Questioning “Stability Operations” In Iraq & Afghanistan

Tom Ricks, writing at his new post at Foreign Policy, takes the release of the Army’s new “Stability Operations Field Manual” as an opportunity to point out what he sees as a long-running problem: the military’s self-assessment of its role in our two middle eastern wars is fundamentally off. Ricks:

…we didn’t invade Iraq to provide stability, but to force change. Likewise in Afghanistan. And once we were there, we didn’t aim for stability, but to encourage democracy, which (the thought is not original with me) in a region like the Middle East generally undermines stability. I mean, if all we wanted was stability, why not find a strongman and leave?

What we really are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, is instability operations. I don’t think the U.S. military really has ever been comfortable with that mission, which was one reason we saw a lot of friction early on between the Bremer team trying to bring change and the Sanchez team simply trying to keep a lid on things. Personally, I think the mission of changing the culture of Iraq was nuts — but that was the mission the president assigned the military.

H/T Democracy in America. I’m not sure how I feel about Ricks’ sentiment. We invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of “revolutionary operations,” as Ricks states, but what we’re trying to do now to is, partially but not completely, what the name of the manual suggests: stability ops.

No one is going look back years from now and use Iraq or even Afghanistan as a model for regime change or spreading democracy. But assuming that violence in Iraq doesn’t flare up after we leave (which is a monumental “if”) military historians may look to our actions in that country from 2007-2009 as a model for bringing stability to a war zone. Which means that not only is the manual aptly named, its potentially canonical. Of course, that’s contingent on the surge’s security gains being real and permanent, which I’m not sure I buy. Only time will tell.