Day By Day

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Strongest Tribe

Bing West, who as a combatant saw the Iraq War up close and personal, has written what to my mind is the best account of what happened there. In The Strongest Tribe he makes several excellent points:

First of all, portrayals of American troops as war criminals in the media and by some politicians are a gross distortion of reality. He writes, "No nation ever fought a more restrained and honorable war."

He also discusses the incoherence of occupation policy after the initial conflict was concluded. It stemmed, he argues, from a disagreement between the Department of Defense, where Secy Rumsfeld wanted a quick withdrawal of troops and a transfer of authority to civilian agencies, and the White House, which saw the military taking a large role in post-war recovery. This dispute was not fully resolved until 2006 when President Bush removed Rumsfeld and decisively backed the "surge". Through all of this the American effort suffered from the determination of Washington officials to direct the war effort, rather than taking direction from the unit commanders who were actually fighting the war.

In any event it is not clear that any coherent strategy would have worked in the early stages of the occupation. The problem was not only that Washington undercut efforts of local commanders to forge alliances with tribal leaders, but the tactics of al Qaeda made it very difficult for local leaders to openly cooperate with coalition forces. It was not until the excesses of al Qaeda alienated them from the population that tribal leaders were willing to take the risk of associating themselves with occupation forces.

If you wish to order a copy of The Strongest Tribe from Amazon, just click on one of the advertising banners at the top of this page. If you do I will get a small commission and every bit helps.

Read Jonathan Kay's review here.