Nelson: We cannot Afford to Lose the Peace; Northern Ireland Analogy
Fraser Nelson has written a long post mortem in The Scotsman on all the things that have gone wrong in the aftermath of the Iraq war, which is a very long list indeed. He makes some telling points about the British side of things that I haven’t seen summarized so clearly (and damningly) before. His big point is that the US mainly needs counter-insurgency forces and expertise, but instead has ordinary infantry etc. He writes:
‘ This is what has gone wrong. “We only have a third of the forces we need to fight the insurgents, and they are the wrong forces,” explains one US former diplomat with impeccable inside information. “We are fighting them with infantry because we don’t have enough counter-insurgency troops.” One US official confides that intelligence is threadbare: “We still don’t know who is behind the attacks. So we just go around kicking doors in – which is exactly what the enemy wants us to do.” One Iraqi says women in his village now sleep fully clothed, in case “unbelievers” break into their houses at night. True or not, it is the kind of story that quickly spreads and poisons the image of liberation the allies want to cultivate. The analogy here is not Vietnam. This is a more like Belfast in 1969, when the heavy-handed raids by British troops fuelled support for the IRA.’
Fraser is very pessimistic. In contrast, John Burns reports in today’s NYT (see google news) that a high British officer has become optimistic.
I just can’t judge the progress of the Coalition military in Iraq. The number of daily attacks on them is down to an average of 20 from over twice that number in November, but it is hard to know what that means for the medium term. I fear in any case that I think Fraser is right, that success depends crucially on the political and not just the military skills of the military commanders in Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul and so forth. As Newsweek notes, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of Mosul, has issued public statements which clearly show that he thinks he is succeeding in that political task, and this attitude seems widespread among high officers in Iraq. The problem for those of us distant from the action is in knowing whether someone like Petraeus is a really good judge of his own success (it is not as if they know Arabic or talk a lot to ordinary Iraqis). And, you see a lot of quotes from US officers suggesting that they think they can win by pounding the Iraqis into the ground, which is a great attitude in a war but a severe liability in a counter-insurgency operation.
One good question to be asked is why, after Vietnam, is the US military again immersed in a large-scale counter-insurgency operation in Asia?