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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rumsfeld's victory: a retrospective look at our de facto flytrap strategy in Iraq

Why did the Iraqis turn against al Qaeda and Iran? Because al Qaeda and Iran were murdering them en masse. And why were al Qaeda and Iran murdering Iraqis en masse? Because Defense Secretary Rumfeld’s small-footprint force-protection strategy meant that they couldn’t attack American troops without getting immediately annihilated.

In order to get the “continuing violence” that their allies in the Western media could use to create American defeat on the home front, the Saudi and Iranian proxy warriors in Iraq had no choice but to wage war on the Iraqi people.

They understood the risks: that playing for a media victory would cost them the war on the ground. This is clear in the letter that al Qaeda #2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, wrote to al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the Fall of 2005:
The policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media oriented policy without a clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center. Other word, the significance of the strategy of their work is to show in the media that the American and the government do not control the situation and there is resistance against them. This policy dragged us to the type of operations that are attracted to the media, and we go to the streets from time to time for more possible noisy operations which follow the same direction.

This direction has large positive effects; however, being preoccupied with it alone delays more important operations such as taking control of some areas, … That is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin’s control and influence over Baghdad. [From the CENTCOM translation of Zawahiri's letter, May 2006, not identified as coming from Zawahiri, but containing much language in common with the captured Zawahiri letter that was released to the public in October 2005]
Sunni Al Qaeda’s attacks on civilians were initially aimed at their religious rivals, the Shiites. Zawahiri recognized that this was turning the Iraqi population against al Qaeda, and urged Zarqawi to stop:
… why were there attacks on ordinary Shia? Won't this lead to reinforcing false ideas in their minds, even as it is incumbent on us to preach the call of Islam to them and explain and communicate to guide them to the truth? [Section 4E, Weekly standard translation.]
As someone watching from afar, Zawahiri found the grisly videotaped beheadings of hostages particularly grating:
Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable - also- are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages. [Section 5]
All of this terrorizing of the Iraqi population should only be used as a last resort, Zawahir urged:
Therefore the mujahed movement must avoid any action that the masses do not understand or approve, if there is no contravention of Sharia in such avoidance, and as long as there are other options to resort to, meaning we must not throw the masses-scant in knowledge-into the sea before we teach them to swim… [section A4.]

There were no other options to resort to

The problem for al Qaeda was that they had no viable options. Allying with the Western media was it. Military victory on the ground was simply impossible:
… however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. [Section 5]
On the other hand, the media strategy still offered a real chance for victory, given that the West’s anti-war media had succeeded in creating American defeat in the past:
Things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam-and how they ran and left their agents-is noteworthy. [Second section A.]
Al Qaeda’s only real choices were to either bypass Iraq, or to pursue a media strategy in alliance with the West’s anti-war, anti-Bush media. Here Zawahiri and Zarcawi were of one mind that that Iraq was the central battle for the heart of the Islamic world. Their religious convictions would not let them abandon Iraq:
I want to be the first to congratulate you for what God has blessed you with in terms of fighting battle in the heart of the Islamic world, which was formerly the field for major battles in Islam's history, and what is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era, and what will happen, according to what appeared in the Hadiths of the Messenger of God about the epic battles between Islam and atheism. [First section A]
And so it was settled. Al Qaeda’s would attack Iraqis, creating media events that the Western media could use to try to lose the war at home. It was understood that this strategy would turn the Iraqis against al Qaeda, losing the war on the ground, but maybe not before the Democrats and their media allies managed to lose the war in America. It would be a race: could the Democrat/ al Qaeda alliance create defeat in America before the American military would win the war in Iraq?

Not just a democracy, but a republic

Rumsfeld had to have been perfectly aware that al Qaeda’s strategy was to sacrifice their position on the ground in an attempt to win the war in the media. Not only had al Qaeda spelled it out for him, but from the beginning he was always watching both sides of the Jihadist population equation, trying to squeeze their birthrate as well as their death rate. In October 2003 he was asking:
Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
When al Qaeda answered his force protection strategy by attacking the Iraqi population, Rumsfeld obviously knew that this would turn the Iraqi people against al Qaeda, turning that population equation drastically in our favor. There was no reason at that point to upset this advantageous applecart by changing strategy. Just let it work, and not just because al Qaeda’s attacks on the Iraqi population promised to win the war on the ground for us. Equally important, it also handed us the one victory that we never could have won by military means alone: the battle to create in Iraq, not just a democracy, but a republic in the American sense (a system of liberty under law).

The great danger going into Iraq was not that we would lose the war, which was never a realistic possibility (so long as the Democrats did not actually succeed in losing the war at home). The real danger was losing the peace: that the Iraqi people, devoid of any post-Saddam identity beyond religion, would elect a Khomeinist government, handing the country democratically to the Islamofascists. In Iran, it took fifteen years for the population to turn en masse against the Islamofascists. We couldn't wait 15 years in Iraq. The democracy would already be usurped.

If the theocrats took democratic control of the government even once, Iraq would be lucky to ever have democratic elections again. Elect people who believe that democracy is an “evil principle,” (Zarqawi’s description) and they are not likely to adhere to it. But Rumsfeld’s force-protection strategy, and al Qaeda’s response to it, matured the Iraqi contempt for theocracy in a short couple of very long years.

The vast majority of Iraqis now hate the religious vision of the Islamofascists. They hate the contempt for democracy and they hate the religious intolerance. Iraqis are rising now as a united people, promising brotherhood with Iraqis of other faiths. Just as Sunnis are standing up to al Qaeda , so too are Shiites standing up to Iran and the Sadr army.

There is still religious persecution, but it is coming from outsiders. The one exception is in Mosul Basra, where the British left too soon. If we abandon Iraq, the dirtbags are still strong enough to intimidate, but they have already lost the battle for hearts and minds. Their thuggery will just make them more hated, until the democratic government is strong enough to purge these interlopers from Iraqi society.

As President Bush believed would happen, the Iraqis are forging their own brand of Islam, an Islam of democracy and religious liberty. It will transform the Islamic world, and it was all enabled by the Democrats’ declared intent to turn Iraq into “another Vietnam.” How could Al Qaeda say 'no,' with the Democrats offering full assistance? In the words of New York Senator Chuck Schumer:
There will be resolution after resolution, amendment after amendment . . . just like in the days of Vietnam. The pressure will mount, the president will find he has no strategy, he will have to change his strategy and the vast majority of our troops will be taken out of harm's way and come home.
As Blackfive points out with some ire, Democrat leaders must think the American people are pretty stupid, as if we don't know that wars are either won or lost and that you can't just "bring the troops home" without losing.

Such tissues of denial have never fooled al Qaeda, which has always been perfectly clear on their de facto alliance with anti-war Westerners. Having the media on their side was obviously a big lure for al Qaeda, but what really made the alliance work , and what made it irresistable to al Qaeda, was the particular media strategy that the Democrats decided to employ.

The Democrats find a force multiplier for their media strategy: the Iraq war is a “civil war”

While Zawahiri was opining about how to fine tune al Qaeda’s media strategy on the ground, the Democrats were working on how best to lose the war at home. In October 2005, the same month as Zawahiri’s letter, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein articulated what would become the centerpiece of Democratic efforts to abandon Iraq. She characterized the Iraq war as a civil war, insinuating the supposed Vietnam war lesson that it is always a mistake to interfere in a civil war:
We are in the middle of two factions, Shiite and Sunni, attempting to settle their differences by mostly violent means. …

I believe this is a matter for Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to address through political negotiation. This battle cannot be won militarily.

America needs to change course, reassess its mission in light of this escalating insurgency, place more responsibility on Iraq for a negotiated settlement, and begin a structured drawdown of American forces.
These talking points--“the battle cannot be won militarily” so “its time to start pulling out”—were at the center of the Democrats’ push the next month for a “timetable for withdrawal.” This is where the Democrats began actually trying to pull the plug on our war effort and hand Iraq over to al Qaeda and Iran.

The “civil war” characterization of the war was a force multiplier for the al Qaeda/Democrat media war alliance. “Continuing violence” by itself did not by itself have a very powerful anti-war effect because it had tendencies not just to depress America’s fight spirit, but also to energize it. If the violence showed al Qaeda waging war on the Iraqi people, that would show the American people and the Iraqi people on the same side, which would make Americans want to protect Iraqis, while hinting at the reality on the ground: that more and more Iraqis were turning against al Qaeda.

For al Qaeda’s violence to really be effective in creating American disaffection for the war, the Democrats needed to frame the violence in a way that would not have these positive effects on America’s fighting spirit. This is what the “civil war” trope accomplished. No longer was the “continuing violence” seen as al Qaeda and Iran murdering Iraqis. Now it was spun as Iraqis murdering Iraqis, with no side that we could help without antagonizing the other.

Hence the “timetable for withdrawal.” If all we could do is make enemies, until we ourselves became nothing but a source of conflict, then we should get out. By taking on the mass murderers, we had supposedly made ourselves the problem. As Pennsylvania representative John Murtha put it:
Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence.

The turning point for the war on the ground: al Qaeda and Iran play to the Democrats’ “civil war” trope

Where al Qaeda in late 2005 had been unsure whether killing Iraqi's was a good idea, the Democrat's "civil war" strategy tipped the balance. If the Democrats and their media allies were going to increase the effectiveness of mass murder by depicting it as the eruption of civil war, then by Allah, mass murder is what al Qaeda was going to deliver.

In February 2006, al Qaeda and Iran joined forces to trump up the biggest, fattest, phoniest civil war they could muster. Sunni al Qaeda blew up the Shiite Golden Dome mosque, and Iranian backed Shiite militias “retaliated” by launching dozens of attacks on Sunni civilians, with Iran actually funding both sides of this elaborate theater.

If these Saudi, Syrian and Iranian proxy warriors had been able to start a real civil war, it would indeed have made things difficult, but the Iraqis were having none of it. The Golden Dome attack was the birthday of the Anbar Revenge Brigades, announced to the world a scant two weeks later. Instead of retaliating against Iraqi Shiites, as al Qaeda and Iran had hoped, Iraqi Sunnis retaliated against al Qaeda.

Victory on the ground became at that point a certainty. The Iraqi Sunni hold-outs who had been fighting us began switching sides, and the harder al Qaeda fought it, the more thoroughly they would become hated in the new Iraq. But it wasn’t just the pace of coalition victory on the ground that was greatly accelerated by the “civil war” media strategy. Equally dramatic was the effect on the negative fighting spirit of the American people.

A March 2006 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that a full 80% of Americans saw Iraq falling into civil war, and they were responding just as the defeatists wanted:
In the face of continuing violence, half -- 52 percent -- of those surveyed said the United States should begin withdrawing forces.
Al Qaeda and Iran poured it on through all of 2006, blowing up Iraqis like crazy, until they had the Iraqi people almost 100% against them. But the Western media did not have any trouble spinning this violence as civil war. Even when it was perfectly clear that they were being played, the media just turned a blind eye.

Mudville nails The New York Times

One particularly glaring sequence was documented by milblogger Greyhawk at the Mudville Gazette. The New York Times’ front page headline for March 27, 2006 read: “30 Beheaded Bodies Found; Iraqi Death Squads Blamed”:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 26 — The bodies of 30 beheaded men were found on a main highway near Baquba this evening, providing more evidence that the death squads in Iraq are becoming out of control.
Two days later, Major General Thurman in Iraq exposed the story as a hoax. The Times buried its retracted headline in a paragraph seventeen, where it was joined with fresh claims of sectarian massacre:
The police in western Baghdad discovered 14 bodies on Tuesday, all killed execution-style with gunshots to the head, apparently the latest victims of sectarian bloodletting. On Monday, Iraqi forces found 18 bodies near Baquba with similar wounds. Earlier reports of 30 beheaded bodies found in that area were wrong, the Interior Ministry official said.
“Apparently the victims of sectarian bloodletting,” but not actually the victims of sectarian bloodletting. On April 2nd Stars and Stripes reported that the 18 victims near Baquba had been murdered by al Qaeda terrorists dressed up to look like Iraqi military. Al Qaeda was trying to make it look like the country, and the Iraqi military, were descending into “sectarian bloodletting”

When the Times learned how it was being used by al Qaeda, it should have issued a front page apology and promised not to be duped again. Instead, the Times just kept on reporting each al Qaeda ploy with the same fresh gullibility. It was a game of footsie between them, striving on both sides for American defeat.

Another TET Offensive

By the end of 2006, 86% of Americans had swallowed the “civil war” hoax hook line and sinker. In the media sphere, the Democrat/ al Qaeda alliance had proved a total success. How total? It won them the 2006 mid-term elections, with control of both houses of Congress. That’s the brass ring. They gained the control over government necessary to effect the unilateral surrender they had been promising. The only thing left was to actually surrender.

Total destruction for al Qaeda on the ground was successfully turned into a media victory for al Qaeda. It was a carbon copy of the 1968 TET Offensive in Vietnam, as Arnaud de Borchgrave had been warning about since 2004. The Communists in South Vietnam threw everything they had at the U.S. and South Vietnamese militaries, and been utterly destroyed, never again to threaten as a fighting force. But Walter Cronkite reported the ferocity of the attack as a measure of Communist strength and declared the war unwinnable. LBJ surrendered to Walter Cronkite, announcing a couple of weeks later that he would not seek re-election, and the Democrats succeeded in losing the war at home, even after it was already won on the ground. (Cronkite is even bidding to play the same role again today.)

But surrender efforts take time, just as victory on the ground does. It turned out that, while the Democratic Party leadership has been united on a policy of surrender to al Qaeda, not all Democrats are on board. A handful of holdouts have allowed time for al Qaeda’s defeat on the ground to become a fait accompli, which is making more Democrats reluctant to surrender to al Qaeda. Thus the time of greatest danger should be past, even though the Democrat surrender efforts continue unabated. There have been plenty of attempts (forty so far this year), and Harry Reid is still spewing the “un-winnable civil war” mantra:
“The surge hasn’t accomplished its goals,” Reid said. “… We’re involved, still, in an intractable civil war.”
(Al Qaeda, in the meantime, informs us that all but 200 of their fighters in Iraq are dead.)

The media has also continued to pretend that the al Qaeda and Iranian proxy war is a civil war. In July of this year, the captured leader of al Qaeda in Iraq admitted that the organization went to great lengths to pretend that it was an Iraqi organization, even pretending to follow a fictitious figurehead with an Iraqi name:
In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Reuters headline? “Senior Qaeda figure in Iraq a myth: U.S. military.” Or in the words of Don Surber: Bass-ack-wards. Reuters tried to make it look to the casual reader that al Qaeda was the myth, when the actual myth was that the violence in Iraq is home grown.

This has been par for the course for four years. The media knows as well as al Qaeda that this is a race, and it looks now that the race has been won by our military, thanks to the switch to a more aggressive finishing strategy orchestrated by General Petraeus. What has allowed the “surge” strategy to succeed so spectacularly is the Iraqi people’s almost unanimous hatred for al Qaeda, created by the Democrat/ al Qaeda media strategy of blowing up Iraqis. This turn against al Qaeda was fully formed during Rumsfeld’s tenure. To make use of that hatred, all Petraeus had to do was switch from force protection to population protection. Protected from retaliation, Iraqis expressed their hatred of al Qaeda by pointing to the bad guys.

Should we have used the Petraeus strategy from the outset?

That’s a little like seeing Ali come off the ropes in the 8th round to kayo Foreman and thinking: “hey, he should have done that in round one.” Petraeus’ “clear, hold and build” strategy might have worked earlier, but it also might have altered al Qaeda’s strategy. If our troops had been more exposed, al Qaeda might have concentrated more on military targets and less on the Iraqi population, which was the key decision that determined everything. Induce al Qaeda to make a different decision, and who knows how things might have turned out?

In the counterinsurgency manual that he co-authored, Petraeus describes the logic of the population protection strategy:
Sometimes, the More You Protect Your Force, the Less Secure You May Be

1-149. Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained. . . . These practices ensure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.
From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5” [Quote selection Michael Yon.)
But this supposes that the population is intimidated by the counterinsurgency, instead of sympathetic to it. Colonel David Kilcullen, an Australian advisor to General Petraeus, explains the surge strategy this way:
When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation.

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain.
But winning the cooperation of an intimidated population and winning the cooperation of a hostile population are very different things, and at the start of the Iraq war, the Sunni minority was broadly hostile. Saddam Hussein had established them as a ruling class over the majority Shiites. We had kicked them out of that privileged position and were sticking them with minority status in system of government by majority rule. Anything they could do to keep us from succeeding, they were sympathetic to.

Going in, one might well have given the population protection strategy a better chance of working than the force protection strategy. (Ditto for McCain's consistent calls for more troops, favoring big footprint over small footprint, without specifying a preference for either force protection or population protection.)

But the way al Qaeda and Iran responded to our small-footprint/ force protection strategy--by blowing up Iraqi civilians to create a phony “civil war” for the Western media--made the force protection strategy a winner. It turned the Sunni population against al Qaeda, turning them from hostile to intimidated: just the conditions that Petraeus strategy was formulated to succeed in.

If we had a do over, it would be crazy to alter this sequence. It is purely speculative whether the Petraeus strategy could work on a hostile population. The Rumsfeld strategy DID work.

It was perfectly clear what was happening

Only in hindsight do we know that the force protection strategy would elicit such a reckless gamble from al Qaeda: getting them the bet their reputation throughout the entire Muslim world on the ability of their Democrat allies to lose the war at home. What does not require hindsight—what was perfectly obvious at the time—was that al Qaeda’s decision to attack the Iraqi population was going to lose them the war on the ground.

I certainly saw it, writing a trio of blog posts in late 2005 about the emergence of the civil war trope (Evil bit©h watch), and a couple more posts on how Democrat efforts to lose the war at home were luring al Qaeda into attacking the Iraqi population (Baiting the flytrap with the sickly sweet stink of defeatism, and Dems duped into duping al Qaeda.)

A sample:
By attacking the Iraqi people they [the terrorists] are winning for the United States the one battle we could not otherwise win by force of arms: the battle for the direction that the Iraqi and Afghan democracies will take. We cannot force the electorates of these countries to favor religious liberty, yet the terrorists are doing more than we could ever hope to give intolerance a very very bad name. This is how Al Qaeda chooses to spend its limited pool of Jihadists? They are dying by the tens and hundreds to serve OUR purposes in Iraq and Afghanistan?

[Judy Woodruff's] optimism offers an explanation. She is a little frustrated because Katrina is hampering the ability of her and her colleagues to attack the war effort, but it doesn't keep down her pluck:
...we were just sitting here saying, if it hadn't been for Katrina, the numbers on--the deaths in Iraq would have been all in the headlines the last week.
This when al Qaeda by its own admission was being systematically destroyed by the U.S. military. Go Judy!

Bin Laden's September 7th 2007 video from the cave expressed his bitter disappointment in the failure of the Democrats to follow through on defeat:
People of America: ... after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning.
Like a good ally, he makes excuses for the Democrats' failure, straight from the American left's own talking points:
... since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn't be any cause for astonishment, and there isn't any, in the Democrats' failure to stop the war.
The consequences of this failed Democrat/ al-Qaeda alliance is a much more positive outcome than we could otherwise have hoped for. If al Qaeda had just recognized our military superiority and chosen not to commit its resources in Iraq, they a) would still be alive to fight elsewhere, and b) would still be able to proclaim themselves as defenders of Islam. Instead they gambled everything on their media strategy, committing atrocities that the Democrats could use to win surrender for them. Now their name is dirt, and their bodies are dirt.

Equal rights in the Islamic world?

The result is the prospect of a religiously tolerant Iraq, truly something new under the sun in the Islamic world. Iraq now has a chance to become a modern republic, protecting equal liberty under law. Its constitution asserts both human rights and Islamic identity. The great question was which would give when there was a conflict between traditional Islamic suppression of religious minorities and equal rights.

Thanks to the al Qaeda/Democrat media strategy, the Iraqi people now hate the religious intolerance of al Qaeda and Iran with a white hot passion, giving them the best possible chance to become the first modern Republic in the Islamic world (a republic that chooses to reject theocracy, unlike Turkey, which has its theocratic tendencies denied by un-democratic means). Figure ten years before they start to completely outstrip the rest of the Islamic world economically, making them a model for other Muslim countries to follow.

Credit Donald Rumsfelds’ wartime leadership, the Democrat/ al Qaeda alliance that fell into his lap, President Bush’s backbone, and most of all, the blood sweat and tears of our military families who actually pulled it all off.

Excellent and lengthy post. Nice.
Alec, you use no "conventional wisdom" in this piece! As a matter of fact you rather flush "cw" down the toilet on this one. No round condemnations of Rumsfeld? I thought EVERYONE knew he was a complete failure. Giving him credit for doing something right?

I must agree with ikez, "Excellent post"

I must also add that I am beginning to pity those who work for the Parks Department. It appears that their collective intellects do not add up to your individual one. Talk about a fight with the unarmed! Keep up the good work.
Ikez and Marshall: Thanks for reading.

Rumsfeld is here at Stanford this year. I am very curious what he would think. Maybe I'll drop a copy off with the Hoover secretary, but I would expect him to be mum.

If there ever was a conscious decision to "let" the al Qaeda and Iranian attacks on the Iraqi people play out, by not moving to a larger-footprint/population-protection strategy sooner, it would be counterproductive to ever acknowledge it. Our troops under Rumsfeld fought every day to protect the Iraqi people and it would be a disaster for any administration figure to say anything that could be interpretted otherwise.

My guess is that Rumsfeld was simply not entertaining the Patraeus strategy at all. He was always about how to switch the military over to smaller, more effective operations, and his strategy was steadily working on the ground, chewing up the enemy while turning the Iraqi people against them. Why would he think of changing a winning strategy? Out of concern for the media?

Ultimately, that did become the issue. It is the Democrats who turned out to be the more effective enemy (the proper military term for those who strive for American defeat in war). It turned out we actually needed a sprint to the finish line to stave off legislated surrender.

The real general might be Bush, who timed the 8th round decision to come off the ropes with Petraeus. If so, we'll never know, because quiet George never tells. He just rakes in the pot, and goes on to the next hand.
Well done. I hope this post gets a wide readership.
I truly believe you've nailed it, and hopefully history will recognize Bush and Rumsfeld's vision and perserverence.
Great post.
The British were never in Mosul, they were in the south and you are thinking about Basrah - moreover, it was not a matter of leaving too soon, it was not doing more to effectively fight the Sadr and Iranian influence in that region.
There's an anecdote about a guy who was sitting in a bar next to a drunk who is trying to spear an olive in his martini. After five minutes of watching the inebriate stab away in futile efforts, the guy reaches over, grabs the toothpick, and neatly captures the olive. "Waaalll, shorr", quoth the sot, "thass easy eeeenough for yousshh -- I hadd it tiiiirred out firssht."

That said, and with all due credit to the genius of Petraeus in COIN, Iraq needed Pacification before Counterinsurgency. As your essay illustrates, things can only happen when it is the right time for them to happen -- Petraeus' strategy would probably not have worked in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, and there would have been a point where the strategies in place during 2003 were completely past their "best used by" date.

In the MSM, Rumsfeld is the designated bogeyman, pursuing hyperaggressive fantasies of war at the expense of our soldiers, our nation's interests, and our moral standing in world affairs. Your post puts realistic greys in these blacks and whites. While not without blemish, the earlier phases set the stage for the later ones -- and I believe that Rumsfeld's strategic vision encompassed the entire project.

As I see it, then, the policy dispute within the administration involved the transition from phase 2 to phase 3 in a 10(?)-step program. There was flexibility in the date of this transition for the overall success of the project, but there were political costs (sniping at Rumsfeld) for the maintenance of step 2 (Pacification) and military costs (lives) for the inception of stage 3 (Counterinsurgency). The President had to balance the lives of his soldiers against the objectives that might be achieved and the deterioration of his political support. The timing of Rumsfeld's removal suggests that Rumsfeld disagreed on the timing of this transition -- probably toward the preservation of soldiers over political costs.

It is instructive to note that many blamed Bush for his post-election dismissal of Rumsfeld, saying that the poll results may have been better if Rumsfeld had been dismissed earlier. On the flip side, had we the luxury of doing the "Surge" later, who knows how many lives might not have been put at risk? If someone demonizes the current administration, one scenario is more likely -- if it is posited that everyone pursued the good as they knew it, a completely different scenario unfolds.

As I envision it, Rumsfeld and his military advisers recommended that phase 2 be continued as long as possible in order to safeguard the mission and the lives of American soldiers, in that order -- at a cost of continuous animosity toward Rumsfeld in Congress and the Press. Bush and the rest of the cabinet were impelled toward stage 3 as having progress toward an acceptable end-state and demonstrating some flexibility to world audiences, at the expense of substantial military investment, expenditure, and casualties.

Looking at stage 2 and stage 3 as parts of an agreed master plan, one may begin to perceive the pressures involved with the transition. Politically, each day spent with Stage 2 risked the possibility that more Reid Democrats would thwart the program. On the other hand, each day in Stage 2 resulted in fewer effective Jihadists to cause future trouble. And it wasn’t completely certain how well Stage 3 would work…

For someone who considers Rumsfeld the youngest, oldest, and greatest SecDef this country has ever had, it’s nice to see some rational interpretation out there.

Great article.
Good post.

Interesting theory. However, if you're correct, the switch from force protection to population protection should have started in March 2006, when it was clear that the destruction of the Golden Dome mosque had committed al Qaeda and Iran to a strategy of wholesale murder. Waiting until 2007 cost Bush control of Congress in 2006, and I see no gain from the delay balancing that loss.

The principle seems sound, since Petraeus has largely succeeded; but the timing was an unforced error, and might have lost us the game.
Excellent post.

I think the strategy you describe was foreshadowed in some of the early position papers from the DoD, which were careful to distinguish between "anti-Coalition" and "anti-Iraqi" forces.

The key, clearly, was co-opting or otherwise neutralizing the anti-Coalition forces, and as you say, AQ probably did as much or more than we to accomplish that.

Once the anti-Iraqi forces were isolated from any sympathetic population, their life-expectancy was short.

For a few brief periods, AQ did control non-negligible tracts of real-estate, most notably in Fallujah. The phase of the war when these pockets were liquidated, in early 2005, basically forced AQ's hand, and were delicate since they required attacking into heavily populated areas. That this did not lead, by and large, to wholesale butchery of civilians is a tribute to the professionalism of our forces, and may have been decisive in eventually reaching a modus vivedi with the Sunni.

One other element that you don't mention much, but which is relevant to the question of timing, is the training of Iraqi security forces. This is not something that could happen overnight, and by the administration's own admission, there were some false starts.

Anyway, the point is that Iraqi forces were important in the surge, not only in a material sense, but also, clearly, as a symbol that the coalition and Iraqis were fighting on the same side. I don't think Petraeus' strategy could have been executed successfully before the Iraqi forces reaches a certain critical mass of numbers and competence, and this may be an important reason why 2007 was the year.
Alec: Inspirational post...if only the mainstream press had half the insight you do. I love the irony of the whole situation. The anti-justified war leftists fueling victory by yelling defeat. Makes you wonder what would have happened in '68 if LBJ had understood the loss on Tet was a figment of the Leftwing-Mainstream Media's collective emotion-driven zeitgeist.

Please, God, let that zeitgeist die with Communism, Free-love idiocy and American Liberalism.
Very good points, LagunaDave, regarding the importance of having sufficient numbers of Iraqi units - police and army - trained up in time to implement COIN strategy. Petraeus himself, when invited to criticize prior approaches or speculate about implementing the Surge earlier, has made the same and related arguments.

The original post has some useful insights, but in my opinion it presses its thesis too far. It may be that letting AQ run wild eventually worked to our benefit, but I tend to doubt that the American people, the military, or Bush and his top advisers and generals would have okayed a scenario that envisioned the carnage, chaos, instability, and near-collapse of minimal political support in 2006. Politically damaging public comments by the VP and by Rumsfeld ("last throes," "dead-enders" and so on) reinforce the perception that they themselves weren't contemplating a period during which AQ pulverized the Iraqis into choosing us.
CK is probably right that there was not really a plan by the Bush administration to employ a flytrap strategy, especially given the trememdous costs paid politically here at home for "letting AQ run wild." That's why I call it a "de facto flytrap strategy." It makes sense that when AQ started attacking the Iraqi population to play to the Western media, Rumsfeld would see how this would turn the Iraqi population against AQ and would let it play out, but the actual architects of the strategy were AQ and the Democrats. All Rumsfeld did was make lemonade out of the "media war" lemons that these opponents gave him.

Interesting article the other day on just how powerful the alliance between al Qaeda and our anti-Bush media was, how early on. The claim is that it was Western media coverage, essentially regurgitating Al Jazeera lies, that prompted coalition withdrawal from First Fallujah back in April 2004. (Via Instapundit.)

First Fallujah is really where the flytrap strategy was established. AQ used Fallujah as a car bomb factory for the next six months, establishing its media war approach, attacking Iraqi civilians as a way to cater to Western media defeatism. The reported "secret intelligence assessment" says that the pull out was because the anti-war media won the battle for perceptions, accusing the U.S. military of killing ruthless assault on non-combatants, etcetera.

Once the Democrats and al Qaeda picked their strategy, Rumsfeld could only try to use it. Whether his small-footprint/ force-protection strategy was the best response, we'll never know, but it was a winning strategy. Yes, it cost us a lot here at home, but without a winning strategy, the domestic cost would be even higher, both for Republicans and for the country.
utterly brilliant

Ray Robison is the author of Both In One Trench: Saddam's Secret Terror Documents

Thematically I concur with the analysis, as I put out a similar, though variant view of force use in OCT 2006. In an analysis of the origin of the COIN operations done JAN 2007, I also point out one salient fact that most have overlooked: force size is set by force sizing and structure set by Congress, not the armed forces. From that the size of the force deployment in Iraq was not set by the 2002-03 plans of DoD, but by the force sizing during the 'peace dividend' era of the 1990's. For all those wanting a 'large footprint': the US got rid of that force during this era.

Rumsfeld and the war planners, then, had to concentrate on doing what they could with what was available and I am sure that when anyone looked at 'Shinsekian' size forces you would, of necessity, be stripping out EUCOM and part of PACOM to ensure that they can *remain* at something like an ongoing force size. Those are *political* decisions made by the President, not DoD and, obviously, we weren't going to see that happen. Thus what happened in Iraq was predicated on Afghanistan and there we had the stunning realization that many large armies get when they go into mountainous terrain: small specialized and mobile units are highly effective. Most of that is due to logistics, or lack thereof, and specialized training and equipment for mountain warfare troops, but the idea of doing that on a larger scale made a lot of sense.... that and Congress isn't so hot on funding constabulary forces as the US is not looking to create an empire. With an authorization from Congress in hand and politicians going through months of finding out if 'talks' can be held and 'last chances' given as the forces deployed, the media swung into full gear to show just *how bad* things would be. Millions of refugees! Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands dead within months! Yes, the alarmists were going full-bore and ignored the slightly larger Nation where this had *not* happened: Afghanistan.

The one humorous part of this is that Saddam believed that the media and US allies would so tie the armed forces down that we would have problems doing *anything*. When Turkey refused to let the 4ID operate out their Nation he figured that the US was not going to be able to launch an offensive in at least 6 months (the time to redeploy 4ID) and shifted from a front line fighting to COIN mode. His analysis was that SOCOM and INTEL forces would try to stage an insurgency in Iraq and his forces needed to be dispersed to stop that from happening. So, down one full division and an enemy out of place to fight what do you do?


Worked, too.

4ID would serve as the interim relief and clean-up force and just in time as the US was running out of things: bullets and batteries. Body armor and armored vehicles was still 2-3 years down the road as a problem, the initial one was expendables. For all that lovely forecasting by DoD during the 1990's for a 'two front war' that was sustainable and Congress not even giving enough for that, we had the lovely problem of US soldiers running out of necessary supplies and writing home to get them. Seeing this, is it any *wonder* that the idea of trying to get things going locally looked like a real winner?

From that you get a 'spiral design' strategy of: keep the quietest places quiet, quiet some of the easier places, build trust, start creating local infrastructure and, finally, ensure that a local military stands up using modern doctrine and training. The one thing absolutely left uncovered by the MSM is this transformation of the Iraqi armed forces from 'army of thugs' to a new 'army of professionals. This force, because of the mix of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish areas that were already quiet would be integrated from the start. While Shia tribesmen are a large proportion of the army, they are also a large proportion of the Nation of Iraq. The US had time to weed out bad actors, train the trainers, train first stand-up forces and get them used to the new fighting environment. We, in the west, do not understand the shift in thought and views this has on Iraq. Norvell B. de Atkine's Why Arab Armies Lose Wars is a must read to understand the sociology and power structure of Arab society and how that is mirrored in their armed forces. 'You fight as you train' is a large part of it, but the dedication comes from societal adherance, not from an iron fist. In all Arab Armies (and generally with poor armies globally) the NCO corps is highly corrupt, exploiting conscripts. The US depends heavily on its NCO corps as a free and democratic Nation we need people who can reliably sustain morale and interpret orders under fire. The US system devolves responsibility down, while the traditional Arab one pushes it up to the highest levels for *everything*.

To sustain a COIN strategy you need a local government, local judiciary and local military: you can't win without them and even having them you often have a two decade problem that either ends in disaster or a long-term fizzle. A 'large footprint' even if available would have pushed the insurgency into the rural societies as it would have done what everyone was complaining about: concentrate on quieting the cities. Every time that is done in COIN you end up with a mess in the countryside that is hard to address. The list of Nations with this as an ongoing problem includes: Mexico, Columbia, Spain, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines... and even the cities aren't fully safe in these places.

As we don't teach about the profession of arms as a profession, our society refuses to understand that it *is* a profession. That has given three organizational structures stuck in a quagmire in Iraq: 1) MSM-Academia axis, utter failure to report properly, inculcate proper journalistic ethics, understand the role of the armed forces or even bother to teach what a Nation is all about,

2) al Qaeda - for an organization with a strategic doctrine of how to destabilize places and take them over, they have come upon a hard and fast limitation on their knowledge base. Their force doctrine is suited to weak but militant tribal affinities, as seen in Pakistan and North Africa - it did not cope well in Afghanistan and has utterly failed in Iraq. They turned the massive trump cards of religion and adaptability to local conditions over and come up with nothing. The inflection point in Iraq was in SEP 2006 with the Anbar tribes signing a pact to get rid of al Qaeda. These folks take their tribes seriously and you cannot abuse them like African tribes. The US armed forces have proven more adaptable to local societal conditions than a theoretically indigenous al Qaeda. That and they brought in money expecting to buy terrorism wholesale, like Pakistan, and found Iraqis were only selling retail.

3) Iran - not only stuck geographically, but their idea of a global organization has just run into a large block of Shia who have said: no. We forgot that the Shia in Iraq volunteered in droves under *Saddam* to fight Iran. Every pundit, soothsayer and MSM analyst who has tried to place Iraq into the Iran camp via *religion* apparently doesn't understand that intersectarian differences are often trumped by intrasectarian ones... the most hated are not those with blatant differences but those that agree with you 95% of the time and then hold some 'heretical' belief. The entire 30 Years War is *proof* of that. See point 1 for why we don't teach that or Westphalia any more. Iran *also* forgot that and thought its Badr and Sadr catspaws would serve it well... but they started to go after each other for that intrasectarian business and Iran had to send in Qods forces to actually attack the US and ended up going after Badr, Sadr and plain old Iraqis. Hmmmm... time to rethink if I were Iran, which I'm not.

These strategic reviews are, of course, not for guidance on doctrine, but analysis on outcome of previous doctrine and force application. COIN, in particular, while having a number of high level views, needs local application and adjustment which is *why* we needed skilled on the ground commanders who understood COIN and not main-force battle. Part of the reason why the US could not do this earlier is that we did not have the proper NCO and lower officer corps assimilated into COIN and then shift those who could not adjust to it out of unsuitable work. Often the officer who is wonderful in a main-force application scenario is too impatient and rough for COIN work in a civilian environment. The inverse is also true as well as the obverse of special ops forces if you do not have high levels of specialized training and understand it, the shift from COIN to sudden high levels of continuous combat can be draining (as seen by the British in Afghanistan and Germans in the Balkans during WWII). Flexible doctrinal systems allow for individuals to know their skills are appreciated while they may not be the *right* skills for certain jobs. Thus commanders who have had base command experience have proven to be extremely valuable in setting up civilian systems and protecting them until the civilians can do that on their own. You cannot predict where and when you will need *that* experience and it may not be applicable in all societies nor all cities after combat ops and shift to COIN. General rules, yes, but specific rules, no.

It isn't over yet, but second half-lives of COIN ops usually follow a downward path for the insurgents: plateaus kill. Now is the time when we should be re-examining force size, structure, basing, equipment on what we have learned... but that is up to Congress to decide, and it will often *not* follow the recommendations of the Administration (whoever it is) and DoD.
Outstanding analysis. A pleasure to read.

I've always thought Rumsfeld was a beliver in John Boyd's OODA Loop school of strategic thinking. In this philosophy, quickness and agility - in decisionmaking and maneuver - are the keys to success. Rumsfeld always kept us in a militarily flexible position, from which we could change strategy and maneuver forces as needed.
Excellent post
"Waiting until 2007 cost Bush control of Congress in 2006, and I see no gain from the delay balancing that loss."

Honestly, I see the Bush administrations utter tone deafness on the immigration issue, a result of its naive "Hispandering", as having more to do with the 2006 loss. The base got disgusted.

But I digress. Excellent post. I always knew Rumsfeld was being unfairly blamed, and your excellent post spelled out exactly why.
Very well done. I doubt this was planned, but whether by intention or just by dumb luck, still the heart of the ME flows through the valley of two rivers.

Petraeus was making it work in Mosul in 2004 and 2005. Sec. Rice called for a take hold and build approach in 2004, and the biggest issue in my mind, a competent Iraq NCO corp, has been slowly building, and struggling against Saddam era regulation and handicapped until about a year ago by a lack of a reliable means to vet its own forces and recruits.

As for Sec. Rumsfeld, I've read he was an active player in Col. John Boyds Mafia (along with the VP and Gary Hart). The equipment issues, like the hunt for IED's, take a great many twists and turns, neither the story is fully evolved, but the secretary is correct, you go to war with what you have.

The time lost by Little Mac in delaying the resumption of hostilities waiting for the force he wanted, was a significant factor, I think, in assuring the War between the states was as long and as costly as it was. The Emancipation Proclamation may not have been issued were it not for that delay. A delay counted in days and years as well as in deaths and tears. I do not think there was much of a choice in Iraq. In taking down Saddam, what followed was certainly not planned. Lemon aide, indeed.
Nice work capturing and expanding on what many of us were wondering yet nobody was reporting. Excellent comments as well.

It's an oversimplification but an amusing statement: The Dems won the war by trying to lose it.

A comment on the media's role. I think bashing the NYT or whomever is bashing capitalizm itself. The media get out of bed every morning for the same reason everyone in the private sector does: to make money. It concerns me that violence and death drive viewers/readers and the correlated advertising revenues. And while I deplore the "If it bleeds it leads" mentality of the MSM, I understand it. I would suggest eschewing righteous indignation when pointing out the obvious biases and sympathies of the MSM - just point out they are just trying to keep an audience so they can charge for ads. When they do provide objective analysis consider it a cost center that they endure for the sake of a shared fiction that they are not a for-profit entity and they serve the greater good.

This point needs to be reinforced and reminded constantly.

With apologies to Winnie: "Capitalism is the worst form of an economy, except for all the other ones that have been tried from time to time."
Concur your OUTSTANDING analysis!

From de Atkine's classic to Boyd's OODA, I've been following Iraq with the eyes and mind of an ex-ASA analyst, with service working the NorK mission...

All America's efforts in Iraq set the stage for Iraqis (and Muslims worldwide) to learn of the Coming of their long-awaited al-Qaim (The Bab, May 23, 1844/1260AH) and al-Mahdi (Baha'u'llah, 1853-1892)

I wouldn't be surprised if 900 Million Muslims around the world follow their hearts and minds in a matter of weeks someday soon, and declare themselves Baha'is, thanks to America's courageous efforts!
Agree with Karridine et al. From the day years ago when I read de Atkine, I knew the bumpf about preserving the old Iraqi Army was nonsense. That would have been a rolling disaster.

Similarly, the "500,000 troops" were never available, post-Clinton; it was code for doing nothing.

It does rather sound like Rumsfeld took one for the Gipper, doesn't it?
tjrfsca; "I would suggest eschewing righteous indignation when pointing out the obvious biases and sympathies of the MSM - just point out they are just trying to keep an audience so they can charge for ads."

Except, except -- they appear either to be doing a p-poor job of it (note the financial distress of the NYT and virtually all other left-biased media, and the health of the centrist and right-leaners), or they are in fact stubbornly clueless about market demand, and are drinking their own urine. So your hypothesis fails the Reality Test.
Good JOb! :)
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