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Hawkish New Commander for Iraq | The Nation

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Hawkish New Commander for Iraq

Several people have been writing fairly glowing accounts of the "brainy"and essentially anti-inflammatory approach the US military's new command teamin Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and his number two, Lt.-Gen. Ray Odierno, may bring to their work there. Okay, to be fair, most of these accountshave centered on Petraeus-- who has, I should note, long cultivated his relationshipwith the press. Thus, we have had Juan Cole: "Petraeus is among the real experts on counter-insurgency, and dida fine job... when he was in charge of Mosul"; Trudy Rubin: "one of the Army's smartest and most creative generals", and many others...

However, very few of these people in Petraeus's personal cheering sectionseem to have dug much deeper-- either into Petraeus's own strategic thought,as reflected in the new counter-insurgency manual he helped write during his latest gig as commander of the army's "CombinedArms Center" in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; or into the professional recordof the man who will be in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq under hisleadership, Ray Odierno.

A first stab at understanding what Odierno might bring to his new job shouldstart with the record of his service as commander of the 4th Infantry Divisionduring its time in Iraq, March 2003 through April 2004. The WaPo'sThom Ricks wrote a lot about that at the time, and has included a lot ofinformation about Odierno in his recent book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq If you have a copy of the book, then go first to pp. 232-4, and thento pp.279-91. If you don't have a copy, you could go to that Amazon.comlink there, and do a "Search inside the book" for either "Odierno" or "H& I".

H&I, short for "Harrassment and Interdiction" was just one of the aggressivetactics Odierno used in the portion of the Sunni Triangle where the 4th IDwas operating...

On p. 234, Ricks refers to an article Odierno later published in Field Artillery magazine:

He wrote that he often responded with heavy firepower: "We usedour Paladins [155 millimeter self-propelled howitzer systems] the entiretime we were there," he said [probably, "wrote", not "said" ~HC]. "Most nights we fired H&I fires... what I call 'proactive' counter-fire." His conclusion was that "artillery plays a significant role in counter-insurgencyoperations." That assertion is at odds with the great body of successfulcounterinsurgency practice, which holds that firepower should be as restrainedas possible, which is difficult to do with the long-range, indirect fireof artillery.

It should go without saying that there is no such thing as "counter-" firethat is "proactive", i.e., pre-emptive. Basically, what Odierno waswriting about there was a mode of operating inside Iraq that included goingaround firing wildly with some pretty heavy artillery pieces simply to "harrass"and, often pre-emptively, "interdict" any suspected or possibly even quiteimaginary opponents. (Okay, that was just about the same thingthat Bush did in ordering the whole invasion of Iraq, in the first place. To that extent, we could certainly note the unity of approach betweenthe commander-in-chief and Ray Odierno, at that time.)

Over the pages that followed that quote, Ricks also writes a lot about thelethal, esclatory excesses committed by one of the brigade commanders workingunder Odierno in the 4th ID, Col. David Hogg. That portion of the bookis worth reading, too.

On p.232-3, Ricks writes of the 4th ID under Odierno,

Again and again, internal Army reports and commanders in iterviewssaid that this unit-- a heavy armored division, despite its name-- used ham-fistedapproaches that may have appeared to pacify its area in the short term, butin the process alienated large parts of the population.

"The 4th ID was bad," said one Army intelligence officer who worked withthem. "These guys are looking for a fight," he remembered thinking. "I saw so many instances of abuses of civilians, intimidating civilians,our jaws dropped."

"Fourth ID fueled the insurgency," added an Army psychological operationsofficer...

"they are going through neighborhoods, knocking on doors at two in the morningwithout actionable intelligence," said a senior officer. "That's howyou create new insurgents."

A general who served in Iraq, speaking on background, said flatly, "The 4thID-- what they did was a crime."

So here's my question: Why on earth should we be expected to believe thatRay Odierno-- a man who spent the vast majority of his career rising up insidethe "massive land force" portions of the US Army-- has had a complete character/professionalmakeover since April 2004, and that he is now going to go into Iraq withPetraeus and conduct any kind of a "brainy", culturally and politically sensitivecounter-insurgency campaign?

(I'm planning to expand some on the Petraeus part of this topic over at myblog Just World News, within the next couple of hours.)

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