Mike Huckabee clearly understands the geopolitics of the Middle East, from the players vying for influence and dominance, to the subtleties and vagaries of the realpolitiks. His doomed Iraq strategy stems not from a lack of background, but from his plans to continue business as usual. Historians will only roll their eyes as Vietnam number two plays out. Yes, number two.
Fighting an Insurgency
Without delving into too much military strategy, we can easily drive the point home that the US is fighting unconventional warfare in Iraq, and that as such, conventional warfare tactics should not be pursued. Although semantics could quickly persuade (another stump speech), the effort here is on hard facts. Conventional warfare is two sides fighting it out on a battle field, each team dressed snappishly in their respective uniforms and body armor. The Patriots launch an offensive and the Giants try valiantly to defend. Unconventional warfare is when one or both teams lack uniforms. Say CIA paramilitary operating in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Zone conducting covert action on actionable intelligence on non Bin Laden personnel. While eschewing US weaponry, uniforms, and anything that could connect them with George Bush. (Though it is worth noting that any covert action does require GW to sign off on it so there is some paper trail.) Or lets have a peak at Iraq. The US military is readily recognized. The insurgents? Well, I don't watch TV, but the pictures I've seen in the economist seem to indicate that the bad guys aren't exactly wearing camos with shiite written across their shoulder blades. So can we come running onto the battle field arms ablaze with apache gunships strafing their antipersonnel devices? Well, whats the conservative consensus from the US Army? Their hiring of psychologists and mandatory cultural training for the boots on the ground is a relatively new strategy being adopted to better fight an unconventional enemy and win some hearths and minds.
So Huckabee. He has faith in the army and will follow General Petraeus' time line and not keep one eye on the calendar. Well placed trust undoubtedly is necessary to accomplish the commander in chiefs duty. After all, what is the cabinet for if not to help you. Though with my desire to withdraw troops from Iraq I can't say I am entirely pleased. Then again, with his stated support of the Powell Doctrine of Shock and Awe which he has said he will use if it becomes necessary to invade Iran, I must say if it is between conventional and not completely conventional strategy I will unhappily choose the Petraeus latter.
And on fear mongering and pulling the war lever. Huckabee: "It is easy to be a peace lover; the challenging part is being a peacemaker." Gosh, WWJD. And "Al Qaeda...brutal oppressers who want to take Iraq back to the 7th century." WWHuntingtonD. Maybe roll over and change the civilizations to religions. And more, "The United States biggest challenge in the Middle east is lack of visible moderate alternative to radicalism." Lets get some votes!
There is sensibility in his use of actionable HUMINT (human intelligence) with special forces and tactical strikes following up. In fact much of the US' success in destroying Al Qaeda's operational capabilities stems from this. Operations in Afghanistan seem likely to continue.
Beyond this, his desire to increase defense spending from 3.9% to the 6% of 1986 under Reagan seems a bit misguided unless we are gearing up for another surge. The armed forces need to be retooled for the 21st century in recognition of warfare 2.0 where there is not one massed enemy but rather a variety of factions and cells. The 3.9% need not be upped but rather spent on new and evolving capabilities while outdated ones are left to rust by the wayside.