March 17, 2006


Fighting Smarter In Iraq (David Ignatius, March 17, 2006, Washington Post)

Three years on, the U.S. military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Sadly, these are precisely the skills that should have been mastered before America launched its invasion in March 2003. It may prove one of the costliest lessons in the history of modern warfare.

I had a chance to see the new counterinsurgency doctrine in practice here this week. U.S. troops are handing off to the Iraqi army a growing share of the security burden. As the Iraqis step up, the Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role. This is the way it should have happened from the beginning.

Mr. Ignatius betrays a profound ignorance of how badly we've always done early on in wars--the main difference between us and our enemies, which would appear to be intimately tied up with our democratic nature, has always been that we adapt as we go along and win them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2006 8:36 AM

These leftist ctitics are disgusting - sure, we could have "won" in the first month, if we really wanted to kill 500,000 people. We probably could have prevented the insurgency, if we had hired the Iraqi Army to do security.

But what would the left have said about that?

Sure, the US has learned along the way. In my mind, the big mistake was not focusing on Ansar-Al-Islam from day 1 (or sooner), trying to surround and kill all of them, as brutally as possible. And if they crossed into Iran, follow them (pursuant to Bush's speech on Sept. 14). What would the Iranians have done? NOTHING.

Posted by: ratbert at March 17, 2006 8:59 AM

I beleive it was Rommel who noted that he had never seen a more ill-trained army, or one that learned so fast.

The problem with Ansar Al Islam is that Fourth Infantry Division couldn't descend from Turkey. We were left with an airborne regiment, special forces and the Peshmurga. While successful, they just didn't have the reach and weight.

Posted by: Mikey at March 17, 2006 9:01 AM

Mikey stole my thunder. If you're going to write about the military, you should at least go see Patton. Compared to the army that ran in North Africa when they first saw real combat, we've been moving from victory to victory in Iraq.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 17, 2006 9:14 AM

What we're talking about is the main point of Steven Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers", how the Americans won WWII learning on the fly or as the old Marine slogan goes "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome".

The MSM really does itself and us a disservice by have writers covering the military who know so little about the military or its history.

Posted by: jeff at March 17, 2006 9:18 AM

Ignatius is actually one of the more patient members of the big media's immediate gratification society, where if nothing is completed within 90 days it's deemed a quagmire or a failure. Others, like the Times' Johnny Apple, were already claiming the entire WOT effort was a disaster even before the Taliban was ousted in Afghanistan (and these are the same folks who would have fainted away with the vapors if Bush had gone in with tactcial nukes as part of a 5- to 10-day scortched Earth policy).

Posted by: John at March 17, 2006 9:37 AM

All armies have a learning curve once the enemy is actually met in combat. Yet these comparisons of the US Army in 2003 to the US Army in 1942 is ludicrous.

There was effectively no professional Army in 1942. Civilian recruits had to be trained from scratch. Weapons and equipment were obsolete with a few exceptions. The future terrain was unknown. Our enemies had proven combat experience. Proper doctrine did not exist for the key tools of the war: amphibious assault, tank blitzkrieg, bombing, etc.

In contrast, the Army in 2003 was completely professional. We had fought in Iraq before and knew our enemy. Our weapon systems were the best in the world. And we had plenty of experience and knowledge in both occupation and counter insurgency.

The two situations are not analagous. Most of the problems we had after the fall of Baghdad are not due to the learning curve, but because of operational mistakes that did not need to happen. Given the superiority of US arms, and the immense help of people like Sistani who decided cooperation was the best policy, we've overcome those errors, but some of them should never have been made in the first place.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 17, 2006 10:57 AM


In what sense did Iraq I resemble the fight against Sunni insurgents?

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2006 11:08 AM

All the links to where you critics described what we're doing now, two years ago, must have been blocked by my virus filter.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at March 17, 2006 11:11 AM

The arrogance and stupidity of Ignatius know no bounds. So the U.S. army is "FINALLY becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency." As if Ignatius could have done it better? As if they should have listened to him? Or, perhaps there's another military on the face of the planet who are more professional, learn faster, etc.?

Previous commenters have all said it better than I could. I just feel Ignatius was lucky lightning didn't strike him when he wrote this article.

Posted by: L. Rogers at March 17, 2006 11:23 AM

What I want to know is what country were we supposed to practice on to get this experience before 2003.

Posted by: Sandy P. at March 17, 2006 11:51 AM

Mistakes were certainly made which shouldn't have been made, but the Iraqi army in 2003 was not equivalent to the Northern Alliance and other warlords we were working with in Afghanistan. We may have been able to co-opt the Iraqi army in 2003 and stifle the Sunni insurgency, but there are no guarantees things would have worked any better that way. Given the choice of a Sunni or a Shiite insurgency, for example, I'd rather fight the Sunnis. Israel made the mistake in 1982 Lebanon of rebuffing their natural Lebanese ally and it hurt them significantly. I'm sceptical when people suggest it would have been a bed of roses if we had done the same in 2003 Iraq.

Posted by: BrianOfAtlanta at March 17, 2006 11:53 AM


The most similar one in which we had some experience was Lebanon--recall how well we did there....

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2006 11:55 AM

i keep reading about "mistakes were made" as if it were an SAT test that you could cram for. maybe the situation on the ground changed several time in the last three years and we adapted each time. name a similar scaled campaign that went better than this one. we have the finest counter-insurgency capability in the world, we are now teaching the israelis a few new tricks. i am sorry people in georgetown (irony there) and manhattan have had their orgies and swap parties impacted by the war, but they will be able to get back to thier dissipations soon.

Posted by: toe at March 17, 2006 1:29 PM

"Most of the problems we had after the fall of Baghdad are not due to the learning curve, but because of operational mistakes that did not need to happen."

How come whenever somebody writes something like this no specifics are ever given?

And wouldn't most of the problems that we face come from the fact that Saddam ran the country for 35 years?

Posted by: andrew at March 17, 2006 1:36 PM

"operational mistakes that need not have happened."
The operational mistake of being born human, engaging in a difficult enterprise, and fighting other humans who are clever and adaptable also.
Mistakes are inevitable, sometimes the enemy steals a march on you. Sometimes you lose, sometimes your people die and get hurt.

If you can't handle that, then please go away and let the adults run things.

Perfection is now the standard in all situations.

Posted by: Mikey at March 17, 2006 1:45 PM

One more time:

A. We had to totally dismantle and then rebuild the Iraqi army, which was both (1) ineffective for major combat operations and (2) controlled by Baathists.

B. We had to limit our own military footprint while this was happening, so as to not inhibit Iraq's nascent sense of self-control.

Some things take patience and persistence to do right. Or so my wife has always told me.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 17, 2006 2:45 PM

Mikey's got the right stuff. I say mistakes bulls[quat]! I am sick and tired of the armchair pundits who haven't a clue when they critique the WOT.

Posted by: Genecis at March 17, 2006 2:54 PM


Well, that's the biggest "needn't have happened"

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2006 2:58 PM

toe, Your likening the criticism to cramming for a test is so apt because lefties excel in classroom situations, but nothing they do can be transferred into the real world.

Posted by: toe at March 17, 2006 3:15 PM

The ultimate in self-reference: commenting on your own comments. Although I would add that lefties "excel" in classroom situations only when their examiner is also a lefty.

Posted by: ratbert at March 17, 2006 10:16 PM

rat: sometimes a new thought pops into one's head, just after hitting "post" so that's not really self-referential.

leties confuse an ability to memorize and regurtitate material, for true intelligence. people always rave about clinton's intelligence but where's the evidence ? the guy's a book hound for sure, but he's like a parrot that can read. he has no ability to perceive the deeper meanings, and use it to good effect.

Posted by: toe at March 18, 2006 1:08 PM

toe. You're right. The left confuses policy wonking with scholarship.

Posted by: erp at March 18, 2006 2:26 PM