Below is a speech that the USMC Commandant, General Conway, gave recently that I thought was an interesting read. It's long, so grab a cup of coffee or something stronger and read his thoughts on the Long War, the politics and politicians, morale, and the future of the US Marine Corps:
The metrics show the results. Attacks are down 60
percent. Cache discoveries are up 400 percent because tips from the local
population are up 150 percent. Sunni tribes now offer more of their young
men each month for the Iraqi Security Forces than the coalition can
train. And, yes, casualties are down almost 14 percent for U.S.
troops. A normalcy has returned to the province, not seen in over three
years, and the people like it.
Al Qaeda can be expected to counterattack, but they have
lost the support of the populace, and when that happens, an insurgency cannot
survive. Economic progress must follow, however, for us to fully
capitalize on the security gains, and that also is happening.
Marketplaces in all of the major cities are opened and a decentralized economy
flourishes. International businesses have been watching the security
situation closely in Al Anbar, and many now feel the time is right for those
willing to accept some risk, but perhaps realize significant gains to act.
The final leg of the stool is the political link. At
the national level, the political patchwork is problematic, and the Maliki
government has been repeatedly cautioned that it must make better use of the
time coalition forces have bought them. In the Al Anbar Province, thins
are slightly more encouraging. Prime Minister Maliki has met in Ramadi
the lead sheiks and is scheduled to meet with them again in al Qa’im this
summer. The sheiks realize that in order for the country to stay
together, there must be reconciliation with the Kurds and the Shi’as at the
Reconciliation conferences are taking place amongst tribal
leadership, the clergy, and elected officials. Recently, just such a
conference was attacked by a suicide bomber. While the attack may make
subsequent efforts more difficult, it also shows the participants how much the
al Qaeda fear the success of these efforts.
As one might expect, the morale of the Marines and Sailors
who are living the successes in the West is off the page. Although our
deployment tempo is intense – Marines are normally deployed for seven months
and are at home for seven months — or in some cases less — the absolute best
morale that our Corps has is found in units getting ready to go to Iraq or that
are already there.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. The Second
Battalion, Fifth Marines was in Ramadi on their last deployment and lost 15
Marines killed and another 150-plus wounded. Scheduled to return to
Ramadi again, the battalion commander approached his combat veterans who were
nearing their end-of-active service that would occur either before or during
He expressed concern that his younger Marines who were not
combat experienced would miss their leadership and their know-how. He
asked them to consider staying aboard through the next rotation. Ladies
and gentlemen, without a penny of incentive pay, 200 Marines — most of them
NCOs — stepped forward to deploy again with that battalion.
In another instance that happened just last week, Corporal
Garret Hawkins had his right leg shattered in a IED blast northwest of
Karma. Before he was medevaced out by helicopter, he told his First
Sergeant that he first needed to go back to the base. Once at the
treatment station, he announced he wanted to reenlist before he was
evacuated. His platoon commander read the oath, the corporal raised his
right hand as he laid on the stretcher, and his fellow Marines shook their
heads in amazement and could only say, “That’s motivating as hell.”
Another reason that Marines and Sailors feel good about
their mission and themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they are certain
that they are defending this Nation against terrorism. They feel that the
reason the country has not been attacked since 9/11 is because they are killing
the same terrorists in both places that might otherwise be attempting to find
their way to the U.S. Most would agree that a direct attack on terrorism
was not the initial reason for going into Iraq in 2003, but it took a little
less than three weeks for us to see religious extremists there.
On the march to Baghdad , my division commander, then Major
General Jim Mattis outside of a little town called Azzizah radioed back that he
had just run into a beehive. He said that there were about 300 fighters
in the area who were not retreating, and to the contrary, they were dying in
place on their guns. These people were fanatics. The last squad was
cut down charging a 50-caliber machine gun on a tank. When we searched
the bodies, we found that they were not Iraqis — but were from Syria , Saudi
Arabia , Jordan , and Yemen.
In the interim years, we have watched the forces of al Qaeda
increasingly make it their fight. Indeed, they are the single most
dangerous enemy we face. There is no way our troops want to back down
from that fight until they and their Iraqi counterparts have substantially
destroyed the al Qaeda organization or forced it to go elsewhere.
The al Qaeda in Iraq are increasingly on the run. We
have faced two enemies in the country — one we call the ACF, or the
Anti-Coalition Forces — the other AIF, or the Anti-Iraqi Forces. The
Anti-Coalition Forces are basically local tribesmen or former Iraqi army who
believe we have become occupiers. These types are essentially
nationalists. They want to see a strong Iraqi government, the coalition
forces gone, and ultimately, a better quality of life for their children.
They might very well engage a U.S. patrol moving through their area with lethal
fires, but if the patrol were Iraqi, they would cheer their boys on.
The Anti-Iraqi Forces are different. They are
principally al Qaeda, foreign fighters, and criminals. They do not want
to see a strong Iraq government. Indeed, their objective is to return to
the caliphate and 15th-century law. They are not likely to ever reach an
agreement with a recognized authority and will simply have to be captured or
killed. For roughly 36 months, these forces allied together to oppose
coalition forces. For the past nine months, the Anti-Coalition Forces
have joined with us to eliminate the Anti-Iraqi Forces.
The terrorist leader Zarqawi foretold the day would come
before his death. He said to Iraqi Security Forces in 2004, “We fight
them and this is difficult because of the gap that will emerge between us and
the people of the land. How can we kill their cousins and sons linked to
the inhabitants by kinship, blood, and honor? The real sons of this land
will decide the matter through experience. Democracy is coming; there
will be no excuse thereafter.”
We are hopeful that the so-called “Awakening Movement” of
the tribes in al Anbar will continue to be a west-to-east phenomenon that has
evolved. Baghdad is admittedly different with the ethnic mix found in the
city, but even there, we have recently some bonding against the al Qaeda
influence. The recent surge, or plus-up, that has been directed by the
President comes at an advantageous time to keep pressure on the al Qaeda.
I must caution, however, that the source of the additional
troops to Iraq has created an impact on available force flow that can only be
judged as severe. The effort has brought both ground services to a
precipitous edge — for future rotations are in jeopardy of not being fully
rested, trained, or manned to go forward. Our message to the commanders
in the field and to our leadership is that based on our current deployment
model, the troop levels associated with the surge cannot be sustained
That said, I have heard this effort described as a Hail Mary
— a last desperate attempt to achieve success. The analogy follows that
if the effort fails — that is to say, if the pass falls incomplete — then the
clock runs out and the game is over. Folks, I think that what we have at
stake in Iraq is far too important for us as a Nation to take that view.
The much-advertised September report from commanders in
theater will provide us an insight as to the progress on the ground. In the
wake of that report, we as a Nation need to take an objective look at where we
are in this struggle. We should not over-estimate our progress made or
underestimate the momentum the enemy would gain if we were to conduct an
unabated withdrawal of forces. There are many options left available, and
we need to be pragmatic in terms of what is best for the Nation — both in the
near term and in the context of this Long War.
You know, ladies and gentlemen, the Iraqis are a very proud
people. They consider themselves fortunate to be Iraqis, and they look
forward to the day when they can live in security and prosperous
surroundings. A professor told me long ago that a sovereign nation needs
five things to make it prosper: fresh water, arable land, an educated
population, an exportable product, and a seaport. Iraq has all of those
things. I would add the sixth element to the list, I think: leadership.
But the point is, Iraq is potentially a very rich
country. Her neighbors look on that wealth with a lusty gaze, and al
Qaeda would like nothing better than to control such resources for the Long
War. We in turn, when we do draw down, must develop a regional strategy
that protects Iraq within such time as she can build back her armed forces
sufficient to defend national sovereignty, and yet we need to limit the
footprint of our forces inside the country.
Let me switch topics at this point and talk about regional
security and the next steps in the War on Terrorism. The drawdown of our
forces in Iraq is inevitable, and I would argue necessary in order to be able
to reset our corps, train more broadly for other contingencies, and prepare
ourselves for the next engagements with extremists.
The key question will be, are we reducing our forces in
Iraq, confident in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry the
preponderance of the fight and the ability of the Iraqis to self govern, or are
we drawing down because we feel progress is not sufficiently dramatic — that
Iraq is simply not worth the cost in treasure and blood — or because, as some
say, we have already lost?
For those who subscribe to the latter point of view, I would
offer to you that there is something else inextricably tied to our presence in
Iraq , and that is the credibility of the United States of America .
Whether or not we want to admit it as a Nation, the fight in Iraq has evolved
into a struggle between us and al Qaeda — the religious extremists of our
modern-day world and the people we must defeat in this long war.
Our enemies have said from the outside that Americans are
weak of spirit and will lose our will to win if the fighting gets tough.
He has looked at our other withdrawals in Vietnam , Lebanon , and Somalia , and
has gained confidence that he can recreate yet another such scenario. I
said to you earlier that Iraq and Afghanistan are the first battles of the Long
War. He knows, just as we should know, that whoever wins the first
battles gains incredible momentum. The loser faces a vastly different and
much more daunting set of circumstances.
The keys to a successful struggle in Iraq are developing the
rudimentary elements of self-governance sufficient for protecting citizens of
the country, hold the nation together, and provide basic services to the
people. The keys to a successful regional strategy will be posturing the
moderates for success and regaining control of the Muslim religion, preventing
wider outbreaks of sectarian violence amongst nations, and containing the
Notwithstanding possible development of nuclear weapons,
Iran is already the recognized power in the region amongst Gulf states .
The nations in the region are watchful and uneasy — not yet willing to
accommodate but in no position to challenge their Persian neighbor.
Iran for its part is also uneasy. She has significant
coalition presence on both her eastern and western borders and an entire fleet
of coalition combat ships in Gulf waters. The Iranian response to this
thus far has been covert – that is to say, deniable support for both the
insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan . She is exporting the
successful Hezbollah model in an attempt to prolong both conflicts in order to
avoid greater focus on Iran . The strategy to date has only been
minimally successful but carries with it a high degree of risk.
The stability of the region is in the best interests of the
industrial world as 30 percent of the world’s oil-supply flows from the Gulf
ports, and that will continue to be the case through at least the next couple
of decades. However, the threats are also enduring: al Qaeda,
Iranian-sponsored, and surrogate terrorist organizations, and internal
movements associated with virtually every Middle Eastern nation, to name the
But there has been unrest in extremist movements in the
past. Indeed, there have been five previous jihads in history and
relative peace were only possible after the moderates were sufficiently
mobilized to say enough and regain control of their religion. Western
nations have had little impact on settling previous jihads. The solution
must invariably come from within. But with wise statecraft, we can, with
our partner nations, positively influence events in the region and help shape
the environment for success.
One of the things that Western nations can and must ensure
is that this Long War does not somehow evolve into a cultural war between
Muslims and Christianity. Of course, the extremists would like nothing
better, and just as they have been able to engineer sectarian strife in Iraq ,
we can accurately predict they will attempt to inflame religion on a global
We must continue to focus like a laser on extremism but
extend the helping hand to other nations, particularly Muslim nations who seek
it. Secretary Rumsfeld used to say that the most important success we
have had against terrorism to date was the tsunami relief, and we didn’t fire a
single round. There have been other successes in the wake of the tsunami
disaster where our military responded magnificently: during the Pakistani
earthquake, the Philippine mudslides, and even the Lebanon non-combatant
But the response should not, unless absolutely necessary,
always be a military response. Perhaps more than any other conflict we
have engaged in, this generational struggle calls out for the application of
other elements of American power. A fledgling country in North Africa
susceptible to fundamentalist ideologies might not welcome a squad of Marines
in the back of an Osprey, but they would be anxious to have a fire team of
Americans from Agriculture and Justice, Border and Drug Enforcement to help
them get their institutions right and prosper a higher standard of living. We need
to properly resource and develop a deployment mentality among our U.S.
government agencies so they can stand at the shoulder of our armed forces
during this Long War.
Just as we must broaden our own ability to respond, we must
welcome the contributions of other nations. Who would have guessed it 10
years ago that NATO would be as engaged in Afghanistan as we see today.
Moreover, I don’t think that when they did agree to go in that they did so
realizing their forces would be under frequent attack by a resurgent
Taliban. By my estimation, however, NATO forces in the southern region
have done pretty well this past spring, yet there are those in Washington who
groused that “they owe us more” — that “this nation or that one is not doing as
much as it should.”
Folks, I am reminded of a phrase, “a nation will invariably
do what is in the best interest of that nation to do.” I’m convinced our
country appreciates a coalition effort, and we need to do all in our power to
encourage it. If it’s not in a nation’s capability to provide combat
troops, then we ought to ask for military advisor teams, police trainers, or
those who can counter drugs. Each nation should be encouraged to do as much as
it can, but the key is to keep their flag active in that circle of flags that
are engaged in this Long War on Terrorism.
One more element of information for you that may impact how
you see the problem: Our Nation must make some very critical decisions in
the next several months. I am supremely confident in the power of
democracy to make tough decisions. We elect men and women of character,
and the people of our great land feel free to engage in the debate. It is
therefore critical that our countrymen, certainly our elected officials,
understand the enemy’s strategy. We have both intercepted it and he has
arrogantly placed it on his websites.
The strategy has five phases. The first phase calls
for jihad — for all the brothers to rise up and slaughter the infidel.
That phase has only been partially successful as we calculate there are
probably a couple of thousand hardcore al Qaeda worldwide, and maybe a few tens
of thousands of fighters.
The second phase calls for the removal of all Western
influence out of the old caliphate – read “the Middle East .” I believe
that that’s the phase we’re in now. Based on the discussions taking place
in our government, one can argue that the enemy is perhaps more on plan in Iraq
than we are.
During the third phase, the jihad plans to turn on and
destroy what they would call the apostate governments of the Middle East ,
those that have partnered with the infidels; those that have sold us oil.
In the execution of this phase, something very important happens. The
enemy knows that he cannot defeat us on the battlefield, but he believes he can
defeat our nation by wrecking our economy — bankrupting and making it
impossible for us to deploy our forces. He intends to do that through
control of the Middle East oil supply — either by destroying the capacity to
produce, or if he takes it intact, by so distorting oil prices – hundreds of
dollars per barrel – that Western economies come to a standstill.
The next phase includes the destruction of Israel and
increasingly devastating terrorist attacks in the West. Finally, he says –
and this may take 100 years – he extends the caliphate to encompass the globe,
and every nation adopts his laws and his religion.
Folks, if you listen closely, you know that I mentioned at
least two vital U.S. national objectives. My view is if we don’t get the
job done right in Iraq the first time, we will be going back, and things are
always tougher the second time around.
Let’s talk briefly about one last topic, and that is the role of the U.S.
Marine Corps in the future. There are those who point out that the Marine
Corps has, over the past few years, started to perform the function and take on
the look of a second land army. That’s true. That rather remarkable
transformation began in 2003 when we lined up along side an Army Corps and then
matched them stride for stride all the way to Baghdad — several hundred miles
beyond our traditional operating ranges adjacent to sea. Then a Marine
Task Force attacked another 100 miles supported by organic air to capture
Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.
I mention it because it reflects the adaptability and the
versatility of our Corps to respond to whatever the force the Nation
needs. My belief is that for this Long War, there is no more relevant or capable
force in the Nation’s inventory than the U.S. Marine Corps.
To be that force, however, we must understand what the
environment will look like in the out years and the role our expeditionary
strategy will play. We see a world in 2025 still suffering the effects of
Islamic extremism. The dangers of weapons of mass destruction being used
against the homeland will increase. Alternative energy sources will not
be mature, so industrial nations and increasingly the developing nations will depend
on the free flow of oil; however, fresh water will be equally important to
petroleum products. During the 20th century, while the population
increased 300 percent, the demand for water increased 600 percent.
Demographics and the aging of the population of industrial countries,
accompanied by a youth bulge in developing countries will literally change the
face of the world as we know it. The U.S. technological advantage,
economic power, and military might will still exceed that of other nations, but
will not be nearly as dominant by 2025.
The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard are developing a
maritime strategy to meet this changing world. It relies heavily on
forward presence and extensive use of the global commons — in this instance,
the oceans. The key elements of our strategy include: integration with
the naval forces of other nations to keep open sea lines of communication; a
form of strategic distributed operations wherein a small number of Marines
embark aboard ship and work in partnership with the forces of developing
nations; sea basing, our capability in an effort to minimize U.S. presence
ashore on any other nation’s land; and, yes, maintaining a sufficient forcible
entry capability should the situation demand it.
To continue to be the Nation’s force of choice, the Corps of
today will have to require some changes. Post-Iraq, we will once again
have to attain our expeditionary flavor. We have grown heavy in our
effort to accomplish the mission and protect our troops in an IED-laden
environment. Another layer of armor has a good feel to it, but it also
limits the ability of an expeditionary force to be mobile and agile.
Our battalion equipment sets in the motor pools have become
populated with over three times the gear that we once felt was
sufficient. Most of it’s good stuff for the environment we’re in now, but
the day must come when we sort out what we can carry — what we must have versus
what is nice to have.
We will have to intelligently add the 27,000 Marines the
President has authorized. Most of that number will be used to grow
additional units that have been hard-pressed in this War on Terrorism.
New capabilities, however, will also be created. We see the need for a
training and advisory group that will provide advisor teams to nations
developing a professional military or who are perhaps already engaged in the
fight with extremists. We will have to train all our new Marines, active
and reserve, in our bread-and-butter competencies — amphibious operations,
combined arms maneuver, and mountain and jungle warfare training — to ensure
that they are indeed ready for any clime and place.
There are a couple of other areas we have to fix as
well. Recently, an Army mental health study pointed to the fact that
Marines in a recent rotation in Iraq – in percentages that I was not
comfortable with – was a little loose in their interpretation, maybe even
application, of battlefield ethics. At the same time, we have a couple of
incidents involving civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq under investigation
or engaged in trial. New information emerged just last week on yet
another alleged incident. Now we’re going to let those things play
out. No one is prematurely judging guilt or innocent, but the very
convergence of all these events concern me, and so we are examining as a Corps
how we prepare our young squad leaders to become that Strategic Corporal.
The Long War is indeed a small unit leaders’ fight, and we
have to make sure our young warriors, operating sometimes with little sleep and
in 120-degree heat, are up to the task of making rapid tactical decisions that
may have strategic impact.
Because of the importance of the quality of the individual
Marine, we will grow the force roughly 5,000 Marines a year over the next five
years, but we do not intend to lower our standards. That makes it tough,
but our recruiters are working hard, and we are making our quotas. I
believe it helps that there will always be a certain number of great young
Americans out there who want to be Marines. Once again, however, I have
concerns, this time not with our Corps but with the Army. Folks, we have
a great army, and I’ll be the first to tell you that the Marine Corps wins
battles but the Army wins the Nation’s wars. Our Army is not having a good
time of it right now recruiting, and yet their successes are inextricably tied
to the successes of the Nation. I’ve encouraged our recruiters — I
encourage you tonight, to help where you can. If a young American is
never going to be Marine, there is tremendous pride in serving this country as
a soldier in the United States Army.
Folks, let me leave you with just a couple of positive
thoughts. Everything we read about in the future indicates that
well-trained, well-led human beings with a capacity to absorb information and
rapidly react to their environment have a tremendous asymmetric advantage over
an adversary. That advantage goes to us. Our young Marines of today
are courageous, willing to make sacrifices, and are marvelous team players.
I am confident our Corps, and indeed our Nation, will be in great shape for a
long time to come as these people continue to grow and assume greater positions
Finally, I recently named the book, “First to Fight,”
by Lieutenant General Victor Krulak as the Commandant’s selection — a must-read
from our reading list. In the book, he says that there will always be a
Marine Corps because America loves our Marines. That is, unless one of
two things were to happen – one would be that we as an institution were found
to be somehow abusing the sons and daughters of this great land. The
other would be if the Nation were to call on the Corps at a time of emergency
and somehow we failed to answer that call. Ladies and gentlemen, let me
assure you here tonight. Neither of those two things are going to happen
on my watch. Thank you very much.