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Iraq: a clarification
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I guess my post yesterday depressed a number of readers as I've heard from several of them. I want to take this opportunity to clarify some things or, perhaps said another way, ensure readers understand where I stand on Iraq. So here's the body of an email [edited in some places] sent to another blogger who I admire greatly, discussing the post:
The problem, as I see it is partially self-inflicted and partially a function of culture. I think it is hard to deny anymore that we really had no workable plan for post-invasion Iraq. And, in fact, we mostly made it up on the fly as we went along. We gave the insurgency a chance to form and take hold.

We seem, for whatever reason, to have tried to do this on the cheap with the minimum (troops) and for the life of me I don’t understand why. I also believe the administration believed its own rhetoric and thought the Iraqis would not only welcome us, but cooperate fully. There just never seemed to be any planning beyond that – no ‘go to hell’ plan which would be implemented. And the problems built and compounded to a point where they are on the verge, at least in Baghdad, of exploding into open warfare. I simply don’t want our troops in the middle of that. They deserve better than that.

I’m almost of the opinion that we need to let this thing go, try to confine it to Baghdad and let it burn itself out. It would also essentially hand the ball to the Iraqi government, who really does need to step up a bit.

The other thing that has gotten to me lately has to do with an email I saw over at The Corner put up by one of them from a student at the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth. In it the writer says, in response I suppose, to something this person had mentioned on the Corner about training Iraqis, that training the Iraqis “had become” the highest priority and that the Army was now tapping its “rock stars” for those assignments.

“Now”!? We’ve heard for two years that training the ISF was the most important task we had and we’re just now starting to tap the “rock stars” for assignment into these billets? Why weren’t these “rock stars” in those billets two years ago when this was the “most important task” we had to accomplish?

The second problem, as I see it is our culture. Instant gratification has replaced delayed gratification. FedEx has built its multibillion dollar business on servicing it. Wars end in the two hours it takes to watch a movie and everything is neatly tied up. We have no collective patience for long or drawn-out efforts. Go in, do it, win it, get out and everything is unicorns and rainbows.

Couple this culture with relentless and toxic press coverage, stir and you have “Iraq fatigue” which has, without a doubt, set in among the American public.

I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating a “pull out now” strategy or an abandonment of Iraq. I’m still firmly in the camp that says it is important to our future security that we do what we said we we’re going to do there.

I’m mostly talking about changing strategy with an eye to forcing Iraq’s government and security forces to take a much larger hand in this than it is now doing and hurrying the process along. The only way to do that is to back off and hand them the ball. That doesn’t mean leave. It does mean take less of an active role.

Unfortunately, because of the probability that we will see a change in power in ’08 here, it is important that it be accomplished well before that time. I think that’s just political reality, so that too has to be included in the equation. There is no doubt in my mind that should the Democrats sweep the ‘08 elections, Iraq will be abandoned

So, as I’ve been advocating, it is time to kick the fledgling out of the nest instead of trying to ease him out in order to have the time (and military power) to respond to anything which we need too in order to shore it up in the remaining timeframe and ensure it’s eventual success.

I’m trying very hard to deal with reality and be intellectually honest about all of this. And the result is depressing, certainly. But that’s the only way I know to define and confront a problem and have any success in overcoming it. Unlike some, I don’t question the reasons for going to war (given the time, context and information available at that time, I still think it was the right decision). I do heavily question our conduct of the post-war. It has not been good. I want us to walk out of there successful. But I think to do so, it is imperative we adapt and modify whatever strategy we presently have to put the onus on Iraq to ensure that success by ’08.
That's where I am. That's what I believe. Right or wrong, that is reality as I see it.
 
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You don’t even mention Afghanistan. One might think after the experiences of the Soviet Union there, that we might have had a bit more trepidation about starting a two-front war. The benefit of all this is that a new generation of Americans are now learning the definition of the word hubris.
 
Written By: william
URL: http://
Here is similar theme to your post:

http://www.claremont.org/weblog/index.html#005307

"As we move inexorably toward defeat in Iraq — and let’s call it what it is, "withdrawal" or no — we must remember one thing above all else: the defeat was chosen, not imposed, and as such it brings with it vastly more dishonor than a loss by force of arms. The cardinal virtue of President Bush hitherto has been his refusal to lose — but it is a dubious virtue in the absence of a will to win. (These half-virtues are a curious feature of his presidency: see, for example, his tax-cutting zeal, coupled with his utter disinterest in spending cuts.) This war has been an exercise in conquest on the cheap, and as such, foreseeably bad compromises were made: first to under-man the occupation force, then to abandon Fallujah (twice!), then to allow Moqtada al-Sadr to live (three times!), then to push unready Iraqi units to the fore, et cetera. We can allow the President the usual mistakes of wartime — certainly it took Lincoln long enough to find the right generals — but we cannot credit him if he does not learn from them. Three and a half years into this war, it’s quite clear that he has learned little."
 
Written By: Tet, Part Deux
URL: http://
You don’t even mention Afghanistan.
That’s because the subject of the post is Iraq.

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
As we move inexorably toward defeat in Iraq — and let’s call it what it is, "withdrawal" or no — we must remember one thing above all else: the defeat was chosen, not imposed, and as such it brings with it vastly more dishonor than a loss by force of arms.
Actually, it is not at all similar in theme.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
You don’t even mention Afghanistan.
That’s because the subject of the post is Iraq.
LOL
I see where William is coming from but your rebuttal had me spitting coffee when reading this. I have no idea why I found this as funny as I did.
 
Written By: Kav
URL: http://livingrealworld.blogspot.com
William - You could also mention every other army that’s gone into Afghanistan for whatever that has to do with the present situation in Iraq. Or are you preparing us for your ’get out of Afghanistan’ offensive?


McQ - Rummy never left me with a good feeling. Too arrogant. And George was a knucklehead for sticking with him this long. He should have been out no later than Abu Gharib and it’s aftermath.

With regards to turning it over to Iraq - as we must do. My heart says they’re going to commit some atrocities, or things they do are going to be painted in that light by the media at first blush, every time there’s even a hint.
We are of course going to be implicated in it. Especially when it occurs under the watch of the current administration.
The Iraqis aren’t going to play by the same rules we do. More to the point does the Arab world ever?, and wasn’t expecting them to exactly how we got where we are?
They’re going to hurt more than feelings, and they’re not going to feel particularly bad about it, regardless of the handwringing from the NYT that will follow.

Given that’s the sort of thing the western media feeds on, so long as the US can be perceived to be linked to it and so long as there’s a Republican in the White House, we can expect a barrage of coverage (until their government forbids the coverage), that’s going to be fairly unattractive.
Abu Gharib and Haditha are going to look like picnics by comparison.

The naysayers for us being in Iraq don’t have an answer, and have never had an answer, and I think we can trust that whatever the Iraqi government does now is going to be the wrong answer unless the unicorns and rainbows break out the instant we withdraw our forces. The Dems are going to be carrying this club through the next election and subsequent administration (if a Republican wins, as a beating stick, if a Democrat wins, as an excuse crutch, which may at times be perfectly valid).

We weren’t wrong to remove Saddam, we weren’t wrong to try and help them.
We failed in application, not in theory.

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
McQ. Great post. I find myself agreeing with virtually everything you wrote. I was NEVER a proponent of this war, simply because we already had a very good front going in Afghanistan. Saddam was a lying sack, but he was contained for the most part. It wasn’t a low troop concern for me, though. We could enter another front and win the initial battle, no problem. I am not sure how more troops ensure a successful post battle stability, though. Especially in this area of the world. I agree with your suggestion, and I read it elsewhere too, that we should move back from Baghdad and let the Iraqi’s take it from there. Anyhow, nice post.
 
Written By: HappyIntheMiddle
URL: http://
Good post McQ.

Welcome to the appeasing defeatists club. Membership gets you discounts at Cosco.
 
Written By: Davebo
URL: http://
I think we were told that Iraq and Afghanistan are part of the same war.
 
Written By: william
URL: http://
I think we were told that Iraq and Afghanistan are part of the same war.
What "we were told" is irrelevant to what I choose to address in my post.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I was NEVER a proponent of this war, simply because we already had a very good front going in Afghanistan.
Well don’t mistake me for someone who wasn’t then or isn’t now a proponent of the war.

I’m talking about changing strategy and hurrying along the process. I’m talking about it because I’m of the opinion political reality in ’08 will overcome our effort in Iraq if we don’t. But let me be very clear ... I’m not talking about it being a mistake or the wrong thing to do.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
With regards to turning it over to Iraq - as we must do. My heart says they’re going to commit some atrocities, or things they do are going to be painted in that light by the media at first blush, every time there’s even a hint.

We are of course going to be implicated in it. Especially when it occurs under the watch of the current administration.
Looker I fully expect, no matter what we do, for the Democrats and the media to paint it as a failure. Such is life.

What I hope is we do enough that in 10 or 20 years, with a stable and relatively democratic Iraq in existence, we can point to both and tell them how wrong they were.

And yes, I agree, there will be atrocities and things we will condemn. But you can’t hold out for perfect when you do things like this. If they are an anomoly instead of an MO, then any criticism trying to cast it in a larger light will be hollow at best.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
The naysayers for us being in Iraq don’t have an answer,


That’s true, I do not have an answer of how to accomplish the actual goal of establishing a representative Western style democracy in Iraq, and I honestly don’t know of anyone who ever did have such an answer. Perhaps this is why we were not told this was the goal, we were all told the goal was to disarm Iraq and regime change (as opposed to regime design and implementation).
and have never had an answer,
Yes, we did have an answer, I was shouting as loud as I could in the run up to the war. DON’T DO IT! At least not until or unless we have verified empirical evidence of the quantities of WMD’s claimed by the administration.

I am being serious here, so please hear this point...

There is/was nothing wrong with encouraging a stable democracy in Iraq as a secondary goal to the primary goal of disarming Iraq. As secondary goal, success is optional. Because we failed to really determine whether Iraq was actually armed to teeth as asserted by the administration, and because that failure allowed for the possibility that Iraq was not armed to the extent of posing a threat, the primary goal and only means of achiving success became the effort accomplish the extremeley unlikely goal of creating a new democracy in a region and manner that it had never been done before.

Removing Saddam makes a good sound bite, and I’d hate to be a politician who would say this out loud, but did we really make the world better by removing Saddam? His worst years were long behind him, his nation and army posed virtually no threat to the nations around him, in fact, if Iran knew how poorly Iraq was defended, they probably would have invaded Iraq, but they didn’t, and this created a tension in the Middle East that made the US and the rest of the Middle East safer. The result of our invasion was the elevation of Iran from regional threat to a potential threat to global peace.

I really can’t see how this makes the world a better place.

Do you really think that Saddam would have killed a fraction of the people that have been killed and will continue to be killed in Iraq now or that what the Iraq people have now is liberty compared to what they had then?

I know this type of honest evaluation of the effects of removing Saddam are political suicide, but we’re intelligent enough here to have an intellectual discussion without tossing rhetorical bombs about "gassing his own people".

Aren’t we?

Cap
 
Written By: CaptinSarcastic
URL: http://
Trying to walk a fine line, eh?

I mean, props for trying very hard to deal with reality and be intellectually honest about all of this. And the result is depressing, certainly. But that’s the only way I know to define and confront a problem and have any success in overcoming it.

don’t get me wrong, but there’s really only so far that you’re willing to go in questioning your assumptions. I see stuff like

I’m mostly talking about changing strategy with an eye to forcing Iraq’s government and security forces to take a much larger hand in this than it is now doing and hurrying the process along. The only way to do that is to back off and hand them the ball. That doesn’t mean leave. It does mean take less of an active role.

this as a hedge - trying to accomodate reality, but only with the caveat that you don’t abandon perceived principles, such as "I’m still for success" and not "for or an abandonment of Iraq."

I think it’s pretty stressful to push the logic of what you’re recommending up against the need to repeat these - well, ideological reassurances.

On the other hand, if this is the only way the message can be sold, let it be sold. We lack both the resources and the legitimacy to impose an end to the violence through crushing military victory and surrender - even ignoring the question of who we would direct it against. There’s no reason not to believe that the anti-US Sunni insurgency won’t continue until we are gone.
The crushing ethnic violence now occuring was, indeed, the most likely outcome of Saddamn’s sudden overthrow, but I personally do believe that that our military force and military-victory-desires backing the Shia was a prime force behind the sense of Shia impunity that has blocked compromise. If we hadn’t been fighting a war against one of the constituencies we wanted to sit around the table of a new Iraq - the Sunni - there might have been a willingness to compromise in 03. The Iraq situation might now be as contained as the Afghanistan one is - not that it’s great, but it’s better.

The hope is, frankly, that our depature from the active anti-Sunni war will lead to an increased political flexibilty that can be used to negotiate an end to the bloodletting. Partition may be a price to pay for that. Or, the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy war may continue without us. We’ve played a part in setting up that dynamic as well, along with Iran. But Iran never made any sort of public commitment to a stable, happy, democratic Iraq.

A truly strategic leader would have realized by early 04 that he could have an anti-Iran-nuke coalition or a stable, nonviolent Iraq, but not both. Yet another way in which the Bush admin has chosen acting tough in as many shallow ways as possible over achieving genuine and lasting positive progress in anything.

One last word:

That doesn’t mean leave. It does mean take less of an active role.

Barring some very clever politics, if we’re still in non-Kurdistan Iraq, we’re still going to be regularly attacked. If US forces are going to be regularly attacked, how can they not respond? If they are responding, how do we take less of an active role?

Genuine military domination and a genuine commitment to negotiation, handover, and - where the population demands it - withdrawal are the only two choices that really allow for even the theory of success. Unless you can negotiate a path between the extremes, or unless you can tolerate continued negative backlash.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
"kick the fledgling out of the nest"

The militias ARE the government. Execute or assassinate Al-Sadr and another will rise to take his place. His Sadr City thugs have tasted power and they’re not about to abandon it. Remember Somalia? We made one pipsqueak warlord (Aidid) public enemy number one. Doing so just made him more powerful. But his murder at a peace conference did nothing to quell the violence.

on success:

Suddenly, US success criteria seems to be only about stopping the violence. But where is our concern for civil rights? In those areas of Iraq which are (apparently) quiet, what is life like for women? can alcohol be sold? is any kind of dissent tolerated?

as best i can tell, we have no idea and don’t care.
 
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
this as a hedge - trying to accomodate reality, but only with the caveat that you don’t abandon perceived principles, such as "I’m still for success" and not "for or an abandonment of Iraq."

I think it’s pretty stressful to push the logic of what you’re recommending up against the need to repeat these - well, ideological reassurances.
Actually it isn’t a hedge ... it’s an acknowledgement of a couple of realities which I outline in the body of the post. One I’ve been pointing too for months ... lack of a plan has led to p*ss poor performance. No news there.

The other is the emerging political reality. I don’t think the effort in Iraq will get the time it fully needs to finish the job properly. So it is time to adapt to that reality.

And what I outlined in this post and the last is how to do that (or at least my thoughts on how to do that). But I wouldn’t say we still have a chance at success unless I really felt that to be true.
Barring some very clever politics, if we’re still in non-Kurdistan Iraq, we’re still going to be regularly attacked. If US forces are going to be regularly attacked, how can they not respond? If they are responding, how do we take less of an active role?
Well that really depends on how you structure your role and where you set up camp, doesn’t it?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Cap -
My first thought was Saddam would team with Iran, but that was, on instant reflection, unlikely.

I suppose we could have kept him caged, still flying no-fly missions, with us occasionally blowing up a misguided radar crew that lit up our overwatch aircraft (most likely at Saddam’s order just to see if we were sincere).

Course that begs Francis’s concern for human rights questions, which, had Saddam remained in power, we’d obviously not have worried so much about (lot of talk, no action), making the situation like Somalia.
The UN would continue to fumble around in the region, the Money-for-Saddam program would still be in operation.
Al-queda might, or might not, have found a quiet home in Iraq instead of wherever they’re hiding these days. All denyable of course.

Realistically, would he have killed more of his own than we did - if you count their loses in our attacks on their forces AND civilian losses, probably not. If you’re only counting the attrition on his own population (remember his wacko sons would still be alive and practicing the art of people shredding) I think he’d match the number of dead we see, if not go on to exceed it.
His prisons would still be operating merrily along, his infrastructure continuing to crumble.
The oil would still be happily flowing though.

Might have beens - very tough to see what else might have changed had he still been in place.

Certainly Iran going nuclear would have inspired him to do something, I think acting as though he wouldn’t respond is not realistic. Now, what he would have done is known only to Allah’s alternate universes.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
can alcohol be sold - yeah, I have to say, I’m deeply concerned about that.

Aside from the fact that it’s sale is restricted in the US in numerous ways it’s certainly a human rights class issue worthy of our highest concern.


 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Aside from the fact that it’s sale is restricted in the US in numerous ways it’s certainly a human rights class issue worthy of our highest concern.
As it should be.
Terrorists are mainly young Muslim males, right?
It’s a long standing belief of mine. Give young Muslim males booze and women, and you’ll see a drastic decrease in their hostility… I promise.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://ceilidhcowboy.typepad.com/
As it should be.
Terrorists are mainly young Muslim males, right?
It’s a long standing belief of mine. Give young Muslim males booze and women, and you’ll see a drastic decrease in their hostility… I promise.
Maybe the word "up", or it’s Arabic language equivelent can be removed by Clerical Decree as a permitted word.

Then the guys ordering suicide bombers would be telling these guys the same thing we are.

Go...

Cap
 
Written By: CaptinSarcastic
URL: http://
Certainly Iran going nuclear would have inspired him to do something, I think acting as though he wouldn’t respond is not realistic. Now, what he would have done is known only to Allah’s alternate universes.
I think the question is, would Iraq have gone nuclear if Saddam were still in place?

Being that they did not while Saddam was in place, It seems obvious that these countries were a check on each other.

Unintended consequences are a beyotch.

Cap
 
Written By: CaptinSarcastic
URL: http://
Well. Is Iraq separate from Afghanistan, now? I thought that they were two fronts in the war on terror. How can we make any decisions about Iraq without deciding how they will affect Afghanistan, or should we all now realize that the decision to invade Iraq actually had very little to do with Afghanistan.
 
Written By: william
URL: http://
Well. Is Iraq separate from Afghanistan, now?
[shakes head]

Good grief.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Well. Is Iraq separate from Afghanistan, now? I thought that they were two fronts in the war on terror. How can we make any decisions about Iraq without deciding how they will affect Afghanistan, or should we all now realize that the decision to invade Iraq actually had very little to do with Afghanistan.
This is pretty much a lose/lose scenario for Bush.

"Stay the Course" has become a more derided phrase than "Cut and run", and now the administration is trying to say that they never "stayed the course" so now when they say they are not staying the course, they may mean that they are not staying the course in the same they were not staying the course all that time that they were telling us that they were staying the course. And then we have to ask if staying the course was the right strategy, but you are going to change strategy because it is politically unpopular, are you doing the wrong thing just to try and hold onto power, or are you now doing the right thing and you were doing the wrong thing all along?

It appears that they are doing nothing different at all right now, but they want us change the words we use when describe the course staying strategy.

I almost want the Republicans to win for now. When they lose, and Iraq’s failure becomes a historical fact as opposed to being current news, the Republicans are going to blame that failure on Democrats, and it will have some effect on the electorate.

Cap
 
Written By: CaptinSarcastic
URL: http://
Regarding timetables:


http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=3&id=6797

You have to look for it.

There’s really not that much daylight between you and this guy, (or Ambassador Khalizad and this guy) in terms of what the two of you would sit down and agree to as a plan.
I’m convinced that the US adminstration has its fingers in its ears for - bottom-line - political/ideological reasons.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
While I will continue to differ with you on whether or not war was the right choice, and I’ll continue to have a view of American foreign policy far more critical than yours, I applaud your thoughtful effort to deal with the reality as it is. Given the importance of this issue to the American public and US standing in the world, it is important to get past the more esoteric and immensurable differences and focus on what policy makes sense now, given political realities.

A few things I’d bring up to add to this:

1. Our fundamental interest in the region is not primarily Iraq, but a mix of regional stability and counter-terrorism. How we alter strategy and tactics in Iraq has to keep that goal in sight. The stability of Iraq is strategically important only because it serves those goals.

2. Iran is the real problem; it has always been the natural regional power, and has in an odd way won more than any other state in the two Iraq wars. While one could advocate support for dissident groups in Iran (democratizers, or one of the many ethnic minorities), that probably won’t work, might backfire, and kill far more innocents. Therefore...

3. A real possibility to bring both Iran and Syria into the mix and create a framework for regional stability. Don’t back down on Israel, talk to Iran with the respect that Ahmadinejad claims is all he wants and undertake a bold initiative to move from confrontation to cooperation. This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds; it may be what Baker recommends (which I read in your post here a few days ago), and according I think to Ron Suskind, there was talk in 2001 of an alliance with Tehran against the Taliban (to be sure, Khatami was President then). This can’t be a one way street like North Korea in 1994; the US would have to get verifiable results on the counter-terrorism front, push for changes in support for and the policies of Hezbollah, and in essence tell Iran, "you have a chance to be a player in the middle of the game, rather than a heckler making trouble in the stands — your choice." Syria will probably be easier; they did side with us against Iraq in 1991, and Assad the Younger has his problems.

4. If three doesn’t work, your idea of "kicking the bird from the nest" still might — after all, they currently use the US — all sides do — and that creates a disincentive to make real long term deals (perhaps the Americans will help us get a better deal). When we’re leaving, and they realize that it’s crunch time for the future of their country, the Iraqis may indeed surprise people and undercut the current violence. If "3" does work, then who knows — the situation could quickly improve. Moreover, just as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Bush can go to Tehran.

I’m not stuck on the past (and I’m sure we could have intense debates about that, about the causes of the current situation, and American policy in general, but that’s not the issue now). If the Bush Administration shifts gears to something that can really work, I’ll applaud and praise their efforts, and credit them with making a change when necessary.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Afghanistan is the exact reason we went in light.

Maybe those who think "flooding the zone" would work better should recall previous experiences with that method.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://

 
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