No They Weren’t

My friend whom I refer to here as Paris Lawyer Pundit sent me an article entitled “The French Were Right”. (Available here. ) He asked archly in his cover email whether it “made by blood boil”.

My response to PLP was as follows:

I skimmed it. I’ll read it all later. It does not make my blood boil. My anger at France was not that they disagreed with what Bush wanted to do, or that there were not arguments against what Bush wanted to do. I am angry with them for being dishonest and underhanded in their dealings with us, for being motivated by a desire to thwart the US rather than offer anything constructive. I also note this writer is using the dishonest trope that Bush said a threat was “imminent”. That is false and this writer and anyone paying attention knows it. What Bush said (I could get you the quote) is that we will not wait until a threat from Saddam becomes imminent. What Bush and his team have undertaken in Iraq is wildly ambitious. I said so at the time. I actually tend to agree with the people Bush is dismissing, who worry that Muslims are categorically incapable of creating a democratic society, that they need a dictator to keep minimal order. But Bush has bet on Fukayama rather than Huntington, so away we go. The “liberation of Iraq” may end up being pie in the sky, a last gasp of Wilsonian/Gladstonian do-goodism before we get down to the serious work of waging and winning a Huntingtonian civilizational struggle to the death against the Islamic world. It will make the destruction of the North American indians look like a minor dustup. If the Iraq effort fails, the Democrats and, I suppose, the French, get to clean it up. Nonetheless, I am far less pessimistic than this writer. We have made a lot of progress in Iraq. We are not in a “quagmire”. We are not publicizing our successes against the enemy, because we will not repeat the Vietnam “body count” mentality. Once Bush gets past this next election, which will be close but which he will probably win, the Baathist remnants and jihadi infiltrators are going to face even tougher opposition. We will be able to hand over day-to-day policing to the Iraqis and use our forces for warfighting. As the commander of the 82nd Airborne said, quoting Viscount Slim of Burma, we will use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. We have the big sledgehammer. We are getting better and better intelligence every day. We are convincing the Iraqi people, who don’t like us and don’t have to like us, that we won’t leave them to the jackals. So they will bet on the big dog, us. So, I am cautiously optimistic.

I have since read the whole thing. The article is seriously wrong in several respects. Just as Iraq is not Vietnam, it is not Algeria either, for starters. I trust this bit of hokum will circulate around the net and be sternly fisked by somebody with the time and willpower to wade into it.

Striking a more scholarly note, Eliot Cohen lays out just how ugly it would be if Bush were to “cut and run” in Iraq. He won’t do that.

I note that in the joint news conference today, Tony Blair spoke in his usual stirring fashion about the universality of the desire for freedom:

And I believe that if people are given the chance to have freedom, whatever part of the world they’re in, whatever religion they practice, whatever faith they have, if they’re given the chance to have freedom, they welcome it. And I think it is the most appalling delusion that actually affects some people even within our own societies that somehow, though we in our countries love freedom and would defend freedom, somehow other people in other parts of the world don’t like it.

And the reason why they like freedom is because then, if you’ve got freedom and democracy, and the rule of law, you can raise your family, you can earn a decent standard of living, you can go about your daily business without fear of the secret police or terrorism. And in those types of societies, the terrorists who thrive on hatred and fanaticism, they get no breathing ground, they get no breathing space.

My concern is not that the desire for these things isn’t universal — it is. My concern is that the cultural. psychological and institutional frameworks any given group of people have inherited may not equip them to successfully implement “freedom and democracy, and the rule of law”. Blair is an optimist. I note that one old-timer who emphatically does not agree is Richard Pipes, whom some of you will remember as a scholar of Russian and Soviet history and a hardline member of the Reagan administration.

Pipes has some misgivings about the most recent application, in Iraq, of the approach he helped formulate. “I think the war was correct — destroying this invasive evil. But beyond this I think they’re too ambitious,” he says. He bluntly dismisses the promise of a democratic Iraq — “impossible, a fantasy” — citing obstacles similar to Russia’s. “Democracy requires, among other things, individualism — the breakdown of old clannish, tribal organizations, the individual standing face-to-face with the state. You don’t have that in the Middle East. Iraq is tribally run.”

My heart’s with Blair, my head, to some extent, with Pipes. Fingers crossed.

But that doesn’t mean the French were right. No way.

Incidentally, I think Howard Dean should use this as a campaign slogan: “US Out of Iraq Now! The French Were Right!”

29 thoughts on “No They Weren’t”

  1. The correct course of action is rarely the easiest path to take. There is no doubt that our current situation in Iraq is anything but easy, on the contrary, it was borne out of a decade in which the U.N. and greater world community chose the easier, less messy alternative. Let the cancerous tumor grow, and eventually you just lose the patient.
    To reiterate my previous suggestion, the Sunni Triangle should be divided into sectors, and a local cleric selected to head up security for each sector. The cleric should not necessarily be pro-coalition, in fact it would be better if he were not friendly to us. It should be made clear that coalition forces will maintain a presence in the area, ostensibly as observers, and made abundantly clear that the clerics are charged with providing security for ALL in their sector, with failure to carry out that duty punishable by immediate death. Then we might see who among them has the cojones to step up and lead.

  2. While we agree on France’s position – a mostly selfish piece of decaying grandstanding aimed at a conformist domestic audience – we will have to disagree on some of the rest.

    We are in a quagmire. The Webster definition being “a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position”, I don’t see how we could call it otherwise. Our options are constrained, including our exit routes and strategies. The enemy, like all local guerillas harrassing a large regular foreign force, has the initiative. So this is your standard quagmire. Lebanon was another one, albeit of a different type.

    But quagmire does not imply failure although it does increase the odds over time as the political pressure and demand it creates and inflict on the military feed into growing, unintended consequences.

    And whether or not it’s not Vietnam, we should not forget any of the lessons learned from that abysmal failure and any parallel, whether success or failure, deserves to be examined.

    We won’t succeed without admitting the possibility of failure. There is nothing weak about admitting you can fuck up or that you have started badly. Quite the contrary. It’s more healthy than the alternative : obstinate denial in the face of any evidence. And that is something that disturbs me these days about both some Administration officials and many conservative bloggers. It comes to a point where you wonder what it would take for them to admit there is a problem. If the number of attacks goes down for three days, they scream victory. If it triples in a week, they say it’s because the guerillas are desperate. Hello ? McFly ? Anybody home ? Their belief that America is entitled to win by mere virtue of its size and their proud belief in its good intentions is, in the end, as childish and irreleveant as those who want it to lose due to what they construe to be an evil world domination agenda.

    As Andy Grove so well put it, only the paranoid survive. And the paranoid do not dismiss Iraq as not being Vietnam. They can read books about it to make sure as hell it isn’t and figure out what the signs could be that it’s going down the slippery slope. I know I am. Hence my picking up Dan Ellsberg’s ‘Secrets’ memoir, which I recommend. Being paranoid means assuming the enemy knows a lot more than you do because you’re on his turf. Assuming that they’re not a bunch of retarded losers who survived your superior technology by chance, but the best of the bunch who survived 1990-1991 and learned from it by avoiding a suicidal frontal defense, who prepared the insurgency we’re dealing with and waited just long enough for their opponent to position themselves and feel confident.

    In this respect, reading about the big sledgehammer against the walnut does not inspire any confidence, to me at least. Quite the contrary. With all due respect to the 82nd Airbone’s commander – and to Lex, for that matter – I find this to be an idiot answer. In the kind of conflict we are in now, size is not the issue. Or rather it is, but it works the other way. Quantity – of men and firepower – is the enemy of the good. It’s what they do and how they do it that matters. A sledgehammer is exactly what was used in Vietnam, with the results we know. If it was just a matter of B-52s and tanks and firepower and number of troops, we’d have won Vietnam in six months.

    Sure, I heard the counter-argument. In Vietnam, the walnut was supplied by big China next door. Well, not quite. China supported North Vietnam but very little of that actually ended up in the hands of the grassroots South Vietnamese VCs proper. And very little was *needed*, as proven by the US inability to significantly disrupt VC supply lines, regardless of the number of bombers and infantry involved, including special forces. Even in 1975, a huge number of VCs still carried the old rugged weapons they picked up in 1954 when the French left. Without China, the conflict would most likely have been spread over a larger area – South and North – and resulted in the same stalemate.

    Give me 30 or 40 motivated, intelligent, half-decent sharpshooters in a populated urban environment and I will harass, pin down and bleed whatever sledgehammer you drop on the place. In fact, the bigger the hammer, the better (more targets). Add a few dozen more people with the occasional explosives and some RPGs and it will get a lot uglier. Because I don’t need to win in the classical sense, by capturing your flag and your leader. I just need to make it look like you’re not winning, one day at a time. Big difference. Like it or not, I have the easier job.

    And if I can make you react heavy-handedly in a way that alienates the locals, even one time out of ten, that’s enough for my recruiting. And if my actions results in your troops hunkering down and isolating themselves from the local populations, specially at night, I’m set. That’s how this kind of shit works. Anyone who brags about the size of his sledgehammer had better be marketing a soundbite for the press. If he means it, I have one more reason to worry.

    Also keep in mind that it’s not just about the military, or its technology. These are tools in the service of institutions with their own quirks and biases. Have the Pentagon, the White House and Congress changed and evolved so much in the past 30 years that we can trust them so much more ? I wish I could believe so and would like to hear from those of you who do. Vietnam was lost in the obscure corners of the secretive executive branch more often than it was on the ground. And if the occasional Baghdad trip by our Congress reps are any indications, we haven’t learned much. By necessity, these people are totally shielded from the reality and the locals. They see what the DoD and the CPA want them to see, no more, no less; they don’t decide to meet this Iraqi college professor or that surgeon in Basra. And if the detailed reports and photos from their trips are any indication, when they meet officers or soldiers in the field it’s in front of their superiors. Like that’s going to tell them something.

    I hope some John Paul Vann character will emerge over there, and when hampered by one-size-fits-all bureaucracy, will have the guts to speak out. How the government deals with him then will be the clue. (We already know what the self-appointed patriots will say, and they don’t matter anymore now than they did then).

    Am I going negative on the war ? Nope. This is the kind of risk I believed, and still believe to be worth taking. But the scale of the project is just massive and the potential for failures of all kind simply stagerring. Specially when so many government agencies are involved, never mind electoral and political pressure. And I am starting to realize that most, if not all of the optimistic reports of progress come from people who have a political, professional, personal or ideological vested interest in saying so. (And likewise for the other side, which tells me the rest of us haven’t anymore of a clue than the average American in 1965).

    So far, the one fundamentally good element is the apparent lack of widespread popular support for the insurgency. At least as far as I can tell. But that was also the case in large parts of Vietnam. And we lost it by using that great sledgehammer left and right. When all you know is the sledgehammer, everything looks like a walnut, I guess. The fact is, whether it’s Vietnam, Lebanon or Palestine, these things have a way to outlast many Presidents. And if things get worse in the next 12 months, Dean or whoever else is nominated will capitalize on it. And it won’t look as stupid as Lex thinks. And the odds that things could get worse over the next 12 months are not so low either.

    But this comment is already way too long….

  3. I don’t know who’s right (we shall find out eventually), but the post-war difficulties were forseeable. I think they are an acceptable price to pay for attacking Iraq, which I think we had to do or be greatly and unacceptably weakened as a nation.

    The question now is whether we can learn from our mistakes in time to correct them. If anybody can do this it is us. So let’s be paranoid (I agree that’s a good principle) but let’s be optimistic too.

  4. Jonathan, there is no doubt in my mind it can be done. If anyone can do it, that would be the U.S., both given the abilities of its military and the Vietnam experience of many of its senior officers. I guess I am a lot more worried about the political and executive establishments than I am about the guys on the ground. And when it comes to the latter, more about the Reservists than the pros in the airborne divisions and the Marines.

    I just think those who dismiss Vietnam and hang to the meaningless statistics handed out by the Pentagon – like 2,543 “joint patrols” or who knows what – are out of it. Fighting guerillas in a foreign land is one the toughest possible jobs, both on the field and in the political trenches at home. Denial is too costly in this context. And claiming we are not in a quagmire given the facts and evidence of the past few months is a form of denial we can ill afford, and one mistake I hope the administration is not committing.

    Given various reports and leaks such as the Rumself memo – about the “long, hard slog”; if that doesn’t spell out quagmire, I don’t know what does – it seems they know what they’re in. But like other Administrations 30-40 years ago, they just can’t afford admitting it politically, and that can cause trouble. Or rather they think they can’t. Only in my dreams will we ever have a President who has the balls to stand up and be specific and honest : “We are going to have to commit troops and funding to Iraq for the next 20-25 years at a level no smaller than what we have committed in Korea for decades. And we are going to take unknown casualties for the next 5 to 10 years.” Fat chance. But that would be the responsible thing to do.

    And Americans are adult enough to handle it. Those I know anyway.

  5. Sylvain, you should cut and paste these comments into a Word doc, chisel it into a post and put it out in the open on the blog.

    One point — “quagmire” has connotations over here of “just like Vietnam”, which is taken to mean “defeat is inevitable”. I don’t think “long hard slog” = “quagmire”. “Long hard slog” = “very difficult task”. Yes, of course.

    As to the sledgehammer, the point is that we have all the combat power we need. We need intelligence. We are building our ability to gather and use it. Here is the briefing. My one sentence snippet does not do it justice.

    I think the best thing for us will be for Bush to get reelected. Once he does, ordinary Iraqis will know we are not going to pull out for at least four years, and we should do a lot better on intelligence and other cooperation. If I were an ordinary Iraqi, and I was married and had kids and a wife who could be threatened, I’d lie low right now. Fact is, if the Donks win in ’04, we’re pulling out. Everybody has to know this. Once that worry is resolved, people will probably figure that in four years we will have these guys on the run.

    I agree that Americans can handle the good as well as the bad.

  6. Lex is right; “quagmire” means “something it’s impossible to get out of”, not a tough patch. Saying “not a Quagmire ™” isn’t the same as saying everything is just fine and there are no problems.

  7. Sylvan,

    I’m with Lex on the quagmire point. The objection to the term is really about it’s being such a pejorative. Most folks I know associate “quagmire” with “quicksand”. You know, the harder you fight the faster you sink.

    You’re right about the Pentagon statistics concerning “joint patrols” being meaningless but only if there aren’t results on the ground. I think we can look to Afghanistan to see just how effective our “joint operations” can be and I would suggest that the answer is “very effective”.The U.S. armed forces have learned a lot about counter-insurgency ops. in the last 30 yrs. Moreover, George II and Co. don’t strike me as the stick your head in the sand types (for example: the war on terror, the move in Iraq, putting the full court press on Iran and North Korea over nukes) so if something isn’t working in Iraq, I would be astonished if they didn’t try something else. I think the recent political shake-up over there attests to that. In fact, now that I think about it the whole prosecution of this war from day one is an argument against our having a Vietnam era mindset. We abandon shock and awe when we see we don’t need it, rush to Baghdad in three weeks avoiding fighting for cities we really didn’t need to take. It wasn’t a perfect war, but I think it shows they’re thinking.

    Lastly, I think you’re right about the administration being unlikely to speak plainly about the commitment we’ve made here. But I would take heart in that their reluctance seems more a function of the current political environment than an inability to face facts. These are politicians after all and they can only be expected to make political moves to insure their future and, consequently, ours. If he wasn’t looking out for America’s long term interests (Clinton) then I would be worried about his politicking.

  8. Well, still, as far as I’m concerned, it is a quagmire. Our options are restricted and the longer we stay the more committed we are and the more restrained our exit routes and options. That’s a quagmire to me. I don’t know, nor really care, what other people mean by it, or what *we* think what *they* mean by it. And I’m not afraid of considering how and why the current situation could turn into a Vietnam-like mess. It can happen. Believing it can’t on the points Den Beste and others have made is, in my view, dangerously complacent. But that’s probably worth a post on its own.

    The Kid, I don’t have any info leading me to think joint patrols in Afghanistan are so effective. What’s the benchmark ? There were no Afghan-only patrols against al-Qaeda and the Taliban before we busted the place. I also don’t know why effective joint patrols there imply effective ones in Iraq. Iraq might be no Vietnam, but it ain’t Afghanistan either.

    As for the political shake-up, I’m afraid I don’t see that much into it either. There has been quite a bit of bureaucratic shuffling since the beginning of this thing and from my very limited vantage point, your comment only proves this is not a useful data point since it can be interpreted both ways : Administration fumbling or flexibility. My guess it’s that it’s both. There is some serious fumbling in the dark right now. And that’s OK, given the circumstances. This is not the kind of situation that can be scripted or planned beyond the next 48 hours, at best. But that also means the uncertainty, and the risks, are still very high.

    Finally I’m not convinced anything proves there is no “Vietnam-era mindset”, to the extent such a thing exists.

    Let me put it this way : how many western armies, in the past 50 years, have successfully put down a local guerilla in a foreign country ? Now, compare that to the number of attempts. Like it or not, this is the kind of project we are in right now and whoever claims to me that “this time it’s different” is making an extraordinary claim.

    Which is fine by me. I’m just asking for an extraordinary proof. And I don’t see any. Yet.

  9. Sylvain:

    We defeated the Greek communists, the British defeated the Malayan communists, we defeated the guerillas behind our lines in Korea after the front stabilized, we defeated Che Guevara’s attempted uprising in Bolivia, we defeated the El Salvadoran communists. We did not lose Vietnam to guerillas, but to the regular North Vietnamese Army. When we made an effort to wage a counter-guerilla war, we were effective. See Donovan’s Once a Warrior King and Herrington’s Silence Was A Weapon.

    There are models of success as well as failure in this category. There is nothing magic about fighting and defeating this type of enemy. It is hard, but not impossible. It has been done.

    Your main point seems to be that the American leadership should avoid complacency. Agreed. I don’t know if we are complacent. I don’t get any sense that we are. I think everyone with any sense knows we could lose the war. If we do, Iraq will be like Afghanistan, but far worse.

    The main front is the American public’s will to fight. That is the enemy’s target. The American public will stay on board if they think that it is plausible for us to win. So far I see no reason to think we won’t.

    The enemy will probably make major attacks in the run-up to the election, in an effort to get a Democrat elected, which would lead to withdrawal and victory for the Baathists or jihadis or whoever they are. That is probably their short-term plan. The American four-year electoral cycle presents opportunities for our enemies, but that is just a fact we have to live with.

    I still think it is misleading to call our current situation a “quagmire”. Whatever you may think it means, in ordinary US understanding, it means “inevitable defeat just like Vietnam”. We’re not there yet, and I hope we won’t ever be.

  10. Yeah, there are successful examples. But compared to the number of attempts over that period, the odds are rather steep. And I don’t think the regular NVA won in Vietnam. The guerillas simply owned the South most of the time, which helped the NVA greatly. Vann, Ellsberg and others understood why and how to win the locals back but they were a minority nobody wanted to listen to at the time.

    Dead right that the enemy is targeting our domestic audience. And that’s another issue. The current Administration is often poor at communication. Wars are hard enough to handle on any front, including the PR one. In an election year, it is an additional source of friction.

    Thinking about it more, you’re right about one thing. My sense of complacency comes more from the more rah-rah conservative bloggers and pundits than from actual facts; never mind these are hard to verify. Between the Pentagon and the media I have to wonder how we can know anything. I guess my more recent worries must be discounted by the fact that I have been reading both conservative magazines and blogs, and Ellsberg’s fascinating book. Definitely the combo that will keep you up at night, wondering about the actual size of the minefield we are crossing.

    Still. Definitely a time to be more paranoid than usual.

    An old friend of mine at the office is being called up. He should know very soon where for. I’m hoping we’ll hear from him, wherever he goes.

  11. –Given various reports and leaks such as the Rumself memo – about the “long, hard slog”; if that doesn’t spell out quagmire, I don’t know what does – it seems they know what they’re in.–

    The “long, hard slog” comment didn’t bother me, because I live in greater Chicagoland and we’ve had some doozy snowstorms. We slog thru them. What else can you do w/3-4′ drifts??? And some of them were long and hard, 1967 and 1979 spring to mind.

    Rummy is from Illinois, and it could just be a midwestern turn of phrase. Especially since I cannot believe the reporters are getting so petty that they’re dueling w/Rummy over the definition of “slog.” Did any of you see that on FoxNews? Rummy quoted one dictionary, and the reporter argued that this dictionary defines it as this. Childish.

  12. Sandy, I’m going to avoid playing the dictionary games, if only because I’m the foreigner around here.

    If other people equate quagmire with Vietnam or “guaranteed failure”, that’s their choice and their problem and I’ll make sure they know I don’t mean it in that sense in the future. But the original definition of the word, as stated above, is, for all practical purposes, essentially synonymous with Rumsfeld’s characterization. And I’m fine with that.

    It just seems to me many want to be in denial about it, mostly because they associate the word with one particular historical quagmire. As if not being Vietnam meant it can’t be *a* quagmire. I find that argument a bit silly. But that’s me.

  13. Sylvain, I think everybody is well aware that we could lose. It could be another disaster which, though different from Vietnam, could be just as bad for us and the people who put their trust in us. I also agree that the enemy seems to have the momentum at the moment. But I still think we will win.

    Don’t let the Ellsberg book depress you too much. I don’t know that we don’t have John Paul Vann equivalents over there now. Maybe we do.

  14. Sylvain Galineau said:

    >Give me 30 or 40 motivated, intelligent, half-
    >decent sharpshooters in a populated urban
    >environment and I will harass, pin down and
    >bleed whatever sledgehammer you drop on the
    >place. In fact, the bigger the hammer, the
    >better (more targets). Add a few dozen more
    >people with the occasional explosives and some
    >RPGs and it will get a lot uglier. Because I
    >don’t need to win in the classical sense, by >capturing your flag and your leader. I just need
    >to make it look like you’re not winning, one day
    >at a time. Big difference. Like it or not, I
    >have the easier job.

    Ummm…No. It wouldn’t make a difference.

    We blogged about that a number of times over on Winds. People trying to fight the American military like that will simply die and get a lot of innocents around them killed. Americans hunt snipers in urban areas with 155mm self propelled guns.

    My first post on the subject:

    Fight Night: Joe vs. Trent on the American Way of Urban Combat

    One of the quotes I used was from “Knock ’em All Down:” The Reduction of Aachen, October 1944 by Christopher R. Gabel:

    The battle for Aachen challenges conventional wisdom in another respect. Urban operations are commonly regarded as bloody, time consuming operations in which the defender can exact many times his own number in enemy casualties. In Aachen, however, the defenders outnumbered the attackers, and yet managed to hold out for only nine days because of the American offensive methods and the incoherent nature of the German defense. The two battalions of the 26th Infantry (plus attachments) that bore the brunt of the fighting in Aachen lost 75 killed, 414 wounded, and 9 missing in securing a city defended by over 5,000 enemy troops.[58] For the U.S. Army, the true bloodbath of the 1944 campaign was not an urban operation, but rather the battle of the Huertgen Forest.

    And the other was from T.R. Fehrenbach’s Korean War classic, “THIS KIND OF WAR”:

    The American way of street and town fighting did not resemble that of other armies. To Americans, flesh and blood and lives have always been more precious than sticks and stones, however assembled. An American commander, faced with taking the Louvre from a defending enemy, unquestionably would have blown it apart or burn it down without hesitation if such would save the life of one of his men. And he would be acting in complete accord with American ideals and ethics in doing so. Already, in the Korean War, American units were proceeding to destroy utterly enemy-held towns and villages rather than engage in the costly business of reducing them block by block with men and bayonets, as did European armies. If bombing and artillery would save lives, even though they destroyed sites of beauty and history, saving lived obviously had preference. And already foreign observers with the United States Army — not ROK’s — were beginning to criticize such tactics.

    Observers from France and Britain, realizing that war was also highly possible in their own part of the world, were disturbed at the thought of a ground defense of their homelands. For the United States Army, according to its history and doctrine, would choose the lives of its men over the continued existence of storied cathedrals. these observers wrote news releases — and soon Frank Munoz could get no artillery on the enemy assembling in plain sight in the villages below him. When he asked Battalion to fire on the village, and burn it down, Battalion replied it could not. Fortunately, such orders in Korea were soon changed.

    The response thread for this post:

    Baghdad Unintended Consequences

    Updated where American urban combat doctrine stood as of April 2003. This was what I dropped there:

    This is the attitude that the USMC is approaching the Baghdad fight with:

    “Watt said Marines would do their best to avoid killing Iraqis who were not involved in the fighting, but said such a fight for the city would inevitably result in a large number of civilian deaths.

    “It’s very difficult for us to know who are the soldiers and who are the actual civilians, if we are to take the enemy out it may unfortunately be at the cost of a lot of civilian lives, unintentionally,” he said.

    Watt said that if Iraqi soldiers fired from a building, Marines would respond with artillery and air attacks — even if there were civilians still inside the structure.

    “If we start taking a lot of fire, we will simply level the building area, we’ll destroy it with indirect fire and air and tanks. Then we’ll go in with ground forces. That’s when you get civilians who choose not to leave, and they’re going to die in the process,” he said.”

  15. I realise that this is a fallacy (argument from consequences), but……

    The Arabs had better hope that we *don’t* elect a Democrat instead of Bush. Because then they’d eventually be able to stage another 9/11-type attack on the US.
    And the end result of that attack would be the complete destruction of the Middle East. The American people would demand it, and not even a Dem president would be able to stop it.

  16. I take ‘long, hard slog’ in the context of that memo to mean in the same sense that Japan, Germany and South Korea have been a ‘long, hard slog’ and not in the sense of Vietnam.

  17. Sylvain, the “original dictionary meaning” of quagmire may not state a no-win situation, but it has been used that way here for years. Use your LaRousse and look up “sabot”: it did not start as a description of a certain method of making ammunition, or for making an enemy’s (or rival’s) plans more difficult to impossible.

    As to our current spat with the French government, it is about some of the actions undertaken. For instance, the article calims that “violence” was acceptable to the government, but only with UN approval – which does not square with repeated government statements that they would veto any such UN resolution. Nor does it match up with France threatening Turkey with indefinite but lengthy delays for joining the EU if Turkey allowed the US to stage troops there, or with the French blocking of missiles for Turkish defense in case Saddam lashed out at them in any conflict.

    Iraq may be a mess, but so is the plot of land on which a house is being built. A mire, quag or otherwise, it is not. It may become one if the various groups refuse to deal with each other, but I hope that can be defused.

  18. “Americans hunt snipers in urban areas with 155mm self propelled guns.” Wow. That’s subtle and surgical. That won’t cause any collateral damage and alienate the locals. And how exactly does a 155mm “self-propelled gun” kill a sniper who fires one shot and displaces ? Sorry, this makes no sense to me. Granted, I served only two years in the military and I have only vague recollections of sniper countering techniques.

    And people thought the Israelis were a bit careless for firing Hellfire missiles on cars in the middle of traffic. With 155mm guns to hunt snipers, they’re looking positively effeminate and overly sensitive now.

    “Watt said that if Iraqi soldiers fired from a building, Marines would respond with artillery and air attacks — even if there were civilians still inside the structure.”
    Brilliant. Thank you for confirming my worry. This is exactly the kind of tactics that not only fails against guerillas, but eventually builds up support in the population against us.

    No doubt. We’ll be there for a while. If the best thing we have to hunt snipers is use 155mm guns in urban areas, and if the best we can do to avoid civilian deaths is level entire buildings with air power and tanks before sending in the troops, let me be blunt: we’re fucked. This better be anecdotal, otherwise we haven’t learned a thing from Vietnam. If only because this is exactly the kind of tactics a guerilla movement relies on in order to grow and expand : the more collateral damage, the better.

    Air attacks and tanks first, followed by ground forces. Textbook wrong answer.

    By the way, after I wrote my last comment, I turned on Fox News and watched a guy who just got back from Baghdad and explained the pattern he witnessed every day from where he resided by the river. Iraqis come with pick up trucks, quickly set up mortars, lob shells downtown. As if they knew the response time, they’re already on their way by the time the helicopters get there and miss them. Rings a bell ? Looks like those big guns we use to “hunt” snipers can’t handle pick-up trucks and mortars too well, even though they remain at the same spot for minutes. So what do we use for those ? The USS Missouri and 400mm shells ? Or B-2 bombers ?

    John, I think France is beside the point here. France’s foreign policy actions, or lact thereof, are irrelevant in determining whether we are in a quagmire or not.

  19. This string of comments has gotten pretty far afield. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it is why I wanted Sylvain to put up a meaty post which reflects his concerns on this issue, since they are important.

    I think Sylvain is right in his response to Trent. Using artillery to shoot back at snipers is exactly the wrong approach for the war we are in. Pacifying a city where you want the people on your side is exactly the opposite of a situation, like the storming of Aachen, where you don’t give a crap about the civilians, where there is still a regular army at work against you.

    For this effort we will need something like a cross between the Phoenix Program in vietnam and the Compstat police methods in New York City — identify the locations where trouble is brewing, obtain intelligence, then pounce on the offenders — and keep it up as long as necessary. The story Sylvain tells about the mortars, if true, is extremely worrisome.

  20. The NYC Compstat program is certainly an interesting parallel.

    The Fox News story was quite disturbing. I haven’t been able to find a transcript; it aired mid-afternoon on Saturday. I have no reason to doubt its authenticity. The reporter showed his exact location on a very cool satellite picture (one either taken at an angle or reprocessed to show shadows and perspective). He indicated he called the CPA himself every time they set up their position. He established a repeatitive pattern of action, followed by the same response, and failure.

    Not what I wanted to hear at all.

  21. Lex,

    Ask the South how “ineffective” Sherman’s March to the Sea was. Or Sheridan’s march through the Shennandoha (sp?) Valley. Or the Japanese how “ineffective” Tokyo fire bomb raids. It is American military tradition to destroy civilian infrastructure and property on a huge scale to force American enemies to reconcile themselves with defeat.

    It is also the historical answer to tribal unrest. Tribes are tied to a piece of ground, a water hole, etc. Destroy it and you destroy the tribe. Rome did it with the barbarian tribes. Britain did it in North America, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. America did it with the Indian tribes.

    The Iraqi Sunni will either be reconciled while we are in Iraq or when we leave several years from now. That is when the Shia and Kurdish cadre security forces we leave behind do worse than destroy Sunni property too make them accept defeat.

    We are winning in Iraq, as far as our war goals are concerned. The only question here is the ultimate price the Sunnis pay. It would be better if the Sunni were reconciled, but it is not necessary.

    What ever we do, the Arabian peninsula and Pakistan are going to be horror shows.

    If you and Sylvain are interested in mortar attack reports, go here:

    and look up these three posts titled:

    “One Soldier Wounded in Ar Ramadi”

    “Jason Blows His Top: A Detailed Account of a Mortar Attack”

    “An Open Letter to the Baghdad Press Corps”

    And these posts tell me that Sylvain’s concerns are overblown:

    “Anatomy of a Decision”

    “War of Ideologies II: The Weapons of War”

    “Operation School Supplies”

    As for the Sunni, this is what we are fighting there:

    What Seems to be the Problem, Officer?

    The boys brought in three yesterday. They were riding around in their car at two in the morning with a briefcase full of wire, tape, cell-phone parts (sometimes used to complete firing circuits in IEDs. You wire a cell phone motherboard to the IED, dial the number, and ka-BOOM!), wire cutters, and what looks like a cheap 9mm pistol but is really a lighter instead. I’ll never understand why they carry things like that around.

    Oh. They also had a 155mm artillery round in the trunk.

    One of them, it turns out, was an English teacher. He wasn’t very talkative, though. Well, he didn’t say anything when I started telling him how stupid he was. I’m sure he had figured it out already on his own. I mean, here’s a guy who has a skill which can really help Iraq get back on its feet, and help people to a better life: Introduce them to an international language of commerce.

    Presumably, he also provided for a wife and children.

    But instead of doing that, he’s going to be spending years staring at a concrete wall and dying for a smoke.

    What a waste.

    [LINK] posted by Jason Van Steenwyk : 04:23 EST

    Indeed, what a waste.

  22. Trent, I don’t think that is the kind of war we claim we are fighting. That’s my issue. If we wanted to just devastate the place, we could do it. Maybe that’s what we should have done. But Sherman was not engaged in something called Operation Palmetto State Liberation, so I don’t see the analogy. Still, I am heartened that you think Sylvain’s concerns are overblown. Time will tell. I hope you are right.

  23. Lex,

    Then Sylvain is reading to much foreign and American bi-coastal press and not paying enough attention to the specialist military affairs press and military web logs. The major media cannot be trusted in their reporting because they are using either Palestinians, or other Arabian Peninsula locals with ties to terrorist organizations, or ex-Ba’athist Information Ministry officials, as translators and factorums.

    The US military is being very above board in how it is fighting. Everything I mentioned is readily available in the media if you know where to look. Both you and Sylvain need to make it a habit of passing through James Dunnigan’s at least every other day. This is the latest on the Iraqi “Mortar wars”:

    ARTILLERY: Rules of Engagement Protect Iraqi Mortars

    November 26, 2003: The armed opposition in Iraq are taking advantage of speed, and coalition rules of engagement, to defeat America’s high tech weapons. Several teams of Iraqis are moving around near coalition bases at night and firing a few mortar shells, then slinking away and hiding their mortar and ammunition. The weapon used is usually a Russian made 82mm mortar. This weapon weighs about 80 pounds, but can be broken down into three pieces (the heaviest weighing 29 pounds, the lightest 22). Each 82mm mortar shell weighs about seven pounds (and contains about 14 ounces of explosives). The mortar has a maximum range of about 8,000 meters. The U.S. has a Firefinder radar which, when it spots an incoming shell, calculates where it came from and transmits the location to a nearby artillery unit, which then fires on where the mortar is (or was). This process takes 3-4 minutes (or less, for experienced troops.) But there are rules of engagement to deal with. You cannot fire your artillery into a populated area. And this is where the Iraqis usually fire their mortar from; some civilians back yard. As a result, Firefinder knows where the Iraqi mortar is, but the American artillery can’t fire because of the nearby civilians. However, the location of the mortar is also sent to a nearby infantry unit, which now has troops standing by to rush to the location. But the Iraqis know how this works (some got caught and the word got around.) So the Iraqi teams fire a few shells, then take their mortar apart and move away. This process takes a minute or so. Some Iraqi gunners have fired from uninhabited areas (sometimes because there were no civilian neighborhoods within range) and got blasted. But the Iraqis eventually realized that their best bet was to fire from a civilian area and then run. Fortunately, the Iraqi mortarmen have not been very skillful, and often miss large targets (covering several acres). This cat and mouse game continues, apparently with UAVs and gunships getting involved as well. So while the Iraqi “shoot and run” tactics have been fairly successful, there is still a risk, and a growing one at that, for the midnight mortar operators.

    What the above piece neglects to mention, which I found in a number o military web logs, is that if there are _any casualties_ from any mortar strike. The ROE restrictions on firing into civilian areas is immediately lifted.

    This is in keeping with the current legal interpretation of the 4th Geneva Convention on Land Warfare. As can be seen from another post on

    November 26, 2003: There have been many accusations that Israel has committed war crimes and massacres in fighting the Palestinians, up to and including charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide. But these accusations do not hold up according to the Geneva Protocols, even with regard to the operations in Jenin, and the targeted killings.

    The “Geneva Protocol” in question is the “Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.” This lays down the “law” for situations where an army finds itself fighting non-conventional forces that themselves operate from within civilian areas: The Fourth Geneva Convention goes into great and elaborate detail about how to assign fault when military activities take place in civilian areas. Those who are actually fighting the war are not considered “protected persons.” Only civilians are granted the status of “protected persons” whose rights cannot be violated with impunity.

    The Fourth Geneva Convention convicts Hamas, the Jenin terrorists, Al Aqsa, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah, and all of the other terrorist groups that hide among civilian populations, in one sentence: This sentence makes up the entirety of Part 3, Article 1, Section 28.

    It reads: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”

    This sentence appears in the Fourth Geneva Convention precisely to deal with situations like the ones the Israelis faced.

    Here’s how: Israel is at war with Hamas and Palestinian militant organizations wreaking terrorist havoc. Hamas and al-Aqksa, et al are at war with Israel. But instead of separating themselves from the general population in military camps and wearing uniforms, as required by international law, Hamas members and other Palestinian terrorists try to use civilians – the “protected persons” mentioned in 3:1:28 – as living camouflage. To prevent such a thing from happening, international law explicitly gives Israel the right to conduct military operations against military targets under these circumstances.

    Again, let’s check out that 3:1:28 sentence: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” There were plenty of “protected persons” in Jenin (and applicable to other areas). The Palestinian terrorists wanted it that way: they choose to live in their camps with their families and hundreds of others around them so that they would serve as human shields, knowing that the Israeli army is reluctant to attack those areas like the Russians did in Grozny.

    And because the terrorists do set up in civilian areas, they are wholly responsible for what happens to their “protected persons” – that is, the civilian population where they hide out.

    That’s what the very next sentence of the Fourth Geneva Convention says: “the party to the conflict in whose hand protected persons may be, is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents.”

    Let’s translate: The “party to the conflict” here is Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Aqska, etc. Because they choose to live in and fight from a civilian setting, the “protected persons” are deemed to be “in his [their] hands.” And since they are in the terrorists”, these terrorists “is[are] responsible for the treatment accorded to them.”

    This is mainstream thinking about Geneva Convention issues, by noted legal scholars. The Palestinians fight from within civilian areas- therefore civilians – who knowingly support and give aid to the terrorists- lose any and all immunity from Geneva Convention rights – and that would include human shields. Israel is therefore in no violation according to the Geneva Conventions – whereas the Palestinians, if they had been signatories- would have no rights of protection, since in Jenin, and in other places where there is conflict, they have abrogated those rights to which they are claiming that Israel is violating. –Scott Schneider

  24. “Both you and Sylvain need to make it a habit of passing through James Dunnigan’s at least every other day.”

    Trent, please, for crying out loud, this is condenscending and unnecessary. StragegyPage is blogrolled on ChicagoBoyz because I read it daily.

    Sylvain can speak for himself, of course, but my sense is that he and many others are getting worried, whether or not the US military is “above board” or not. The military could be open, honest — and still lose.

    Anyway, to respond to your “suggestion” that I read StrategyPage, I suggest that you once a week or so take a look at Bill Lind’s posts on Defense and the National Interest. Lind “wrote the book” on Maneuver Warfare, and he says we have “already lost” in Iraq AND Afghanistan. That sounds a little too bleak to me, but it does make me think better educated minds than mine think that not all is well in our efforts to pacify Iraq.

    What I’d like to see is a debate between James Dunnigan (whose stuff I’ve been reading for 25 years) and Lind. That would be a real eye-opener.

    I should do a post on the over-arching issue which seems to be driving your comments. I think that a lot of us bloggers who pounded the drum for war last Winter are now increasingly worried that the war is not going well. The question becomes, are we somehow “going over to the enemy” by suggesting this? I don’t think so. I think we ought to be debating the means and ends and tactics being employed.

    Anyway, I read your stuff, I agree with you most of the time, I read more than you probably suspect, and I hope can all help shed some light on this war and support our troops by pushing for the things they need to win — whether that is better guns or a better strategy — whatever it takes.

  25. Lex,

    I am not being “condenscending and unnecessary,” just extremely annoyed. Watching Sylvain quote the latest “Al-Reuters” line while seeing reports like this in

    November 27, 2003: President George Bush made a surprise visit to 600 American troops, and some Iraqi leaders, at Baghdad airport. This boosted morale among American troops, as the president showed his confidence in their work in maintaining security just by being there.

    The visit will be portrayed by some of the media as a propaganda ploy. But the Iraq operations are increasingly a propaganda battle between media desperate to outdo each other with more spectacular stories. The favorite gambit is to concentrate on interviewing people in Sunni Arab areas. Most of these folks worked for Saddam and are now out of work and facing a dim future. So they can be sure to give an endless supply of anti-coalition comments. The most aggressive media are from Arab countries, and coalition troops recently arrested Arab journalists who were caught communicating with pro-Saddam forces, and getting advance information on attacks so the journalists could be there to film the attack and interview participants and witnesses. This reporting greatly distorts the truth about what is really going on in Iraq. In most of the country, rebuilding the country, after two decades of Baath Party mismanagement and corruption, is moving ahead rapidly. For most Iraqis, the only political problems are how to organize themselves locally and who to vote for. Saddam brutally suppressed any potential political rivals for over twenty years, so the political leadership is up for grabs. This is especially confusing for a population who have not experienced democracy since the Sunni Arab generals killed the king in 1958 and replaced the freely elected parliament with a hand picked one.

    …does that to a man.

    Bush has set out his grand strategy and he is following it. The strategy calls for the revolutionary reform of Arab tyrannies to eliminate the breeding ground of terrorism. We are following it in Iraq.

    There are two keys to winning in Iraq. The first is the complete abolishment the Sunni dominated security establishments. The second is staying long enough for the rebuilding new security establishments dominated by the Shia and Kurdish cadre to stick.

    The first has happened and the second will be determined by the 2004 Presidential election.

    Everything else is press release warfare and terrorism until we kick off the next major military campaign in the winter/spring of 2004/2005. Events will determine whether the target will be Syria or Iran. I am leaning towards the latter for a number of reasons.

    The fate of the Iraqi Sunni is up to them. If they are reconciled, they will be part of a prosperous Democratic Iraq. If they are not, their Shia and Kurdish neighbors will ethnically cleanse them from 20% of the Iraqi population to less than 10% when America leaves Iraq. It would better serve America’s grand strategy if the Sunni were reconciled, but either result will serve America’s interests if Iraq stays terrorist free.

    The fact is no matter how successful America is in Iraq. The ultimate show down with the Wahhabi-Islamist Death Cult infected Sunni populations of the Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan are going to be horror shows.

  26. Trent, Thanks. I don’t think Sylvain is following the “Reuters line”, but I leave it to him to respond if he wants.

    We agree on some points. The key battle in the war on terror is the 2004 election. If Bush wins, we resume the offensive — where and how I won’t speculate. If he loses, and Dean wins, we withdraw from the fight, our friends around the world are first demoralized, then massacred, the “Wahhabi-Islamist Death Cult” goes on the offensive and sooner rather than later our cities start getting hit with atomic bombs.

    Fortunately, I dont’ think Bush will lose.

Comments are closed.