In Memoriam

This site is also dedicated to Stan Sargent. Stan and I grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and both of us left for college at about the same time. Stan served in Vietnam while I joined the Peace Corps. Stan won the Silver Star for heroism. Read Stan's story (1 MB download pdf).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's Complicated ...

One of the standard responses to any question during our Foreign Affairs Counter-insurgency Training in Washington DC prior to coming to Iraq, was -- "It's complicated." I've been in Iraq since February 2008 and the complexity of the society, the issues that trigger conflict, and how we work with the Iraqis to help them find their own way is still a huge issue. I'm sure the situation is the same Afghanistan, and in any tribal society. The graphic below is something I put together from a couple of maps of tribes and paramount sheiks nationally and in one region of Iraq.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Experience in Iraq

I was recently asked to summarize "best practices" from my experience in Iraq as a USAID Representative on an Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team. The following are the four points that I believe are key in developing an effective counterinsurgency economic development program. These points were first made in a presentation I gave to General David Petraeus in July 2008 at Forward Operating Base Kalsu.

Bring Our Partners Into the Fight - This entails understanding the array (USAID (US Agency for International Development), QRF (Quick Response Funding), CERP (Commander Emergency Response Program), Other Donor, etc.) of economic development programs that are available, determining how the programs "work" and what are the rules to partner with them, and figuring out who makes decisions on investments and then get those people out to the field (this is where you have to make sure the military understands that air support to get the right people out is the best investment they can make in economic development COIN).

Leverage Development Resources for Greater Impact - The objective is to have our partners "own" their part of the fight. Mandating investments from other economic development programs does not work. You have to engage them, understand what their objectives are, and then give them a framework where they can achieve their objectives while supporting your COIN objectives. I found that a lot of the programming decisions being made were based more on relationships than on a strategic planning framework. People want to help, you have to show them how they can, and in a way that fits their program. You have to always look for synergy - win/win scenarios - and you have to champion the ideas when you find them. You can't wait for the partners to show up -- you have to create a concept, market it to the partners, get them out to look at specific parts of what you want to do, and then have them come up with a shared concept in the field - a way forward that everyone is bought in. I have a case study for what we did with aquaculture in North Babil that I could share. Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia had destroyed the industry, occupied fish farms, and shut down most of the production. The US military went in and cleared them out and we went in with an economic development program that involved everyone of our partners and funding from across the spectrum (USAID, QRF, CERP, etc.). The end result was the revitalization of an industry that will produce by 2010 up to 130,000 metric tons of fish and increase gross revenue to farmers and merchants by at least $30 million.

Focus on Iraqi Buy-in & Ownership - Getting local ownership is key to a sustainable efffort. My experience was you were only really able to meet consistently with the local leaders. It was harder to talk with ordinary people. It could happen but it was the exception not the rule. You had to count on them to bring their people (tribe or community) into the discussion, It was very difficult to get local buy-in with the "grant them everything" mentality that comes with COIN but we sought Iraqi leadership of any program we funded. Whether it was a "radio in a box" station in Seddah City or a $2 million Central Euphrates Farmers' Market, you tried to structure the program where they (the Iraqis) were seen by the community as the leaders -- that way, if the program failed, the local leaders lost face but if it succeeded, they appeared more legitimate in the eyes of the community. We wanted the local leaders to have an incentive to make sure the program worked. We tried to build that into everything -- for example, a $200,000 backpack program being handed out by the local councils rather than being given out by the Civil Affairs Units (they could monitor the overall program but it was a locally managed event). This kind of effort takes a lot of work on the ground by the Provincial Reconstruction Team but it has a better chance of being sustained and it helped legitimize local authority. It is also our eventual exit strategy -- at the end of the day, the Iraqis have to assume full ownerhip of their own development efforts.

Use Military as Force Multiplier for Development Programs - Like everything on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, the effectiveness of working with the military came down to personal relationships. The key was to find the company commanders and their Civil Affairs teams that wanted to do something. When I first arrived at the Brigade, I set up a briefing schedule of the battalion senior staff, the civil affairs teams, and, specialized groups, like the Brigade surgeon and the medical team. I explained all the USAID programs, told them how QRF worked, and put out some ideas on how we work together to leverage impact. I told them that I saw my job as helping them restore hope in the communities that were stabilized through economic development programs, employment programs, or whatever their interaction with the community indicated was the highest priority. I then invited anyone to come see me with their idea for an activity. I put a list of already approved Iraqi Rapid Assistance Projects (IRAP) projects on the wall of my office to show as examples of what could be done. We were able to get some really good ideas for activities from Company commanders and their CA teams. Basically, I was not designing and implementing a program that was coordinated with the Brigade, I was there to help them achieve their stabilization and COIN objectives by putting quick disbursing economic and employment generation programs in place where it was important to the overall mission. The goal was to reduce the violence within the communities and against our soldiers by restoring hope.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Great Arab Conquests

“The Great Arab Conquests:
How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In”
Hugh Kennedy, 2007, Da Capo Press, Philadelphia PA

Arab conquests during the period 630 AD to 750 AD resulted in their control a large part of the known world. In 712 AD at the battle of Poitiers, the Arabs reached the gates of Paris before being driven back. This remarkable series of victories were accomplished with relatively small armies (none was larger than 30,000 men) who rode bareback and were lightly armored. They depended upon spear, sword and shield, the element of surprise, and the weakened conditions of the nations they faced. The Arab conquests were quick and world ranging like those of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. The difference was in how the Arab conquests were “made permanent.” Only two countries ever came back to their previous identify after Arab conquest: Spain and Portugal. This book attempts to understand this subject by addressing two questions: (1) how did the conquests take place; and (2) how were the conquered areas settled by a relatively small number of Arabs and become transformed into “Arab” states.

The author discusses the origin of a unified Arab state under the Prophet Mohammed to describe the development of a conquest strategy based primarily on the Koran but also on the Bedouin and Arab urban culture with its tribal relationships and social systems that valued military might and cohesiveness of the tribal group. The key aspect of Islam that transformed the tribes of Arabia into a potent military and governance forces was the creation of a “brotherhood” of Muslims under Islam. Any person who professed a belief in Allah become a brother regardless of ethnicity, race or nationality. This brotherhood was known as “umma” or the Muslim community. Tribal conflict and in-fighting was overcome with this new brotherhood.

Islam also provided the basic strategic framework for all the conquests. Upon the death of Mohammed, the different tribes of Arabia began to assert their independence. A series of wars, the “ridda” wars, brought all the tribes under Muslim control led by the Quraysh tribe of Mecca allied with Bedouin. 1 According to Kennedy, these wars led directly to the expansion of Arabia since the umma formed by Islam would not allow “brother” to attack “brother.” The unified Arabian tribes under Islam had to take their traditional raiding way of life outside Arabia to neighboring countries. The Koran also sanctioned this in verse 9:5: “When the sacred months are past, kill the idolators wherever you find them, seize them, besiege them, lie in wait for them in every place of ambush; but if they repent, pray regularly and give the alms tax, then let them go their way, for God is forgiving and merciful.” This was considered the scriptural mandate for conquests.

As Muslim armies were dispatched to conquering neighboring states, more and more Bedouin arrived in Mecca to join the armies to share in spiritual and worldly rewards of conquest. The Arab armies were relatively small. Syria was conquered by an army of less than 30,000 men, while Iraq was won with only 6,000 to 12,000 men. At the crucial battles of Yarmuk in Syria against Roman forces and Qadisiya in Iraq against the Persians (Sasanians). The apparent advantages of the Muslim armies was mobility (they traveled light and lived off the land), good leadership, and strong motivation (for spoils of war but also spiritual – as witnessed in a Muslim speech to Persian authorities prior to battle, “… now we have come to you by order of our Lord, fighting for his sake … we act upon his orders and seek fulfillment of his promise.”). The author makes a strong case that internal strife and ongoing conflicts between the Byzantine Empire and Persia weakened both empires and allowed Muslim armies an opportunity to attack them.2

In explaining how Muslim rulers governed the conquered lands, the author describes the administrative arrangements made that allowed Muslims to maintain their cultural identity and through Islam convert the local population to a common religious belief as well as language. Apparently key cities were chosen for settlement by Muslims and from these cities an administrative system was established to collect tribute owed by non-Muslims. Incentives were created to convert to Islam but there is no major evidence of forced conversion. The systems put in place were effective in that only Spain and Portugal are the only two countries to revert back to Christianity after Muslim rule.

1) Ridda refers to apostasy and originated in the changing beliefs after Mohammend’s death. At least two other prophets arose in Arabia: (1) Maslama of the Banu Hanifa of Yamama in Eastern Arabia; and (2) Sajah, a prophetess of tribes in north-east Arabia.

2) Byzantine Christian doctrine was different than those of many Christians in Syria (Diophysites vs Monophysites) and there was persecution of the local Christians. Muslim arrival at this critical time found a weakened empire. Bubonic plague was also a serious problem for the city dwelling Syrian population – a disease passed by fleas on rats was more of a problem in the cities than with the Bedouin warriors and their mobile camps (not room or place for rats).

Extend of Muslim Conquests – 750 AD

Friday, May 8, 2009

Leviathan - A Hobbesian View of the World

An article in Parameters, Winter 2006-07, pp. 4-13, entitled "The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Perservation Concerning Human Behavior during an Insurgency" posits that gaining control over the population and providing for its security is a key first step in winning an insurgency. Using Thomas Hobbes' classic, Leviathan, the article points out that an individual initially seeks membership in the society for security. Only after the need for security is met does a person pursue a more complete life. This gets complicated in that man's perception of his security is a determining factor of whether he joins an insurgency or not.

English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote Leviathan in 1651 regarding human nature and the foundation of states based on social contract theories. Hobbes describes the need for a strong central authority to prevent social unrest and civil strife because the common nature of man presents a situation in which each person fights for his or her own existence. Preventing chaos caused by man's inherent nature to seek his own will without limit and the situation that arises from that nature -- an unending conflict of "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes) -- is a primary motivating force for man to accept a form of social contract and establish civil society. According to Hobbes, society is a population beneath a central authority to whom all individuals give up their natural rights for the sake of protection. Submission to this authority is accepted as the price of peace however excessive abuse of power can lead to civil war.

The Hobbesian view of the world, that security of the individual is the primary motivation to the acceptance of authority, is contrary to Aristole's contention that man is by nature a social animal. While social needs may play a part in the formation of society, Hobbes believes the overwhelming need is for security -- everything else, social interaction, economic development, justice, spiritual fulfillment, etc. follows. Failure to secure the population dooms any counter-insurgency effort.

"The Hobbesian Notion of Self-Preservation Concerning Human Behavor during an Insurgency" tries to answer the question of why some people join an insurgency and others don't. The key is the perception of the population as to who is in control. Most people will choose to be impartial as the struggle between government and insurgency fight for control but the overriding factor determining their eventual loyalty is Hobbesian self preservation. Perceived loss of control of an area by the central government is sufficient for the population to be passive in the face of the insurgency and for a portion of the population to join the insurgency. The majority of the population is waiting to see which form of society will prevail in order to enter new social contracts that ensure their survival.

This approach reinforces a key tenant of General David Petraeus's counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan that the population must be protected at all costs.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Accidental Guerrilla

The Accidental Guerrilla
Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
David Kilcullen

This book focuses on the need to continually assess who the enemy is, how conflicts change over time, and how the pursuit of terrorists takes us into the traditional territory of relatively non-radical elements of the society we are fighting in. These local societies feel the intrusion of foreign force and respond not so much for ideological or spiritual reasons but because we are there. Kilcullen contends that warfare is changing and that the environment is set not by the superpower approach to conventional war but by the local actors in one of four scenarios:

(1) Backlash Against Gobalization - The West dominates the process and creates the impression of Western imperialism as local customs, culture and society is impacted by the West.

(2) Globalized Insurgency – There is a transnational globalized insurgency led by takfiri extremists like Al Qaeda which uses provocation, intimidation, protraction, and exhaustion as the tools to intimidate, co-opt, or mobilize its base, the 1.2 billion Sunni Muslims around the world.

(3) A Civil War within Islam – An internal conflict in Islam led by the takfiri radical movement against the Muslim status quo can spill over into a larger conflict with the West.

(4) Asymmetric Warfare – Given the size of US military any rational enemy is likely to fight the US using non-conventional means.

The threat environment is a combination of these scenarios and that different actors are involved for different reasons. US overwhelming military power will result in non-conventional war and it is critical that we understand the reasons and who our enemies are, and what type of response is most appropriate.

The secret to fighting wars in the 21st century according to Kilcullen is understanding that we are not involved in a global war on terror but rather against a relatively small group of takfiri terrorists. The way we fight against them is not with conventional war fighting as defined by the Powell Doctrine (absolute military overkill). When the US tries to respond with overwhelming force we create the conditions that actually spawn a larger guerrilla war. The US reaction to takfiri terrorists causes the local population to react negatively and side with Al Qaeda (see graphic).

Kilcullen covers other topics in the book. He compares Iraq and Afghanistan which are entirely wars and puts forward a template for how to proceed while acknowledging that every conflict from the local to regional to national is different. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from Col. H.R. McMaster – “If you ever think you have the solution to this, you are wrong and you are dangerous…” There are precepts but no models, scenarios but no ironclad outcomes, the fight in the 21st century is complicated and requires a re-thinking by our military leaders of how we fight.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Savage War of Peace

A Savage War of Peace


Algeria 1954 - 1962

Alistair Horne

France first entered Algeria in the 1830s and began a colonization process that resulted in French citizens owning most of land, controlling the local economy, and creating a second class Muslim population.[1] The French colonists were the dominant class.[2] An incident in Setif in 1945 sparked the massacre of 100 French citizens and the killing of more than 1,000 Algerian Muslims in retaliatory attacks by the French army. General unrest among 8 million Muslims in 1954 led to an insurrection by the National Liberation Front (FLN) – a group of Muslim nationalists – on November 1st, All Saints Day, 1954 that lasted for eight years, cost an estimated one million Muslim lives, forced the relocation to settlement camps of another million, resulted in at least 4 assassination attempts on French President Charles de Gaulle, and finally caused an attempted military coup and near outright civil war in France. The attempt to hold Algeria was linked to the large European population, primarily French, living there – in 1954, 1 in 8 Algeria residents was European. The rebellion against the French revealed deep resentments of Muslims toward the colonists – the spontaneous attacks by Muslim residents on Europeans were notable. The example of the massacre at Philippeville[3] clearly part of the insurgent’s strategy to provoke a strong response by the French military against the civilian population demonstrated that the French policy of “collective responsibility” in response to attacks alienated broad segments of the Muslim population. The ferocity of the fighting, the tenacity with which the Algerians fought against the French demonstrated the power of a determined but hopeless population. The insurrection resulted in the death of more than twelve percent of the national population. In a war that was started by the FLN with only 350 weapons followed a classic guerrilla strategy of attacking only when to its advantage, avoiding frontal assaults, and attacking targets loyal to the national government (local police and political officials). The year the insurrection began, 1954, coincided with the great French defeat in Dien Bien Phu. The French fought the insurgency with short term success using torture, heavy handed military action, and increased military power in critical areas. The Battle of Algiers between January and March 1957 was won by the French and should have destroyed the FLN. The fact that it did not indicates the organic nature of the opposition facing the colonial power. The Algerian people as a whole were against the French. The FLN had attacked all symbols of the French colonial government by targeting and killing Algerian supporters and civil servants of the French government. There is a quote in the book regarding the FLN strategy as one of terror – Jacques Soustelle, Governor-General of Algeria in 1955 is quoted as saying that it was remarkable that “… (the FLN) never sought to attach the rural populations to their cause by promising them a better life, a happier, freer future; no, it was through terror that they submitted them to their tyranny.” Everything written about insurgency conflict is illustrated in the history of the Algerian war. There was poverty, political discontent, unanswered grievances by the majority population, and a sense that, especially in the rural areas, the government was conspicuously absent. Combine that with the Mulsim perspective that the French had oppressed them for 120 years, stole their land, and subverted their culture, and there was a perfect storm for an insurgency. The precursors of Provincial Reconstruction Teams were created by the French -- Section Administratives Specialees – SAS was created by Governor General Jacques Soustelle to address rural poverty. Some 400 SAS detachments were created each under an army lieutenant or captain who was an expert in Arabic and Arab affairs and could, “… deal with every conceivable aspect of administration; from agronomy, teaching, health to building houses and administering justice. The SAS were a selflessly devoted and courageous band of men, who made themselves much loved by the local populace and for this reason were often the principal targets of the FLN.” The SAS was to leave the most lasting imprint of Soustelle’s regime. Critical Factors to French Defeat – Cost of War – p 232 – “…then there was the awareness imposed by the shattering, ever soaring costs of the war: one billion francs (one million English Pounds per day) in May 1958.” This was the equivalent of $2.5 billion per month in 2007 US dollars.[4] War Weary Nation - By 1959, 5 years into the war there was a need for a victory – p. 331 – after de Gaulle entered power his Prime Minister to inform the Commanding General Maurice Challe that “… we must be able to put out a victory bulletin in the month of July; for France is beginning to get bored with the war.” Impact on Military – French military was critically overstretched to fight the insurgency in Algeria – this strain resulted eventually in insubordination and an attempted coup in which Corsica was seized by the French military and four generals were implicated in a coup attempt against the government. Lessons Learned – (1) The effectiveness of insurgents attacking soft targets (local government leaders, local police, etc.) created fear and diminished the legitimacy of the national government; (2) Porous borders were a major problem in trying to control an insurgency – for Algeria having Tunisia and Morocco was key to re-supply and force support to the FLN; (3) Long term price was paid by engaging in torture; and (4) Government legitimacy requires the protection of its citizens and a monopoly over violence -- a legitimate government must provide essential services, employment, education, health care, and stability in which a sense of hope can be nurtured -- without hope, people turn to the insurgents.[1] For example, the Muslim vote, through a two tier electoral system counted one eighth that of a French citizen (both systems elected eight senators and fifteen deputies to the national system) in the French system, only one million French citizens could vote while in the Muslim system more than eight million Algeria Muslims voted.[2] Muslims were clearly second class citizens in 1954 Algeria with only one boy in five attending school while only one in sixteen among girls were in school. Among Europeans there were 200,000 children of school age at 1,400 primary schools while 1,250,000 Muslim school age children attended 699 primary schools. In terms of resources, control of the land was clear with the average land holding of Europeans at 123.7 hectares versus average Muslim land holdings of 11.6 hectares. Ninety percent of the country’s wealth was in the hands of ten percent of the people, primarily European. Muslim average earnings were 16,000 francs a year whereas the European equivalent was 450,000 francs – nearly 30 times as high.[3] Philippeville was near the El-Halia mining center with approximately 150 Europeans and 2,000 Muslim residents who had coexisted peacefully for years. The mine had seen excellent labor relations between the European managers and the Muslim workers. On August 20, 1955, a group of Muslims attacked the town killing 37 Europeans (men, women and children). Local residents were said to have joined in the attacks. More than 1,000 Muslims were killed in retaliation.[4] According to -- the value of one million English pounds in 2007 dollars based on “average earnings” would be 42,690,000 English pounds or around $2.5 billion per month (1 pound = $2) multiplied by 42,690,000 then multiplied by 30 days in a month.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inventing Iraq

Inventing Iraq:
The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied
By Toby Dodge, Columbia University Press, 2003 (1)

“Inventing Iraq” provides a historical perspective of nation building by analyzing the British occupation of three Ottoman Empire provinces that were formed into Iraq. Beginning in 1920, the country was administered by Britain under a League of Nations mandate and became the first mandated state to gain independence and enter the League as a full, self-determining member in 1932. Dodge tracks the history of British rule of Iraq, analyzes its transition to a sovereign state, highlights the mistakes made in this process, and recommends how the US can avoid pitfalls in our nation building effort here. The key point that Dodge makes in the book is that a successful transformation of Iraq can only be achieved through long term, grass roots development aimed at creating a local sense of community. Tribal fiefdoms, the primary Iraqi civil society structures shaped over the last 400 years creates a “shadow state” and undermines the long term sustainability of a national government. Historically, central governments in Iraq, dating back to early Ottoman Empire have not adequately controlled the rural areas. A succession of ruling entities have depended upon a combination of violence and patronage to bring tribal leaders into a largely informal governing coalition with the state. (2)

The book defines the end state for successful nation building as the ability of a nation to, “… deliver public goods to the population contained within its recognized borders through a differentiated set of centralized government institutions. Crucial to its ability to perform these tasks is the veracity of its claim to ‘binding authority’ over its citizenship and ultimately over all actions taking place within the are of its jurisdiction.” Three key characteristics guarantee sustainability of a state (1) ability of the state’s institutions to claim a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, (2) the capacity of the state’s bureaucracy to implement its decisions across the territorial entirety of the country, and (3) creating a positive relevance of the state to the everyday lives of its citizens. Dodge states that when there is a failure to provide protection through a monopoly on the use of violence, the citizenry will seek public goods and services, economic subsistence and eventually their physical survival through ad hoc and informal channels. People will look to whatever group can help them survive – militia, tribe, clan -- proclamation of statehood is not sufficient. For Iraq to become a sustainable state it must have the ability to protect, govern, and serve all its citizenry.
Working with the Sheiks - “(To address the problem of a small elite ruling class that was mostly urban, and thus removed from the majority of the people who lived in the rural areas, the British decided) … its relations had to be mediated through a series of tribal sheiks. For a sheik, government recognition brought with it responsibility, reward and prestige. By guaranteeing the good behavior of the tribe or that of a particular section, he would receive a monthly subsidy. The designated sheiks learned quickly what was required of them and how to manipulate the key concerns of the British.” “Inventing Iraq” pp. 83 - 86

Lack of Civil Society in Iraq - “Since seizing power in 1968, the Baath regime efficiently used extreme levels of violence and the powers of patronage delivered by oil wealth to co-opt or break any independent vestiges of civil society. Autonomous collective societal structures beyond the control of the state simply do not exist. In their place, society came to be dominated by aspects of the “shadow state” flexible networks of patronage and violence that were used to reshape Iraqi society… The danger the US administrators trying to make sense of a society they have little knowledge of is that they will grasp aspects of the shadow state as authentic representations of Iraqi polity. In doing so they will be reproducing the very structures set up by Sadam Hussein to guarantee his own grip on power.” - “Inventing Iraq” p. 159.

Key to governance is the belief of the people that they have an effective way to voice their grievances and have a role in addressing their problems at the local and provincial levels. The civil society structures that play a critical role in providing this voice to the people does not exist in Iraq. To address this problem, Dodge recommends a strategic approach that sounds very similar to our ePRT led grass roots effort of building local capacity, empowering communities, and giving ordinary citizens a voice in government. The issues identified in this book and their potential impact on the future are important to consider as we transition away from ePRTs (Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team) toward a PRT (Provinical Reconstruction Team) led effort to strengthen provincial governments and their capacity to govern. (3)

Dodge recommends that the US learn the lesson from the British occupation that a sustainable state requires empowering local communities to effectively address their local problems, provide a consensus for community action, and interact with local and provincial governments. Civil society groups will, according to Dodge, provide the only sustainable means of empowering local communities. The establishment of these groups will have to be a grass roots effort that focuses on increasing social capital, providing a voice for ordinary citizens, and engendering a feeling among local communities of inclusion and benefit in a national government system.

Dodge contends that the degree to which Iraq can be inclusive and equitable to all citizens will determine whether there will be a renewal of violence. “Inventing Iraq” sends a clear message that for the state to effectively govern and serve its citizenry much more than a strong military is required – ordinary Iraqis have to believe in their ability to come together to address their problems. This book provides an interesting historical perspective that points to ways that the US might effectively address issues regarding the sustainability of the Iraqi state once Coalition Forces eventually depart. Building a vibrant civil society should, according to Dodge, be one of the key goals of US policy. The most effective way to create a strong civil society is by working at the ePRT level – the grass roots – focusing on bringing people together to address their problems, create a sense of community, and effectively interact with their provincial and national government.
Finally, the ePRT concept was described in the book -- ePRT Model of Civil Society Strengthening -- “Evidence from Umm Qasr suggests a different and more sustainable approach to rebuilding Iraq’s governing structures. The experience there has been acknowledged by American forces to be a potential model for the rest of Iraq. Self-selected (modest, mid-level civil servants came together to form a council) citizens approached British troops and asked when schools could be re-opened. The U.S. Agency for International Development moved quickly to capitalize on this development, giving the council $41,000 for offices and computers. This experiment in “micromanagement” implies the value of “root and branch” approach to reform of Iraq’s government. If carried to its logical conclusion, such a policy would involve a sustained attempt not only to change the visible institutions of the state but and their interaction with society but also to transform the dynamics of the shadow state by creating a basis for social trust.” -- Inventing Iraq, p. 169


The following are excepts from the “Inventing Iraq” referring to the problems, issues and realities faced by the British personnel charged with the first modern attempt at nation building in Iraq. Many of the points highlighted in the book could be taken from today’s headlines. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” Clearly this is the case in Iraq today.

Dealing with Iraq nationalism. There was pressure from the Iraqis to transition from a “mandate” to a treaty with the UK that outlined when Iraq would be declared a sovereign state. Iraqi nationalism became a force in a short period time after the Ottoman Turks were defeated. “The speed with which Britain’s role in Iraq changed from 1920 to 1922 is highlighted by the rapid shift in its legal basis.” p. 22 “Having set up our independent or quasi-independent state, we were bound to deal with it on terms of greater equality, and less from the point with it on terms of greater equality, and less from the point of view of a guardian towards its ward, than was originally contemplated.” p. 22 “The rapid growth of well-organized and vibrant nationalism in Iraq exacerbated the conflict at the heart of the British policy.” p. 30

Political realities impacted events on the ground. “The irresoluble tensions inherent in British nation building produced, by 1932, the quasi-state of Iraq. When Iraq entered the League of Nations it was granted de jure independence as a self-determining nation state. But the reality was something quite different. Iraq was a territory inhabited by a diverse and divided population run by a small clique of mainly Sunni politicians who could not control the country without the help of British airplanes.” p. 31 “The heavy constraints upon the British state meant that sovereign power had to be devolved to the political elite of Baghdad – those who, by 1926, were in a position to run things.” p. 37 “The Permanent Mandates Commission had been the personification of Britain’s international obligations to Iraq, but, after 1929, it became an obstacle to the government’s goal of ridding itself of the costly and potentially unending burden of turning Iraq into a liberal state of international standing.” p. 38

Dealing with the power brokers rather than transforming the state. “Their concept of the Ottoman Empire led the British to place their trust in those who inhabited the countryside, those identified as ‘tribal’.” p. 45 “… Iraqi civil servants … were detached from society. They constituted a distinctly secular, separate and parasitic middle class.” p. 48 “The image that permeates the British descriptions of Iraqi governing groups was of a small elite floating above society. ‘I do not suppose there is in the whole history another example of a state with a representative government of modern type, in which only people who count are two or three hundred at most. It is in fact a closed oligarchy.” p. 66 “Ultimately it was the way British understood Iraqi society that came to undermine their attempt to build a stable state. Resources were channeled through individuals (the sheiks) in the hope that they would guarantee social order at the lowest possible cost.” p. 158

Rule of Law was a difficult concept – land tenure was a very difficult issue. “In effect, written law could be rigid or liberal as the drafters desired because it ultimately would stand little chance of being enforced. (The Turks had a) “… blind impulse to draw all authority into a single net, (they) not only neglected but actively discouraged the delegation of power.” p. 51 “Upon the Turkish conquest the agricultural land of Iraq became state property … (but the) Ottoman Government were never in a position to exercise any systematic control of the large areas of miri land throughout the country.” p. 54 “With the state unable to enforce its will over the majority of the country, no cadastral survey was possible. A result was title deeds and records that were ‘incomplete and entirely inaccurate in respect to names, areas, and boundaries, sometimes forged, sometimes overlapping, sometimes duplicated in respect of identical properties.” p. 55 “Order was attempted in two stages. First, land had to be owned, and it was the administrator’s job to find out who that owner was – to formalize and then protect his rights of possession. Then the proprietor was encouraged to farm the land as efficiently as possible.” p. 105

(1) Tony Dodge is an English scholar on the Middle East for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

(2) This lack of rural control applies primarily to the Ottoman Empire rule of Iraq from 1535 to 1918, and the English mandate period 1920 – 1932, but was also true to varying degrees in modern Iraq under the rule of Hashemite King Faisal followed by Ghazi, Nuria al Said, and Abdullah Al-llah until the July 14, 1958 Revolution led by General Abdul Karim Qassim. Central control was strengthened when Qassim was overthrown in 1963 by Col. Adbul Salam Arif who died in 1966 and was succeeded by his brother, Rahman Arif. After the 1968 coup by the Baath Party put Saddam Hussein on a track to becoming the sole dictator of Iraq in 1979, the Iraqi state used terror and money to control the rural areas.

(3) PRT – Provincial Reconstruction Team; ePRT – Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team lives and operates within a US military combat team at the Brigade level or lower. The PRT concept began in 2002 in Afghanistan. A PRT is defined in the “Provincial Reconstruction Team Playbook” Center for Army Lessons Learned as “… a means to … stabilize an area through an integrated civilian-military focus. It combines the diplomatic, military and developmental components of the various agencies … to help improve stability by building up the capacity of the host nation to govern; enhance economic viability; and deliver essential public services such as security, law and order, justice, health care, and education. Once the stability objectives have been fulfilled, PRTs can begin to dismantle and the traditional diplomatic and developmental programs will operate within their normal venues.” Total PRTs in Iraq (09/2008) are 31: US PRT 11, Coalition 3, ePRT 13, and PST 4 (Provincial Support Teams).

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Ghost of William Walker

The following article was published in the newsletter of the US Embassy in Nicaragua in May 2003. The news of US invasion of Iraq was in the headlines in Latin America and appeared biased against our efforts. Clearly, the Latin Americans saw the world through different eyes -- they remembered a past almost unknown to North Americans.
The Ghost of William Walker

“What matters at last is this: all over Central America, William Walker is remembered as the pattern and the paradigm for American intentions. There is not a school child who does not know his name … he has been the core with which national myths have been created: the heroic and successful struggle of the people of Central America against the arrogance and power of North Americans.” Robert Houston, “The Nation Thief”

Regional integration is not new to Central America. In the Spring of 1856, the region was probably more united than at any other time in its history. An allied army comprised of soldiers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador backed by British and US business interests fought a bloody war against William Walker and his followers. Disease, superior numbers and national spirit brought victory to the allies and influenced Central America’s relationship with the United States for generations to come.

During the recent war in Iraqi, I caught glimpses of Walker’s ghost in some of the Hispanic media stories. It seemed to me at times the US was portrayed as the arrogant bully; the subliminal message was … this had been done before, in a different place and a different time. That message was unfair but perception creates its own reality and how the world perceives our actions depends as much on the past as on the present. Faulkner wrote in “Requiem for a Nun” that, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Understanding what William Walker did in Central America is important to understanding how Central Americans view the United States and our actions in the region. A historical perspective can help us understand the present and better deal with the future.

William Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1824. By 19 he had graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania to become one of the youngest physicians in US. He continued his studies at the Sorbonne then returned to America and began studying law. At 22 he was admitted to the bar and, after serving as a law clerk for a short period, he became the editor of The Crescent, a New Orleans newspaper. Later he traveled to California and became the editor of a newspaper in San Francisco. This was the era of Manifest Destiny, the relatively easy war with Mexico and the annexation of its territory in the West, the California gold rush and the need to spread the glory and civilizing power of American democracy and values. San Francisco became the jumping off point for expeditions to Mexico and Central America. Walker traded in the pen for a gun and at 5 foot 3 inches tall and 130 pounds became a filibuster (derived from the Dutch for freebooter or adventurer).

Walker’s first attempt at glory was in Baja California where, with 45 men, he declared the “Republic of Lower California.” After some initial success, he was defeated by the Mexicans and forced to flee back to the United States. Walker then focused on Nicaragua. He arrived on June 28, 1855, to fulfill a contract with Liberal leader Francisco Castellon calling for the delivery of 300 colonists available for military duty in exchange for land and cash (mercenaries) to aid in Nicaragua’s ongoing civil war. The Liberals were known as the Democrats and had Leon as their home base. The Conservatives were centered in Granada and were known as the Legitimists. Their name was based on their assertion that their claim to govern was legitimately derived from the 1854 constitution. Walker’s army consisted of 57 men and was christened the American Phalanx by Castellon. The first action of the Phalanx was a frontal assault on heavily fortified Conservative positions at Rivas. Walker’s troops gained the main plaza but were then surrounded and had to fight their way out sustaining 38 percent casualties. The Americans re-grouped after this defeat, received additional recruits from the US and planned an attack on Granada. Walker commandeered a boat from the Accessory Transit Company and landed his force near Granada in the early hours of October 13, 1855. The city fell with little resistance.

With Granada under his control (and the most prominent Conservative families as his hostages), Walker convinced the Conservatives to surrender. He then disbanded the Conservative and Liberal armies and declared an “all volunteer” force. In the meantime, new recruits arrived via the Transit Company. A loan of $20,000 was made to Walker by the Company and additional filibusters were brought in at a discounted $20 per passenger from the United States. Walker rigged an election and had himself declared President of Nicaragua. More than 11,000 “immigrants” including women and children from the US came to Nicaragua during two years that he was in power. While Walker’s total force was estimated by one of his officers to have been 2,500 men although he never mounted a single force in excess of 750 men for any one battle. There was a continuous flow of filibusters to replace the large number of casualties from battle and disease as the war intensified. Before the war ended, more than 1,000 North Americans died making the War in Nicaragua more costly than the Spanish American War fought four decades later. As the war turned against Walker and his forces, he took more drastic actions. At one point he burned Granada to the ground and posted a sign that stated, “Here was Granada.”

Central America unified and fought Walker. Volunteers came from all parts of Latin America for a war of liberation against the Americans in Nicaragua. Heroic efforts were made by the Allies. Juan Santamaria became Costa Rica’s national hero in the Second Battle of Rivas as he died torching a house held by the filibusters. An all-Nicaraguan force at San Jacinto defeated the filibusters and Andres Castro became a hero for killing a filibuster with a rock when his carbine misfired. As the battle casualties and losses from cholera mounted, Walker’s force became weaker. After a review of the Transit Company records, Walker claimed the company owed Nicaragua (that is, Walker) $400,000 in unpaid royalties. He revoked the company’s charter and Cornelius Vanderbilt. entered the fight against him. On May 1, 1857, Walker fled from Nicaragua. It is estimated that up to 10,000 Central Americans were killed or wounded during the war.

There is something in Walker’s story that is with us still. He personified cultural arrogance and the belief of his time that America’s duty was to take “civilization” to the world. In his book, “The War in Nicaragua”, Walker stated his views on achieving economic and social development --- his comments sound as if his mission were to build and develop Nicaragua.

“ … to destroy an old political organization is a comparatively easy task, and little besides force is required for its accomplishment; but to build up and re-constitute society --- to gather the materials from the four quarters, and construct them into a harmonious whole, fitted for the uses of a new civilization --- requires more than force, more than genius for the work, and agents with which to complete it. Time and patience, as well as skill and labor, are needed for success; and they who undertake it, must be willing to devote a lifetime to the work.”

Walker did little to strengthen Nicaragua (although he did set up a short-lived land registry and tried to develop a functioning land market) and he did much damage (the razing of Granada, summary executions, etc.). His was an age of almost religious fervor in the belief that America’s way of life was best for the world. Manifest Destiny was the battle cry and we had the duty to take our values to the world.

As Americans, we tend to fix things, to right wrongs and to build new social orders. The experience of William Walker and other events in our past point to a need to temper these traits with a greater attempt to understand why others are like they are and what can be done to influence change rather than force it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"The Gamble" by Thomas Ricks

Here is my summary of “The Gamble” General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq 2006 – 2008, Penguin Press, New York 2009 By Thomas E. Ricks

Ricks divides the Iraq war into three phases: Old War, New War, and War Without End. In the first phase he describes the deteriorating situation in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 starting with the first election and the hardening of sectarian positions. The second phase focused on how Retired General Jack Keane, former vice chief of the staff, U.S. Army, decided that the war in Iraq was in danger of being lost and began working with Lt. General Petraeus and Lt. General Odierno to develop a new strategic approach. They developed a concept based on the successful surge strategy already employed in Tall Afar, al Qaim and Ramadi by a group of Marine and Army field commanders. The surge of forces strategy was designed to give the Iraqi government “breathing space” to allow political reconciliation to stop the insurgency and begin a process of national healing.[1] The last section is only a small portion of the book providing details on what lies ahead.

The story begins with a description of the low point of the war, Haditha, a village 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, where a roadside bomb attack on a Marine convoy provoked the massacre of 26 civilians. General Keane upon hearing the news decided he had to get involved. Ricks wrote that his actions were unprecedented for a retired General. Keane was focused on finding a way to go from a conventional war which we were losing to a counterinsurgency strategy with which we could win.

During the period 2003 to 2006, U.S. commanders had tended to seek strategic gains – that is winning the war – without taking tactical risks. The book describes the process that Petraeus went through to develop and gain approval for an effective counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq – a strategy that included using the surge of military forces (5 brigades – 15,000 soldiers) to create stability. Petraeus knew what was needed but it was a difficult task to change the mentality of the U.S. Army. After his last tour as a Division Commander in Mosul, Petraeus used his next assignment in 2006 as Combined Arms Center Commander at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to pull together a group of intellectual officers and civilians to draft the most comprehensive counterinsurgency manual ever adopted as doctrine by the US military. The focus of that strategy was on protecting the population, enhancing the legitimacy of the host country government, and creating the conditions required for economic and social development. The manual was published by the Marine Corps and the US Army in 2006.

Prior to Petraeus’ decision to develop the counterinsurgency manual, there was a realization among field commanders that a change was needed and three forward thinking commanders, two Marines and an Army Col., established the first successful counterinsurgency strategies in Iraq. Col. HR McMaster led a successful counterinsurgency effort in Tall Afar that Ricks characterized as a model. Lt. Col. Dale Alford used the same strategy with success in northwest Iraq area of al Qaim. This approach was adopted by Col. Sean McFarland. He was later moved to Ramadi and in 2006 he began what would become the strategic approach for the “surge” in 2007. MacFarland moved his troops into the communities and ordered respectful treatment for Iraqis and he committed his forces to protect those leaders that would work to strengthen their communities. Tribes tired of heavy handed tatics of Al Qaeda were turning to the Americans. Information flow increased while successful attacks against the US forces decreased. The strategy was based on concentration of force but dispersed in key area with focus on protecting the population and promoting legitimacy of local government.

In the US, the political event that provoked change was the Congressional election of 2006 when the Democrats won both the House and the Senate. Retired General Jack Keane had already determined that the war was in trouble and he brought a group together to brief President Bush. In December 2006 with the President disapproval rating at 62 percent, the timing was right to explain what was wrong and what would be needed to fix it. Not long after the meeting a group of National Security Council staffers called Keane to tell him the briefing had a profound impact on the President -- they had been pushing for a surge approach based on the experience and demonstrated success in Tall Afar and Ramadi.

Petraeus’s officers said that they had deplaned into a small civil war and the situation seemed to get worse each day. In early January 2007 a series of bombings and other attacks culmulated at the end of the month with F-16s engaging the enemy on Haifa Street twelve hundred meters from the Embassy. There was almost universal pessimism about the surge. The middle section of the book describes the difficulties that U.S. forces had to overcome during the early part of the surge. General Petraeus arrived in Iraq as the commander of all US forces on Feb. 6, 2007, and immediately injected a new spirit into senior commanders. Genearl Keane stated, “He took over a command with a sense of futility and hopelessness about it and almost overnight he changed the attitude and be brought them hope and a sense that we can do this, we can succeed at this.” [2] The costs were high. In Petraeus’ view the surge was in some ways a horrific nightmare – the casualties increased significantly with 1,124 American soldiers killed and 7,710 wounded. With reports of at least 24,000 Iraqi soldiers, police officers and civilians killed.

Regarding the future, Ricks concedes that the surge and change in strategy was effective in reducing violence but he continues that it only delays problems that are invariably are going to re-surface as we further draw down US forces – political reconciliation remains an elusive goal, sharing of oil wealth in an equitable manner is no where in site, specific regional issues continue with the Kurds, Turkomans (in Kirkuk) and Sunni enclaves. He also believes that the surge may have only brought transitory successes but inadvertently strengthening forces that threaten the long term stability of Iraq: tribalism, warlordism and sectarianism. Ricks believes the most memorable parts of the US Iraq war are yet to happen. This will still be President Obama’s war for years to come. My thoughts are that we are seeing a move toward reconciliation through the political process. Ricks’ assessment goes counter to what I’m seeing on the ground here. To me things are actually beginning to look much more positive. I met with a powerful Sunni politician in mid-February who is interested in ag investments. In talking to him about some of the legislative changes that are needed in Iraq to promote a stronger agricultural sector, he said, “Oh, we’ll do that after the next election.” I thought that sounds good – he’s projecting out that there will be at least enough stability to start thinking of moving reforms through a legislative process.[3]

[1] Different citations for who gets credit for the surge – p. 15 “The answer for what to do in Iraq would come largely through one person, Gen. David Petraeus, who over the next year would lead the way in determining how to revamp the US approach to the war.” pp. 59 – 60 – Four commanders operating first in Northen Iraq (Tall Afar – between Mosul and the Syrian border) where in 2005 Col. H.R. McMaster, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, established the war’s first successful counterinsurgency campaign in Tall Afar. p. 60 – In far northwest Iraq in the area of al Qaim, a Marine battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Dale Alford carried out a campaign similar to McMaster’s with successs. Col. Sean MacFarland’s 1st Armored Division replaced McMaster’s regiment and he saw that McMaster’s strategy was working. McFarland later transferred the same strategy to Ramadi and expanded it where it was picked up by Marine Brig. General John Allen (p. 220) whose job was “… to expand the accomplishment of Sean MacFarland’s brigade and its attached Marine units in Ramadi. p. 72 - General Odierno praised MacFarland efforts and used them to build his own strategy for Baghdad – “He’s the guy who put this together,” Odierno said. “Once they cleared Ramadi and they stayed in Ramadi with a significant amount of force, that was the tipping point. The whole province seemed to turn over.” p. 107 “If Jack Keane was the spiritual godfather of the surge, Odierno was its biological parent. Petraeus, arriving in Baghdad two months later, would become its adoptive father.” p. 303 – “From Odierno’s perspective – and that of many other senior officers in Iraq – it had been more or less conceived and executed by Odierno in Baghdad, with some crucial coaching from Gen. Keane.”

[2] In reading the “The Gamble”, I can compare my ground level view to the events that went into a change in strategy with the military surge, initiation of Concerned Local Citizens (Sons of Iraq), improved “unity of effort” actions (more effective and engaged PRTs), and better execution of classic COIN strategy (protect the local population, move into the communities, increase local government legitimacy, etc.).

[3] Misc. Passages - p. 133 – On his fourth day in Iraq, February 10, Petraeus took command and sat down with his generals, “We are in an information war,” he told them. “Sixty percent of this thing is information.” p. 140 – Quote from David Kilcullen, “The system in the Green Zone is built to protect you from realizing there’s a war on.” p. 191 – Example of using market survey for indicator of mood of population – “For example, it (was) noticed one that heavy portable heaters were being offered in their local market, which they interpreted – correctly – to mean that people were planning on staying which in turn meant that the pressure on the population (mainly Sunni) brought by Shia militias must be declining. p. 219 – “Tribal society makes up the tectonic plates in Iraq on which everything else rests,” concluded Brig. Gen. John Allen. p. 310 – Regarding what will happen to the Sons of Iraq – “American generals also said that if Baghdad didn’t pay the militiamen, they would. But it isn’t clear how long they can fulfill that promise, which costs more than $20 million a month.”