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November 25, 2008

Rumsfeld Reflects, Self-Servingly, on the Surge

I think a lot of us fell in love with Rumsfeld for his no-nonsense demeanor and his disdain for the press. And, of course, the victory he was part of in Afghanistan, and in Iraq too... for a time.

But he turned out to be better at fighting the Washington Press Corps insurgency than the Iraqi one, and I, for one, continued supporting him well past the time I should have been demanding his resignation.

Now he offers a reexamination of his tenure and the Surge. He's a bit eager to claim credit for victory now.

In retrospect, a number of things are clear. One is that the Pentagon’s Phase IV (post-war) planning was badly mismanaged. There was a huge gap between ends (a secure, stable, well-functioning Iraq) and means (the mission and number of troops necessary to secure order). Another is that while the appeal of the “light footprint” approach is understandable - a foreign occupation of a nation is never an ideal situation - the costs of this strategy far outweighed the benefits. We didn’t adjust to the enemy we faced and the circumstances we found ourselves in. A third is that Secretary Rumsfeld never accepted the fact that in Iraq we were committed, whether we liked it or not, to a massive nation-building effort. A fourth is that Rumsfeld’s commitment to “speed and agility and precision” rather than “mass” was the opposite of what was needed (Rumsfeld spoke about what he viewed as the key lessons of the war in a December 5, 2005 speech to the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies).

On the matter of the surge itself, Rumsfeld claims

there had been earlier surges without the same effect as the 2007 surge. In 2005, troop levels in Iraq were increased to numbers nearly equal to the 2007 surge — twice. But the effects were not as durable because the large segments of the Sunni population were still providing sanctuary to insurgents, and Iraq’s security forces were not sufficiently capable or large enough.

But what made the 2007 surge different than everything before it was not the increase in the number of troops but, much more importantly, a new mission that was based on classical counterinsurgency doctrine, meaning that it was focused on living with, securing, and winning the confidence of the Iraqi people. The strategy of clearing areas alone gave way to clearing, holding, and building them. The days of “commuting” to the war from forward operating bases were ended by General Petraeus; under his command, American troops became part of the neighborhood, eating, sleeping, and staying in close contact with the local population. This increasingly won them over to our side, which led to a massive increase in tips against AQI and reducing the need for Iraqis to turn to militias for safety.

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posted by Ace at 04:58 PM

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