Iraq: New strategy, new direction, last, best chance Posted by: McQ
on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Gen Petraeus, as much as anyone, knows the key to success in Iraq is to be found, not in the military sphere, but in the political sphere. A great US News and World Reportstory by Linda Robinson lays it out for all to read.
Since the last of five additional U.S. brigades will not be on the ground until June, Petraeus argues that it will not be possible to assess the results of the security plan until summer's end. But it is critical to get some political progress before then, he says. "This [strategy] is about buying time for Iraqis to reconcile," he says. The Shiite majority has already agreed in principle to share oil revenues with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities, but the details need to be enshrined in law. Similarly, there are four competing versions of a law that would allow more former regime members to participate in government. Provincial elections and provincial powers are two other pending matters. "We have to start getting progress on these issues," he says.
Petraeus understands that the conflict is inherently political and that his job is as much political as military.
The Petraeus plan differs dramatically from past strategies in two respects: It is focused on providing security for the population rather than chasing down elusive fighters. And it sees that security as a means to an end, a political settlement rather than an old-fashioned military victory.
It is that which al Qaeda is fighting so hard to prevent. So, given the importance of the political aspect of this, how are US leaders attempting to manage that? Well apparently much better than they did previously:
In this diplomatic gambit, Petraeus's key partner is the new U.S. ambassador, Middle East veteran Ryan Crocker. The two have forged a close bond in contrast to the often toxic relations between the top civilian and military U.S. officials in Iraq in the past. "We are determined that this has to be one mission, one team. That's why my office is right across from his," says Petraeus. As Crocker tells U.S. News: "Lord knows where this is going, but he and I are committed to getting there together."
Now, that is a significant difference and improvement from the previous relationship. And that brings me to Ann Scott Tyson's piece in today's WaPo:
Top U.S. commanders and diplomats in Iraq are completing a far-reaching campaign plan for a new U.S. strategy, laying out military and political goals and endorsing the selective removal of hardened sectarian actors from Iraq's security forces and government.
The classified plan, scheduled to be finished by May 31, is a joint effort between Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American general in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. More than half a dozen people with knowledge of the plan discussed its contents, although most asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it to reporters.
The overarching aim of the plan, which sets goals for the end of this year and the end of 2008, is more political than military: to negotiate settlements between warring factions in Iraq from the national level down to the local level. In essence, it is as much about the political deals needed to defuse a civil war as about the military operations aimed at quelling a complex insurgency, said officials with knowledge of the plan.
So there we see the point again about the focus of the plan which is being finished up. Also note the last line about attempts to "defuse a civil war" and quell a 'complex insurgency'. There was an interesting point made in the USN&WR article about that:
In fact, some of the meetings are very secret. "There is a pretty substantial effort ongoing to reach out to groups that at least want to oppose al Qaeda," Petraeus says, "which has been helped enormously by having a British three-star who has Northern Ireland experience that is really quite instructive." His deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, has been meeting with insurgents, militias, and tribal chiefs to see who might be ready to reconcile. Lamb, a special operations veteran who is on his fourth tour in Iraq-the first one was during Desert Storm in 1991-tells U.S. News that his overtures are all coordinated with the Iraqi government. "We are trying to see how we can help, not hinder, the process," he says.
Lamb believes real progress on reconciliation can be made this year. To skeptics, he notes that the current peace in Northern Ireland would have seemed impossible not long ago. Iraq, he says, "has the potential to re-establish itself as a formidable economic power and force for good in the region."
Of course a plan is just that a plan, and as Murphy's Law has told us for centuries, most plans don't survive first contact. While all of this sounds good and encouraging, there are still big problems to overcome. One seems to be the present PM al Maliki and his reticence to deal with key Sunnis and his propensity for listening to key advisers from the shiite Dawa party. Additionally, the police force isn't yet up to speed and while the Iraqi Army seems to be good, the real test is yet to come.
But I wanted to pop this up here for the naysayers who continue to insist we're embarked on the same failed strategy, no progress is being made and we're ignoring the political realm in favor of pursuing a military victory.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It's time they knew it and quit trying to demagogue the issue by pushing the same old rhetoric they've so favored in the past. Yes, it may be too little, too late, yes it may fail, but regardless it is, whether you like it or not, the right way to proceed. And, if given the amount of time it would need to work it would probably succeed.
So that leaves this squarely where it needs to be considered. It becomes a question of political will or the lack thereof. All the critics who clamored for a 'new direction' have been answered and answered well. This, as Petraeus lays out in the article, is a new strategy. The question is whether the critics will acknowledge that, acknowledge the real stakes in Iraq and gather the nerve and will to admit that succeeding with the political solution in Iraq, which Petraeus and Crocker are attempting to forge, is not only vital to the region, but to the US.
Additionally, the police force isn’t yet up to speed and while the Iraqi Army seems to be good, the real test is yet to come.
I think in some parts of the country the test is on-going. Look at this article as an example, where Iraqi forces did the main job, with only air-support from Americans. That is where we would like (need?) the majority of Iraqi forces to be in 6-12 months from now.
The Shiite majority has already agreed in principle to share oil revenues with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities, but the details need to be enshrined in law. Similarly, there are four competing versions of a law that would allow more former regime members to participate in government. Provincial elections and provincial powers are two other pending matters. "We have to start getting progress on these issues," he says.
This sounds like democracy in action.
Do we expect them to just ramrod legislation through without reading or debating it?
Would you expect more or less from our own Congress on important issues. Or would people rather we just right the law and enact it? Or setup our own strong man dictatorship to enforce our will in Iraq?
Some who have been critical of this effort from the beginning have consistently based their opposition on their preference for a dictator we can control or contain at a much lower cost. From the start they said the price tag for creating an environment where democracy could take root in Iraq would be high. Those critics can go to sleep at night knowing they were right.
The critics who bother me the most are those who ordinarily would not be on the side of supporting dictatorships, who are arguing today that only military intervention can prevent the genocide of Darfur, or who argued yesterday for military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to ease the sectarian violence that was tearing those places apart.
Suppose we had not invaded Iraq and Hussein had been overthrown by Shiite and Kurdish insurgents. Suppose al Qaeda then undermined their new democracy and inflamed sectarian tensions to the same level of violence we are seeing today. Wouldn’t you expect the same people who are urging a unilateral and immediate withdrawal to be urging military intervention to end this carnage? I would.
American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq’s middle class has fled the country in fear.