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IRAQ - Massive US Deployment Or Rapid Retreat.

The US policies of "search-and-destroy" and "clear-and-hold" have not eliminated the insurgency. Varying political support for sectarian groups has led to splits between Shi'ites and Sunnis, and within the Shi'ite community. To avert an all-out civil war, some now suggest a massive new deployment of US troops. Others claim a rapid retreat is best, but this would represent a victory for Neo-Salafi Sunnis.

To resolve this dilemma, leading US think-tanks and policymakers are devising a new US strategy. The Counterinsurgency Strategy (COIN) is contained in a February 2006 paper, "A Switch in Time: A New Strategy for America in Iraq", published by the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. This was the first in a series of papers for the Iraq Strategy Project, whose director of research is Kenneth Pollack, author of a best-selling 2002 book on how the US must deal with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, titled "The Threatening Storm".

In several articles summarising the paper, Pollack claimed that if the US wanted to recover its reputation in the Middle East, it had to reorient its foreign policy in Iraq immediately. The short-term objective of COIN is to protect the Iraqi people rather than terminate the insurgency. The long-term goal is to refocus military efforts to provide security in key areas, particular urban agglomerations like Baghdad and Mosul, which would expand gradually - like stains of oil on water - until all of Iraq is secured.

Despite historical references to European imperial tactics in the Arab-Muslim world, the current insights of US policy makers and analysts are based on the protracted debacle in Vietnam. In one piece, Pollack quoted a passage from a 1989 book, "Lost Victory", by James McCargar and William Colby, the former Director of the CIA during the infamous Operation Phoenix in Vietnam. In a passage, they hail Marshal Hubert Lyautey, considered the greatest of French colonial administrators, for his "ink spot" policy in Morocco, whereby urban centres were consolidated and territory secured, gradually spreading like a blot of ink on paper. Andrew Krepinevich rehashed the ink spot theory in his article, "How to Win in Iraq", in the September-October 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs. There, he referred to the policies of Sir Gerald Templer, who headed British efforts to quell the Malayan insurgency during the 1950s.

"While the US military operations take the form of oil-spot campaign", Krepinevich argued, "political efforts should aim to strike a grand bargain with the Iraqi people". Reapplied to Iraq, the ink spot has become an oil spot, and the grand bargain for the US is now to convince the Iraqi people that the occupation is for their own good.

In Vietnam, the US established a civil-military structure called the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), entailing "pacification" of the population and the neutralisation of the insurgency. Under CORDS, the CIA launched Operation Phoenix in 1967, supposedly to eradicate the Communist Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI). In 1969, a US State Department report set a quota of 1,800 VCI members who were to be neutralised every month. William Colby testified in May 1971 that, to fulfill this monthly quota, over 20,000 Vietnamese had been killed. To carry out its sordid strategy, the CIA built hundreds of Province Interrogation Centres across South Vietnam and "pacified" enemy prisoners by transferring them to Con Son Island.

"A Switch in Time" suggests implementing a system of biometric identification cards to control the movement of Iraqis. This suggests a civilian-military policy synergy with Israel, which is well-known for the colour co-ordinated ID cards issued to Palestinians residing inside or outside Jerusalem.

The ID card policy was used during the siege of Falluja in 2004. The sudden shift to a Vietnam-like "tactical defence in a strategic offensive" would seek to lower the risk to US troops, but would not prevent the US from using phosphorus bombs.

The US Army and Marine Corps would be deployed to protect the Iraqi population, while neutralising the enemy on Special Forces missions elsewhere. At first glance, an attractive facet of the plan is the gradual reduction of US troops in Iraq. The goal is to embed US soldiers in the Iraqi armed forces and police, so that with time increasingly fewer US troops are needed, until none remain.

The flipside is the augmentation of Army Special Forces, as proposed by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defence Review Report released in February. Robert Kaplan has noted that for the first time the Special Operations Command is acquiring a Marine Corps detachment. These Special Forces are incorporated in small numbers within foreign troop contingents to carry out select combat missions. This process, Kaplan claims, is already bearing fruit in the Horn of Africa.

The recent resurgence of violence between the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism against the so-called Islamic court militia in Somalia may well be the most blatant example of this new US covert military action. The purpose of this is, in theory, to pre-empt and thus prevent conflicts from spreading, rather than creating new wars.

However, the broader US foreign policy, propounded by the Quadrennial Defence Review, envisions not only new wars, but a predictable prolongation of the "global war on terror". The post-Cold War US defence reviews therefore maintain a continuity of total deterrence to any possible global foe, including China.

In Iraq and the Middle East, the inability to rout the enemy with conventional warfare is altering US military tactics. The proposed re-orientation would supposedly allow for a gradual decrease of American troops in Iraq, but this does not mean a more rapid withdrawal from the Middle East. On the contrary, the most tantalising parallel to Vietnam is that a decade, at least, will be needed by "a nation engaged in what will be a long war", to successfully implement its counter-insurgency strategy.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Date:Apr 17, 2006
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