On war

I have been meaning for a while now to blog some of my thoughts on the nature of, and prospects for, our country’s continuing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq…. That intention was rekindled by reading the latest issue of Middle East Report, which has some good articles on the subject– as well as a good piece on Washington’s political interventions in Iraqi politics by none other than Reidar Visser.
Regarding U.S. military doctrine, and the whole issue of Gen. Petraeus having been rushed in to take over from McChrystal in Afghanistan, I’ve been thinking for a while that we really need to do a thorough re-examination of this whole “doctrine” of “counter-insurgency” (COIN), of which, of course, Petraeus was one of the principal authors. In this issue of MER, Rochelle Davis, Laleh Khalili, and B.D. Hopkins all have good articles on various aspects of ‘COIN’, and Steve Niva has a good piece on the ‘lessons’ from Israel’s failure to win the 33-day war against Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006. You can read the whole text of Davis’s and Khalili’s pieces there, free.
My own emerging thoughts are that the entire “doctrine” of COIN may well be most appropriately thought of as a huge, elaborate Potemkin village, designed mainly to bamboozle the U.S. public into thinking our brave men and women in uniform are actually able to do something of some value in those distant battlefields, and that they will “achieve” something of value there before– as will inevitably happen– financial constraints at home and the constraints of the hugely intractable facts on the ground in those distant places will force a U.S. withdrawal “redeployment” from them. (As I wrote in Boston Review, last December.)
Maybe we should start calling it (Potem-)COIN.
… And in a very important and related development, Gen. Ray Odierno, the guy who’s in charge of all the U.S. forces in Iraq, told the AP on Tuesday that,

    U.N. peacekeeping forces may need to replace departing U.S. troops in the nation’s oil-rich north if a simmering feud between Arabs and minority Kurds continues through 2011.

That is not a direct quotation from Odierno, but the version reported by AP’s Lara Jakes. She also commented,

    A U.N. force might offer both the Iraqi leadership and President Barack Obama a politically palatable alternative to an ongoing U.S. presence to prevent ethnic tensions from descending into war. Although occasional bombings by Sunni extremists on Shiite targets grab the headlines, many observers believe the Kurdish-Arab dispute is the most powerful fault line in Iraq today.

To which, all I can say is two things: (1) Yes! Make this a role and challenge for an invigorated UN– a body in which all the nations of the world, including Iraq’s neighbors, are represented; but (2) How tragic that it has taken Washington and the U.S. military so many long years to get this far towards the idea that it might indeed not be the U.S. alone and its chosen lackeys inside Iraq who determine the future of that severely war- and occupation-battered country.
Of course, it would have been far, far better if the U.S. had never invaded Iraq at all. But Bush and Cheney were determined to do so, and did. Then, relatively soon after the invasion/occupation I started arguing– e.g. here in Kansas in May 2004 (scroll down to the comment from my dear, subsequently deceased, friend Misty Gerner), and doubtless also earlier– that the best way to deal with the tough challenges the U.S. faced in running the occupation would be to hand the whole basket of big questions involved over to the U.N.
But of course they didn’t take my advice. 3,000-plus U.S. service-members have been killed in Iraq since then, and many scores of thousands wounded. And more than 100,000 Iraqis probably lost their lives in the waves of sectarian violence that erupted in 2006 and 2007– stoked in good part by Washington’s blatant policy of emphasizing sectarian and ethnic differences in a sustained attempt to suppress adherence to any continuing form of (pan-)Iraqi nationalist feeling.
… And all for what? Because the powers that be in Washington did not want to admit that they needed to share decision-making power in Iraq with the U.N.
So now here’s Ray Odierno in July 2010 saying, Oh yes, and maybe now we need the U.N. in Iraq.
Staggeringly tragic. Much, much more to write about here.
But I have a huge bundle of things I need to do for my business in the days ahead. Stay tuned…

7 thoughts on “On war

  1. JohnN

    The most odd thing about this narrative is the notion, seemly quite widely held, that counterinsurgency strategy was invented by Petraeus. How did 2000+ years of experience with irregular opponents of conventional armies suddenly disappear?
    I think this is part of the ‘con’ being pitched to us – so that we don’t think of Vietnam, or the Indian wars in the U.S. or anything else at all. Afghanistan can be presented to us as a totally new problem that, gosh, we need time to get to grips with.

  2. Salah

    “counter-insurgency”
    This hoax and fake name used for bigger hidden goals and desire for this US with the West all for the coming 100 years.

  3. epppie

    COIN is yet another way to bamboozle Americans into thinking that their country isn’t REALLY in the killin’ business.

  4. Steve Connors

    “My own emerging thoughts are that the entire “doctrine” of COIN may well be most appropriately thought of as a huge, elaborate Potemkin village, designed mainly to bamboozle the U.S. public into thinking our brave men and women in uniform are actually able to do something of some value in those distant battlefields…”
    Judging by my conversations around town with well educated, well intentioned Americans, I believe this has been highly successful.
    As to the UN taking on a “peacekeeping” role in Iraq: my recollection is that following the unsuccessful July 2003 appeal for Indian peacekeepers (I’m not sure which student of history dreamed up that idea….) Colin Powell was preparing a UNSC resolution for a UN contribution (under US command). That was pronounced dead-on-arrival by the truck bombing of the UN headquarters that killed Sergio de Mello.
    Accompanied by Powell’s sabre-rattling toward the Iranians and Syrians in the lead up to these three events there was a clear sense that the US sought to consolidate its gains in Iraq by the use of some sort of peacekeeping force thus freeing up its own combat units. Whoever bombed the UN HQ managed to tie down those US forces for the next 5 years.

  5. Don Bacon

    Give the United Nations more power?
    The United Nations (driven by the US/Israel) is promoting war with Iran with its illegal condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program. The UN has promoted civilian nuclear programs in the past via the NPT but now sanctions Iran for doing what it formerly promoted.
    The Security Council is obligated to determine that the case of Iran represents a threat to peace, and that requirement has not been fulfilled. Iran has not violated the NPT.

  6. alexno

    Helena
    I think your understanding of what Odierno is saying is slightly skewed.
    Odierno has of course been one of main military proponents of the US staying in Iraq. But he has also, for that reason, been close to the Kurdish push for the same objective, manifested in extensive lobbying in Washington.
    It must never be forgotten that the main objective of the KRG is to get the US to stay, in order to protect them. For Odierno to call for a UN force, is simply that he has recognised that the US is not staying, and a UN force could be a substitute protection for the Kurds. He is in fact simply being a spokesperson for the KRG.
    I can’t quite see what function a UN force would have now. Who would it separate? The only point I could see would be to protect the territorial gains of the KRG. And such ill-gotten gains don’t deserve protection.

  7. JohnH

    Surely as the sun rises in the morning, the DOD will let COIN run its course until fully discredited. Then it will discover a whole new war doctrine, dusting off some obscure doctoral thesis by a currently unknown Major General. Or maybe they’ll simply replace COIN, which replaced “pacification” with some other, more Orwellian acronym to convey the “wining of hearts and minds” via bombing.

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