I don’t know whether this comes too late to do any good, but David Axe’s profile of a British commander patrolling a district on the Iranian border has a refreshing dose of positive news.
Labouchere relies on speed and agility. He travels light in just a dozen vehicles per squadron, mostly trucks and speedy Land Rovers but including a handful of Scimitar light tanks armed with 30-millimeter cannons. At night he bivouacs in depressions or nestled between hills to shield him from prying eyes. By day he sorties to patrol the border, show the flag in remote towns and hold court with Iraqi cops, local army troops and the tribal leaders who are his eyes and ears and his allies in the fight against smugglers and foreign fighters. He and his troops shit in ditches, shave with bottled water and eat foil-packed rations. They sleep under the stars on collapsing cots. They live simply and waste little, all in an effort to stay light and to ween themselves from slow, vulnerable ground convoys.[…] Accustomed as I am to heavy, bristling, techy American methods in Iraq, I was shocked and little bit unnerved by Labouchere’s “keep it simple” philosophy. But when I saw it working … when I saw the way locals had warmed to his presence … when I saw how much ground he covered and how quickly … I declared his methods “revolutionary”. “This is actually quite an old way of doing things,” Labouchere countered. I saw his point: overlooking for a moment the vital presence of the sophisticated Merlins, there’s no new technology in the battlegroup. We’re talking diesel engines, machine guns, radios, maps and canvas cots. What’s novel, in the context of this war, is Labouchere’s confidence in tradition and basic principles. But he’s right. Delicate communications networks can’t replace a friendly local populace. Billion-dollar support contracts to firms such as Halliburton don’t boost Iraqi confidence in their government and armed forces — and they certainly don’t kill foreign fighters sneaking across the border.
Worth reading in full. It might be a bit fanciful to imagine that our adventure in Iraq ever could have worked. Too many tribal undercurrents ran against our neverland fantasies about democracy, freedoms and free-market conservatism and too few boots ever stood in country to provide a realistic sense of security. But you have to wonder how much our present disaster could have been mitigated by smart, creative thinking at the outset.
Instead we have a Defense hierarchy who refused to plan for an insurgency because doing so might contradict earlier rhetoric about candy, flowers and a cakewalk. Rumsfeld damned our troops to escape the indignity of being wrong.