Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Learning Curve

Another excellent post from the Belmont Club putting the Iraqi election into context and outlining some of the regional ramifications.

He makes several good points. The first is that the insurgency took time to develop and organize itself, time that was granted to it by the UN farce Bush went through to please Blair. In retrospect, it turned out to be an error for Bush to involve the UN and I think this has been observed and noted. For all the excellent analysis Global Guerrillas does in explaining the power that these insurgency forces have, the truth is that capital accumulation is still important (in some ways) to running a fighting organization. Exactly which ways is not well understood, but very important.

Belmont Club's Wretchard makes another excellent point:
The terrible enemy losses on the battlefield could not be wholly overcome by media plaudits which they received. At least 15,000 enemy cadres have been killed in the 17 months since OIF. Recently, the remains of a French jihadi were identified in Fallujah and his fate is probably a common one. While Afghanistan was once where the young fundamentalist fighter went to get experience, Iraq was now where the fundamentalist fighter went to die.


But I think the main problem with the Newsweek analysis is that first, it doesn't fully recognize the significance of the economy of force operation against the Sunnis in April, 2004 as the US dealt with Sadr first in mid-year before returning to crush the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah by year-end. It was a classic example of using a small force to defeat a numerically superior foe by attacking them in detail. I hope future historians give it its due. Secondly, Newsweek almost ignores American political warfare. The establishment of the Interim Governing Council and the Elections had huge military implications from the start, something which is only being belatedly recognized. The strategic center of gravity of the American thrust into the Middle East was not Iraq the geographical entity, as so many have I believe, mistakenly put it, but the Iraqis. The war aim was access to an alliance with an unlimited pool of Arabic speakers, not a puddle of oil in the ground. The return of Iraqi security and intelligence forces will be a nightmare for regional dictators in the short term; but the advent of even a quasi-democratic Iraqi state will, without exaggeration, be their death-knell.
The "more boots on the ground crowd" seem to ignore the fact that in modern warfare, or rather in effective warfare, the individuals in the boots matter as much as the number of boots themselves. There are certain skills and experiences, human capital, needed to fight this new kind of war and that human capital needs to be grown and accumulated. This is done by keeping your veterans alive, having them train newbies, experimenting, and observing. The US Armed Forces now has over two years of training in fighting Islamic terrorists, and has moved from a force where no one knew how to do any of this to one where it's being taught as part of the new-recruit curriculum. A tremendous advance. By contrast, the jihadis trained in Afghanistan have been decimated, all that hard won knowledge has been lost forever.

In a couple more years, democratic Iraq will start to pay real dividends as it produces Arabic speakers with detailed, local knowledge of the Middle East. This is something that America was unable to produce, but Iraqis will probably be better at it anyway. And in case people haven't bothered pulling out a map recently, Iraq continues to border Iran and Saudi. I can't think of a better place to station one third of America's military arsenal and intelligence capability. Thos pushing for a rapid American withdrawal from the region are like those cheering for double sixes while the dealer is flipping over the turn. Bush II, on the other hand, will continue bet hard through to the river.


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