It is possible no such strategy exists. But last week there was a glimmer of a shred of a possibility: Operation Forward Together, the Iraqi-led effort to secure Baghdadfinally!using classic counterinsurgency methods. "What they're trying to do is take back the city, sector by sector," says Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a leading expert on counterinsurgency (coin is the inevitable military acronym). You might well ask, What is coin? Let me oversimplify: coin is the military equivalent of the police strategies that mayors like New York City's Rudy Giuliani used to reduce crime rates in the 1990s.
You flood a neighborhood with troops who walk the streets 24/7, who create a presence that deters mayhem, who eventually begin to build trust relationships with the locals and who, finally, make it possible to provide basic services like water, sanitation, education and electricity. According to Lieut. Colonel John Nagl, author of a recent book on counterinsurgency warfare called Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, "The tipping point comes when the residents trust you enough to tell you where the bad guys are rather than telling the bad guys where you are." coin, then, requires two things that armies are traditionally not very good at: sophisticated person-to-person skills and patience. It also requires a very specific sort of training.
Obvious question: Can the militia-riddled Iraqi army and police pull off such a subtle and complicated strategy, even with ample U.S. assistance? Probable answer: No...but what's the alternative? Only the Iraqis themselves can do the door-to-door work necessary to secure Baghdadand if Baghdad can't be secured, the war is surely lost. "For this to have any chance of success, the Army has to make some basic changes," Krepinevich says. "Our current goal is to support each Iraqi battalion with an 11-person team of U.S. advisers. The proper number is more like 30. Also, we need the very best people doing this. Right now, being an adviser to an Iraqi battalion doesn't help you get the next promotion, so we have a lot of B players doing the work. The Army has to change its incentive structure and make it clear that if you really want to move up in the ranks, advising the Iraqis will get you bonus points. But there's enormous institutional resistance to that."
That stands to reason. War fighting is the Army's core mission; "stability operations" like coin have traditionally been considered jobs for the National Guard and other peripheral sorts, disdained by real warriors. But the desire for large set-piece battleslike the invasion of Iraqhas proved a diversion from the actual struggle against Islamist terrorism, which requires high-powered police work, with special forces taking the lead. Similarly, "counterinsurgency is essentially special-forces work," says Colonel Edward Short, director of the Army's coin Center for Excellence in Iraq. "It should be considered an elite operation, requiring special skills. As we draw down our troop levels, the only show in town is going to be advisers. We should be stripping out the very best officers and noncoms to do this work."
The Bush Administration has been singularly inept at making the small-bore calibrations necessary to fight the Iraqi insurgencyand so a political opportunity exists for Democrats to support something specific and useful in Iraq. They could call on the President to make coinand support for operations like Forward Togetherthe U.S. military's highest priority. "It would make a great deal of sense for us to do that," says Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a West Point graduate and leading Democratic expert on military affairs. "This Administration has never embraced real solutions to practical problems on the ground."
Indeed, ramping up U.S. support for a major counterinsurgency program in Baghdad is a short-term strategy that all Democratsfrom supporters of the war like Clinton to immediate-withdrawal advocates like Congressman John Murthamight be able to agree on, a positive program to support between now and the congressional elections in November. "I'd be open to that," Murtha told me, "especially if it's a way to help the Iraqis stand up for themselves that enables us to start bringing our troops out of there." If Forward Together works, it surely will.