Monday, April 07, 2008
A Evening with General Jack Keane [Erica Stalnecker]
Last week, the Manhattan Institute’s Young Leaders Circle hosted former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Jack Keane. Introduced by Vets for Freedom executive director and NRO contributor Pete Hegseth, Gen. Keane spoke on the current situation in Iraq after five years at war, specifically focusing on the progress we've seen after the successful implementation of the counterinsurgency strategy that he helped design.
Keane began his talk by recounting a September 2006 meeting with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He told Rumsfeld at the time that the then-regnant strategy for stabilizing Iraq had failed. Keane recommended that he fire his two top generals and change tactics. Rumsfeld dismissed his suggestions.
We had used a “short war” strategy when we first went into Iraq, consisting of two key elements: 1) to establish a fledgling democracy as quickly as possible (a goal Keane called “arrogant” and “naïve”); and 2) to leave the defeat of any insurgency that should arise to the Iraqis, whom our soldiers would train from the safety of the Green Zone. “The problem is,” Gen. Keane observed on the overly optimistic plan and its inability to adapt to the bloody realities on the ground, “the enemy has a vote, and the enemy voted.” Remember the rash of violence and deaths in 2006 starting with the attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra? A new plan was needed: one that would effectively defeat an insurgency Gen. Keane called the most “intense and extreme that the West has ever encountered in its history.”
Then, in December 2006, Keane met with President Bush. He describes the meeting as a split between two camps: those arguing for a revised strategy — a view given early public expression by Republican presidential nominee John McCain and the American Enterprise Institute’s Iraq Working Group, which included Keane; and those within the Pentagon who wanted to maintain the status quo. The POTUS, recognizing that “we had a failed strategy” and that “the consequences of failure would be significant,” choose a new path to victory — what we now refer to as “the surge.”
The term “surge” doesn’t completely capture the totality of the U.S. counterinsurgency effort — it’s not just about troop levels; and Keane argued that the Bush administration has not fully communicated the “essence of the [new] strategy.” After an initial “counteroffensive to put the enemy on defense,” a successful counterinsurgency strategy required “protecting the population from whoever is imposing their will.” For U.S. troops this meant getting out of the Green Zone, in constant sight of the Iraqi people, patrolling the streets and neighborhoods.
The results have been phenomenal. Gen. Keane proudly described the “amazing transformation” and the unparalleled speed of actualization. He called General Petraeus’s implementation of the surge “military art” and called its unfolding “faster than anything we know historically.” Although Petraeus needed something along the lines of ten brigades — which he wasn’t going to get — he deftly orchestrated and executed the untested strategy with the five brigades he had at first — in Keane’s words, “making the sum greater than the parts.”
With new levels of security, the Iraqi people became important sources of intelligence. “We thought it would take weeks [to get information], but it came almost immediately.” Gen. Keane visited Iraq last month, and reported that “the sense of normalcy" was palpable "markets teeming with people . . . colleges and schools open.” He noted the contrast in Baghdad from a few years ago: “people aren’t worried about getting killed everyday now. It’s not what it was in 2006. They want essential services. They aren’t thinking about their day-to-day survival.”
Keane briefly discussed the nascent political progress, praising the passage of essential legislation, but also calling for American patience: “we can’t understand the psychological and emotional” constraints that the Shia and Kurds are struggling with in trying to reconcile with their former oppressors, the Sunnis. He lamented the Democratic push for timetables (even as our own Congress is unable to pass legislation, ironically), stating that “this isn’t an energy bill. This is the entire fabric of how the country will run.”
In closing he reiterated the need to honor our obligation to the Iraqi people: “Once we made a commitment to the Iraqi people, we needed to see it through to the end. We are the United States of America and we don’t back away because it’s tough.” The insurgents and terrorists “want to break the American character. They think we can’t make the sacrifices our predecessors did in the early 20th century. . . . We now have a winning hand . . . our troops have a profound sense of duty, and we can’t take this devotion for granted.”
For more on General Keane, check out Rich Lowry’s interview with him back in July 2007.
04/07 10:28 AMShare