Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert and consistent critic of the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, released a report yesterday calling for "strategic patience" in the nation's approach to the war, describing the U.S. military's modest security gains amid dire assessments of the lack of political progress in Iraq.
In his 25-page analysis — titled "The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq" — Cordesman wrote that the United States "does not have good options in Iraq and cannot dictate its future, only influence it," and that it is up to the Iraqi government to make strides toward stability. A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops probably would not help matters, he wrote, but if the Iraqis make progress, then Congress and the U.S. military need to work toward gradual troop reductions that reflect realities on the ground.
"The real case for strategic patience . . . is not the high probability of success in most areas, but the reasonable prospect of success in some areas," wrote Cordesman, a scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He added that key elements of the president's troop increase strategy, however, "remain discouraging."
"While all the half truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress," Cordesman wrote, pointing to statistics that show that violence in several parts of the country has dropped recently. "What is critical to understand, however, is that while the surge strategy has had value in some areas, much of this progress has not [been] the function of the surge strategy, U.S. planning, or action by the Maliki government."
As we have stated on this blog any number of times, any final success in Iraq is really in the hands of the Iraqis. That is also what Gen Petraeus has said repeatedly when he points out that final success cannot be achieved militarily.
So when Cordesman says the US "does not have good options in Iraq and cannot dictate its future, only influence it," he is precisely right. At the moment the most effective way we can influence it militarily is to do what is necessary to provide the level of security necessary for the government to a) function properly and safely and b) reconcile the country ... but both of those are things Iraqis must do.
Amb. Ryan Crocker's job is to enable that at a national level while the PRTs and EPRTs do the same a local and provincial levels. We've reported extensively on what the PRTs and EPRTs have been accomplishing. We've also heard from combatcommanders who have seen their accomplishments and what that has meant not only on the ground but politically.
So when Cordesman says "much of this progress has not [been] the function of the surge strategy, U.S. planning, or action by the Maliki government" he's right. However, what he doesn't say, or at least acknowledge, is that while much of that progress isn't a part of US planning, it is and has been enabled by the US finally figuring out the culture, the players and an alternate approach and taking advantage of it. That has, in fact, given the Surge a synergy it may not have enjoyed otherwise.
Bottom line, I agree with Cordesman's advice even though I'm not sure I buy into all of his analysis. And I think he gives relatively short shrift to the size and power of a "bottom-up" reconciliation, now still building and increasing. Obviously, it may all die out tomorrow for whatever reason, but at the moment, I see that movement as the possible salvation to the political piece in Iraq.
But as he and others, to include myself, have said, we are still a long way from success. The success we have seen with the Surge and the awakening, while positive trends, do not, by any stretch, guarantee eventual and final success. But I do think they argue for more patience and more time.
Another very balanced piece on Iraq, McQ, well articulated. One quibble: the political reconciliation needed is between Sunnis and Shi’ites. I’m not sure what "bottom up" reconciliation is going on between the two. Do you have evidence of any.
LOL! Do I have evidence no reconciliatin is going on??!! Yes, the crisis in government, Sunnis leaving en masse, the President critical of Malaki for, among other things, being too close to Iran, and even military officials complaining about how there’s been no progress on that front. Have you been paying attention!
I tell you what, you produce evidence that there is Sunni-Shi’ite reconciliation. Otherwise all you have is "there might be something happening...we can’t KNOW there isn’t." That is quite weak.