Odierno Cheat Sheet

A couple more things from the Odierno hearing now that I’ve filed my piece (it’ll be out tomorrow morning at the Washington Independent) and some of this stuff is fresh in my mind.

The general gets asked about Iran. Iran’s unhelpful, and they attack Iraqi security forces every day, Odierno says, so he adds that he doesn’t buy the argument that our presence in Iraq is the only factor driving Iran’s actions. (Not really sure who makes that argument, but whatever; when you testify before Congress, sometimes the occasional straw man must be torched.) But he also cooled the coffee by pouring it into the saucer, saying that Iraq needed to have ties with Iran and Iran needed to have ties with Iraq and the U.S., essentially, should get used to it.

Counterinsurgency. Odierno gets asked what lessons from the surge ought to be brought to Afghanistan, and Odierno’s response is: the most important lesson is to understand local conditions — which is to say, don’t overlearn the lessons of Iraq, or presume what worked in, say, an urban-based environment can work in a rural-based environment as well. (Odierno didn’t say that directly; this is me chiming in.)  Here’s Odierno:

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that you’ve got to understand the environment. And you’ve got to understand the socio-economic, military, political issues that underpin the reason why violence is occurring. And from what I’ve seen, Gen. McChystal is doing exactly this.

It makes my head hurt, the way that people on the right who think they understand counterinsurgency would use counterinsurgency lessons from Iraq as a justification for cookie-cutting a strategy for Afghanistan when the Prime Directive of counterinsurgency is that the local conditions matter more than anything else. Does that mean that there are no lessons for Afghanistan from the surge? Absolutely not — Odierno mentioned the consensus point that there needs to be a "whole of government approach" to integrate the civilian and military aspects of the strategy. But it is to say that overriding doctrinal point in counterinsurgency is that Each One Is Different and importing one strategy that yielded fruit in one place to a much different environment simply does not make sense.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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