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Lessons of Iraq By: Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 28, 2008

It is an article of faith among strategists that wars are won by logistics. One of the several strengths attributed to Dwight Eisenhower when he served as Supreme Commander in Europe was his recognition that without the beans and bullets, the warfighters would not be able to accomplish their mission. Late historian Stephen Ambrose attributes Ike’s success in repelling Germany’s winter Ardennes offensive to his logistical acumen, by which he had put processes and infrastructure in place to move men and equipment quickly before their need was critical.

In our present war in Iraq methodologies have changed but basic principles remain. Lacking funding, acquisition, distribution, and maintenance of supplies and equipment, tactical units are frozen in place -- unable to accomplish their missions. If a unit commander knows that by taking his vehicles on the road he will exhaust his fuel supply and be unable to replenish critical items like ammunition, food, and water, he will be reluctant to take initiative against the enemy.

These are the essential issues which challenge Colonel Lars Braun, a member of the Ministry of Interior transition team working out of Phoenix Base in Iraq’s Green Zone. Braun, a 24-year veteran, has mastered the US military’s logistical system in war and peace. His problem now, he said with a laugh, “is to forget everything I’ve learned. We can’t effectively use our processes here. ‘Our way’ gets in the way.”

The most important lesson he has learned in Iraq is that there are “significant differences” in the way our two countries and cultures do business. In America we focus ideally on what Braun calls “repeatable processes.” By contrast, Iraqi leaders prefer to consolidate decision making into their own hands and make decisions on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis. In our managerial mind-set, the ability of the system of function independent of the personality of the leader is critical to success. From the Iraqi point of view, the man and his network of informal, personal relationships forms the backbone of any organization.

So how do we convince our Iraqi counterparts to change or modify their outlook? If we want to succeed here, we shouldn’t try to do that. We attempted it before, Braun noted, and it didn’t work. “We were playing on the same board, on the same ground,” he said, “but one had a set of checkers, the other chess pieces. We were playing different games.” And managerial frustration was the result.

The consensus among US and Coalition staff is that we, as advisers, must have the confidence – and patience – to let the Iraqis try things their way. If we try to jam our methodology down their throats they may put up with that in the short term. On the other hand, if we are seeking positive, long-term change then the best approach is to give them advice and suggestions that are culturally compatible.

“They may have to fail a few times,” said BG Christian Schmidt, a Danish officer advising the MOI. “We have to be wise enough to allow that to happen.” While philosophically easy to do, it is culturally difficult for Americans and Europeans to stand by and let that happen. “We get very impatient,” Schmidt said with a grin. “We are all in a hurry to get things accomplished and sometimes want to push them aside and do it for them. That would be a mistake.”

“They are conducting peacekeeping, fighting terrorism, and trying to reduce corruption all at the same time,” Braun concluded. “If we’re going to really help them maybe the best thing we can do is to understand their system, their way of operating, and offer suggestions within that paradigm rather than trying to make them into our image.”

Ultimate success will happen down the line. However it results, the contributions of these US and Coalition officers and non-commissioned officers – while unknown to most of the American public – are having a significant effect on improving the chances for the Iraqi people to win their freedom.

Life In Iraq

Several times daily, especially when the sand storms get bad, insurgent rockets and mortars impact inside the Green Zone. In military parlance this is called IDF or indirect fire. While casualties and damage are thankfully low, people are occasionally killed or wounded.

The people living inside the Zone take it very seriously.

When incoming IDF is detected – usually by rather sophisticated sensor devices – a warning siren sounds the alert. A recorded voice shouts “Take cover, take cover, take cover! All hands seek hardened shelter!”

This is a signal for us to don body armor and Kevlar headgear. The first time it happened it was faintly amusing to continue to go about your business all “geared up.” After doing it frequently enough you don’t notice.

One afternoon while my potential interview candidates had a meeting of their own, I sat outside in the smoking area puffing on a cigar and taking a break. Sure enough the siren sounded, the alert “Take cover!” was shouted, and I joined three other smokers in a sprint for the “duck and cover” shelter. These are concrete and steel shelters liberally scattered about to enable those outside and away from their gear to get out of the line of fire.

As I scrambled for the shelter I watched a small mortar round hit about 50 meters away. While, thankfully, no one was harmed, it added a new meaning to the phrase “smoking can be hazardous to your health.

Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu has been an Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel, as well as a writer, popular speaker, business executive and farmer. His most recent book is Separated at Birth, about North and South Korea. He returned recently from an embed with soldiers in Iraq and has launched a web site called Support American Soldiers to assist traveling soldiers.

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