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Some thoughts on continuing in Iraq
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, September 11, 2007

George Will says that even by his own standards, "Bush's Surge" has failed. Says Will:
Those who today stridently insist that the surge has succeeded also say they are especially supportive of the president, Petraeus and the military generally. But at the beginning of the surge, both Petraeus and the president defined success in a way that took the achievement of success out of America's hands.

The purpose of the surge, they said, is to buy time — "breathing space," the president says — for Iraqi political reconciliation. Because progress toward that has been negligible, there is no satisfactory answer to this question: What is the U.S. military mission in Iraq?
The mission hasn't changed, nor should it. The Surge is scheduled (and has always been scheduled) to carry on through April. For those who continue to insist it has failed, I'd point out that what is going on today on the Hill is an "interim" report on the Surge ... not an after action report.

And, as has been said from the beginning (it is funny to me that only parts of what are said about such missions are remembered while other parts are conveniently forgotten) that the political side of this will only begin to happen after security has been successfully established and maintained.

Again, look at Anbar. The flowering of the province - the increase in commerce, the establishment of local and provincial government, the repair of the infrastructure and the reestablishment of the social networks - lagged behind the establishment of security.

That said, Will continues:
The progress that Petraeus reports in improving security in portions of Iraq is real. It might, however, have two sinister aspects.

First, measuring sectarian violence is problematic: The Washington Post reports that a body with a bullet hole in the front of the skull is considered a victim of criminality; a hole in the back of the skull is evidence of sectarian violence. But even if violence is declining, that might be partly because violent sectarian cleansing has separated Sunni and Shiite communities. This homogenization of hostile factions — trained and armed by U.S. forces — may bear poisonous fruit in a full-blown civil war.
A couple of points. Petraeus denied outright that any such metric for counting "sectarian violence" exists. As he said, if a Sunni kills a Shia or Shia kills a Sunni, its violence. He said he had no idea where the Washington Post got such an idea, but it was false.

Secondly, the MNF-I are not arming the hostile factions. As Petraeus said, they've simply pointed the weapons they already have at al Qaeda and not the US.

That said, what Will points too is entirely possible if the Iraqi political process fails. My only point is the process hasn't failed yet despite repeated announcements of its death. It reminds me of Fidel Castro.
Second, brutalities by al-Qaeda in Iraq have indeed provoked some Sunni leaders to collaborate with U.S. forces. But these alliances of convenience might be inconvenient when Shiites again become the Sunnis' principal enemy.
Again, absolutely possible. But still not written in stone by any stretch.

But, that brings us to the politics of this situation at this point. Almost echoing Billy Hollis' post of yesterday, Will says:
Congressional Democrats should accept Petraeus' report as a reason to declare a victory, one that might make this fact somewhat palatable: Substantial numbers of U.S. forces will be in Iraq when the next president is inaugurated. The Democrats' "victory" — a chimera but a useful one — is that Petraeus indicates there soon can be a small reduction of U.S. forces.

To declare this a substantial victory won by them requires Democrats to do two things. They must make a mountain out of a molehill (Petraeus suggests withdrawal of only a few thousand troops). And they must spuriously claim credit for the mountain. Actually, senior military officers have been saying that a large drawdown is inevitable, given the toll taken on the forces by the tempo of operations for more than four years.
Billy hit on this very well yesterday and frankly it seems almost a no-brainer. As I mentioned when I put up the Petraeus transcript, I thought his presentation of this drawdown would "defang" much of the opposition to the continuance of the mission. Yet immediately, Democrat Tom Lantos repeatedly called the withdrawals "token".

Here is something Democrats have had handed to them that, as Will points out, they could declare as a victory in their campaign to withdraw American troops. Yet, given the immediate reaction yesterday, they don't understand that. Here they have an opportunity to tout their continued pressure as the reason for this planned withdrawal, true or not. Here is an opportunity assuage the Netroots and get them mostly off their backs and they seem blind to the possibility. It makes you wonder how sharp a bunch of political operators they really are.

But Will thinks the reason they can't (or won't) do that is because of the corner they purposely painted themselves into during the '06 election:
But Democrats cannot advertise a small withdrawal as a victory without further infuriating their party's base, the source of energy and money. The base is incandescent because there are more troops in Iraq today than there were on Election Day 2006, when Democratic activists and donors thought, not without reason, that congressional Democrats acquired the power to end U.S. involvement in Iraq.
I say they painted themselves into a corner because they raised false expectations during the election, those expectations being they'd end the war. But the only way Democrats can end the war there is to cut off funding. And to do that opens them to accusations of not supporting the troops, something they apparently find to be less palatable politically than ending the war. That Catch 22 has them in the position of calling substantial troop withdrawals "token". It is also why their internal strategy is in disarray and they have no real way of stopping this war.

Will concludes asking two questions:
After more than four years of war, two questions persist: Is there an Iraq? Are there Iraqis?
TBD. Reports from the field (i.e. those I've spoken too in Iraq0 say the bottom up reconciliation is indeed helping form and Iraq and that they hear more and more of those they're working with talking about "Iraq" and not their tribe or sect. The fact that leaders of the various ethnic and sects have since met and agreed on some important legislation concerning reconciliation at a national level argues that the concept of Iraq remains alive and viable.

However, there are also very powerful forces working against that. And certainly nothing is certain, especially success. It's hard to attain success if you don't have the final say in how that happens. But I'd simply say that all of this talk of the Surge being a 'failure' is premature. It ain't over.

I remember once, as an operations officer, running an computer simulation exercise which included the 3rd ID, 5th Panzer and French, Dutch, British and other brigades. We were the bad guys facing NATO. When the operation began and the forces began to array themselves, we could see that happen on a "see-all" terminal. The generals immediately began to suggest changes and adjustments. Their concern made them impatient and they wanted to make changes immediately. I looked at my boss, a 2 star and said "Sir, we have a plan, let us fight it". He stood there for a minute considering that, and finally said, "you're right. I need to have a patience and let this develop to the point that we can see how the plan is working". To me that's where the Surge now rests.

The fact that Petraeus is talking about withdrawals does have some basis in concern with the stress on the military right now. But it also has to do with a belief that the security situation will have changed enough to the good that such a withdrawal will be warranted. The Marine MEU, a Surge unit, is coming out of Anbar because the Anbar security situation warrants it.

Many who read this blog will say "wow, what a surprise, McQ says "stay the course". No, not stay the course, fight the plan and have some patience. This doesn't have to be open-ended at all, but to pretend that Iraq is a total failure which hasn't changed since the beginning means one has to willfully ignore the amazing and radical changes which have occurred within the last year. Call me a "dead-ender" if it makes you feel better, but I think there's enough good stuff going on in Iraq to give it a bit more time.
 
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McQ summarizes his position on Iraq:
Call me a "dead-ender" if it makes you feel better, but I think there’s enough good stuff going on in Iraq to give it a bit more time.
If you’re a "dead-ender," I guess that makes me a "never-ender," because while I’m impressed by the progress in Iraq, and I’m not surprised that a more concerted counter-insurgency strategy is working, I’d like to see the U.S. stay there indefinitely. That doesn’t mean I want to continue to see these too long troop deployments. I want that fixed with faster rotations.

But what I want to see as the American goal is to make sure to take full advantage of the fact that we have that much force in the middle of the Middle East. As I’ve said recently, the only really good news out of the Middle East is that the U.S. has 150+ thousand troops there, and half the battle of dealing with that region was getting them in there in the first place.

I want the U.S. to stay in Iraq until that country is working again and then some. I want to see this treated as an opportunity to pacify the region, drive the whole rotten bunch of terror organizations operating there out of business, offer whatever degree of modernity the countries and people seek and can handle, and force the regimes in the region to reform.

If it takes 50 years, fine. We’ve been elsewhere longer and done a good job, helping to restore and create prosperity, and outlasting the worst political diseases of the 20th Century. And it has always worked to our benefit, the benefit ot the countries involved, and the benefit of the world.

Iran is next up on the queue, and if we must take out its nuclear facilities, then we’ll want to be right next door to show we mean it, and not retreating to the sissy strategy of high-altitude bombing without troops on the ground.

And, finally, never, ever contextualize these matters in the framework of the Left’s conventional wisdom. The most important battle is here on the homefront, and it’s a conceptual battle. That’s the battle we need to turn the corner in, even more so than with our efforts in Iraq.

Take advantage of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as the poster children of deformed understanding of the role that the U.S. has, can, and will play in the world.

Indeed, there was a twenty-year run-up to the events of 9/11 as Islamic terrorism sensed a weakening of American resolve. When those murderers see Harry Reid on the floor of the U.S. Senate they can only believe that they have won. Let’s see Reid and his collaborationist base for what they are, and get Americans to see it too.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Of course, Petraeus’s brain trust was saying we only had six months to win this thing back in March.
 
Written By: James Joyner
URL: http://outsidethebeltway.com
“An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.”
Yeah, except in their scenario, Iraq’s collapse starts here at home...

These hearings are part of that battle.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
Well, Keith, I just did a copy on that sentence and came back to comment and you beat me to it. Of course the winning they’re referring to is the hearts and minds of the American people. That is already moving toward the "win" side with the latest polls showing increasing American belief in, and support for, the current efforts.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
If the military situation in Iraq became completely peaceful tomorrow, but the political situation was not resolved, would we pull out?

No. Please see Kosovo & Bosnia for examples where there is no fighting, but there is also no "consensus" political solution appearing on the ground. The Serbs in Bosnia still want to secede and the Serbs in Kosovo still don’t. So obviously we don’t always demand political deals to keep troops around.

Now, seeing as how there is still serious fighting in Iraq, we’d like to see some political progress to stop that fighting, but don’t hold your breath for even an agreement to solve everything. I’d bet on bickering for a long while even if the fighting dies down because we’re talking about oil money here and not just EU membership. There is also a dynamic where as AQ is weakened, Sunnis may ask for more concessions, slowing the process, rather than speeding it up.

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Every path holds risks.

Leading demands that those risks be evaluated, and the path which lets you accomplish the task given successfully.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
Leading demands that those risks be evaluated, and the path which lets you accomplish the task given successfully.
Boy that didn’t come out completely...

Leading demands that those risks be evaluated, and choosing the path which lets you accomplish the task given successfully.

The mission that the Democrats are trying to accomplish is bringing our troops home, regardless of the consequences to Iraq.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
Is there an Iraq? Are there Iraqis?
The answer is yes and yes. And most of them want us out of Iraq. I’d want anybody who did to the USA what we did to Iraq out of my country if they did that here too.

Rummy was right about one single thing. You don’t want Iraqis getting dependent on us the way the South Vietnamese did or the Kosovars are now. When we left Saigon the effects of taking all those GIs and their paychecks out of the South Vietnamese economy coupled with the first oil embargo in 1973 crippled their economy. God knows what would happen in Kosovo if we shut down Camp Bondsteel.

From listening to Petraeus and Crocker though paying off the Sunnis and Shiites is exactly what we’re doing now. When the only job in town is joining the local police force in Fallujah or some Shiite neighborhood you take it. You get your weapons cheap from whoever has those 190,000 AK-47s Petraeus misplaced (or Jordan or Iran) while he pretends not to notice and wait. And when we eventually leave that $300 a month for all those guys goes away too without paying jobs to replace it. If you’re trying to make sure there is the biggest street fight possible when we leave that’s the way to do it.

In case you don’t get the gist of this message I’m saying the current strategy of building local support will in the long run cause a collapse when we leave and coupled with making sure every enclave is armed to the teeth will probably make for a much worse civil war.

Looks like a perfect neocon-Rovian plan. Leave Iraq the biggest ticking IED possible for the next president and then blame him/her for making your predictions of disaster come true. For Petraeus it’s probably just the path of least resistance in both Iraq and at the White House. Paying off local sheiks with guns and dollars buys him a little temporary respite from attacks by the 1920s and other Sunnis while they, the Mahdi Army, the Badr Brigades and everybody else but AQI all rearm and retrain waiting for the big battles ahead.

Meanwhile the Cheneyites nod approvingly over the the poison lemonade being stirred for the next president.




 
Written By: markg8
URL: http://
Now, seeing as how there is still serious fighting in Iraq, we’d like to see some political progress to stop that fighting, but don’t hold your breath for even an agreement to solve everything. I’d bet on bickering for a long while even if the fighting dies down because we’re talking about oil money here and not just EU membership. There is also a dynamic where as AQ is weakened, Sunnis may ask for more concessions, slowing the process, rather than speeding it up.
It’s even worse than that. If fighting is suppressed, the leadership of all the Iraqi factions has even less incentive to abandon their maximalist positions. And not everybody can get everything they want. Tamping down violence with good counter-insurgency just postpones these political compromises, keeping the coals of the conflict alive.

James Joyner, "the next six months" is clearly the six months from today. It is always the next six months that are critical. Just now McQ tells us that the Surge will be winding up in April. That’s the next thing about the next six months, they are always in the future.

McQ, now that we’re at the beginning of another "bit more time", what has to happened in this bit more time that will make you want to give our Iraqi Adventure another bit more time when this bit is over? What will constitute "enough good stuff" during this next bit more time to make you willing to give it another bit more time in April? Is there anything that could happen that would make you unwilling to give it another bit more time?

Martin McPhillipsm please do share your plan for invading Iran along with the units you would use to do it and to occupy both Iran and Iraq.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
The United States should leave Iraq – it isn’t anymore justified to stay than it was to go.
 
Written By: Shaun Connell
URL: http://www.shaunconnell.com
Reading impaired Retief requests:
Martin McPhillipsm please do share your plan for invading Iran along with the units you would use to do it and to occupy both Iran and Iraq.
I didn’t suggest a ground invasion of Iran. I said that if we need to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities it will be good that we have troops on the ground in the region.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Of course, Petraeus’s brain trust was saying we only had six months to win this thing back in March.
Well as you might imagine, I’m not impressed by either side putting arbitrary drop-dead dates on something changing hourly. And while I know that had the situation in March persisted, then yes, that would probably have been a good estimate. But it doesn’t, and that changes everything.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
The answer is yes and yes. And most of them want us out of Iraq.
Really? So why hasn’t the government of Iraq requested that we leave? Please don’t waste time trying to claim that they are our puppets, when they are obviously at odds with us on many issues.
I’d want anybody who did to the USA what we did to Iraq out of my country if they did that here too.
Ridiculous and completely meaningless comparison. At any rate, if your country was a wreck, torn by ethnic divisions, on the brink of a civil war, and threatened by more powerful neighbors, and the only thing giving it a chance to build some sort of decent future was a foreign occupying army — your view might be different. Or maybe it would be, just get out so we can get on with slaughtering each other without interference. But I forgot, everything was fine under Saddam until the evil U.S. invasion wrecked things.
When we left Saigon the effects of taking all those GIs and their paychecks out of the South Vietnamese economy coupled with the first oil embargo in 1973 crippled their economy.
You know what else crippled their economy? Being invaded, conquered, and having a communist state imposed upon them. That might have hurt just a bit more than the removal of U.S. money.
In case you don’t get the gist of this message I’m saying the current strategy of building local support will in the long run cause a collapse when we leave and coupled with making sure every enclave is armed to the teeth will probably make for a much worse civil war.
Translation: everything the U.S. is doing is bad no matter how successful it might appear and we should just give up. Oh, and its all our fault in the first place.
Looks like a perfect neocon-Rovian plan. Leave Iraq the biggest ticking IED possible for the next president and then blame him/her for making your predictions of disaster come true.
Conspiracy theory idiocy. Just for fun, define "neocon-Rovian." Are all members of "Bush & Co." neocon-Rovians or just some of them? What about "Bushbots"? What about regular non-Rovian neocons?
Meanwhile the Cheneyites nod approvingly over the the poison lemonade being stirred for the next president.
What, there are "Cheneyites" too? Do they work with the neocon-Rovians, the regular neocons, or do they have their own organization? Do you have a helpful dictionary of left-wing gibberish available?

 
Written By: DavidC
URL: http://
Nothing has changed about the political benchmarks Iraqis set for themselves that we were told we should judge them by in September.

Crocker and Petraeus claim the most serious problems started with the bombing of the Golden Mosque. Wrong. It’s steadily gotten worse since 2003.

They also claim it’s all gotten a little better since February. Wrong again. Petraeus has given us pretty charts and numbers but refuses to give us his methodology or even say who these two intel agencies are who he says tell him his numbers are the best. Every other study refutes his and they are willing to show their research. On one side we have non partisan government agencies (GAO, CRS, General Jones) and on the other we have the people who work for an administration that has lied so much that even wingnuts got hysterical when the media was calling Petraeus’s now won’t be written report the "Bush report" a few days ago. Never mind that the general has been in constant communication with the WH about what he was going to say for months.

All in the service of staying indefinitely. It’s not gonna fly.

 
Written By: markg8
URL: http://
it isn’t anymore justified to stay than it was to go
We built an extremely convincing justification during the 8 month "rush to war." Not to mention the 10 years since the Gulf war which gave us an obvious justification to remove Saddam.

I would say, the justification I accept over all is that not interfering with middle east dictatorships is what eventually lead to terrorist attacks like 9/11 and others (Cole bombing and so on such and such, the many many other terrorist attacks we never did anything about). America tried to avoid being the world police and the result was that it made us look weak to the barbarians.
 
Written By: jows
URL: http://
Don’t know if anyone saw this, and frankly I have only skimmed through it and have no opinion.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Richard:
One of the things I look into when I see a poll is who is answering the questions. To be truly reflective of the country this poll should approximate the population mix. That would mean for every 3 Shi’a responding there would be 1 Sunni respondent. And with this poll it appears very likely that an equal number of Shi’a and Sunni responded to the poll. (Note: there is no breakout provided but when comparing Shi’a and Sunni percentages they seem to reflect equal numbers of respondents) If that is true, then this poll is horribly skewed to the Sunni perspective. And it is no wonder the results appear the way they do.

(Note: I know this is off-topic but thought a response was warranted)
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
SShield:

Fair enough, though I don’t know how you think it’s off topic in a thread about continuing in Iraq. "Hearts & Minds" is certainly a consideration under such a topic and such a poll speaks to that — though people might have different interpretations, as you highlight.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Richard: You are right, I was thinking more of the direct line of the topic and, as you say, "Hearts & Minds" is certainly a consideration. As to your link, I am trying to determine the actual percentages using the data available. Statistically speaking it is possible and by applying weighted averages to the results you can determine more demographically reliable results.

The real key to seeing the skewed results was the 93% Sunni responses for the US to depart. You can’t get 93% of Americans to agree on anything. If those polled were representative of the demographics of the country, even 100% of Sunni responses would only result in approximately 22% of the total mix, with Shi’a and Kurd combined. Further, from what I can tell the Kurd respondents were not very well represented by the total. If the Sunni were 93% in favor of our departure, then I would expect the Kurds would have similar responses for our remaining. But I do not see that reflected in the survey. It will be interesting to see the real breakdown. Thanks for bringing it out.
 
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
Martin says:
If it takes 50 years, fine.
I’m late to the party here, so Martin, I shall infer nothing by a non-response.

While your points concerning pacification are well taken, and I myself lived in a pacified Japan for five years in the 1980s, isn’t it a bit easy to say; to desire after; to admonish?

It’s not like you’re going to foot the bill. It’s not like you’re going to risk your life.

 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
 
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