Friday, July 29, 2005

"The Name of the Game was Whoop-Ass!"

Lt. General John Sattler uttered this most memorable quote during The Future of Iraq: Fighting an Insurgency While Building a Nation event at the American Enterprise Institute. General Sattler, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, was the first speaker.

Part I: Introduction

This was my third visit to the AEI; I never did blog a report of my second visit, Raymond Aron and the End of Europe. Excuse me, I have a job, and can't spend all my time writing.

Nevertheless, once again this intrepid blogger, Solomon2, traded his pajamas for a business suit to attend a think-tank meeting of interest. Solomon2 braved near-100°F weather in his air-conditioned car, making wrong turns and arriving late.

That means I missed the introduction, the first few minutes, and the usual pre-meeting schmooze and evaluation of the audience - for one of the purposes of my blog is to add "flavor" to what is missed in the event transcripts and videos, and what it is like to experience such events. But better late than never! The sources for this account are my notes and memory; in a few days, the video and transcript should be available from the AEI. Rather than use them to correct my account, I urge my readers to compare it with the recordings, to better understand the sorts of errors that can creep into casual reporting.

At first glance, the conference room was packed - there were chairs for perhaps 150 people - but I occupied one of several seats still available. Some people chose to stand because they were still picking at the snack tables: I spotted soda, bottled water, and Campbell's vegetable juice among the remaining items.

Some of the audience yielded to the weather and had donned casual clothes, though nobody in the crowd of a hundred or so wore shorts. Only the Al-Hurra cameraman wore jeans.

The most sensibly dressed were the military officers at the lecture table; they chose to wear their desert-camo BDUs rather than dress uniforms. General Sattler's uniform was a standard pattern, but Colonel Anderson's uniform sported a computer-printed pattern I had never seen before, perhaps a design tailored for the urban areas, olive groves, and date palms of Iraq.

As I whipped out my notebook, General Sattler was describing last autumn's security situation in Iraq. Like every committed soldier, the more the general described a battle, the more animated he became:

Part II: Satter's Speech

Sattler: ...train and mentor Iraqis for operational security. Intimidation keeps the economy aground...

...wiping out the Sadr revolt. A combined force of Americans and Iraqis [did it] as Iraqis couldn't do it [alone]...Sadr has been marginalized...hardly any supply-route attacks.

The "Falluja brigade" couldn't [uphold] the law...[Iraqis attach loyalty to] their family first, tribe second, and cronies third. Even those who had lived in the West [fitted] into this...

The second Fallujah fight used soldiers from outside. Allawi made the call. Stuff exported out of Fallujah made it a terror training town: a newly-arrived insurgent could go in and be fully trained and equipped upon departure.

This was as joint as a fight can be: 45,000 troops, 8,000 U.S. soldiers, Army troops under Marine command including 6 Iraqi battalions, 2,500 sailors, 2,500 airmen. Army and Marine foward air controllers directed carrier attack bombers.

The Marines needed heavy armor for the battle, so we called in the Army especially to seal the roads out of the city. General Tom Metz commanded.

"The Name of the Game was Whoop-Ass!" There was no indiscriminate bombing. The city is 3x3 mile area.

Reconstruction: city open December 23rd, with control points everywhere. There are now 150,000 inhabitants vs. 400 when the city was captured. Most of the population left before the battle, part of a psy-ops campaign to reduce civilian casualties.

Some big fish left before the battle, but the remainder was very tenacious. Twenty thousand buildings in the city, all cleared at least three times. Troops "found a lot of really sick stuff..."

"Did we break the back of the insurgency? I know we did there." Took out the thugs and their instructors.

I have a half-hour for questions.

Mike ----, Defense Threat Reduction Agency: I was a Marine at the battle of Nasiriyah ---

Sattler: Hoorah!

Mike ----: and I think we'll see more of Sadr. Any mistakes at the tactical level? ...Phase 4B.

[Phase 4B is jargon that refers to the "sustainment" of a soldier or Marine after he leaves the active ranks of the Corps. That is to say: once a Marine, always a Marine!]

Sattler: The tactical lessons were constant, adaptability great, tactics change day-to-day, on-the-spot...This is "adapt-and-win".

My personal lesson: Don't tell people you'll rebuild and then [do nothing] because you don't have the money - can turn tactical win into strategic loss! Finally rebuilding did happen with adjudicated claims. [Fallujans] could move or rebuild [out of a $100 million fund].

[There was something special to the exchange between the General and the ex-Marine. This was not quite the exchange between a commander and a subordinate, or even a former subordinate. There was no rancor in their dispute and I could witness their mutual admiration. This was more like the relationship between two members of the same lodge: they shared the same ideals and goals, and each was satisfied with their relationship to the other. In other words, the Marine Experience was an intense and brotherly association between free men. Hoo-rah!]

Donnelly: That's all the time available for this speaker.

Sattler: I'll be available outside.

[The analyst next to me muttered that this sounded like "Vietnam all over again". "Was that criticism or praise?" I replied.]

[General Sattler stepped outside. The moderator, Mr. Thomas Donnelly, then convened the discussion panel.]

Part III: The Discussion Panel

Frederick Kagan, AEI resident defense & security scholar: "In Iraq there is good news and bad news".

The Vietnam Comparison: Iraq is nothing like Vietnam. We are in an excellent military position vs. the insurgents; they cannot do large-scale attacks upon our soldiers. A better comparison is Northern Ireland...

[At first I mentally sniffed at the comparison, then I realized Kagan is at least partially correct. The terrorism in Iraq is more intense and sustained than most of the Communist-inspired terrorism of the Cold War, yet less intense than the Vietcong-style battles of Southeast Asia. Left unmentioned, however, was the most apt comparison: Israel's 2001-2003 battle against suicide bombers, culminating in the much-misrepresented Battle of Jenin.]

Also, there is very little wide-spread support for attacks against Americans. Many Iraqis have been duped, the insurgents have no political program, and hence can be considered anarchists.

"They may manage to turn the tide against us and the government - that's what we have to watch against." Our political program is slow. "The metrics are good."

Low-ball number of [U.S.] troops is a problem. I watch the process with dismay. [Note: Kagan has not been to Iraq.] Very difficult for fights, great strain to seal borders, [fight] insurgents, train indigenous forces. All manpower intensive! Technology doesn't help much.

Bush is on the wrong path: As more Iraqi forces come on-line, you can eliminate some bad choices OR take out U.S. troops and leave more to the Iraqi government. Bush apparently wants to reduce U.S. forces.

Lastly: large Iraqi missions, not all complimentary. There is also the Global War on Terror, the mission to kill and capture terrorists. Iraqis less interested in that, won't pursue [as hard]. Apparently, we may have to maintain forces to track and kill these guys. [Isn't that what we're doing in Afghanistan?] Our number one priority is not to get troops out, or even stability, but security and the Global War on Terror.

Colonel Joe Anderson, XO to the Secretary of the Army and former brigade/regimental commander of the 101st Airborne division in Iraq and 1999 ground forces commander in Kosovo:

We're waging war in multiple places: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans. I've made the 4B transition...

Challenges: when establishing priorities and objectives, commanders have strong influence -

[Aside: In other words, U.S. military commanders do have influence (in the sense that they are listened to) with their civilian bosses. Compare that to countries such as France, where military commanders, no matter what their rank, have no say in setting strategic policy. In these countries, there is no sure way to align policy with military means. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff exercises an authority superior to his French counterpart; alternatively, the French Minister of Marine has greater authority than the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.]

- we have lots of elements to build and develop while balancing reconstruction. Difficult with war and theft.

Intel ops, civil affairs, communicate to people.

How much independence to give Iraqi security forces? When will they be able to do their mission?

Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director at the International Crisis Group:

[Note: Usually, the AEI would seat a Democrat on the panel to provide an opposing view. However, after the event Mr. Donnelly complained it was difficult to find sensible Democrats nowadays. Hiltermann has actually been to post-war Iraq. In evaluating his words, I keep in my mind the possibility that Iraqis may say one thing to an American but something different to someone of a different nationality.]

For political stability, there are three ingredients:

1) Secure situation "can only be done gong-term by Iraqi forces, police not military, especially police intelligence." Their composition must not be on ethnic or secular lines - that would "aggravate the civil war."

2) economic reconstruction: "Not much at the moment" [Good lord, how many tax dollars has the U.S. poured into the country? By what standard does Hiltermann judge "not much", anyway? Rebuilding Europe's WWII-shattered cities took decades.] "Reconstruction should be [Iraqi?] labor intensive and address needs like electricity, water, & sanitation." [Isn't that what is happening now?]

3) Legitimate political process at the center. January elections were positive, but the results sectarian. We must now undo the consequences. [By now, it should be clear that Hiltermann is less a democrat at heart than a "power-sharing" socialist - include the leaders of the losing but violent minority in the power structure, forget about individual rights.] The Iraqi Constitution will only succeed if the process is "transparent, conclusive, and participatory". [Bull! If the process is completely open, how are politicians of different stripes supposed to cut deals?]

The fact that the Sunnis are part of the political process is positive. The process is being rushed by the Iraqi government and foreigners both. The philosophy is rationalized as follows: 1) Iraqis will haggle forever. 2) The timetable is important, as if it isn't met, insurgents will take heart.

This rationale is wrong-headed and should be rejected. No tangible participation by Iraqis [is taking place in the constitution-drafting] process. They can submit email or written suggestions [in some safe places]. Time is needed. August 1st is the deadline for extending the process, August 15th is the current deadline.

[Note: Colonel Anderson has been paying very close attention to this part of Hiltermann's speech.]

We will end up not with fully integrated document but an abbreviated one, with the "hard problems" postponed.

1) No rush to constitution - extend the process six months.
2) Encourage compromise, but not ?judgment?
3) Stay away from details, but Kirkuk should be made off-limits to Kurds.

[Whoa! Should it be enshrined in law that parts of London or Marseille be made off-limits to light-skinned people?]

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at AEI and editor of the Middle East Quarterly, formerly Iran/Iraq advisor to the Secretary of Defense, and ex-CPA official:

"We call it insurgency, Iraqis call it terrorism. I would argue that the more we tolerate, the more reconciliation without truth -------, the more violence has occurred."

Iraqis followed [our qualification of de-Baathification] with increased violence. There is "psychological mistrust of how long we are willing to stay."

An Iraqi family may have "one son with U.S.-trained forces, and one son with the insurgents." This signals wider distrust of Americans. [Rumors of] a 2006 withdrawal will play to the "abandonment" fears of 1991.

"Perception in the mideast is 90% of reality."

Drive through Najaf & Kerbala, look at Alsant Al-Aqf [?] and its cartoons. One of them shows an American soldier trying to leave a compound labeled Iraq, but negotiating at a desk manned by insurgents.

The U.S. will be perceived as weak, not magnanimous, by leaving. We want to make sure people [know] power comes through the ballot box...there will be a referendum on the constitution.

"The Sunnis are not the liberal, secular folks in Iraq, contradicting the Western and Turkish press. (I see the Turkish press in the front row of the audience.)"

"By forcing the Sunnis in, we scorched the liberals [at] keeping the family law out of the courts."

"Any Iraqi politician who uses U.S. security officers will lose popularity, and Iraqis trust in him will be lost. If you talk to Iraqis, that's what they say."

"Don't change [the timetable, it will only take more time and permit] more underhandedness. "Iraqi politics is about brinksmanship." - you compromise after the deadlines.

"Yes, the Green Zone is isolated. But the committee is not drafting [the constitution] in isolation. The Sunni & Turcoman leadership is not clear, [but] the drafting committee is [a product of] political masters."

(By the way, the Western press doesn't report that the Dalai Lama has absolutely no legitimacy because he doesn't live in Tibet.)

"Don't squander the honeymoon. The biggest complaint is that "Americans keep changing the parameters" - heard from ex-Baathists and non-Baathists alike.

"Don't abet corruption." (Seen in the Kurdish north.) "Some NGOs are far from NGOs."

"There is too much patronage." For example, road repavings [in the Kurdish areas] "correspond to political loyalties for the past fourteen years."

This is not Beirut 1983 or Mogadishu 1993. Fulfilling promises important. If anything there are "too many diplomats" negotiating, not too many troops. [The civilians get less done than the] "CIRF[?] model".

Donnelly: "Any way you look at it...Iraqi politics and society are more broken than possible..."

There is "still a fundamental debate about the U.S. role once democracy is established."

Kagan: It is important to divorce the political from the terrorist struggle. "Very likely terrorism will continue after the development of the political process. The number of attacks per day is not a good metric..."

[I agree. Consider Michael Yon's report that recently-captured terrorists admitted that their stored "munitions were being readied for the next elections."]

It is "always a problem with a sovereign state if its leaders are protected by soldiers from another country.]

[Hey, it works for the Pope! And Karzai has U.S. bodyguards -- I haven't heard mention recently that the Afghans much care about that.]

Part IV: Q&A

Jordere Kayyum (Angola): What is this "withdrawal" Bush stuff?

Kagan: Nothing official yet, but there are public and private statements.

Donnelly: I want to draw Joe [Colonel Anderson] out on the stresses especially on the Army...This is OIF3. [Referring to year-rotations of Operation Iraqi Freedom.]

Col. Anderson: Planning assumption for this rotation and the next until told otherwise...Brigades become bigger with reserve components. Complicated, but there is a model.

Afghanistan is successful so far...I agree with the comment about police, they must be responsible and well-behaved.

Donnelly: I take that as deep doo-doo!

Q: How will the insurgency impede the U.S. [from acting against] countries not with the U.S.?

Col. Anderson: [We] will sustain [the current] effort. What force requirements estimate QDR is not part of a public forum. Hard to describe, we must have forces to go elsewhere. It is discussed every week [in the Pentagon].

Kagan: Understand that the U.S. can't fight two major wars, not since about 1993. It is disingenuous to say otherwise, we shouldn't maintain this myth.

[But it took the equivalent of only three divisions to oust Saddam Hussein.]

Stephen Solarz, formerly a Democrat congressional representative from New York: "We are paying a much higher price in blood and treasure than we anticipated. The American people will have to be persuaded that the benefits and consequences [are worth it]. From your perspective, what are the benefits of success as defined, and the consequences of failure?"

[Whoa! This is interesting. Why is Solarz, still a committed Democrat, here at all? Why didn't he operate through his buddies on Capitol Hill? I see no aides with him. I surmise that Solarz is exploring a new direction for the Democratic Party, but wants to keep this outside the normal political process. In other words, his question isn't a pose, it is for real!]

Rubin: "If we withdraw, there will be a massive spike in violence all over the world! This happened in 1993, to! Terrorism is used because it works!

Blood and treasure? Before the invasion [of Iraq, when we thought Saddam had WMDs, we] thought [the price] would be an order of magnitude higher. Outside the Beltway, Americans believe...

"[Go to the] Shiites in Samawa, [see] the mothers open their doors to the sight of long-lost but live sons, [that they thought dead in unknown graves] really is incredible! The people most against the war are those who don't talk to Iraqis.

"Like Alevi's [?] book, imposing an Arab Nationalism filter upon Iraqis. Iraqis have had thirty years of development [in a different direction]."

Kagan:...Consider the consequences of failure...Collapse creates the preconditions for terrorist training camps. Iraq's oil can fund democracy or warlords. It is unacceptable from a national security standpoint not to succeed. The consequences in Duluth would be enormous...forward to success.

Donnelly: "I agree, and add: We could withdraw from Vietnam and still win the Cold War. We can't withdraw from Iraq and [still] expand American power and ideals. The region is too important to walk away from.

A question for you, Mr. Solarz: the ideals and loyalties of Democrats are in question. How do your fellow Democrats feel? This [effort] must be sustained over decades and decades."

Solarz: "That's the question! The center of this battle is American public opinion -"

[Mr. Solarz is a politician. To a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.]

"- Republicans are reluctant to get organized against the Administration" but they will put re-election ahead of the administration. It is remarkable that no [substantial] anti-war movement has taken hold.

"This Administration has not brought Democrats into ply, like Roosevelt and Kennedy did -

[A peace offer! Solarz is actually implying that Democrats may change their policies if they are offered more power! If only the Dems had such credibility! Of course, during the conflicts of the previous administrations Solarz listed, at least the opposition party shared the goal of victory. Until proven otherwise, I submit that elected Democrats are - openly or secretly - wishing for defeat. That will give them one last crack at power before the terrorists strike us again.]

- [Bush] should have appointed a prominent Democrat to Baghdad. If not Bolton to the U.N., send a Democrat. If Rumsfeld goes, appoint a Democrat -

[Solarz easily slips back into the role of minority partisan, always begging for undeserved and unmerited power. All positions Solarz listed are those where a Democrat could essentially undermine the President's foreign policies yet heave all the blame onto Bush. Have we really seen anything constructive from the Democratic Party for years? Ever since Bush's re-election, they have stolen their motto from Nancy Reagan: "Just say NO!"]

Donnelly: I'd like Lieberman [D - Conn] as Secretary of Defense! How do we get the legislative branch more deeply involved?

Solarz: There are precedents, without relinquishing ...the Administration neglects at its own could influence a very significant portion..."

[Excuse me, but the realities of life in Washington intrude. I parked my car in the street. Time to feed the parking meter; ticketing in D.C. is very efficient. Once, I even caught a meter maid issuing me a ticket before the meter expired! "But it was about to!" she protested.]

[I returned in the middle of the summary arguments:]

Kagan: Iraqis working hard to U.S. military...

Donnelly: Civilian side: privatization of civil ...., family/sectarian

Hiltermann: De-Batthification -, wrong mandate. Should have been de-Saddamization, not de-Ba'athification. "Keep people who never did harm to any body".

The Army was the institution least loyal to Saddam... I talked to several who joined the insurgency out of humiliation.

Ad-hoc -, not standard judiciary-based

Failure gives opportunity for personal scores and

Donnelly: Michael, let the de-Ba'athification issue go, and give us a report card on mechanisms.

Rubin: "Follow the money." Example: two fifth grade teachers of equal experience with a 10x discrepancy in salaries. The rich one did something to be complicit with the Baath regime. [We may not know what that something is.]

[Another example: Saddam's] press fixers can be charming, but that doesn't mean they have clean hands. Some people, like the deans of Mosul University, were irreedeemable, others incorruptible, some were incorruptible under Saddam but now are. The vetting process must be good.

How are Iraqis to get what we have? If not implemented, then Iraqis less able to maintain stability. [As an example,] take the contract to provide security at Baghdad airport to. The contract was extended just before the CPA left, [but that didn't ensure a mechinism for reviewing by the Iraqis.]

Part V: Schmooze

After the event adjourned, I thanked one or two speakers individually with questions and comments.

I tried to engage Mr. Rubin on the subject of corruption of government and misbehavior of Iraqi forces. I noted that much had been discussed about civilian control of the military but little of civilian control over the police. I cited civil contract issues in general and specifically the "soft" corruption reported by Michael Yon of the Iraqi police ("they quickly said goodbye, and melted off into the darkness with a duck under each arm") and the indiscriminate fire of the ING (I mistakenly referred to them as "police") reported by Ali.

Mr. Rubin responded defensively, asserting that corruption does exist, yes, but they're working on it. Furthermore, some of our approaches at contract work -- especially one praised by The New York Times in a Christmas Day, 2003 story, favoring tribal chieftains over others as "cultural sensitivity" - can make things worse.

What about accountability of elected officials between elections? Do the Iraqis have public town meetings on big public projects? Mr. Rubin asserted that they did.

With the reporter from Al-Hurra listening, I then spoke to Mr. Kagan about my primary interest, U.S. troop levels in Iraq in general and the purpose of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mr. Kagan believes it was a mistake to use so few troops; that created an opening for the "insurgency".

"Isn't that desirable?" I asked. "The "self-selected" fanatics can pour into Iraq to be killed, rather than attack us at home. Wouldn't a half-million troops, as we deployed in 1991, discourage that? And the sort of democracy established, wouldn't that be carrying Iraqis on a litter, as we carry Germany to this day?"

Mr. Kagan: The U.S. and its allies deployed 650,000 troops in 1991. I don't think even a half-million troops would prevent the insurgency" - but would help defeat it more quickly, and discourage the further efforts.

"What is the purpose of the Iraq War?" I asked.

"To establish Iraq as a republican democracy", Mr. Kagan replied.

"Then what of the Global War on Terror?"

"On balance, I think establishing democracy in Iraq is more important."

I believe the two should proceed together - combined Iraqi and U.S. forces will win the battle for Iraq. But Mr. Kagan asserts that as Iraq develops politically, it will veer away from U.S. interests at attacking all terrorists, and Iraqis will be less interested in pursuing those terrorists who remain in the country, but do not threaten Iraqis directly. I pointed out the success of operations in Afghanistan; U.S. forces operate against terrorists freely there without impeding Afghan development. Kagan parried that the Taliban attacks are now increasing once again.

Mr. Kagan and I both agreed that it was remarkable that Mr. Solarz showed up at all. Why not work through his committee contacts on Capitol Hill? We noted that Solarz had omitted from his historical examples of constructive Congressional war activities Senator Harry Truman's excellent committee work exposing military waste.

We disagreed on the usefulness of the Civil War era Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. I'll defend it to anybody, Kagan asserted. Hmm. One cannot dismiss the opinion of a scholar like Kagan lightly. Until I review my materials and check out one or two new ones, I must assume that Kagan is correct and I am in error.

An Arab-looking NGO officer with an Irish brogue explained her situation in Iraq to Col. Anderson: they were all set to go in her city, but the U.S. commander needed some $10 million for the infrastructure project, and it hasn't come out of the civilian administration: ("On the whole, I think the CPA was corrupt and a waste" was one of her lines.) Anderson responded that U.S. generals simply don't have that kind of money for projects. It's got to go through the process. And how, Colonel Anderson asked, did an NGO officer from South Asia develop an Irish accent?

"My parents wanted me to have a moral education, so they sent me to an Irish seminary. Should I try to eliminate the accent?"

Colonel "Joe" chuckled. "No!" I interjected. "At least you don't talk through your nose like me!"

"I've been trying to place it," the NGO officer said. "Are you from New York?"

"No, I'm a native."

Still smiling, Joe addressed the NGO officer: "Your accent is fine. You meet all sorts of people in this work." Adding a few polite goodbyes, Colonel Joseph Anderson, Executive Officer to the Secretary of the United States Army, turned smoothly in his government-issue desert combat boots and departed.