February 2, 2007
Would you run the ultimate experiment in Iraq?
By Perry Willis
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . . Please forward to concerned friends . . . It's hard to deny that we're experimenting with American lives in Iraq. After all, we've been there for four years, and if anyone in government actually knew how to bring peace to that country you'd think they would have done it by now. It's not like they haven't tried . . . They've tried more troops and less troops. They've tried being highly visible on the streets, and largely invisibile. They've tried attacking, and they've tried making nice. Is there anything left to try? Well, we could try using overwhelming force, employing the maximum number of troops to assault both the Sunni and the Shia militias, and all of the many splinter groups, without preference or quarter. That would be the ultimate experiment, with lots of people's lives, and lots of your money. It would endanger the ultimate number of Americans, fill the ultimate number of body bags, kill the ultimate number of Iraqi combatants, and also the ultimate number of innocent Iraqi civilians. It would be a nasty business, but . . . * Would it work? Would it bring peace to Iraq? * What would it take to run this cold-blooded experiment? How many troops would be needed? Popular opinion holds that you need 10 to 20 soldiers per 1,000 civilians to quell an intense insurgency or civil war. But where does this number come from? We've tried to find out, but though many people cite the number, no one we've run across ever says where it comes from, or how it's justified. Here's what it says in the official U.S. Army Field Manual on Counter Insurgency Operations, page 13, section 1.10:
"No objective force level guarantees victory for either side. It is frequently stated that a 10 to 1 or 20 to 1 ratio of counterinsurgents to insurgents is necessary for counterinsurgency victory. In reality, research has demonstrated time and again there are no valid ratios that, when met, guarantee victory. As in conventional war, correlation of forces in an insurgency depends upon the situation. Though objective and valid forcecorrelation ratios do not exist, counterinsurgency has been historically manpower intensive. Time, which often works on the side of the insurgent, just as often places serious constraints upon counterinsurgent courses of action."
This is the official Army position. It's very close to being no position at all. Different situations require different numbers of troops. Which situations require which troop levels? No answer. Apparently no one knows. Apparently . . . you have to experiment. With lives and money. So how would we construct our ultimate experiment, given this resounding (but sober) lack of guidance from the Army? Well, here's what we know from at least one "ultimate-sized" experiment that has already been run . . . A Washington Post story, informs us that the military ran a war game, called Desert Crossing, in 1999. This war game tested the scenario of invading Iraq with 400,000 troops. The result was essentially what we ended up with in reality by doing it with less than 200,000 troops. Remember what the Army Field Manual says. There is no objective troop level that can guarantee victory. The situation is what matters, and both our real experience in Iraq, and the Desert Crossing war game, would suggest that neither the troops we have available, nor even 400,000 troops (which we do not have available) would be equal to the situation. But Iraq isn't the only "situation" we can look at. There is a lot of historical experience with a lot of different counterinsurgency situations, and the verdict is not good. Most situations, most of the time, have been impervious to troop levels. Examples include the French and American experience in Vietnam, the French experience in Algeria, and the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. There are many, many more examples, most of them negative, including even our own American Revolution. Many of the examples on the "postive" side of the ledger are also instructive. The British succeeded with the Boer insurrection in South Africa, but in so-doing they had to invent the concentration camp. The British had to incarcerate the "guilty" with the innocent, because they couldn't tell friends (or neutrals) from enemies. This is the signature problem of insurgencies, and the main reason such a high proportion of counterinsurgencies fail. Not being able to distinguish friend from foe leads counterinsurgency efforts into a moral hell where, as in Vietnam, governments convince themselves that they have to "burn villages to save them." Were we to do take such an un-American approach in Iraq then how could we continue to say that we're really there to help the Iraqis? Another example . . . The British, when they had their "Iraq moment" in the 1920s, were immediately met with the same kind of problem we have there now. Ultimately they had to "burn villages to save villages" using phosphorus bombs, after which they quickly installed an Iraqi government and retreated to the periphery to maintain their control of Iraq's oil. The British never really subdued or controlled Iraq itself. Popular opinion holds that the Iraq invasion could have worked, if only Bush and Rumsfeld had used a lot more troops. We suspect that this is a myth, just like the WMDs and all the other myths that got us into this mess. Truly, this has been a Myth Mess -- from beginning to end -- because we didn't learn from history. History has a lot to teach us, if only we will look deeply, and pay attention to the full range of available evidence. Nothing about "the situation" in Iraq has come as a surprise to us. We predicted nearly all of it in the months before the Iraq invasion (and before we created At our website,, we made a lot of daring forecasts that came to pass. We predicted that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction left, even though the whole world seemed to think otherwise. We also predicted the sectarian conflict, and much else. The Truth About War site was frozen on the day of the invasion, so you can go check it out for yourself. How did we know things that the supposed "experts" in government, with all of their "special" sources of information, did not know? It was really very simple. We paid attention to evidence. We paid attention to history. We paid attention to the track-records of the people involved in making the decision to invade Iraq. And we paid attention to the reports of the weapons inspectors. Now we are paying attention to evidence once again. * We do not have enough troops to attempt the ultimate bloody experiment, even if we wanted to. * And even if we had the troops, it probably wouldn't make a difference, any more than increased French or American troops made a difference in Vietnam, or increased French troops made a difference in Algeria, or increased Soviet troops made a difference in Afghanistan. Some situations are just impervious to troop levels, or tactics (shy of concentration camps and burning down entire villages). Iraq seems to be one of those situations. This means . . . There is no experiment left to be run, that we have the capacity to run, that is likely to generate a different outcome. There is a civil war in Iraq, and it is going to continue until the factions involved agree to settle the conflict. It is in their hands, not ours. U.S. troops can stay or go, be reduced or increased, and the results will be the same. The Iraqis will fight and die, and innocents will be killed. These are the constants of the equation that many Iraqi's have chosen for themselves -- and that we have made possible. The variable is, will U.S. soldiers die too? If they remain, the answer is yes. If they depart, the answer is no. Which answer do you choose? If you prefer the answer where U.S. troops do not die for no purpose, then please ask Congress to pass HR 413, deauthorzing the occupation of Iraq. You can do so here. Please also consider making a contribution to further our work. You can do so here. If you would like a chance to discuss this, or other issues, with Jim Babka, you can do that this afternoon on the Jerry Hughes show (see the broadcast details below the signature). Thank you for being a DC Downsizer. Perry Willis Communications Director, Inc. NOTE: Jim Babka is on the radio again today for his regular Friday appearance with Jerry Hughes. This show is a great opportunity to spread the DC Downsizer message. Please support this show. Help us create "buzz!" You can do so by listening, but especially by calling-in or sending an email. The toll-free call-in number is: 1-866-222-2368 The email is: Jerry at AccentRadio dot com Time: 3:00 PM Eastern, 2:00 PM Central, 1:00 PM Mountain, Noon Pacific Length: 1 hour Host: Jerry Hughes Show: Straight Talk w/ Jerry Hughes Internet: Click on the Listen Live button, top of page. You'll need Winamp or Windows Media Player. You can listen to the show in more than 20 markets. A complete list of "affiliates" is available at the website.
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