During the Cold War, U.S. military forces operated in big, firepower-heavy formations, designed to fight equally big and powerful Soviet formations — or what the Pentagon calls “peer” opponents. Times have changed, but the military hadn’t — until now. In recent months, reformers have successfully fought for sweeping changes to military force structure. The changes are meant to boost the Pentagon’s ability to fight in low-intensity, “persistent” conflicts, as opposed to the short, high-intensity major conflicts expected in the recent past. In addition to the structural changes, persistent conflicts demand new ways of thinking about — and training for — […]

Two months ago, Turkey seemed on the verge of reaching a negotiated solution to its 30-year war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a nationalist, leftist militant group based in northern Iraq and fighting for Kurdish self-determination, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU. The settlement — concocted in the corridors of power of Washington, Ankara, and Irbil — lay at the heart of U.S.-Turkish policy for a stable Iraq following the planned U.S. withdrawal in 2010. The stage was set, with Turkish President Abdullah Gül promising that “very good things” were about […]

COIN of the Realm

Time constraints this week force me to actually blog, instead of posting my usual long-form essays to the blog page. So quickly, a few thoughts on the Celeste Ward op-ed in the WaPo over the weekend, which Andrew Exum flagged. The question of the Surge narrative is central to Ward’s piece, which amounts to a critical corrective to the COIN “fad.” But I found this the more interesting thread: It still isn’t clear to me that what we faced in Iraq was aninsurgency. There were many different conflicts raging simultaneously:anti-occupation movements, struggles among and between ethno-sectariangroups, the presence of foreign […]

Promises, Promises

I couldn’t help but think, after reading this Today’s Zaman write-up of an interview with KRG President Massoud Barzani, that we’ll be leaving behind a lot of broken promises by the time we eventually pull out of Iraq. That’s not something you want to do in a country you invaded in the hopes of changing the strategic balance in the region.

Turkey, al-Sadr and Leaving Iraq

In his WPR opinion briefing yesterday, Michael Wahid Hanna pointed out how the refusal by Sunni Arab states — and in particular Saudi Arabia — to get off the sidelines in Iraq is compromising U.S. efforts to create a diplomatic framework to stabilize the country and balance Iranian influence in anticipation of troop drawdowns. Interestingly enough, Turkey seems to have checked in at the scorer’s table and is getting ready to get in the game. And its objectives in Iraq — i.e., a non-federal state with a strong central government to prevent an independent Kurdistan, and plenty of economic development […]

Are Iraq’s Problems Now Primarily Economic?

It’s long been clear that Iraq is much more than a military problem. But with the progress on the political and security fronts of the past year or so, the biggest remaining obstacle to achieving lasting peace and stability in Iraq may now be economic. Listening to a presentation by Gen. Ray Odierno this afternoon at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, I was struck by how many of Iraq’s problems have an economic dimension. For example, Odierno repeatedly stressed the need for regional engagement. As Michael Wahid Hanna points out in his WPR briefing published today, this idea has been […]

At a recent forum on U.S.-Saudi relations in Washington, D.C., current and former Saudi officials decried the previous U.S. administration’s Middle East policies. Yet in shunning the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a regime they deem inimical to their interests, the Saudis — along with other Sunni Arab regimes — appear to have internalized the core foreign policy impulse of the Bush administration. This myopic approach has had the perverse effect of amplifying Iran’s already outsized influence in Iraq and throughout the region. It has also fueled Iraqi suspicions about the intentions of its Sunni Arab neighbors, […]

COIN, Colonialism and Credibility

A big part of the American exit strategy from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed a big part of U.S. COIN doctrine more generally, is the de-Americanization of the conflicts through the progressive replacement of U.S. forces by indigenous security forces. The same thing can essentially be said about efforts to get Pakistan to address the Taliban insurgency in FATA and the NWFP more aggressively as well. Those efforts will obviously hit snags, as this NY Times article about the lapses in Iraqi security forces’ preparedness illustrates. There’s also something predictably counterproductive about having the Pakistani military commit the same […]

Is Iraqi Kurdistan Now a Free-Fly Zone?

Regarding Iran’s helicopter attacks against PJAK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan over the weekend, John McCreary at NightWatch wonders: The curious point isthat combat aircraft from both Iranand Turkey violate Iraqiairspace with impunity while a USarmy and air force is responsible for protecting the country. That would seemto need an explanation by someone, but, then, this is the Middle East. That the Turkish aircraft get a pass is due to lobbying by PM Tayyip Recep Ergogan in November 2007 that has gone a long way towards redrawing the map of northern Iraq from a Turkish-Kurdish standoff into a Turkish-Kurdish partnership. There’s […]

WPR on France 24

World Politics Review managing editor Judah Grunstein made two appearances yesterday on France 24. In the morning, he appeared on the short-format program, “Face Off,” to discuss the recent violence in Iraq. The English-language segment can be seen here. The French-language segment is not yet available online. In the evening, he appeared on the long-format panel discussion program, “The Debate,” to discuss the possible banning of the political party founded by controversial French political humorist, Dieudonné. The English-dubbed version of the program can be seen here (part one) and here (part two). The French-language segment can be found here (part […]

The Iraq Surge’s Political Success

In reading up on the recent violence in Iraq for a France 24 taping I did this morning (I’ll post the link when it goes live tomorrow), I found myself thinking that the Surge ultimately did achieve its second-stage objective of providing the space for political reconciliation. Not in Iraq, that is, but in the U.S. And that might turn out to be just as, if not more, important. Because the Iraqi political accomodation the Surge was meant to facilitate was the one aspect of the strategy that was entirely out of our hands. The Surge — and here I […]

Dear Ambassador Hill, Congratulations on your long-delayed confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Iraq. By now you’re probably on the ground in Baghdad, being overwhelmed with briefings from the embassy staff and the military. We trust that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government have also presented you with their agenda for what Iraq wants from the United States. You are being pulled in many different directions, with everyone vying to attract your attention to their own special needs and issues. Iraq is sure to test your formidable diplomatic skills. The ad hoc bargains and ceasefires negotiated by your predecessor, […]