That is the question

To surge:

President George W. Bush is about to launch a final push in Iraq with a large reinforcement of American troops in the hope of crushing the insurgency before America embarks on a large-scale withdrawal of force from the country.

The size of the force is commonly set at about 40,000-50,000 troops. The aim of this surge will be to inflict severe damage and loss on the problem-making elements within Iraq, including both Shia and Sunni militias, and to increase training of the Iraqi security forces under American supervision.

Or not to surge:

No. The Surge military operations will not produce the desired outcome and the Political thingy will not either for the same reason that has be-deviled our efforts in Iraq from the time we started listening to the INC and the OSP boys. (Bless Them!)

That reason is simple. We do not have “politics” in Iraq. We have tribal warfare expressed through; elections, constitutions, militias, the Shia partisan nature of the “security” forces, the Maliki government, terrorism, oil allocations, tribal fury at executions.

9 comments… add one
  • Keegan’s talking 50,000 and news reports are putting it at 20,000. That’s a big gap. And he’s talking about armor and I start to wonder how long all this will take. Interestingly Keegan is promoting this as a necessary prelude to withdrawal. I doubt that’s how Mr. Bush will present it. And neither Keegan, nor most surge supporters, are explaining how they conclude that the Maliki government will allow us to go after Sadr hammer and tong. All in all Keegan’s piece seems odd to me, maybe rushed, and this whole deal is just not hanging together somehow.

    I’ll reserve judgment till Mr. Bush speaks.

  • Yeah, unless there is a coherent change in strategy then more troops will only be adding sand to the hourglass. The idea that one can militarily “crush” an insurgency in a few months with a foreign army is laughable.

  • lirelou Link

    Only laughable if you hamstring yourself. Genghis Khan and Joe Stalin proved pretty adept at crushing insurgencies. But then, such methods would prove counterproductive for any democracy whose population is split over the war. It boils down to: Are the long term implications worth any reasonably expected (possibly short term) gains? By way of comparison, many military analysts judge the French to have defeated the ALN in the field by 1961, effectively crushing the insurgency within Algeria. The necessary long term solutions to end the causes that gave rise to the insurgency carried implications for France that De Gaulle (corrrectly) judged the French polity as unwilling to pay. Thus he turned on the Army and opened the door to Algerian independence under an FLN government.

  • Actually, Stalin had much trouble in crushing insurgencies in Central Asia and the Caucauses, my dear. And that was with as free hand as one can possibly imagine.

    It is not at all clear even adopting genocidal tactics the US could in fact ‘crush’ the insurgencies in Iraq.

    Here, however, is the key
    Are the long term implications worth any reasonably expected (possibly short term) gains?

    A total cost-benefit.

    By way of comparison, many military analysts judge the French to have defeated the ALN in the field by 1961, effectively crushing the insurgency within Algeria.

    Not precisely. The French had crushed the city insurgency, but the mountains remained problematic, with the French having to resort to cantonnements which seemed to starve the Algerians of fighters but also was an economic disaster.

    And every time the pressure came off, the Algerian resistance regenerated (as in Algiers) suggesting no long term win, but a near-permanent state of war.

    In the end, given US national interests, the concept of surge to win is indeed laughable as a Stalinesque rivers-of-blood strategy might temporarily suppress the various insurgencies, but at the price of destroying American prestige globally and generating massive violoent hostility in the Islamic (and one might add non-Islamic) developing world.

    Pyrhhic victory then.

  • kreiz Link

    Your pessimism is well justified, Lounsbury, though Stalin was kind of a wuss when it came to crushing rebellions. (Lest there be confusion- I’m kidding.)

  • Speaking as someone who served in the US military, there is no way that we could use Stalin’s or Saddam’s methods. Despite hollywood depictions to the contrary, people in the service take their legal and moral obligations seriously. Ordering troops to do the nasty business of violent suppression would cause a revolt in the armed forces and would ultimately destroy it as a professional force.

    The key, obviously, is COIN is a long-term commitment – often generational, and requires much, much more than what military combat forces can provide. Ultimately, a military force cannot end an insurgency, but can only suppress it long enough so that “root causes” can be addressed.

  • Ellen1910 Link

    Were it not for the victory of the defeatist, panty-waisted Democrat Party, the President would send 50,000 troops, and success would be ours, But now — 20,000 –and so the war was lost — dirty, smelly hippies!

  • lirelou Link

    Andy, we obviously disagree as to whether a military force can end an insurgency. Massive force will end it. But we agree that the chance of such massive force being applied by U.S. forces is problematic. Not necesssarily because the U.S. military would “revolt”. I’m sure that the better elements would. But more importantly, it is unlikely that the U.S. population would support such a strategy.

    The Lounsbury and I also agree on key points, thougn we arrive at them from opposite directions. I would point out that my view of French military history is based upon French military sources, and may thus be biased. My sources tend to portray the ALN as totally ineffective in the field after Challe’s battle of the Frontiers. If he would care to provide a source, I would be very happy to run it down in my local library.

  • Lirelou,

    Please define “massive” force. Look at the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. The force they used there was quite “massive” and included such tactics as bombing entire villages to kill a few insurgents, denuding certain parts of the country of people, etc. They were able to maintain control of the bigger cities but not much else. Only a strategy of using special forces (Spetznats) along with helicopters to attack insurgents directly in mountain areas did they see any success, but tactical victories mean little in an insurgency (particularly after we gave the insurgents stingers).

    The “center of gravity” in an insurgency is not the insurgents themselves, but the people. Therefore killing insurgents is not enough to win. Mao, the father of modern insurgency, said that insurgents were fish and the people were water.

    Like I said before, the US military could never conduct such a campaign, even if it were feasible. From the new army COIN manual:

    Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule. Achieving this condition requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as feasible. This can include eliminating those extremists whose beliefs prevent them from ever reconciling with the government. Over time, counterinsurgents aim to enable a country or regime to provide the security and rule of law that allow establishment of social services and growth of economic activity. COIN thus involves the application of national power in the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure fields and disciplines.

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