Sobering thought of the day

George Bush and John McCain say The Surge is working. But how? Here’s John Robb’s explanation. If you’re impatient, go straight to the last short paragraph.

  The Sunni Tribal Awakening (rather than “the surge”) has radically slowed violence in Iraq by bringing it back to the levels of activity seen in 2005. That’s a good thing, but the Awakening has been wrongly attributed to a new (resurrected) counter-insurgency doctrine (COIN). Here’s why. The main objective of United States COIN doctrine is to enhance/extend the sovereignty and legitimacy of the host nation. Everything that is done is slaved to this top level goal. Unfortunately, the development of legitimacy is a long and slow process that takes decades of effort (if it can be accomplished at all). In contrast, everything about the Tribal Awakening is diametrically opposed to this. It arms and trains militias and groups that aren’t loyal to the host nation and thereby diminishes the host nation’s legitimacy by undercutting its monopoly on violence and its control over sovereign territory.
  What did happen with the Awakening, and the speed of the transition should be a clue to this, is that the US military opportunistically embraced the insurgency (in a move akin to IBMs embrace of open source development in the 90’s). This embrace showered autonomy, weapons, money ($300 per month x 60,000 participants), protection (from Shiite militias and the Iraqi government), and training on insurgent groups. By doing so, it replaced the ISI (Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda affiliate) as the leading participant in the insurgency. The only “cost” to these insurgent groups, which were under extreme pressure from Shiite militias due to overreaching by the ISI, was to sacrifice the ISI. They rapidly complied.
  Where this goes from here is problematic since (and I say this to get you thinking and not to shock you) the US is now leading both the insurgency and the counter-insurgency in Iraq.

John will be speaking, along with Thomas P.M. Barnett (another among the other most provocative thinkers and bloggers on strategic military affairs), on Principles for Winning the Peace, at Austin-Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, this coming Thursday, Valentine’s Day.

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2 Responses to Sobering thought of the day

  1. Chip says:


    Most interesting
    I try to keep up with both John & Tom
    Correspond once in a while

    That duet would be interesting to see
    Note that Tom’s 2005 “briefing” is on


  2. Alan Kellogg says:

    Looks to me like the Iraqi are working out their social contract. The insurgents now realize that the old regime isn’t coming back, so now they’re working with the government to establish the new one.

    One day ’bout a century ago and Englishman and an American enter a small industrial town and come across a scene of carnage and mayhem. There’s blood in the streets, bodies everywhere, people yelling and fighting, the sound of gunfire and the whack of clubs on heads.

    Aghast the Brit asks, “Is this a revolution?”

    The Yank takes a look and replies, “Nope.”

    “A riot?”


    “What is it then?”


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