Iraq Net Assessment:
Strategic Overview and Recommendations

May 15, 2004

Comment: # 510

Discussion Threads - Comments #s: 509, 508, 507, 505, 504, 503, 501, 499, 496, 494, 492, 491, 489, 487, 486, 485, 484, 481, 479, 476, 475, 469, 465, 461, 460, 459, 458

Attached References:

[Ref.1] By Paul Richter, "U.S. Tries to Adapt as Options Dwindle: A series of policy reversals in Iraq shows strategies yielding to political realities," Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2004.

I recently returned to Brunswick, Georgia, via sailboat from the Bahamas in an exciting sleigh ride down the Gulf Stream in 40kt winds and 12-14 foot following seas. But the political nastiness here in the good ole USA makes the Stream look tame by comparison. On the other hand, I have been out of touch with events, so perhaps my sense of confusion and gloom is simply due to the shock of moving from a culture where one's primary news interest was the daily weather report from the fabulously inaccurate Barometer Bob.

I asked a friend whom I respect deeply and who has worked in the US government for many years a man I will call "X" for reasons that will become apparent to bring me up to speed with his analysis of events. He responded with what is often called a "net assessment" a weighing of the pros and cons of what is going on in Iraq in the form of a formal memorandum. Like most memorandums it is written in the bland language of the US government, and it is full of acronyms, but it is nevertheless very insightful and, I think, important.

Attached herewith is that Net Assessment for your review and evaluation. I urge you to read it carefully, including the footnotes. The following list of acronyms is provided for your convenience.

List of Acronyms:

ANZUS - Australia - New Zealand - United States
CPA - Coalition Provisional Authority
GME - Greater Middle East
GWOT - Global War on Terrorism
INC - Iraqi National Congress
OIF - Operation Iraqi Freedom
Psy-ops - Psychological operations
RPG - Rocket Propelled Grenade
USG - US Government
WMD - Weapons of Mass Destruction
4GW - Fourth Generation Warfare

Date: May 15, 2004
Memorandum for DNI
From: "Civilian X"

Subject: POLICY ASSESSMENT: Iraq Strategic Overview and Recommendations

[Comment: Civilian X is a professional member of the US Government with extensive expertise and experience in issues relating to the foreign policy and national security of the United States.]


The Abu Ghraib prison, incidents focus attention on the ignored but evident fact that the U.S. Government [USG] occupation of Iraq is not primarily an issue of how to militarily defeat an insurgency. Rather, Iraq is a grave international political problem whose solution lies in the political arena; text-book military solutions generally exacerbate the underlying situation (e.g., by stimulating insurgent recruiting). This memorandum suggests a course of action for the USG that addresses this fundamental fact.

A Net Assessment of Operation Iraqi Freedom [OIF]


1. U.S. military forces succeeded in militarily defeating the Iraq Armed Forces and occupying the national territory without military interference from third states (a).

2. President Saddam Hussein and most of his key leadership were captured.

3. A functioning and tolerably stable Kurdish area has been established. Whether or not this remains a success depends on (among other things) whether de facto Kurdish autonomy in Iraq destabilizes the Kurdish situation in Turkey (and possibly Iran).

4. Concerted USG psychological operations [psy-ops] to condition the U.S. domestic population (to include the news media and Congress) to accept OIF rationales were highly effective in the pre-attack and attack phases. But like all psy-ops, effectiveness attenuated as reality diverged from the message (b).


1. OIF in general, and the Abu Ghraib incidents in particular, have substantially increased the circumstances favorable for terrorist recruitment in the Greater Middle East [GME] and all other areas in which Muslims are a cohesive minority. This is the gravest failure of OIF: it has directly and indirectly weakened the national security posture of the United States and the safety of its citizens. As such, OIF has backfired in the larger context of the Global War on Terrorism [GWOT] as badly as Vietnam backfired within the framework of containment policy.

2. More than any other event or circumstance in the last 55 years, OIF has weakened the U.S.-led global alliance structure (a substantially Truman-Marshall-Acheson construct which includes the United Nations, NATO, ANZUS, and various bilateral arrangements). While a looser global alignment following the end of the cold war was inevitable, OIF has qualitatively transformed the relationship to one of mutual suspicion and occasional hostility. These circumstances make conduct of the GWOT more difficult and require the USG to expend more political and financial capital to continue it.

3. Approximately one-half of U.S. military ground combat power is tied down for an indeterminate period against an insurgency disposing mainly of stockpiled small arms, RPGs, improvised bombs, and only an occasional guided weapon. This circumstance weakens, both materially and psychologically, the U.S. military deterrent posture in the rest of the world, and exacerbates military overstretch (c).

4. Primary rationale for OIFweapons of mass destruction [WMD]was demonstrated by events to be erroneous or a fabrication. USG credibility in rationalizing future preemptive wars has been diminished.

5. Secondary rationale for OIFpurported links between the Baath regime and al Qaedawas demonstrated by events to be false. USG credibility has been damaged among foreign publics and U.S. opinion leaders (this may be less of a psy-op failure than it appears; the bulk of the U.S. electorate continues to believe Iraq was responsible for 9/11).

6. Tertiary rationale for OIFnationbuilding Iraq into a stable pro-western democracyis now in the process of being compromised by events into a less democratic but more politically expedient goal.

[Spinney's note - Reference 1 below is report in the LA Times describes the vacillating policy wrt to democratizing Iraq which "X" is referring to.]

7. Additional rationale for OIFfacilitating a resolution of the Israel-Palestine dispute settlementwas demonstrated by events to be false. On the contrary, the situation is demonstrably worse. OIF proponents also asserted that the GME would be stabilized by U.S. occupation of Iraq; the reverse is true.

8. Sub rosa rationale offered by USG leaders to U.S. business elites and indirectly to American consumers that OIF would yield a bonus of cheap, abundant oilwas demonstrated by events to be false. Additionally, the occupation is not self-financing, as was asserted before the war. Instead, $121 billion has been committed to Iraq and another $25 billion has been proposed.

Interim Judgments

1. U.S.-led occupation of Iraq is a quagmire that hinders successful prosecution of The Global War on Terrorism. In effect if not intent (for intent cannot yet be determined), the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were, in military terms, a classic "baited trap," which lured USG policy makers into making a poor strategic choice: The invasion and occupation of Iraq. USG leaders have occasionally likened Iraq to a "bug zapper," i.e., a trap which attracts and kills international terrorists. But the current situation suggests that a more accurate analogy is that of a "petri dish," i.e., a breeding ground for terrorism, both inside and outside of Iraq. Polls taken even before Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib revelations indicate that one-third both of the Sunni and Shia populations believe terrorist attacks against Coalition forces are acceptable. Those figures should be understood in the context of the fact that it only requires relatively small minorities to make a successful insurgency, e.g., out of 17 million South Vietnamese there were approximately 250,000 Vietcong infrastructure (slightly more than one percent of the population) and barely 50,000 Vietcong combatants at any given time.

2. Time is not on the side of the occupation. It is tacitly assumed that each crisis or spike in violence is a self-contained event; once that event passes, things will improve as "reconstruction takes hold." Likewise, USG leaders state that the 30 June handover of some limited functions to an Iraqi Interim Government will confer legitimacy and attenuate hostility towards Americans. It is more likely that the handover will be of minor relevance to the strategic situation; more relevant will have been the fact that two additional months will have passed without policies having been implemented to extricate the United States from a quagmire or otherwise improve the situation.

3. Options are narrowing, not widening. Until August 2003 the USG could have induced the United Nations to assume a greater burden in Iraq with relatively minor concessions. The blowing up of the UN facility, Baghdad, took that option off the table. Other great powers might have been induced to send troops if, e.g., there had been more open bidding on contracts and sharing of authority. Now the security situation has deteriorated to the extent that no "sweeteners" will induce participation on essentially U.S. terms. The Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA] could have co-opted the Ayatollahs and other Big Men from a position of strength and effectively ruled Iraq through them. The CPA may yet have to do this, but from a position of weakness. The Coalition of the Willing is getting smaller, not larger.

4. One more incident could make a barely tenable situation disastrous. Abu Ghraib and other prisons contained sections with incarcerated females and juveniles. Any hypothetical abuses from that quarter that might come to light would be even more explosive than what has gone before. So would any possible participation in these activities by Israeli nationals (d). Additional incidents would stimulate insurgent recruitment among 25 million Iraqis as well as recruitment of international terrorists within a pool of one billion Muslims. Such a development would further increase the danger to U.S. armed forces personnel, U.S. citizens abroad, and high value targets within the United States itself.


Short-Term Solutions

1. Clean house. Fire all members of the Iraqi National Congress [INC] on the Governing Counsel, particularly corrupt individuals like Ahmed Chalabi. Secure all records and documents from these persons.

2. Change the face of the CPA. Replace the Americans who give the daily CPA briefing with Iraqis. USG personnel who want to give press briefings on Iraq should do so from Washington; the current set-up resembles a colonial administration and is perceived as such by Iraqis.

3. Stop the corruption. Credible public information states that up to 20 percent of Iraq contract funds are lost to corruption. USG should appoint an Inspector General to the CPA and empower the General Accounting Office to audit reconstruction contracts (the CPA has been exempted from the Inspector General Act and GAO audits).

4. Reduce the number of targets. Pull back troops from sweeps and search and destroy missions and replace them to the extent possible with Iraqi security forces. Whether they are militarily competent is less relevant than the fact that they are less likely to provoke firefights that kill innocent bystanders and thereby aid insurgent recruitment.

Definitive Solutions

1. A fresh start requires fresh thinking. A physician who botches an operation is not the most plausible candidate for repairing the damage. At a minimum, USG must purge from government office those with greatest culpability for misusing their positions on behalf of policies not in the national interest; these persons are commonly referred to as neoconservatives. They include but are not limited to: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis Libby, David Wurmser, Elliot Abrams, Steven Hadley, John Hannah, and John Bolton. Others who bear responsibility hold higher governmental positions, so it is probable that USG institutional mechanisms would hesitate before acting decisively; however, their judgment has been so consistently lacking with regard to Iraq and GWOT that their removal is essential: Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, and Condoleezza Rice. They have fostered an environment conducive neither to sound judgment nor honesty.

2. Prepare for an early departure. As GEN Odom and others have asserted, for the sake of American security and economic power alike, US. should remove its forces from Iraq as rapidly as possible. "We have failed," he states. "The issue is how high a price we're going to pay ... Less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later?" While it may be possible, by completely abandoning the Geneva Convention, to grind down the immediate insurgent threat through military means, the collateral damage to civilians would make long-term pacification of Iraq even more untenable. At the same time, such actions could destabilize Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab-Islamic states. Perceived oppression of Iraq's 60-percent Shiite majority could lead to massive and sustained Iranian intervention. Given the Coalition's tenuous supply lines between Kuwait and Baghdad, potential Iranian intervention could be roughly analogous to Chinese intervention in Korea in November 1950 (which resulted in the longest sustained retreat in U.S. military history). Accordingly, the USG should make preparations to withdraw all military forces by 1 October 2004 as it simultaneously implements step 3 (below).

3. Transfer military operations to a coalition of Islamic states friendly to the USG. Under the aegis of a United Nations Security Council resolution the USG should hand off military occupation to a coalition of friendly Islamic states such as Egypt, Jordan, and Indonesia (e). While they may demand a high monetary price to participate, it would in any case be cheaper than funding an ongoing U.S. occupation. At the same time, the CPA would be disestablished and its functions transferred to United Nations agencies. This step would require painful public concessions; it is accordingly unlikely that the authors of current policy would have the character or sensitivity to implement them (refer to step 1 above) Finally, a future U.S. embassy in Baghdad should be much smaller than the one currently planned.

4. Refocus the Global War on Terrorism to its proper objective: al Qaeda. Stabilizing Afghanistan alone (a larger and more populous country than Iraq and possessing the most challenging terrain on earth) is a difficult enough objective without the enormous drain of manpower, intelligence assets, money, and policy focus created by the distraction of Iraq. Afghanistan is in danger of reverting to chaos and warlordism such that al Qaeda can re-establish itself in sanctuaries. Internationally, the USG should de-emphasize use of conventional military forces for GWOT and increase emphasis on cooperative international intelligence efforts, police work, tracking financial flows, and strengthened international coordination to investigate and combat terrorism.


(a) One should not, however, overstate the military achievement of defeating in conventional military operations an internationally isolated state comprised of mostly level, treeless terrain and with a pre-war GDP smaller than that of Fairfax County, VA; which had been for 12 years under the most comprehensive international sanctions in history; which disposed of a partially-destroyed (in the Gulf War) 1970s-era Soviet equipped military manned by incompetent officers and cowed conscripts; and which (according to statements by a captured Iraqi general) placed no more than 15 percent of its total military forces against U.S. and U.K. forces.

(b) U.S. domestic psy-ops were generally successful owing to cultural, educational, and religious peculiarities of the U.S. domestic population. A perceptive study of U.S. psy-op techniques in OIF is the following: Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II, by Sam Gardiner, COL, USAF (Retired). U.S. information operations in third countries have been poor; Pew Research Center polling of international opinion confirms this: U.S. psy-op techniques against enemies (characterized by heavy metal music, crudely translated threats, and similar methods) appear to stiffen enemy resistance.

(c) The USG serves the national interest better by using military force to deter wars, or by using it to assist in a broad alliance, than when it attempts unilaterally to fight a determined foe on his own territory. U.S. elites are consistently misled, more than six decades later, by the myth that the United States won World War II mostly single-handed. In reality, seven-eighths of all German ground combat time throughout the war was expended against the Soviet Union. China absorbed a similar proportion of Japanese ground combat power. What the United States accomplished was essentially the deployment of its gross national product in coalition with a broad alliance to expel Axis forces from third-party territory. When U.S. leadership has forgotten this model (as in Vietnam) the results are generally unfavorable. This problem is compounded by the emergence of Fourth Generation Warfare [4GW], a historical phase shift which has caught the technocratic, process-oriented, and historically illiterate U.S. elites unprepared

(d) USG equivocation about the legal responsibility of contractors, and obfuscation about even the identities of subcontractors, are suggestive indicators. So is the fact that the USG put the issue of treatment of prisoners under the control of the Under Secretary for Policy, Douglas Feith, rather than under bona fide experts in military and international law.

(e) There is some risk of GME destabilization in that the people of these countries might perceive their leaders as flunkies of the USG (even more so than heretofore) for undertaking a peacekeeping mission in Iraq. But the dynamic could work the other way: that these countries are "rescuing" the situation in an Islamic state - a situation the United States was incapable of handling. The soldiers of these states might also be more culturally acceptable to ordinary Iraqi citizens than Western soldiery. In any case, the risk is worth taking.

Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


U.S. Tries to Adapt as Options Dwindle
A series of policy reversals in Iraq shows strategies yielding to political realities.

By Paul Richter
Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
May 15, 2004




The Bush administration has junked one plan after another since last fall as it has groped its way, by trial and error, to a new order in Iraq. Officials have

  • dumped a plan for grass-roots electoral caucuses, 

  • accepted former members of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's regime in the Iraqi government and military, and

  • turned to the United Nations to design the caretaker administration

- all despite earlier vows to do otherwise.

  • This week, American officials took another step sideways by signaling that they will give more power in a transitional government to members of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, a group that is resented by many Iraqis and was omitted from earlier plans. The interim government is expected to take office when the United States transfers sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30 and serve until the elections that are planned for next year.


"We've got to get this thing moving, and we just don't have that many friends," said a longtime government expert on Iraq, who asked to remain unidentified. "That means we've got to husband the people who are with us in this. We are very weak."


  • Two leading Kurdish groups that are part of the current Iraqi Governing Council made clear that they would not support a caretaker government that did not include their leaders


Another risk is that Iraqis would view the interim government as corrupt, he added.