Monday, November 28, 2005

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: TRAINING THE IRAQI ARMY. In spite of his fairly harsh criticism of American efforts to stand up an Iraqi army, Jim Fallows writes that LTG David Petraeus brought an unprecedented level of concern and competence to his role as trainer-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces.

Given my sense that Fallows preoccupation with what went wrong has prevented him from seeing what is now going right, I thought it might be a good idea to hear directly from Gen. Petraeus himself how the training regimen is going.

Now, perhaps because the general has a Ph.D. from Princetion, his discussion of the Iraqi armed forces this month went on and on and on and on. But that's a good thing, since I wanted to learn as much as I could about the subject. The problem, I found, was that Petraeus' report was so relentlessly upbeat that I found it almost impossible to believe.

Although there is no question that Petraeus is under a lot of pressure to demonstrate that the president's program is working, I think (although what do I know about military politics?) that Petraeus could have been a lot more even-handed without hurting his chances of becoming a four-star general.

In fact, I think that the military has a lot to learn about enhancing its credibility and therefore advancing its effort to prevent the disintegration of support for its mission on the domestic front. When it comes to public relations, the military has to accept the fact that it is permanently outgunned.

No matter what the generals do or say, journalists will decide what images and opinions predominate. But if the generals develop a better understanding of those journalists, they can get their message across much more effectively. First and foremost, the generals have to learn that the media reflexively punishes those who present only one side of a case, no matter how much merit that side has.

My suspicion is that because the generals are so resentful of media misrepresentation, they make the mistake of thinking that the only way they can get even some of their message across is to exaggerate. Yet ironically, exaggeration only makes the problem worse since it provides the media with a pretext to question the generals' credibility even more intently.

Given that there have been enough obvious failures in Iraq, it really wouldn't hurt the generals to admit a lot of things that everyone knows anyhow. If they did that first, the media might actually listen to the very strong case they can make for things going well.

Now back to Petraeus. The foremost strength of his presentation was its abilityt to convey the staggering complexity of training an army almost from scratch. Often, people seem to wonder why it takes only a few months of basic training to train an American soldier, but Iraqis can't do the same. Consider the following question from Sunday morning on Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, what's the problem when kids here in the United States sign up and go to boot camp and get ready, and we've done it in World War II, we did it in Korea, We did it in Vietnam, we did it Kosovo, we do it in Iraq--they can be ready for combat within a matter of months. Why is it taking the Iraqis some two and a half years and they still have not put together an army that can replace the United States?
Even though I'm one of Russert's biggest fans, that is a ridiculous question. The US armed forces have tens of thousands of officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, whose job it is to train the raw recruits and then lead them in battle. In Iraq, there are a few remnants of Saddam's officer corps, but how much is that worth?

In Iraq, we have to train the trainers, and Petraeus does a very good job of describing just how tough and complex that job is. We have to train the Iraqis to do everything from engineering to logistics to battlefield medicine. We have to create the entire support structure on which the Iraqi private with an AK-47 depends when he goes up against the insurgents.

Still, Petraeus has a long way to go. At one point, while talking about the importance of being able to call for backup, he wandered off on a revealing tangent:
I'll talk about the importance of the concept of backup for police in a station that comes under attack. If they don't know that there's someone going to back them up, who's coming to the rescue, obviously they're not going to hang tough. We saw that -- back in the November time frame was the most recent case, I think, of one where they -- once they realized that nobody was coming to the rescue, they went out the back door. That has not happened -- we know of, in any case, since, at the least, 30 January, the elections, from which the Iraqi security forces took an enormous lift. (p.11)
Petraeus and others need to recognize that Iraqi police running out the back door is the dominant image Americans have of Iraqi security forces. This is where his presentation has to start. He has to lay out the stereotypes and then organize his evidence as a refutation of such caricatures.

In a way, this involves admitting nothing. If Petraeus is right that Iraqi units haven't cut and run for almost a year now, he has nothing to hide. Later on in his talk (p.17), Petraeus described how there has been a visible progression in the role Iraqi forces have played in major battles in Najaf in August 2004, Fallujah in November 2004, and Tall Afar in September 2005. The trajectory is toward increasing independence. But this critical point gets lost in the 30-page transcript of Petraeus' talk.

Both military and civilian spokesmen for this administration need to build up this kind of simple narrative about Iraqi progress. Statistics won't work. No one believes them. But the difference between Iraqi forces running out the back door in Mosul, following US soldiers in Najaf, fighting at their side in Fallujah and leading in Tall Afar is much more comprehensible. The average newspaper reader won't remember the names of those four cities, but the narrative of progression will remain if it is advertised forcefully and defended with evidence.

Looking back, I see how critical this post has been of Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues. But I am not criticizing their ability to perform the critical, perhaps even heroic, tasks to which they have been assigned. By all accounts, their performance has been superb.

But our democracy demands that soldiers also perform in the field of public relations, and I offer this criticism, harsh as it may sound, because I want Gen. Petraeus and his colleagues to get not just the credit they deserve, but the active support of the American public.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

The problem with the Iraqi training regime is that critics do not understand the problems.

First: Keeping the Iraqi Army in place was not an option. There was no army to reinstate. The draftees left as soon as they could and the hard liners dispersed to continue the fight. Those lining up to complain about no pay were there for economic reasons not because they would like to get back into the army.

Second: The only only well trained group was the Republican Guard. I do not believe the Kurds or Shiites would have accepted the Republican Guard.

Third: The previous Iraqi officer corps was trained in the Soviet leadership style. Top down, from the very top down, orders. As was shown when the Germans tried to integrate the East German militarty into the German military (they got rid of everyone over the rank of major), senior officers are incapable of leading the way the West teaches its officer to lead. This was also highlighted when the coalition let old regime officers lead an Iraqi army group into Falluja.

Fourth (and most importantly): The idea that you can give a person a gun and let him go and fight after a basic training course is ridiculous. Unless you give people comprehensive training and give units time to become cohesive they will fail.

The US Army has a basic infantry training course. After this course you get posted to a unit where you undergoe further training. I would suggest that except for extreme emergencies an infantryman would not be posted to a combat zone for at least 12 months. Even then he would be surrounded by other more experienced men.

Fifth: A well trained unit does not operate well if it is not well equiped. It appears to me, by watching the television reports and reading accounts from Iraq, that the Iraqi army is in most cases poorly supplied. It is hard to continue the fight if you have limited ammunition. It is hard to consider going into a fight if you know that the enemy is better armed and will likely slaughter you as soon as you run out of ammunition. This is not a matter of courage but simple practicticality.

I would suggest that those units now holding areas of the Sunni Triangle are better equiped than the regular army units. This is why they can hold.

I would suggest that the politicians and armchair generals (yes, even the retired ones) shut up and let the process continue. The continual second guessing and whinning does not help and is counter productve.

Your suggestion that "our soldiers also perform in the field of public relations...." shows a lack of understanding of the problems this sort of thinking has caused in previous years. Senior officers, including Chairman of The Joints Chiefs, selected for their political and presentation skills to the detriment of other more qualified candidates.
I would much rather have someone qualified in the arts of war give me a full briefing of the situation, even if I then had to pick through the comments to obtain my own talking point.
As an active-duty Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines I want to first point out that I (and I venture to guess, a majority of my colleagues) take no issue with your "critical post" - specifically in reference to a lack of presenting both sides of a case.

However, I would offer you the following observation: you make some comments that are all too often common and familiar coming from members of the media. Comments that are, in my opinion, way off the mark and only serve to perpetuate the distrust we in the military feel towards the media in general.

1 - "...I think that the military has a lot to learn about enhancing its credibility..." - while a student at the Naval War College I had the opportunity to listen to Jim Miklaszewski [NBC pentagon correspondent] give a speech. How ironic it was for us in uniform to sit and listen as Jim explained to us that "make no mistake about it" the role of the correspondent is to wake up in the morning looking for the story that is going to earn us the Pulitzer - and "by noon, if we haven't found it, then we'll settle for the story that will get us a spot on the evening news.." and if that doesn't happen then "we're off to the bar" to drink our evening away and await morning. --- So much for credibility. Suffice it to say, with a similar attitude in our buisness, well, people would die.

2 - "When it comes to public relations, the military has to accept the fact that it is permanently outgunned." - you're kidding me, right? You, my friend, have drank the very kool-aid that you also warn about in your post. Tell you what, ask some stranger (in the bar tonight while awaiting morning and the search for "the" story) which institution in this country he/she places a higher level of trust: the media or the military? Want to make a wager who'll win?

You see, it's one thing to play the media game - to search for colorful entertainment that will get your name in the lights. It is an entirely different thing to pursue your profession on a different level - as a professional. Yes, that includes all those uncomfortable issues most members in the media prefer to dodge like honesty, integrity, character, loyalty (I'll skip honor, courage and commitment - the list will go on and on).

3 - and I'll stop with this one. Ask yourself why the statistics won't work. They don't work - simply because no one trusts information in the media -- the problem isn't the numbers; it's the gym-buff, waxed-hair, $1000 suit-wearing, 25-year old GQ cover boy-turned network anchor that no one believes (who, by the way, doesn't have a PHD from Princeton).

One last comment (and I did like your post): some stories starting to filter through the internet about the culture gap between the military and society. This is an age-old topic. I would submit the real culture gap lies between the media (self-perception) and society. I think the military and the society we serve are doing just fine -- it's the reporting that seems to be getting further and further out in left-field.

But, that's just my opinion - and we all know what they say about opinions (or is it journalists?).
I think Davids comments are spot on.

And with all do respect to a serving officer, im not sure the comments about reporters matter that much. It isnt a question of whether people respect or trust the reporter - its which narrative of the war they believe.

What they see is a steady roll of US casualties. If they follow military operations at all, they see the same place names coming up over and over again - Ramadi, Husaybah, Tel Afar, etc. To anyone whos old enough, or whos studied the past, this is redolent of Viet Nam, without any reporter having to say so. Its up to others (in this case Petraus) to set the record straight, so that people can see why this ISN'T Viet Nam. And that comes down to Petraus' credibility, not that of the reporter heading to the bar.

The military gained alot in credibility in recent decades, since its nadir in Viet Nam, simply from winning wars (as in Gulf War 1) and not being associated with deceptions. Iraq presents different challenges.
We are sympathetic with the emotions and viewpoint of the third commenter, the anonymous Marine lieutenant colonel.

But he really screwed up.

His job isn't to sling mud back at his media tormentors. His job is to get the job done, the job in this case being to win the information battle, as well as the kinetic battle.

In our post

Won the kinetic war, lost the information war

we discuss why the U.S. Defense Department lost the information battle to Iraq's insurgents and why the DoD must sort out their problems on this front of the war.

"Given there have been enough obvious failures in Iraq..."

I don't see them. When you occupy a third world country and don't speak the language, it's not easy to establish democracy and make trains run on time. To accomplish this in 2.5 or 3.0 years, losing only 2,100, is a tremendous success.
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