For some reason I didn’t post this when I originally wrote it. However it still seems to make sense, so I might as well post it now
I’m reminded by Stephen Tall’s review of Bob Woodward’s, Plan of Attack, that I’d intended to post a few words about Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks.
An astonishing and thorough account of the administration’s shocking incompetence and dismal political leadership in Iraq.
Before reading it, I hadn’t fully comprehended how badly things had been handled, and, in particular, the degree to which the success of the counter-insurgency was fueled by failures by the Americans on the ground in Iraq following their invasion. More importantly, I hadn’t realised the degree to which their problems there were not wholly inevitable, but were a consequence of administration incompetence.
I’ve always opposed the war, indeed, recently found the following, rather (although not wholly) prescient, note which I wrote to colleagues on the Federal Executive five days after US and UK troops invaded back in March 2003 – well before they had conquered Baghdad:
The possible problem (too soon to say that it is an emerging problem) is that the UK Government have misread the mood of the Iraqi people and we’re about to have a Germans vs. the Yugoslavs / Russia vs. the Afghans type situation. Quick decapitation of the government (which was always inevitable – although it may take longer than expected) followed by long resistance campaign – possibly with several competing resistance groups – but an ongoing flow of soldiers coming home in body bags – and where credibility in Iraqi politics is measured by the number of US and British soldiers your resistance group has killed.
What Ricks’s book makes clear, it is that it genuinely didn’t need to be so bad. Even if you don’t accept that it was right to invade, it is still possible to want the insurgency to have been fought using a few of the ABCs of Counter-Insurgency, such as those laid out in Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam by John A. Nagl, not least because it would likely have meant fewer civilian, US and UK casualities. In essence, if Mao’s description of an insurgent army relying on the people for support “like fish swimming in the water of the population”, a primary role for the counter-insurgency is to separate the fish from the water.
To give an idea of the scale of failure displayed by the Bush administration in Iraq, the closest example I can see is New Orleans. Rather than being a one off, this can now be seen as a vivid example on American home soil of the incompetent quality of leadership that W. et al have been providing overseas.