John Bernard served 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, both active and reserve. He currently owns Bernard Woodworking and operates the Let Them Fight or Bring Them Home! website.
** ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT LET THEM FIGHT OR BRING THEM HOME! **
For the better part of five years, I have been decrying the unconscionable use of the historically failed strategy of Counter Insurgency (COIN) in the midst of an ideological monolithic culture; principally of Islam.
In the past few days and just two years after the final elements of US forces withdrew from Iraq, stories are emerging, bringing to completion the seemingly prophetic message I and others warned of two years ago; that Al Anbar has fallen back into Al Qaida hands with a self-neutered Iraq government seemingly powerless to stop it. I also made the case, then, that Al Anbar was not won by General Petraeus’ conjuring up the spirit of COIN specifically, but by the infusion of some 30,000 American uniforms into the region.
This process is more akin to the scientific theory of displacement than battlefield strategy. If you fill a region with men bearing one set of Colors, the unit marching under a different Banner, will be forced to displace - and they did. The effort to liberate Fallujah, twice, yielded a temporary reprieve for the non-combatants living there which now seems to have been reversed with Al Qaida and other like-minded cells and tribal components, retaking that city and Ramadi.
What is so damnably frustrating about this is that too many of us to list, foretold of this, years ago. And if there were any left in this country who still held onto the belief that either our civilian leadership or the left-listing General Grade Officers which populate the upper echelon of our Military structure were somehow visionaries and intellectuals, this latest manifestation of a failure of foresight should hopefully drive a spike through the heart of that lingering belief.
Not once - but twice, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers were asked to lay down their lives, “liberating” Al Anbar and most specifically, Fallujah; the second time being tightly restrained by the rigid ROE (Rules of Engagement) borne of the incomprehensibly idiotic paradigm of COIN! And now, two years later, that effort and all that blood, proves to have been for naught!
My argument against applying the rigid stricture of COIN - on any battlefield was multi-faceted and immutable. First, if the hope of armed conflict is to convince your enemy of the futility of continuing on his chosen path then historically it has failed to some degree or another, each and every time it has been employed.
Second, the principle reason for dragging it out of the dusty archives of failed ideas has been the desire to mitigate collateral damage among the “innocent” population. The Pentagon assigned that misnomer to the Iraqi and Afghan populations due to a very poorly managed assessment of the human terrain in both countries which concluded the general population was innocent and not party to the calamity that was their culture. This assumption was made possible due to a systemic ignorance of the dominating religion and its likely effect on the daily actions of the people or their potential sympathies with the “insurgency”.
Third, it is not our place, constitutionally or even morally, to save any people from themselves. Civil wars and internal strife are, by definition, internal. In our haste to re-establish some semblance of order in a country we had invaded, choices were made which changed the dynamics of the balance of power, giving control to the Shiite majority, placing that nation in league with Iran and at odds with Al Qaida which is principally Sunni.
It is clear, these years later, that Al Qaida and the Sunni population in Iraq do not intend to sit idly by, allowing the status quo to stand. Attacking Al Anbar, taking Fallujah and the capital, Ramadi, sends a clear message to Baghdad. It also should cause the “dead” in DC to take note. Where there were assurances made about the strategy shift to COIN and the naïve compartmentalization of Iraqi society during the war, it ought to be crystal clear now that those assumptions were wrought with error. It should also be clear that interfering in another nation’s governmental business or trying to fix a perceived problem in that regard can yield unintended consequences.
Our only legitimate reason for our incursion into Iraq was to stop Saddam Hussein from building, stockpiling and using “weapons of mass destruction” which every single intelligence agency agreed, was the case and a clear and present danger to the US and our western allies. It is entirely incidental to the argument that those weapons were not found after the initial incursion. As history mockingly reminds us, waiting 6 months to carry out the threat of a military strike, gives ample time for the intended target to redistribute war materiel and in this case the WMD’s which gave impetus to the incursion in the first place. The Monday morning quarterbacking that has taken place since those early years of that war, has been shamelessly enjoined by specific political figures for political gain. In recent months, it has become evident that at least some of those weapons components and systems may well have been transported to Syria, as suspected years ago.
The point being, if those weapons existed as multiple intelligence agencies, reported, then that was the only possible legitimate reason for the initial incursion. Being as Saddam Hussein and his government were of Iraq, it fell to the Iraqi people to change the political structure in Iraq and destroy those weapons, IF, they truly felt building and keeping them was wrong. There remains only two legitimate reasons why they didn’t act; cowardice or collusion. Our concerns early on should have factored in those two possibilities and come to the only conclusion one can, it is not our place to imbue on a people our hope for them, but rather to accept them for what they are, finish the mission utilizing a strategy with the greatest hope for success and then come home.
Having tried yet one more time to re-envision the ideological genetics of a people and then modify sound battlefield tactics to accommodate that vision, we are now seeing, one more time how that effort can fail. As they say, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. No amount of hoping or conjuring or beneficent pandering to a people ideologically aligned against you will change their minds or their adherence to their ideology, even if that ideology has help cause their misery.
Every effort to minimize damage among the civilian population through the unreasonably rigid tenets of COIN which by design, place our American born War Fighters; our Sons and Daughters, at exponentially increased risk, was both immoral and unconstitutional! The simple answer for the security of the Iraqi people was something that should have happened before it was deemed necessary to attack them - they should have revolted! The truth is that the condition of any nation is the primary responsibility of the people who bear its name. To that end, the Iraqi people failed, and are failing once again after we wrongly wasted the blood of our current generation to do something that was not our business; sparing the lives of a people who hate us ideologically!
This conversation needs to happen right now, even as this Administration has committed troops to Sudan, has made the effort to commit resources to Syria, continues to flounder in Libya, is attempting to negotiate reason in Iran, has inserted itself into the Israeli/”Palestinian” conflict and is still puzzling over Egypt.
Clearly the Administration is fighting with one academic arm tied behind its back and is sending folks holding diplomatic credentials who are equally challenged when it comes to understanding the complexities of Islamic culture and Islamic doctrine.
These continued ill-advised efforts to massage the troubles of cultures in the Islamic world are proceeding with bad advice about those cultures and their religion and continue to threaten the well-being of American War Fighters which are continually compelled to act as a highly restricted police force rather than this nation’s Warrior Guard.
We have literally wasted the lives and the wellbeing of far too many of this generation, chasing after something that cannot be achieved; improved relations with a people who will only be satisfied when the last vestige of Infidel’s corpses are rotting in the ground.