Bing West’s War


In the latest Atlantic Bing West offers his upbeat vision of how things might be turned around in Iraq. I mentioned the CAP or Combined Action Platoons in an earlier posting. Bing was the one who originally presented this idea to me and other researchers at the Hudson Institute in the 1960s. He had just come back from Vietnam where he had been involved with this Marine effort. One must at least give him credit for consistency. Of course, he is no longer the dashing, undaunted young man, but one can see in his TV and radio appearances these days that the commitment and enthusiasm is still there.

The concept as applied to Iraq is for the American military to break many of its units into small platoon sized advisory teams that would be embedded with somewhat larger Iraqi forces (perhaps in a ratio of one American to four Iraqis). They would live and patrol with the Iraqis for long periods. The Iraqis would identify the targets and the Americans would bring in the firepower that would lead to victory, victory in small increments, but consistently.

Bing gives some good examples of where particular officers in some cities in Iraq have succeeded very well with versions of this approach. They combined this with making alliances with local tribes that then became the main backers of the local police forces. It has always seemed to me that this approach if carried out consistently and on a large enough scale would have real promise. The problem again is that it may be too late. And breaking up of units for long periods in this way has never been popular with higher commanders.

Other aspects of the West approach are less satisfying. He is right that we need to treat the conflict as more of a police matter and we need to give the equipment and support to the police that they lack. But he combines this with a “get tough” approach that says in effect that we need to get the bad guys off the streets, no matter what the doubts we may have about the legality of what we are doing. If the jails are not full, in his mind the American-Iraqi police not doing their job. He seems to ignore what the Iraqis do to men in jails. He implies that we pay too much attention to such details. We need to get the job done! He has little patience with coddling the Iraqis at any level (and “ours” or “theirs”).

This reminded me of what Brezezinski said tonight on a television discussion. “What we are doing in Iraq is going against history. We are fighting a colonial war in an era in which no one accepts colonial wars.” Bing is still outlining a policy for a colonial war.

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