Meet David Kilcullen
Thoughtful analysis of the war is in short supply in Washington.
by William Kristol
07/09/2007, Volume 012, Issue 40
Indiana senator Richard Lugar is, if he may say so himself, a thoughtful fellow. Not, to be fair, that he quite says so himself. In his speech on the floor of the Senate last Monday night, he simply chose to point out that unnamed others had been engaged in "sloganeering rhetoric and political opportunism" and had failed to appreciate "the complexities at the core of our situation." He, by contrast, chose to offer "a thoughtful revision of our Iraq policy," "a thoughtful Plan B" for Iraq.
Except it's not thoughtful. Students of American politics should read Lugar's 50-minute speech as a case study in pseudo-thoughtfulness, full of cheek-puffing and chin-pulling. It fails to deal seriously with the real strategic choices the United States faces in the war we're fighting. Lugar acknowledges that the security strategy is working and probably could achieve its goals. Yet in the same breath he accepts as a given "the short period framed by our own domestic political debate." Why? Who "framed" that time period? Who drives our "domestic political debate"? Don't senators have any influence on this? Can't they try to shape, or reshape, the political debate--especially if it threatens the success of a major U.S. military effort? Apparently that would be too much to ask.
Lugar also fails to explain how the partial withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops that he recommends, along with various diplomatic initiatives, would actually achieve the fundamental goals he identifies--preventing horrendous violence in Iraq, denying victory to al Qaeda and/or Iran, and
avoiding great damage to U.S. credibility. The speech is hollow at its center, and unserious to the core.
Contrast Lugar's speech with an assessment of the situation in Iraq posted the very next day on the Small Wars Journal website.
David Kilcullen, a former Australian military officer, is one of the world's leading experts on counterinsurgency warfare. A sharp critic of the previous U.S. strategy in Iraq, he was asked by General Petraeus to serve as an adviser during the development and early execution of the new strategy. Now finishing up his tour of duty, Kilcullen offered "personal views" of "what's happening, right now." It's worth reproducing much of Kilcullen's report, "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq":
On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in
Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished
the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations." I
have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is
the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable
These operations are qualitatively different from
what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe
havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their
infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between
what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous
occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they're secured. These ops
will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security
forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and
economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will
be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these
areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have
"gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and
emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be
intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news
(the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive
When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not
talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the
population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in
the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the
pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by
terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to
clean out the cells that remain--as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can
happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.
The "terrain" we are clearing is human
terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa'ida, Shi'a
extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey
on. . . . [B]ecause [the enemy] needs the population to act in certain ways in
order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And
he can't just "go quiet" to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the
woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent
marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a
lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical
obscenities these gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi
non-combatant population). That's the intent here. . . . Of course, we still go
after all the terrorist and extremist leaders we can target and find, and life
has become increasingly "nasty, brutish, and short" for this crowd. But we
realize that this is just a shaping activity in support of the main effort,
which is securing the Iraqi people from the terrorists, extremist militias, and
insurgents who need them to survive.
Is there a strategic risk involved
in this series of operations?
Absolutely. Nothing in war is risk-free.
We have chosen to accept and manage this risk, primarily because a low-risk
option simply will not get us the operational effects that the strategic
situation demands. We have to play the hand we have been dealt as intelligently
as possible, so we're doing what has to be done. . . .
think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I
feared. Every single loss is a tragedy. But so far, thank God, the loss rate has
not been too terrible: casualties are up in absolute terms, but down as a
proportion of troops deployed (in the fourth quarter of 2006 we had about
100,000 troops in country and casualties averaged 90 deaths a month; now we have
almost 160,000 troops in country but deaths are under 120 per month, much less
than a proportionate increase, which would have been around 150 a month). And
last year we patrolled rarely, mainly in vehicles, and got hit almost every time
we went out. Now we patrol all the time, on foot, by day and night with Iraqi
units normally present as partners, and the chances of getting hit are much
lower on each patrol. We are finally coming out of the "defensive crouch" with
which we used to approach the environment, and it is starting to pay off.
It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and
things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the
beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable
long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the
Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential
All this may change. These are long-term operations: the
enemy will adapt and we'll have to adjust what we're doing over time. Baq'ubah,
Arab Jabour and the western operations are progressing well, and additional
security measures in place in Baghdad have successfully tamped down some of the
spill-over of violence from other places. The relatively muted response (so far)
to the second Samarra bombing is evidence of this. Time will tell, though.
Now this is the voice of a serious and thoughtful man, working with other serious and thoughtful men to change the situation in Iraq. The appropriate response of a serious and thoughtful political leadership in Washington would be to give Petraeus, Odierno, and the troops at least a fighting chance to implement the surge--and to succeed.
But too many of our politicians are not serious. As retired General Jack Keane told the New York Sun last week, "The tragedy of these efforts is we are on the cusp of potentially being successful in the next year in a way that we have failed in the three-plus preceding years, but because of this political pressure, it looks like we intend to pull out the rug from underneath that potential success." I would only qualify Keane's statement in this way: Such a frivolous and thoughtless betrayal of our fighting men would be too contemptible to be called tragedy.