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Petraeus: A Failure by His Own Standards

Fog Facts: How can we expect the man who failed at doing just part of the job -- training Iraqi soldiers -- to succeed now that he has the whole job?
 
 
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Fog Facts are facts that are known. They've been published and are easily accessible. They are important enough that they ought to define the political dialogue. Yet somehow they are as unrecognized as if they were top secret. They're lost in the fog.

Gen. Petraeus, for example, arrives with an amazing fog. There are facts in the militaristic mist all around him, that if noticed, should have even Republicans scheduling flights out of Baghdad.

Let's start with his track record.

Our basic Iraq policy has been and continues to be: "We'll stand down when they stand up." That is, when Iraq has an army and a police force that functions and can maintain order on its own.

The American occupation, run by Paul Bremer III under the aegis of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) disbanded the Iraqi army and, through de-Baathification, took apart the police. As a result, there was no security at the same time that several hundred thousand armed men of military age, with no jobs, were unleashed on the country. Chaos ensued. The occupation, though legally and ethically required to maintain order, and the only people around able to do so, decided not to. It was then that the insurgents arose, forming militias and gangs, to step into the vacuum.

The occupation set out to rebuild the Iraqi Army and Police. So they could stand up and we could stand down.

The man who was given the job was that rising star, Gen. David Petraeus.

He failed.

The Iraqi Army cannot resist the insurgency. The Iraqi police cannot keep order. Indeed, it's far worse than that. Both forces are infiltrated. Some divisions are actually filled with militia members, insurgents and gangsters, dressed up in uniforms. With access to intelligence, arms and equipment. They have engaged in murder, torture and intimidation.

How can we expect the man who failed at doing just part of the job -- training those forces -- to succeed now that he has the whole job?

Nonetheless, Petraeus has a great reputation. US News & World Report said he is "one of the most fascinating people in the United States Army. With a Ph.D. from Princeton University, he is often referred to as the military's warrior-scholar." That's pretty much how everyone talks about him.

After he was sent back to the States from Iraq, he updated the U.S. Army's counterinsurgency manual. It's a public document.

It is well-written. Both the prose and the thinking are clear. It ranges widely through time and cites a variety of sources, including Mao and Clausewitz. It's thoughtful and fairly objective. It is the perfect yardstick to evaluate what is going on Iraq and -- by using Gen. Petraeus' own standards, the U.S. military's official standard -- figure how well we can expect what we're doing to work.

Fog Fact: The counterinsurgency manual recommends a force ratio of between 20 and 25 troops per 1,000 in the population.

The math is very simple. The current estimated population of Iraq is 27,500,000.

The proper size of a counterinsurgency force is therefore a minimum of 550,000, more comfortable at 687,500.

Right now, at the peak of the surge, there are about 169,000 coalition troops (92 percent U.S.) in Iraq. That's 381,000 short of the minimum. Or 506,000 short of the more ideal ratio.

Let us emphasize that this is from a public document. It is official army doctrine. It's available on the Net. Why haven't we seen these numbers on CNN or in the New York Times ? Why has no one asked Petraeus about the discrepancy between his own theory and the reality?

Alright, so we're 400,000 or so troops short of a full deck. Does that mean the war can't be "won?"

Fog Fact: How a counterinsurgency war (COIN) is won. Patreaus writes in the manual:

COIN is fought among the populace. Counterinsurgents take upon themselves responsibility for the people's well-being in all its manifestations. These include the following:

  • Security from insurgent intimidation and coercion, as well as from nonpolitical violence and crime.
  • Provision for basic economic needs.
  • Provision of essential services, such as water, electricity, sanitation, and medical care.
  • Sustainment of key social and cultural institutions.
  • Other aspects that contribute to a society's basic quality of life.

Neither the Iraq government nor the occupation forces provides any of those things.

America lost those battles within weeks of winning "the war" against Saddam's troops. For a while we claimed we were fighting to win them. But the reconstruction under Paul Bremer was so botched that the quality of life in Iraq today, by these measures, is worse than when Iraq was enduring international sanctions and under the rule of Saddam.

We no longer claim to be fighting those battles, except perhaps to create security. We have abdicated, saying we've done enough for the Iraqis, now they must do it for themselves. Those goals are so obvious and so unarguably worthwhile that we have to figure that if the Iraq government could achieve them, even attempt them, it would. If it hasn't, it's because they are unable.

If they can't, and we wont, then, according to our official doctrine, we will lose the war. Or, to put it another way, the war that was lost four years ago, under Rumsfeld, Bremer and Tommy Franks, will stay lost.

Fog Fact: How a counterinsurgency war is fought. Again, from the Army's manual: The principles of COIN are well known and form the skeleton of this manual. In essence, the counterinsurgent should --

  • Understand the environment in which the war is being fought.
  • Isolate the insurgents from their cause and their base.
  • Secure the population under the rule of law.
  • Generate intelligence from the population to drive actions against the insurgents.
  • Apply all elements of national power in unison to support the legitimacy of the host nation's government.
  • Be prepared for a long commitment, measured in years, if not decades.
  • Let's start at the bottom, since that should ring some bells: "A long commitment, measured in years if not decades."

    Any discussion of "winning" sooner than 2012 should be off the table. A realistic conversation has to be about staying there until 2017, or 2027, or as Bush has suggested with his comparison to Korea, a half of a century and still counting.

    Back to the top.

    "Understand the environment," means we have to know who we're fighting, why they're fighting, why they have support and what might make them interested in stopping.

    For years we have spoken of "the insurgents" as if they're generic figures in a video game, they insurge because they're insurgents. It would do well to call them the Fakarthy Insurgents. As in "Who the fakarthy?"

    Sometimes we say they're Al Qaeda. By which we mean demons who fight us because they're evil and we're good! That doesn't get us anywhere. It doesn't tell us how to deal with them and besides, most of the insurgency isn't Al Qaeda. It's just a way to wave the bloody flag for the folks at home.

    Answering "Who are they?" is a necessary precursor to "isolating the insurgents" and "generating good intelligence." We haven't done the homework, so when we face the test, we must necessarily fail.

    I don't doubt that the general is as brilliant as he is billed to be. Right now, I'll bet he and his team are pulling all-nighters, even after long days of fighting, trying to learn Arabic and figure who the enemy is. In a few years, or decades, they'll probably get there, too.

    Counterinsurgency FM 3-24 should be required reading for every journalist covering the war, the debate over the war, and the politics of the war. It should also be required for the senators and their staffs who vote 81-0 to put Petraeus in charge of the Iraq operation, and more particularly, those senators who questioned him so ineptly when he delivered his September report.

    It's realistic. It pulls the facts from the fog.

    When the real facts are made visible, the whole picture changes.

    Here's the real picture.

    "Winning" the war in Iraq, according to the best minds our military can provide, requires decades. At least half a million pairs of boots on the ground for the next several years. When things settle down, maybe that can be cut to 200,000 or 300,000. That requires a draft. If we, and the Iraqi government, are to acquire the legitimacy that wins against insurgents, we have to live up to our promises to rebuild and to stabilize the country. Before we can do that, we have to replace our own government -- the one that gave us Paul Bremer III, Donald Rumsfeld and Michael "heck of a job, Brownie" Brown -- with one that employs competent people, who insist on getting the job done in return for the money spent.

    It's not that the war in Iraq can't be "won." It's that no one, on the right, left or middle, has pulled the facts from the fog -- or read the manual -- and said, "If we want to win, this is what it costs. If you're not willing to pay the price, then you're not really talking about winning."

    If we're not talking about winning, then we should be talking about how fast we can get out.

Larry Beinhart is the author of Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (2005) and many works of fiction.

 
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