Thursday, October 12, 2006

But is it too late?

Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times brings attention to a draft of a new counter-insurgency doctrine that is to be published next month.

"The doctrine warns against some of the practices used early in the war, when the military operated without an effective counterinsurgency playbook. It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees. Instead it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services, and the rapid development of local security forces…The new doctrine is part of a broader effort to change the culture of a military that has long promoted the virtues of using firepower and battlefield maneuvers in swift, decisive operations against a conventional enemy."

The document also states what Bush has been loathe to concede:

"Any use of force generates a series of reactions. There may be times when an overwhelming effort is necessary to intimidate an opponent or reassure the populace. But the type and amount of force to be applied, and who wields it, should be carefully calculated by a counterinsurgent for any operation. An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if the collateral damage or the creation of blood feuds leads to the recruitment of fifty more."

Well it is about time. I cannot understand why it took this long for our military leaders to realize that strategies employed during major combat operations cannot be adopted when dealing with insurgencies or militias. I suppose it’s not too surprising considering the obstinacy of our government in regards to nearly ever other facet of the war, but I can’t even begin to imagine how many lives would have been saved and catastrophes averted, had the U.S. military adopted this doctrine to begin with.

But is it too late? Maybe I am being too cynical, but I wonder whether this shift in doctrine will have any meaningful impact. After all this is an entirely new doctrine. Won’t it take time to adequately train soldiers in it? That could take years.

I am relieved that the new doctrine explicitly states the need to build up local institutions and encourage economic development, rather than focus entirely on a military solution. It is by discreetly empowering Iraqi NGO’s, encouraging civil society initiatives and addressing the unemployment crisis that the U.S. will create the conditions necessary for it to withdraw responsibly from Iraq. We must not forget that Iraqis are the only ones that can offer effective solutions to the problems that plague them. We'll see how it goes.

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