Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mission Creep

David Petraeus, he's the Gold Standard for western generals including our own Rick Hillier.

The 4-star top honcho of American forces in Iraq, along with ambassador Ryan Crocker, just put on the lamest presentation ever about the Iraq war in their appearance at congressional hearings.

Jon Stewart had the best analysis of Petraeus' performance on last night's The Daily Show, calling it a "polished turd." Lest you think that a bit harsh, Stewart was responding to Petraeus' godawful, circuitous doublespeak in which he said that American troops can't be withdrawn until they've created "winning conditions" and then responded that he couldn't describe what winning conditions would be. He, naturally, had no hesitation in describing, in precise detail, what losing would look like should US troops be "prematurely" withdrawn. Winning? Well that's something else best left to others in, say, ten or fifteen years, maybe more.

Here's a hint. If a general can't tell his political bosses what winning his battle is, much less how and when he's going to do that, get rid of him, he's a damned loser, a careerist, a useless ticket-puncher. Go to the next guy in line and just keep going if necessary until you find the "Can Do" guy, the one who has some idea of how to win the battle and give you some idea of what it's going to take to win it and when that'll be done.

If a commanding general can't tell you how he defines victory, it's a safe bet that he doesn't have a damned clue how to get there. And, if he doesn't have any idea how to get there, he's not going to get you there now is he?

What's particularly disturbing about Petraeus is that he knows full well how to "get there." It's plain as day in his latest book, FM 3-24, the US military's new counterinsurgency field manual. Petraeus knows it, he co-wrote it. If you want an insight into the wisdom of the ages, check it out. It's available, free, in PDF format on the internet.

It's too bad none of those concerned congressfolks had the guts to hold up a copy of FM 3-24 and ask the good general just how the war he was waging in Iraq compared to the tactics for success enshrined in his own manual. They probably haven't even bothered to read it themselves.

The cardinal lesson of Petraeus' manual is that counter-insurgency warfare is enormously labour intensive. He knows the reason that so little progress has been achieved over the past five years is that there were never enough American troops, only just enough to knock over Saddam's already devastated forces. That, of course, was the easy part. Only after Saddam was driven into hiding did the hard part begin. Saddam's soldiers took their weapons and went home. The Americans didn't have enough troops to secure Iraqi installations so many arsenals sat unguarded for a year or more while Iraqis looted them at their leisure, hauling away truckloads of small arms, rocket propelled grenades, raw explosives - the very stuff that's been used against US forces ever since.

The grossly negligent and unfathomably incompetent American invasion created an enormous power vacuum into which militias and insurgents poured, heavily laden with looted weaponry. Without sufficient troops to secure Iraq and impose order, sectarian violence broke out leading to ethnic cleansing on a grand scale in Baghdad and other cities.

Petraeus points out in FM 3-24 that in unconventional (guerrilla) warfare, time is not on their side. Time only works for the insurgents. The way he put it was that liberating forces have a brief shelf life before they morph, in the locals' eyes, from liberator to despised occupier.

It's no wonder Petraeus can't define "winning conditions" for the wars he's babysitting (there are several underway) because he knows that the essential steps needed to create such conditions were ignored back when they might have done some good. I'll bet he knows that winning in Iraq is out of the realm of possibility without instituting another draft which, in turn, would be political suicide, even for John McCain.

In other words, General David Petraeus can't define "winning conditions" because he knows that, five lost years later, there aren't any.

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