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Back From Iraq: What I Learned

Way back in July, I said it would be a short deployment and it was, I was gone less than four months. I went to Iraq both to learn about my next job in the Army, and my next AO, so it was mission accomplished.

Though it was short, I learned more than I thought I could about Iraq and Baghdad--no matter how much you read in books or in the media--nothing replaces complete immersion in the day-to-day operations of units in Iraq. Below are some of my thoughts:

1A. I might be a Fobbit. Throughout the deployment I never flew on a helicopter, rode in an MRAP, or walked on the roads outside of the base. Frankly, my role as an intelligence analyst just didn’t call for it. The only threats that inconvenienced my life were the mosquitoes invading my room, or the days the Caesar salad bar wasn’t running in the DFAC. Yeah, I was a Fobbit.

Part 1B: I don’t think I deserved all the combat pay I got. I can admit that between getting hostile fire, family separation, hazardous duty, and combat zone tax exemption pay, I got paid too much. Now putting the money I earned to good use is up to me, but if I could be “King of the Army” for a day, I would find a way to equalize combat pay so people who spend their entire deployment behind cement T-walls in air conditioned TOCs don’t get the same pay as the grunts walking the line everyday in Konar, Kandahar, Marjah, Mosul or Baghdad.

2. Intelligence is hard. Predictive analysis--the bread and butter of military intelligence--is pretty darn hard. Reading the tea leaves for the future of an entire nation is near impossible, but that is what intelligence people do (or try to do). Doing it well is extremely hard. It requires patience, motivation and the critical thinking to judge everything your read, see or hear. I am both excited and nervous about my next deployment when I will have to make decisions and be the man when it comes to intelligence.

3. That doesn’t excuse bad intelligence. Yeah intelligence is hard, but how the US Army and the intelligence community (IC) as a whole can be so bad at it boggles my mind. I can--and will--write plenty of more posts on this topic, but the basic point is that good intelligence requires hard work on the right things; the IC is good at working hard, but not on the right things. That leads to a lot of incorrect analysis, poor targeting efforts and bad intel.

4. The future is murky for Iraq. I hope to publish this thought in a larger article, but I think the future of Iraq is very dark and murky. To be blunt, I am not optimistic. From sectarian militias to insurgent Sunni terrorists, from foreign actors from Iran (and possibly Syria and Saudi Arabia after we leave) to international criminal syndicates and the government of Iraq itself, (with its endemic corruption and an inability to form) the threats facing the people of Iraq are numerous and powerful. Whether the government lasts, falls apart, is taken over in a coup d’etat, or becomes a stooge for the Iran, everything is possible and nothing would surprise me. In short, talk of victory in Iraq is misplaced.

5. Combat operations are not over. When President Obama declared combat operations had ended, all he really did was just re-label the situation. Combat brigades are still operating in Iraq, just not in “strictly” combat roles, though they still conduct missions. Most importantly, the violence hasn’t stopped. It isn’t like it was in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but every day something explodes in Iraq. It is the kidnapping capital of the world. Two million refugees still refuse to return from other countries.

two comments

Gotta love that picture.

On the combat pay thing, I think there should be combat pay, and deployment pay, and they should be different.

Keep up the good work, Michael. I really enjoyed reading this, from your excellent perspective. Love you!