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Speed Reading 'the War Within': Counterinsurgency Moment Of Zen

Whether or not they agree on the wisdom of the surge, most people believe that the adoption of counterinsurgency tactics--known by their shorthand as "clear, hold, and build"--has been the key to reducing violence in Iraq.

It turns out that Donald Rumsfeld and General Casey were opposed to this strategy, considering it a "bumper sticker." They were more concerned with a disastrous attempt to pump out Iraqi army recruits as fast as possible, so U.S. troops could leave. (The insurgency spiraled out of control during this 2004-2006 period of the war, while U.S. forces proceeded without a clear a security strategy.)

How did we finally adopt "clear, hold, build"? Well, you know, actually it's a funny story:

Congress was demanding a description of what the strategy was supposed to be. Rice made it the core of her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 19, 2005. "Our political-military strategy," she said, "has to be clear, hold and build."

"What the hell is that?" asked Casey. He called Abizaid. "I don't know," the central commander said. "Did you agree to that?" "No, I didn't agree to that."

"Excuse me, ma'am, what's 'clear, hold, build'?" Rice looked a little surprised. "George, that's your strategy." "Ma'am, if it's my strategy, don't you think someone should have had the courtesy to talk to me about it before you went public with it?"

Casey spoke with Zelikow. This was about more than just a slogan. "Look, Phil," he said, "this isn't professional. This is personal. I opened this up to you. You owed me the courtesy of a call." "Well..." Zelikow began. "Bullshit! This is man-to-man. We were dealing with each other as individuals here. You owed me a call." "George," Zelikow replied, "how could I have called you?" They both knew how paranoid Rumsfeld would be.

Soon after Rice's statement of the strategy, Rumsfeld saw "clear, hold and build" in a draft of a speech that the president was going to give. ... "Take it out," he insisted. "Take it out." The "clear" was fine because that was what the U.S. military was doing. "It's up to the Iraqis to hold. And the State Department's got to work with somebody on the build."

Rumsfeld lost. The president said in a speech on October 25, "As Secretary Rice explained last week, our strategy is to clear, hold and build."

--Barron YoungSmith