pashtun in Afghanistan. Sure, the Pashtun have some strange ideas, but if we're going to call them "evil" I guess it's time to wipe them out. If we're not going to do that -- and obviously we're not -- then sooner or later, we're going to have to talk to them.

Rumsfeld's giant blind spot about counterinsurgency warfare keeps him from seeing this. Conventional warfare, the kind he understands, is binary: either you're at war, or you're at peace. Counterinsurgency warfare is a lot murkier. It always comes down to negotiating with some faction of locals, but that doesn't mean "offering the hand of peace." It's more about bribing the greedy, provoking the paranoid and making a deal with the rest. That's what we've done in the Sunni Triangle: bribed some Sunni factions, and encouraged the hostility that other local factions had developed toward the foreign fighters in al-Qaida to flare into open war between Iraqis and foreign jihadists.

See more stories tagged with: