Why we don’t win.

Why we don’t win by Angelo M. Codevilla.  It’s a good read.


For decades, under Democrats and Republicans, liberal internationalists, neoconservatives, and realists, the U.S. government let the terrorist wave build. Then after 9/11 it spent over 5,000 American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq without achieving anything that it had promised, while conducting a self-discrediting diplomacy toward Iran, Russia, North Korea, and China. At home, the Homeland Security department diminished our liberty without increasing our security. In this respect, the differences among Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon, and among Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger, are less important than their similarities: the "small war" of terrorist acts that has beset us since the 1960s—infinitesimal as wars go—was enough to expose our bipartisan ruling class’s incomprehension and incompetence. America’s problem is that this class has set the country on a downward slope in foreign as well as domestic matters, and that it is increasingly difficult to imagine America on any other trajectory with it at the helm.


16 thoughts on “Why we don’t win.

  1. Very good read. He has several good opinions and a couple I disagree with but over all he said what we have been saying yet disagreeing at times.

  2. True. I doubt there is anyone either of us would totally agree with and that’s ok. Disagreement is ok, different opinions are ok as long as we are allowed to have them.

  3. We are both winning and not winning. Al Qaeda linked networks primarily try to mass murder foreigners all over the world.

    The stronger the enemies of Al Qaeda become, the greater the defeat for Al Qaeda linked networks.

    From this perspective Al Qaeda linked networks have suffered many defeats all over the world.

    The problem in American policy comes when America does not try to strenghten the enemies of Al Qaeda linked networks.

  4. “The resolution of these questions and the end of America’s involvement began in February 2006, when Sunni insurgents bombed the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra. This loosed the Shia’s fury. They squeezed the Sunni out of most of Baghdad and into western Iraq, torture-killing thousands, and the question quickly became not how much the Sunni would gain by war, but how much more they would lose. Only the Americans could stop the Shia.

    Hence the Sunni insurgents asked American commanders for a version of the Fallujah deal: they would stop shooting Americans, would withdraw the welcome they had extended to Saudi suicide bombers, and would turn over people whom they designated al-Qaeda sympathizers. In return, the Americans would arm and pay the Sunni insurgents, now called “sons of Iraq,” and entrust to them their zones’ security. The Americans would also move lots of troops into Baghdad and other places where the Shia death squads had been raging. On top of that, the Americans would get the Shia government to promise to take the Sunni units into the Iraqi army, pay them, and continue entrusting security to them. The U.S. government grabbed the deal as a lifeline. The outline of the Sunni-Shia provisional settlement emerged. This was “the Surge.”

    According to conservative mythology, “surging” an extra 40,000 troops to Iraq crushed the insurgency. But American troops never crushed it. During 2008, the year of the Surge, there was much less contact between Americans and hostile forces, and two-thirds fewer casualties than any of the previous three years. American troops were used primarily to separate Sunni and Shia populations, especially in the Baghdad area, often by erecting physical barriers. Leaders of groups that had slaughtered Americans and Shia expressed delight that the Americans were leaving them—entrenched, better armed, better paid—in a superior position to press their enduring agenda upon the Shia after the Americans’ departure.”

    That’s a pretty good mythology there, but since I was alive and awake during that time, I can’t quite agree with the author’s narrative of events there. Because… that’s not what happened.

  5. Y, I’m not sure that’s conservative mythology alone but your point is well taken. As to the bigger point that we are basically incompetent in foreign affairs and war still holds true.

    Notice how we are backing ourselves into the conflict in Syria. Knowing who the conflicting parties truly are yet not able to change directions.

  6. The most important surge was the ISF surge in 2006, 2007 and early 2008. As the ISF surged, they increased their force densities in many parts of Iraq, suppressing various militias, organized crime and ordinary crime. The rapidly rising number of capable officers and NCOs allowed the ISF to fire problematic soldiers and cadre in mass (which they could not do until the ISF grew large enough). In 2006, over 80,000 ISF were in training at any given time. Twice the number of training seats in Afghanistan (which is fighting a much tougher enemy) now.

    The large number of training seats also allowed much longer training cycles and retraining for existing ISF.

    As the perception built that the long term victory of the GoI and ISF were inevitable, the international backers of the various anti GoI militias abruptly switched sides; flashing fake smiles and pretending they had backed the GoI and ISF all along. The combination of this phenomenon with awakenings caused most Iraqi resistance fighters to try to negotiate the best deal they could with the GoI under the assumption that the longer they waited to strike a deal; the worse deal they would get. A perceptive observation on their part.

    The mother’s milk of all war is money. Because of substantial international backing in 2006, the Iraqi resistance could pay their soldiers and officers more than the ISF. When the international sponsors of the Iraqi resistance cut off funding in 2008; most of the resistance faded away or were dismantled by the ISF.

    Another important factor was the sharp reduction in ordinary crime, organized crime and general instability. This made “resistance” activity stand out a lot more.

    Another important factor was that the ISF and MNF-I increasingly used COIN doctrine, which meant carefully understanding the local population, all the local power centers and power influencers and the complex intra-connections between them.

    Yet another important factor was the sharp rise in oil prices and to a lesser degree oil production which sharply increased GoI revenue, GoI spending on the ISF, and GoI spending on other government services.

  7. Angelo has no idea what he is talking about for the most part. To argue that the sharp surge in military capacity and force densities in most of Iraq in 2006 and 2007 had no material affect is to lack common sense.

    The sharp improvement in the ISF in Ninevah and At Tamin allowed MND-N to draw down from a division to one brigade minus to cover Ninevah, At Tamin and Northern Salahadin province in 2006. Plus the ISF itself contributed one division (equivalent) in forces for redeployment elsewhere in Iraq. This redeployment of forces was critical to achieving victory elsewhere in Iraq.

    Similarly the sharp improvement in the 8th Iraqi Army Division in the five provinces of the upper south (for years arguably the best division in the Iraqi Army, the first to assume battlespace at the division level and the first division handed over to the Iraqi Ground Forces Command–Army level combattant command) was critical to winning the war in their battlespace and allowing MNF-I to focus their limited resources elsewhere.

    Al Anbar would later contribute 1.5 division equivalence to winning the war elsewhere in Iraq.

    Angelo obviously lacks basic understanding of military doctrine and strategy. An understanding of flows and force generation. Possibly a lack of understanding Riemann sums.

  8. Anon, thanks for the contribution. While I agree on some points the idea that the ISF was the key to the surge is a bit much for me to buy and also misses Angelo’s key points. But then I believe you think the ANSF is also doing well.

    I suppose we’ll see.

  9. JB, the vast majority of the surge (several hundred thousand fighters) were ISF. The ISF were not key to victory everywhere. But they changed the psychology and long term expectations of most of the large players. They created the perception that the long term victory of the GoI and ISF were inevitable.

    The ISF also were brutal in many civilian neighborhoods all over Iraq. Something MNF-I could never be. Do not underestimate the psychological impact of this brutality.

    MNF-I could not have the same psychological affect because few Iraqis or non Iraqis thought the MNF-I would remain in Iraq in large numbers for more than a short period of time.

  10. The ISF did a great job of leading from the rear, from what I observed during that time. US forces for the most part were the tip of the spear of almost all operations, in spite of what the politicians and Generals would have the world believe. I also believe the USSF and the ISF down south would dispute that there was not much contact in the spring of 2008. The Mahdi Militia was decisively engaged and crushed. In the North, I happen to know a whole area in and around Tal Afar was settled down by USSF during the 2007-2008 time period. That is no small feat if one knows the prior history of that area. It’s easy to cherry pick from intelligence reports and disregard ground-truth because they never saw it or talked to someone below the rank of O6.

  11. Chilihntr, generally the ISF were light infantry. They generally served as a “holding” and “building” force. MNF-I combat brigades were better suited for offensive operations. There were large exceptions of course.

    “US forces for the most part were the tip of the spear of almost all operations” Depends which year. In 2004 and 2005, yes.

    It is important not to underestimate how many civilians the ISF killed in Al Anbar in 2005 and 2006 (in a way that MNF-W could not consider doing) in their battlespace. For obvious reasons this is not talked about much.

    “I also believe the USSF and the ISF down south would dispute that there was not much contact in the spring of 2008.” That is the point. 8th IAD did a good job in their AO between 2005 and 2008.

    With regard to Tal Afar and 3rd IAD. Remember what happened.

    MND-N drew down from one division to one brigade for all of Ninevah Province, At Tamin province (Kirkuk), and the top of Salahadin province. At the same time half of 2nd and 3rd IADs were also redeployed south to fight during the surge.

    The sharp reduction in force density in the North caused violence to increase in Ninevah province and Tal Afar. Later force densities were increased again in 2008. 2008 Ninevah/At Tamin was a good example of a combined ISF/MNF-I force where the ISF were the tip of the spear. The ISF deployed over 60,000 troops to Ninevah in 2008, outnumbering MND-N by more than 10 to 1.

    A lot of anecdotal reports I got from enlisted MNF-I was about how brutal the ISF were towards Iraqis in their AO.

  12. There are a couple different issues here. One is the difference between tactical, strategic and political levels of thinking. Tactically there is plenty of good things to say about both Iraq and Afg from both the US, ISF and ANSF but also some negatives. Strategically there are major problems and politically our foreign policy and military wars since Korea have been failures. The last level is what Angelo was addressing.

    Now we are on the verge of another strategic mistake and political failure with Syria. But hey someone will benefit. Not the soldier or the US at large but someone.

  13. Depends what the strategic objective in Iraq was. This was highly unclear until the second half of 2006. The Bush articulated a plan to surge the GoI, facilitate the GoI being successful, surge the ISF, and conduct joint partnered and embedded operations with the surging ISF (the 2007 “surge”) to win the war in Iraq.

    This mission was successful. Today Iraq is a partially free democracy with a partially operational civilian GoI and a decent ISF. Iraq has the resources on their own to deal with the fallout from Syria, and if necessary launch large cross border kinetic operations against Al Nusrah. Violence in Iraq has trippled in recent months as the Syrian war has crossed over into Iraq.

    Iraq represents a continued major defeat for Al Qaeda linked networks internationally. Even if Al Nusrah wins in Syria, they will face 650 K hostile ISF right next door, limiting Al Nusrah’s opportunities for action.

    In Afghanistan, what is the objective? It is widely believed among Afghans that the UN, ISAF, NATO, US, international community backs the Taliban against them. The fact that the Taliban kills 400 ANSF a month while killing about 10 ISAF a month further fuels these conspiracy theories. As does the continued incessant pressure from the international community for Afghans to make concessions to the Taliban and Pakistan in peace talks.

    This perception is a strategic defeat for the international community.

    The existence of 350 K ANSF as a dagger directed at Taliban/AQ linked networks, the deep state and Gulf establishment is a strategic success.

    What is the over all objective? The defeat of Al Qaeda linked salafi extremist groups all over the world? Or is it something else?

  14. Typo above:
    “In the second half of 2006 Bush articulated a plan to surge the GoI, facilitate the GoI being successful, surge the ISF, and conduct joint partnered and embedded operations with the surging ISF (the 2007 “surge”) to win the war in Iraq.”

  15. The thing is, obama is allied with Islamic Jihad. And it’s not just him, but Black Panther New boys and the Leftist alliance at large is as well.

    This even goes back to the Nation of Islam, MLK and Malcom X’s assassination. (wasn’t white people that did it from my open source data mining)

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