June 1, 2004

a culture of experimentation...

Don't miss this piece on Falluja in OpinionJournal. It explains a lot of what's going on:

...What they needed to do was drive wedges into the enemy ranks--divide and conquer. From studying the enemy, the Marines realized the insurgents can be separated into five disparate groups with widely varying goals: foreign fighters (some of whom are very skilled bomb makers), religious extremists, violent criminals released from prison by Saddam and willing to kill for money, Saddam loyalists (those Col. Coleman described as "bloody up to their elbows" in the old regime) and former military personnel.

The Saddam-look-alike former general who turned up to help coalition forces in Fallujah notwithstanding, that last group offered the best opportunity. It turns out there are a lot of former military personnel in Fallujah. These are mostly Sunni men who were professional soldiers and are patriotic and proud of their military service. Many sat out the invasion last year believing the coalition's promise that if they abandoned Saddam, they would have a future in the new Iraq. But since the fall of the regime, the coalition hadn't provided them with any opportunity for meaningful work. As a consequence, many were joining the insurgency.

That's when a former Iraqi general stepped forward and promised the Marines that within 24 hours he could assemble 300 Iraqis ready to battle the insurgents. The next day he met his promise and within a few days the ranks of the brigade swelled to 900 men. Col. Coleman tells me there are so many former Iraq soldiers willing to fight insurgents that the "Fallujah Brigade" could easily grow to several thousand if the Marines would let it....

What particularly interested me is the way the Falluja Brigade is considered an experiment:
...The Fallujah Brigade, however, doesn't have free rein. The Marines constantly test it to make sure it is fulfilling the coalition's goals. These tests include submitting to civilian rule, taking large-caliber weapons off the streets, ensuring the rule of law is prevailing in the city, working with and positively influencing city fathers, and adhering to all the Geneva Conventions and rules of war that the Marines themselves must follow. So far the brigade is passing these tests...[so much for "turning the city over to the general"]
This may sound strange to you, but I don't have a lot a faith in government planning. Nor am I much impressed with the critics of the planning for Iraq, since most of them are touting some wonder-plan that would have made the whole thing a breeze. I don't buy it.

What I find impressive and encouraging is when I see a culture of experimentation and trial-and-error. Feedback. When the people actually in contact with the problem are allowed to try different things, and learn from what works. I've heard that this is characteristic of the culture of the Marine Corps. If you try something and it flops the commander is likely to say, "Well, you learned something, didn't you?"

I was similarly impressed with the CERPs program. We gave our commanders a pile of cash and told them to solve problems in their area. By all reports it has worked very well. The article mentions that the Marines have $500 million to spend in their area. That's smart! (And I'll bet none of it gets embezzled, and little of it gets wasted. Trusting people is the secret of efficiency.)

In fact, I think what we should do is give Bechtel and other similar contractors $10 billion or so each, and tell them to forget the red-tape and just do what's needed! I bet we would get far more bang for our bucks that way. Of course that would hand the Copperheads a political weapon to use against the administration and capitalism. Hmmm. I got it—find a War Democrat and put him in charge! Someone like Zell Miller. Or maybe Armed Liberal.

Posted by John Weidner at June 1, 2004 1:00 PM
Weblog by John Weidner