LONDON-Fifteen years ago this week, the United States invasion of Iraq began.
Before the statues of Saddam Hussein came down and U.S. forces transitioned to an occupation force two months later, a highly-decorated Special Forces colonel was asked to identify what it would take to stabilize Iraq and turn it into a functioning democracy. In the prescient report that he and his team delivered to U.S. Central Command, Colonel Tim Heinemann (Ret.), the Green Berets commander, was frank in his assessment. He argued that the U.S. military hadn’t developed the “street smarts” it needed in Iraq, hadn’t built relationships with the real power brokers on the ground, and hadn’t done enough to prevent Iraqi military officers from going underground as insurgents. The surest way to develop the insights necessary to stave off chaos, the report argued, was to engage tribal leaders in a massive counterinsurgency effort to build trust – in his words, “not just to share tea one-on-one with local leaders, but to share tea 10 times until they opened up.”