Peter Van Buren: What Could Possibly Go Right? Four Months Into Iraq War 3.0, the Cracks Are Showing

Yves here. This post, which discusses the barmy US idea that we can create an effective Iraq army having failed in two previous efforts, fails to use a key word: mercenaries. Normally, if you aren’t willing or able to have your own citizens act as soldiers, the next best solution was to hire mercenaries. History shows that does not generally work very well, even though it probably does beat doing nothing. Here, the idea of training locals to do our dirty work, out of allegiance to “Iraq,” a made-up country consisting largely of tribal and ethnic groups that don’t play well together in times of upheaval, is questionable on its face, independent of our poor history with this experiment. But the US seems to be in “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will be defined to be a nail” mode.

By Peter Van Buren, who blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraq Reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. Van Buren’s new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now. Cross posted from TomDispatch

Karl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military thinker, is best known for his aphorism “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.” But what happens to a war in the absence of coherent state policy?

Actually, we now know. Washington’s Iraq War 3.0, Operation Inherent Resolve, is what happens. In its early stages, I asked sarcastically, “What could possibly go wrong?” As the mission enters its fourth month, the answer to that question is already grimly clear: just about everything. It may be time to ask, in all seriousness: What could possibly go right?

Knowing Right from Wrong

The latest American war was launched as a humanitarian mission. The goal of its first bombing runs was to save the Yazidis, a group few Americans had heard of until then, from genocide at the hands of the Islamic State (IS). Within weeks, however, a full-scale bombing campaign was underway against IS across Iraq and Syria with its own “coalition of the willing” and 1,600 U.S. military personnel on the ground. Slippery slope? It was Teflon-coated. Think of what transpired as several years of early Vietnam-era escalation compressed into a semester.

And in that time, what’s gone right? Short answer: Almost nothing. Squint really, really hard and maybe the “good news” is that IS has not yet taken control of much of the rest of Iraq and Syria, and that Baghdad hasn’t been lost. These possibilities, however, were unlikely even without U.S. intervention.

And there might just possibly be one “victory” on the horizon, though the outcome still remains unclear. Washington might “win” in the IS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, right on the Turkish border. If so, it will be a faux victory guaranteed to accomplish nothing of substance. After all, amid the bombing and the fighting, the town has nearly been destroyed. What comes to mind is a Vietnam War-era remark by an anonymous American officer about the bombed provincial capital of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

More than 200,000 refugees have already fled Kobane, many with doubts that they will ever be able to return, given the devastation. The U.S. has gone to great pains to point out just how many IS fighters its air strikes have killed there. Exactly 464, according to a U.K.-based human rights group, a number so specific as to be suspect, but no matter. As history suggests, body counts in this kind of war mean little.

And that, folks, is the “good news.” Now, hold on, because here’s the bad news.

That Coalition

The U.S. Department of State lists 60 participants in the coalition of nations behind the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State. Many of those countries (Somalia, Iceland, Croatia, and Taiwan, among them) have never been heard from again outside the halls of Foggy Bottom. There is no evidence that America’s Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, whose funding had long-helped extreme Syrian rebel groups, including IS, and whose early participation in a handful of air strikes was trumpeted as a triumph, are still flying.

Absent the few nations that often make an appearance at America’s geopolitical parties (Canada, the Brits, the Aussies, and increasingly these days, the French), this international mess has quickly morphed into Washington’s mess. Worse yet, nations like Turkey that might actually have taken on an important role in defeating the Islamic State seem to be largely sitting this one out. Despite the way it’s being reported in the U.S., the new war in the Middle East looks, to most of the world, like another case of American unilateralism, which plays right into the radical Islamic narrative.

Iraqi Unity

The ultimate political solution to fighting the war in Iraq, a much-ballyhooed “inclusive” Iraqi government uniting Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, has taken no time at all to fizzle out. Though Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi chose a Sunni to head the country’s Defense Ministry and direct a collapsed Iraqi army, his far more-telling choice was for Interior Minister. He picked Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shia politician who just happens to be allied with the Badr Organization.

Even if few in the U.S. remember the Badr folks, every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American occupation, the Badr militia ran notorious death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry they basically now head. The elevation of a Badr leader to — for Sunnis — perhaps the most significant cabinet position of all represents several nails in the coffin of Iraqi unity. It is also in line with the increasing influence of the Shia militias the Baghdad government has called on to defend the capital at a time when the Iraqi Army is incapable of doing the job.

Those militias have used the situation as an excuse to ramp up a campaign of atrocities against Sunnis whom they tag as “IS,” much as in Iraq War 2.0 most Sunnis killed were quickly labeled “al-Qaeda.” In addition, the Iraqi military has refused to stop shelling and carrying out air strikes on civilian Sunni areas despite a prime ministerial promise that they would do so. That makes al-Abadi look both ineffectual and disingenuous. An example? This week, Iraq renamed a town on the banks of the Euphrates River to reflect a triumph over IS. Jurf al-Sakhar, or “rocky bank,” became Jurf al-Nasr, or “victory bank.” However, the once-Sunni town is now emptied of its 80,000 residents, and building after building has been flattened by air strikes, bombings, and artillery fire coordinated by the Badr militia.

Meanwhile, Washington clings to the most deceptive trope of Iraq War 2.0: the claim that the Anbar Awakening — the U.S. military’s strategy to arm Sunni tribes and bring them into the new Iraq while chasing out al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (the “old” IS) — really worked on the ground. By now, this is a bedrock truth of American politics. The failure that followed was, of course, the fault of those darned Iraqis, specifically a Shia government in Baghdad that messed up all the good the U.S. military had done. Having deluded itself into believing this myth, Washington now hopes to recreate the Anbar Awakening and bring the same old Sunnis into the new, new Iraq while chasing out IS (the “new” al-Qaeda).

To convince yourself that this will work, you have to ignore the nature of the government in Baghdad and believe that Iraqi Sunnis have no memory of being abandoned by the U.S. the first time around. What comes to mind is one commentator’s view of the present war: if at first we don’t succeed, do the same thing harder, with better technology, and at greater expense.

Understanding that Sunnis may not be fooled twice by the same con, the State Department is now playing up the idea of creating a whole new military force, a Sunni “national guard.” Think of this as the backup plan from hell. These units would, after all, be nothing more than renamed Sunni militias and would in no way be integrated into the Iraqi Army. Instead, they would remain in Sunni territory under the command of local leaders. So much for unity.

And therein lies another can’t-possibly-go-right aspect of U.S. strategy.

Strategic Incoherence

The forces in Iraq potentially aligned against the Islamic State include the Iraqi army, Shia militias, some Sunni tribal militias, the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Iranians. These groups are, at best, only in intermittent contact with each other, and often have no contact at all. Each has its own goals, in conflict with those of the other groups. And yet they represent coherence when compared to the mix of fighters in Syria, regularly as ready to slaughter each other as to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad and/or IS.

Washington generally acts as if these various chaotically conflicting outfits can be coordinated across borders like so many chess pieces. President Obama, however, is no Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day at Normandy pointing the British to one objective, the Canadians to another, ultimately linking up with the French resistance en route to the liberation of Paris. For example, the Iranians and the Shia militias won’t even pretend to follow American orders, while domestic U.S. politics puts a crimp in any Obama administration attempts to coordinate with the Iranians. If you had to pick just one reason why, in the end, the U.S. will either have to withdraw from Iraq yet again, or cede the western part of the country to IS, or place many, many boots on the ground, you need look no further than the strategic incoherence of its various fractious “coalitions” in Iraq, Syria, and globally.

The Islamic State

Unlike the U.S., the Islamic State has a coherent strategy and it has the initiative. Its militants have successfully held and administered territory over time. When faced with air power they can’t counter, as at Iraq’s giant Mosul Dam in August, its fighters have, in classic insurgent fashion, retreated and regrouped. The movement is conducting a truly brutal and bloody hearts and minds-type campaign, massacring Sunnis who oppose them and Shias they capture. In one particularly horrific incident, IS killed over 300 Sunnis and threw their bodies down a well. It has also recently made significant advances toward the Kurdish capital, Erbil, reversing earlier gains by the peshmerga. IS leaders are effectively deploying their own version of air strikes — suicide bombers — into the heart of Baghdad and have already loosed the first mortars into the capital’s Green Zone, home of the Iraqi government and the American Embassy, to gnaw away at morale.

IS’s chief sources of funding, smuggled oil and ransom payments, remain reasonably secure, though the U.S. bombing campaign and a drop in global oil prices have noticeably cut into its oil revenues. The movement continues to recruit remarkably effectively both in and outside the Middle East. Every American attack, every escalatory act, every inflated statement about terrorist threats validates IS to its core radical Islamic audience.

Things are trending poorly in Syria as well. The Islamic State profits from the power vacuum created by the Assad regime’s long-term attempt to suppress a native Sunni “moderate” uprising. Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have just recently overrun key northern bastions previously controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups and once again, as in Iraq, captured U.S. weapons have landed in the hands of extremists. Nothing has gone right for American hopes that moderate Syrian factions will provide significant aid in any imaginable future in the broader battle against IS.

Trouble on the Potomac 

While American strategy may be lacking on the battlefield, it’s alive and well at the Pentagon. A report in the Daily Beast, quoting a generous spurt of leaks, has recently made it all too clear that the Pentagon brass “are getting fed up with the short leash the White House put them on.” Senior leaders criticize the war’s decision-making process, overseen by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as “manic and obsessed.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wrote a quickly leaked memo to Rice warning that the president’s Syria strategy was already unraveling thanks to its fogginess about the nature of its opposition to Assad and because it has no “endgame.” Meanwhile, the military’s “intellectual” supporters are already beginning to talk — shades of Vietnam — about “Obama’s quagmire.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey has twice made public statements revealing his dissatisfaction with White House policy. In September, he said it would take 12,000 to 15,000 ground troops to effectively go after the Islamic State. Last month, he suggested that American ground troops might, in the future, be necessary to fight IS. Those statements contrast sharply with Obama’s insistence that there will never be U.S. combat troops in this war.

In another direct challenge, this time to the plan to create those Sunni National Guard units, Dempsey laid down his own conditions: no training and advising the tribes will begin until the Iraqi government agrees to arm the units themselves — an unlikely outcome. Meanwhile, despite the White House’s priority on training a new Syrian moderate force of 5,000 fighters, senior military leaders have yet to even select an officer to head up the vetting process that’s supposed to weed out less than moderate insurgents.

Taken as a whole, the military’s near-mutinous posture is eerily reminiscent of MacArthur’s refusal to submit to President Harry Truman’s political will during the Korean War. But don’t hold your breath for a Trumanesque dismissal of Dempsey any time soon. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s sights seem set on a fall guy, likely Susan Rice, who is particularly close to the president.

The Pentagon has laid down its cards and they are clear enough: the White House is mismanaging the war. And its message is even clearer: given the refusal to consider sending in those ground-touching boots, Operation Inherent Resolve will fail. And when that happens, don’t blame us; we warned you.

Never Again 

The U.S. military came out of the Vietnam War vowing one thing: when Washington went looking for someone to blame, it would never again be left holding the bag. According to a prominent school of historical thinking inside the Pentagon, the military successfully did what it was asked to do in Vietnam, only to find that a lack of global strategy and an over-abundance of micromanagement from America’s political leaders made it seem like the military had failed. This grew from wartime mythology into bedrock Pentagon strategic thinking and was reflected in both the Powell Doctrine and the Weinberger Doctrine. The short version of that thinking demands politicians make thoughtful decisions on when, where, and why the military needs to fight. When a fight is chosen, they should then allow the military to go all in with overwhelming force, win, and come home.

The idea worked almost too well, reaching its peak in Iraq War 1.0, Operation Desert Storm. In the minds of politicians from president George H.W. Bush on down, that “victory” wiped the slate clean of Vietnam, only to set up every disaster that would follow from the Bush 43 wars to Obama’s air strikes today. You don’t have to have a crystal ball to see the writing in the sand in Iraq and Syria. The military can already sense the coming failure that hangs like a miasma over Washington.

In or out, boots or not, whatever its own mistakes and follies, those who run the Pentagon and the U.S. military are already campaigning strategically to win at least one battle: when Iraq 3.0 collapses, as it most surely will, they will not be the ones hung out to dry. Of the very short list of what could go right, the smart money is on the Pentagon emerging victorious — but only in Washington, not the Middle East.

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  1. Peppsi

    The only reason the US was able to withdraw from Iraq was the success of those death squads in taking the warfare into police lock ups rather than on the streets. The US has never won a guerilla war without mass use of death squads. Not to say that they haven’t also lost plenty of wars where death squads have been employed.

    1. Fiver

      Indeed. Note as well he hangs the death squads on Badr, via ‘infiltrating’ the Interior Ministry, when in fact Petraeus, with the help of old death squad hands from Central America, organized the Shia death squads after the bogus ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ (a Saudi/US construction) went on a terror binge that included bombing the Golden Dome Mosque. The US was bogged down and taking too many casualties when Sunni and Shia, who despite what is claimed here both identified as ‘Iraqi’ prior to this horrific US war, were united in resisting the US invasion. The solution for the US was to start a gruesome sectarian conflict, which they did successfully. The later claim to fame, buying off the Anbar Sunni shieks really amounted to the US/Saudis just reining in the Sunni side of the sectarian terrorist squads they had themselves created. Most Iraqis, Sunni and Shia, still wanted a united Iraq. This whole ISIS thing began in Syria, where it failed, leaving the Saudis and US with a terrorist army with nowhere to go, so they used it to knock over al-Maliki, and to get the US military back in Iraq where the US has wanted it to be all along. Only the SOFA prevented that, and it is of course now settled. Everything about this stinks of just another strategy to crush any/all Arab/Muslim State in the region and keep it that way or worse for the next 30 years. Why 30? I’ve personally concluded they’ve looked at the models for projected climate in these areas and realize in 30 years most of North Africa, through the Middle East, Mesopotamia, all the way over to Pakistan is going to be dry as a bone, its great rivers gone, massive migrations but ultimately the end of modern civilization across that vast region.

  2. David Lentini

    Good commentary. A few comments, though.

    Yes, Iraq was a “made up” country in the sense it was a state created externally by the British. But it also was a recognized state and quite stable until we destroyed it in 2003. We therefore own the chaos we created there.

    I don’t think the comparison between Dempsey and MacArthur is very apt. I see Dempsey trying to keep ground troops out of that region in order to avoid returning to operations that nearly “broke” the Army and Marine combat units during the Bush administration. He’s trying to avoid more combat. On the other hand, MacArthur’s insubordination was to drive past the stop lines that Truman and the Joint Chiefs set along the narrow neck of the Korean peninsula to avoid war with China. As David Halberstam wrote in his excellent book, The Coldest Winter, MacArthur, egged on by various Republican factions in the US, ignored his orders to provoke a war with China.

    The comments about the legacy of Viet Nam could use some clarification too. As the Pentagon Papers and Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest detail (among many other sources), the Pentagon was up to its neck in the strategic fiasco of that war. In fact, as H.R. McMaster explained in his excellent book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam, the Chiefs played both Robert McNamara and the White House to get into a complex land war. When the war ended so badly, they borrowed the German army’s “stabbed in the back” propaganda campaign from the First World War to avoid real scrutiny.

    In fact, the success of Desert Storm and the phony victimiziation story after Viet Nam only set up the current disaster. Just as it did in the 1950s, the military establishment adopted an attitude of invincibility and arrogance that poured gasoline on the wildfire of the fantasies of empire and utopia coming from the White House and Capitol Hill. For example, they had no trouble throwing Gen. Shinseki under the bus when he gave a somewhat more sober assessment of the requirements for invading Iraq. Once again, they’ve made the bed they’re (and we) are now forced to lie in.

    1. Banger

      Thank you for this comment–it considerably shortens mine. The author either knows very little about the Vietnam War and how it was fought or just tried to make his article shorter. To put it simply as I can–the brass wanted a big war and so did the contractors and Johnson agreed to it but wanted war “lite.” All you have to do is go to the excellent reporting that has been done on the Cuban Missile Crisis to see that everybody but John and Robert Kennedy wanted a full-out nuclear war with Russia which they believed they could win with “only” 40 million dead on our side. They were willing to do that–this is the sort of military establishment we had then.

      Today, the military is a mess of contradictory voices and battling careers like the rest of the government.

      1. David Lentini

        A number of outspoken junior officers and retirned veterans like Andrew Bacevitch have commented about the drastic change in attitude and outlook between the ranks of colonel and general, with the latter showing more deference to the outlandish ideas that come from our leaders. At some point, these comments seem to suggest, there is a selection for the most careerest officers to run our military—right in to the ground.

        1. Peppsi

          I’m sorry to beat this into the ground, but look at the superstar rogue general of the Iraq war, David Petraeus. We were told he read history books all day and studied the language, and what was his great insight? To set up death squads. Rough.

      2. whine country

        Your suggestion that the brass wanted a big war in Viet Nam is only a reflection of the fact that the Powell Doctrine was not truly invented by Colin Powell. Generals have always favored using overwhelming force where possible. Mr. Lentini’s comment about military natural selection being at play was equally true during the lead up to the Viet Nam war where the careerest officer suck-ups invented the concept of “body counts” in order to provide a day to day score card for measuring our success in a quagmire “the colonels” would have never agreed to. What Viet Nam should have done is to make it absolutely clear to anyone who was interested that you can win every battle and lose a war. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves

    This post synchs eerily with two other items online today; the first a review of a book due out on Tuesday, by a retired US General who explains ‘why we lost’ Afghanistan and Iraq. Gutsy:

    And at Sic Semper Tyrannis, a thoughtful post about how badly the US has misread the world (specifically the MidEast), with some very good links for anyone interested:

    1. Tsigantes

      Everything coming out of Washington and various blogs “synchs eerily” these days. Coincidence or something else?

    2. David Lentini

      You can read an NPR story about the book over in today’s Links section. I also commented about the story.

      And Sic Semper Tyrannis has become one of by go-to ‘blogs for news and commentary about our Middle East morass.

  4. Tsigantes

    Yet another article that pretends to be – or is, unpardonably – oblivious to the elephant in the room: the New Middle East plan, formally presented to the world in Tel Aviv June 2006 by Condaleeza Rice and Olmert as joint Israeli-US policy.
    The NME was presented earlier that year to NATO in Rome; and presented in Brussels as NATO policy in winter 2007.

    The NME has been accepted NATO/ US / Israel policy for 8 years, is known by all countries in the Middle East and central Asia, and has driven their policies accordingly.

    The undeclared war underway is a first stage, the division of Iraq into 3 client states.
    – the establishment of Kurdistan from Northern Iraq and northern Syria;
    – establishment of the Sunni Islamic state in NW rump Iraq for ISIS – in early maps also called the Sunni Caliphate;
    – establishment of Shia Iraq in the south, later to be extended as ‘arms’ with gulf coast land from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    The NME map shows Kurdistan further enlarged by the eastern Turkish territories – one third of present day Turkey.

    ISIS is the American force on the ground, just as Islamic extremism has been an American special invention & project since Afghanistan in the 1980s. This is eminently clear to everyone in the middle east, southeast Europe, central Asia…and mysteriously opaque to the entire English language msm.

    As for all the theatre in Washington in which what should normally be a war cabinet is apparently a coop of headless chickens, only you Americans can explain that. To us outsiders it looks like obfuscation pure and simple.

    1. Tsigantes

      I add:

      Rather, the theatre in Washington looks to us like well coordinated media kabuki explicitly designed to hide the fact that a savage pre-planned war is being waged, without (1) calling it a war and (2) without the president, armed forces or the country itself being held accountable or “owning” this war in anyway. All responsibility is therefore evaded and blame entirely placed at the feet of those pesky murderous ISIS. Meanwhile the US and NATO’s “minimal” participation is entirely “humanitarian”. As for Israel’s part in the present massacres underway, it is of course nowhere to be found in the media.

      This will wash for now with certain audiences, but not forever.

      1. Fiver

        Excellent comments, and agree it is simply amazing to see this narrative taken as ‘the straight goods’ when it requires the reader to un-know so much that he/she has learned about the conduct of US policy over the last several decades. Once small instance: the author alludes to a casualty total from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – a 1-man operation running out of London that merely tallies the claims of twitters and tweets with no validation of anything. This was the main channel for anti-Assad propaganda for years. I honestly can’t quite believe British Intel is still running that operation.

    2. EoinW

      The jury is still out on ISIS. Yes it is a creation of the Saudis, Gulf states and CIA but has this hammer already left the tool box?

      I think people can be counted on to be peaceable when a decent life of peace and prosperity is available. This explains why westerners are so docile. Even when we support war and violence and killing we have to pretend we don’t support it. And we get others to do the fighting for us. We’re so above getting our hands dirty we won’t even trouble ourselves to fight to save our own democracies and freedom and standard of living. We simply pretend all is as it has always been and there’s nothing to fight to save.

      In the Middle East however, a large younger generation has no prospect for peace and prosperity. Instead they are confronted with corrupt leaders and oppressed by western neo-colonialism and its 21st century policy of Endless War.. They may not be Islamic radicals by nature but, after decades of defeat and humiliation they’ll jump at being on a winning side. Losing themselves in 21st century materialism isn’t an option available to them. Therefore a little religion is a small price to pay for a future.

      ISIS may have started doing “our” bidding but now sees how empowered it can become by appealing to an entire lost generation. That hardly guarantees success, however it’s motivation enough for ISIS to follow its own agenda and scare its original backers to death. Seeing that these poor people are Arabs who have no choice but to live in the Arab world – they don’t go home to yellow ribbons after a tour of duty or hop on a plane for Switzerland then Monte Carlo if things get uncomfortable – ISIS, or some future version of it, will inevitably win.

      The sad thing about US Mid East policy is it turns groups like Hamas, Hizbollah,Taliban and ISIS into the good guys.

      1. Banger

        Whether consciously or unconsciously the martinets in Washington want disorder and war to continue so their lives have meaning. Plus the rewards are excellent–lot’s of money when you retire from the industries that prosper from war. That is why U.S. policy appears chaotic and absurd–this is quite deliberate.

    3. Doug Terpstra

      Your analysis is imminently more logical than the persistently “incoherent strategy” theme favored by most liberal critics (Tom Englehardt and Robert Parry) of the “less-competent” war criminal. But what looks like the classic definition of insanity is in fact better explained as the brilliantly profitable strategery of ziocons who run US FP on behalf of Israel. We never meant well. This is the Empire of Chaos’ strategy for perpetual war, with the GWOT as the perfect breeder-reactor, always creating more fuel (terror) than it consumes.

      The break-up of Iraq, as predicted by JK Galbraith in 2004, follows your description precisely. The fact that IS was spawned by the US, Israel, and allies makes it self-evident that this is “Operation Inherent Resolve” is aptly named as a case of divide-and-rule “disaster-militarism”. The biblical whirlwind we and Israel will eventually reap from this may well be apocalyptic.

      1. Fiver

        Note how deeply racist/cultural supremacist our official narrative has been empowered to become based in good measure on the problematic ‘beheadings’ of 2 journalists – whereas the same groups had been on a spree of journalist-killing, systematic mass atrocities and murder in Syria for years virtually unreported in MSM. It is astounding, really, that the media have been able to marshall US and Anglosphere mainstream consensus opinion for war so easily re ISIS by turning the failure of the ‘ Syrian rebels fight for freedom’ story to provide the Admin with a winning political basis for intervention to resolve long-targeted Syria into a cultural conflict with a blank cheque for war not only in Iraq or Syria, but anywhere anyone who mouths the word “ISIS” might turn up.

    4. lambert_strether.corrente@

      On NME, link? Rice and Olmert are both out of office as of 2008; did Clinton and Obmama buy in?

  5. JTMcPhee

    All those Pentagrammers riding their huge and growing Juggernaut offer obeisance to Clausewitz. Too bad none of them pay even lip service to a much older and wiser and more apposite source of wisdom, that collective we call Sun Tzu, which judges the whole enterprise as failed and futile from the git-go:

    Not to worry, folks — the Bubble of Impunity will protect the failers from any consequences, and their career progress and soft, cushy landings in the ranks of “suppliers” and disloyal pundits will be secure in their monstrous corporate lifetimes…

    1. Banger

      Real military planners actually know their stuff–the issue isn’t strategy and tactics the issue is corruption and cynicism in the State. The State wants perpetual Orwellian war because they want war for its own sake–they spread chaos, misery and disorder because that is what gives them a hard-on. You have to know these types of people to know what they’re about. The tragedy is the marks (the U.S. citizens) fall for this BS almost every time because movies, TV and so on glorify violence and war as a theater for heroism and meaning. Three things Americans are obsessed with: money, war, and sex–they are all intertwined. You know, I knew a successful Washington DC woman who kept and elegant table and was an excellent conversationalist and she only had sex with generals.

      1. JTMcPhee

        My little bit of personal experience as a fool who enlisted to go fight Commies in Vietnam and now buys nice slacks and shirts “made in Vietnam” at Walmart and reads about joint naval exercises between the US and Vietnamese Navy, and the stuff I have read since then and observed, leads me to challenge the notion that first, there are real military planners in the Imperial military, and second, that they know their stuff.

        There’s a plethora of examples, from not policing up the thousands of tons of munitions “we” gifted Saddam and other players with, foremost in Iraq and such places, where all those 155 mm shells and bombs got turned into IEDs to blast our Sacred Troops with, to sneaking in nice safe missions for V-22s to try to turn them from sow’s ears to just another deployed program silk purses, to sending too few troops to even have a prayer of nation-remodeling in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And of course the planners have great plans for how to extend the military miasma over the whole failing planet: ” Defense Science Board Task Force on Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National Security,” , which has something for everyone in the whole career list and supply chain, as well as provisions for increased sales of “US” construction machinery (dikes and dams and seawalls and all that) and of course for Monsanto GMO products and other commercial bennies. All under the rubric of extending and expanding that clumsy, idiotic, complicated thingie that is sort of known as the Grand Global Network-Centric Interoperable Battlespace, supposedly nominally controlled by bloodless “battlespace managers” in their ergonomic chairs, which aims at bringing all the militaries and repressive regimes and their “national police” bodies together under one grand Imperial Interoperable leadership (see, e.g., US incursions into Ukraine). I’m sure that inside the Pentagram’s Rings of Power, they think themselves all perfectly sane, but from the outside, it’s pretty clear that the lunatics and criminals have taken over the institution.

        If the actual plans were to FUBAR everything, “Mission Accomplished.” It’s hardly worth pointing out the epidemic nature of “corruption” within the friendly confines of the military-industrial entity, but…, and , and , and etc. Beyond civilian control, of course. And these Grand Poohbahs and their Great Plannings can’t even win their own war games, unless they rig the outcomes. Remember Millennium Challenge 2000? Where a real maverick, Marine Maj. Gen. Paul van Riper, playing “Red,” sank the 5th Fleet and demolished the Blue Forces using 4th Gen and small-state tools and tactics, requiring a “reboot” with “constraints” to re-float the Empire’s fleets and resurrect the “dead” troops. , and more commentary if you want to look it up.

        And corruption is a virus that spreads: And what a surprise, that farmersin Afghanistan are turning out one record crop of opium poppies after another!

        1. Fiver

          Too much money (by about $trillion) chasing too little genuine threat – except for the environmental variety, and even on that they’re taking the watered-down version of Climate Change as the baseline. Note though that by 2025 even, the countries in the region the US has dismembered over the last decade are going to dry up and blow away – and there is no Plan whatever for those hundreds of millions of people.

    2. JTMcPhee

      And here’s the Cliffnotes (TM) version of ol’ Sun Tzu, for those not inclined to follow the link:

      The Art of War

      By Sun Tzu

      Translated by Lionel Giles

      I. Laying Plans

      1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

      2. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

      3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

      4. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

      5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

      7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

      8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

      9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

      10. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

      11. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

      12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:–

      13. (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? (2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? (4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (5) Which army is stronger? (6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

      14. By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

      15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:–let such a one be dismissed! …

      II. Waging War

      1. Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li, the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

      2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

      3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

      4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

      5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

      6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

      7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

      8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.

      9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.

      10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.

      11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people’s substance to be drained away.

      12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.

      13,14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.

      Any of that sound at least a little bit familiar, in the present context? But then this disease that afflicts the Empire is very like unto a virulent (both definitions, of course) metastatic malignancy, where the incentives and energy flows are all in the direction of Success! and Victory! for the tumors. In the meantime, where do I line up to purchase the next iDiot iDevice?…, and

  6. Andrew Watts

    The Iraq invasion was always going to end in tears for the United States. When the US shattered the Sunni Iraqi government the void left behind allowed a Sunni-Shia conflict to blossom. The actions we are undertaking against the Islamic State is just another epic failure that was a direct result of the 2003 invasion. As General Shinseki correctly warned back before the war started, “We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems ” the rise of IS is merely one of the problems that arose. Which as Mr. Van Buren implied isn’t going well at all. The earlier march on Erbil might have been nothing more than a petty border skirmish that didn’t go well for the Kurds.

    The Islamic State is clearly following Mao’s playbook for the win. They always go after economic resources first; wheat silos in Kobani, oil fields in Kirkuk, etc. Followed by the liquidation of enemy forces and the hostile population.

    “[They] were successful because they knew their terrain better, because they were trained for guerrilla warfare, and because they observed all the classic tenets of guerrilla warfare without forgetting their main objective: loot, elbowroom, secure footholds.” -Robert Payne, Mao Tse-Tung (1960)

    Scary, but predictably scary. As for the alleged inability of IS to sack the Green Zone and/or Baghdad itself somebody needs to look at a history book. Lack of numbers didn’t stop the Goths from cutting off the food supplies to Rome and then pillaging it. How much food is the Shia government of Baghdad buying from IS off the black market to keep the city and the areas it controls fed?

  7. Banger

    The article points out that the strategy is absurd. Everyone who has half a brain knows the sorts of wars Washington insists on fighting either directly or by proxy cannot be “won” by any definition of the term. The lessons of Vietnam were, in fact, learned. So why do we repeat Vietnam over and over and over again?

    Unless you understand how power actually works in Washington you cannot give a coherent answer and since most people choose to ignore “deep politics” and choose not to get to the nitty-gritty of the political history of the USA since the U.S. got into WWI they stick with the conventional mythology of that history which is almost 100% false and misleading. The left, in the U.S. has failed spectacularly because it has turned its back on deep politics and accepts the main points of the propaganda line and differs on a few details.

    With that in mind, at this point, the Deep State is in disarray with deep internal divisions so they settle on day-to-day strategies which change on a weekly basis depending on who can put the most pressure on the White House. None of this stuff about “our” policy towards the ME region has anything to do with a careful examination of the facts and coming to a careful and reasoned conclusions as to what would make good strategy. Team A, B and C, say all have different points of view and competing interests. Each “team” wants money and power and plays their moves, not to fit some over-arching common purpose, but strictly for their own narrow-term benefit. You saw a lot of conflict in WWII between commanders but they resolved their issues somehow because they had a common purpose–to defeat Hitler! Now there are many more actors in the play and they cannot come into accord because they HAVE NO COMMON PURPOSE! The enemy is not ISIS but the rivals within the government and each has a whole political apparatus of journalists, bag-men, fixers, and muscle to back them up.

    The Republican criticism of Obama is correct–his administration is adrift being pushed and pulled in many directions at once. Obama can do little to remedy that. The only way to remedy that is for, first the intellectual class, particularly the left part of that class, to grow some backbone and begin to deconstruct the lies we all live under–to actually tell the truth! We need to understand we are in radical denial and that’s why nothing makes any sense!

    1. Andrew Watts

      Banger, you’re not wrong nor are you completely right. The US military doesn’t know how to do asymmetric warfare. The only reason why the US won against the Filipino rebels back in the day was due to the fact the Philippines was divided not only by geography but by socio-economic class and ethnicity. This lack of understanding is why the war in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against other asymmetric threats usually doesn’t turn out well for the United States.

      A more recent example would be the NSA trying to own the internet while somebody just pwned JPMorgan in what was probably the largest heist in the history of economic espionage. Or maybe they just wanted the capability to bring down our financial system. That’s not winning but at least the NSA has everybody’s phone calls and tweets backed up in Utah.

      1. Banger

        I don’t know about that. The military does know all about asymetric warfare and, to prove it, please note that they have been “warring” against the U.S. public for some time–we are the real enemy who they loot–the other “enemies” are in part nurtured or, when required, manufactured.

        1. Jackrabbit

          What you are referring to is MIC + money in politics. That is not the same as asymmetric warfare, and its not the same as the military.

          I think you are conflating these because you are too caught up in ‘Deep State’ thinking.

          H O P

          1. Banger

            Depends on how you define “asymetric warfare” — to me it means a street fight–using any means at hand. As for deep politics—well, whatever.

  8. hemeantwell

    Overall, this reads like the usual good work by Patrick Cockburn with a paste from the Daily Beast about resistance from the military. Two questions arise. One, why not link to Cockburn more often? Two, why is the Daily Beast trying to stand in for Sy Hersh? He has friends in the military-intelligence apparatus and has channeled them to good effect, most recently cold watering the nerve gas bombing campaign in Syria.

  9. cwaltz

    Our wonderous foreign policy toolbox- contains a hammer and an endless supply of tax payer money to bribe people or pay for missiles- best toolbox ever/s

  10. MikeNY

    the new war in the Middle East looks … like another case of American unilateralism, which plays right into the radical Islamic narrative

    Exactly. The “coalition” was always and obviously a fig leaf.

    We have done less than nothing to win over Arab hearts and minds; rather, we seem hell-bent on continuing to poison them against us in pursuit of our ‘permanent interests’, Israel and oil.

  11. Garrett Pace

    Inherent Resolve. I did not know until this moment that was the name for the operation. Bold sounding and nonsensical, it’s wonderful marketing.

    What it reminds me of is some of the video game franchises that come out with a new variation on the same game every year, and have to work some novelty into the name.

    Iraq I: Desert Shield
    Iraq I 1/2: Desert Storm
    Iraq II: Infinite Justice Enduring Freedom
    Iraq III: Inherent Resolve
    Iraq IV: Electric Boogaloo

    1. James Levy

      These idiotic codenames used to drive me crazy with outrage, but I’m so much more cynical now that they just nauseate me.

      Listened to NPR this morning in the 10 minutes before my favorite sports talk show was due up on another station. The level of inanity and delusion was off the chart. They imagine that the US is “in charge” and if the guys in Washington just made the right decisions, all would go “America’s way.” In other words, if we make the right policy choices in Washington, reality will then bend to our demands. They also seemed caught in this Mobius loop: Obama is a loser because he is so unpopular, but he should do even more unpopular things (like sending massive US ground forces to “destroy” ISIS) to prove that he is not a loser! All this in ten minutes of jabbering. It was incredible.

      1. Fiver

        No kidding re the propaganda moon shot of hysterics. I will say this, though, and that is if I was Obama I would let it be known the next high-level General to open his mouth to that extent is out the door. If there is anything at all he wants to salvage from his disastrous tenure, he must reassert his authority, else he will be relentlessly pressed in that awful buzzard way power people and the press now do when the object of their various emotional projections shimmers and winks out, a riveting thing no more.

  12. robert lowrey

    It is really rare that an article’s comment section is as interesting, and as, if not more, informative, than the article itself. Which isn’t meant to detract from the article one iota. But the one thing we can’t even begin to see a glimmer of is the answer to the question, “So what do we do now?”. There was an article in the NYT this Sunday about the statue of Adam at the New York Metropolitan museum that fell and broke into a gazillion pieces, and which took more than 12 years to put back together. But when we shattered the State of Iraq, we never cared what it was we would be building in its stead, there was not a viable State on which to impose Democracy, as the one extant could be held together only with a dictatorial hand. It’s always been my contention that this was the desired state of affairs at the highest levels of decision-making: to destroy the oil-producing capability of Iraq and thereby increase the price of oil to the point where fracking would be profitable. And that is the effort that got the Presidential stamp of “Mission Accomplished”. So what is our mission now, and how do we accomplish it? It is in trying to answer that question that we find ourselves just as fractious as the Iraqi State. Americorps has a different goal than Obama’s whose is different from the Pentagon’s which differs from the polity’s. In for a penny, in for a dime: even sans Cheney, this War’s still a Crime.

    1. Jackrabbit

      You need to read Sy Hirsh (see links in my comment below).

      Who felt threatened by Saddam? Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Bush family (Saddam had threatened the Bushes). But a new threat had emerged by 2006: Iran.

      It all looks like CHAOS! without a proper understanding.

      1. cwaltz

        If I had to pick an “influence” out of that group I’d go for Saudi Arabia for $100 Alex. They really seem anxious to redecorate the ME to maximize their influence. I doubt we’d spit on the Iranian leadership if they were on fire unless we thought we’d be getting something out of it. Nevermind that if anyone deserved to be in an “axis of evil” it’d be us for essentially telling the Iranians “Screw the idea that you get to decide who to lead, We get to pick who will be best for US, not you.”

  13. Barmitt O'Bamney

    Obama and his advisers certainly live up to their billing as the best and the brightest! Team Obama’s failure to see through the mythology of David Petraeus and his “Surge” in Iraq has doomed US policy to ignominious defeat in Afghanistan as well as Mess-o-potamia. At the time of the Surge and the so-called Sunni Awakening, it was clear enough to me that we were purchasing our way out of Iraq, and in giving money and arms to Sunni militia in exchange for not shooting at us as we retreated, we were arming both sides of a civil war that would break out shortly after our departure. It’s hard to imagine a more cynical policy, but it’s harder still to imagine that an intelligent leader would take it at face value and let himself be rolled into repeating the “success” of the Surge in another failed occupation. But Obama did.

    I don’t know what that man spends all his allegedly stupendous mental energies on, but it clearly isn’t the economy – nor can it be foreign policy. Anyone know?

    1. Fiver

      In the context of the refusal of al-Maliki to sign a SOFA that guaranteed complete immunity to all American forces (public and private) in Iraq despite intense US pressure to stay with a free hand to drone, etc., it’s not entirely surprising to see the world’s predominant power back on top of the globe’s second greatest concentration of crude, and with an invite to boot.

  14. Jackrabbit

    I hope everyone has read Sy Hirsh’s The Redirection and his follow-up The Red Line and the Rat Line. This constitutes basic info for any discussion about the middle east today.

    It is striking that Iran is not mentioned in this article or in any comments. It is at least interesting that ISIS attacked and won Mosul without a fight – gaining tons of weaponry and hundreds of millions of dollars – on July 11 while the 6-month negotiating period of Obama’s peace initiative with Iran was failing (it would then be extended to Nov. 24 but there seems to have been no real progress). On July 29, ISIS declared their Caliphate.

    Chaos? Coincidence?

    Of course it all looks like chaos when you focus on one country or group or the killing. But its useful to keep in mind that in the larger picture there are powerful interests at play (see Tsigantes comment, above). And those interests have goals that are much more than simply creating chaos so as to enrich the MIC. (Seems to me MIC has never lacked for business.) Alliances shift, plans fail or succeed – but those interests keep at it.

    H O P

    1. Jackrabbit

      Oops. It wasn’t July, it was June.


      – June 9-11 … ISIS captures Mosul
      – June 20 ….. End of the 6-months allotted to reach a peace agreement with Iran
      – June 29 ….. ISIS declares Caliphate


      Also interesting how Obama has given neocons free reign – even to the point of withholding info related to the downing of MH-17 – but it is claimed that he bucked the ire of US neocons and uber important allies Israel and Saudi Arabia by initiating peace talks with Iran.

      THAT is why we don’t talk about Iran. Most think it is irrelevant . . . because Obama.

    2. Jackrabbit

      OK. One more strange coincidence. Just for the record.

      I list the fall of Mosul as occurring between 6/9 and 6/11. That’s because I’m not sure that they fully controlled the city until 6/11 when they seized the Turkish Consolate. Wikipedia lists it as 6/9 because that’s the day ISIS took control of certain government buildings. This also seems to be the day that Iraqi police and military defenders fled.

      So, then what this means is that the Iranian-US talk deadline expired 9 days before the Caliphate was declared and Mosul fell 11 days before that.

      I would quickly add that I do not think that numerological “signs” mean much of anything. But I have seen others make note of strange occurrences of a 9-11 sequence from time to time so it seems worthwhile to mention. In fact, I wouldn’t even think it worth mentioning if ISIS had not:

      – virtually sprung ‘out of nowhere’ to defeat a defensive force in Mosul that was 15 times larger and better equipped;
      – shown inordinate concerned with propaganda (note the strangely cinematic beheading videos and declaring a Caliphate ASAP);
      – occupied itself mainly with fighting Shia and states allied with Shia Iran (very convenient for US-Israel-KSA after the failure of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels AND the failure of nuclear talks with Iran)

    1. Fiver

      I think Obama’s veto record going forward is going to settle some of the ongoing disputes as to his real character and scope of responsibility for the serious and frequent failures of policy during his terms.

  15. seal

    The US and its idiotic “leaders” in Washington have failed to prevail in ALL of America’s last 4 conflicts since WW 2. these are Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan

    Additionally, the CIA, NSA, NRO, FBI have not only failed to protect us, they have colluded to usurp almost all the freedoms our greatest generations fought and died for – those who won WW 2 and all the earlier generations who built America.

  16. Jay M

    fluffy marketing device
    the evil republican caucus must buy the administration’s tropes
    that being said, prepare for a Berlin 1945 scenario

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