Saturday, July 22, 2006

U.S. forgets the lessons of Vietnam & flubs Iraq

By Diane Silver

The Washington Post has already posted a piece from its Sunday newspaper on how we undermined our own effort in Iraq. This fascinating article details how civilian and military leaders either forgot or refused to follow the lessons learned from fighting a guerilla war in Vietnam.

Thomas E. Ricks of the Post writes:
(T)here is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.
Apparently, military leaders had little education on fighting insurgencies and literally hadn't read what is considered the best book on the subject. Today, we're playing catch up, and it may well be too late.

I cannot say that I have even the smallest understanding of how hard it must be to fight in Iraq. Sometimes, though, the Post's revelations point to a failure to apply common sense, at least among some officers.

I'm just a foolish, middle-aged woman from Kansas, but long ago I learned that if you want someone to like you, you don't harass them. To win the trust of the Iraqi population and to prompt them to tell us about insurgents, wouldn't it have been wise to be decent to folks?

In an effort to gain intelligence, the U.S. military would often arrest every able-bodied male of combat age in a neighborhood. Guess what happened. The Post reports:
Senior U.S. intelligence officers in Iraq later estimated that about 85 percent of the tens of thousands rounded up were of no intelligence value. But as they were delivered to Abu Ghraib prison, they overwhelmed the system and often waited for weeks to be interrogated, during which time they could be recruited by hard-core insurgents, who weren't isolated from the general prison population.
This fascinating piece looks is the first in a series of articles on the topic.

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