Colonel (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, the author of four books and a PhD. He is also Executive Vice President of Burke-Macgregor Group LLC, a consulting and intellectual capital brokerage firm based in Reston, VA. He was commissioned in the US Army in 1976 after one year at VMI and four years at West Point.
His groundbreaking books, Breaking the Phalanx (1997) and Transformation under Fire (2003) has influenced change inside America’s ground forces. His doctoral dissertation, The Soviet-East German Military Alliance, published as a book by Cambridge University Press in 1989.
In 1991, he was awarded the bronze star with “V” device for valor under fire with the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a full-strength Republican Guard Brigade on 26 February 1991. The Battle of the 73 Easting, the U.S. Army’s largest tank battle since World War II is the subject of his book, Warrior’s Rage. The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting.
Macgregor has testified as an expert witness on national security issues before the House Armed Services and House Foreign Relations Committee. He is a frequent guest commentator on radio and television.
John Nagl's counterinsurgency failed its way to popularity before, and is now trying to make a comeback.
By Kelley Vlahos • October 31, 2014
Security & Defense Agenda / cc
Your table manners are a cryin’ shame. You’re playing with
your food this ain’t some kind of game. Now if you starve to death
you’ll just have yourself to blame. So eat it, just eat it. –Weird Al Yankovic
In his first book, counterinsurgency advocate Ret. (Lt. Col.) John Nagl told us how to Eat Soup with a Knife.
It turned out that it really was easier to eat soup with a spoon, or
frankly, not to eat it at all. Today, after two failed interventions in
Afghanistan and Iraq, Nagl has written a follow-up, but it has nothing
to do with eating humble pie.
In Knife Fights, Nagl
has abandoned the dining motif along with the format. The book is a
memoir in which he tries to cast himself as both a inside player and a
outside rebel, one who had to struggle to bring a new counterinsurgency
(COIN) strategy to losing battlefields in Iraq in 2007, then Afghanistan
Thus, the knife depicted on the cover of the book,
which was released this month, is no table utensil, but a hunting
knife. That might be fitting, considering the many ducks, blinds, and
decoys he presents throughout. But like everything else Nagl has
promoted over the years, it’s all just a bit difficult to swallow.
Simply put, Nagl, once called the “Johnny Appleseed of COIN,”
uses his memoir to a) paper over the huge failures of counterinsurgency
in both Iraq and Afghanistan by saying the best we can hope for now are
“unsatisfying but not catastrophic outcomes”; b) to distance
himself—and COIN—from defeat by blaming everything but the strategy for
why it didn’t work as promised in the field; and c) burnish his own
resume—which takes up much of the book—for a possible return to a
Democratic administration in 2016.
This might sound cynical, even abrasive, but consider the stakes: the
U.S. is currently engaged in another military intervention in Iraq,
against an enemy that never went away even after COIN allegedly “won”
the war there. When someone who not only promoted prolonging the
conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and publicly sold the snake oil that
surged hundreds of thousands of troops into harms way is now attempting
to rehabilitate himself suggests a return of at least 15,000 more troops
to Iraq, is it not wise to examine the merits and timing of what Peter
Mansoor hubristically calls, “a magnificent memoir from one of the most
brilliant officers of his generation”?
Ret. Army Col. Gian Gentile, a long-time COIN critic who is singled out in Knife Fights, certainly thinks so. He tells TAC the book reads more like “a Hollywood director hoping to turn (his memoir) into a swashbuckling movie.”
“Nagl’s new book is not about research and scholarship,” he charges,
but is actually “about proliferating a myth, constructed by him and
other proponents of counterinsurgency, that COIN can work as long as
stupid armies are transformed and saved from themselves by clever COIN
doctrine and savior generals.”
COIN was supposed to create a safe space in Iraq for political
reconciliation and democratic governance to grow. That is what Nagl and
his “COINdinistas,” led by Gen. David Petraeus (who still plays the
savior role in Knife Fights), said would be the measure of success for the 2007 troop surge.
By all objective metrics, that did not happen before Petraeus declared the surge a success in front of a beaming, COIN-bedazzled audience
at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in 2009. In hindsight,
the only meaningful space created was for Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, who would rule Iraq for the next several years with an
American-sanctioned whip hand.
This was accomplished not through so called “population centric warfare,” but through intensive capture/kill campaigns
and immense American firepower deployed against both Maliki’s Sunni
enemies and his Shia rivals in Baghdad during the surge—which Petraeus
explained in great detail at that ’09 CNAS event.
This is the kind of slight of hand that Nagl & Co. have been
playing from the start—suggesting that COIN’s successes came from
non-kinetic approaches, like special ops forces living among the people
and anthropologists air dropping in to help win hearts and minds.
Meanwhile, they paid some 90,000 Sunni fighters to side with them and
helped Maliki kill or torture the rest.
Nagl continues the Kabuki less effectively in Knife Fights, which
he prefaces by trying to say the book is “about modern wars and how
they affect the lives of young men and women.” It is actually about John
Nagl, who generally takes credit for bringing COIN to the upper
echelons of the military culture, getting top brass to embrace it, and
birthing a generation of young junior officers hooked on the juice.
Furthermore, he demands that “our politicians … approach future wars
with greater humility,” when he shows no such willingness to do so
himself. He says “the final tragedy of Iraq and Afghanistan would occur
if we again forget the many lessons we have learned about
counterinsurgency over the past decade of war.”
Yet the book makes no
attempt to tell us what those lessons are. It merely makes excuses as to
why it didn’t work in Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent in Iraq,
which he calls “an unsatisfying and untidy sort-of-victory.” He
acknowledges that COIN under Petraeus was “imperfect and left behind a
deeply troubled country that remains violent and unstable,” but claims
it now has a “government the United States can live with.” (More on that
According to Nagl, bad decisions made by civilian policymakers are to
blame for what went wrong in Afghanistan, not the overzealousness of
counterinsurgency as a magic formula. There weren’t enough troops for an
Afghan surge, he complains. The U.S. gave Afghanistan democracy before
they were able to handle it. The government in Kabul is too corrupt, the
people illiterate, the neighboring Pakistanis untrustworthy.
Interestingly, Nagl also throws Gen. Stanley McChrystal under the bus in Knife Fights, saying
Petraeus “had done a good job of underpromising and overdelivering in
Iraq, but McChrystal took the opposite approach” in Afghanistan. That is
almost laughable when the entire Beltway universe was on the COIN
bandwagon at the time, “overpromising” an Iraq Redux in Helmand.
Worse, Nagl says McChrystal, “overinternalized the guidance” in the
counterinsurgency field manual, or COIN bible, published in 2006. “Only some of
the best weapons for COIN don’t shoot bullets,” Nagl writes, “and
although dollars are weapons in this kind of fight, bullets work pretty
well in a lot of circumstances.”
McChrystal, who made his name as a “man hunter”
in Iraq, was surely aware of this, but one would have to have beeen
living under a rock in 2009 not to have seen that he was under serious
pressure to sell—and employ COIN—as commander of U.S. forces in
Afghanistan. He didn’t write the manual—Nagl did—and as it was full of such pabulum
as, “sometimes the more you protect your force the less secure you’ll
be,” it is no wonder McChrystal had a difficult time translating it on
And lest we forget, CNAS—of which Nagl was the director—published a paper at that very time
saying “protecting the population (should) take precedence over all
other considerations for the time being” and that the U.S. should “adopt
a population-centric counterinsurgency that emphasizes protecting the
population rather than controlling physical terrain or killing the
Taliban and al Qaeda.”
But when McChrystal is fired, for not having a “natural caution” of
the press, hero Petraeus is brought in for the save. He immediately
starts the bombing, “and the results are almost immediate,” Nagl gushes.
Of course he would have kept on winning, Nagl suggests, if Obama didn’t
get in the way and impose a timeline for withdrawal.
And here you have Nagl’s marquee complaint of why COIN did not work
in Afghanistan and why Iraq is a disaster today: it’s all Obama’s fault.
In Knife Fights, Nagl directs his fire at Obama’s choices in
Afghanistan. But that was written before Iraq imploded on the global
stage just a few months ago. Then, the Iraqi government could be “lived
with.” But now, as evidenced in his recent public appearances, Nagl is
accusing Obama of squandering every hard-fought gain made under
Petraeus, and, by withdrawing all combat troops in 2011, being
responsible for ISIS cutting its way through Iraq today.
Talking before a largely sympathetic audience at the New America
Foundation on Oct. 27, Nagl said Obama should have ignored the will of
the Iraqi people and stayed there for a generation at least. Nagl
advocates putting no less than 15,000 combat “advisors” into Iraq now to
get the job done. All those maimed and dead American veterans of Iraq
deserve it. “If it was important enough to bleed there,” it’s important
enough to stay, he charged.
Obama is an easy target these days. One is reminded of how critical
Nagl was of the Bush war architects when that administration was on the
way out, too. Nagl knew Pentagon positions would be opening up—he even
quit the Army in 2008 to hitch his star to the Democratic
“administration in waiting” at CNAS. However, as his colleagues Michele
Flournoy and Kurt Campbell were scooped up for national security
appointments with Obama, Nagl was overlooked. He eventually left the
directorship at CNAS to take a position at the U.S. Naval Academy in
2011; a year later, he became headmaster at The Haverford School, a
wealthy boys prep school on Philadelphia’s Main Line.
For Nagl, timing is everything. Maybe he is hoping Knife Fights will
get him back on the Beltway beat as a strategy guru in Hillary
Clinton’s campaign for president. Not surprisingly, while chiding
Obama’s judgments on Syria last year, he asserts that Petraeus, Leon
Panetta and Clinton are “as good a security team as you’re going to
But the failure of COIN is now well documented, despite Nagl’s
attempts at historical whitewash. For this, his comeback may be
short-lived. The “skunks at the party,”
like Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, and Gentile, are
looking at the fairy dust on the floor and wondering why Nagl is still
“The hard fact is that COIN did not produce the outcomes promised,
either in Iraq or in Afghanistan. At best, it allowed the United States
to leave Iraq without admitting defeat. Today, of course, the rise of
ISIS makes even that claim increasingly untenable,” Bacevich tells TAC.
My sense is that the officer corps once more
finds itself in an intellectual void. Filling that void is an urgent
priority, but is unlikely to happen until members of the officer corps
acknowledge that the infatuation with COIN to which Nagl and others
succumbed was from the outset deeply misguided — an excuse to avoid
serious thinking about war and actually existing security requirements.
To wit: the next time we’re told to “eat it,” let’s ask what’s in it
first. That way we’ll avoid the heartburn, and the knife fights
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter and TAC contributing editor. Follow her on Twitter.
ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) – Town Hall meetings being town hall meetings,
they often veer from the planned tenor and morph into
riveting-yet-unexpected identities all their own.
So it went during the ABC7/NewsChannel 8-sponsored “Your Voice, Your Future: The New Terror Threat” which was broadcast live Thursday night by NewsChannel 8 at Arlington’s Artisphere Theater.
Albeit with a catch.
Namely, that the lively discussion among the six distinguished panelists more or less agreed that:
A): The terror threat isn’t really new and that:
B): Whatever terror threats that are out there pose no immediate threat to the United States – not now and quite probably never, at least regarding the Islamic State, or ISIL/ISIS, despite its spate of self-ballyhooed beheadings and other acts of well-funded, orchestrated bids to expand its influence in the Middle East.
Basically, the distinguished panel quibbled over mostly minor disagreements but didn’t get into anything resembling a shouting match.
On hand were the following: Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a CIA-trained senior operations officer; Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach manager for the Council on American Islamic Relations; Michael Steele, political analyst and former Republican Party chairman: Col. Douglas Macgregor, decorated combat veteran of Desert Storm; Faheem Younus, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Men's Association; Omri Ceren, managing director for press and strategy at the Israel Project; and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Co-host and ABC7 News anchor Leon Harris got things rolling by asking the panelists whether there’s a coherent, realistic strategy to combat ISIS. Only Norton raised her hand.
Then the question was put to the audience. Only a few members raised their hands.
That pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the one-hour session, basic point of argument being what should be the role of the U.S. in taking on ISIS and should the nation be doing more than carrying out bombing missions, or even having them at all?
The half dozen or so questions from the audience were thoughtful enough, and the panelists often went into painstaking detail to make their assorted points.
Nothing groundbreaking but nonetheless informative.
Twenty-threeyears after the first Gulf War, America’s post-Cold
War surplus of military power is gone. We’ve squandered it in a series
of open-ended conflicts inside the ungovernable wastelands of the Middle
East and Southwest Asia against tribal peoples without armies, air
forces or air defenses.
It’s the kind of warfare that rewards the
tactical application of overwhelming firepower at the expense of
coherent operations and strategy. Americans don’t want or need a repeat
performance. The task now is to build US Army maneuver forces to fight
and win in a future war of decision.
Wars of decision are
interstate conflicts involving vital strategic interests that affect the
survival of the republic. Wars of decision are infrequent, normally
50-100 years apart, but Americans cannot afford to lose a war of
Unlike the conflicts since 1945, wars of decision change
borders, reshape societies and alter the international system. Eastern
Ukraine, northeast Asia, the western Pacific and Mesopotamia are places
where wars of decision gestated in the past. Future victory depends on
the willingness of the Army’s senior leaders to subject today’s Army to
an extreme makeover without bias; one that is aligned with the demands
of 21st century lethality, scalability, agility and economy.
is not the time to fight inside simulated battlespaces more than two
decades into the future where capabilities are crafted into logarithms
that preordain the outcome in favor of a retrofitted Cold War Army with
modest changes on the margin.
Innovation is critical, but as Steve
Jobs asserted, people, not institutions, innovate: “Innovation has
nothing to do with how many research and development (R&D) dollars
you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100
times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you
have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
“Getting it” means
understanding that wars of decision are decided in the decades before
they begin when strategic self-awareness, an authentic, unbiased
appraisal of one’s own capabilities and constraints, guides force
■ In both world wars, Americans were lucky that other
great powers fought for years before our entry, giving the US armed
forces, and the US Army in particular, time to build up fighting power.
the 21st century, we are unlikely to be so lucky. Given American
resistance to a draft, future Army combat forces must be professional
fighting forces-in-being; i.e., ready, standing forces that are not
dependent on mobilization. These forces must be trained and equipped to
fight, not to conduct nation building.
■ Twenty-first century
operations that depend exclusively on salvos of precision-guided weapons
will decide little of strategic importance on land. If Army maneuver
forces are tightly integrated with joint ISR and strike capabilities,
fewer, smarter, highly trained professional soldiers inside the right
organization for combat can accomplish much more than the mass armies of
the past. To do so, Army maneuver forces must be organized as
self-contained, stand-alone formations that can operate with ease inside
a joint, integrated military command structure.
■ In the 21st
century, US Army maneuver forces must switch from a ground-holding
strategy to a force-oriented strategy. In his famous march to the sea
from Nov. 15 to Dec. 21, 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman did not
invest time or troops in holding ground. Instead of slowly advancing to
“cleanse” the battle area of Confederate forces and then occupying the
area, Sherman destroyed Confederate forces whenever they appeared. He
seized Savannah, but otherwise operated like the Soviet armies of 1944
and 1945, striking deep to disrupt the enemy’s society and accelerate
■ Recasting Sherman’s operations in 21st century
form requires more speed and agility from the Army to get to the fight,
as well as the right mix of sealift and airlift. It’s time to adopt
rotational readiness on the US Navy’s model to align Army force packages
with strategic air and sealift; avoid last minute, hasty assembly of
units and equipment; and manage funding for operations and maintenance
A war of decision is coming in the next 10-20
years. When it breaks out, there won’t be time to “lash up headquarters”
and “train up” units. The US Army must work now to combine the
near-simultaneous attack of its ready, deployable maneuver forces with
the concentration of precision strikes across service lines in time and
space. These appraisals point the way. ■
Colonel Douglas Macgregor (retired) is a decorated combat
veteran and the author of five books. His newest, Margin of Victory,
will be available next year.
18:16 EST, 27 September 2014
13:02 EST, 28 September 2014
Wars cause far more atrocities than they prevent. In fact, wars make atrocities normal and easy. If you don’t like atrocities, don’t start wars. It is a simple rule, and not hard to follow.
The only mercy in war, as all soldiers know, is a swift victory by one side or the other. Yet our subservient, feeble Parliament on Friday obediently shut its eyes tight and launched itself yet again off the cliff of war. It did so even though – in a brief moment of truth – the Prime Minister admitted that such a war will be a very long one, and has no visible end.
The arguments used in favour of this decision – in a mostly unpacked House of Commons – were pathetic beyond belief. Most of them sounded as if their users had got them out of a cornflakes packet, or been given them by Downing Street, which is much the same.
Wild and unverifiable claims were made that Islamic State plans attacks on us here in our islands. If so, such attacks are far more likely now than they were before we decided to bomb them. So, if your main worry is such attacks, you should be against British involvement.
The same cheap and alarmist argument was made year after year to justify what everyone now knows was our futile and costly presence in Afghanistan. Why should the Afghans need to come here to kill British people when we sent our best to Helmand, to be blown up and shot for reasons that have never been explained?
Beyond that, it was all fake compassion. Those who favour this action claim to care about massacres and persecution. But in fact they want to be seen to care. Bombs won’t save anyone. Weeks of bombing have already failed to tip the balance in Iraq, whose useless, demoralised army continues to run away.
A year ago, we were on the brink of aiding the people we now want to bomb, and busily encouraging the groups which have now become Islamic State. Now they are our hated foes. Which side are we actually on? Do we know? Do we have any idea what we are doing?
The answer is that we don’t. That is why, in a scandal so vast it is hardly ever mentioned, the Chilcot report on the 2003 Iraq War has still not been published. Who can doubt that it has been suppressed because it reveals that our Government is dim and ill-informed?
As this country now has hardly any soldiers, warships, military aircraft or bombs, Friday’s warmongers resorted to the only weapon they have in plentiful supply – adjectives (‘vicious, barbaric’, etc etc). Well, I have better adjectives. Those who presume to rule us are ignorant and incompetent and learn nothing from their own mistakes. How dare these people, who can barely manage to keep their own country in one piece, presume to correct the woes of the world?
Before they’re allowed to play out their bathtub bombing fantasies, oughtn’t they to be asked to show they can manage such dull things as schools (no discipline), border control (vanished), crime (so out of control that the truth has to be hidden), transport (need I say?) and hospitals (hopelessly overloaded and increasingly dangerous)?
None of them will now even mention their crass intervention in Libya, which turned that country into a swamp of misery and unleashed upon Europe an uncontrollable wave of desperate economic migrants who are now arriving in Southern England in shockingly large numbers.
We have for years happily done business with Saudi Arabia, often sending our Royal family there. It is hard to see why we should now be so worried about the establishment of another fiercely intolerant Sunni Muslim oil state, repressive, horrible to women and given to cutting people’s heads off in public. Since we proudly tout our 1998 surrender to the IRA as a wonderful and praiseworthy peace deal, it is hard to see why we are now so hoity-toity about doing business with terror, or paying ransom.
We gave the whole of Northern Ireland to the IRA, to ransom the City of London and to protect our frightened political class from bombs. Why can we not pay (as other NATO members do) to release innocent hostages? We conceded the principle of ransom years ago. Talk about swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat.
How is it that we have allowed our country to be governed by people so ignorant of history and geography, so unable to learn from their mistakes and so immune to facts and logic?
Can we do anything about it? I fear not.
The Economist recently published an article with the curious title, “Brains,
not bullets: How to fight future wars.” The essay’s theme is intriguing because
it implies that with enough brains in the right places it’s possible for the
United States to get things right, to immunize America’s use of force against
bad policies, the wrong senior military leadership and the impact of special
interests on an uninformed American public.
If this were true, it would be a revelation. Unfortunately, in open ended
conflicts with weak opponents, against people with no armies, no air forces, no
air defenses and no naval forces the mental and moral qualities of senior
military leaders which are all important in war are suppressed in favor of
compliant and obsequious personalities.
After 9/11, the willingness of senior officers to endorse the fiction
that the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan were progressing well, that
liberal democracy was sinking deep roots in the Middle East was always far more
important than demonstrated character, competence or intelligence for promotion
to three or four stars. Put differently, having sex with the wrong person or
involvement in legally questionable activities could and will destroy careers,
but the readiness to go along with policies and plans that made no military
sense was and still is career enhancing. Today’s bench of senior leaders are a
product of the last 15 years.
After 9/11, the political appetite inside the Washington beltway for
intervention and the massive defense spending it justified went off the rails.
The use of American military power against weak opponents in Haiti, Somalia,
the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan lulled American politicians into a false
sense of superiority to the point where the conflict’s strategic outcome no
longer mattered to policymakers. Conditioned to respond to clichés, slogans,
uniforms and digital images, Americans went along for the ride, at least until
the bill, at least three to four trillion dollars and the human cost, at least
45,000 casualties finally hit home.
Fast forward to the present and history is repeating itself. The judgment of
America’s national political and military leadership is yielding to rosy
expectations of American military success in the Middle East that are not
justified. Throngs of retired senior officers and former appointees are on
television encouraging Americans to forget that National Military Strategy must
comply with the demands of geography, culture, economy and military capability;
that the application of military power demands a single directing mind imbued
with clarity of purpose.
When there is no clarity of purpose battles can still be won, but wars are far
more likely to be lost. Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) and George Bush initiated military
action they hoped would be decisive and successful, but they failed to provide
realistic answers to the questions of strategic purpose, method and end-state
before and during military operations. President Obama and his advisors have
embarked on a similar course. They are about to rediscover how hard it is to
figure out what is being accomplished from 30,000 feet.
Equally disturbing is the revelation that Obama, like LBJ, will personally
approve targets in the former territory of Syria and Iraq for air strikes.
General “Tommy” Franks did that in Afghanistan in November 2001 and thousands
of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters escaped while he dithered with his legal
advisors. Today, the unwillingness of the Arab States and Turkey that border
Mesopotamia to commit ground forces to fight the Islamic State makes matters
worse. It means that Americans will spend billions of dollars to kill thugs in
pickup trucks and bounce rubble for months, even years with doubtful effect.
Thanks to Washington’s duplicitous friends in Ankara, Doha and Riyadh that
provide money, arms and recruits to the Islamic State’s fighters, the Islamists
will are likely to survive and regroup around new fanatics.
C.S. Lewis described the road to hell as a gradual descent, a soft, moderate
slope that is hardly noticeable until the destination is reached. Mr. Obama is
on his way.
If Americans are to turn Mr. Obama away from the hell that awaits us, Americans
must abandon the illusion that precision guided munitions obviate the
requirement in war for the lethality that springs from disciplined, physically
and psychologically hardened men inside highly trained ground combat units to
Americans will have to rise up and collectively drive a stake through the heart
of the late Secretary of Defense Les Aspin’s concept for the use of American
military power; the task of “punishing evil doers.”
Finally, Americans will have to demand a national military strategy that
focuses on protecting Americans, American territory, and core American
commercial interests rather than attempts to breathe new life into the comatose
body of failed American military interventions that litter the Eastern
Hemisphere. As the Cold War alliance structures wither and die because the
threats that supported them no longer exist; the importance of clarity in
American national military strategy cannot be overstated.
U.S. Army Colonel (ret)
Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran and the author of five books.
His most recent, Margin of Victory, will be published next year
ISIS has released another video, showing the brutal execution of
American Steven Sotloff. The video comes two weeks after the death of
James Foley and continues to warn the U.S. against involvement in Iraq.
Retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, executive vice president of
the Burke-Macgregor group, discussed the execution and the crisis in
Ukraine with Capital Insider
When Arab nations really want to get rid of the Islamic State, they can give the U.S. a call
During the winter of 1990, just weeks before the start of the first
Gulf War, my wife traveled to India on a holiday. In the U.S., media
headlines had been roaring for months about how then-Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein was evil incarnate, and Americans were ready to support
the war against Iraq to slay this dragon. American opinion was, the
media intoned, the voice of the international community.
Imagine my wife’s considerable surprise then when she landed in Bombay
and found most of the porters at the airport proudly wearing Saddam
Hussein T-shirts! Somehow, the consensus of the international community
as transmitted by the U.S. media had passed these porters by. I flew
into Bombay a few days later and found that the same love for Hussein
extended to a large swathe of Indians, Muslim and Hindu, who were
transfixed by an Arab leader who was about to challenge the mighty
United States of America on the field of battle.
What was true then is true now: The so-called international community
outside the West is mainly comprised of the middle-class, educated elite
— a thin veneer in much of the East and Middle East. The United States
is about to discover that support for the Islamic State (also known as
ISIS or ISIL) is much deeper than the president’s advisers assume, and
Arab support for this, the latest in a 13-year American effort at
nation-building in the Middle East, is a mirage.
That is why in his speech to the nation this week, President Barack
Obama was unable to name a single Arab country that had offered to put
its troops on the ground to fight the Islamic State. The situation
remains the same two days after Secretary of State John Kerry traveled
to meet America’s Arab allies to ask for their military support. Even
Turkey, a NATO member, has offered little beyond rhetoric.
There is an important reason no Arab country has hopped on the American
battle-wagon. They recognize that, in that part of the world, today’s
terrorist may well become tomorrow’s statesman. Think Egypt’s Gamal
Abdel Nasser and Israel’s Menechem Begin, who both led movements that
believed in killing opponents to support their cause, but after
attaining their objectives morphed into statesmen, and then ably led
The Arabs know the Islamic State is already a functioning,
self-supporting state spread out over an area the size of Indiana, with
close to 8 million people within its borders. The Middle East’s wealthy
layers of society and its autocratic monarchs may despise that, but they
know that a swathe of their oppressed majority populations are probably
rooting for Islamic State warriors who are taking the fight to
U.S.-supported autocracies in the Middle East, and winning.
The Islamic State's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appears to be cut
from a far more ruthless and despicable cloth, but in the Middle East,
can one really be sure he will not one day be a political force with
which to be reckoned?
So why is America so worked up about the Islamic State? For
humanitarian reasons? As that formidable engine of realpolitik, Henry
“For the United States, a doctrine of general humanitarian intervention
in the Middle East … will prove unsustainable unless linked to a
concept of American national security.” And there is no such link, as
in the New York Times points out: “Despite the attention [the Islamic
State] has received, when American counterterrorism officials review the
threats to the United States each day, the terror group in not a top
concern ... [The Islamic State] has no ability to attack inside the
United States … and it is not clear to intelligence officials that the
group even wants to.”
Perhaps the president wants to satisfy those who want retribution for
the bloody beheading of two American journalists. Here too the United
States is on shaky territory, as the Washington Post
this week of Kerry’s effort to charm the leaders of Saudi Arabia:
“Saudi Arabia is conspicuous in being the sole country to regularly
carry out beheadings; last year, a reported
shortage of trained swordsmen
led to some hope that the practice could wane, but recent evidence
suggests otherwise. It's an uncomfortable irony given that the United
States' current military mobilization was triggered after the Islamic
State beheaded two American journalists.”
The United States is being sucked back into the Middle East’s
bloody vortex. It is time to leave the region to its inhabitants and
mind American business at home. When the Arabs set up a coalition to
fight the Islamic State, they have America’s telephone number.
Sarwar Kashmeri is a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association and an adjunct professor at Norwich University. His most recent book was “NATO 2.0; Reboot or Delete?”
Arif Akil Salma, an Iraqi Army trainer, leads a course in building clearance at the Besmaya Training Center on Dec. 17, 2009. Much of the training at the American-funded center was led by an Iraqi cadre of some 800 soldiers. Sixty civilian contractors and 21 American military advisers also worked at the center Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — As American troops prepared to leave Iraq in December 2011,
the former head of the military training mission there, Lt. Gen. Frank
Helmick, had this to say about the Iraqi Security Forces:
“My gut tells me they will be capable to do this — they are doing it today,” Helmick said. “Yet to be determined, longer term.”
Helmick’s doubts were validated this summer as a stunned world watched
several hundred Islamic State militants and their allies send divisions
of Iraqi soldiers in full retreat.
An eight-year, $25 billion effort to reorganize, train and equip Iraq’s
military now seems all for naught — undermined by corruption and
Now, the U.S. is starting from scratch with a new mission to urgently
revamp the Iraqi military in hopes it can roll back the militant group
that calls itself Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Many politicians and experts say the U.S. has little choice but to try
to salvage the Iraqi military. Yet some current and former U.S. military
officers involved in the effort to stand up an Iraqi force wonder
whether the new effort will succeed where the first one failed.
One senior Army officer, who served as a battalion-level trainer for
the Iraqi army, said fixing deep problems within the Iraqi army’s
leadership would take years and do little to combat the Islamic State in
the short term.
“We just left in December 2011, so it’s not even three years later,”
said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous because he is still in
the military and fears reprisals. “So, if all this effort didn’t even
make them capable of standing and fighting, why do we think it’s going
to matter if we send a handful of advisers over now?”
A sectarian militia
Many involved in the last training mission blame former Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki — who took power with U.S. backing — for turning the
military into what many now see as little more than a Shiite-dominated
Maliki’s policies, which put many commanders in place more for their
political loyalties than military acumen, alienated the country’s Sunni
minority and helped set the stage for the Islamic State, a Sunni group,
to take over towns populated by disaffected Sunnis with little
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who oversaw training of the Iraqi
forces in the early days of the Iraq War, said that after the U.S
invasion in 2003, American trainers tried to construct a military that
was representative of the religious and ethnic makeup of a country where
hostilities between Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Kurds and Arabs
Eaton and others involved in that training program say Maliki, a Shiite
hardliner, started undoing the process as soon as U.S. troops withdrew
from the country at the end of 2011.
“That process broke down with Maliki — it became a Shia-dominated
army,” Eaton said. “The army became illegitimate in the eyes of the
people and illegitimate in the eyes of the soldiers themselves.”
In order to address sectarian concerns, the U.S. plans to stand up
National Guard units made up of Sunni tribesmen to operate in largely
It’s an idea with echoes of a similar program used to help bring Iraq
out of a bloody civil war that engulfed the country between 2006 and
2008. That idea, known as the Awakening movement, involved paying Sunni
tribesmen to turn against insurgents.
Unlike the proposed National Guard, Awakening units were never
integrated into the Iraqi military because Maliki didn’t trust them.
“The Iraqi army can be a nationalizing force — although some units are
predominantly Sunni and others are predominantly Shia, they all fight
for Iraq,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a brigade
commander during the Iraq War. “I think it’s really critical to make
sure that ethic is instituted in the Iraqi military, and any identity
with militias or other groups is squeezed out.”
Mansoor said that early on in the Iraq War, the U.S. did not always
pick the best officers to lead training and did not instill enough of a
meritocracy in the Iraqi ranks, mistakes he said the U.S. must avoid
this time around.
“We need to provide our best soldiers and leaders to be advisers and
not just the most available ones,” he said. “The real dilemma was how to
convince the Iraqi government to promote the most competent leaders and
not the most politically loyal ones, and that’s what we got wrong and
what the Iraqi government got wrong.”
But with the Islamic State making advances and the Iraqi army so far
unable to beat them back, experts say time is running out for increased
foreign military help to make a difference.
“There’s a window here where the new government can make some strides
if it takes the central messages to heart and makes some real reforms,”
said Kathleen Hicks, the director of the International Security Program
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If that window
closes … I think that’s a real risk for us, because we can’t train and
equip a sectarian force that doesn’t have support from the population.”
‘Whatever you destroy will be rebuilt’
Some have deep misgivings about trying to repeat a program that offered
little lasting benefit. Their fears have heightened after reports that
government-aligned Shiite militia members have been targeting Sunni
villagers in Islamic State strongholds, even beheading some in a grim
adoption of Islamic State tactics.
Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor said any training and equipping
mission will accomplish nothing as long as Sunni Muslim countries allied
with the U.S. continue to surreptitiously fund the Islamic State.
“You’ve got recruiting stations and cash outlets supporting ISIS inside
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” he said. “As long as they exist, even
if you kill 10,000 or 20,000 ISIS people inside Iraq and Syria … and you
ignore the recruiting and cash outlets in these countries, whatever you
destroy will be rebuilt and return.”
The other part of Obama’s train-and-equip plan calls for increased aid
to moderate Syrian rebels, who have been battling the forces of
President Bashar Assad for more than three years. More recently, the
so-called moderates have also been fighting the more hardline rebel
groups, including the Islamic State.
In his speech Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said moderate
Syrian rebels can act as a “counterweight” to the Islamic State.
But moderate forces have been increasingly squeezed out. The so-called
Free Syrian Army, on which the U.S. once pinned its hopes to oust Assad,
barely exists anymore, said Daniel Seckman, co-founder of the SREO
Research Organization, a Turkey-based group that studies the Syrian
Seckman questioned how much the U.S. can accomplish by sending more
help to any rebel factions, noting that even once moderate factions have
had to join with Islamists to survive.
Colonel Macgregor examines current Iraq Civil War events and how the
West should respond to them--if at all....he explains how the Kurds must
combine arms (tanks, artillery, aircraft) to evict ISIS Sunni rebels
with hand weapons and machine guns in pick-up trucks. The political
settlement requires a partition of Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurd areas
since the Shia-dominated federal government scam backed by the American
neocons has failed miserably.
The Obama administration has celebrated a small victory, after air
strikes helped Kurdish fighters gain control of a key dam in Mosul.
Now, a new poll shows a majority of Americans approve of the on-going
strikes in Iraq, but a growing number are concerned the U.S. may become
Retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, executive vice president of
the Burke Macgregor group, discussed mission creep and the turmoil in Asia with Capital Insider.
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/07/2014 18:34 -0400
In recent weeks, Bloomberg Businessweek reports, President Obama and
congressional Republicans have begun to offer the same simple-sounding solution
for dealing with the flood of children crossing the U.S. border alone: Send
the kids home. But with tens of thousands of them churning
through the system, some just toddlers, the logistics are overwhelming. Since
October, more than 57,000 children have arrived by
themselves, most from Central America (as we show below), and
22,000 more have been detained with their parents (mostly children under 12). The
American people appears considerably more concerned than the politicians - a
Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 70% of
Americans - including 86% of Republicans - believe undocumented immigrants
threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs.
As Bloomberg Businessweek notes
As of June 30, fewer than 500 of the 57,000 have been sent home, and more
children continue to arrive every day, despite pleas from the Obama
administration to Central Americans not to come.
And the American people is starting to worry... as Reuters reports,
As President Barack Obama considers sidestepping Congress to loosen U.S.
immigration policy, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows Americans are deeply
worried that illegal immigration is threatening the nation's culture and
Seventy percent of Americans - including 86 percent of
Republicans - believe undocumented immigrants threaten traditional U.S. beliefs
and customs, according to the poll.
The findings suggest immigration could join Obamacare - the healthcare
insurance overhaul - and the economy as hot button issues that encourage more
Republicans to vote in November's congressional election.
Only 17 percent thought more legal immigrants should be allowed
to come to the United States. Thirty-eight percent said the number should stay
"If Obama starts using executive orders to grant citizenship or
to stop deportations I think he gives Republicans a big opening,"
said Jennifer Duffy, of the Cook Political Report analyst group. "It'll be
about the issue at hand, immigration, but it also feeds into this Republican
narrative of overreach, of sort of abusing his power."
As one poll respondent (who has voted Dem and Rep in the last few years)
noted... there was no need for either Obama or Congress to take new measures. "It
doesn't matter. Enforce the laws that we have here now," he