On War #243: Operationalizing Tactical Successes in Iraq

By William S. Lind

Fourth Generation Seminar

(Note: This On War column is a product of the Fourth Generation War seminar, whose earlier products include the fourth generation war manual FMFM-1A [237 KB PDF]. The seminar, which I lead, is currently composed of U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army officers, mostly captains. W.S. Lind)

Recent tactical successes in Iraq, especially the reduction in violence in Anbar province and in Baghdad, have led some people to assume that we are now “winning the war.” However, for any tactical successes to add up to a win, they must be operationalized. That is, through operational art, they must be positively related to strategic success. While reducing the level of violence is no doubt necessary for strategic success in Iraq, it does not automatically lead to that goal.

If our enemies in Iraq (and elsewhere) are non-state, Fourth Generation forces, then strategic success is best defined as their opposite, i.e., seeing the re-emergence of a state in Iraq. While Iraq currently has a government, it remains largely stateless. Restoring a real state in Iraq requires not just a government but a government that is generally accepted as legitimate. No government created or installed by a foreign, occupying power is likely to achieve legitimacy.

This poses a serious operational obstacle for U.S. forces in Iraq, one that is common in Fourth Generation conflicts. While we can only win if a real state re-emerges, we cannot create such a state, nor be seen as doing so. When it comes to legitimacy, we have a “reverse Midas touch.” The operational question, therefore, is: how do we indirectly encourage and facilitate the re-emergence of a state in Iraq?

The basic answer, in the view of the seminar, is to facilitate a bottom-up re-creation of an Iraqi state by building connectivity among local areas that have achieved a reasonable level of security. There is no guarantee expanding connectivity will eventually lead to a state, but it seems to offer the best chance of attaining that decisive strategic goal.

The seminar’s specific ideas for developing increasing connectivity include:

  • Recognize that increased economic activity which raises local living standards is likely to be welcomed by the Iraqi people, and that restoring economic connectivity is a promising tool to that end. Until the American invasion and subsequent dissolution of the Iraqi state, Iraq had a national economy. The basis for a national economy therefore still exists in the minds and experiences of Iraqis (which is an advantage over some other stateless areas). Actions by U.S. forces that could encourage the growth of economic connectivity include:
    • Establish safe roads for commerce between Iraqi cities.
    • Provide capital for businesses that function beyond the local level, e.g., regional banks.
    • Provide matching grants to fund local chambers of commerce, and increase the percentage of the match if the local chambers form regional and trans-regional chapters.
    • Restore the railroads and water transport. Railroads in particular further regional and national commerce.
    • Make traditional tourist and resort areas safe, along with routes to those areas from major cities.
  • Beyond furthering regional and national commerce, ideas which could help the growth of connectivity include:
    • Fund the establishment and growth of regional and trans-regional educational institutions and sports leagues.
    • Go beyond traditional “sister cities” arrangements to create “sister state/province” relationships between American states and Iraqi provinces. Such a relationship between, for example, Anbar province and an economically powerful American state such as New York or California could provide multiple inducements to connectivity among local areas in Anbar.
    • Create something similar to the Boy Scouts. A national Iraqi youth organization that brought young Iraqi men from different sects and regions together could help reduce the recruiting base for sectarian and local militias.

These examples merely illustrate our point, the need and potential for using improved security in portions of Iraq to generate connectivity that may, in time and with luck, lead to the bottom-up creation of a genuine, legitimate Iraqi state, one that is accepted by most Iraqis. While working indirectly to generate such connectivity may seem like a strange approach to operational art to some military practitioners, we believe it does constitute a linkage between tactical successes and the strategic goal, which is the essence of the operation level of war. It should not surprise us that, in Fourth Generation war, operational art changes as much as traditional tactics must change if U.S. forces are to achieve what we can honestly call victory.

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