Adam L. Silverman, PhD*
Several weeks ago, in regards to some correspondence between COL Lang and myself, he asked me to make sure I wrote some of it up for SST. The some of it pertains to Iraq, specifically to the final, official announcement that yes, the US military will be leaving Iraq on the last day of 2011 and that is now final and non-negotiable. I asked for a couple of weeks to address this so that the post would not become an essay length screed. Not that some folks do not deserve to be called out for the damage they have done by committing strategic malpractice, strategic malpractice that cost a lot of good Americans, Brits, Georgians (we had a Georgian Battalion assigned to our BCT), and, of course, Iraqis their lives. And it is in this vein, strategic malpractice, that I want to really address the soon to be reached end of the US military presense in Iraq; especially as many of the mistakes in forethought, understanding, and planning, not to mention the people responsible for them or who enabled those responsible, threaten to set us up for a rerun regarding Iran.
In April, Tom Ricks (full disclosure: I guest blog for Tom several times a year) ran a piece at his Foreign Policy site about the need to begin negotiations for keeping some US troops in Iraq after the date for withdrawl agreed to in the Security Agreement negotiated by the Bush (43) Administration in 2008. In his post, Tom quotes Ambassador Crocker discussing how the US might negotiate some extension beyond/despite the 2008 agreement. Several days later Tom posted my response to his post on the topic. In it I made it clear that while we might be able to keep a small group of security force advisors in Iraq, based on an agreement that was separate from the security agreement, there was no chance for any meaningful, large scale extension. The reasons for this are the reasons that hit us in the face over the past several months as the Obama Administration could not move the Iraqis off of the idea that US military personnel, should an extension be granted, would not receive immunity from prosecution: they do NOT want us there as they have been waiting to settle things between themselves once we leave or further consolidate power or not lose power.
We did not do this! Let me repeat that: we DID NOT do this. Instead we tried to negotiate two things in the Summer and Fall of 2008 (it started as three, but the third, reconciling the Awakenings/Sons of Iraq with the government quickly ended as the Government of Iraq made it clear that it did not want or need our help with this, so a lot of planning on how to ease this forward, reconnecting both Sunni and Shi'a members of the Awakenings and Sons of Iraq, got shelved and PM Maliki, beginning to flex his muscles and coup proof himself, changed the dynamic on us). These two things were provincial elections and a SOFA. While SOFA negotiations were driven by a chronological imperative - our UN mandate to occupy Iraq was running out at the end of the year and the Bush (43) Administration decided it not only did not want to try to reup that, but that the Iraqis would not support it (a necessary condition), provincial elections were driven by the Bush Administration's misplaced, and frankly poorly thought out, insistence that freedom equals elections or elections equal democracy***. This is commonly referred to as the Freedom Agenda and we have so far seen its failure in the provincial Iraqi elections of 2009, the national Iraqi elections of 2009/2010, the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power through plebiscite in Gaza, and the much derided as corrupt most recent elections in Afghanistan.
Once the Iraqis realized that they could run out the clock on us in regards to the negotiations to have provincial elections in 2008 (ultimately occuring in 2009), they applied the same process on the SOFA negotiations. I can not emphasize enough just how backwards the idea of having an election in a sectarian civil war and extremism ravaged society is without first working on and making progress towards societal reconciliation.**** By not doing the latter, we ensured that the former would simply further entrench the divisions that had so violently developed, been created, and/or exploited. But you do not have to take my word for it, General Petreaus testified to Congress about this in April 2008, saying: "Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences." The reason that they had failed to take advantage is that the Bush Adminstration had its leadership in Iraq working on provincial elections and a SOFA, not on consolidating the gains from the Awakenings, the sectarian cleansings, and the Surge. This is the strategic malpractice that got us to the point where we will be militarily leaving Iraq at the end of 2011. It is a strategic blunder that undermined the hard work, operational, and tactical successes of a large number of Americans, our coalition partners, and the Iraqis themselves. While many strategic failures - failures of vision, of planning, and failures to understand the actual nature of Iraqi society that contributed in getting us into Iraq, it was the failure to capitalize on the openings that so many had fought and worked so hard for from 2006 through 2008 that has brought us to a complete military withdrawl from Iraq by the end of 2011 without a basing agreement, let alone arrangments for a small number of security force advisors.
Iraq is a great example of how tactical and operational successes, and there were many, does not necessarily translate into victory. Iraq is likely to go down as a strategic failure for reasons that have been apparent since 2007, because the Iraqis have been telling us these reasons, but we just do not seem able to process them. The Awakenings folks have been telling us since 2007 that once we go they are going to settle scores with the government. The government has been signalling since 2008 that it was going to settle scores with the Awakenings, and has been doing so off and on since then. Moreover, the powers that are in Iraq (Dawa, ISCI, the ISCI militia Badr, even the Kurds, and now the Sadrists) have never hidden their past affiliations with or support from Iran, yet the geniuses who got us into Iraq, or enabled it, are suprised that Baghdad is now oriented towards Tehran and that our strategic misteps in Iraq have only diminished our prestige in the region and inflated Iran's.
Now these same deep thinkers, latching on to selectively picked material from the recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program, will try to repeat the whole cycle of strategic stupidity. Unless American policy makers can affirmatively answer the questions: 1) will an attack on Iran's nuclear development sites actually prevent them from pursuing and/or acquiring a nuclear weapons capibility? and 2) will an attack on Iran to prevent them from pursuing and/or acquiring a nuclear weapons capability change the Iranian government's behavior in the manner that we want?, then we should not attempt a military solution in regards to Iran's nuclear program. I think, given what we know of Iran, that the answer to the former is no, it would only convince Iran that their fears are correct and they need a nuclear weapons program as a deterrent. And the latter will be the same: any attack on Iran will not empower the limited, and still quite conservative, reform movement, instead it will rally support for the existing Iranian government. The Iranians are, without a doubt, a society with a great amount of national pride. Attacking Iran will only serve to further entrench the clerics hold on Iranian government and society.
* Adam L. Silverman is the Culture and Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the US Army War College and/or the US Army.
** As I, and a number of other contributors here at SST, including COL Lang, have indicated (repeatedly) we really are not doing COIN in either Iraq or Afghanistan. A few ODAs are doing so, maybe you can stretch this to some of the training teams who are co-located with their host country counterparts, but everyone else lives apart from the Iraqis and the Afghans on fortified camps, forward operating bases, combat outposts, and patrol bases. As COL Lang can attest better than I, you can not do COIN if you are not living among, as in living with, the population you are trying to secure and reorient away from the insurgents.
*** The Bush (43) Administration's Freedom Agenda, which equates democracy and/or freedom with elections, seems to be based on the international relations concepts of the democratic peace thesis and its follow on the joint freedom proposition. The democratic peace concept, derived from a misreading of Kant, asserts that democratic states are less likely to go to war or at least go to war with each other. It was empirically debunked when someone statistically demonstrated that the Warsaw Pact and other Communist states exhibited the same traits. This led to the development of the joint freedom proposition, a modified version of the democratic peace. It seems that the Freedom Agenda of trying to create democracies, setting aside for the moment that elections do not equal democracy, they equal elections, was at least partially based in the notion that if Iraq could be made democratic, it would be less likely to be belligerent.
**** The 2009 provincial elections were made even worse because the US was rolled in the negotiations establishing the form of the elections by the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC). We wanted to avoid a repeat of 2005 - both the boycott and the closed list format that locked large numbers of Sunnis out of sharing any power, which set back reconciliation efforts. For the 2009 elections the Iraqis chose an open list/proportional representation system. This is the worst of all possible combinations, is used so rarely that I could only find one example of it being used anywhere, and basically allowed the open list portion (ie whoever gets the most votes in regards to the office they're running for) to be overridden by the proportional representation portion. This meant that individuals who appeared to have one based on overall return numbers could still lose to candidates whose parties got certain portions of the vote.