Friday, September 11, 2009

Is Tom Ricks getting too close to the Generals? 
The Columbia Journalism Review's Mike Hoyt asks the question.

No time to do a detailed blog today. Off to AT in the morning.


Splash, out


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Just some errant "thoughts," take them or leave them...

Never read Fiasco from cover to cover - the introduction was simply too overwrought if I recall correctly (vague memory of stuff about dishonest justifications for war, "worst US strategic plan EVAH" or words to that effect - apparently his "voracious" appetite for military history doesn't include the War of 1812, the US Civil War, or Lebanon).

Curious that Ricks would go "so far in the other direction," then. Not so surprising that this would perturb the hidebound Vietnam-redolent set at the Washington Post and elsewhere. But maybe there is more to the story than the idea that the journalistic apparatchiks believed what they wanted to about Iraq (i.e. Hue Redux). Maybe the writer is right to look at Ricks' gravitation towards certain people in the US military who espoused "his" message.

Haven't read The Gamble either, so I can't say with any certainty what his exact thoughts are. But I DO find mention of Gian Gentile interesting. Gentile hints at an important aspect of COIN work in Iraq which Ricks may not know about or may refuse to acknowledge; the impact of attrition on insurgent politics, strategy, and morale. You may be killing them softly - or, as was the case in some parts of Iraq for a very long time, not so softly - but you're still killing them.

Perhaps a good example of this drain occurred in what was once Iraq's most violent province, Anbar. Why did the people of Anbar turn away from Al-Qaeda towards the US military and an ostensibly Shia-dominated Iraqi government? I'm sure there are many factors to consider, but three reasons come to my mind: first, the prospect of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates becoming the de facto government of the province was unpleasant enough to draw the vast majority of Anbaris from AQ's embrace; second, the growing power and influence of the new Iraqi government became much more attractive than previously; and third, Anbar was exhausted, mentally and economically, from fighting Coalition forces. After four years of hard slogging against the invader(s), Ramadi was a sh!thole even by Iraqi standards, and one with very little to show for it.

Maybe this "sea change" in the attitudes of Anbaris (visible elsewhere in the country for a long time) didn't simply spring from changes in Coalition strategy from "kinetic warfare" to "classical COIN work." It's evident - to me at least - that the rapid collapse of the Iraqi Army in April 2003 didn't mean that many Iraqi males of certain political persuasions were willing to call it quits, whether there were 500 Coalition soldiers in their hometown or 500,000. My guess is that by the summer of 2007, most of them were tired of combat, at least with Coalition troops (particularly well-supported, quick-moving US battalions). When it became clear that the "cure" for occupation was worse than the disease, and sometimes even rivaled what occurred under the Baathists, most Anbaris (especially tribal leaders) turned towards the lesser of two evils.
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