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The War Nerd November 17, 2006
How To Win In Iraq
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

After my last column laying out the bad news about Asymmetrical warfare a lot of readers wrote in asking, "So OK, how DO we beat urban guerrilla groups?" It's a good question, but at the moment there aren't a lot of good answers to it. I've said before, we're living through one of those moments in military history where a powerful, successful military model runs into its limitations.

The military-industrial steamroller that won WW II for us and the Soviets was a glorious thing, but then so was the phalanx, and the medieval heavy cavalry, and the British square. They all hit a wall eventually, and so have we.

The way you can tell when a military model has hit that wall is that the guys who've spent their lives learning it start calling fouls. And if you've listened to interviews with our troops in Iraq lately, you've heard a lot of that. When I heard one guy telling a reporter, "I hate to say it but these Iraqis are just sneaks," I got really bummed. I mean, I understand why uniformed regulars learn to hate guerrillas; you don't end up admiring people who plant IEDs in your path and then try to play the innocent civvie when you grab them after the blast that just killed your best buddy. Of course you hate them. Of course you want to kill them, and the whole neighborhood with them, because of course the whole 'hood is in on it too. That's how Hadithas happen.

But like I've said before those Hadithas are just what the guerrillas want. They want you to blast the street; makes everybody hate the occupier, helps them recruit new guys. That's how the game is played.

So first of, forget about talking the insurgents into fighting "fair," according to the so-called "laws of war. "Laws of war"-what a joke that is. Ever check out these "laws"? I have, and they make no sense whatsoever. For instance, according to these laws, dum-dum bullets are a forbidden weapon, too evil to be allowed in civilized warfare. But napalm? Noooo problem! Napalm is on the checklist of approved weapons, gets escorted past the velvet rope while those poor dum-dums wait in the rain.

The reason is simple: dum-dums were used by the Boers against the Brits, who were so outraged they lobbied to get those nasty exploding bullets banned. Meanwhile the British forces were rounding Boer civvies up in some of the nastiest concentration camps ever invented, where a quarter of the whole Boer population bought the farm.

Reminds me of that great line from Butch Cassidy: "Rules? In a knife fight?"

There ain't no law of war. There's just double-dealt rules pushed through by the big powers. Asking guerrillas to put up their dukes and face the attack helicopters is as stupid as scolding the Boers for filing the tips of their bullets while they watched their families die, nice 'n legal, in those Brit death camps. Like Rummy said, "You fight with the army you have, not the one you wish you had," and if that means you've got nothing but small arms and IEDs, then you fight sneaky.

Still, there are a few ways of doing CI that do work. I oughta give an evil cackle right about here, like the evil wizard offering the hero a way to get revenge, because none of these ways are noble, or pretty, not the stuff you want on your resume. And some are very risky, too. Try them at your own risk.

The obvious solution is genocide. I've mentioned it before, even predicted it'll come back into fashion, because what we've got now is a huge gap between the military force a superpower has and what it's actually ready to use. We've got a problem in the Sunni Triangle, and we're fighting it with mid-20th century weapons, armor and cannon and air strikes. Sure, it's much better armor, cannon and air support than we had in 1944, but we're talking little refinements of old weapons. Cannon have been around for 600 years, people! A 25mm chain cannon is just a much smaller, faster, more accurate version of the humongous, sloppy tubes that blasted the walls of Constantinople in 1453.

Which brings us to the weapons that we WON'T use: the NBC network. Not the broadcast network; "NBC" for you amateurs means "Nuclear Biological Chemical" although some of this stuff can be broadcast, har-har-har, especially the bio weapons. Just make sure you're upwind when you open the bag, and try not to inhale much for, oh, let's say the rest of your life. If we were willing to use these big dawgs, Ramadi would be as quiet as a retirement community on Halloween.

Of course there are solid reasons to think twice before ripping that bag'o'spores open, like the fact that it's hard to control who dies. Anthrax isn't biased; it'll kill a Shia as easily as a Sunni. And you do sort of concede the moral high ground if you bring in the crop dusters, I guess. I'm not much on high ground myself, but it seems to matter a lot to other folks.

Chemicals are softies compared to bioweapons, because they can't generate one of those Stephen King scenarios that brings world population down to K-Fed album sales numbers. They're nice simple weapons: shell pops open, lethal chem slithers downwind like Pepe LePeu's perfume, everybody dies one horrible way or another, and a few miles further downwind it's just a funny smell, a few athsamatics flopping over. But it wouldn't look good, taking the Formula 409 approach to cleaning up Iraq, because, you, Addam-Say already did that to the Urds-Kay, and we kind of made a big freakin' deal about it, and we love those Kurds now.

It's just one fuss after another, once you start playing genocide, worse than a Mexican-Okie wedding. That's why we end up with good ol' nukes. Nukes are, no question, the class of the hit-man world. You don't have to wonder if a nuke is going to start a pandemic that leaves silverfish as the dominant species on the planet. You don't have to get bashed with Saddam comparisons like if you used chem weapons, because if there's one thing this lame-ass war has proved, it's that Saddam never had any nukes, wasn't close to having 'em, would've shrieked and run like a girl if you'd handed 'em to him. Nobody could say we were just like Saddam if we sanitized the Triangle with nukes.

You think things disappear in the Bermuda Triangle? Just watch how everything taller than a scorpion vanishes in the Sunni Triangle, once we get those high-school compasses out and start drawing little red circles around every habited area from Kirkuk to Karbala, Tal Afar to Najaf. Nukes solve the problem fast - very fast - and clean - well, pretty clean. A few years ago we'd have had a much bigger problem nuking Sunni Iraq, because the sneaky bastards had all these mixed neighborhoods - you know, the ones MSM correspondents loved to mourn the passing of. Well, if you think about it those ethnic-cleansing squads have solved the problem for our megatonnage-management team, because there are no more mixed neighborhoods in Iraq. No need to worry about vaporizing Shia families along with their Sunni neighbors - not that I personally would mind much, but I'm supposed to pretend I do. Nope, no worries, because the ash that would float around the stratosphere after we zapped the Triangle would be 99% Pure Sunni.

Getting carried away here, so I better move on to other CI methods, suitable for children and Democrats. There are three that I know of: targeted assassination, bribery and starting a civil war between insurgent factions. They've all been used successfully; they've all failed too, and sometimes with real Frankenstein results.

Simplest and safest is bribery. I don't know why we don't do it more often. Almost makes me believe the guys running things are secret war nerds themselves, because otherwise they'd do bribery as a way of bringing down "rogue states" all the time. Just do the math. Right now, November 12, 2006, the official cost of Iraq is around $340 billion. Suppose we'd just bombed Iraq with dollars; we'd be the heroes of the world, and every family in Iraq would be - are you ready for this?-$70,000 richer. That would make Iraq one of the richest countries in the world. I guarantee you those greedy bastards would find better things to do with their time than drill holes in each others' heads with power drills. Everybody'd thank us. Not just the Iraqis but every gold chain manufacturer in Egypt, every brothel manager in Amsterdam, every Mercedes dealer in Baghdad. They'd be wheeling and stealing, cheatin' and greetin', till they OD'd on haggling.

Which would be just fine. Along the way, Saddam would have been overthrown in a few seconds, like the first time he tried to tell a young Baghdad blood he couldn't drive his new convertible into the country.

The Iraqis were never going to revolt for democracy - I mean, be honest, who would?but a new car? Boom, ol' Soddom is a hood emblem, and Uday and Qusay are seat covers. Then, when every Iraqi had a car, all we'd have to do is let them run out of gas and say, with our feet up on the table, "So...y'say you need some oil refined, huh? Let's make a deal." Piece of low-sulfur hi-octane cake.

You don't want to give those Baghdadis all the cash? Well, kinda late to figure that out, but OK, there are still ways. One slow, bloody; the other fast, risky, also bloody. The slow bloody way is targeted assassinations by mixed US-local kill teams. We did it in Nam and it worked tactically, wiped out the VC networks in many provinces, but couldn't fix the huge sucking black hole where our strategy was supposed to be. In other words, we hosed the VC with those Phoenix teams but that didn't matter when NVA armored columns rolled in a few years later.

Since the Nam case ended so sucky for us, the NeoCons are trotting out El Salvador, where Reagan's guys did a very good job of wiping out the leadership of the local communist insurgency. What I always admired most about it was it was done so quietly. You never heard about it back then, in the Cheers era, unless something really dumb went wrong, like killing those four nuns. It was a good operation, but let's be real here: El Salvador had a population of four million people, and the insurgency was run by a tiny clique of middle-class commies. When they were killed off, the rest of the people, the campesinos/Indios, went back to their old masters.

The Sunni Iraqis are not shuffling little Indio serfs. They're used to killing, they like it, we can't "selectively" kill their leaders because they don't have any beyond neighborhood level.

Other examples of successful CI, like the Brits against Chinese commies in Malaysia in the 1950s, are a lot more like El Salvador than Baghdad: small groups (ethnic Chinese in Malay territory) with nothing but an ideology to keep up their morale. Ideology, compared to tribal loyalties like we're facing in Iraq, is weak stuff, soymilk compared to Jagermeister. Commies didn't strap on suicide vests like the Jihadis do. We're up against a clan, a big old clan that will fight to the last dummy. Taking out the leadership just won't do it.

That leaves maybe the best, and also the riskiest CI strategy: giving the insurgency enough rope to hang itself with an endless civil war. I wish I had time to go into details, but basically what you do is identify the weak element among the insurgent leadership, strengthen it vs. the hardliners (and here's where having a good assassination squad or two can help, by wiping out the most effective hardline commanders) and then force the weak faction to sign a treaty with you.

It's a sure thing that the hardliners won't accept the deal, but it's just as sure the moderates won't give up power, because (a) they like it, and (b) they don't want to be tortured to death along with their entire families. So booya! You've got a nice civil war going between what used to be comrades in insurgency, and you can play one faction against the other, keeping them both weak. You can't stay in open power as the foreign occupier, but you can take a terrible revenge, because this kind of war is one long massacre, neighbor vs. neighbor. Big sales for Black & Decker reps, as well as your leading makers of rope, soldering irons, hacksaws and other devices for reeducating pesky folks who used to park in your driveway.

The classic success-story for this kind of CI strategy was by Britain vs. the IRA in the early 1920s. The Micks had basically forced Brit CI forces out of most of the rural areas and were using hit teams, like the VC "sparrow teams," to take out officials and informers in the cities. The Brits offered to make a deal with Michael Collins, who ran the IRA's urban campaigns, and got him to sign a treaty they knew the hardliners wouldn't accept. Worked like a charm; the IRA killed Collins, its best strategist, and the Irish settled back for decades of blaming each other, and the Brits never had to deal with more than nuisance campaigns until Ulster blew up in the late 60s.

The Israelis tried to do exactly the same thing by ceding Gaza and bits of the West Bank to the PLO. They had Hamas waiting, way tougher and younger than Fatah, and hoped the Pals would duke it out - the old, weak Arafat cronies vs. the bloods from Hamas. The reason they knew Hamas was in the mood to go to the mattress is that it was the Israeli secret services that created Hamas in the first place, as a "counterweight" to the quasi-commie PLO. Hamas was going to be the dumb Islamic faction that would harass the PLO into ineffectiveness, as if the PLO ever needed any help getting there. Well, it worked a little too well. Two intifadas and one Hamas leadership later, the Israelis would give anything to have a pitiful coward pol like Arafat back in charge, instead of these crazy Hamas guys with 17 children each and a bad case of martyr-envy.

See, that's the problem: you set up two insurgent factions at each other's throats and you're likely to be running a tournament, with the meanest and most determined bastards winning. And that's not who you want for neighbors. The Israelis had some early successes sparking feuds between Palestinian factions. It's not exactly rocket science getting Arabs at each others' throats. The hard part, and the part where the Israelis lost their nerve, is staying out of the way long enough to let the puppet government you've set up get strong enough to take on the hardliners in a really big, bloody civil war. In Ireland, the Brits gave Collins - a guy they hated like poison - not just their backing, but heavy artillery. Now that, folks, is discipline. And sure enough, Collins' forces couldn't wait till the guns were offloaded to start bombarding Dublin neighborhoods where their hardline enemies were holed up.

The Israelis couldn't stay out of the little Palestinian pockets they'd handed over to the PLO, because some Hamas or Islamic Jihad kid would blow himself up in a Tel Aviv deli and the public would demand that the IAF go blast some Pal refugee camp. It made the public happy, but then the public, any public, is a moron. And in the long run, it meant that the Pals never stopped having some new Israeli raid to be mad about, so they couldn't get around to the next step of hating each other enough to get a decent civil war going.

So yeah, this is a cool, clever strategy but I don't give anybody enough credit for sheer cold-blooded smarts to do it except the Brits. And I mean the old Brits, not these poor saps today who tagged along with Dubya for the ride to Baghdad.

Not even those old-school Brits could do it now, in Iraq. Because whereas the 1920-vintage IRA had a fairly disciplined leadership to play games with, we've got -- who? -- to talk to in Iraq. You'd be better off trying to divide and conquer the roaches in your kitchen. Nobody runs the insurgency, and nobody really runs the Shia militias either, not at national level. Sadr? He's their poster boy as long as he mouths off the way the hardliners want, but he'll go the way of Sistani if he tries to curb the boys' enthusiasm. They don't need help. They're having the time of their lives. It's not so much fun for the other focus groups, like women and men over 25 but for Iraqi boys from 15-25, these are the Wonder Years.

The key measurement for insurgencies in all these strategies is leadership, ranging from the almost Inca-style pyramid structure of the VC/NVA to total chaos. The steeper the pyramid, the more room you have to play with CI options, especially the ones involving negotiation. The more chaotic and localized the insurgents, the more you start thinking about those nice, clean red diameter-circles you get with our old friends the nukes.

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Gary Brecher
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