The Oil Spot Strategy
January 19, 2006 7:40 AM   Subscribe

What is the "Oil Spot Strategy", and is the U.S. following it in Iraq? Scholars, pundits [reg. required] and politicians have been calling for a strategy in Iraq based on the one the British used during the Malayan Emergency for awhile now. There have been indications that the U.S. has been listening. It sounds like a good idea, the only problem being that it is estimated to take about ten years to work [2nd section].
posted by ND¢ (11 comments total)
Below is an excerpt [a long one] from the New York Times editorial linked to:

Winning in Iraq

Krepinevich has now published an essay in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, "How to Win in Iraq," in which he proposes a strategy. The article is already a phenomenon among the people running this war, generating discussion in the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the American Embassy in Baghdad and the office of the vice president.

Krepinevich's proposal is hardly new. He's merely describing a classic counterinsurgency strategy, which was used, among other places, in Malaya by the British in the 1950's. The same approach was pushed by Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt in a Washington Post essay back on Oct. 26, 2003; by Kenneth Pollack in Senate testimony this July 18; and by dozens of midlevel Army and Marine Corps officers in Iraq.

Krepinevich calls the approach the oil-spot strategy. The core insight is that you can't win a war like this by going off on search and destroy missions trying to kill insurgents. There are always more enemy fighters waiting. You end up going back to the same towns again and again, because the insurgents just pop up after you've left and kill anybody who helped you. You alienate civilians, who are the key to success, with your heavy-handed raids.

Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.

Once you've secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

If you ask U.S. officials why they haven't adopted this strategy, they say they have. But if that were true the road to the airport in Baghdad wouldn't be a death trap. It would be within the primary oil spot.

The fact is, the U.S. didn't adopt this blindingly obvious strategy because it violates some of the key Rumsfeldian notions about how the U.S. military should operate in the 21st century.

First, it requires a heavy troop presence, not a light, lean force. Second, it doesn't play to our strengths, which are technological superiority, mobility and firepower. It acknowledges that while we go with our strengths, the insurgents exploit our weakness: the lack of usable intelligence.

Third, it means we have to think in the long term. For fear of straining the armed forces, the military brass have conducted this campaign with one eye looking longingly at the exits. A lot of the military planning has extended only as far as the next supposed tipping point: the transfer of sovereignty, the election, and so on. We've been rotating successful commanders back to Washington after short stints, which is like pulling Grant back home before the battle of Vicksburg. The oil-spot strategy would force us to acknowledge that this will be a long, gradual war.

posted by ND¢ at 7:47 AM on January 19, 2006

The "enlightened tactics" of the British in Malaysia are mostly a myth.
posted by talos at 8:25 AM on January 19, 2006

As far as I recall, the British have been advocating this for three years already, and the Americans have been paying lip service but not actually taking it to heart for as long...
posted by Chuckles at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2006

Damn, the article already makes the most obvious joke...
posted by Artw at 9:02 AM on January 19, 2006

As far as I recall, the British have been advocating this for three years already, and the Americans have been paying lip service but not actually taking it to heart for as long...

Actually they are doing one better - according to the most recent conservative revisionism, the US have actually won the war on Vietnam, so the "brute force" tactics are correct (after all, Vietnam also took 10 years to declare victory and withdraw, without this British gay concept of actually helping the civilians). Now it is just a matter to control the home dissent (what is being easily done up to now) and keep the troops and the money flowing in.
posted by nkyad at 9:30 AM on January 19, 2006

The only reason taking 10 years is a problem is because of the political aspects of the war.
It’s what screwed the pooch on this. As much as I believe in stabilizing the middle east, you cannot initiate the conflict under false premises to serve political ends.
It would indeed serve the US as a country to take 10 years to form a stable democracy and not have our oil supply held hostage and subject to the whim of a dictator or other unreasonable actor.
But that’s not what’s happening. Which is why the time table is a problem (whether the admin says that or not).
posted by Smedleyman at 10:01 AM on January 19, 2006

FYI, the oil spot strategy was used by the French in Indochina as far back as 1895. (self-link to a dictionary entry of oil spot strategy.)
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:12 AM on January 19, 2006

The problem is, for people in the 'oil spot' neighborhoods, once the Army moves in, the insurgents follow, and what was once a crime-ridden shithole is now a fucking war zone.

It dosn't seem like a good way to improve relations to me.
posted by delmoi at 10:47 AM on January 19, 2006

We could kick it old school and call the "oil spots" strategic hamlets, but that didn't go so well.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:55 AM on January 19, 2006

See also.

This will never ever work, because the cultural change required is immense. The US has already declared that that's it for reconstruction money.
posted by wilful at 4:17 PM on January 19, 2006

"Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own." -- President Bush, from his National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Doesn't cutting the funding for Iraq reconstruction kinda derail the Economic Track and Strategic Pillar Five?
posted by kirkaracha at 4:49 PM on January 19, 2006

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