Thursday, November 20, 2008

GEN McCafferey's Assessment

GEN (Retired) McCafferey was my CG in the first Gulf War. I’ve got enormous respect for the man; he’s a hard-nosed straight shooter who commands and demands extraordinary results from his people. Now, as an adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy, he’s published his findings of his recent (NOV 08) visit to Iraq.

For the most part, I agree with his assessment (I’m sure he is breathing a huge sigh of relief). The bottom line is that Iraq is now ours to lose, and every day the Iraqis continue to consolidate their security gains and the credibility and legitimacy of their representative democratic government.

His assessment of Mosul, though, is more dire than for the rest of the country:

The war waiting in the wings is the “War of the Kurds and the Arabs.” Mosul, Kirkuk, and the expansive and aggressive Kurdish line-of-demarcation is a kerosene pit waiting for a spark. The Turks are prepared to pounce and subdue a separatist Kurdish state fueled and resourced by the massive oil potential of the Kirkuk basin. The Sunnis (20% of the population) see themselves as isolated and impoverished in the western deserts if separated from the petroleum of the Kurdish north and the Shia south. Mosul -- the home of the Saddam General Officer Corps is now dominated by the Kurds. Much of the western part of Mosul (Route Tampa) looks like Beirut on a bad day in the 80’s ---and is a study in ethic hatred and struggle among the Turkic, Kurdish, and Arab populations. Only the moderation of a historically immoderate group of Kurdish and Arab politicians ---and a US diplomatic resolve to defer decisions on all critical political questions in the north--- can prevent all out war.

From the Mungadai perspective, then, what will most effect Mosul is those actions happening within the Area of Interest, not the Area of Operations. Military and Security Force operations will supply the tourniquet that will keep the patient from bleeding out, but the surgical application of political power—infrastructure refurbishment, collaborative power sharing in an ethnic and religious salient—will actually save the patient’s life. I’m not sure that the outlook is as grim as GEN McCafferey’s assessment portends, because the same elements of irreconcilability were present in Baghdad, Basra, and the other regions where the war is now considered “won.” Still, there is a jarring cognitive disconnect between reading that we are on the verge of victory and then operating on the streets of Mosul. I never saw Beirut on a bad day in the 80’s, but driving MSR Tampa does resemble a set from a post-apocalyptic Road Warrior movie.

The forecasted “War of the Kurds and the Arabs” is leaving out a key player: The Turks. I think that the Turks would be happy to link up with the Arab Iraqis in order to disrupt the development of a de facto Kurdistan; the Turks have already conducted some cross-border operations into Iraq. This may be a bold assumption, but the Kurds long suffering should have left them with a healthy sense of pragmatism. I would think the Kurds are smart enough to avoid a two-front war. Help from the US wouldn’t be a guarantee, as we wouldn’t be real happy with the Kurds upsetting the applecart, and who else is going to assist the Kurds? The Iranians? The improvement in Kurdish northern Iraq between now and what US forces saw during PROVIDE COMFORT is staggering; I think the Kurds could be swayed to “hold what they got.” Of course, never underestimate the potential of someone from this region eschewing a good 90% of the pie in favor of a mad gamble to get the whole thing. So, while the Kurds have an interest in keeping Mosul unstable in the short term, I think they can be swayed from opposing stability in Ninewa in the long term. But the Kurds aren’t the only factor stimulating unrest in Mosul.

All of the politicians and security forces here are players with their own agendas, which do not always have the pacification of Mosul as a primary goal. The local populace distrusts all the elements of state power, and will not participate in efforts to achieve some sort of normality until they assess that agents of the state will not frustrate their efforts—or have them killed outright. In trying to gain popular support and engender reliable HUMINT, BG H has been banging his head against the classic counter-insurgent’s conundrum: the people won’t participate until they can be assured of some level of security, and we cannot achieve some level of security until the people begin to participate. So the objective is to try to provide an incremental increase in security, enough so that the local populace begins trusting us enough to talk to us, after which we can, Inshah’allah, generate cascading effects with security operations in Mosul.

Overall, I think that the assessment is a solid piece of work. I do think that some of the Iraq War mistakes catalogued in the assessment are off base. They span the gamut from those about which I disagree with the analysis to those which are simply recycled inaccurate boilerplate. Two mistakes listed has helping extend the war and stymie success share the same fundamental flaw in analysis:

-If we had not dismissed the Iraqi Army and thrown thousands of Saddam’s penniless officers out on the streets.

-If we had not dismissed the Baathist cadres in the government, academia, the Iraqi Armed Forces, and business -- leaving the state rudderless.

The argument here is that the ejection of Baathists from both the IA and the government provided a pool of trained and motivated insurgents while crippling the development of the Iraqi government because of the requirement to re-build the government and state security apparatus from zero. I think this is a case of 20/20 hindsight with some slight astygmatism. Stripping the military and the government motivated the Sunni minority to initiate an insurgency against the Coalition and the nascent Iraqi government. However, leaving them in place may well have resulted in the Shiites and Kurds repudiating the political process, generating a much larger insurgency and giving Iran, whose intervention McCafferey describes as “relentless, lethal, and implacably hostile to US interests--- but [which] has to a great extent alienated the southern Iraqi Shia and been largely ineffective” a far greater opportunity to interfere in Iraqi political development. The retention of military and governmental Baathists may well have engendered the popular belief that the Tikriti thugocracy would be able to maintain its dominance of the Iraqi political system. The alternate history comprising the alienation of Shi’a and Kurd by leaving Baathists in place could have made the Iraqi security situation as bad as—or worse than—the insurgency we actually faced. I’m not saying that I flatly disagree with this finding as much as I think the position needs more thorough analysis before I buy off on the fact that it was an egregious mistake which extended the war. It may have been a bad decision at a time when the only two options were "bad" and "worse."

The listed mistake with which I do take issue is:

If we had not issued illegal orders which resulted during the initial years in the systematic widespread mistreatment (and occasional torture) of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan detainees under our control. (This shameful situation has now been completely corrected.)

I’m throwing the bullshit flag on this one. First, show me the illegal orders. Second, show me the “systemic widespread mistreatment.” Finally, show me the torture, which the sentence structure implies was part of the systematic mistreatment. The use of “systematic” communicates that mistreatment and occasional torture was a purposeful, overt component of Coalition detention operations. I vehemently disagree and want to see some references—and anyone using Abu Ghraib as evidence automatically loses the credibility to participate in the dialogue. Abu G was an anomaly, an aberration on which the Army initiated the steps to investigate and administer justice long before the news hit the media. As to the “illegal” orders, I’ve yet to receive or hear of an “illegal order” issued establishing a system that directs, let alone allows, detainee mistreatment or torture. To posit that such a system was willfully established demeans every troop associated with detainee operations, in that it presupposes that the officers and soldiers, individually and collectively, would stand for it.

One finding with which I wholeheartedly agree is:

The courage and effectiveness of US combat units are remarkable and inspirational... the bottom line is that the operational effectiveness of these Joint US Forces is simply unbelievable. Their leadership at company command and battalion command is powerful.

The sheer competence of the Officers, NCOs and Soldiers of the US Army in Iraq is awe inspiring. The easy facility with which ground combat leaders appropriately apply combined arms and joint capabilities is amazing. However much multiple OIF rotations hurt the Army through wearing out men and equipment, the gains in sheer battlefield competence in our commissioned and non-commissioned leadership will serve us in good stead in the years to come.

UPDATE: Looking back, I don't think I was very clear: GEN McCafferey does take the Turks into account in assessing the "War of the Kurds and the Arabs." What I meant was that the Kurdish people have spent enough time as a stateless punching bag to recognize that if they get froggy, there are just a whole lot of people willing to band together and thump on them. While the Pesh Murga are formidable, they can't protect the Kurdish territiories from both the Iraqis and the Turks (with the Iranians trying to get their licks in where they can) in open warfare. One would hope that pragmatism and experience will temper Kurdish impulses to destabilize Iraq or to provoke conflict pursuant to realization of Kurdistan. Enough countries in the region are ready, willing, and able to keep the Kurds down that I don't think that they can orchestrate a war solely between the Kurds and the Arabs. If history is indicator of future action, even the powers in the region that don't necessarily want to see a free, stable, and democratic Iraq would take time out to fuck up the Kurds; that whole "enemy of my enemy" thing.

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