Skip to comments.The Iraq War
Posted on 06/26/2010 9:03:32 AM PDT by vbmoneyspender
Carl von Clausewitzs central insight into the nature of war is that above all else it is a mental exercise. As a result, you cannot be said to have won a war until you have overcome the enemys will to fight. To quote Clausewitz War . . . cannot be considered as at an end as long as the will of the enemy is not subdued . . . .
The insight that wars are not truly won until they are won in the mind was gained directly from Clausewitzs involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. During those years, Napoleons troops were assured of one constant. If they were in battle and Napoleon was personally commanding them, they could not be defeated. Even the Battle of Leipzig did not destroy this belief because at Leipzig, Napoleon did not lose on the battlefield. Rather, the Little Corporal was undone by one of his own corporals, who prematurely blew a bridge over which French troops were retreating. That action turned a successful withdrawal into a full-scale disaster and eventually led to Napoleons abdication but it did not undo Napoleons reputation for battlefield supremacy.
Still, with Napoleon in exile, the Allies believed the war had been won. And who could blame them for thinking so. Napoleon, after all, had unconditionally surrendered and was in exile on an obscure island in the Mediterranean, while the Allies occupied Paris and had returned the Bourbons to the royal throne at Versailles.
But there was a problem for the Allies. Even though Napoleon was on Elba, the belief in the unrivaled nature of his battlefield skills remained intact. As a result, French troops were still willing to fight for Napoleon as long as Napoleon was willing to lead them. Napoleon subsequently seized upon this will to fight when he returned from Elba.
Thereafter, Napoleon waged his famous Hundred Days Campaign, which only ended when Wellington and Blucher demonstrated at Waterloo that Napoleon could be beaten in a straight-up fight. In fact, the exact moment when the war was lost is well known. At the height of the battle, when Napoleon sent the Imperial Guard marching up the slope against the center of Wellingtons line and then were thrown back to the accompaniment of disbelieving shouts of The Guard retreats that is when Napoleon was defeated, the French will to fight was destroyed and the war itself was lost. So, the principal lesson that Clausewitz learned from the fight against Napoleon was that war is first and foremost a psychological battle where to win, you must defeat your opponent in his mind. When you do that, then your opponent loses his will to fight and consequently admits defeat.
But that is not a completely accurate explanation of what it takes to win a war. In trying to defeat an opponent, what you are really trying to do is two things. First, you are trying to convince your opponent that he cannot win. If a war is believed to be winnable, then combatants will fight on. But conversely, if a war is thought to be lost, then combatants will lose hope and surrender. This is typically the case, but not always so, which leads to the second thing you are trying to do in war. That second thing is to convince your opponent that if he surrenders he will not suffer death or a fate worse than death. If your opponent believes either of those things are likely to occur upon his surrender, then he will fight on even where all hope is lost.
Applying these principles to the Iraq War gives us a better understanding of why the war progressed the way it did. At the beginning of the war, we acted as if we faced a single enemy, the Baathist regime of Sadaam Hussein. That regime, however, collapsed within weeks of our invasion and yet the war continued for another 5 years. The reason the war continued was that we actually faced a second enemy in Iraq which believed that American troops would eventually leave Iraq, particularly if American troops began to die in significant numbers. That second enemy was the Sunnis tribes, which had previously dominated Iraq under the Hussein regime. I discount Al Qaeda as an enemy, because (as was demonstrated after the Anbar Awakening) Al Qaeda had no staying power without the support of the Sunnis tribes.
After the collapse of the Baathist regime, the Sunnis did not immediately ramp-up efforts against American forces perhaps because they believed that they might retain their position of dominance if they simply played along with American forces. But once Iraqs military forces were disbanded several weeks into the American occupation, it became apparent to the Sunnis that they would not be put back in charge. At that point, the Sunni insurgency took shape and began to grow.
From the very beginning though, the Sunni insurgency had an air of irrationality about it. This was apparent given the fact that the American forces were not beatable on the battlefield. So how could Sunni insurgents hope to defeat a foe when that foe had succeeded in dismantling the better armed and more organized Baathists in a matter of weeks?
The Sunni hope for victory was based on three beliefs. First, the Sunnis believed that eventually the American forces would leave. There was some support for this belief given that the United States is the only hegemonic power that has ever existed that punishes wayward allies by withdrawing or threatening to withdraw its military forces from their lands. As examples, look to recent discussions in the United States regarding withdrawing American forces located in Korea and Germany. Also look to France and the Philippines, where the United States withdrew its armed forces when it was made plain that their presence was not wanted.
So, given that the United States has a penchant for withdrawing its military forces from where they are not wanted, it was reasonable for the Sunnis to conclude that the United States would withdraw from Iraq if the Sunnis could convince Americans that their troops were not wanted there. Whether the Americans withdrawing from Iraq would actually help the Sunnis is a different matter, which will be discussed later.
The second belief which sustained Sunni hopes for victory was their assumption that Shiites could no more defend themselves against Sunni attacks than sheep could fend off wolves. So, if only the Americans were induced to leave, then the natural order of things would be restored and Sunnis would be able to dominate the Shiites as they had done for centuries before. The Sunni belief in the congenital nature of the Shiites as victims was so deeply ingrained in Sunni culture that the Sunnis could not imagine it otherwise. But as will be seen, once the Shiites were trained properly and given arms equal to those carried by the Sunnis, the Shiites were just as capable of killing people as the Sunnis were.
The third belief which kept Sunni hopes alive was the least sensible of all. Surveys taken of the Sunnis after the fall of the Baathist regime showed that the Sunnis thought they were the majority in Iraq even though they were, at most, 20% of the population. In effect, the Sunnis had convinced themselves that because they were dominant politically they were also dominant population-wise. The belief that they were the majority in Iraq fed Sunni assumptions that they were entitled to rule Iraq. And to the Sunni mind, denying them their predominant place in Iraq was unfair and even criminal thereby justifying the Sunnis war against the occupiers.
What this meant for the United States was that it was fighting an enemy whose animating beliefs were not strictly grounded in reality. More importantly, the United States was fighting an enemy whose irrational beliefs were directly feeding its will to fight. As a result, only by disabusing the Sunnis of their delusions could the Sunni will to fight be defeated. The dilemma for the United States was that it was not in a position to convince the Sunnis that the Shiites were other than sheep for the shearing. Nor was the United States in a credible position to convince the Sunnis that their 20% of the Iraqi population would eventually be mowed down by the Shiites 60% of the population. The only party which could convince the Sunnis of these things, and thereby subdue the Sunni will to fight, was the Shiites.
The Shiites, however, did not have a competent officer or NCO class to rely on in the coming clash with the Sunnis. Additionally, the Shiites had learned a hard lesson during the first Gulf War, which was that it was best to treat American entreaties with a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly if these entreaties involved fighting a third party. So, for both of these reasons, it took some time before the Shiites were both sufficiently trained and sufficiently willing to take on the Sunnis. In fact, it took about three years for a professional Iraqi army (now dominated by the Shiites) to be put together.
During this time, some Sunnis saw that the Shiite-dominated security forces were approaching the tipping point where they would be able to deal with the Sunni insurgency on their own. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Sunnis acted with less than good sense and boycotted the Iraqi Army and police forces. This boycott effectively gave the Shiites a free hand to act in the name of the Iraqi nation when the battle with the Sunnis finally occurred. Indeed, in April of 2005, over 60 Sunnis clerics issued a fatwa which encouraged Sunnis to join the Iraqi Army and police. But the Association of Muslim Scholars disavowed this fatwa and, as a result, the Sunnis failed to join the Iraqi security forces in significant numbers. Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al Samarrai, the leader of the Sunni Religious Endowments, subsequently referred to this catastrophic decision in November of 2007:
Because of [efforts by the Association of Muslim Scholars], tens of thousands of our people have been reluctant to volunteer in the ranks of the Army and the police . . . . [This decision] upset the balance [and led to] catastrophe.
The balance Sheikh Samarrai referred to was the balance between the Sunnis and the Shiites. And the catastrophe Shiekh Samarrai referred to was what happened in 2006 after Al Qaeda bombed the Shiite Golden Mosque at Samarra. At that point, Al Qaeda was also seeing the writing on the wall. Due to the Sunni boycott of national elections, as well as to the Sunni refusal to join the Iraqi security forces, the Shiites military training and organization had progressed to the point where they would soon be able to dominate the Sunnis. So Al Qaeda reacted by bombing the Golden Mosque in Samarra. The purpose was transparent to provoke a civil war. Al Qaedas belief was that if a civil war ensued, Sunni volunteers would stream in from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria among other places, and thus enable the Sunnis to turn the tide against the Shiites.
Al Qaeda got its hot war with the Shiites, but what happened over the next 10 months was not what they or their Sunnis allies expected. It turned out that the Shiites were not sheep and when sufficiently provoked they could fight back quite effectively. So began the battle for Baghdad. The battle lasted almost a year and was conducted with extreme ruthlessness in particular, both sides evinced a fondness for the use of death squads. The final result though was never in doubt. By the beginning of 2007, Baghdad, with the exception of certain pockets on its western perimeter, had been effectively cleansed of the Sunnis.
This is the catastrophe that Sheikh Samarrai referred to in 2007. In cleaning out Baghdad, the Shiites had not only destroyed a Sunni power base, but more importantly the Shiites had convinced the Sunnis that the good old days of Shiite submissiveness were gone. The Shiites were now in charge and whats more, if the Sunnis persisted in their insurgency then the Shiites were perfectly capable of visiting upon the Sunnis the same sort of bloodshed which had been inflicted upon the Shiites when Hussein was in charge. This forcible imposition of reality onto the Sunni psyche is what finally broke the Sunni will to fight.
As the battle for Baghdad reached its endpoint in the fall of 2006, the Sunnis woke up at last and saw what a perilous position they were in. If they actually succeeded in their expressed goal of driving the Americans out of Iraq, then no one would be left to protect them when the Shiites took control of the country. That realization is what started the Anbar Awakening. Specifically, in September of 2006, the Sunnis in and around Ramadi reached out to the American forces to initiate an alliance. The ostensible goal of the alliance was to drive out Al Qaeda, but the real goal was to obtain American protection from the Shiite giant which the Golden Mosque bombing had awoken.
The Surge took place 6 months later, but it was not the key event in the war. Certainly it was helpful, because it demonstrated to the Sunnis that the United States would keep its word by protecting the Sunnis both from Al Qaeda and from the Shiites. But by March of 2007, the turning point in the Sunni insurgency had already taken place. And that turning point was the Anbar Awakening.
What the Surge did do was speed up the chain reaction of Awakenings that were taking place across the Sunni occupied parts of Iraq. These Awakenings ultimately spelled the death knell for Al Qaeda in Iraq because they deprived Al Qaeda of a sympathetic population within which to operate. As a result, the Surge was important in quickly ending the war, but it was not what won the war. What did that was the shift in the Sunni mindset that occurred after their defeat in the battle for Baghdad.
So ultimately, what does the Iraq War teach us. First, it teaches us that it is a mistake to assume that our enemies are acting rationally when they go to war against us. In fact, this may have been the single biggest problem for the United States to come to grips with in fighting the Sunni insurgency. During the insurgency, one almost got the sense from people like Donald Rumsfeld that they couldnt understand why the Sunni bitter-enders were acting the way they did. It simply wasnt rational for the Sunni minority to believe that they could win a reverse-insurgency where, instead of seeking to throw the strangers out of their land, the Sunnis were seeking to takeover a vastly larger area in which they were outmanned, outgunned and unable to hide. As a result, the insurgency was initially discounted because the United States made the rational calculation that there was simply no way for the Sunnis to win. Accordingly, in fighting a war you must account for the irrationality of your enemy, particularly where it appears that they cant possibly win.
Second, the Iraq War teaches us that in fighting an opponent one of the most important things you need to do is to understand how your opponent thinks. The reason is that once you understand how your opponent thinks, then you will understand how he hopes to win. And once you understand how your opponent hopes to win, then you will have a game-plan for defeating his will to fight.
In assessing your opponents mindset, information gathering thus becomes a critical activity. Two aspects to information gathering will take on particular importance in future wars. First, opinion polling of the opposing population will need to become an important component of military campaigns. At a minimum opinion polling not related to military intelligence should be conducted of prisoners-of-war on a routine basis to understand how they view the world. Polling should also be extended to any other groups that may give insight into what your opponent is thinking. Again, the polling does not need to cover military affairs. Rather, the opposite should be the case. The polling should focus on the opponents world-view so that any weak points in the opponents belief system can be identified, analyzed and attacked.
The other aspect to information gathering that military campaigners need to focus on is how to enable opposing populations to engage in two-way communication with the outside world. In the future, it appears certain that the United States will be operating against populations that have been kept in the dark either due to their own prejudices or due to the prejudices of the regimes they live under. As a result, the more contact these populations have with the outside world, the more information can be gathered on how they think. The United States military should thus focus on developing technologies that easily enable people to engage in two-way communication with the outside world. Maybe something as simple as dropping cellphones would be a productive tactic to use against oppressive regimes that are fighting the United States. In the future, even simpler technologies should be developed that allow opposing populations to plug-in to the outside world. Paper thin computers that are connected to the internet, and can be dropped from airplanes, might be one approach or wireless networks that are encrypted but can be plugged into by anyone with a phone might be another approach. Whatever the approach, the United States military should ensure that opposing regimes have to grapple with an informed citizenry so that irrational political and military decisions are kept to a minimum.
This is the REAL deal in a summary! Thanks!
25F, Sgt White
This is the REAL deal in a summary! Thanks!
25F, Sgt White
This is the REAL deal in a summary! Thanks!
25F, Sgt White
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