Monday, February 05, 2007

Petraeus Turns To Counterinsurgency Experts

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals -- including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders -- in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war. ...

As the U.S.-designed campaign to bring security to Baghdad unfolds, Petraeus's chief economic adviser, Col. Michael J. Meese, will coordinate security and reconstruction efforts, trying to ensure that "build" follows the "clear" and "hold" phases of action. Meese also holds a PhD from Princeton, where he studied how the Army historically handled budget cuts. He is the son of former attorney general Edwin Meese III, who was a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, whose December critique helped push the Bush administration to shift its approach in Baghdad.

Petraeus, who along with the group's members declined to be interviewed for this article, has chosen as his chief adviser on counterinsurgency operations an outspoken officer in the Australian Army. Lt. Col. David Kilcullen holds a PhD in anthropology, for which he studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia.

Kilcullen has served in Cyprus, Papua New Guinea and East Timor and most recently was chief strategist for the State Department's counterterrorism office, lent by the Australian government. His 2006 essay "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency" was read by Petraeus, who sent it rocketing around the Army via e-mail. Among Kilcullen's dictums: "Rank is nothing: talent is everything" -- a subversive thought in an organization as hierarchical as the U.S. military.

The two most influential members of the brain trust are likely to be Col. Peter R. Mansoor and Col. H.R. McMaster, whose influence already outstrips their rank. Both men served on a secret panel convened last fall by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to review Iraq strategy. The panel's core conclusion, never released to the public but briefed to President Bush on Dec. 13, according to an officer on the Joint Staff, was that the U.S. government should "go long" in Iraq by shifting from a combat stance to a long-term training-and-advisory effort. ...

Mansoor, who commanded a brigade of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad in 2003-04, received a PhD at Ohio State for a dissertation on how U.S. Army infantry divisions were developed during World War II. He will be Petraeus's executive officer in Baghdad, a key figure in implementing the general's decisions.

McMaster's command of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in northwestern Iraq in 2005-06 provided one of the few bright spots for the U.S. military in Iraq over that year. In a patiently executed campaign, he took back the city of Tall Afar from a terrorist group, and he was so successful that Bush dedicated much of a speech to the operation. McMaster, author of the well-received book "Dereliction of Duty," about the failures of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War, is expected to operate for Petraeus as a long-distance adviser on strategy. He is based this year at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank, but is likely to visit Iraq every month or two, according to a top U.S. military officer.

Many military insiders are skeptical that the extra brainpower ultimately will make much difference, or that lessons learned by McMaster in Tall Afar or Petraeus in Mosul will be easily applied in the far larger arena of Baghdad.

The joke among some staff officers was that Petraeus operated in such a freewheeling manner in Iraq's north that he had his own foreign policy with Syria and Turkey. In Baghdad, by contrast, he will have to operate constantly with Iraqi officials, with the U.S. government bureaucracy, and in the global media spotlight. Also, experts agree that the basic problem in Iraq is political, not military, and that although a military campaign can create a breathing space for politicians, it cannot by itself reverse the dynamic driving Iraqis to fight a civil war.


Blogger Meatball One said...

I can't help thinking that the status quo de apparent fuck up ain't the resultant of intellectual, intelligence, academic, or empirical deficiencies at large but rather the result of a deep mission statement hellbent on nothing but its own dogged pursuit.

So if Petraeus thinks his neo-task force de academia is gonna accomplish shit other than lease some more optimism and time from a tattered and increasingly cynical electorate then he's got another train comin' his way. Sometimes it's fun to see the dancings and prancings of newly recruited middle management brought in to do little more than be a suited fall guy with a decent dental plan.

Ah, middle management like factory foremen.... sucker jobs for suckers who like wearing ties and playing with Power Point presentations when they should instead be screwing their wives, walking their dog, and teaching their daughters to fish on a tuesday or thursday.

Good luck, Monsieur Petraeus. I hope your enthusiasm isn't too sincere as a hero isn't what your bosses - expect or even want.

2/05/2007 1:23 PM  
Blogger Candace said...

"I can't help thinking that the status quo de apparent fuck up ain't the resultant of intellectual, intelligence, academic, or empirical deficiencies at large but rather the result of a deep mission statement hellbent on nothing but its own dogged pursuit."

Exactly, Meatball! A few days before the war even started, the hubster and I were in London on vacation amid a protest outside Parliament. We were all talking about what an idiotic idea this was, that the inspectors should be given more time to look for WMDs, what was the rush, that this had zip to do with 9/ll, that an invasion was going to lead to a civil war, and so on. Yet, Bushco went right ahead and invaded. I've often wondered how ordinary people like us could know this and yet the POTUS didn't seem to.

Now, we have the bipartisan study group showing, officially, what a fuckup this has been and recommending that specific steps be taken immediately to TRY to pull us out of the quagmire, yet, Bushco ignores this and goes right ahead.

Even more ominously, it's starting to look like he's going to get us into an extreme fuckup with Iran, EVEN THOUGH WE ALL KNOW how stupid that is.

Why? What's really going on? It CAN'T be that they're that stupid. Okay, I take that back. Bush is that stupid. Bush thinks that he's preparing the way for Jesus to come back or some shit like that. But what about his handlers? As you say, it's like being hellbent in dogged pursuit of some deep-seated mission statement.

Could it be ... oil? I honestly don't know. But it seems to me that this has to have something to do with helping the Saudis, and the U.S., get a stranglehold on the world's oil supply. It's the only thing I can think of that makes any kind of sense. They must be thinking there's a way to control the oil. Given the track record of their thinking so far, surely they've realized this has failed. Unless ... there's something REALLY BAD coming that we don't know about yet. OMFG!!!

Well. Have a nice day.

2/05/2007 1:51 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


The way the punditocracy is treating Petraeus as the only guy left who knows anything in the aftermath of the lost institutional memory of counterinsurgency operations -- and is therefore the saviour of the mission -- is hilarious.

We had plenty of counterinsurgency experts in Vietnam. But just like in the Mesopotamian morass, the brass there insisted on a conventional war, too.

And like we will see in the Iraq episode, implimenting a counterinsurgency strategy (CORDS, etc.) late in the game in Vietnam didn't end up making much of a difference in the outcome.

2/05/2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


You make some good points there.

2/05/2007 3:36 PM  

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