tv CSIS Discussion on Iraq War History Panel 2 CSPAN June 7, 2019 8:51am-9:35am EDT
yet for all its internal logic, or consistency, the transition bridging strategy was not consistent with what iraq's security environment demanded in 2006. the logic of narratives sometimes works to cloud our view and strategy doesn't mesh with reality. to be fair, the narratives of 2007 contained their own flaws. the idea that a growing patch work of local accommodations would gradually gel into national reconciliation seemed to apply the logic of arithmetic to a calculus problem. likewise, the idea that the coalition could actually attain the conditions for irreversible momentum seems a bit fanciful in a world where most historians at least believe that nothing is inevitable. last two points will be somewhat brief.
at the operational level, i want to highlight the persistence of controlling key terrain as an imperative, even in counter-insurgency operations where we tend to emphasize certain functions or to use an old doctrinal term, logical lines of operations rather than physical lines of operations. the 2007 surge of u.s. combat troops and associated enablers could have been employed in any number of ways. that commanders committed these troops in baghdad and in the surrounding belts of the capital simultaneously contributed to a pattern of reinforcing effects that eventually resulted in a dramatic reduction in violence. this deliberate choice of taking the fight to the belts, while ramping up pressure in baghdad
itself, attacked the enemy strategy, in a way that hadn't been done before. and finally, at the tactical level, i would like to point a feature of the relationship between ways and means, and it's this. while the means of strategy are often concrete, the ways in which commanders apply them are malleable. take joint security stations for example. although the coalition established the preponderance of the joint security stations throughout 2007, the first were built in late 2006 under casey's tenure as nfi commander. casey originally envisioned the network of joint security stations as a mechanism to help baghdad's police assume control of the city, as coalition forces withdrew over time. each station would serve as a base of operations in a given neighborhood, and coordinate
patrols among u.s. and iraqi forces, both army and police. when general david petraeus assumed command of mnfi in february of 2007, he transformed the purpose of joint security stations, making them the mechanism by which u.s. troops would increase their presence on the streets of the capital. and then last point that i'll mention, harkens back to an earlier question, tot a question from the earlier panel, and that's just a clarification on the approach to the development of iraqi security forces. also kind of a contrast in two models. so in 2005, 2006, the model, or the mechanism by which to develop iraqi security forces, was primarily through military transition teams, or mitt teams, as we've been saying.
in the late 2006, this concept was going to be central to accelerating the transition to the iraqi security forces, by enhancing the mitt teams. and so the concept was, we take the mitt teams, that are operating, in an area, and we'll use u.s. conventional forces, or u.s. line units, to provide security, and enhance those military transition teams, and by doing so, by enhancing that capability, we will therefore be able to accelerate the transition of these iraqi security forces. the competing model which was fielded, really revisited, and fielded in 2007, was the partnering of u.s. forces with
iraqi forces, and this was made possible by the surge of u.s. units into baghdad and the surrounding areas. so more units, more headquarters, translated into the ability to, for those headquarters and those soldiers to partner with iraqi army and national police units in their sectors, and so you had a synergy, between the partnership of units and the ongoing work of the military transition teams, which were still in place, but both of those aspects were under the control of the brigade combat team commander in the sector, and so you achieved a certain synergy, particularly as the baghdad security plan was developed and implemented. and then eventually, this partnership was transformed over time through the rotation of the units and the standup of the
u.s. advise and assist brigades. and with that i'll conclude my remarks, only adding that i acknowledge there is much of importance that i didn't discuss so i look forward to the q&a. thanks. >> thanks, seth. thank you all so much. i want to start by saying i was one of the outside readers on these two volumes. i have read the entirety of these two volumes. yes, i know, i get a little door prize for this. i'm one of the very few people who can actually make that claim and i just want to tell you how worthwhile that actually is. frank and joel, the team, enormously talented people, but there's one thing that they're not talented at at all, which is actually explaining the worth of these volumes. they suck at that. [ laughter ] these two volumes are magnificent.
peter put it earlier that these are likely to be the official history of the iraq war for the united states. i'm good with that. i'm so good with that. yes, it would be lovely if we had more from the stateside, yes it would be fabulous if there was some official white house version, we're never going to get that. these versions, these volumes cover it. they cover it magnificently. and let's start there. they are so beautifully written, it drives me nuts when, as joel pointed out, what we get in the media, is this moronic, the conclusion of the army's history is that iran won. that's like watching lawrence of arabia and saying the conclusion is don't drive motorcycles. [ laughter ] or reading "lord of the rings" and saying never pick up a ring on the floor of a cave. first, you miss the beauty of the stories themselves. right? and obviously these are painful,
tragic, gut-wrenching stories. but there is such value in reading the stories in their fullness, in their richness, because they are beautifully told, and because they speak to so much more than these simple points that people are pulling out of them. you cannot boil down the lessons of america's experience in iraq to a couple of bullet points. there is far too much there. and what is remarkable, what is incredible about these two volumes, is how much you will learn from them. and it's easy to do the learning because it is so well written, so beautifully written, most of you, you're a washington audience right, you're accustomed to picking up u.s. government publications that read with all of the juice and fervor of the instructions how to assemble your new typewriter or lawn mower.
these are wonderful works of nonfiction. they read so easily. it makes it so easy to take in all of the information. to get the insights and the wisdom that their authors are trying to impart, but also to see for yourself, insights and wisdom, that you'll pick out of all of the information that's being revealed, because it is presented so beautifully. in addition, one of the things that is so remarkable, about the work that this group of people did, was how they weaved together all of the different levels of analysis. yes, there are stories about tactical engagements. but there are also stories about the highest levels of politics. about what was going on here in washington, d.c. about the interaction between the folks in washington, wrestling with domestic
politics, with strategy, and global questions, about america's role in the world, and the interaction with america's wider middle east strategy, with the specific problems of iraq, and how to translate that into winning this bloody war. it's just incredible how they managed to weave all of those tales together. and jim's section on the surge to me is one of the best examples of that in the entire book. the surge is an unbelievably complex phenomenon. and for me, one of the most painful things that i enlist here, is people talking about the surge in incredibly simplistic ways. one of the things that volume two does so magnificently, but again, it is just emblematic of what this group of people has done throughout these works is explain the surge both in all of its complexity, but in ways that are simple enough for you to
grasp without just getting completely lost in the weeds. so as jim was talking about, the surge is about additional troops in iraq. it's also about the anbar awakening. it is also about the battle of baghdad and there are a couple of phenomenal chapters in volume two about the battle of baghdad, and why that was so important. it's about dealing with the shia and the shia militias. joel talked about the internal civil wars that were going on, both the sunni and shia side. and these volumes capture all of that, help you to understand it, and understand it easily, and understand the interaction among all of these different events. and why it was the sum total of those interactions that ultimately produced this remarkable transformation. of what's going on in the war and that complexity is there throughout both of these volumes, from start to finish, but they handle it so deftly
that you always know what is going on, you are not endlessly being hit by little details here and there, and you're bewildered what it is supposed to mean. it is part of a wider narrative that helps take you through it and understand these conflicts in ways that i have not seen in any other works so far. it is remarkable in that sense. that complexity also speaks to another thing that really stood out to me. throughout the entirety of this work, but especially in volume two. i will hear quotes from the patron saint of warfare, karl van clousvitz, who famously said among his many brilliant observations that the most important thing in war is understanding what kind of war you're fighting. and one of the things that really stands out from this total history, but in particular in volume two, is the struggle
to understand what kind of a war we're fighting, because of that complexity. the iraq war is a lot of different conflicts rolled into one. and what was interesting to me is just in listening to the different comments made this morning, you heard all of that. so people were talking about terrorist attacks. and there was a terrorism component to this conflict. and people were talking about insurgency and there was an insurgent component to this conflict. and people were talking about civil war. and there was a civil war component of this conflict. and what was required to ultimately turn things around in that 2007-2008 period, was to start to change a whole series of different american activities that got to all of those different problems. now, i will also say that i think, i wonder, put it that way, i wonder, to what extent we
paid the price for never fully grasping what this conflict looked like at the time. what i mean by that is english is a lovely language, and it expresses so many different things, but there is so much ambiguity in it as well. and i don't want to really have much of a conversation about semantics but it actually matters here. we talk about insurgency, we talk about guerrilla warfare, most of the time people think those are the same thing. they're not. they're completely different. the term civil war. technically every insurgency is a civil war. but the truth is when we talk about civil war, we actually mean something different. why is this all important? it is only important because what you do to solve the problem of terrorism is different from what you do to solve the problem of an insurgency, to some extent, they're very similar, and it is totally different from what you do to solve the problem of a civil war. in fact, what you do to solve
the problem of a civil war is the polar opposite of what you do to solve the problem of an insurgency. and the worst thing, the dumbest thing you can possibly do, is mistake one for the other. and apply the wrong solution. that's exactly what the united states did in 2005. and i can remember from my own experience, going in and arguing with the white house staff, they kept insisting, this is an insurgency , we've got it, we are going to have election, the elections are going to fix the insurgency. now, that would have been correct if what we were actually facing was primarily an insurgency. the problem was, that by 2005, that insurgency had morphed into a civil war. and elections are the absolute worst possible thing that you can do in a civil war. which is why when we held two rounds of elections in 2005, as you guys were talking about earlier, the year of the purple fingers, those elections helped propel iraq deeper into civil war.
and i will tell you that, you know, i was one of those people, i was an early proponent of the surge, i was talking about it in 2004, and 2005, and i too was talking about it in terms of counter-insurgency. one level again is fine. on the military side of things, what you do to shut down a civil war, what you do to combat an insurgency are more or less the same. the problem, the real differences emerge on the political side of things. and i can remember having a conversation with joe kline, a journalist who was following this very closely and he was talking about petraeus coming in and adopting a true counter-insurgency strategy and he said to me, you said it is not an insurgency anymore, it is a civil war, and isn't it problematic, and i said don't worry, joe, the first 12 steps are the same, whether they call it a counter insurgency or civil war, it doesn't matter. they will do the same thing. that's what will help. that is basically correct. small tweaks but not terribly important. politically, they're very
different. the biggest difference with an insurgency, you want to legitimize and empower the government. with a civil war, you want to get an agreement that limits the power of the government. and so our steps in the political realm, in 2009, and '10, and '11, which again the volume, you know, lays bear, are exactly the things that helped drive iraq back into civil war. because we're empowering the worst elements of the shia led by noury al maliki, who are trying to win the civil war and using the government to try to do it. and i even wonder, at some point, we need to go back and have some conversations with folks in the obama administration as to whether they thought they could walk away because they thought it was about counter-insurgency and now we've had nice elections and we've legitimized the government and therefore we didn't need to stay, which is something you can
do in an insurgency once you've reached that point. in a civil war, that force, the force that we represented, which was a peacekeeping force by that point in time, needed to stay. because one of the things, one of the great lessons of history is it takes about 10 to 15 years for people to learn to trust one another again, so that you can withdraw that peacekeeping force. and have a normal stable environment. so that complexity also speaks to this problem that kind of comes through on both of these volumes but especially in volume two, of wrestling with this question of what kind of war is it that we were fighting. given how complicated a conflict it was, and of course, added to that, another theme that comes through these volumes over and over again, is the limited willingness of our political leadership, to provide it with the time and the resources needed to actually address the problem. which brings me to the last comment that i want to make about the particular volume two but also volume one to a certain
extent. because the last thing that really stood out to me in reading these phenomenal volumes has been the ability of our armed forces to adjust, to adapt, to learn, and to change. as i said, i was arguing in favor of moving to a counter-insurgency strategy, additional forces, reaching out to the communities, all of the components of what became the surge, back in the 2004-2005 time frame, and at that time, i remember having, being part of a debate, i'm not going to characterize it more than that, but being part of a debate, small private debate, among a bunch of very, very, former very, very senior u.s. government officials, and i was making the case for what eventually became the surge and sort of very early 2005, and one of the people present who had been a former, you know, been a very senior defense department official, and later went back, and became an even more senior
defense department official, that person said to me, more or less, you know, ken, what you're talking about sounds reasonable, probably even right, but the thing that you're missing is that our military will take ten years to figure out how to do low intensity conflict. and we don't have that much time. and i remember at the time kind of thinking, you know, that is a pretty touch counter-argument. and i don't know if it is wrong or right. and one of the things that was stunning to me, and again, comes through in these volumes, because of the way that they treat both the component parts and the bigger pictures, and integrate them so beautifully, is how incredible a transformation that was. how our military adapted endlessly, right? and you heard it in all of the conversations, all of the presentations, and discussions this morning. people talking about how our
military was put in situations that they were never expected, that they were told not to expect. and all of a sudden, they're there, and they're forced to deal with it, and they are working and adapting and trying and you know, again, as ken pointed out, sometimes they got it totally wrong. but what was also really important about the story, about that colonel mistreating that sunni shea, was that everybody else in the unit knew that was a mistake. they had learned the lesson. and what really comes through in volume two, in particular, is how during the course of this time, the military figures this stuff out, and some of it is coordinated, and some of it is just on the job training. but they figure it out. and it is one of the most important stories, is how the u.s. military transforms itself, to deal with these problems that it was told never to expect,
told not to plan for, told it would never deal with. and i will simply end by saying that i know that one of the great debates that we're having in the u.s. military right now, and one of the great quandaries that we're facing is whether to hang on to that experience, whether it matters for the future. whether we will ever fight a war like this ever again. i don't know. typically, we fight exactly whatever war we least expect. that seems to be the kind of constant in american military history. that whatever war we're expecting, we fight the polar opposite. i don't know what the next war will be, i hope obviously, that there never will be another war but i suspect that there probably will be. our military did such a remarkable job in learning how to deal with the circumstances that it faced in iraq, as described so beautifully by these two volumes, it would be tragedy if we lose that. >> thank you, ken.
let's open up for discussion for about ten minutes. if you have a question, please raise your hand. in the back, we'll get you a microphone. >> yes, i have one question, at the same time you are talking about in the fall of 2006, early 2007, the army marine corps came out with a new counter-insurgency manual. and in the history, could you tell if that really had any effect in the next two years, or was it really as ken pollack talked about, adaptation at the local level? >> so when you say the marine corps manual, i mean i'm familiar with the joint army marine corps, fm-324. is that what you're referring to, i think? well, i think it had an influence in the sense that general petraeus, who was in charge of the army portion of
that, while i believe general mattis was in charge of the marine portion of that, formulated a lot of this idea, his ideas, or took a personal interest in that manual, a lot of the discussion that provided the input for that manual, took place in workshops and such that he, general petraeus sponsored, and so it was, it was kind of a picture of, you know, throwing the pass, and then his assignment is, the commander, catching it in iraq. and so i think how i would summarize it is you have a lot of counter-insurgency, as general casey himself would say that he was fighting a counter-insurgency campaign. so you have a lot of counter-insurgency techniques being taught in iraq.
but it is not until 2007 where you have kind of a uniform application of those techniques throughout the country, and not in isolated units. so i think the idea, the ideas of counter-insurgency are known, and implemented in some cases. i think after the publication of the manual, you have a more uniform application of it. part of that i think is due to the manual, but part of it is also because you've got the chief sponsor of that manual in charge of implementation in iraq. >> yes, just to echo what jim said, i think that i saw that manual as being the kind of collective wisdom, right, an effort to take all of that improvisation i was talking about, as well as older wisdom that was inherent in the
military, codify it, and say this is what we are going to do moving for. and especially at the tactical level, i think that was very important in getting everybody on the same sheet of music. that said, i will name a name here, pete mansauer, i think the world of pete, a phenomenal military historian, and he wrote a nice book on the surge called "the surge" and at one point, i read the book, i thought it was excellent, but there is a place in the book in the first half, i can't remember exactly where, but pete lays out, this is what we're going to do during the surge. it is really nice and clear. and i took that, and i took, fm-324 and if you look at the, there is almost nothing in common. what is on those pages is what they knew was the right answer for iraq. politically. militarily. economically. in every single way. they understood after having spent, you know, three, four years, and you know, too much
blood, blood, sweat, and tears in iraq, they understood what needed to happen. by the way, this is true on the political side as well. i remember having conversations with ryan crocker and charlie weiss and that whole team over at the embassy, right, they couldn't describe to you what the theory of what they were doing was, they just knew that this is what needed to happen in iraq. and they went about doing it. and it just so happens that what they did, both on the military side, with petraeus, with dubek, dempsey, all those guys, what they did on the military side, and what brian and his team did on the political side, was exactly what you were supposed to do, what the history teaches that you need to do to shut down a civil war, which is why it worked. but it was less about, you know, the theory of this or that. it was much more about a group of people who had come to grips with this problem, who had learned how to do it and were implementing. >> just to put a bow on that, so
i don't want to give the impression that fm-324 is a blueprint for what then happened because there were certainly, i mean certainly it was not complete or comprehensive in that sense, because it is not going to provide an answer for everything you encounter in iraq, and just as an example, would be the approach to the awakening. and how to deal with civil wars within a civil war. so there is, in general, general used to refer to, what he was dealing with was coin plus. so there was counter-insurgency, but there were some political dimensions to that, that exceeded what was in the manual. >> last question? up here in the front. >> my name is brett peterson. i served in operation iraqi freedom one in the second battle
of fallujah. the first battle of fallujah was rightly regarded as a classic case of making two mistakes, rushing in with mistake one and pulling out quickly, mistake two and among other things we figured pulling out after rushing in gave the insurgents specifically the al qaeda-linked guys a lot of street credit in the sunni block, and gave them a platform to further their ambitions of stirring up sectarian tension and civil war. and the grander scheme of things, how much do you think that mistake played into the situation that we ended up having to deal with? >> so i'm going to treat that in a wider sense. and again, it was something that was really, as i have a little ptsd, little flashbacks in the first panel, because we were talking about how the united
states handled the invasion, and the failure to actually deal with reconstruction and really take it on. because again, a lot of the decisions that were made at the time, and again, it is one of the things, the book is so beautifully even-handed as well. it is hard not to read it and say that was a mistake. but the authors all went to such trouble to try to portray the decisions in their proper context, to give people their proper due. i think it is a wonderfully important work. and you know, all of the decisions that were made at the time, there is a logic to them. right? they seem in many cases to be smart or common sense, right? and in many cases, it is people who were doing things that they have never done before and have no context for doing before, right? they don't even have analogies in their heads for what to do about it. so they're doing the thing that they think makes the most sense, right?
and we are listening to iraqis. and what was striking to me at the time, what is striking to me since, is that before we ever invaded, if you spoke to the community of people who had done post-conflict reconstruction, all around the world, and all these different places, one of the most important things that they said was you do not allow the iraqis, you do not allow the indigenous population to run things for at least eight years. and one of the main reasons, it goes to a point that kim was making on the first panel, which is you're not going to know what the right answer is. you're not going to know who the good people are and who the bad people are. right? you're not going to know if you turn over security to this group or that group, whether they're going to do the right thing or the wrong thing, so the most important thing that you do is you hold on to sovereignty and security until you're absolutely
certain, until you've built new institutions of security, and new political institutions to run them, and have worked out the relationships between them, and then say that takes at least eight years. and to me, the issue of fallujah, like so many of these, was the u.s. being caught in between. right? we did get the fact that we didn't really know who these people were, and we had heard bad things, let's be honest, we had heard bad things about all of them. because everybody was saying bad things about everybody else. the number of people who were uniformly described as good, honest, wonderful, hard-working nationalists, i could probably count on one hand. every iraqi has some enemy, has some rival, there is someone out there who is going to say bad things about them. and so oftentimes, we would do stuff like that thinking we need to go in and take over, and no, no, no, that is the worst thing you could do, you're delegitimizing the people you
want in power, and okay, let's step out. and again, it was that absence of understanding, that absence of planning, but that absence of a willingness to say, you know, what, this is truly on our shoulders and we're going to have to make this work and to me the battle of fallujah was one of many examples of that. >> let me just conclude by thanking the folks who wrote this, and spent three years working on it. how many, joel? three and a half years. as a national security professional and a government historian, to see how hard it was for them to do this, just to logistically make it happen, to get it through a very large and complicated bureaucracy, and to tell the story as well as ken described it and was telling it, i think really, they performed an admirable public service and so thank you for all that you did.