News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!
September 2, 2007
This is important news! I too believed it almost impossible, but recent operations have demonstrated that our senior political and military leaders have mastered the intricacies of their target’s culture, manipulating both old and new information media to shape the war’s outcome.
This is bad news, as the target of these operations is us, the American people. The goal: to deceive the American public in order to maintain support so that the Iraq War can continue.
They’ve succeeded, beyond what most critics of the war imagined possible. Polls show increased public support for the war. Pro-war geo-political and military experts exult at our success. Mainstream Democratic Presidential candidates grow even vaguer about their withdrawal plans.
As usual in 4GW, the methods by which this was achieved are not new. Our government’s actions display many of the classic elements of agitprop, skillfully applied.
I. Capturing the popular imagination with an attractive narrative
Everybody loves a hero. No victory narrative compels belief without one. For the surge we have General Petraeus, the intellectual-warrior. Playing a role similar to that of General Maxwell Taylor in Vietnam, his participation builds confidence. Both accomplished soldiers, although Petraeus’ record in Iraq is largely PR spin by comparison with Taylor’s in WWII and Korea (a matter of opportunity, perhaps, not relative skill). Both brilliant, articulate leaders, the presence of such men gives a high gloss to failing strategies.
Also important is the deus ex machina, a standard Hollywood plot device to snatch victory from defeat in the last reel. For the Iraq War we have the “surge.” Unfortunately, there is no meaningful surge to the number of coalition troops in Iraq, which has been more-or-less stable since the end of 2004. See this graph (16 KB PDF), showing that current Coalition strength is only slightly above the average for the past 4+ years, since troop levels stabilized in Spring 2004. The increased number of US troops has been offset by departure of allied forces.
Our government has used its influence with the mainstream media and pro-war private institutions to make repeated claims of success. This forces the war’s opponents to expend resources to research and correct these claims. Not only does this place the opposition in a reactive/defensive mode, but also refutation of official claims made through the major media is difficult to accomplish.
These include claims of reduced casualties or insurgent activity in certain places during varying time periods, often describing only certain classes of casualties or activities. Of course Coalition troops can stabilize small areas of Iraq. This ignores the larger picture: the rivers of blood still spilling each day, the general anarchy affecting much of Iraq outside of Kurdistan, and – most importantly -- the irrelevance of these tactical claims to the political objectives that are not only the keys to defeating an insurgency, but also our strategic goals of the war.
For instance, there are claims that the “Surge” of US troops has resulted in lower fatalities of our troops. There is no slowing, however, to the long-term increase of monthly Coalition deaths. The short time record (only 53 months) makes reliable analysis difficult, but as of July the long-term moving averages were all near or at record highs. The strong seasonality of insurgent activity -- troughs in February and July, peaks in April and November -- makes drawing short-term conclusions difficult. Hence the typical spring – summer decline in deaths, an obvious weather-related effect now masquerading as a result of the “Surge.”
The data for Iraq civilian casualties is of far lower quality and more “noisy”. It appears to have similar seasonal characteristics and, adjusted for this, shows little evidence of declining since the “Surge” began. The numbers are roughly flat on a year-over-year basis, similar to those of last summer.
However important to the casualties and their families (no matter if Iraqi or Coalition), these numbers are ephemera to the fate of the Iraq State. More important are the millions of displaced people in Iraq and more millions of exiles from Iraq. These are the numbers that count, the ethnic building a new polity for Iraq. It’s the difficult path to a new Iraq. Perhaps it was always the only path.
Either way, these statistics are not ones for which we will claim responsibility – either in victory or defeat.
III. The ever-useful Potemkin Village
There is no “Iraq Army.” There are many units loyal to specific ethnic, regional, or religious groups – including some loyal (at least for now) to the Coalition. But few are loyal to the Iraq government.
That this confusion continues, despite dozens or perhaps hundreds of articles explaining the falsity of these claims, casts doubt on our ability to recognize reality – let alone analyze and cope with it.
There is no “Iraq government.” See my earlier article for details. Even the shell of pretend government has fractured during the past few months, as key elements leave “ruling” coalition. What little credibility it has diminishes each time American leaders hector, threaten, and now – worse of all – alluding to coups. All advertise to the Iraq people that we too consider it no more than a puppet regime.
IV. Control of the narrative.
Our primary goal in Iraq was to rebuild a strong and stable central government, preventing either a failed state (breeding ground for Islamic terrorists) or a satellite of Iran (making Iran the hegemon of the Middle East). Fragmentation of Iraq represents failure, making both these dangers more likely.
Here we see near-genius at work. Actual defeat, failure to achieve important strategic objectives, becomes victory in the eyes of the American public.
First we have the turn-over of security operations in the Kurdish provinces from Coalition to Iraq Forces. Here is Peter W. Galbraith describing it:
Second, there is the much-touted conflict between Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and foreign al Qaeda-allied forces. To support the defeat of al Qaeda, we’ve armed the locals. This is perhaps a blow to a Qaeda, but even more so to our goal of a stable Iraq state. At first glance, this may seem an odd conclusion because fighting al Qaeda does make them less dedicated opponents of the government.
Amidst the applause, one question remains unanswered – except by guesses: why the conflict now? The Shiite Arab – Sunni Arab mutual slaughter continues with unabated fury, suggesting that the methods and violence of al Qaeda are not inherently unacceptable to the locals.
Most likely the locals no longer need al Qaeda, and therefore have become unwilling to share power. Arming the locals just continues our mad policy of supporting all sides in what is obviously a civil war.
Third, internecine warfare continues throughout much of Iraq. As local elites regain control of areas like Anbar province, conflicts intensify in other areas – where control remains up for grabs. Like Kirkuk, as the days tick off until the November constitutionally-mandated referendum to determine its status.
Like Basra. The precipitous departure of UK forces from Basra leaves control of this vital oil-export center in the hands of quarreling Shiite militia. Although there were attempts to portray this as progress, events proved beyond the spin-masters’ control.
The central Iraq government has almost no presence in Basra, one of the most economically important areas of Iraq. This is particularly disturbing because if the Shi’ite-dominated government cannot exercise influence over Shi’ite-dominated Basra, what can it control? The UK’s handling of Basra was promoted as a model demonstration of COIN theory, mastered by the UK army during its long years in Northern Ireland.
Iraq is fragmenting. Local and regional elites are consolidating power by both military and political means, often after extensive ethnic cleansing. Their victories bring peace to these areas. In most areas Coalition forces were irrelevant to this process; in some cases we helped; in many areas we overlaid another level of violence on an inherently painful and brutal process.
As described in my March 13 paper, “The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace”, this fragmentation has long been Iraq’s only hope. On the whole it’s happened despite our efforts. That we take credit for the resulting “peace” is delusional.
It’s too soon to say what the result will be. Will Turkey and Kurdistan become enemies, escalating their long-standing enmity? Will Iran dominate Shiite-governed southern zone? Will the contested zones find some governing arrangement, or fight and bleed until one side wins and others flee? Can the northern oil revenue be peacefully divided?
A fragmented but peaceful Iraq might be the best realistic outcome for the war, however bleak compared with the price we paid. The trillion or so expended, including future costs and interest. And the thousands of Coalition dead. That’s why it is called “losing.”
We have no vision to guide Iraq. We support the “Iraq government”, almost powerless and still fading. We’re arming various sides in this civil war. We take credit for good developments but assume no responsibility for the bad. Our primary policy goal is an oil law allowing exploitation of Iraq oil by western companies, while other oil exports move in the opposite direction – rejecting foreign ownership, hiring necessary technical support on a fee-for-service basis.
We spent billions attempting to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, and much of it is worse than when we invaded. The General shifts this responsibility to the Iraqis, and rightly so. If they want electricity, clean water, and sewage treatment … they’ll have to make it happen.
Once we apply this insight to security, our troops will be on their way home.
“Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems.”
General Petraeus is on his way to mastering 4GW.
Are the things reported here good or bad? Please consult a priest or philosopher for answers to such questions. This author only discusses what was, what is, and what might be.
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