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The First Wired War


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The article misses an important point, I think. It speaks about the full spectrum of US involvement in Iraq as if it were all one affair. The invasion was successful in that American forces rapidly toppled the Iraqi government and defeated those Iraqi forces that presented resistence. That was a purely military operation, and the American technology that was designed for high-intensity conflict worked quite well.

However, at the conclusion of the invasion, American forces had to switch to peacemaking activity. American units in Iraq are part of a larger civil-military effort, and regardless of whether you feel the effort will succeed in the long run or not, it clearly hasn't succeeded yet. The invasion lasted 21 days. The peacemaking effort has lasted three years. According to the Army's own manual on low-intensity conflict [globalsecurity.org], peacemaking operations run into trouble if they last too long:

The long-range goals of a peacemaking operation are often unclear; therefore, these operations are best terminated by prompt withdrawal after a settlement is reached, or by rapid transition to a peacekeeping operation (see Chapter 4) . Unless the peacemaking force has the necessary power, both military and political, to compel a lasting settlement, it may find itself attempting to govern in the face of opposition from both parties. Extrication from such a situation may be difficult and the force may leave the area having made the situation worse than it was before it intervened.

Low-intensity insurgency/counterinsurgency operations have always been markedly different than all-out war. Technology is not the force multiplier that it is in high-intensity operations. The most important factors in the success of counterinsurgency operations are political. Troops on the ground are constantly engaged in diplomacy, as the article demonstrated. But soldiers and marines do not conduct their negotiations in a vacuum. If the larger political context is not positive, soldiers confronting insurgents are fighting an uphill battle.

In Iraq, the locals know the physical environment. They know the cultural environment intimately. They know the individuals and organizations that influence a particular area. Regardless of sectarian schisms, they share a common religion. Technology gives occupiers no advantage in dealing with these advantages enjoyed by insurgents. Getting involved with the locals and making them feel comfortable often requires taking some risks in order to demonstrate good intentions. The American approach, which emphasizes technology and force protection above all else, may actually hinder the development of trust between locals and American forces.

The larger issue is that while Saddam placed his trust in generals who only gave him news he wanted to hear, ~ our Secretary of Defense seemed to feel that American warfighting technology would win the war and somehow obviate the need for occupation of Iraq. As we have found out, the miscalculation was enormous.

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