Andrew J. Krepenevich, Jr.'s article in the most recent Foreign Affairs, "How to Win in Iraq," prescribes an "oil spot strategy" as the best hope for Coalition success. The oil-spot strategy dictates that US forces should no longer be deployed in search-and-destroy missions against insurgents, but should be assigned strictly security duty, protecting Iraq's people and property from insurgent mayhem. Once a security cordon is placed around key areas economic and social development programs should be funneled in, creating islands of order and prosperity that would then seep outward like an "oil spot" spreading ever wider through a piece of fabric.
I would agree with Krepinevich that this is the best and most hopeful strategy in Iraq. His detractors assert that this "oil spot" strategy is built on false analogies to the Malaysian counterinsurgency and overlooks the failure of counterinsurgent operations like the "strategic hamlet" program in South Vietnam. Though such criticisms have merit, they are not damning of Krepenevich's basic premise. It is true that ethnic divisions between Malay farmers and the largely Chinese communist guerillas made security cordons easier to build and maintain in Malaysia. Political conditions in Iraq, however, could create similar popular sympathy for the Coalition mission if correctly capitalized upon (the fact that many insurgents are either foreign jihadists or agents of Saddam's regime, for example). Moreover, what Krepenevich proposes does not involve displacing large segments of population as the "strategic hamlet" program did.
I would take issue with one basic assertion Krepenevich makes, however. He claims that an "oil spot" strategy could be pursued with even fewer troops than are currently serving in Iraq. In this he is mistaken. The low number of US troops currently serving in Iraq works hand-in-hand with the Coalition's preference for a search-and-destroy counterinsurgency strategy, as this strategy hinges upon the superior firepower and mobility of US troops. The task of establishing a security cordon of any meaningful resilience drastically attenuates these advantages of the US combat soldier, however. In preventing attacks against civilians, officials, diplomats, and infrastructure no amount of mobility or firepower can replace eyes and ears and boots on the ground. If the US is to have any prayer of creating a cordon of order and security within which economic and social development can take root at least twice the number of soldiers now serving in Iraq would be required.
This is the fatal flaw of the "oil spot" strategy, and the reason it is not likely to be adopted. This is not to say that it could not work if the US had the political will to carry it out, but such will does not exist. Doubling the number of troops would no doubt increase security in cities like Baghdad and Mosul, but it would also double the number of US targets on the ground in Iraq, and lead to twice the number of casualties. The US public has already lost patience with the pace of loss in Iraq, an increase in casualty numbers would likely cause a radical collapse of public faith in the administration. Even Krepenevich acknowledges that his "oil spot" strategy would require a decade-long commitment on the part of the US, one which is not realistic given the current political mood. I would agree with Krepenevich that the oil spot strategy (perfect or no) is the only feasible one the US could pursue. Because the Bush administration failed to cultivate the necessary political will to carry it out, the US is left without effective strategic options in Iraq.