On March 19, it will
have been 10 years since the United States invaded Iraq. Foreign Policy and the RAND Corporation teamed up to bring
together many of the key players who launched, fought, analyzed, and executed
the war, including everyone from Bush national security advisor Stephen Hadley
and Gen. John Allen to Doug Feith, the controversial Bush Pentagon aide who
advocated for the war in 2003, and Paul Pillar, the CIA analyst who later went
public with his doubts. It quickly became clear that, even a decade later,
every aspect of the war -- from its rationale through each phase of its execution
-- remains hotly contested. We hope this unique conversation adds to the record
of how we understand that war -- and in particular, what its consequences will
be, and already are, for future American national security debates. We present
here edited excerpts from the second part of the discussion, on America's belated
embrace of counterinsurgency in the Iraq war -- and whether and how the legacy
of that shift will live on after the conflicts of the post-9/11 decade are long
behind us. The session was moderated by FP's Susan Glasser, and
you can find a full list of participants and their bios here. The first part of the transcript can be read here.
Susan Glasser, editor in chief, Foreign
there's a debate around this table on the question of, what was the nature of
the insurgency, was it an insurgency, was it a civil war? When did we
understand it to be the case? And of course, we have so many interesting
perspectives on that, including the person who wrote the book on [counterinsurgency].
So I am going to turn to John Nagl.
I also wanted to dial back in
time for one second and say, what if we were having this conversation at the
end of the Vietnam War? I assume there were many conversations like this that
were in fact held in the 1970s. So why and how did we lose that thread? And in
the spirit of that, what are the threads that are most important for us to take
away from this going forward?
But I do want to start with John,
who did write the book on that. I think there's a little bit of a new
conventional wisdom that COIN, counterinsurgency doctrine, was perhaps a tactic
that we've turned into a strategy, that we've embraced it as sort of a
cure-all. Now maybe there's a backlash to that in the sense that, well,
America's not going to get into these wars anymore, and so therefore what do we
need it for?
Col John Nagl (ret.):
I tried to figure out why it was that the Army had buried the lessons of
Vietnam so effectively, and wrote both the best and the worst doctoral
dissertation written on counterinsurgency in the 1990s because it was the only
one. And then having written the book, I went and did the research in Al Anbar
This was a time when we were
forbidden to use the word "insurgency" to describe the insurgency in Iraq. I
can refer you to the video of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld correcting Pete
Pace, when General Pace used the word "insurgents" to describe the people
we were fighting in Iraq at a time I was fighting insurgents in Iraq -- and I
was, in fact, fighting both Sunni insurgents and AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq]. And I
came back from Iraq, we printed up coffee mugs that said "Iraq 2003-2004." We
were winning when I left. [LAUGHTER]
I went to work at the Pentagon --
big change from Al Anbar, in Al Anbar I knew who I was fighting -- and started
trying to resuscitate the idea of counterinsurgency. [I] had some success with
that, with Dave Petraeus as part of the general relearning process for lessons
that have long existed -- that RAND, among other organizations, discovered in
the first counterinsurgency era in the '60s.
There is nothing particularly new
in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual [written
by Nagl and Petraeus]. Two pillars: one of them, protect the population first;
the second, learn and adapt, build an adaptive learning organization. And those
principles, I think, stand up pretty well.
Counterinsurgency is a set of
tools used by the military, and by civilian organizations, and it is primarily
civilian. And the military completely agreed that we have not properly
resourced those capabilities. But it can only work in the context of a
political framework that knows what we're trying to accomplish.
If there's one thing that we
failed to do in Iraq and in Afghanistan as effectively as we should have, it's
security forces assistance -- a long-standing principle required for success
and counterinsurgency. We continued to not resource that properly. That is the
raison d'être for the American Army in this century. It is refusing to accept
that. We are continuing to mess that up, and will continue to mess it up until
somebody grabs the Army by the shoulders and shakes it and says, security force
assistance is your job. Do it.
Cohen, Bush State Department official:
I want to make some somewhat nihilistic remarks. [LAUGHTER] The first thing is
just to remind us all, counterinsurgency is a kind of military operation.
There's an American style to counterinsurgency; there was a German style to
counterinsurgency; there's a Soviet or Russian style to counterinsurgency. It's
just a kind of operation that militaries do, and I think particularly in the
popular discussion there's this tendency to call counterinsurgency the kind of stuff that's in the
Three points. One, we didn't take
much away from Vietnam because we stopped thinking about Vietnam after that
conflict. And I saw that up close doing some work for the Army War College in
that immediate post-Vietnam period. That doesn't necessarily mean that there were
"lessons" with quotation marks around them that should have been chiseled in
the forehead of every lieutenant colonel. Just we stopped thinking and
reflecting about it.
Second, to my mind, the critical
point, we do not know the other side's story. Vietnam, we are only now really
learning their story, and it's partial. It's going to be much harder for Iraq
because there's a whole bunch of other sides. We've talked al Qaeda in Iraq as
if we all know what that is. I'm not sure I know what al Qaeda in Iraq is --
what connection it had with Osama bin Laden, how it was structured, who it took
its orders from, where it grew from.
And the Anbari sheikhs, their story
of the Awakening is different than our story of the Awakening. We just need to
be very sensitive to the American tendency to be completely solipsistic and
tell the story of the war as if it's us and some kind of ill-defined other.
And finally, having played a very
modest role in helping get the COIN manual launched, I've got two big
reservations about it. Actually three. One is a technical one, which is it
underestimated the killing part of counterinsurgency and particularly what Stan
McChrystal and his merry men were doing [with special operations]. I think that
is a large part of our counterinsurgency success. We killed a lot of the people
who needed to be killed, or captured them, and that's not something you want to
talk about. You'd rather talk about building power plants and stuff, but the
killing part was really important, and I think we have to wrestle with that one
because it's obviously problematic.
But more problematic, I really
wonder about this stuff about protecting the population as opposed to
controlling the population, and I have real doubts now, which I did not have
before, about a lot of the development stuff that we did. I'll just give you
one vignette from a visit to Iraq, where I think it was around Tikrit, and our
wonderful PRT leader was telling me what happened when a commander read all the
stuff about COIN, decided, you know, these people don't have good water, we're
going to buy them a water purification plant. So he buys them a water
The only problem is nobody's told
the Iraqi ministry concerned that they now have that. Nobody has been trained
to maintain that thing. There's no money anywhere for spare parts, so the thing
works for 6 months and dies, and then the locals say, you bastards, you did
this to us deliberately, didn't you? You know, you deliberately gave us a water
purification plant that you knew was going to blow up in 6 months. We hate you
even more than before.
I think we need to take a really
close and somewhat jaundiced look at a lot of the development spending that
we're doing, as opposed to simply bribing people to stay off the battlefield,
which is a different matter.
Glasser: You're in favor of that --
Cohen: Yes, and I mean, I have a much
harder-edged view of the whole problem I think than I used to.
Peter Mansoor (ret.):
I have four points. One, we hate COIN, we hate counterinsurgency, and we will
never do it again until we do it again. And that's, I think, the lesson of the
last 30, 40, 50 years. Great little pamphlet by Conrad Crane called
"Forgetting Vietnam," in which he was trying to develop a course in
counterinsurgency warfare [and] low-intensity conflict at Fort Leavenworth in
the '80s, and he goes to the JFK School of Special Warfare thinking these guys
are the COIN experts. [He asked] can I see your files on Vietnam only to be
told, they were ordered to throw them away in the 1970s because we will never
fight that kind of war again.
The second point is on this idea
that we can kill and capture our way to victory in counterinsurgency, and I
respectfully disagree. Where these networks are so robust -- and Iraq was a
very robust insurgent terrorist network -- you cannot kill or capture your way
to victory. We tried that for three years. And it's only when you have the
synergy of conventional and special forces working together that you can
eventually collapse a network.
The conventional forces take and
hold ground, and control the population -- I agree, it is control, not protect
-- and that forces the terrorists and insurgents to move and communicate. And
when they do that, they can be targeted, killed, and captured. And then there's
another component in the detention camps, where you separate the reconcilables
from the irreconcilables. It's only [when] we did that in a comprehensive way
in 2007/2008 that we collapsed the network in Iraq. And it was not just Stan
McChrystal's guys. It was the conventional and special forces working together.
And the fourth thing is, I don't
think we're going to have time or resources to train our forces for both
high-end and counterinsurgency warfare. But it is much easier, I think, to dial
down their skill set from high-end to low-end with appropriate pre-deployment
training, than to do the reverse: train them for COIN and then ramp it up for
them to be able to take on a high-end military.
So in terms of training, I would
opt for training at the high end, but we need to educate our officers and our
senior non-commissioned officers for the broad swath of warfare. And this is
what we failed to do after Vietnam. We educated only for the high end. At best,
counterinsurgency education was an elective course and sometimes not even
Pollack, Brookings Institution:
In response to both Eliot and Pete, you know, I'd say, I think you guys are
both right. I mean, protecting and controlling the population, it's effectively
the same thing. Sometimes you're doing one, sometimes you're doing the other.
Where I think the difference is important, is again, the difference between
what you're trying to do with an insurgency versus a civil war. With an
insurgency, you are trying to help people in a whole variety of different ways,
protect them from a whole variety of bad things. In the civil wars it's about
breaking the relationship between the militias and the populace. In some ways I
think the best way to see the difference between the insurgency and the civil
war is in the outcomes of the two of them. John is right, at the tactical
military level, the tactics are, by and large, the same. But once you start
getting up to that political level and what you're trying to accomplish, things
are very, very different.
And I think where we really came
off the rails [was] in '09 and '10 in particular. Where in [an] insurgency what
you're ultimately looking to do is to legitimize the existing government, in an
inter-communal civil war, it's really about power sharing, because what you
have is a struggle among different identity groups, all of whom see an
opportunity for power [but] also who are deeply fearful that if they are not
the ones in power, they are the ones who are going to be slaughtered.
Go back to John Allen out in
Anbar. One of the most important shifts that nobody really has talked about too
much is the shift that occurs in that '06/'07 period where we go from being the
enablers of the Shia, in particular, and to a lesser extent the Kurds, to
becoming the protectors of the Sunni community. One of the most important
things that happens in '07 is that we reach out to the Sunnis and we say to
them, we are going to bring you into the government. We are going to make sure
that the government provides for your community, gives you an equal share of
political power, and protects you rather than having, basically,
quasi-government death squads killing all of you in Baghdad and elsewhere. That
is absolutely critical in turning the Sunnis around.
And, looking forward, you want to
solve the problem of Syria? Until someone can convince the Alawites and the
Druze and the Kurds and the Christians that they are not going to be
slaughtered under a majority Sunni government, they will keep fighting, okay?
It will be the same exact situation.
Steve, I apologize, I could not
disagree more with Stan's characterization of AQ. AQ is important, it's not
unimportant, but to suggest that somehow this is a war about AQ -- you
know, again, Stan did a remarkable job. But you know, he had his target. And
you know, I think the book does a great job of portraying his target. But AQ
takes advantage of an opportunity. We've seen this all around the Middle East
Hadley, Bush national security advisor:
That's -- I agree with that.
Pollack: -- you know, whenever we see an
inter-communal civil war, AQ jumps in, because they realize, hey, we can be on
the side of the Sunnis or we can be on the side of the Muslims fighting against
the Americans or whoever the oppressor is. It gives them entree into it.
Where I think that we've really
missed something is in this strategic application of what it is that you're
trying to do where the political meets the military. And again, what I saw in
'09 and '10, what we were doing was not simply trying to leave a legitimate
government and then walk away; what we were doing was actually preserving the
power-sharing arrangement that we had hammered out in '07 and '08, and which is
unraveling literally as we speak.
Mudd, former CIA official:
There was no AQ in Iraq and there still isn't. AQ is a globalist organization
that said, your target in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, is outside your
borders. It's in Washington and New York. What we had in Iraq was actually
an adversary that said, we're not interested in going outside our borders.
We're staying home. And furthermore telling AQ core, forget about your
ideology, I'm going against the Shia. So we can use the shorthand of AQI, but I
don't think they were there before, and they certainly weren't there during the
Hadley: I've got to say, I don't get
that. When Zarqawi issues a manifesto, and hooks UBL to support him on the
grounds that he's going to begin to establish the caliphate in Anbar, we see
the plan. I mean, this is the part of establishing an al Qaeda control, which
they do in Anbar. Sunnis decide actually they don't like it, and throw it off.
So you know, I get it. Al Qaeda
always comes in in these situations. They're doing it in Syria. My only point
is, they came in in a big way and a successful way, and they were to able to
lead a movement that resulted in about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters and to
I don't agree.
People who said they were al Qaeda came in, people who, they wanted the
jersey -- like me wearing a sort of, Griffin the Third jersey and say I'm on
the Redskins. Well, I like the brand, but I can't play the game. [LAUGHTER]
Mansoor: One, al Qaeda in Iraq is what
they call themselves. It wasn't a label applied to them. And two, they did have
a plan for going outside the borders of Iraq. It was a written plan. It was,
first establish a safe haven in Iraq, and then destabilize Jordan and Syria,
use that as a base to conquer Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and then destroy Israel.
And that was a written plan that they used.
The most important thing I learned in Iraq is that economics are not some
technical problem, that it is about power, and it is political economics. And
so it was really important for us to understand that.
Second thing, it seems to me, is
that the biggest economic stimulus in Iraq was security. The economy in Iraq
boomed when the security improved. And so, again, there's not one or the other.
It's integral to the way that the society functioned.
I think that, in retrospect, the
huge ERF [Emergency Response Fund] funding
of 2003, the multiyear $20 billion, was as much a burden for us as it was
an advantage. Because we had so much money, we had this desire to commit it and
spend it and deal with all these problems. If we had less money, and we had a
sense of more time, we could have done a lot better. We all know that we didn't
spend anywhere near as much time getting Iraqi buy-in. The point that Eliot
made about people in the water security plant -- there's a gazillion such
examples throughout Iraq.
A point that I think was made
earlier about whether there should be a civil military command, or that, you
know, put the military in charge of all aspects of reconstruction from the
rebuilding of the security forces to the rebuilding of the markets, in
communities. I actually think that that probably is a bad responsibility for
the military, because they are not trained for it, they don't necessarily have
these kinds of things. But we are really badly placed ourselves, on the
civilian side of the government, to undertake this. And we ought to develop the
capabilities to be able to do this so we don't have to invent it all over
The problem is that, with the
military, you develop military capabilities as a deterrent to security challenges
you might face in the future. And so the more that you have them, you could
always justify them as a deterrent to bad guys doing bad things. To develop
this civilian reconstruction capability in an environment in which we really
don't want to do this nation-building, it is very hard to get political support
for it. I don't know that there's a permanent solution for that, because we're
not building capabilities that deter something; we're building capabilities
that people might feel would lead us to doing things that are otherwise not
This is such an
important part of the conversation. The very first thing that I remember when I
drove into Basra the day that it fell to the British was, you know, on the one
hand we saw this group of people gathered on a street, and they were very
excited, they had just been liberated from the prison that they had been held
in. And that sort of conformed with the narrative we expected, and they took us
in and they showed us, you know, here's where they plugged me into the electric
But then the very next thing we
saw and heard -- and for the next two weeks -- was two words, which I
quickly learned, and have since forgotten in Arabic, which were
"water" and "electricity." And that's all we heard from the
crowds on the street corners. And it was not what I had expected to hear.
Feaver, Bush NSC official:
So, four points. The first is that, when we talk about COIN, we mean population-centric
COIN. Because there's a non-population-centric COIN that's the Russian model,
which is not what we're talking about. So just as a clarification on terms.
The second is, the part of the
debate in the '04/'05/'06 timeframe that hasn't come out was not a debate over
the desirability of COIN, but rather, could you do light-footprint COIN because
troops create the problem of resentment and producing antibodies -- this was
the Abizaid view [and] was what General Casey, I think, was sort of trying to
move towards. I would say that's the dominant view in the Obama administration
today, is that you can do this on the light footprint. So while I think the
surge proved the value of the approach we took, reasonable people were arguing
on the other side, and I would say they may have actually won in terms of policy.
Third point. The phrase
"Generals prepare to fight the last war" -- sometimes but not always.
Sometimes the institutional Army commits itself never to fight the last war,
and then takes steps and colludes with the National Command Authority to figure
out ways to make it impossible to fight it. That's what the Vietnam Army did
and that was part of the movement up to the Reserves, et cetera. We all know
that story. I think we're in the process of doing that again, and we're making
sure that we lose the capacity to do this.
The military hasn't lost it as
fast as the State Department has. I think the State capacity to do this in 2013
is less than it was in 2007/'8 for sure, probably less than it was in 2004/'5,
and that's a scary thought.
The fourth and final
observation is, the reason the National Command Authority colludes in
this self-lobotomization, is that the goal of American grand strategy over
the last 150 years or so has been to avoid fighting the last war. The central
goal of containment was to avoid fighting World War II -- confront the
Soviet challenge without having to do it the way we confronted fascism in
imperial Japan, and the central thrust of post-Cold War grand strategy has been
to avoid another Cold War, to avoid a hostile peer rival. And the central goal
of post-9/11 has been to avoid another 9/11 that drags us into Afghanistan.
At the grand strategy level
that's sensible. You are trying to avoid fighting the last war, and the
pernicious thing is that when you go from grand strategy down to strategy in
operational capacity, is that it creates this perverse incentive to eliminate
your capacity to fight this war that you're hoping to avoid.
Mudd: I hate to say this, one positive
point that I think we learned might be a bit tactical and that is fusion and
rolling operations real-time against an adversary that's networked. When we
looked at what the adversary, especially the terrorist adversary, was concerned
about, they were crippled, I think, by this idea that if you put all people in
one place -- that is, all agencies -- take all the data in this data-intensive
environment, and start rolling [operations],
it's incredibly successful.
And when I think about next wars,
I could see real application of this concept if you have these kinds of adversaries --
and to me a drug trafficking organization looks a lot like a foreign fighter
network. They communicate, they need money, they have leadership, and they
can't afford the kind of operational tempo that, with our resources, we can
impose on them. To me that's a terrific lesson.
Indeed, Phil, they laminate themselves together. So that you find them working
together. And that's why the network-targeting approach works so well. It's an
Yeah. I'm a COIN enthusiast, but I wonder, in fact, if it's the right term
or whether we should be talking about irregular warfare because
counterinsurgency is essentially defensive, rather than defensive and offensive
together. And in many ways, the best way of marginalizing extremists who are
attached to an insurgency is not to suppress the insurgency; it's to support
There isn't an insurgent in the
world that wouldn't rather have American support than al Qaeda support, if they
were offered the choice. And that's what we did in Bosnia. That's what we did
in Kosovo. That's what we did in Afghanistan in the '80s. That's what we did in
Afghanistan in 2001. That's what we did in Iraq with the Sons of Iraq. That's
what we did in Libya. We supported the Muslim insurgents, and marginalized the
extremists as a result. That's what we should be doing in Syria.
And that means you have to be
good, not just at counterinsurgency, you have to get good at insurgency. And
it's worth noting that that's really what the special forces were created for.
They weren't created for counterinsurgency, they were created for insurgency.
And that's a lot of what they did, actually, in Vietnam, was create
insurgencies in places like Laos, and places behind the enemy lines, and in Vietnam.
So I do think that in some ways,
focusing exclusively on counterinsurgency is focusing on only half of the
spectrum of capabilities that we need to sustain. And perhaps also focusing too
much on engaging ourselves in long, lengthy conflicts against insurgencies that
have some reasonable basis that we ought to be considering supporting, rather
Pillar, former CIA analyst:
Two brief observations. One, I would disagree somewhat with Eliot's observation
that we just don't understand this sort of thing until we get on the ground. I
think we've been in some situations where there was a lot of understanding,
inside and outside government. The problem was it just wasn't harnessed or
In the case of Iraq, you had the
whole Future of Iraq Project in the State Department; you had a major
Intelligence Community assessment about challenges after Saddam was gone. And
on the outside you had people like Les Gelb with the Council on Foreign
Relations that proposed doing a similar kind of study, but it just wasn't
utilized. So it's a matter of harnessing and utilizing, not so much finding out
for the first time once we get on the ground.
In the larger discourse about
COIN -- and I don't mean the sophisticated group in this room, but I mean the
larger, unsophisticated discussion amongst the public and in places like
Capitol Hill -- one of the biggest confusions has been between, on the one
hand, the value and validity of COIN per se, versus the policy question in any
one country as to whether the level of effort required for successful COIN is
worth it for U.S. interests.
A couple years back I was giving
testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan. And the focus
of my remarks was on that second question. And I got met by one whole line of
questioning from one member that was about whether, basically, you know, did I
respect the military judgment of Commander X, and what he says we need. And
that wasn't the issue at all. Of course I respected his judgment. The question
is whether to do it successfully that was worth it.
So we keep getting some of this
discourse that makes it sound like whether the manual that John Nagl and
company wrote was valid. Yes, it is valid. But that's not the policy question
in terms of whether to do COIN in any one instance.
Allen: I think we're really at a
critical moment right now, as the clock continues to tick in Afghanistan. We're
under 22 months remaining with the ISAF mission. And so as the services begin
to look into the distant future in terms of how they prepare themselves for
future conflict, we're going to see them looking at school curricula,
professional and military education, all of those things that have been shaped
so profoundly by irregular warfare and counterinsurgency operations over the
last 10 years.
And the things that we have done
on the ground in Afghanistan, and the things we did on the ground in Iraq, so
much of that requires a really profound understanding of the social dimension
of the environment in which you're operating.
I think the question will be, and
what we'll need to watch very closely is, do we profoundly change our school
curricula over time to reassert ourselves in expeditionary operations, or
reassert ourselves in airborne operations, reassert ourselves in high-mobility,
high-intensity, firepower-dominated operations, potentially at the expense of
this really powerful reservoir of intellectual prowess we've built amongst our
I think it's a critical moment,
and as we begin to look at ourselves for the next 10 years, how are we going to
remain true to what we've learned over the last 10?
So much of what we
learned has been not just in countering the insurgent, but in removing and
dealing with those underlying social factors that create the insurgency to
begin with. And they're related, and you may have to counter the insurgent in
some areas while you are seeking in every possible way to remove, or eliminate,
or to address those profound underlying circumstances that generated the
So the challenge, I think, for
the future for us, is to understand how best to prepare our forces, ultimately,
for irregular warfare.
John Nagl and I were in a
conference not long ago where I talked about some of the immutable principles
associated with warfare in the future. One of them is that we must always have
a fundamental understanding of the central fabric of the environment in which
we are going to be serving. We spent a great deal of time before we went to the
Anbar province studying the tribes. Tribe by tribe, from the Syrian border
right down to Baghdad. And I don't think anybody spent more time the sheikhs
than I did. And I could tell the sheikhs stories about their grandfathers,
because we spent the time learning about the tribes. Thus we were able to
operate within the tribes and not around the tribes. They were not terra
incognita. They, in fact, ultimately welcomed us because we took the time to
learn the social dimension of them.
When the insider threat in
Afghanistan began to loom large for us, my first response to that as the
commander in Afghanistan was to go back and reverse-engineer our cultural
training with respect to both the NATO forces that were coming into the
theater, but the U.S. forces as well, to determine whether we had missed,
conceivably, some aspect of the preparation of our forces, which was playing
out in a way that conceivably created the insider threat, that lesson learned
from Anbar province.
With respect to governance, one
of the most important things that we've relearned again in Afghanistan, and
we'll learn it again later, is how do we legitimize the government? And it's
critical. It's not just the central government, it will have to be the
subnational governance as well. And the great challenge for us in the Anbar
province was to get the sheikhs to acknowledge ultimately there would need to
be a civil government. That's where we used development as the key mechanism by
which we could get them to the table, because if we could agree on projects
that could improve both the lives of the members of the tribe, but also appear
to have been flowed by the civil government, there was the opportunity, through
the use of properly spent development dollars, to amalgamate that tribal and
But then the greater challenge
for us [was] to connect the outlying governance with the central government. I
remember [a] sheikh reaching over and patting my thigh and saying, here is my
government. Well, I couldn't be his government; it had to be al-Maliki. And
ultimately, that was where we, I think, were successful in connecting the
subnational governance to the national governance, but that doesn't come
naturally. I mean that kind of capacity within our military does not come
And for me, the great
breakthrough was the arrival in Baghdad of a fellow by the name of Ryan
Crocker, who reached out to us, as we were reaching towards Baghdad. Not that
the previous State team there was not capable of doing it. The circumstances
had changed so that Ryan's skills now could be brought to bear as the
circumstances changed, to provide the connectivity that we needed over the long
And finally the security forces
assistance. The foreign forces in a counterinsurgency do two profound things:
You shake the insurgency by the use of conventional and special operations
forces through intelligence, through counterinsurgency techniques. But you also
have to undertake the security forces assistance to prepare the security forces
ultimately to replace you as the defeat mechanism of the insurgency. And so,
for us again in the Anbar province -- a province that was uniquely Sunni, that
was uniquely out of the same tribal confederation -- an early decision by the
central government of Iraq to let the Anbari tribal sons remain in the
province, in the police force, and in the Army permitted us to bring two
divisions online and to go from about 4,500 police to nearly 30,000 police in
the better part of a year. And it was a profound decision that made all the
difference in the world.
As we reset our forces for the
future, we've got to maintain our faithfulness to the basic intellectual
principles of irregular warfare, the components of which are such things as the
proper employment of development, understanding the relationship of subnational
and national governance, the social fabric in which you're going to operate.
These are Ph.D.-level intellectual demands on our officers. We cannot permit
that to go.
Sepp, Naval Postgraduate School:
I would suggest that the American Army, in particular, is not good at training
foreign armies. My feeling is that the Marines have done this much better. When
I was with Third Marines just a couple of years ago, I was in the middle of a
discussion among their battalion commanders where they were able to discuss the
difference in burial rites between the different valleys in their sector of operations.
I mean, you know, that knowledge of the culture that they were going to operate
But I would say that the American
Army does this badly, has a history of doing it badly. The Korean Army that we
trained from 1945 to 1950 collapsed under North Korean attack initially. The
Vietnamese Army, very famously, after several years of U.S. Army advisors --
17,000 of them in South Vietnam. At the Battle of Ap Bac, the better part of
three South Vietnamese battalions were beaten by one Vietcong company, and
this, of course, eventually provides some of the raison d'être for U.S.
escalation because the army that the U.S. Army was training could not do the
And, then, the American 104th Division
was a training division inside the U.S. Army structure. It's a Reserve division,
but it's called a drill sergeant division. It's only 8,000 [troops], but for
general war to rapidly expand the American Army, the idea was that this
division would train several American divisions. It was sent to Iraq. It failed
completely in training the Iraqis. Every unit they trained was judged not
combat effective and had to be disbanded and retrained.
Feith, Bush Pentagon official:
I just wanted to comment on the importance of a civilian component to these
military efforts. When we observed the problems of getting civilians into Iraq
to help the effort, we saw very clearly the institutional deficiencies. I mean,
we didn't have established institutions that could handle personnel questions,
that could handle contracting questions. In other words, we were trying to
create a major civilian effort from scratch.
There have been some criticisms
that we should have gotten the postwar planning stuff done a little earlier.
Steve was explaining why we delayed a bit or kept it low key for a while
because of the concerns of how a highly visible effort of that kind could
undermine diplomacy. But I think the key point is whether we started the higher
profile, more coordinated, more visible postwar planning effort in October,
versus in late December or January, is not -- I mean, I don't think
there's great consequence there. We should have started it 50 years ago. I
mean, we have been doing civilian kinds of stabilization and reconstruction
stuff for very many decades, and the basic pattern remains the same, despite
the very nostalgic view that people have of how brilliantly we did post-World
If you go back and read Dean
Acheson's memoirs, he describes the post-World War II reconstruction
effort as a complete catastrophe. And it wasn't for three years before we got
to the Marshall Plan. And so, the basic way it happens is you start with the
Keystone Cops, always. After a while, we get smart, and you get some systems in
place, you get some experience, you start to learn what the picture is on the
ground. Eliot's point is very well-taken that, as much as you think you might
know in advance, it's practically insignificant compared to what you learn when
And sometimes a lot of what you
know in advance is not only inadequate, it's exactly wrong, as was the case in
Iraq over and over again. I mean, a lot of the so-called intelligence about
Iraq was precisely wrong. It wasn't simply less than you wanted.
And so you start with the
Keystone Cops, you get smarter, you get better, you get skilled. You get
teamwork established, and then you disband everybody, and you go to next event
and you start with the Keystone Cops again.
That doesn't quite happen with
the military. Military tends to get better. I mean, the military is kind of, in
general, a learning institution. The civilian efforts at reconstruction and
stabilization have not been institutional enough to learn anything. In other
words, there is no institution.
When we saw this problem -- and I
think Steve Hadley deserves credit here and President Bush deserves credit
here -- we said, there are some institutional things that should be done
to try to put us in a better position to handle problems like this in the
future. The creation -- as it turns out, over the objections initially of the
State Department -- of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and
Stabilization, that was an important step. And the basic idea was to try to
create an institution that would have a built-in expertise that would last,
that would be able to study operations the way the military does, learn lessons -- the equivalent of professional military education.
One of the things that deserves
some attention is, why has that effort gone with so much difficulty in the
State Department? It never really took off. It was fought by almost all the
regional bureaus -- not all, but almost all. Now it's been turned into a
bureau, basically what had been that office. It's still not thriving, it's
still not quite doing the concept that the NSC staff and the Pentagon had in
mind when we championed this idea, we had to kind of ram it down the throats of
State Department people who didn't want to take on the responsibility.
And if General Allen is right,
that this is a really important thing for the U.S. government to have the
capability to do, to bring civilians in to assist the military, then it's worth
trying to look at the recent history, where there were some proposals to deal
with it institutionally.
I think Charlie Ries put his
finger on it when he said that there are people on the Hill who look at it the
way some people look at nuclear modernization. They say, we don't want you to
do that because we don't want to make it easier for you to use that tool. And
that's been a serious argument.
Part of the counterargument is
the one that Steve Hadley highlighted, which emphasized how valuable this
capability is, in advance of a conflict, to maybe allow you to head off a
conflict. And that's a strong argument. But why this has been -- I don't
want to say a complete failure, but not the success that it should have been --
Rothkopf, Foreign Policy: If
I could just make a two-finger intervention on this particular point myself. Jim
and I got to know each other because we were responsible for the reconstruction
of Haiti into the thriving economy it is today. [LAUGHTER] And subsequent to
that I ended up writing a book for Carnegie on this issue of post-conflict
reconstruction and stabilization, and looking at Haiti and at Bosnia and at the
Palestinian territory and some other places we've tried to do it. The recurring
theme [is] this is the thing we do the most when we intervene. And no one in
the United States government wants to own it.
And the problem with having the
State Department own it is, they can't do it alone. This is one of those areas
where you need a whole-of-government solution. And it's an institutional
void that we keep tripping over. It's among the things that has dogged us since
the Second World War.
The final point I want to make
is, every time this happens somebody says, we need a Marshall Plan. And you
know, what they neglect to say is that the reason Marshall Plan worked is, we
had achieved complete victory. We could impose our will on everybody there,
there was a strategic urgency to write a check for however big we wanted to
write the check, and the countries we were rebuilding had actually been
thriving economies before we started to do this. And none of those conditions
have ever existed in any of the other places we said we needed to have a
Marshall Plan with the exception of Japan.
Feaver: Elliott Abrams told me that on
my tombstone he's going to write as my epitaph, "It's worse than
that." Because that was what I always said in every meeting with Steve and
the others. And I think it's worse than that in the following sense: that if
the trio of Rice plus Gates, and then Gates plus Clinton, plus supermajorities
in the House and Senate, could not fix the resource imbalance, and they didn't,
we have seen the high-water mark in terms of the balance between State and
In the next 20 years it's going
to be worse than it's been in the last 10 years. And I can't foresee a
combination of secretaries and appropriators on the Hill that would do more to
rectify the balance than we had in the last five years, and we couldn't get it
So my message to the Defense
Department is, you're going to have to do it as the first go-around the next
time, because you will not have the capacity in the State Department, even that
you've come to count on in the last five years.
It just needs to
be noted that the most authoritative Intelligence Community assessment done pre-war
on what the post-overthrow challenges would be in Iraq, a redacted version of
it is on the Senate Intelligence Committee website free for all to read and
form your own judgments. But unfortunately most of it turned out to be pretty
Jaffe, Washington Post: It struck me when Eliot said
there's a Russian way of COIN and a German way of COIN and an American way of
COIN. It struck me with regard to Iraqi and Afghan security forces assistance.
We continually wanted both of those armies to fight an American way of COIN.
You know, I can remember many U.S. company commanders and U.S. battalion
commanders talking to their Iraqi counterparts saying, you're not doing COIN
right. This is how you do it.
I'm haunted a little bit by
something that a brigade commander said to me a couple years ago in
Afghanistan, which is that we took the best mountain fighters in the world and
we've turned them into a fourth-rate NATO army.
So it's in an area that I think
as we shrink the military down, you know, the Army can be inclined to do less and less and less in this. And I really think that they need
to do more and more and more.
Glasser: I'm struck, as I'm sure all of
you are, with the really profound ambivalence reflected in this conversation,
which began with everyone's sort of collective determination not to unlearn
these lessons that were purchased at such a high cost, and that this isn't
going to be Vietnam, we're not going to put this away. And yet the conversation
inevitably circles back around to a real uncertainty and discomfort and
ambivalence about whether this is a capacity we want inside our
government, never mind the question of where.