Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hindsight is 20/20....or The Supreme Screwup, Blowback, and Foreign Policy.

In the light of the events currently unfolding in Iraq, I would like to take a quick look back at recent history, and attempt to apply some of the ideas and precepts that I have learned and formulated over the past decade.  Some of these ideas are things I remember thinking at the time, as I learned about unfolding conditions in the initial aftermath of our invasion, and some of them have percolated and                      over the years as I read more, learned more, and began to synthesize what is becoming my own ideas on Foreign policy, specifically regarding the GWOT.  (how stupid a name... war on terror.... that's kinda like starting a war on air strikes, or naval blockades... terrorism is a TACTIC...  this mindset is a BIG part of our subsequent missteps)

Now lets go back and remember Iraq as it was, before Dubya's "shock and awe" campaign (something that at the time and STILL sounds a lot like 'terrorism' to me).  Iraq was stable, secular, fairly well educated and westernized nation.  They had a fairly strong sense of National Identity, with the exception of the Kurds in the North, who have been separatists since Iraq was created by the western powers in the aftermath of WWI.

Granted Saddam was a fairly brutal dictator, although not one of the worst ones, truth be told.  his SONS on the other hand, THEY were bad news, and as Bill Maher suggested this week on Real Time, we should have left HIM in place, and just assassinated the hell out of his sons... Incidentally Richard Clarke, who has served in Counter Terrorism leadership positions in the Bush1, Clinton and Bush 2 administrations (where he was one of the more critical opponents of Dubya's Neo-con Chickenhawks) basically agreed that this was a better solution.  Now if our nation and administrations didn't have such a hard-on for war uber alles, perhaps we could have worked WITH Saddam to have a slow, moderated transfer into a more democratic, freer nation during his remaining years, and after he died.  Not overthrowing him, but working WITH him to make movements toward increased autonomy, increased freedoms, increased civil rights, etc.  But that would be a major diplomatic undertaking, which would require years of effort on our part ( it would have probably been cheaper money wise, and definately in terms of blood)

But that is a pipe dream, so lets apply the tactics, strategies and ideas that I have begun to lay out in previous posts.  to summarise

Bottom Up Engagement
        Remember, a strong society needs a strong foundation upon which to build.  the reconstruction as we did it, both in Iraq and Afghanistan was a top down model, concentrating on the major infrastructure, stock markets, government, constitutions, etc... Major mistake on our part.

Local "Ownership" of Reconstruction.
       Again a major mistake on our part, we brought in outside workers, outside companies to do the work of reconstruction, ignoring the unemployed and skilled modern labor force that ALREADY existed in-country.  localized improvements with local labor improves not only the sense of OWNERSHIP of those improvements, but by putting the people back to work, it increases their sense of normalcy... something that was sadly missing during the aftermath, and somthing that drastically increases the ability of factions to recruit people.

Crossing SubCultural / Religious Lines
        We can learn a lot from history, specifically David Kilcullens writings and the operations of the British Empire in SE asia, that by removing recruits for security, police and army forces from their day to day lives, sequestering them together across factional lines, an Espirit de Corps can be instilled, and this basic seed of stability can be created with a core unity, and common desire/goal of creating a better future for ALL parties.

we do this when training our OWN army, and it works well (the camaraderie and brotherhood of the fighting forces is a basic tenant of the modern army)... why the FRAK did we not follow these time tested ideas in Iraq?

Get out of our Fortresses, and engage with locals on a Civil, 1on1 basis.
        This is another idea that I kinda came up with on my own, from my knowledge of the N.Ireland "troubles" (and a lot of empathy/imagination), and as I learned more, I found the basic concept was one that permeated through a lot of writings, from Richard ClarkeGen Rupert SmithGen Tony Zinni, and H. John Poole to various articles, essays, websites, etc.

You might notice that many of these ideas have a similar focus and function,  Building and strengthening the unity, joint identity and cooperation among factions.  Building a nation from the bottom up, and (much like Habitat for Humanity) creating a sense of interaction, interdependence and involvement within society. This investment by civilians not only gives them a better sense of ownership in their own future, but also the joint future of the country.  It gives them Real Concrete reasons, not only to RESIST insurgents, and factional groups seeking to divide the country, but also kneecaps the radical groups ability to recruit from civil society.

in otherwords, its a win-win.  It combats radicals from BOTH sides of the equation... However, on tho the bulk of things.

Firstly, and this is something that REALLY bothered me in the immediate aftermath.    Back in 04/05, I worked in a convenience store, and thus i had daily access to lots of newspapers and magazines... which i consumed voraciously.  I kept seeing references to Iraqis having problems with heat at night (deserts are FREAKING COLD at night) as well as having basic starvation problems.  I wondered, 'why the FRELL did we not plan for this'... Its not like destroying their infrastructure (powerplants, refinerys, etc) wasn't a basic cornerstone of the war plan (imo, stupidly, since the GOAL was regime change, which ultimately means the US administering the nation for at least a brief period of transition and reconstruction... but that was probably due to the profiteers having too much of a say in the initial planning).

Would it have been SO difficult to have a container ship or 2 stationed in the Gulf loaded to the gills with Blankets, camp stoves, nutritional staples (rice, grain, beans, spices, etc) space heaters, etc?  that way they would be pre positioned, and all ready to go.  This could have been easily coordinated with NGOs since they have a slightly better capability and much more experience providing for basic needs in war zones (Drsw/oBorders, Red CrossIntl, peace corps, etc...)  It SERIOUSLY bothered me that such a basic, and foreseeable, need was ignored in the rush to war.

Better Tactics for "peacekeeping" patrols... or lessions I have learned from Scifi

 We are about to get into more theoretical areas here.  Just a Warning.

Our basic plan for reconstruction and occupation couldnt have been designed better to increase radicalism and factional insurgency if we tried.  the gargantuan military base we constructed (and which has suffered from cost overruns and shoddy workmanship since day one) served only as a symbolic reminder of what can ONLY be interpreted as American Imperialism.  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Rather than that huge permanent construction behemoth that was plagued by cost overruns and shoddy workmanship from day one (mmm... military contractors...) we COULD have used smaller, more temporary bases within "hot spots" and cities.  These would be supported by larger temporary bases  in the desert as central points of strength and supplies, perhaps even using Carriers, not only as mobile airstrips, but as "decompression" bases with witch to rotate troops in and out of the war zone for short periods of "peaceful" work. (perhaps this would have reduced the PTSD issues our soldiers are facing)

Operating from the large temporary bases, miles out into the desert (easier to defend against using IR goggles to detect people approaching against the cold of the desert.) company sized patrols could go into the city, and split into "camping" platoons to "inundate" a larger area within the town and provide security 24/7, unlike the moving patrol and return to base model we did use.  These camping platoons could have integrated squads of my Modified Rangers as 'force multipliers' and Corps of Engineers squads either as integral parts, or as daily "in/out" teams to asses needs, plan future projects, recruit and direct local workers for those projects, and even do some simple cosmetic work, ala the Broken Windows theory of policing.

These Camping platoons would move their camps on an irregular basis, 2 days her, 3 days there, bouncing from business park, to library, to hospital, to school, to strip mall, All within a small area.  A neighborhood, a 10 block square, etc.  while they were there, They would interact with the civilians... buying food from local vendors, patrolling a local park or strip mall for a series of days.  IF (and that's a BIG if, considering the training and propaganda fed to our troops)they interacted with those locals in a respectful and civil manner it would create more good will towards us, AND return a sense of normalcy to the people.  That kind of longer term 24/7 situational and area awareness MIGHT have also reduced the danger of IEDs...

As these Platoons and Companies rotate through the towns and cities, making small daily improvements, plans for the next time they are there, preparing local workers for bigger jobs, etc, they also create Secure zones.  Compare this to the concept we followed, the "green Zone" where we had daily patrols (which ended when night fell) and created ONE SINGLE safe area.  Under MY process, we create myriad smaller "safer" zones, shorter term, sure, but reaching FAR more people in an everyday, "on our doorstep" kinda way... AND with the promise that in a week or so, we come back with the tools and equipment and materials that the LOCAL CIVILIANS can use to improve their own neighborhoods.  or even one group of buildings.   bring in a generator (or, since this is the middle east, a FRAKKING SOLAR ARRAY ) some lumber, tools etc, and the experience to use it.

As these "camping Platoons" move through the cities and towns, they would create "zones of improvement" a building here, a park there....bringing in and INVOLVING the local citizenry in the reconstruction and improvement of their neighborhoods AND future....

Getting the locals involved.  involved in their OWN future... creating it, building it, and (most importantly) OWNING it.... That way, when the radicals blow something up.... they arent blowing up "infidel occupiers" but buildings and jobs and parks that the PEOPLE have worked for....

we should have done this from day one.  any IDIOT could tell you that this is the way to INSURE  long term stability.....

Then we keep coming back!  week after week, the troops come back.... one time they bring a solar array for the locals to install on a building, the next time some flowers and a couple soccer nets...a couple (locally rented) dump trucks or pickup trucks to remove the rubble....

and this kind of "bottom up" concept of reconstruction goes on EVERYWHERE.... changing home bases every time, building and improving everywhere we go...and turning it over to CITIZENS....

for a good Fictional display of this, i HIGHLY recommend USAF vet (and talented writer) Michael Z Williamsons book The Weapon  (well, I Highly recommend any of his writings.... hes a DAMN talented writer, with a libertarian bent, and GREAT military SF stories.... including one of the BEST first contact books ever...EVER Contact With Chaos .... no seriously, its AWESOME


  1. Overall, I would say that the problems in Iraq need to be solved by Iraqis. There is nothing the United States government should or can do to fix the problems there.

    1. overall I agree with you, however there are things we can do, and could have done to assist them in their mission. if we spent more time giving a "signal boost" to any and all moderate muslims who are fighting extremeism on a daily basis, in their own cultures and societies. People like Malala, CAIR, Maajid Nawaaz, etc...

      Mostly i write this in the Hope that we can learn from our mistakes and shortsightedness and move forward towards a better world, and better foreign policy.