readings & links

Overview Articles Memos, Options, Strategies From Washington Reports on Obstacles and Challenges


Overview Articles

  • The Lesson of Tal Afar
    "Counterinsurgency cuts deep against the Army's institutional instincts," observes George Packer in the April 10, 2006 issue of The New Yorker. Packer contrasts Col. H.R. McMaster's approach in the former insurgent stronghold of Tal Afar with the "good enough" solution of withdrawing troops to massive Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). While the military has taken steps to adopt McMaster's strategy, Packer wonders if, by the time the military is ready to implement the plans, they will be faced with a civil war rather than an insurgency.
  • How to Win in Iraq
    In this article from the September/October 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs, Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich (Ret.) advocates an "oil-spot strategy": concentrating forces on one region and expanding outward over time. He recommends the security portion of the strategy be accompanied by economic and political efforts. But Krepinevich warns, "Even if successful, this strategy will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls."
  • A Plan for Victory In Iraq
    An early version of what would become the framework for President Bush's 2007 troop "surge," American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan's article in the May 29, 2006 issue of The Weekly Standard advocates a two-phase "clear, hold, build" operation carried out by an additional seven combat brigades. While the article does not address the "build" aspect of clear, hold, build, Kagan acknowledges that the operation would have to be a "multifaceted program" including diplomatic, political, and economic efforts.
  • Iraq: The War of the Imagination
    Writing in a December 2006 issue of The New York Review of Books, Mark Danner describes the disconnect between Washington policymakers' image of the conflict and the reality on the ground. Danner argues the lack of a decisive strategy in Iraq was the result of contradictions within the Pentagon about "what the occupation of Iraq was to be: the quick victory, quick departure view of Rumsfeld, and the broader, ideologically driven democratic transformation of Iraqi society championed by the neoconservatives."
  • Mission Impossible: Bush's Smart New General Can't Save Iraq
    Writing in Slate on Jan. 8, 2007, Fred Kaplan details the challenges facing new commander Gen. David Petraeus, whom he calls "probably the smartest active-duty general in the U.S. Army." One reason? The surge of 20,000 troops is well below the manpower estimates of the Army's counterinsurgency field manual -- which Petraeus co-authored.
  • This American Life: The Center for Lessons Learned
    The Memorial Day 2007, edition of the NPR series focuses on the military's attempts to learn from its experience in Iraq, including segments at the Army's Center for Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the U.S. Army Military History Institute, and interviews with Col. H.R. McMaster and Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks.
  • Baghdad: Mapping the Violence
    This interactive map marking the fourth anniversary of the war tracks major attacks in Baghdad. Move the slider to the right to see major attacks month by month, and toggle on and off an overlay showing the sectarian division within the city.
  • Four Years of War in Iraq
    In another feature marking the fourth anniversary of the war, The New York Times quantifies the economic and human costs of the war with graphs and maps illustrating the number of American military deaths; the staggering rise in inflation; the number of displaced civilians; and the increase in terrorist bombings, attacks and sectarian violence.


Memos, Options, Strategies From Washington

  • Policy Shift on Iraq: Secretary of State Rice's Remarks Before Senate Committee
    On Oct. 19, 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that in order to "assure victory" in Iraq, "our political-military strategy has to be to clear, hold and build." She stressed the importance of better coordination of military and political tactics and objectives, but expressed optimism that American efforts will ultimately win out over a movement with "no positive vision for the future of Iraq."
  • National Strategy for Victory in Iraq
    In late November 2005 the White House issued this revised war strategy. Working from the premise that "failure is not an option" and that current strategies were working but must be buttressed, the plan outlines eight "strategic pillars," ranging from defeating the insurgency to building international support for a new Iraq. It stresses the interconnectedness of the country's political, security and economic needs and, echoing the policy championed by Secretary Rice, presents "clear, hold, build" as a tactic for achieving security goals. It also advocates building up Iraqi forces to take on the security problem.
  • Rumsfeld's Memo of Options for Iraq War
    In December 2006, The New York Times published this memo outlining potential courses of action in Iraq, written two days before Rumsfeld resigned as secretary of defense. His preferred options rely heavily on shoring up the Iraqi government and training Iraqi security forces. He suggests the U.S. should "stop rewarding bad behavior" by refusing help to areas where violence continues and substitute "Quick Reaction Forces" based on military bases for dangerous urban patrols. The Iraqis, he writes, must "pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."
  • National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's Memo
    This secret memo, authored by Hadley and his aides on Nov. 8, 2006, after a visit to Baghdad, offers a blunt critique of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It focuses on the sectarian forces undermining the country, most of which circle back to Maliki's Shi'a-dominated government and the Shi'a militias killing Sunnis. Hadley proposes steps the prime minister could take to strengthen his office, halt the escalating sectarian violence and unify Iraq -- such as prosecuting "suspect" Iraqi police units and expanding the Iraqi army, over which Maliki would have more public control. The memo urges that the U.S. "waste no time" in addressing Maliki's weaknesses.
  • President Bush's Address to the Nation
    On Jan. 20, 2007 Bush announced a new strategy for the war, saying "the situation in Iraq is unacceptable." It centered around a buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq -- what came to be known as the surge. Bush also proposed increasing Iraqi forces' numbers, setting specific legislative and reconstruction goals for the Iraqi government and quashing Syrian and Iranian influences in Iraq. A White House fact sheet provides a bulleted summary.


Reports on Obstacles and Challenges

  • Prospects for Iraq's Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead
    This January 2007 assessment by the office of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte attributes Iraq's ongoing instability to sectarian and extremist violence (for which it says the term "civil war" is inadequate), as well as to "the absence of unifying leaders among the Arab Sunni or Shia" and the lack of effective domestic security forces. Should destabilization continue, the report's projected outcomes include "de facto partition" of Iraq into sectarian zones, the emergence of a Shi'a-dominated state, or a total collapse into "anarchic" local-level power. [Note: This is a pdf file; Adobe Acrobat required]
  • Best Practices in Counterinsurgency
    Drawing from counterinsurgency strategies employed in 53 modern conflicts, this 2005 essay by retired special forces officer and Naval Postgraduate School Assistant Professor Kalev Sepp provides a brief set of guidelines for successful counterinsurgency operations. Arguing that America's failure in Vietnam was rooted in its failure to learn from past counterinsurgencies, Sepp sees a parallel situation in Iraq and urges military leaders to "adopt proven counterinsurgency practices and abandon schemes that have no record of success." [Note: This is a pdf file; Adobe Acrobat required]
  • Iraq's Militia Problem
    This 2006 article by Maj. Thomas Mowle, a strategy adviser to Gen. Casey, argues that the United States failed to learn from the United Nations' efforts in disarming militias during the 1990s. Mowle writes that the standard protocol of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration "fails in the absence of a comprehensive political settlement, implemented before the disarmament process proceeds." He also faults the United States for failing to use an outside mediator like the United Nations to implement disarmament.
  • The Iraq Study Group Report
    Released Dec. 6, 2006, the final report by the Congressionally appointed Baker-Hamilton Commission, also known as the Iraq Study Group, contends that "sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability" in Iraq, and warns that Iraq's problems are fomenting a wider conflict across the Middle East. The report recommends that the United States focus on transferring responsibility to Iraqis, with long-term U.S. support contingent on the Iraqis achieving established "milestones." The report also urges diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, to win support for rebuilding the country. [Note: This is a pdf file; Adobe Acrobat required]

home . introduction . watch online . interviews . timeline . themes . join the discussion
producer's chat . readings & links . site map . dvd & transcript . press reaction
credits . privacy policy . journalistic guidelines . FRONTLINE series home . wgbh . pbs

posted june 19, 2007

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
main photograph © corbis, all rights reserved
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation