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December 27, 2006
Response to James Lewis
Dear Mr. Lewis:
This is in reply to your response to the original essay entitled "Dealing with the Iraq Insurgency Militarily."
First to your compliment and then to your critique.
As to the "elegant logic" of the original essay, it is not mine but rather the science-art of war developed over centuries.
As to your critique. You suggest your criticism goes to the essay's assessment of motivation -- that being, it is religious and rather intractable. But in truth, your critique is deeper. You attempt to make the case that one, there are motivations driving this conflict other than religious; two, Iraq's pre-existing "history of national existence" and the impulse by some portion of its population "to modernize", coupled with a two-century's old effort by the Arab Middle East to move beyond the Middle Ages, all combine to suggest that the intractable religious motivation factor might indeed be tractable (might we say overwhelmed?).
And, if one were to read your critique with some deeper nuance, what you might be suggesting is that if enough of the other motivations combined to give the democratically elected government a chance to mold into a real civil democratic coalition government of sorts, it could, with America's help, defeat the Capability Factor by aggressively fighting the militias, policing a no-private armies law, and controlling Iraq's vast borders.
First things first: a few clarifications.
First clarification. The original essay made it quite clear that all of the traditional motivations were at work in Iraq. The tribal-clan factor is obviously one of the most important in the Arab world. These were indeed included in the essay under the rubric political and geo-strategic. The essay was not an oversimplification of the factors at work in Iraq.
Moreover, the essay did not suggest a pessimistic outcome UNLESS the status quo remains. The law of Motivation surely applies as well to the US, and as a liberal democracy subject to the almost daily body counts and main stream media polling, the Vietnam Syndrome as it has been called, that being a loss of public will or motivation, is undeniably upon us. Ignoring that fact is to be a pundit and not a military analyst and strategist.
The Vietnam analogy was based on the loss of our motivation and the failure to deal with the enemy's capabilities in a way to disarm them. Both aspects of the analogy are quite apt in this case as the essay makes clear. There is a basic misconception in this country that because we poured more than a half million troops into Vietnam the troops were employed in an effective strategy to win the war. They were not. Those patriotic Americans (not the knee-jerk anti-war coalition) back home who had lost heart and demanded we end the war justified their position on the premise that we had done everything in our power and "had given it our best shot." We did not.
Certainly no student of military history would attempt to make the case that the Vietnam War was fought with a World War II strategic mindset. Our political and senior military leadership failed the American people in Vietnam. In truth, the "justification" for America's loss of heart was not that we faced an insolvable military problem. The American loss of will in Vietnam was in a sense justified because our national leadership, political and military, was too cowardly to admit that their concept of "limited" warfare was fatally flawed and as a result they failed to change it even after it had become readily apparent to the man in the street such was the case. We are now seeing history repeat itself.
The argument in the essay is not that the situation is irretrievable, but that simply adding more troops without destroying the sources of enemy resupply is sending our military on a fool's errand.
Clarification two. Your assessment of Iraq's history is badly flawed. It is true that there was a civilization in this area of the world as far back as the one referred to as Mesopotamia (the Greek for "between the rivers", those being of course the great Tigris and Euphrates Rivers). But never in the history of the region was there ever a "national" existence resembling present-day Iraq. There should be no need to survey the history of the region. This area has been a part of some much larger empire (including the Greeks and the Persians), but mostly the Islamic Caliphate since the 7th century.
However, since the 7th century until the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, there has been no "national" existence or movement by those living in what is now Iraq to speak of. Even under the Ottoman Rule, during the reform and nationalistic periods of the 19th century, the Arabs in Iraq never formed a cogent national identity, unlike many other areas under Ottoman rule, such as the Danubian Principalities, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Wallachia, and Moldova, all of whom declared their independence from the Empire. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro actually gained their national independence following the Russo-Turkish War.
What your reference to a history of Iraqi "national existence" lacks is fact. Other to some veiled reference to Mesopotamia, you cannot point to an Iraqi national existence prior to the 20th century. Even the great Mesopotamian civilization which ruled the region came to an end as long ago as the 6th century BC, when it came part of the Persian Empire for four centuries.
In fact, modern Ottoman history immediately preceding the Empire's dismantling suggests your view of one national existence further flawed. After WWI and due to the Turks' alignment with the losing side, the League of Nations granted Britain what was to be called the Palestine and Iraq Mandates. Even the name Iraq, whose origin is subject to some speculation, was the name used by the Arabs for the region but never referencing any national aspirations or entity. Moreover, modern day Iraq, carved out of clay like many of the present-day Arab countries, is really the combination of three separate Turkish "vilayets" or principalities: Mosul, Basra, and Baghdad (sound familiar yet?). In the old Ottoman Empire, we can see that many of the individual vilayets of old have today become independent nation-states and this is understandable given the regional autonomy granted the vilayets under Turkish rule. But the three separate vilayets of what is today Iraq have an incredibly long history as having been established in the early 1600s. Is there any wonder there is talk of a partition of Iraq? As an aside, Saddam's purported claim over Kuwait could be said to arise out of the fact that the vilayet of Basra historically included Kuwait.
So, what we learn when we get past your sweeping generalizations of a "history of national existence" is that one never existed for a unified Iraq. That is precisely why the essay's analysis was quite emphatically not an oversimplification. Your response, however, is not merely an over generalization it is patently contrary to the historical evidence. The very notion of a unified Iraq as opposed to Iraq as part of some greater Caliphate extends only to the post WWI era and even then the fact is that the Iraqi Mandate was granted by Britain to King Faisal as part of the Hashemite Kingdom (a large Arab clan, part of the large and powerful Quraish tribe that as you know also rules over Jordan). The Hashemites viewed Iraq (and many still do) as a part of the larger Hashemite kingdom, albeit governed separately from what was Transjordan (later Jordan). (Indeed, the Hashemites who trace their lineage directly to Mohammad claim to be the rightful heirs of Mecca and Medina but lost that contest to the upstart highlanders led by ibn Saud in a civil war. The Saudis of course have hung on to the Peninsula ever since.)
The reality of a real discreet nation-state separate from a broader Hashemite clan Kingdom didn't surface until the military coup of 1958. This secular military coup was followed by another military coup in 1963 and finally the coup in 1968 by the Socialist Ba'ath Party ultimately bringing Hussein to power in 1979. Thus, these facts would suggest that at best the notion of a discreet nation-state extends only to the 1950s, but certainly no further back than the grant to King Faisal. Where in this do you glean an "Iraqi" national existence back to Mesopotamia
Finally, your latent assumptions. Your suggestion really boils down to this. Notwithstanding the intractable nature of the religious commitment to defeat America and the West, you believe that the other motivation factors (i.e., possible intra-tribal alliances built on real-politik, desire to be a one Iraqi nation and in some sense a western or modern democracy) will overwhelm the religious motivations centuries old.
There is a second latent assumption in your response that has never been tested in the history of war that we know of. This assumption states that it is possible to set up a functioning civil and even democratic government in a country at war even as a significant minority of the country rejects such a government. In other words, you somehow believe that the inordinately difficult task of setting up a civil, governing coalition democracy among a people with no such tradition in the midst of a violent internecine war is possible before you destroy the enemy's war making motivation or capability.
Unfortunately, you have no evidence that either of your latent assumptions are even possible. Further, what evidence exists suggests strongly you are dead wrong.
Moreover, no Muslim or Arab country has yet succeeded to do so even without the war element. The very fact that the Arabs of the Middle East have been trying to modernize (this is your description for what they are doing) for 200 years and have failed so far would suggest that given that the Herculean task of creating a democracy out of whole cloth and maintaining it without any tradition of such civil governance will either fail simply - or, it will indeed succeed based upon your hopes and the necessary conversion of reality to something far more Utopian.
Hopes and dreams are wonderful things for arm-chair pundits with little real understanding of the historical, political, military and geo-strategic facts on the ground but that is no way to fight a war and win it.
All the best,
Colonel T. Snodgrass & David Yerushalmi
Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)