Thursday, March 24, 2005

Stratfor changes its tune 

Less than three months ago, Stratfor issued a fairly dismal report on the counterinsurgency in Iraq. Stratfor argued then that the insurgency had penetrated Iraqi governmental institutions, including particularly the Iraqi military, rendering it impossible for the counterinsurgency to develop the intelligence advantage necessary to win the war:
The United States cannot win the intelligence war on the ground level. Its operations to penetrate the guerrillas depend on Iraqis working with the United States and these operations will be quickly compromised. The guerrillas on the other hand cannot be rooted out of the Iraqi military and intelligence organs because they cannot be distinguished from other Iraqis. Some will be captured. Many might be captured. But all of them cannot be captured and therefore no effective allied force can be created in Iraq. This was the center of gravity of the problem in Vietnam, the problem that destroyed Vietnamization. It is the center of gravity of the problem in Iraq.

This was not the entire message of Stratfor's assessment, which all-in-all considered the war a success in its original purpose, but their pessimism in early January was palpable.

Yesterday, Stratfor issued another analysis($) that was quite different in its assessment.
[T]he new tactic [of direct assaults on American and Iraqi units] has not worked very well for the insurgents, who have miscalculated in open engagements with U.S. forces and have suffered accordingly.

Iraqi government troops also are gaining ground. On March 22, Iraqi commandos, backed up by U.S. ground troops and aircraft, raided an insurgent camp near Tikrit. The Iraqis reported that 85 militants were killed in the raid. The coalition has said little about the operation, letting the Iraqis release most of the information and take most of the credit. While accounts of the raid vary -- the Iraqis could be overstating the number of enemy killed -- it is significant that the Interim Iraqi Government (IIG) is able to take credit for the victory as political developments and public sentiment turn against the insurgents but not necessarily toward the United States....

As the political process evolves, further government victories could be in the offing. Intense negotiations on the formation of the Cabinet, involving the United Iraqi Alliance, Kurdish List, Sunnis and other factions, have already begun. With Sunnis incorporated into a new government, progress on the political front likely will lead to further success on the battlefield as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to keep pressure on the insurgents with raids, arrests and all-out offensive operations. These developments ultimately will support the U.S. strategy of turning the combat burden over to an emboldened and maturing Iraqi army.

Those of us who pay good money for Stratfor's generally fascinating reports would appreciate it if they would at least acknowledge when they are changing their mind on a subject so important as the probability of a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq.


By Blogger C.Y., at Thu Mar 24, 09:59:00 AM:

I'm glad that some people have noticed that the Iraqi security forces are starting to mature. The raid yesterday was not thedefining moment for IRaqi forces, but it wasa defiing moment, proving that they can handle moderate-scale raids in additon to simply executing small-scale searches.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this was underreported in most of the boradcast media yesterday.  

By Blogger Baron Bodissey, at Thu Mar 24, 10:08:00 AM:

I have had a large amount of skepticism about Stratfor's reports ever since they were seriously off in their predictions in the runup to the Iraq war and during the early parts of it. I won't pay money for them anymore.

I can think of any number of non-specialist commentators (such as Wretchard at Belmont Club, though he may actually be a specialist) who have done a better job. A fairly wide reading of publicly available sources can easily acquire the same information that Stratfor collects.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 24, 10:16:00 AM:

This is the article you're referring to, and the link works for anyone:


By Anonymous Jimbo, at Thu Mar 24, 10:16:00 AM:

His history is a bit off about Vietnam, as well. The fact is, "Vietnamization" WAS a success, and the ARVN was a mighty effective force by 1973, when they repulsed an invasion from the north virtually alone. It was only our post-Watergate refusal to keep supplying them (while the Soviets were continuing to ship arms to the North) that made them unable to repulse the second invasion in 1975...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 24, 10:17:00 AM:

Back when Stratfor still had a lot of info up for free I noticed their tendency to assume the worst kind of naivety and stupidity on the part of Americans and the highest level of guile and sophistication on the part of others (Chinese, Arabs, Russians, whatever).

Funny how in the real world it often turns out to be the exact opposite.  

By Blogger John Lynch, at Thu Mar 24, 10:23:00 AM:

Maybe Phil Carter will get with the program. too.  

By Blogger Chap, at Thu Mar 24, 10:31:00 AM:

"Those of us who pay good money for Stratfor's generally fascinating reports" may want to, uh, spend that money somewhere else and instead look at other sources like FPRI.org's analysis, or just trawl the blogosphere. Rare (okay, not yet) have I heard someone praising STRATFOR's analysis to the heavens, so I've never been tempted to spend the bucks...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 24, 10:37:00 AM:

Let's face it Stratfor has had a distinctly negative toward Bush, Rumsfeld and the Neocons since day one. Stratfor has been critical of Rumsfeld's actions to change the force structure of the US military. I suspect that much advice and info comes to Stratfor from retired Generals forced out by Rumsfeld pricely because they opposed his transformative ideas. An underlying theme for the past 3 years is: "We could have done it better"

Having said this, I still find Stratfor quite valuable.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Mar 24, 11:29:00 AM:

I agree with the last Anonymous Guy. Stratfor seems to derive a lot of its background from the foreign policy "establishment" of retired or current senior officers and out-of-power deputy undersecretaries of this or that. Their analyses are always creative and insightful, and Friedman's book, America's Secret War, definitely added original observations about the war on terror. Also, Stratfor has always argued for a significant and favorable connection between our invasion of Iraq and the GWOT. However, I think that it is trapped, at some level, by (a) the predilictions of its sources, and (b) its tendancy to assume that the various actors, including both the United States and al Qaeda, are rational chess players. Sometmes people make their moves on the basis of delusion, incompetence, rage, pride, or bureaucratic imperatives. Stratfor is less sensitive to those considerations.

I would also add that Stratfor, like many economists and other professionals who both analyze and predict, is stronger as an analyzer of established facts than as a predictor of outcomes yet undetermined.  

By Blogger Mitch H., at Thu Mar 24, 12:42:00 PM:

They also seem to have a bias towards the Gulf Arab point of view which is probably a result of extensive contacts within the oil industry. This tends to make them a touch unreliable on Shi'a matters, I think. I further suspect that their pessimism last winter on Iraq was due to their Sunni Gulf contacts' worries about what looked like a developing Shi'a ascendancy at the time.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 24, 01:08:00 PM:

So Stratfor are a bunch of Democrats?

That explains everything.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Mar 24, 01:25:00 PM:

I am guessing that they are traditional internationalists, rather than Democrats (although I'm sure that a lot of Stratfor sources voted for Kerry). Indeed, the Democrats would be a lot more credible on foreign policy matters if they were as broadly tough and hard-nosed as George Friedman.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 24, 02:29:00 PM:

Jimbo was dead right.

Vietnamization was a profound success, so much so that by the eartly '70s, the war was largely ARVN v. NVA regulars. The insurgent element had been largely crushed.

Anyone who repeats prevailing myth regarding Vietnam, can hardly be trusted to remain immune to the swirling opinions about Iraq, and to remain distant from the herd opinion.

Stratfor tantalizes with a few tidbits, a few nuggets, but usually you are getting the herd opinion dressed up with more ribbons and bows.

BUT the conclusion to take from their about face, and that of the NY Times, which has been forced to run positive stories on developements in Iraq is that our policies ARE gaining traction, and that a corner has been turned.

I would much rather be in our position right now, than that of our enemies.

Regarding Vietnam, I have been posting a brief summary of that war over at New England Republican, {www.NERepublican.blogspot.com}.

After Tet, '68, when Creighton Abrams took over, the war changed, and our subsequent successes were largely unreported.

I intend to heavily excerpt from L. Sorley's A BETTER WAR. Sorly had access to information and intelligence about the war that previous historians and authors did not.

I intend to make a new post that covers Abrams taking over following Tet, '68.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 24, 05:01:00 PM:

Ted Kennedy, a few months from now, will be saying that the US troops are not needed in Iraq as the Iraqis can take of themselves.

And he will be right.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Mon Apr 25, 04:28:00 AM:


Thank you for passing this along.


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