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11 June 2007


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Colonel Lang, I really don't care about Calvinist morals or any other sort, beyond the morality that the universe itself imposes upon us, once we are in a war.

War means that our people are going to do things wildly at variance with civilian norms. Part of the package. Sometimes, one of those things is working with people who were shooting at us just last week. If it'll get the job of the day accomplished, then "needs must".

In case you are wondering, I got my military-political orientation from a certain Italian nationalist who had the misfortune to be born 350 years too soon. :)

In that light, I wonder why this idea has your support.

If there were some rationale behind our presence in Iraq, or something positive we could hope to achieve, I would not argue with you.

But it is my opinion that we have neither of these things. IMHO, the only "achievement" we can hope for at this point is to disengage both our troops and our contractors, and make a clean exit.

How does this help us do that?

Cold War Zoomie

The pressure on these commanders to impose some order on the situation must be incredible. Not external political pressure, but each commander's own internal need to gain control of a chaotic situation.

But I have a feeling the local Sunnis would take care of any foreign AQ even if we left tomorrow.

Of course, that's not an option right now. Impose some order, gain some breathing room, then start tackling the mid- and long-term issues.

More power to them (our folks).


"War is not about virtue as opposed to sin. War is about the struggle of opposed interests and wills....The Calvinist assumptions that govern popular thought in this country lead to an unwillingness to accept change of this kind. Get over it."

What wisdom, analysis & a prescription, succinct and all-in-one. How much more must we screw up before we grow up?

W. Patrick Lang


At this point the only thing I am interested in in Iraq is developing operational leverage for American troops.

You may have noticed that in Ricks' article yesterday one of his sources said that it would take "10 months" to withdraw the US force. I think that is an accurate estimate and this is for an unopposed withdrawal.

Since such a decision is "invisible" as yet, it is to be expected that US forces will be in action in Iraq for a long time to come.

We must seek all the advantage that is available. Nicolo would approve, I think. pl

anna missed

I don't think, from the reports I've read, that this is a chu-hoi program - but that these insurgent groups are accepting arms from the U.S. through their political reps, and that there is little control over what they may in the future do with equipment received. Indeed , many these alliances seem to be fragmenting already. This looks more like desperation in getting something, anything to make the numbers look more favorable in the short run, at the expense of the long run. After all, these groups have little regard for the Maliki government, and probably less for the our occupation. Obviously, there is also little love for what they must regard, as a foreign occupation of sorts, represented by AQinM. Remembering that the Sunni Baath was a secular organization.

Many of the issues of late are clearing up however, and this development is a good one. Bush in his "Korean model" statement, has made crystal clear that the U.S. has a long term occupation plan for "enduring" military bases (without even telling the Iraqi government, no less). So, U.S. intentions are not so vague, and likewise the Sunni resistance has made some moves to disassociate itself from the takfiri AQinM, and brand itself more clearly as a national resistance (to occupation) movement. And not so far from al-Sadr's recently minted nationalism. What happens as a result of these changes are anybodies guess, but, if the recent (Iraqi)parliamentary vote with regards to the U.S. occupation is a harbinger of anything significant, then the above events make the choices that much easier. Then maybe we can have a political showdown in the bright sun of high noon.



i respectfully beg to differ. when they [neocons] defrauded our military and well intentioned congressional monies [cpa] with their rip off schemes and down-right stealing, that is 'criminal'. so in addition to them being conceited, they belong behind federal jail cell bars for their willful intentional criminal misdeeds.


I agree with most of the post, with admission that I don't know much about this stuff.

For example, I was surprized and disappointed that past proposals for amnesty for non-jihadist insurgents were shot down by domestic political arguments that this would mean giving amnesty to insurgents who had killed Coalition troops. Such an amnesty is unpleasant and very difficult to swallow, but it seems to me that finding a way to improve the situation in a war going badly is more important.

However, if the jihadists are truly a small group, then sooner or later these Sunni groups will kill off most of the stock in Iraq, and will not have to use all their increased capacity in eliminating the jihadist trickle flowing into the country. So then won't they move to what are currently lower priorities: against the Iraqi government or Coalition troops? That will make things more complicated and dangerous. So the future danger has to be weighed against the present utility, right?

That is a long winded way of getting to the question: Does the Col Lang's response to Stormy mean that arming these groups is a good idea if the main objective of the coalition forces is to make temporary allies while 'talk-talk' stabilizes situation enough for ending occupation as soon as possible?


I have to disagree on this one. Mainly because Al Qaeda in Iraq or whoever else is operating under foreign banners in Iraq make up only two to four percent of the insurgency at best, and that number drops even further when you factor in Shia groups, who are currently “tolerating” US military forces. The majority of attacks, particularly against coalition forces, are conducted by Sunni insurgents, most of whom are not affiliated with foreign jihadists.

Vietnam is probably not the best comparison for Iraq, primarily due to there being a “north” and a “south” with their associated governments, of which there is nothing comparable in Iraq— Kurdistan being a far stretch. Afghanistan is probably a closer analogy and it has been some time since cracking Lester Grau’s The Bear Went Over the Mountain and The Other Side of the Mountain but I don’t recall any mention of the Russian military attempting to co-opt any of the Mujahideen groups nor of hearing of any while there; though the Mujahideen often fought amongst themselves when not fighting the Russians, which is probably more comparable to what is taking place in Al Anbar Province. The Washington Post is already reporting that the tribal alliance is breaking down and it is uncertain if it will regroup along the same or similar lines or forgo cooperating with coalition forces all together. As an old Iraqi saying goes, “you cannot but a tribe, but you can certainly hire one,” they also say, “same donkey, different blanket,” but usually when comparing Saddam and the CPA.

Also, it would seem that the military, if they haven’t outright forgotten, certainly aren’t mentioning that they’ve done this already once before, in Fallujah in APR/MAY 04 when the “mysterious” Fallujah Brigade appeared out of the desert to save the Marines and restore the peace to the benefit of all (allegedly):

Falluja's general questions U.S. thinking
The general from Saddam Hussein's army put in charge of the volatile city of Falluja has challenged his U.S. backers, saying they are wrong to say foreign Islamic guerrillas are behind an insurgency there. Only two days after U.S. forces entrusted General Jasim Mohamed Saleh with restoring order in Falluja, the former member of Saddam's feared Republican Guard dismissed U.S. insistence over the presence of foreign fighters in the city. "There are no foreign fighters in Falluja," Saleh told Reuters in his home town, which was loyal to Saddam. After the bloodiest month for U.S. forces since they invaded Iraq in March last year, the respite from the siege of Falluja is also welcome in Washington but U.S. officials are still unsure of the general's past and his present motives. U.S. officers say some of his men may have fought against them last month. They also say foreign Islamist gunmen, some with possible links to al Qaeda, are fighting in Falluja. For a second day, former Iraqi soldiers on patrol in the town turned a blind eye to gunmen celebrating "victory" over U.S. Marines. The U.S. forces pulled back from siege positions after a month-long stalemate and gave the general a few days to put down an insurgency they say involves hundreds of foreigners. But U.S. officials insist 200 or more foreigners may be among the 2,000 or so guerrillas battling their troops since early April. "We stick to our view that 15-20 percent of the guerrillas in Falluja are foreigners," said an official of the U.S.-led occupation authority in Baghdad. U.S. commanders stressed that if Saleh's Falluja Brigade of up to 1,200 men failed in a few days to ensure the handover of heavy weapons in the city and the death or capture of foreign militants, then the Marines were poised to go in and do it. "If this collapses we are absolutely prepared to do this by force of arms," one senior U.S. officer said. Kurds, Shi'ite Muslims and others who suffered under Saddam criticised the military for cutting a deal which U.S. commanders say averted an all-out assault on the Sunni city of 300,000.

New Man in Falluja Pledges Peace; Past Unclear
Dapper and earnest, the new Iraqi general in Falluja promised U.S. troops and the people of the rebellious Iraqi city a bright and peaceful future on Tuesday after a month-long siege that has left hundreds dead. The bloodshed was all a terrible misunderstanding sparked by outsiders, General Mohammed Latif said as his local men moved into the most violent district, joining U.S. Marines who charged him with leading a new Iraqi force to end the insurgency. He has a short time, Marines said, to rally local people and flush out foreign fighters, though his lack of a prominent career and local ties, compared to the former Republican Guard general he replaced, has left some people in the city doubtful. "The city is safe and, God willing, the smile has returned to the faces of Falluja's children," he said, as hundreds of expectant residents, some waving Saddam-era flags, gathered at a military headquarters that is now home to his Falluja Brigade. Latif spoke to reporters as he met Jasim Mohamed Saleh, the ex-general who briefly led the five-day-old Falluja Brigade. U.S. commanders, reacting in part to criticism of Saleh's record in Saddam's feared Republican Guard, turned to Latif Monday. The American preference for Latif is easy to spot, although the substance of their differences is harder to define. The white-haired Latif, in suit and tie, sat behind a desk, drawing thoughtfully on a cigarette. The finger-wagging Saleh, black-mustached and paunchy in his old olive-green uniform and beret, is the very image of the Baathist soldier he was. But that is just what makes many people in Falluja, a former Saddam stronghold, more comfortable with Saleh Latif remains something of a mystery. A senior U.S. military official said he had been exiled and possibly imprisoned under Saddam, making him a more suitable ally. Latif himself told Reuters he was an intelligence officer and trained at Sandhurst in England: "I've spent the last few years between here and London," he said, without elaborating. He said he hails from Adhamiya, a staunchly Sunni district of Baghdad that, like Falluja, was once very loyal to Saddam. "Latif has had a clean career as far as we can tell," said Haider al-Mousawi, an aide to former exile leader Ahmad Chalabi.

Things didn’t go so well with the plan at the time and although this situation is a little different, I think it will end in similar results. The insurgency, though happy if the US leaves, is not worried about being defeated anytime soon. With no honest political options currently on the table there is no real reason for them to stop fighting US forces, Shia militias, and each other when it benefits them to do so

Ultimately, in my opinion, we are arming and paying tribes that have little vested interest in a changing the status quo. Likely, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s greatest transgression amongst the Al Anbar tribes was in being perceived as too big for their boots. Once they have been put in their place, the tribes will go back to insurgency as a full time occupation along with general banditry, which has always been their bread and butter. And they’ll do it laughing, having been paid and armed by their foes.

W. Patrick Lang


Do they still have that school. It was a 101st Division thing intended to transfer the skills of people who had been to Ranger schools to a larger group in the division.

You seem to think that prior failure necessitates future failure.

You really love the present sectarian government? The Sunnis don't. Do you think that Maliki's army and police can defeat the insurgencies? pl


Yes, Nicolo would approve--Chapter XXI--What A Prince Must Do To Be Esteemed:

"...A prince also gains esteem when he acts as a true ally or true enemy, that is, when he declares himself openly for or against one of two conflicting parties--a policy that is always better than neutrality.

...When the two opponents are not so powerful that you may have reason to fear the victor, then it is even more expedient to take sides. Then you will be taking part in the ruin of one neighbor with the help of the other who, if he were wise, would have fought to save him instead. If your ally wins--and with your assistance he cannot help but win--then he will be at your mercy.

...And let no state suppose that it can choose sides with complete safety. Indeed it had better recognize that it will always have to choose between risks, for that is the order of things. We never flee one peril without falling into another. Prudence lies in knowing how to distinguish between degrees of danger and in choosing the least danger as the best."

Of course if "Plan B" is inspired by Macchiavelli one shudders to think of who will inspire "Plan C." Tamerlane with his pyramids of skulls, perhaps?


Col. Lang,

I wish I could share any shred of optimism, but if past is prologue, the US and the strategists behind this latest gambit will continue to do the exact opposite of what is helpful.

Any word on what the recent meeting between Al Sadr and Ayatollah Sistani portends?



Dana Jone

So, what happens when our Sunni "allies" off AQ for us? You don't think that they will turn those arms right back on us? Jeeezus, they hate us just a little less than they hate AQ right now, and thats mostly because life has been made hell for them because of AQ. If you don't think that they will turn on us as soon as they are done with AQ, I've gotta slightly used bridge to sell you.
And on another subject, didn't you read about the highway bridge blown up in southern Iraq 20 miles south of Baghdad on the main north-south artery at someplace called "Checkpoint 20"? Are they trying to cut our supply lines? If so, what else is up? We still gotta long way to go to September, and I don't think the Iraqi resistance is going to let that date come & go quietly.

FB Ali


You indicate that you support this program because you are “concerned with American interests”, and because it will get the job done, i.e., kill jihadis. It will most likely achieve this result. But will it be in the longer term interests of the US?

This policy, whether intended or not, creates the conditions for a protracted civil war in Iraq. As such, it runs directly counter to the strategy pursued so far, namely, to strengthen the Iraqi central government and its military, and help them defeat the insurgency and establish control over the country, thus preventing the current situation from spiralling into a civil war.

A civil war will certainly enable the US to maintain a military presence in Iraq in its fortified bases, but to what end? Is there any benefit to be gained by having your troops sitting in bases under continual attack, while the country around them goes up in flames? If some planners believe that, at some point in this civil war, you would be able to strike a deal with one faction and help them win; this is as crazy a notion as any that the neo-cons thought up. (Besides, what else has the US been doing these past few years?).

Iraq is not an island. A civil war would draw in regional powers to back their own factions. The whole region will be involved in the turmoil. The impact of this situation on the Arab and Muslim peoples would be immense; it will arouse extreme hostility towards the US and US-friendly regimes in these countries. The latter, already on fragile foundations, could start to topple like dominoes. The effect all this will have on the world’s oil supply can be imagined.

How would any of this serve American interests?


"The Calvinist assumptions that govern popular thought in this country lead to an unwillingness to accept change of this kind. Get over it."

The problem arises when the opposite of "Calvinist assumptions" becomes "we are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia." We are drawing uncomfortably close to that doublethink moment now -- the war against Al Qaeda has segued seamlessly into the war against Iranian influence in the Middle East, while the administrationn and the semi-official media pretend nothing has changed.

Are we (I mean the imperial we) really going to arm Sunni militia to fight Shi'a militia -- and, by extension, the same government that we have hailed as the hope for democracy in the Middle East? Leaving aside the obvious practical question of how we control the people we are arming and financing, and the people THEY arm and finance (see: Fatah al Islam) what kind of grand strategy is it to set the red ants fighting the black ants? At that point, why would anyone who isn't on Uncle Same's payroll doubt that our interests in the region (whatever they are) are purely malign?

I'm sorry, but to me it smells more of late Brezhnev than early Machiavelli.

W. Patrick Lang


Some of you do not seem to have read the post since I answered your points in writing it. That is intended for those who seem to think that I am naive abuot human nature. Of course, the neocons writing in under various "covers" are having a good time.

We have no future in Iraq and neither does the government that we have helped to construct other than as one of the contestants for power in the vacuum that will follow our inevitable departure in the next few years.

Our present and past policy? "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury."

Iraq has been in a state of civil war since at least '04. That civil war will continue until the situation stabilizes in some new balance of power. I care not for their civil war. It is their war. Only they can solve their problem. They are not children. I am concerned with American lives and with obtaining the maximum tactical advantage for our forces while they are still there.

To paraphrase Powell, we broke Iraq, but we are not going to fix it. We are going to leave, and leave the Iraqis to their own devices. The Europeans should not feel smug about this. They have abandoned many of those for whom they once should have felt responsibility.

There will be no "Concert of the Middle East." What is occurring is the alternative. I am a realist. I deal with what is actually occurring. pl

Duncan Kinder

Well, we cut a deal with Lucky Luciano in WWII, so I have no objection in principle to our forming alliances of convenience with various Sunni factions - if we know what we are doing.

And there's the rub.

Which leaves me wondering whether - rather than trying to sort all this stuff out - my time would be better spent learning how to ride a camel.



I don't think you naive about human nature.....I think, in this particular example you are simply incorrect. The nation, part of it, anyway, did not ".... begin this war,[with] a "morality play" atmosphere...[that].... led to "war fever" on a massive scale". It was the reverse. A massive war fever broke out, 9/11 being the most obvious reason, but only the most "obvious". However, war fever rarely survives the initial contact with the reality of the real thing. So, as has been true through history, it was better to attach the tried and true morality motive to it. An old, cold, dug out and warmed up, Wilsonian pitch. Boy did we detox in the Roaring Twenties from that particular episode of the Fever. Rehab was never so fun. And, anyone, with a cursory knowledge of the OSS/CIA's history/associations will be, or should be, somewhat less than shocked with the present series of announcements that seem to herald a policy shift. (Though caution is always called for when employing the word "policy" around the actions of Bush et al.) Sure, go ahead and use whomever, if it will get us out sooner and safer. It might be asked however, whether announcing, and acknowledging, indeed, trumpeting, this apparent change of 'stomach' is helpful, in the utilitarian sense, to the ostensibly desired goal. But in any event the deed is done. And lets leave it to 'dextox counselors to point out delicious irony of having those, who assured us of a connection between Saddam, and his sunni tribal kin, with AQ, now pay said same kin, essentially, to go after the so called AQ of Mesopotamia. That recognition of that irony (to the extent they are capable of recognizing irony in general) will however, make for a long stay in detox I suspect.

Cold War Zoomie

It's easy to take the long term, big picture view back here in the USA and dismiss the obvious problems with arming your past enemy for short-term gains. Sitting back here we can have a very broad "scope" of the situation without any pressures. The scope for these commanders is much more narrow, as described by Col Lang, and highly pressurized.

My experience working in chaotic situations is that my mind automatically focuses on the short-term goals that will bring some order. You don't completely ignore the long term consequences that may pop up because of you actions, but those thoughts are shoved to the back of the queue until that much needed breathing room arrives.

I am assuming that we humans are identically wired for the most part and these commanders are feeling the same type of pressure - only 100 fold with the much higher stakes of their soldiers getting killed (my most chaotic and high pressure moments were spent fixing air traffic control communications systems, not in combat.) So all I can say is that I definitely understand why we would be looking at any opportunity to gain some form of control and cross the other bridges as we come to them.

I'm sure others with more experience will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the fact that our commanders are in this situation at all shows how the narrow scope of folks implementing a plan can derail the broad objectives of any "project." Not that the guys closer to the situation are screwing up. Rather, that they are dealing with the details that are ignored from higher altitudes. Just another sign that the Thinkers with the Big Ideas must understand how the Doers will actually deal with those pesky details that pop up. And if the pressure is up, those Big Ideas may get shoved to the back of the queue. Is this a fair assessment?

From the 50,000 foot view, I find it interesting that Petraeus approved this tactic. Is this a sign that the White House is recognizing that their "tale told by an idiot" needs some serious rewriting? Are the Doers gaining the upper hand?

Margaret Steinfels

Would Machiavelli point to another potential positive outcome to the U.S. arming Sunni insurgents?

The Shiite government and assorted militias resist compromise because they think they will prevail over their former masters. Will the U.S.-Sunni bargain press the Shiites to look ahead and conclude that compromise now is preferable to a continuing conflict with U.S.-trained and armed Sunni forces.

Or maybe the Shiites don't, won't, can't deal in future possibilities.


jonst---fabulous spotting of the latest Saddam-al qaeda "connection"! That's certainly lost on the Bushists and their neocon theorists, eh?

The Bushco story used to be "Militias: BAD". But now we have a military "policy" of arming certain "useful" sunni militias---but is there any change in our "stand-down" demand vis-a-vis Shi-ite militias? Not that I've seen. So all militias are NOT created equal.

In any event, it looks like the shi-ite boys are back up and running, and this sunni arming makes it harder to object about that, right?

If the goal of this militia arming is to be able to report some short term security "progress", then Petraeus is like a bottom-line reading BushAmerica CEO, anxiously awaiting the crucial September "numbers".

If this is to help the US military get "out" sometime in the (nearer) future, it sure seems like it's laying more land mines for the divided folks of Iraq to have to deal with at some future date. But I guess that's a moral judgment...

Future "Oily" financier

"Oilies," don't bother to read this. you already know everything, about history, the world, etc."

Col. Lang,
Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, by Dr. Daniel Yergin; The New Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia, by Lutz Kleveman; Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, by Michael Klare; Blood and Oil, by Michael Klare; and(last but not least) The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives.

Then read this:

Fabius Maximus

"At this point the only thing I am interested in in Iraq is developing operational leverage for American troops."

"I am concerned with American lives and with obtaining the maximum tactical advantage for our forces while they are still there."

Like some of the above folks, I don't get this. If you explain this, I don't see it. This seems to lack the usual high clarity of your articles.

What is the point of arming the Sunni Arabs? What tactical/operational advantage do we gain? Killing al Qaeda -- so what?

Reduce casualties? A fast exit or retreat to our bases would do so, and more effectively.

Also, as you know, tactics should drive strategy – and I do not understand what this could accomplish.

Certainly it is a step backwards in our long effort to rebuild the Iraq State, however Quixotic that goal may be.

W. Patrick Lang


You don't seem to have read the post.

It is a bad idea to sit passively in fortified positions waiting for withdrawal orders. Our many enemies in Iraq will take advantage of this to organize attacks by fire, ground attacks and ambushes against our lines of supply.

At a minimum it will take nearly a year to withdraw once the withdrawal starts. That decision has not been made yet so you can add whatever time remains until an order to withdraw is given to the "nearly a year."

A passive posture in Iraq in the intervening period is an invitation to yet higher casualties and some disastrous occurrence brought on by yielding the initiative to the enemies.

The Iraqi State? you are still chasing that rabbit?

If you don't understand the utility of killing AQ members, I couldn't possibly explain it to you. pl

Martin K

Cold War Zoomie: Concerning the questions on if the "Doers" are in ascendancy, most propably. My guess is that the Emperor has gone into denial, and has given Gates and his crew of practical people more or less free reins as long as he doesnt have to hear about it. I wouldnt be surprised if there now are some standing orders limiting Cheneys acess to the POTUS as well. Visualize Bush jr. playing Tetris in the oval office, mildly sedated, while Cheney howls outside the doors...


"Oilies," don't bother to read this. you already know everything, about history, the world, etc."

Oh, yessir Colonel, Sir. Four-plus years of senseless and profitless slaughter in the most oil-rich region of the planet, and we must not mention the global struggle to control who controls that precious stuff.

We must restrict our discussion to the essentials of how best to kill people and smash things. Tactics, not strategy.

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