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Iraq and Vietnam and the "State of Denial" and Krepinevich's "Oil-Spot Strategy"

Bob Woodward, who has been known for his incredible access to classified reports and close contacts to members of the Bush administration, has just published a new book State of Denial (, and writes in the Washington Post article "Secret Reports Dispute White House Optimism":
There was a vast difference between what the White House and Pentagon knew about the situation in Iraq and what they were saying publicly. But the discrepancy was not surprising. In memos, reports and internal debates, high-level officials of the Bush administration have voiced their concern about the United States' ability to bring peace and stability to Iraq since early in the occupation.
Some of the many jucy quotes according to Woodward:
After Bush's reelection, Hadley replaced Rice as national security adviser. He made an assessment of the problems from the first term. "I give us a B-minus for policy development," he told a colleague on Feb. 5, 2005, "and a D-minus for policy execution."
Rice, for her part, hired Philip D. Zelikow, an old friend, and sent him immediately to Iraq. She needed ground truth, a full, detailed report from someone she trusted. Zelikow had a license to go anywhere and ask any question. On Feb. 10, 2005, two weeks after Rice became secretary of state, Zelikow presented her with a 15-page, single-spaced secret memo. "At this point Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change," Zelikow wrote.
Henry Kissinger, probably the most powerful German-born American ever, seems to be still very influential:
"Of the outside people that I talk to in this job," Vice President Cheney told me in the summer of 2005, "I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than I talk to anybody else. He just comes by and, I guess at least once a month, Scooter [his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby] and I sit down with him." The president also met privately with Kissinger every couple of months, making him the most regular and frequent outside adviser to Bush on foreign affairs. Kissinger sensed wobbliness everywhere on Iraq, and he increasingly saw it through the prism of the Vietnam War. For Kissinger, the overriding lesson of Vietnam is to stick it out. (...)  He also said that the eventual outcome in Iraq was more important than Vietnam had been. A radical Islamic or Taliban-style government in Iraq would be a model that could challenge the internal stability of the key countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Woodward explains that Kissinger's advice is shaped by his Vietnam experience and perception and points out that Kissinger wrote a column in The Washington Post on Aug. 12, 2005, titled "Lessons for an Exit Strategy," that "victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy." Westpoint graduate Andrew Krepinevich also draws lessons from Vietnam. In 1987 he published the critically acclaimed book The Army and Vietnam (, A few weeks after Kissinger's column, Dr. Krepinevich argued in a popular and freely available Foreign Affairs article in favor of the "oil-spot strategy" for winning in Iraq, i.e. a different approach than Kissinger's:
Because they lack a coherent strategy, U.S. forces in Iraq have failed to defeat the insurgency or improve security. Winning will require a new approach to counterinsurgency, one that focuses on providing security to Iraqis rather than hunting down insurgents. And it will take at least a decade. (...)
U.S. and Iraqi forces should adopt an "oil-spot strategy" in Iraq, which is essentially the opposite approach. Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot. Such a strategy would have a good chance of success. But it would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels than are engaged at present. If U.S. policymakers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly.
I think NATO is pursueing this strategy in Afghanistan with the regional reconstruction teams. That's why I believe it is important that the German troops in the north of Afghanistan do NOT redeploy to the south, as some have suggested. Rather than shifting forces within Afghanistan, many additional troops are needed.

Read Woodwards article (HT: David) or buy his book to learn about more juicy quotes and alleged conversation within the Bush administration and the military, incl. Donald Rumsfeld, General Abizaid, Joshua B. Bolten, and Andrew Card. And Henry Kissinger's comments on President Bush's lack of "an inclination, to consider the downsides of impending decisions."

You can support the Atlantic Review by starting your Amazon shopping here or by clicking on the Amazon logo in the sidebar.

More about Woodward's book:

Crooks and Liars: Woodward’s 60 Minutes Interview on ‘State of Denial’ (Video)

• Edit Copy: State of denial: Iraq is "dire"

• Moderate Voice: State Of Denial: NYT Review

• Sister Toldjah: Rice can’t recall 7/10/01 meeting with Tenet and Black mentioned in Woodward’s book

• Coming Anarchy: Kissinger advising Bush

• American Future: Quarantine Iraq (Repost)

Related posts in the Atlantic Review concerning Iraq:
•  U.S. Poll: Iraq Is More Unpopular Than Vietnam After Three Years
•  Are the revolting ret. generals feeling guilty?
  Ret. General Zinni on Iraq: "Ten years worth of planning were thrown away"
•  Politicization of the Intelligence Process
•  President Bush press conference (March 2006) 
Bush administration seems to give up original plans for democracy, freedom and security in Iraq
•  Books About the Bush Administration Reviewed by NYT

It is difficult to find a positive perspective on Iraq,
especially since even the Bush administration and the military see so many problems (assuming that Woodward's quotes are correct), but the Atlantic Review tried anyway from time to time:

•  Looking at Success in the Middle East and Worrying about US Isolationism
•  Iraq is not Vietnam
•  Double standards in media coverage of Iraq and Kosovo
•  One sided coverage of Iraq
•  NYT: German Intelligence gave U.S. Iraqi defense plan
German spy received US medal for support to combat operations in Iraq in 2003
  Republican leaders make remarkable comments on US foreign policy (June 2005)


Atlantic Review on : Day of German Unity and German-American Day

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German papers regularly point out that British Prime Minister Thatcher and French President Mitterrand were not very enthusiastic at all about German unification in 1990. The US government, however, was very supportive. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and f


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David on :

We've known for a long time that the Iraq War is Vietnam Redux. What is new is that now we know that Kissinger has been involved all along. What is also new is Woodward's bombshell that Tenet briefed Condoleezza Rice on the threat of a Bin Laden attack - just two months before the WTC attacks.

Assistant Village Idiot on :

What is even newer is that Woodward's sources are denying they said what he claims. "We've known for a long time that the Iraq War is Vietnam Redux." Yes, some people have known it long before we even went to Iraq, when it was Afghanistan that was Vietnam. Others of us prefer to make up our minds on the basis of evidence. The Bush critics remain willing to jump on each new bandwagon that comports with their preconceived ideas. Just last week it was the NIE report that blew up in their faces. You'd think they would become more suspicious and cautious,

Chris on :

AVI, how exactly did the NIE blow up in my face? Please read my post comments concerning how we are NOT fighting-to-win a counterinsurgency in al Anbar. Two colonels and a major general. That's almost as much brass as a marching band. Now, recall that all the trouble in Samarra, Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, Fallujah all originated with the insurgency in al Anbar. Makes me feel like we're on the right track, nope.

David on :

Tenet and Kofer Black have NOT denied what Woodward wrote about the July 10, 2001 meeting. We now learn that Tenet testified about the meeting to the 9/11 commission.

Chris on :

There is definitely a lack of strategic cohesion in the Pentagon. Colonel MacFarland, 1st Armored, has stated that we are not going to complete the counterinsurgency mission in all likelihood. He has said this often. Colonel Devlin, of Marin intelligence, states that we do not have sufficient troops to wage a counterinsurgency campaign. His commander (name escapes, but the 'two star' in charge of MNF-West) agreed with Devlin's assessment and echoed what MacFarland has said. So, that's the policy in execution. The speeches sound nice though.

Assistant Village Idiot on :

The three-page NIE document is a mostly bland document, but where it commits itself it reasserts the overall Bush plan. I would wish we were doing it even more forcefully. But I expected the last three years to be even worse, as wars don't proceed like movies.

Chris on :

Get ready for the worse in 2006/2007. "where it commits itself it reasserts the overall Bush plan." His plan is to create a stable, democratic government in Iraq that will be a long term partner in the war on terror. The NIE states that the situation is not materializing with the optimism the president has so frequently professed. Moreover, there are numerous other documents indicating that stability in Iraq is at best a number of years away.

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