Bob Woodward has an item this morning explaining more fully his book’s assertion that the 2007 troop surge “was not the primary factor behind the steep drop in violence there during the past 16 months.” Woodward notes the importance of the Sunni awakenings and Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia “freeze,” but stresses the innovative new counter-insurgency tactics employed by General David Petraeus, termed “‘collaborative warfare,’ using every tool available simultaneously, from signal intercepts to human intelligence and other methods, that allowed lightning-quick and sometimes concurrent operations.”
While the new tactics are indeed impressive, a few of Woodward’s comments last night on 60 Minutes raised some troubling questions.
Asked to describe these new tactics in more detail, Woodward said “I’d love to go through the details, but I’m not going to.” Woodward couldn’t hide how impressed he was with what the U.S. military has been able to do in Iraq, though, calling it “the stuff of which military novels are written”:
WOODWARD: From what I know about it, it’s one of those things that go back to any war, World War I, World War II, the role of the tank, and the airplane.
Q: Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?
WOODWARD: Yeah…if you were an al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq, or one of these renegade militias, and you knew about what they were able to do, you’d get your ass outta town.
Back before the Iraq invasion, air power was all the rage. In the wake of the Kosovo intervention, advocates of invasion were celebrating “one of the great revolutions in military history: the revolution of air power,” and suggesting that, America having thus mastered the art of war, toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime and installing democracy in Iraq would not be difficult. It didn’t quite work out that way.
While it’s a positive thing that such a prominent figure as Bob Woodward is attempting to correct the record on the surge, pushing back on the simplistic establishment consensus which holds that “we were losing, then Bush sent more troops, and now we’re winning,” Woodward’s heavy breathing over “collaborative warfare” is distinctly evocative of the previous heavy breathing over bombs that can go down chimneys.
As with the national security establishment’s erstwhile romance with air power, the idea that we’ve discovered the “key” to counterinsurgency brings with it the possibility that, armed with a shiny new doctrine, U.S. policymakers will feel emboldened to propose and undertake — and media elites will be induced to support — all kinds of new and inherently unpredictable military interventions against various and sundry future new Hitlers, forgetting the most important lesson of counterinsurgency: Don’t get in situations where you have to engage in counterinsurgency.