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Staking out an Iraq sitrep


In a rare opportunity to delve below the level of sound bites, I have two three-hour presentations on 16-17 January to groups of CEOs on Islamic issues and their implications. An assumption that attendees would ask for an Iraqi sitrep (situation report) was confirmed when the group leader distributed Iraq reverberates across globe analysis as part of the briefing package.

I may tinker with this Iraq sitrep before Tuesday, but only to extend it, not to alter it. Following the sitrep is the abstract and 'benefit to members' of the presentation:

Iraq Sitrep:

Key points:
  • "Victory" post-2004 was, and remains, political sloganeering
  • Dispense with idea that we are in control, can command the outcome
  • Problem long ceased to be a military matter; we've never engaged the necessary political issues
  • Professional military, notably Army and Marines, voice unusually high degree of opposition to a military surge option
  • There are now no good alternatives or "right" choices for the US, just varying degrees of less-bad options
  • Even good practice, in the hands of able commanders and skilled diplomats, has small chance of modest 'success'
  • Window for even modestly larger troop commitment has closed; "necessary" troop levels are not available
  • Full-fledged Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war in Iraq may be unavoidable, and has likely already started
  • Afghanistan scuttled (again) by shifting troops to Iraq; NATO cannot defeat the Taliban
  • American prestige and the perception of military power suffering a second "Vietnam," but now there are real dominos
  • Administration pursuing a 'pre-November plan' with 'post-November' collapse of trust and limited resources, coupled with heightened Congressional scrutiny
The Nelson Report summed it:

Dates of interest to me:
  • 2002 was pivotal: US had national unity, extraordinary global support and financial surplus
  • 2003: As an occupying power, US assumed the responsibilities of occupation, including the economy, domestic peace and order, and state integrity; US failed in all areas
  • 2004: Administration in denial, elements of willful civil war underway (Sunni on Shia), global criteria for civil war met
  • 2006: Sunnis succeed, driving Shias into full scale civil war, state fractures
  • 2007: US along for the ride without knowing when and where it gets off
  • Endure casualties and deteriorating geopolitical position to put Iraq on next President's watch
  • Shift blame to "Iraqis" (in reality, Shiites) who are being tasked with an "impossible mission"
  • Attack Iran to "change the subject," widen the conflict and mute political dissention
  • Democrats should - and this is hard to sell to those who don't understand 4GW - devise an "adaptive" policy, since no one can predict how events will unfold
  • Democrats should not be trapped into offering specific proposals; the administration is already partially doing this without strategy and benchmarks, new (renewed) focus on counterinsurgency not withstanding
  • Administration uses 'political surge' rather than military surge; US can bring more assets to bear and sustain them far longer than military option
  • Political surge must include Iraqi and regional issues and players, with conversations specifically tailored to each participant
  • Listen to KSA, heeding their counsel, so as to minimize regional geopolitical damage
  • Political surge and regional negotiations can occur with current troop levels in place, i.e., there is no specific need to surge troop levels or, conversely, withdraw troops from in-country
As I write this, my concern of administration baiting of the Iranians in order to make a wider counterstrike rises with the US raid on a flagged and clearly marked Iranian consulate in Irbil. Note that I do not quibble with the assertion that the consulate was involved in illicit activities given the activities of certain Iranian assets into Iraq. My concern is the precedent on entering sovereign soil in so obvious a manner. If it was a military necessity, why not a night raid? UPDATE: It was a night raid, but even then a major embarrassment for the Iraqi government, a tense standoff with usually friendly Kurds and a disagreement with the Kurdish interior minister. It has not helped that the US stated that "the Iranian office in Erbil was not technically a consulate, but rather a liaison office which also provided some consular services."

I believe that VPOTUS continues to press for a strike against Iran, and that his appointees within government will facilitate information flowing to support such a mission (and we know that the Israelis are cheering for it, lest they perceive that they must undertake a
unilateral strike). The extraordinary hardening of the wider Iranian opinion against the US is bleak to contemplate, but for the purposes of this note, I believe that the best Iranian response to a US limited strike (the baiting strike) is not to make a peer state response, even though it could, but to make an asymmetric response against both the US and GCC states. Iran should not admit to its asymmetric response lest that admission lead to a US counter-response, but should immediately go to the UN as the  aggrieved rational party, denying the US its entry to a wider strike (the weapons strike). The upshot will be a further deterioration of the US diplomatic position, a heightening of Iran's position and further praise to Iran from the Arab street (the same praise that flowed to Hezbollah after its victory over Israel in Lebanon).

Listen to Brzezinski very closely for strategic overview while ignoring the modestly embarrassing Mead. Read Lang for the killing flaw in "Counterinsurgency = Counter-guerrilla operations + Political Action + Civic Action." (No surprise here to the thoughtful.) Read Robb for understanding why "country-wide chaos" will shift into "social disintegration," with the implication that "building a stable Iraq would require a level of effort that is beyond our ability to provide."

Following is the session abstract and the benefit to members statement:

Abstract: The monumentality of the task of defeating al Qaeda, its adherents and inheritors cannot be underestimated. Strategic options reduce to “Cure, kill, or contain," none of which are cheap or quick. All options possess great threats and as yet indefinable secondary effects. Unlike Cold War targets "that were easy to find but hard to kill," the modern, well armed terrorist only "presents targets that are hard to find but relatively easy to kill."

The weapons systems and tactics of WWII, Korea, even Vietnam, are inappropriate and as often counterproductive in attacking this class of asymmetrical opponent. The intelligence satellites forming the backbone of "national technical means of collection" against the Soviets was far less effective in producing the human intelligence or "humint" needed to interdict close-knit tribal and sectarian groups. The increasing availability of "first world" weaponry provides a startling force multiplier to "third world" attackers - witness Hezbollah's recent victory over Israel. These asymmetrical opponents often had better intelligence on us than we had on them.

US and Israeli counterattacks on the core leadership group and the highly connected operations leaders have made large operations more difficult by decentralizing the network. Unfortunately, the opportunity for smaller operations is growing as are the number of potential actors.

September 11, 2001, was executed by the core leadership and operational cadres whereas the July 7, 2005 London bombings were likely carried out by loosely coupled third tier actors. We are facing diminishing returns as we create more volunteers to the Islamist cause than we kill. Smaller teams armed with increasingly available means of producing chemical and "designer" bioagents offer the specter of swarm attacks.

Value to Members: Participants will leave with an understanding of the actors and drivers propelling confrontation between Islamist groups, the West and local Arab governments; what drives them and what does not; who is more likely to become a terrorist; the divisions of Islam and the difference between political and traditional Islam; the Arab exploitation of the West (US) and the Soviets, and when the USSR imploded, the Arab decision to take matters into their own hands; the generations of warfare and how small terrorist groups, Islamic and otherwise, are using Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) against the West as well as their local governments; how increasingly lethal weaponry is improving the ability of even small groups to carry out crisis-level attacks; the dangers of the "Arc of Instability" and "Trashcanistan;" Islamists skillful exploitation of Western communication tools and the Internet; how US direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated radical Islamists while diminishing support for the US; how Israel is the linchpin of Arab - and increasingly Muslim - anger against the US; that not all Muslims are enemies; and how Hezbollah has the chance to unite Sunni and Shia, creating an Islamist movement.

Did the President Declare "Secret War" Against Syria and Iran?
Steve Clemons
Washington Note
January 11, 2007 04:14 PM

Plan to Increase Troop Numbers Comes Under Broad Scrutiny
JIM LEHRER interviews Zbigniew Brzezinski, now CSIS, and Walter Russell Mead, now CFR
January 11, 2007

The Fatal Flaw…
Patrick Lang
Sic Semper Tyrannis 2007
11 January 2007

Posted by John Robb
Global Guerrillas
January 11, 2007 at 07:42 AM

Report: U.S. Troops Raid Iranian Consulate in Iraq
By Howard Schneider and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post
January 11, 2007

Iran Summons Swiss, Iraqi Diplomats
The Associated Press
January 11, 2007; 6:57 AM

Mideast Skeptics Blast Bush's Iraq Plan

The Associated Press
January 11, 2007; 9:17 AM

Bush's New Plan for Iraq Echoes Key Parts of Earlier Memo
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
January 11, 2007

Bush to Add 21,500 Troops In an Effort to Stabilize Iraq
By Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright
Washington Post
January 11, 2007

The Nelson Report on Bush's Iraq War Escalation Plans and Condi's Iraq Testimony
Steve Clemons
Washington Note
January 08, 2007 04:18 PM

The Smart Surge: Diplomacy
By Wesley K. Clark
Washington Post
January 8, 2007

US failure to talk to Iran is a key contributor to the region's instability
By Trita Dr Parsi
Published: January 3 2007 02:00 | Last updated: January 3 2007 02:00

Partitioning Iraq?
John Robb
John Robb's Website
October 31, 2006

Gordon Housworth

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