Brian Holmes on Sun, 16 Sep 2007 16:31:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the Mindshaftgap

[Only today did I realize there is someone in the US administration
(apparently a DoD analyst) who shares my exact perception of a
"Strangelovian moment" in the contemporary USA. Since mid-summer a
certain "Herman Mindshaftgap" of the "Bland Corporation" has been
publishing texts full of complex statistics tending to show, not
only that there is no "surge" of troop levels in Iraq, but also,
that the whole war is a quagmire with "no end in sight" (as an
excellent documentary released this summer put it). One can only
suppose that the pseudonym "Herman" harks back to the game theorist
and nuclear strategist Herman Kahn of the Rand Corporation, famous
for his capacities of "Thinking the Unthinkable" and prime mover
behind the Cold War doctrine of "Mutually Assured Destruction."
Below is Mindshaftgap's latest text, published in Counterpunch, - BH]

September 15-16, 2007

Has There Ever Been a Surge? If so, Has it a Future?


First, are current and projected force levels in Iraq significantly
higher than levels that were inadequate in the past?

The United States has 162,000 troops in Iraq, compared to 132,000 in
the middle of January. However, US troop levels in January were only
slightly above the low point of the entire war and do not constitute a
reasonable basis for comparison. The previous high point forUS troop
levels was 160,000 in November and December of 2005, so the current
levels do not even constitute a new peak. Of course, the previous
?surge? was sustained for only two months, whereas the current ?surge?
is expected to last longer. How much longer? The Army and Marine
Corps can probably sustain current force levels for another 6 to 13
months. After that, force levels will decline rapidly unless there is
a major increase in the number of involuntarily mobilized reservists.
The previous peak for a six-month period was 148,000, from December
2004 through May 2005. The previous peak for a 13-month period was
146,900, from December 2004 through December 2005. Hence, current US
troop levels are only eight to nine percent above the highest levels
that were previously sustained for a meaningful amount of time. It is
doubtful that this qualifies as a ?surge.?

The situation gets much worse if we factor in the ?Coalition of the
Willing.? There are11,500 allied troops in Iraq. The number of non-US
allied troops peaked at 25,600 in early 2004,and had an average value
of 23,400 from April 2003 through December 2005. This number was as
high as 23,000 in November and December of 2005. Since the end of
2005, the number of allied troops has declined 20 months in a row, by
an average of about 575 troops per month, and is now at its lowest
point of the entire war. If the trends of the last 20 months continue,
the number of non-US allied troops will reach zero early in the next

The combined number of coalition troops in Iraq ? American and allied
? is 173,500.This number is noticeably below the previous peak of
183,000, which occurred in November and December of 2005 (the time
of the last Iraqi elections), and a fraction of a percent below
the highest level that was previously maintained for a period of
five months (174,500, from December 2004 through April 2005). The
current number is slightly above the highest level that was previously
maintained for a period of 13 months (170,300, from December 2004
through December 2005). Of course, we have not yet sustained the
current troop level for 5 months, let alone 13. Let us make two
assumptions. The number of US troops in Iraq will remain constant for
the next 13 months, and the number of allied troops will decline at
500 per month. This rate of decline is slightly below the average rate
for the last 20 months. With these two assumptions,the number of US
and allied troops in Iraq will average 170,000 for the next 13 months
?marginally below the level maintained from December 2004 through
December 2005. Of course, the 12,000 extra US troops today may have
more combat power than the 13,000 extra allied troops that were in
Iraq during the earlier five-month peak, but this is surely a minor
factor in overall force effectiveness. The recent increases in US
troop levels have, at most, compensated for the reduction in allied
troops over the last couple of years.

Does getting coalition troop levels back up to ALMOST the highest
levels that failed before constitute a viable strategy for success? It
is conceivable that today?s troop levels might succeed where similar
levels failed in the past, but only if one or more, preferably all,
of the following factors are met: ? Today?s strategy and tactics are
superior to those employed a year or two ago, and ? Today?s strategy
and tactics are less manpower-intensive than the strategy employed a
year or two ago. ? Today?s forces are better equipped than the forces
of a year or two ago. ? The situation is not as bad as it was a year
or two ago, thereby enabling forces that were previously inadequate to
be adequate today.

It is true that there has been some change in strategy, relative
to 2006. For example, there is now more emphasis on "clear and
hold" than in the past. However, ?clear and hold? would probably
be MORE troop-intensive than "clear and leave." I don't think that
George Casey, the previous commander in Iraq, failed to realize the
desirability of holding areas that have been cleared -- he simply
never had the troops to implement such a strategy, and today?s troop
levels do not exceed the maximum levels that failed before.

Also, today?s strategy apparently concentrates a greater percentage of
total forces in Baghdad than was the case a year or two ago. Hence,
troop levels in and near Baghdad may possibly exceed the highest
levels recorded before 2007. If your goal is nothing more than to
hold Baghdad, then a modest increase in total troop strength in Iraq,
relative to recent levels, maybe enough for that limited mission.
However, it is hard to think that such a limited mission as likely to
turn the tide in Iraq. Pushing insurgents out of Baghdad may simply
transfer violence elsewhere, and we would have fewer troops available
elsewhere than we did in 2005. If you are dealing with naturally
occurring fires, concentrating fire-fighters on the ?hot spots? makes
infinitely more sense that a generalized increase in the number of
firemen across the country. However, the ?hot spots? in Iraq are
mobile, and the insurgents have some flexibility to move them around
in response to US troop deployments. In fact, there is reason to think
that the insurgents are already moving out of Baghdad in response to
the increased US force levels in Baghdad, as explained later.

Some supporters of the surge assert that the United States will
succeed now, or is already succeeding now, by being more aggressive
against Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia al Sadr is now the
leader of the second largest party in the Iraqi parliament, and a
member of the cabinet. The Iraqi prime minister is an ally of Al Sadr
and does not support aggressive operations against him. Unless the
relationship between Al Sadr and other key Iraqi Shiites changes, it
is hard to think that US forces can be more aggressive about targeting
Moqtada al Sadr than in the past.

Are today?s forces better equipped than the forces in Iraq two years
ago? It is hard to say. In most respects, the US forces in Iraq
are equipped much like the forces of two years ago. There are more
armored HUMVEEs in Iraq today than there were two years ago, but these
vehicles provide marginal protection against anything more potent than
an M-16 rifle. The recent, albeit severely belated, interest in more
heavily armored wheeled vehicles (the sociable, or Mine Resistant
Ambush Protected vehicles) is welcome, but the number of MRAP sin Iraq
is still regrettably small. By next spring, there may be enough MRAPs
in Iraq to make difference, but it is not clear that the United States
can maintain current troop levels beyond next spring without a major
additional mobilization of the reserve components.

To sum up: It is questionable that improvements in equipment or
strategy will turn the tide, at least in a politically acceptable
amount of time, if the situation in Iraq is as bad as it was in 2005.

Is the Situation in Iraq Better Today in 2005?

This depends on how you define ?better.? Three reasonable metrics
would be the number of Iraqi civilians killed by violence, Iraqi
electricity production, and Iraqi oil production. Iraqi civilian
casualties are slightly below the horrendous values of six months ago,
but are still higher than anything that occurred in the first three
years of the war.The figures for oil and electricity production have
all been relatively flat for the last three years,but oil production
shows a definite, albeit minor, downward trend. The figures for oil
and electricity production both peaked more than two years ago,
whether measured by a 10-monthrunning average or actual month-to-month
data. Hence, data on violence and economic factors provide no basis
for claiming that the situation in Iraq is better today than it was
in November2004 through December 2005 ? an earlier period when troop
levels were similar to today?values.

There are, of course, other possible measures for determining whether
things are improving. For example, US leaders have repeatedly made
statements to the general effect: ?As Iraqi security forces stand up,
we will stand down.? Superficially, there has been enormous progress
on this front. Iraqi security forces have increased greatly in numbers
over the last three years. On the other hand: Have US forces been
standing down?Have Iraqi forces been standing up, except in numbers?

How would we measure these factors?

One crude measure of who is fighting is who is dying. Coalition
casualties are relatively flat, with no obvious upward or downward
trend. Casualties among Iraqi police and military forces,
however,peaked in 2005 and are now considerably lower than they were
18 to 24 months ago. In fact,Iraqi security force casualties were
lower than coalition casualties in August 2007. This was the first
such month on record, although the available information on casualties
among Iraqi security forces only goes back to late 2004. It may
possibly be the case that Iraqi forces are now so much better trained
and equipped that are fighting more and suffering less than they
did in the past. On the other hand, maybe Iraqi security forces are
standing aside from the fight against the insurgents and the militias,
rather than standing up, and leaving the fighting to us.

Moreover, in the 24 months (since July 2003) with the highest levels
of Iraqi security forces, Iraqi civilian casualties averaged 2610
violent deaths per month. In the 24 months (since July 2003) with the
lowest levels of Iraqi security forces, Iraqi civilian casualties
averaged 584violent deaths per month. This suggests that Iraqi
security forces have not been a spectacular success, or at least not
in the manner the United States intended. One might even suspect that
the overwhelming Shiite Iraqi security forces have played a major role
in violence against Sunni civilians and other religious minorities.
Providing equipment and basic military training to Iraqi recruits who
do not share our goals may not be a reasonable path to success.

NOTE: The adverse correlation between the size of Iraqi security
forces and Iraqi civilian casualties may be coincidental, not causal.
Iraqi security forces began expanding rapidly about the time of the
Samara mosque bombing in February 2006, an event which stimulated a
greatly increased level of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence. However,
even if the correlation is a mere coincidence, it does suggest that
Iraqi security forces are not going to be a solution to the problems
in Iraq any time soon.

Coalition forces, on the other hand, have apparently played a
beneficial role. In the 24months (since April 2003) with the lowest
levels of coalition forces, civilian casualties averaged1814 violent
deaths per month. In the 24 months (since April 2003) with the highest
levels of coalition forces, civilian casualties averaged 1202 violent
deaths per month. Maybe if we double the size of the coalition forces
and maintain that level for the next five years, things really will
get a lot better!

What about the Iraqi political and governmental situation? The recent
National Intelligence Assessment admits that the Iraqi government is
largely non-functional, and assesses that challenges to the government
may increase over the next 6 to 12 months. (The New York Times posted
the unclassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate on
its web site in late August.) About half of the 37 members of the
Iraqi cabinet are boycotting the government,and the defections may
not be over. Ayad Allawi ? the leading secular member of the cabinet
?withdrew on August 26 to protest the Shiite government?s continuing
failure to pursue reconciliation with Sunnis. This is not really
worse than the situation in 2005 ? the last time that coalition troop
levels were near today?s value ? but no one expected the newly elected
interimIraqi government to be fully functional in 2005. We are now 21
months past the second of two sets of parliamentary elections, and the
Iraqi Shiite government shows no sign of being able to govern or of
being willing or able to achieve reconciliation with the Sunnis, or
between the Sunnis and the Kurds.

In addition, a 20-member independent panel led by retired general
James Jones (former head of European Command and former Commandant
of the Marine Corps) concluded that the Iraqi National Police is
so dysfunctional that it should be abolished and replaced in its
entirety.(This was reported in the New York Times on September 6.)
This situation is, if anything, worse than the situation in 2005 ? the
last time that troop levels were similar to what they are today.

Finally, Prime Minister Maliki and his government have come under
increasing criticism from US officials, especially in Congress, for
failure to work on reconciliation and for taking along vacation while
US troops are fighting and dying on their behalf. (Of course, given
that Congress recently took a lengthy vacation, despite failure to
pass any of the 13 appropriations bills, or the defense authorization
act, this puts them in a bit of a weak position to criticize the Iraqi
parliament!) Maliki fired back in fine fashion, including a statement
that he could turn to friends in Syria and Iran if the United States
is not willing to provide the help he needs. In other words, we may
end up with an Iran-Iraq-Syria ?axis of evil? that would be hostile
to US interests. Moreover, unlike the ?Axis of Evil? from the January
2002 state of the union address,Iran, Iraq, and Syria would actually
be allies, unlike the Iraq-Iran-North Korea pseudo axis of countries
that were not in cahoots. This is clearly worse than the situation in

TO SUM UP: The situation in Iraq is at least as bad as it was in 2005,
when force levels were similar to what they are today. In fact, there
is a reasonable basis for thinking that things are worse now than
in 2005. Hence, in the absence of major improvements in strategy,
tactics, leadership, and equipment, there is no reason to think that
force levels that failed before will succeed now.

Is the Surge Working?

The sections above suggest that there is little basis for expecting
the surge to ?work,? at least in any reasonable amount of time.
However, maybe the analysis above is wrong. Hence,we need to look at
what has actually been happening since the start of the surge.

Unfortunately, there is, as yet, little basis for assessing actual
progress. Although the surge was announced in January, it remained
nothing more than a slogan for quite a while afterwards. Coalition
troop levels in Iraq were below the average value of April 2003
through December 2006 from January 2007 until late May. Coalition
troop levels in Iraq were below the average value of December 2004
through December 2005 from January 2007 until early July. Hence, there
was no surge in any remotely meaningful sense until at least late May,
and possibly not until early July, and the amount of time elapsed
since the real start of the ?surge? is too small to determine positive
trends with any confidence.

The figures for oil production and electricity production in May
through August of 2007? the only ones that could plausibly have been
influenced by the ?surge? ? were all below the corresponding figures
for the same month in 2006, so there is no sign of economic progress.
The decline in oil production between July and August was particularly
significant ? oil production in August was at its lowest level since
late 2003. The number of Iraqi civilian casualties declined five
months in a row, with February through June of 2007 each being lower
than the previous month, albeit still very high by the standards of
2003 through early 2006. However, as noted above, the surge was merely
a slogan until late May, and possibly until early July. Hence, the
surge cannot plausibly account for any of the monthly decreases before
May. Another possible explanation for the decrease in deaths is that
ethnic cleansing is approaching completion, with Sunnis having been
driven out of majority Shiite areas, and vice versa. This alternative
explanation is hardly soothing. Moreover, casualties increased in July
and August, with August being one of the seven or eight worst months
of the entire war.

It is notable that Iraqi civilian deaths increased significantly
in July and August, while coalition deaths and deaths among Iraqi
security forces declined. In fact,deaths among Iraqi security forces
were at the lowest monthly level since 2004 in August 2007,and
August was the first month since 2004 when casualties among Iraqi
security forces were lower than casualties among coalition forces.
Hence, despite the very heavy civilian casualties in July and August,
there was less fighting between US/Iraqi forces and the insurgents
than in earlier months. Moreover, as noted earlier, the ?surge? is
heavily concentrated in the immediate Baghdad area, with US troop
levels outside of the Baghdad area being lower than in 2005. The most
reasonable conclusion from this correlation of factors, even if only
for two months, is that the various insurgent groups are starting
to concede Baghdad to the United States and move their operations
elsewhere. If the only US goal is to control Baghdad, this is fine,
but it is hard to see how such a limited objective could bring
enduring national success.

There has been one area of real progress since January 2007, but it
may not be as meaningful as supporters of the surge like to claim. US
cooperation with Sunni leaders in Anaphoric has led to major setbacks
for Al Qaeda in Iraq. As far as it goes, this is surely a good thing.
However, this transient cooperation does not mean that the Anbar
Sunnis are now our allies, or allies of the Maliki government, or
proponents of Sunni-Shiite harmony. The Sunnis finally realized that
Al Qaeda wants a Taliban-like theocracy in Iraq, whereas Iraqi Sunnis
mostly want a return to the good old days of the somewhat secular
Saddam era. Thus, the enemy of our enemy may again be our enemy in the
near future ? much as the US alliance with Stalin eroded after World
War II, but with a much faster rate of decay.

TO SUM UP: There was scant basis for assessing the actual progress
of the ?surge? by the time Petraeus gave his report to Congress
in on September 12, but preliminary and incomplete signs are not
encouraging. In addition, there is little analytical basis for
thinking that current coalition troop levels and tactics can produce
a decisively improved situation by next spring, when the active-duty
Army and Marine Corps will start to break under the current load.That
is, in order to have any realistic hope of success, it will be
necessary to increase current US troop levels in Iraq within a
year, if not less, and to maintain these increased troop levels for
several years. Such a sustained increase would require a nearly total
mobilization of the Army and Marine Corps reserve components. Such a
mobilization would, in turn, have a major economic impact by dragging
hundreds of thousands of people away from their civilian jobs, and by
pushing the military budget to something on the order of $800 billion
per year. In other words, the United States would have to act like a
country at war, and consider actions such as repealing the Bush tax
cuts for the wealthiest members of our society, mobilizing industry
to produce military products (possibly at the expense of various
consumer products), and possibly even bringing back the draft. Are our
political leaders willing to pay this price? What about the public?

Herman Mindshaftgap is the pseudonym for a long-serving analyst in
the Office of the Secretary of Defense. On July 13 CounterPunch
published a preliminary version of this extended and extremely
valuable analysis.


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