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Iraq and the New Model Army

A new debate

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It began with this:

Dr. Pournelle,

The latest from Fred. He talks about the differing views on the War in Iraq.

Matt Kirchner

An important essay. In my judgment Fred does not understand military officers, but given that his views came from a particular time and place that's predictable. There were far too many junior officers getting their tickets punched in Viet Nam, and the replacement policy we had, which is the very opposite of a regimental system, was insane. (Why should you fight for a lieutenant whose goal is to serve in this unit for a while so that he can leave it with a promotion?) But that is a discussion for another time and place.

A military bureaucracy is different from some: in an army, at least, most of the higher management is drawn from officers who led men into battle and survived the experience. But again that is a discussion for another time and place.

Roman soldiers often refused to fight. When troops believe their lives are being thrown away for objectives that cannot be achieved, that can happen. But my contacts among the troops on the ground in Iraq do not indicate to me that any great number of the soldiers -- private soldiers or non-commissioned officers -- believe that. 

Caesar, faced with what amounted to a revolt, was able to bring the legions to loyalty. It was loyalty to Caesar and their junior officers, not to the Senate and People of Rome; but loyal they were. I wonder how many professors of history have read anything about how he did it.

I expect to see a lot of mail about this.


Iraq, the Army, Mutiny, etc.

It began with Fred's column predicting mutiny in the army. I have been gathering comments on the subject since.

The first is from a former senior sergeant and junior officer who has been in the Middle East theater:

Subject: Iraq News 

"Light at the end of the tunnel" was one of those optimistic phrases from the Vietnam War that was widely mocked, until political pressures led the U.S. to abandon Vietnam. The light became the oncoming train of another Cold War cliche, "the Domino Effect," as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fell into decades of communist oppression, unspeakable violence and chaos.

But that's old news. Last week, there was a glimmer of hope in the news from Iraq. Al-Qaeda is on the ropes and sounding desperate, and Iraqis are gaining confidence in their own government and its forces.

A new recruiting video by the emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, brags of the loss of 4,000 foreign fighters in Iraq. He assures budding martyrs their ardent wish for death in righteous battle will be achieved.

There's more in that article.

I reached the conclusion that Fred on Everything was stuck in the 60s militarily quite some time ago. I can't recall discussing this with you or not, but his earlier mention of militaria or Iraq convinced me he doesn't really think about the difference between a draftee army and a volunteer army, or between the 70s and the oughts. People I've served with for almost 20 years have died over there, and I know only a tiny amount of soldiers who think we aren't doing more good than bad over there.

This is, however, irrelevant. Civil control is still one of our fetishes, and the government issues instruction which we will obey. Demonstrably, we've done stupid things when the government told us to, and we've done brilliant things.

I suppose it all boils down to whether you think the main stream media or the soldiers are a better source of information on what is happening. Arguably, either or both sets could be blinded by local conditions which aren't typical, or a cultural mindset. The media relies on locally hired stringers to get the news, since at any given time less than two dozen are imbedded with troops, and the rest simply don't leave the green zone. The soldiers go out, do their missions, which are successful, and presume that success in missions means success in the mission. My bias should be pretty obvious.

In any event, I will include one insight. The chatter about the number of terrorists is unimportant. Just because I hand you a rifle and tell you that you are now a Brother on a Mission From God, doesn't make you dangerous. It takes training to be more than a bullet magnet. Those who plan, who train, who build bombs, who can take a believer, put him in a car bomb and actually get him to the target undetected, those are who are important. Those who understand money, how to create it, move it, hide it and solicit it. Those who have technical skills from actually having a mortar round hit where you want to those who can stage pretty pictures for the press. The concern should be how quickly we are killing and capturing that expertise, not the total body count. The pattern and method and success rate of enemy attacks ought to tell a few things about that.

The danger has never been being defeated. It has always been politics, theirs and ours.

I can kill the armed foes of my nation. Its the unarmed foes I fear.

I have some confidence in these observations; I have known him for some years.



Dr. Pournelle,

A couple of points on his latest essay; I have seen a bit of what Fred is talking about in our Officer Corp. When we were preparing for the invasion of Iraq I remember being the only officer I knew who had even the slightest reservation about what we were about to do. It was universally believed to be the the right move, and about time. (and many were looking forward to opportunties to get combat patches and CIBs)

Since then and having spent a lot of time in Iraq I have seen little change in this attitude. I hear talk about progress beating the insurgency and changing tactics and 4th Generation Warfare (does warfare have generations?). There is some small dissent, but it is the extreme exception and mostly among very junior officers who are getting out soon anyway.

Unlike Fred, I do not see this as Moral Cowardice, but rather as the end result of a vetting process. The Officer Corp attracts a certain type and weeds out those who do not fit the mold. Your typical officer believes what he is doing is right and good and true. He looks no deeper. This may be the nature of a professional officer corp and a large standing army, but not cowardice. The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of this. I believe that they did not intend that we have such an army.

His views on the enlisted corps I tend to disagree with a bit more. The primary difference between the Army of now and that of the Vietnam era is the draft. An Army of draftees is significantly different than a volunteer army. It is important to note that in today's all volunteer army you tend to attract certain types. Some join for financial reasons, some for college money. These types tend to do a hitch and get out. Others join as a form of social welfare. It's a way to support a family and get out of a bad area. These tend to flock to the support units. Many stay for careers.

The heart and sole of the infantry and SF units (Army, Marine, and SEAL), however, are composed of guys who are there because they like what they are doing, don't much care who they fight (as long as they can somehow justify it to themselves), and will stay as long as they enjoy what they do (or are offered more money by the private companies). This is a generalization, but exceptions are few enough. A draftee army might refuse to go up the hill again, but an Army like this? I tend to doubt it. Maybe the National Guard?

We have a professional army now. We have learned well from the mistakes of Vietnam. Then we had professional officers leading a conscript army. Today, both are professional. A professional army does not think of such things as do citizen soldiers which, perhaps, led to the troubles of Vietnam of which Fred speaks.

Matt Kirchner
Houston, Texas

I do have to observe that the Iraq War is requiring more and more participation by National Guard and reserves who have not volunteered for overseas war. The old republic had a small professional army and a militia controlled mostly by the states. We nationalized the militia into the National Guard, but many of those serving in the Guard do not think of themselves as professionals and regulars.


Mutiny- Fred on Everything

I have a son who just graduated from West Point (and was prior enlisted) and another son (and daughter in law) who just finished up five years of enlisted service in military intelligence in the Army. I retired from the Navy as a Chief Petty Officer after 21 years service.

Fred's ramblings sound like those of a former disgruntled and unhappy enlisted man. Today's enlisted personnel are different from those of yesteryear. All volunteer, for one. They know what they are doing, and what they are getting into. They're not ignorant of their mission. Nor are they ignorant of the political world in the United States. And they believe in what they are doing.

Far more than the "elite", and even the senior officers, most that I have talked to seem to understand that the war we are in is a generation war, that will involve not only my children, but my grandchildren yet to be born.

Unless, of course, the radical Islamists do something to provoke us into genocide. Talk about solving the terrorism problem by creating large glass parking lots is not uncommon...

Genocide is a solution to terrorism, albeit a last resort. But it is neither unforeseeable nor unimaginable, nor inevitable. But, Islam is going to have to radically transform itself or... I don't know the or.

The United States is currently ill-equipped to fight a war vs. a religion and ideology rather than a state. WE won't stay that way.

Harold Hamblet
 MMC USN(ret)


And from Colonel Couvillon, USMC, onetime provincial governor in Iraq

Jerry - you can certainly attribute these comments to me.

Is Iraq as bad as the media portrays? No. Is Iraq as good as the administration portrays? No. (Really, does the administration portray it as good???).

Who has more insight? Troops on the ground? Media observation? Government (US and/or Iraqi)? Who's to say. My observation, though, is that all have an element of input. Certainly one can find someone to in any situation to support the bias of any writer (even the hard sciences are succumbing to this!). Exclude or short-shrift opposition information or facts and we find spin. Too often in today's media we have to look at completely different articles, authors, pundits, opinions, etc. get a reasoned discourse from which to make a decision on a topic. In other words the masses have to do their own research! Doing your own research was available in the past, but also in the past I found that there were authors and articles that did the research FOR YOU and presented the material for your consumption, then they'd give you their opinion (supposedly, just what I was required to do in my college class papers). Appears now, everyone (well, almost everyone) starts from an opinion and gives facts to tilt to that support.

From my time in Iraq I've always said it'd take at least 5 years get things into some semblance of order there. At the time most people were talking in terms of months. I was wrong. It'll take 10 or more years. History is replete with examples of why that is true. But as an observation now, I'd say that Iraq is about as good as it can be, given past decisions and serious miscalculations. Despite all of the problems, it is amazing that progress IS being made. AND, we're fighting terrorists in Iraq and winning. Most of the cataclysm people see there now is not the terrorist fight, but internicene fighting among groups (religious, tribal, criminal, political). Not actually a civil war - no one is apparently trying to OVERTHROW the current government, but to grab their piece of it. At one time, in 2003/4, shadow governments were forming in Iraq but those have all disapated with the elections in 2005.

Terrorists, Jihadists, Islamo-facists, extremeists - whatever you want to call them (call them "mufsidoon engaged in Hiraba" to mirror the culture and religious values they continually pervert) are being beaten. Their leaders in the field are being captured and killed. Financial webs are being broken and many Muslims are being disgusted by their actions. They are throwing personnel into the fight in Iraq, but increasingly finding the Iraqis not buying into their vision (Iraqis are mostly interested in their OWN causes). This isn't a short term thing, for even in 10s recruited, terrorists can continue to cause tremendous destruction. I've heard it said that the US and President Bush have played into Osama Bin Laden's hand by 'starting' this war and thus increasing recruits to his cause. In my opinion, OBL wanted a major uprising of Islam against the west. That hasn't happened and doesn't look like it will. I can see where this could have been engineered, but OBL jumped the gun - he didn't have the political, military, or financial standing to pull it off. The emphasis there is on the 'political' - he banked on the Muslim population to join his cause. Despite the video shots of Arabs in the streets cheering the 9/11 attack, the population just didn't follow up.

Now on to Fred Reed's assertion that the US Military is inevitably going to face mutiny and degradation as exampled in the Vietnam War. I've received Fred's newsletter for a long time and have forwarded a number of them to others. Sometimes I like his observations, sometimes I don't. This one, I think is just plain wrong. Fred appears to be looking at today's current military structure and make-up through the prism of the late 60s, the 70s and early 80s. In the late 60s and early 70s you had the "shake and bake" NCOs and Lieutenants (instant 'leaders' with little training or experience). Overall leadership was average, at best, and there was a pervasive feeling that the country didn't like the military. Fraggings, disobedience, disdain for leaders, poor morale characterized the service.

I've been in the Marines since 1974 and saw my beloved organization at it's worst. Black Panther and KKK meetings in the barracks. Drugs rampant. Discipline pathetic (my bunk mate ran prostitutes in the barracks on weekends - picked 'em up in Mexico and brought 'em over to pimp them out; duty officer got a freebie). Servicemen in those days were truly the stereotypes the media would have you believe of today - down & outers, ne'er do wells, runaways, low IQs, ill educated - basically they had plenty bodies. Not all, mind you, but more than just a few.

Today's military is completely different. First, today's enlisted men are all volunteers and more educated than in the past. There is a large percentage of today's enlisted who have college degrees and an even large percentage working on a degree. Today's officers go through continuous education throughout their career. Second, the officers and enlisted in today's military have a general pride in their service and believe they are actually of service to their country - whether the country appreciates it or not! That isn't to say there aren't people with problems in the military, or that the military has no problems with it's people. But as a generalization, today's US Serviceman is the best trained, best supported and best educated in the history of the country. To intone that we're on the cusp of mutiny and anarchy in the ranks is ludicrous. Third, most of the servicemen I have spoken to who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan understand the good that is going on there - and agree with helping those countries. What they are mostly frustrated with is the shackles put on them in engaging the enemy or providing the force to maintain security. Given a greater leeway in application of security measures and a reduction in the bureaucratic oversight of the rebuilding process, many believe that the speed of rebuilding and security can be greatly increased. If we're going to use the military to handle a problem, let it be done militarily. In other words, don't use a hammer to paint a barn.

No, I don't see mutiny. I'd predict a renegade unit ignoring restraints to tackle a situation before I'd predict a mutiny. (Or, am I tilting the facts to my opinion?)


My reply was

Your view isn't far from mine, but then we haven't ever been far apart.

You may recall that before we went into Iraq I said "at least a generation" before we would realize any benefits from occupation, and even then it might not work. It's hard enough to build a nation out of tribes. It's even harder when you start with at least 3 nations in an imperial structure and try to make a single nation out of that; and when there is that much money at stake as spoils for the victor, it really gets tough. I haven't seen anything to cause a change of opinion.

The cost will continue to be 50 - 100 billion a year in addition to the cost of keeping the military ready to do other jobs. We can buy energy independence and one hell of a voluntary navy and military for that. For the $300 billion already spent we could have energy independence I think.


I said "10 years", but you're more correct - it'll be 2 generations. One of the reasons I was insistent on focusing on children and education while I was in country. It'll be that today's kids with a fond memory of a friendly Marine or Soldier who passes that on to his kids who have will have had the benefit of a freer education and better materialistic opportunities that really makes the area less of a threat to the West.



And that, I think, is what the national debate should be about: are we willing, as a nation, to commit to what it will take to win this war?

It is not an encouraging prospect. The alternatives are not very attractive either.

And Fred quite properly calls attention to the problem of conducting a long term war with conscripts; and our professional officer corps and our professional army do not, I think, quite understand the implications of sending in involuntary state militia and reservists, who are not conscripts but are not regulars either. Serious debate on this subject must take this into account.

I have said before: the right army for war and conquest is not the right army for constabulary duties.

Empire and republic have different needs; and transforming Iraq, for its own good, is not what we would have thought a goal of the republic. If it is to be a national goal of a republic it will require endorsement by a great part of the republic, a consensus that I do not believe we have.


Subject: National Guard

Dr. Pournelle,

You make an excellent point about increased participation by the National Guard, but as you also point out, they are no longer State Militia. The States have very little control over them. While many National Guardsmen do consider themselves Citizen Soldiers, are they really? I don't know. They have little say over whether or not they deploy. Units from different states are mixed and matched to suit the national command authority's need. I cannot gauge accurately how they all feel, but the many with whom I have dealt seem to consider themselves more "part-time professional soldiers" than militiamen. Again, this is just in my own experience.

Matt Kirchner Houston, TX


October 4, 2006

Subject: The Tribes of Iraq

You said "It's hard enough to build a nation out of tribes."

True enough, but the Alemanni, Bastarnae, Bavarii, Burgundians, Chauci, Cherusci, Cimbri, Franks, Franks - Chatti, Franks - Ripuarian, Franks - Mythological, Franks - Salian, Franks - Sicambri, Gepids, Goths, Goths - Ostrogoths, Goths - Tauric, Goths - Visigoths, Hermanduri, Heruli, Ingvaeones, Irminones, Istvaeones, Lombards, Marcomanni, Quadi, Rugians, Saxons, Sciri, Sennones, Suevi, Teutons, Thuringii, Ubii, Vandals, Vandals - Asding, Vandals - Siling, and Warni, et al. managed it.

I do not know enough history to say exactly how. Does anyone know? Is it reproducible? Can the process be shortened and can we skip the analogue of the Germanic Imperial phase please?

Fred Zinkhofer

Generations of occupation in Gaul and in the area behind the limes with intermarriage and expansion of citizenship. Claudius was born in Gaul, and promoted Gaulish freedmen to administrative posts when he built the Imperial civil service. As to whether the process can be shortened, I don't know, but it took at least a generation in America for citizens to cease being "hyphen Americans", and with "modern" education and civil rights legislation it is not happening at all. We now have ballots in 24 languages. We value "diversity" over Americanization.

If we cannot induce those growing up here to adopt our values, why do we believe we can cause some kind of transformation in Iraq where Sunni hates Shiite, both hate Kurds, and all three despise Turkomen; where the Turks want to suppress an independent Kurdish state which is the only orderly part of Iraq; etc? Clearly nations can be built; equally clearly the Western intelligentsia despises "nationalism". If Iraq is not to inspire "national" patriotism, to just what are Babylonians, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Persians, Turkomen, etc. to be loyal? To Islam? Which one? Shia, Sunni, Wahabi, Sufi? What, other than dislike of Israel and US intervention, unites all these people? I ask seriously.