Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review of Mansoor's Baghdad at Sunrise: Rediscovering counterinsurgency in Iraq

The Learning Curve, by Mackubin Thomas Owens
Rediscovering counterinsurgency in Iraq.
The Weekly Standard, May 11, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 32

Review of Baghdad at Sunrise
A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq
by Peter R. Mansoor
Yale, 416 pp., $28

Some years ago, the late Carl Builder of RAND wrote a book entitled The Masks of War, in which he demonstrated the importance of the organizational cultures of the various military services. His point was that each service possesses a preferred way of fighting that is not easily changed.

Since the 1930s the culture of the U.S. Army has emphasized "big wars." This is the legacy of Emory Upton, an innovative 19th-century officer who became a protégé of William Tecumseh Sherman when Sherman became general-in-chief of the Army after the Civil War. Upton believed that the traditional constabulary focus of the Army was outdated. Dispatched on a world tour by Sherman, Upton was especially impressed by Prussian military policy, Prussia's ability to conduct war against the armies of other military powers, and its emphasis on professionalism. Certainly Prussia's overwhelming successes against Denmark, Austria, and France in the Wars of German Unification (1864-71) made the Prussian Army the new exemplar of military excellence in Europe.

Upon his return home, Upton proposed a number of radical reforms, including replacing the citizen-soldier model with one based on a professional soldiery, reducing civilian "interference" in military affairs, and abandoning the emphasis on the constabulary operations that had characterized Army roles during most of the 19th century (with the exception of the Mexican and Civil wars) in favor of preparing for a conflict with a potential foreign enemy.

Given the tenor of the time, all of his proposals were rejected. In ill health, Upton resigned from the Army and, in 1881, committed suicide. But the triumph of progressivism, a political program that placed a great deal of reliance on scientific expertise and professionalism, the end of the Army's constabulary duties on the Western frontier, and the problems associated with mobilizing for and fighting the Spanish American War, made Upton's proposed reforms more attractive, especially within the officer corps. In 1904 Secretary of War Elihu Root published Upton's Military Policy of the United States, and while many of Upton's more radical proposals remained unacceptable to republican America, the idea of reorienting the Army away from constabulary duties to a mission focused on defeating the conventional forces of other states caught on.

While the Army returned to constabulary duties after World War I, Upton's spirit now permeated the professional culture. World War II vindicated Upton's vision, and his view continued to govern Army thinking throughout the Cold War. The American Army that entered Iraq in 2003 was still Emory Upton's Army. Focused as it has been on state-versus-state warfare, Upton's army has not cared much for counterinsurgency, and this was apparent during the first years of the Iraq War. It is also the theme of several recent books on the conflict.

Baghdad at Sunrise is one of the best, written by a colonel who commanded the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division during a particularly difficult year (May 2003-July 2004), a period that saw the rapid coalition victory over Saddam Hussein give way to a vicious insurgency that came close to defeating the United States in Iraq. A genuine soldier-scholar, Colonel Mansoor provides the unique perspective of a midlevel ground commander adapting to the requirements of fighting an insurgency under the most difficult conditions.

His perspective is enhanced by the fact that, two-and-a-half years after redeploying his brigade to Germany, he returned as executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus as Petraeus implemented the "surge" and the counter- insurgency strategy that helped turn the situation around in Iraq. Mansoor not only observed but helped to implement the Army's painful transition from an organization beholden to Emory Upton to one that recognized the necessity to adapt to an enemy who refused to fight the Upton way.

The conventional wisdom holds that it was civilian interference, especially on the part of Donald Rumsfeld, that was to blame for the difficulties U.S. forces faced in Iraq during the first years of the campaign. According to the dominant narrative, Rumsfeld willfully ignored military advice and initiated the war with a force that was too small. He ignored the need to prepare for post-conflict stability operations, and he failed to adapt to the new circumstances once things began to go wrong, not foreseeing the insurgency that engulfed the country.

It is undeniable that Rumsfeld made many critical mistakes. But the uniformed military was no more prescient than he. Did Rumsfeld insist on an early attack with a smaller force than that recommended by many uniformed officers? Yes. But the plan he pushed was a version of a scheme developed by an Army officer, Col. Douglas MacGregor. The military objective of this plan was not to occupy the country but to liberate Iraq from Saddam and turn governance over to liberal Iraqis. The approach was popular with both Rumsfeld and the military because both took their bearings from the Weinberger Doctrine, a set of rules for the use of force drafted in the 1980s which emphasized the quick, overwhelming application of military force to defeat an enemy, leaving postwar affairs to others.

Did Rumsfeld ignore postwar planning? Again, yes. But in doing so he was merely ratifying the preferences of a uniformed military that had internalized the Weinberger emphasis on an "exit strategy." The fact is that if generals are thinking about an exit strategy they are not thinking about "war termination"--how to convert military success into political success. This cultural aversion to stability operations is reflected in the fact that operational planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom took 18 months while planning for postwar stabilization began half-heartedly only a couple of months before the invasion.

Did Rumsfeld foresee the insurgency and the shift from conventional to guerrilla war? No. But neither did his critics in the uniformed services. Mansoor makes this point clear by observing that, for at least the three decades before the Iraq war, the professional military education system all but ignored counterinsurgency operations. This cultural aversion to counter- insurgency lay at the heart of the difficult years in Iraq (2003-07), and in the absence of a counterinsurgency doctrine the Army fell back on what it knew: conventional offensive operations designed to kill the enemy without protecting the population.

The Army's predisposition toward offensive operations was reinforced in the 1990s by a sort of operational "happy talk" that convinced many (who should have known better) that the American edge in emerging technologies, especially informational technologies, would permit the United States to conduct short, decisive, and relatively bloodless campaigns. This was the lesson many learned from the first Gulf war, and the result was an approach that goes under the name of Rapid Decisive Operations. Mansoor observes that Rapid Decisive Operations misunderstood the timeless nature of war: "What we learned [in Iraq]," he writes, "was that the real objective of the war was not merely the collapse of the old regime but the creation of a stable government." As the old saying goes, in war the enemy has a vote, and in the case of Iraq, our adversaries voted not to fight the kind of war Americans preferred.

As the conflict morphed into an insurgency, U.S. ground troops responded by going after the insurgents, adapting conventional tactics to a guerrilla war. In The Gamble Thomas Ricks quotes a speech by an Army officer that captures the essence of the U.S. approach in Iraq until 2007: "Anytime you fight, you always kill the other sonofabitch. Do not let him live today so he will fight you tomorrow. Kill him today."

This approach made sense when the insurgents stood and fought, as they did in Falluja in April and November 2004. It also made sense during the subsequent "rivers campaign" of 2005, designed to destroy the insurgency in al Anbar Province by depriving it of its base and infrastructure in the Sunni Triangle and the "ratlines" west and northwest of Falluja. It unquestionably killed thousands of insurgents, including Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as many of his top lieutenants, and led to the capture of many more. Intelligence from captured insurgents, as well as from Zarqawi's computer, had a cascading effect, permitting the coalition to maintain pressure on the insurgency.

But while successful in disrupting insurgent operations, there were too few troops to maintain control of the towns of al Anbar. The insurgents, abandoning their Falluja approach of standing and fighting the Americans, simply melted away, only to return after coalition troops had departed. Thus, while soldiers and Marines were chasing insurgents from sanctuary to sanctuary, they were not providing security for the Iraqi population, leaving them at the mercy of the insurgents who terrorized and intimidated them.

As the insurgency metastasized in 2005 the United States had three military alternatives: continue offensive operations along the lines of those in Anbar after Falluja; adopt a counterinsurgency approach; or emphasize the training of Iraqi troops in order to effect a transition to Iraqi control of military operations. Gen. John Abizaid of Central Command, and Gen. George Casey, the overall commander in Iraq, chose the third option, supported by Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Myers.

But while moving toward Iraqi control was a logical option for the long run, it did little to solve the proximate problem of the insurgency, which had generated sectarian violence. Based on the belief of many senior commanders, especially General Abizaid, that U.S. troops were an "antibody" to Iraqi culture, U.S. forces were consolidated on large "forward operating bases," maintaining a presence only by means of motorized patrols that were particularly vulnerable to attacks by IEDs. In so doing, we ceded territory and population alike to the insurgents. Mansoor describes this approach as a mistake: "Security of the population is the fundamental basis of any successful counterinsurgency strategy."

The withdrawal of American forces to forward operating bases also contributed to a "kick-in-the-door" mentality among troops when they did interact with Iraqis. This was completely at odds with effective counterinsurgency practice, seriously undermining attempts to pacify the country. And yet, despite many difficulties (including resistance from above), some Army and Marine commanders had been implementing a counterinsurgency approach on their own initiative; that is to say, forming partnerships with the Sunni sheikhs in al Anbar province who had tired of al Qaeda's reign of terror in the Sunni Triangle. By providing security to the people in cooperation with the sheikhs, the Americans were able to isolate Al Qaeda in Iraq. And as U.S commanders were struggling with the insurgency, the Army and Marine Corps were developing a counterinsurgency doctrine based on this insight, and an operational strategy that would successfully be applied as part of the surge in 2007.

As a close associate of General Petraeus, Colonel Mansoor helped serve as midwife to the remarkable shift in Iraq arising from a more general application of the lessons that he had learned during his 2003-04 command. This new approach rejected the position articulated by Petraeus's predecessor, General Casey, who had told President George W. Bush in 2006 that "to win, we have to draw down." And General Abizaid of Central Command, sticking to his belief that American soldiers were an "antibody" to Iraqi culture, seconded Casey.

But Petraeus agreed with Mansoor's observation that "counterinsurgency is a thinking soldier's war," requiring "the counterinsurgent to adapt faster than the insurgent." The time for applying a new approach was at hand, and to his credit, President Bush saw the necessity for change and took action.

One of the debates triggered by our experience in Iraq concerns U.S. force structure. As Mansoor puts it, "If we accept the premise that [counterinsurgency and] stability operations [are] of primary concern, then the Army's organization for combat should [be] different." This debate pits the "long war" school against "traditionalists." The former argues that Iraq and Afghanistan are most characteristic of the protracted and ambiguous wars America will fight in the future, and that the military should be developing a force designed to fight the "long war" on terrorism, which envisions the necessity of preparing for small wars, or insurgencies.

The traditionalists concede that irregular warfare will occur more frequently in the future and that fighting small wars is difficult. But traditionalists also conclude that such conflicts do not threaten U.S. strategic interests, while large-scale conflicts, which they believe remain a real possibility, will threaten strategic interests. They fear that the Long War School's focus on small wars and insurgencies will transform the Army back into a constabulary force, whose new capability for conducting stability operations and "nation-building" would be purchased at a high cost: the inability to conduct large-scale conventional war.

This is by no means a parochial debate, of interest only to the uniformed military, and its outcome has implications for broader national security policy: A force structure aligned with the requirement to fight conventional wars would make it more difficult for the United States to fight small wars. This may be a legitimate choice for the United States, but it is one that should be made by policymakers, and not delegated to the uniformed military. To do so would permit military decisions to constrain policy and strategy questions that lie well within the purview of civilian authority, and our experiences in Vietnam and Iraq demonstrate the dangers of leaving military doctrine and force structure strictly to the military.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is editor of Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College.

The Justice Department, torture and the Demjanjuk deportation case

The Justice Department’s Torture Hypocrisy. By Andrew C. McCarthy
Investigate Bush lawyers’ torture analysis one day, cite it favorably the next.
NRO, May 6, 2009 1:30 PM

Federal President's attitude on free trade with Latin America

A Welcome Shift. By Jaime Daremblum
Obama appears to be moving in the right direction on free trade with Latin America.
The Weekly Standard, May 07, 2009 12:00:00 AM

Federal President's attitude toward the rule of law, Chrysler & UAW

White House puts UAW ahead of property rights. By Michael Barone
Washington Examiner, May 05, 2009

Last Friday, the day after Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, I drove past the company’s headquarters on Interstate 75 in Auburn Hills, Mich.

As I glanced at the pentagram logo I felt myself tearing up a little bit. Anyone who grew up in the Detroit area, as I did, can’t help but be sad to see a once great company fail.

But my sadness turned to anger later when I heard what bankruptcy lawyer Tom Lauria said on a WJR talk show that morning. “One of my clients,” Lauria told host Frank Beckmann, “was directly threatened by the White House and in essence compelled to withdraw its opposition to the deal under threat that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight.”

Lauria represented one of the bondholder firms, Perella Weinberg, which initially rejected the Obama deal that would give the bondholders about 33 cents on the dollar for their secured debts while giving the United Auto Workers retirees about 50 cents on the dollar for their unsecured debts.

This of course is a violation of one of the basic principles of bankruptcy law, which is that secured creditors — those who lended money only on the contractual promise that if the debt was unpaid they’d get specific property back — get paid off in full before unsecured creditors get anything. Perella Weinberg withdrew its objection to the settlement, but other bondholders did not, which triggered the bankruptcy filing.

After that came a denunciation of the objecting bondholders as “speculators” by Barack Obama in his news conference last Thursday. And then death threats to bondholders from parties unknown.

The White House denied that it strong-armed Perella Weinberg. The firm issued a statement saying it decided to accept the settlement, but it pointedly did not deny that it had been threatened by the White House. Which is to say, the threat worked.

The same goes for big banks that have received billions in government Troubled Asset Relief Program money. Many of them want to give back the money, but the government won’t let them. They also voted to accept the Chrysler settlement. Nice little bank ya got there, wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.

Left-wing bloggers have been saying that the White House’s denial of making threats should be taken at face value and that Lauria’s statement is not evidence to the contrary. But that’s ridiculous. Lauria is a reputable lawyer and a contributor to Democratic candidates. He has no motive to lie. The White House does.

Think carefully about what’s happening here. The White House, presumably car czar Steven Rattner and deputy Ron Bloom, is seeking to transfer the property of one group of people to another group that is politically favored. In the process, it is setting aside basic property rights in favor of rewarding the United Auto Workers for the support the union has given the Democratic Party. The only possible limit on the White House’s power is the bankruptcy judge, who might not go along.

Michigan politicians of both parties joined Obama in denouncing the holdout bondholders. They point to the sad plight of UAW retirees not getting full payment of the health care benefits the union negotiated with Chrysler. But the plight of the beneficiaries of the pension funds represented by the bondholders is sad too. Ordinarily you would expect these claims to be weighed and determined by the rule of law. But not apparently in this administration.

Obama’s attitude toward the rule of law is apparent in the words he used to describe what he is looking for in a nominee to replace Justice David Souter. He wants “someone who understands justice is not just about some abstract legal theory,” he said, but someone who has “empathy.” In other words, judges should decide cases so that the right people win, not according to the rule of law.

The Chrysler negotiations will not be the last occasion for this administration to engage in bailout favoritism and crony capitalism. There’s a May 31 deadline to come up with a settlement for General Motors. And there will be others. In the meantime, who is going to buy bonds from unionized companies if the government is going to take their money away and give it to the union? We have just seen an episode of Gangster Government. It is likely to be part of a continuing series.

WSJ Editorial Page on difficulties with Guantanamo and detainees

Obama's Gitmo Mess. WSJ Editorial
So where is the Pentagon going to send the Yemenis?
WSJ, May 07, 2009

On his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Pentagon to mothball Guantanamo within one year, purportedly to reclaim the "moral high ground." That earned applause from the anti-antiterror squadrons, yet it is now causing all kinds of practical and political problems in what used to be known as the war on terror.

This mess grew even more chaotic this week, when Democrats refused the Administration's $50 million budget request to transfer some of the remaining 241 Gitmo detainees to a prison likely to be somewhere in the U.S. and perhaps to a new one built with taxpayer dollars. "What do we do with the 50 to 100 -- probably in that ballpark -- who we cannot release and cannot try?" Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently asked Congress.

The best answer is Gitmo. But the antiwar left wants terrorists treated like garden-variety criminals in the civilian courts or maybe military courts martial. The not-so-minor problem is that even states that send leftists to Congress don't want to host Gitmo-II. Think California, where Alcatraz could be an option. The abandoned San Francisco Bay prison has Gitmo's virtue of relative isolation -- but Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, claims it is a national treasure. The terrorist-next-door problem is also rising to a high boil in Kansas politics, given that Fort Leavenworth is being eyed too.

More urgently, the Administration risks losing all control once enemy combatants set foot on formal U.S. soil, which the courts could determine entitles the terrorists to the same Constitutional protections as U.S. citizens. One federal judge has already ordered that 17 detainees -- the Uighurs, a Chinese ethnic minority -- be released domestically. Another judge has ruled that the Supreme Court's 5-4 Boumediene decision, which granted detainees the right to file habeas petitions in U.S. courts, extends to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the military is holding three times as many prisoners as Guantanamo.

In his Boumediene dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts indicted the majority's "set of shapeless procedures to be defined by federal courts at some future date," and was he ever right. How will judges prevent the public disclosure of classified material? What about Miranda rights, or evidence obtained under battlefield conditions?

Such questions nearly scuttled the Justice Department's case against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, which flamed out last week with a sentence of only 15 years. According to the plea agreement, al-Marri entered the U.S. on September 10, 2001 on orders from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to begin research on chemical weapons and potential targets. Prosecutors were hampered by the possibility of disclosing intelligence sources and methods, as well as (yet another) political flare-up about interrogation and detention.

For these reasons and more, the Obama Administration has done a 180-degree turn on George W. Bush's military commissions. Mr. Obama called this meticulous legal process "an enormous failure" during his campaign and suspended it when he cashiered Gitmo, but now Mr. Gates says it is "still very much on the table." The Administration may soon announce that it will be reactivated, with a few torques to the rules of secrecy and evidence to attempt to appease the human-rights lobby.

The hardest Gitmo cases are those prisoners who are known to be dangerous or were actively involved in terror networks but haven't committed crimes per se. Others involve evidence that is insufficient for successful prosecutions but sufficient enough to determine that release or transfer would pose a grave security risk. Many of these detainees are Yemeni, and the Yemeni government is demanding that Washington repatriate them.

That would be an unmitigated disaster, whatever Yemen's promises of rehabilitation. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently reported that Yemen "is re-emerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for al Qaeda to plan internal and external attacks, train terrorists and facilitate the movement of operatives."

Terror groups have conducted some 20 attacks on U.S. or Western targets in Yemen, the most recent in September against the U.S. embassy, which killed six guards and four civilians. The recidivism rate of those detainees who the military has judged to be good candidates for release from Gitmo is already high, and the danger for the 90 or so Yemenis and others ought to be unacceptable.

Which brings us back to Gitmo's new location, if it ever gets one. Since 1987, the political system has been deadlocked over burying a negligible amount of nuclear waste deep within a remote mountain in Nevada, so it's hard to imagine how it will deal with a terrorist problem that is far more -- how to put it? -- radioactive. Safe to say that any new setting will not be in a 2012 swing state, and you don't have to be a cynic to wonder if it will have two Republican Senators. Mr. Obama could have avoided this mess had he kept his Gitmo options open, but to adapt a famous phrase, the President broke Guantanamo so now he owns the inmates.

Regulation Didn't Save Canada's Banks

Regulation Didn't Save Canada's Banks. By Marie-Josee Kravis
Our neighbors to the north keep government out of lending decisions.
WSJ, May 07, 2009

Canada's five largest banks would pass the U.S. government stress test brilliantly. They were profitable in the last quarter of 2008, are well capitalized now, and have had no problems raising additional private capital. On average only 7% of their mortgage portfolios consisted of subprime loans (versus 20% in the U.S.). And no major Canadian bank has required direct government infusions of capital.

Advocates of increased regulation of U.S. financial markets have concluded that more stringent rules governing leverage and capital ratios account for Canada's impressive performance. They champion such measures here. In a Toronto speech earlier this year about reforming the U.S. banking system, former Fed chairman and Obama administration adviser Paul Volcker said the model he is considering "looks more like the Canadian system than it does the American system."

Nevertheless, Canadian banks operate in a very different context. Copying the Canadian banking system in this country, without understanding how its banking and housing sectors operate, would be a mistake.

Start with the housing sector. Canadian banks are not compelled by laws such as our Community Reinvestment Act to lend to less creditworthy borrowers. Nor does Canada have agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac promoting "affordable housing" through guarantees or purchases of high-risk and securitized loans. With fewer incentives to sell off their mortgage loans, Canadian banks held a larger share of them on their balance sheets. Bank-held mortgages tend to perform more soundly than securitized ones.

In the U.S., Federal Housing Administration programs allowed mortgages with only a 3% down payment, while the Federal Home Loan Bank provided multiple subsidies to finance borrowing. In Canada, if a down payment is less than 20% of the value of a home, the mortgage holder must purchase mortgage insurance. Mortgage interest is not tax deductible.

The differences do not end there. A homeowner in the U.S. can simply walk away from his loan if the balance on his mortgage exceeds the value of his house. The lender has no recourse except to take the house in satisfaction of the debt. Canadian mortgage holders are held strictly responsible for their home loans and banks can launch claims against their other assets.

And yet Canada's homeownership rate equals that in the U.S. (Both fluctuate, in the mid to high 60% range.)

For obvious political reasons, debate in Washington spotlights the need for future financial regulation while glossing over the role of government housing and other regulatory policies in the current crisis. This is dangerous: Without a thorough review of relevant government housing policies, laws and regulations, layering new reforms on top of our current system may only set the stage for another housing crisis in the future.

In response to the current crisis the Canadian government has thus far bought about $55 billion (Canadian) of insured loans from financial institutions (a substantial sum, given that Canada's economy is one-tenth the size of the U.S. economy). It has also played a central role supporting the availability of credit and removing potentially distressed assets from bank balance sheets. Still, these interventions have not arrested a substantial slump in Canadian GDP. Last week the Bank of Canada announced that first quarter 2009 GDP had fallen 7.3%. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (Canada's Ben Bernanke) explained the sharp slowdown in growth: "[I]f we had to boil it down to one issue, it is the slowness with which other G-7 countries have dealt with the problems in their banks."

When it comes to comparing the track record of the U.S. and Canadian banking systems, it is worth noting that Canada's regulations did not prohibit the sale or purchase of asset-backed securities. Early in this decade, Canada's Toronto-Dominion bank was among the world's top 10 holders of securitized assets. The decision to exit these products four to five years ago, Toronto-Dominion's CEO Ed Clarke told me, was simple: "They became too complex. If I cannot hold them for my mother-in-law, I cannot hold them for my clients." No regulator can compete with this standard.

Tighter leverage limits in Canada may have dimmed the incentives for its banks to pursue securitization as brashly as their American counterparts. But regulations cannot take all the credit. Even with leverage ratios held on average at 18 to 1 (versus 26 to 1 for U.S. commercial banks and up to 40 to 1 for U.S. investment banks), Canadian banks would not be as healthy as they are had they not disposed of their more problematic securitized assets four to five years ago. Nothing in Canada's regulations banned risk-taking. Good, prudent management prevented excess.

Those who blame financial deregulation for the breakdown of U.S. markets should note that Canada shed its version of Glass-Steagall more than 20 years ago. Major banks thereafter rapidly bought and absorbed investment banks.

At that time, Canada established the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) to provide common, consistent and more centralized regulation for federally regulated banks, insurance companies and pension funds. To this day OSFI is almost obsessively concerned with risk management, leaving social and economic objectives, such as access to affordable housing and diversity, to institutions better-suited to attain those goals.

Those desirous of importing Canadian banking regulations to the U.S. should first delve more deeply into the actual practices of our northern neighbor's housing and financial system. Choosing selectively often leads to choosing poorly.

Ms. Kravis is a fellow at the Hudson institute.