Michael Gordon writes a story in today’s New York Times entitled, "Marines Plan to Use Velvet Glove More Than Iron Fist in Iraq." This is very much worth reading, but be careful not to misunderstand the article. Starting next March, nine battalions of U.S. Marines will be deployed to Iraq. Note in passing that no Marine has been killed in Iraq since mid-April. So what’s the story? The story is that the Marines, according to Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the commanding general of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, will use tactics that seem different from those used by, for example, the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division (although the General is quick to note that he is not critical of the Army). Conway is interested in both gaining Iraqi public support and human intelligence. He said: "I don’t want to condemn what people are doing. I think they are doing what they think they have to do. I’ll simply say that I think until we can win the population over and they can give us those indigenous intelligence reports that we’re prolonging the process."
The Marines will try to design their raids to be, in Conway’s words, "laser precise," focused on the enemy with a maximum effort made to avoid endangering or humiliating Iraqi civilians.
The truth is that this mode--the velvet glove and the iron fist--is nothing new to the Marines. These tough guys are smart tough guys. You know this both from your public history and from the common sense of the subject. It’s not as though the Marines are not used to small wars and counterinsurgency efforts, right? See their fat Small Wars Manual. They should, of course, use both the glove and the fist, depending on the circumstances. Oh, yes, one more thing, it doesn’t hurt to have the reputation that Marines are very tough, very courageous, and when they shoot, they shoot straight. With a reputation like that, there is more receptivity to taking the velvet gloved hand, when extended.
Also note this front page article by Greg Jaffe in The Wall Street Journal (pay site) on the new Army Chief of Staff:
"The three dozen company commanders who gathered here late last month to chat with Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army’s top officer, had every reason to expect a pat on the back. These, after all, were the soldiers who had led the charge that flattened Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard last spring.
Instead they got a preview of the sweeping changes that lay ahead for the U.S. Army, driven in large part by the messy aftermath in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the post-9/11 realization that even a small, low-tech enemy could do huge harm.
’We’re going to have to [change] some of the things that made us the best Army in the world,’ Gen. Schoomaker told them. ’Our values are sacrosanct. But everything else is on the table.’" Schoomaker is the guy that Rumsfeld brought out of retirement last summer. And, most important, he
"spent much of his career leading the military’s most secret, counterterrorism units behind enemy lines in the Middle East, Central America and other places. His experiences set him apart in an Army that has focused largely on preparing for a major war against a large land power such as the Soviet Union or North Korea."