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January 11, 2007
The Softly-Softly General

President Bush selected General David Petraeus as his new commander in Iraq in part because of his success in pacifying his sector of the Iraq theater in 2003. Petraeus learned the tactics as a student of British experience in imperial military counterinsurgency operations, a point that the Times of London believes will make a significant difference:

The new US ground commander picked by President Bush to direct the military “surge” into Iraq believes that the war can be won with a radical change of tactics: those used by the British in Malaya and Ulster.

Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, handed perhaps the toughest US military assignment since the Vietnam War — to stabilise Iraq and defeat its militias — is one of the Army’s premier intellectuals and a devoted student of counter-insurgency techniques used by the British and French during the last century.

General Petraeus, who has spent 2½ of the past 4 years in Iraq, has been one of the few officers advocating a troop surge into Baghdad. He believes that a new approach, based on soldiers living and patrolling amid the population and co-opting local leaders, can halt the slide into chaos. ...

A key lesson General Petraeus draws from Vietnam, compared to Malaya, is that the US Army is historically unprepared to fight insurgencies. The American military has overwhelming force for conventional combat but, without the British experience of empire, is intellectually unequipped to deal with the subtleties of guerrilla war.

The British, with their colonial history, are far better at combining local diplomacy with military force, a model General Petraeus wants to emulate.

The intellectual pursuits of Petraeus seem uniquely suited for the task ahead -- and perhaps the best indication that the situation in Iraq can still be solved through victory. As a student of counterinsurgencies, Petraeus would have a clear vision of all the difficulties ahead. He would not have taken a command doomed to failure, and one that he could easily have avoided.

Petraeus famously pacified the Mosul area in 2003-4 by adapting the softer approach of the British Empire in the northern hotbed. Instead of massively violent raids, he adopted a more relaxed approach of surrounding houses with force and then politely knocking before entering. He worked closely with the local imams to build confidence in the American administration of his sector, and left Mosul a calm oasis in a restive nation.

Can he repeat the act on a broader basis in Baghdad? Perhaps, but it seems that he may be the only man who could make the new "surge" strategy play to our benefit. He will deploy forces in a more community-based policing strategy to rebuild the confidence of the Iraqis and, perhaps most importantly, will focus on using reconstruction funds to directly benefit the neighborhoods in which the Americans find themselves stationed. In conjunction with the increase in troops, Petraeus' experience offers a good opportunity for the US to find our way to victory.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 11, 2007 4:57 AM

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» Meet the New Military Commander in Iraq from Dr. Melissa Clouthier
Captain Ed introduces General David Petraeus. Interesting last name--I haven\'t done the etymology but would guess that it means \"rock\". We need a rock in Iraq. His strength is counter-insurgency. [Read More]

Tracked on January 11, 2007 9:38 PM


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