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Coming Home
Posted by: Dale Franks on Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the US and iraq have reached an agreement on bringing US troops home from Iraq.
U.S. and Iraqi negotiators reached agreement on a security deal that calls for American military forces to leave Iraq's cities by next summer as a prelude to a full withdrawal of combat troops from the country, according to senior American officials.

The draft agreement sets 2011 as the goal date by which U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq, according to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Humood and other people familiar with the matter. In the meantime, American troops will be leaving cities, towns and other population centers by the summer of 2009, living in bases outside of those areas, according to the draft.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama appears to have inadvertently admitted that the Surge worked.
Sen. Barack Obama, edging away from a long-held position, tacitly acknowledged the success of the Iraq troop-surge strategy during an appearance Tuesday before the country's largest organization of combat veterans.

"Let's be clear, our troops have completed every mission they've been given," Mr. Obama said at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando, Fla., where the likely Democratic presidential nominee courted military voters who are expected to play a pivotal role in several swing states. "They have created the space for political reconciliation."
Of course, two months ago, Obama was saying:
“Originally, the administration suggested that the key measure was whether it gave breathing room for political reconciliation. So far, I think we have not seen the kind of political reconciliation that’s going to bring about long-term stability in Iraq,” he said.
That was then. This is now.

But no one in the Bush Administration should get too giddy. It would have been the proper thing to perform the Surge in 2004, not 2007.

Which, by the way, we were saying here...in 2004.

Three years of failed tactics, ineffective strategy, at a price of thousands of lives and thousands more injuries among US service members.

So, let's not get too celebratory.

UPDATE: A commenter asks for links that we were calling for a surge in 2004. OK,here's one from my Pre-QandO Blog, The Review, in April, 2004, where I began questioning the troop levels. And here's one from me in May 2004 where I specifically called for a change in the force structure.
 
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at a price of thousands of lives and thousands more injuries among US service members.
Before you get too caught up in this, Dale, I think the question of would the surge have been as large a success in 04 to still be an open one, at least, in terms of the number of Allied casualties.

No way to answer that one really, but I submit one bit of evidence... A lot of AQ fighters ended up taking the dirt nap between then and the time the Surge actually started, which logically would have made the job of the surge itself a bit less costly.







 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
I think that the surge came at the right time, and that there was a lot that happened in the previous years, despite the rising violence, that was very important to the eventual success of the surge.

We needed to learn who all the customers in the bar were (that was essential to the counterinsurgency). The Sunnis needed to spend some time being shoved around by al Qaeda so that they could discover how they wanted to live. The process of establishing a new government (including the military and cops) required time. And, frankly, the Shi’a and the Sunni needed time to make the transition from the minority Sunni being in control, which was never going to be easy. All of these things were well underway and ongoing. When the surge began and presented the opportunity for a shift to a more stable civil society, I think the Iraqis were war and violence weary and ready for something different.

And then there was the dark, cynical side of our Iraq policy, which was to make it a place where eager Islamic terrorists came to be killed. I’d venture a guess that that pile of corpses constituted almost a parallel war to the specific war in Iraq that just happened to conveniently take place on the same terrain.

It was mean, dirty, dark, and cynical, and might someday be separated from the success in Iraq as an even more important success in the war on terrorism. Though I believe that a successful Iraq could be the path forward for the Middle East.

I don’t think that there was ever a time when Bush and Rumsfeld didn’t have a pretty good idea of what they were doing. Just because a situation is not going the way you want it to does not mean that you are not deliberately working your way through it. And the timing of the surge was pretty well done, and it’s success was not built on nothing.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
Also, in 2004 the Iraqis were still protecting their own brand of terrorists. The Sunnis were protecting the Sunni terrorists, the Shiites were protecting the Shiite ones and the Baathists were protecting the Baathist terrorists and pretty much everybody was happy with terrorists blowing up Americans.

How could a stragety that relies on the aid of the people work if the people aren’t helping?

There has been the saying for a couple centuries that "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy" and the concept was understood for, well, ever, but everybody seems to think that Bush, that machiavellian idiot, should have come up with one that did survive contact with the enemy. That flooding Iraq with troops wouldn’t have just added targets, but would have made the Iraqis love us. I recall Rumsfeld’s arguments about "footprint" and they made sense then and they make sense now. We didn’t increase the number of troops all that much for the surge, we just took advantage of the facts on the ground (the Iraqis being sick of them and their children being blown up on their way to the market or the mosque), and changed tactics for a different environment.

The Iraq campaign will be studied for centuries for how to deal with asymmetrical warfare, both its successes and failures.

I think the successes exceed the failures. And that’s the absolute best you can hope for in war.
 
Written By: Veeshir
URL: http://
I think starting the Surge in ’04 may not have had the impact of a surge started in ’07.

But. Things would not have peaked as badly as they did. And we could quite likely have reached where we are today, perhaps not 3 years go, but possibly 1-2 years ago. If so, it would have been worth it.

Regardless keeping a holding pattern for 2-3 years was just dumb.

And I also believe the delay was politically influenced. If there was a major change in ’04, Bush feared being beaten up in the ’04 election with ’escalation’. Same for the ’06 election. It was only after the ’06 election, days after in fact, Bush canned Rumsfeld. Canning Rumsfeld was the start of the move to the Surge.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
The Surge wasn’t a magic spell. It worked because the terrorists had enough rope to hang themselves with. They had spent years showing themselves to be cutthroats and scoundrels. On the other hand we’d spend a lot of time and effort showing ourselves to be good decent people. When we increased the troop levels and started co-operating more with the best of the locals, the locals were glad to jump on the bandwagon.

That stuff all took time. It also took time to build up the Iraqi side of the security forces and do a lot of other stuff behind the scenes. We might have been able to speed this up by a year or maybe two, but not much more than that. Even before the Rumsfeld changeover, we were laying the groundwork that won the war.
 
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
URL: http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com
I hate to go so strongly against conventional wisdom, but I’m not entirely convinced that things could have gone much better. A Surge in 2004 might have gotten us to some semblance of stability sooner, but I bet it would have been weaker at the core.

Stuff takes time.

Certainly, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps we’d still be better off with stability sooner, and more time to build it into "true" stability by sheer repetition and acclimatization. But maybe not. Who knows? Nobody, really.
 
Written By: Jeremy Bowers
URL: http://www.jerf.org/iri
There may have been political influences in the timing of decisions, there usually are.

But there was no "holding pattern." There were constant changes and adaptations, development of new tactics, and pushing the political process along throughout. The Iraqis themselves were undergoing a transformation.

Underlying the defining, and false, narrative of this war is the fact that American impatience is paramount. That was an important factor in the strategy of the insurgents and al Qaeda, who made bloody headlines for their allies in the Western media, which in turn made it possible for a difficult low-intensity struggle to be portrayed as a catastrophe, a fiasco, the worst foreign policy mistake in American history!

The important thing to note is that when the time for the surge had come Bush did not falter. He also found the commander in Petraeus who could deliver on the surge. But luck is the residue of design, and it’s no coincidence that Petraeus came back to the U.S. after his first tour in Iraq and developed the counterinsurgency strategy that he took back with him to Iraq in ’07.

Rumsfeld was dropped because he’d become a voodoo doll that both the media and disgruntled Pentagon types could shake at the war. There was also a need for a fresh pair of eyes at Defense. And Gates had the bona fides to take over.

But the idea that Rumsfeld was "the problem" is, I think, total BS. Even if he was against the surge (and I don’t know that he was or would have been at the time it was decided on) that doesn’t retroactively mean that the surge would have worked two years earlier. The situation in Iraq ripened and became ready for the surge.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
Which, by the way, we were saying here...in 2004.
Really?
I wasn’t reading your site back then so I don’t know. And I tried using your search engine but it keeps timing out on me. So I thought you might throw us a bone and provide a link.
That would be great, thanks.

Also,
Some here in the comments section seemed to be getting some of their swagger back…
I don’t think that there was ever a time when Bush and Rumsfeld didn’t have a pretty good idea of what they were doing.
And,

Even before the Rumsfeld changeover, we were laying the groundwork that won the war.
Wow…
“Won the war.”

That’s some swagger.
Or stagger. Depending on how things go of course.

Cheers.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
That’s some swagger.
Or stagger. Depending on how things go of course.

Cheers.
Yeah it’s only 7 April 1865 anything could still happen....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
To the Party of Defeat, taking stock of a success of course looks like "swagger."

And I have always thought that Bush was a very good war president, which is reflected precisely in the fact that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11 and in his persistence in Iraq despite the vicious calumny of the "loyal opposition," whose Majority Leader in the Senate declared the war lost. Bush shrugged off the Congressional losses in ’06 and went and did the exact right thing with the surge.

Flustered by the success in Iraq, that same Majority Leader (along with his Party of Defeat cohort the Speaker of the House) now wants to see if he can thwart the recovery of oil in North America because, you know, it’s not going to help with our supply of oil.

Clowns.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
Umm...
Hate to break it to you, Joe... But it’s August 21, 2008. Anything can happen.

Saying we "won the war" is a bit premature, don’t you think?

Think Cal and Stanford 1982. It’s not over til it’s over.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
It is a little premature to say that "we won the war," but we are clearly winning the war now with a strategy that is working.

No one knows better than Petraeus that the situation is still fragile (see the NY Times story on him today as he prepares to leave Iraq), but we are talking about an incredible reversal of the conditions that prevailed 18 months ago.

I don’t think that in victory that Americans will celebrate with anything near the enthusiasm as our Fifth Columnists would have celebrated defeat.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
It is a little premature to say that "we won the war," but we are clearly winning the war now with a strategy that is working.
Cool with me, man.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
I wasn’t reading your site back then so I don’t know. And I tried using your search engine but it keeps timing out on me. So I thought you might throw us a bone and provide a link.
That would be great, thanks.
OK. Post updated.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
Took awhile, but here is the first such mention that I’ve found...

http://www.qando.net/details.aspx?Entry=82
Now that the Iraqis are putatively in charge, our options are even more limited. With those limits, it seems to me that a larger force is required to provide security, while the training of new Iraqi security forces continues apace.

We cannot retreat from Iraq without the possibility of horrific consequences ensuing. But that doesn’t mean that can’t change course, even radically, as the situation on the ground calls for it.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
Ah, you’re only looking in the current incarnation of QandO. You have to go back to the old, Movable Type version to get to the relevant post, in May of ’04. I updated the post with the link.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
Franks adds to his original post:
UPDATE: A commenter asks for links that we were calling for a surge in 2004. OK, here’s one from me in May 2004.
(Note that I wasn’t he who asked for links.)

Yeah, reading that comment I have to add that I always agreed with Rumsfeld’s small footprint strategy. And did not agree with Shinseki’s approach, which was a by-the-book occupation strategy.

I don’t think that Rumsfeld or Bush were particularly interested in having 400,000 troops in the "Casbah." That’s too many targets. And there have never been many more than 150,000 in Iraq (Did it hit 160,000 at one point?).

I think we’ll be studying Iraq for a good long time, but one mistake that I don’t think we made there (and there were many, which is the nature of war) was to fight the last war. I do think that Bush could be accused of fighting the war on the cheap, and I have accused him of that, but I never believed that not taking Shinseki’s advice was a reckless "misunderestimation."

Look what Petraeus was able to accomplish with the right strategy and 30,000 extra troops when the time was right for it.

I preached this from the beginning: The great army in Iraq is civil society.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
Um ... your Obama statements are not mutually exclusive. "created the space for political reconciliation" and "seen ... reconciliation" are not all-time-same-same. The space is there and has been for some time, but Maliki isn’t using it. Positions hardening on Kirkuk, his harassment of Sadrists, and especially his increasing determination not to legitimize the Sunnis in the Sons of Iraq groups all demonstrate a lack of forward movement on reconciliation.

Obama’s "we’ve provided the space, now it’s up the Iraqis to use it because we’re done" position is quite different from Bush’s "we’ve got to stay and make sure the Iraqis do the right things with the space we’ve provided" and from McCain’s "don’t these stinkin’ Iraqis know they’re just the forward base for our attack on Iran" position.

Also, you may have been calling for more troops in 04 but when the surge was being debated in 06 some on this blog we’re clearly stay-the-coursers.
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
I suspect the Surge would have worked in 2004 because it would have implemented the Combat Outposts that keep our troops in the areas they are supposed to be protecting rather than sweeping through in vehicle patrols only to retreat to large bases once the sweep is done.

However, it might have been a more gradual success because the bad guys had more local support then and had not yet fully alienated the people. The silver lining to our screw up was that the 2007 surge worked very fast for a counter-insurgency.

In fact, I wonder if a surge in 2004, before enough Iraqi units existed would have been wrapping up at about the same time it is now. Maybe it would have saved more lives. Maybe not.

I am still shocked that Abizaid and Sanchez did not attempt a better counter-insurgency...the surge tactics are not new ones. Their "antibody" theory was a bit crazy. I think it only could have worked if there was no enemy to vote against it.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Dear Sirs,

I am in agreement with the commenters who say the war was handled properly. A couple of points.

One only need read the writings of T.E. Lawrence to get an insight into how d*mn*bly difficult it is to mold a tribal society into an effective fighting force.

In a long interview in Esquire magazine Rumsfeld said that he was not running the war. He was concentrating on transforming the Pentagon - stepping on am lot of toes - to bring it into alignment with management practices that he had very successfully brought to other organizations. He left the war to the military - "They’re a lot better at that than I am".

We saw much the same in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland has been excoriated for his performance. In spite of the micromanagement from the White House with Robert Strange McNamara and his analysts picking bombing targets he managed to kill enough G**ks that General Creighton Abrams was able to implement a strategy much like that of General Petraeus. We won that war. It was lost when the vultures used Watergate to stab our allies in the back.

Regards,
Roy
 
Written By: Roy Lofquist
URL: http://
Dear Sirs,

This is my last visit to this site. Your mechanical attempts to ensure political correctness are ridiculous. There are perfectly good words that you object to that in proper context are not considered offensive. If you care about such things moderate the comments. Perhaps you need to widen your acquaintance with current and historical usage.

Regards,
Roy
 
Written By: Roy Lofquist
URL: http://
This is my last visit to this site. Your mechanical attempts to ensure political correctness are ridiculous.
Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
Unfortunately, it’s Iran, not the surge, that explains events in Iraq recently. Iran has won the strategic war:
http://scotterb.wordpress.com/2008/08/18/credit-iran-not-the-surge/
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
*sigh* You try writing the manifestly apolitical reasoning for your word filter right above the comment field, and somebody still finds a reason to call you "politically correct".
 
Written By: Bryan Pick
URL: http://www.qando.net
I tend to think Harun makes sense. Lenin, I believe, said "The worse the better", and it may be that the situation in Iraq had to get bad before the Iraqi people saw which side offered them the better future. Unlike Harun I am not shocked that a genuine counter-insurgency strategy was not implemented until Petraeus took over. Over the years I have come to accept such things as natural from the military bureaucracy. I am not even shocked anymore that people think the military bureaucracy works any better than any other bureaucracy. As I and others have mentioned, counter insurgency is not new. There is no good reason that I have seen why such a strategy could not have been implemented long ago. Rediscovering the wheel is not such a great accomplishment when you have been exposed to wheels for most of your career.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
"somebody still finds a reason to call you "politically correct". "

Of course. Forcing people to abide by your rules is a blatantly political act. You are restricting their freedom.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I am in agreement with the commenters who say the war was handled properly
Well, look, I think you’re over-stepping, here. For my own part, my point was not that the war had been handled correctly at all points. For one thing, that’s an impossiblity unless one is damned lucky, and as such very few wars in history fall into that list. For the other, I have publicly raised questions about how some of this has gone down, over the years.

But it does seem fair to question if the surge would have been as large a sucess in 04 as it was in 07, given the varied conditions on the ground both militarily and societal in those two timeframes, and for my part, that was my point. I see my point is not out of line with a lot of people I respect in here, so perhaps my read isn’t so very far off as some would have it. (Yes, I do read my email...)

That said, and for the record, I reject out of hand Erb, particularly, or anyone else suggesting that Iran’s actions solved our situation. Iran took the actions it did not because of peaceful high-mindedness, but out of fear for their losing control of their native population. They pulled Sadr, because he and his army, fed by Iran, got their asses kicked, and the link to IRan was exposed. Iran knew they were next, if they didn’t withdraw. It’s that simple.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
This is my last visit to this site. Your mechanical attempts to ensure political correctness are ridiculous. There are perfectly good words that you object to that in proper context are not considered offensive. If you care about such things moderate the comments. Perhaps you need to widen your acquaintance with current and historical usage.
Speaking from experience, the only blocking they do here isn’t to avoid offending people, it’s to trap spam. Yeah, it’s an inconvenience but a small one. A lot less then pages and pages of spam.

I’ll leave it to military and civil historians to go over the coulda, woulda, shoulda’s of the war.

We are were we are, and it is measurably better then a year or two ago.

The people calling for surrender and retreat were wrong.

Dale - yep, I was only looking at QanO archives, but what I found was in 2004, so it qualifies. I posted before you posted your update.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
*sigh* You try writing the manifestly apolitical reasoning for your word filter right above the comment field, and somebody still finds a reason to call you "politically correct".
Eh, who reads directions any more. I would say it’s the first time I actually noticed them.

RTFM indeed :)
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://asecondhandconjecture.com
Harun:
I suspect the Surge would have worked in 2004 because it would have implemented the Combat Outposts that keep our troops in the areas they are supposed to be protecting rather than sweeping through in vehicle patrols only to retreat to large bases once the sweep is done.
...and the rest of that comment makes a very coherent argument.

But I counter that back in 2004 I think it was way too early for us to have known who all the customers in the saloon were. By that I mean that Iraq’s complexity was emerging post-Saddam and only just beginning to appear in outline. Michael Yon writes about how when we got in there we ignored the tribal chiefs and other makkers to our detriment. And he’s probably right, but under my on-the-fly social theory I think that those folks needed to emerge from the Saddam-state and figure out who they were again and to test post-Saddam reality.

Hence, the stark violence in Anbar and the proto-civil war between Sunni and Shi’a, to give two major work-outs, represented a ripening of a "state of nature" that ran parallel to the attempt by the U.S. to help Iraq set up the infrastructure of a civil government (gradually establishing governments, formally restoring sovereignty, holding elections, writing a constitution, building an Iraqi army, etc.).

What I’m saying is that I don’t think that Iraq was ripe for the surge in ’04, nor was the U.S. ready to implement it. I have to believe that counterinsurgency works best when the civilians see something toward which they can step as they step away from the insurgents, with a clear reason and the determined will to do so.

That required time. When the surge finally came, both the Iraqis and the U.S. were ready for it, with dire consequences for both sides if they didn’t make it work.

Plus, I don’t think that there was anything particularly unusual about the way circumstances played out in Iraq prior to the surge. By which I mean that you either have a civil society with its potential violence in defense of order or you have the "state of nature" of the war of all against all.

As Petraeus described it yesterday in the NY Times: you’re either spiraling down or spiraling up. But from ’04 to ’07 there was a real struggle where violence spiraled up while, as I wrote, the U.S. was building along a parallel track the civil structures that could eventually convert that kinetic violence to the potential violence of civil society. One thing to recall here is how, for Iraqis, Saddam had distorted and abused the notion and the experience of civil order by becoming, as most totalitarian dictators do, a criminal regime.

Petraeus also said that as far as things have come in Iraq that it remains fragile and, indeed, the same could probably be said about the United States (if one wanted to go there).

Now, as for that spooky character Erb: Iran has now apparently become the Left’s black box that secretly generates all real things, because, after all, it couldn’t have been the surge that was working as the surge worked. And I’d like to ask Boris if he also continues to believe that Castro is "still better than Batista"?
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
The clause, "But from ’04 to ’07 there was a real struggle where violence spiraled up..." should read, to avoid the confusion of up and down, "where Iraq was spiraling down into violence."
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com
Martin,

I think we are sort of agreeing the same point, though I perhaps lean to the side that an earlier surge (by which I mean actual counter-insurgency tactics rather than just troops) would have put us closer to the ground to nip things in the bud. It may not have been a panacea though. Heck, Petraeus himself implemented these in Mosul at the time, and had good results, though later things went south there and it ended up being the final stand of AQ. So there you have a sort of answer: where surge tactics were applied the earliest, they did not end the war earliest.

And one brutal fact is that AQ having the space to bomb mosques and markets, ad nauseum, probably helped a lot in the Arab world to show how AQ was not a force for good ...rather like chemotherapy where the patient is being killed more slowly than the cancer.

The other big mistake was not to implement an oil trust from day one (even "temporarily while Iraq’s government gets on its feet." Because once that is started who could stop it? and it would have given a lot of people a big stake in their country.


 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Sadrists denounce emerging US-Iraq deal

That’s off Yahoo. Just to make sure everyone knows that Erb is full of it. Why would the Iranian proxies do that if they had one?

I guess the answer, which I have not yet seen the netroots pick up, would be "the Badr Brigades ARE the proxies." Meh.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
one = won....does dyslexia get worse as one ages?
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Harun:
Petraeus himself implemented [counterinsurgency methods] in Mosul at the time, and had good results, though
That’s an excellent point. But Mosul is also largely Kurdish, so it strikes me that you have a very sympathetic population there to start with.

I don’t think that was true in Anbar province, by contrast.

But what Petraeus’s earlier effort in Mosul does show is that the U.S. was not oblivious to counterinsurgency. Then Petraeus leaves Iraq, goes to work on an updated counterinsurgency strategy, and then returns to Iraq with a program, and 30,000 additional troops, for the more complicated problems in central Iraq.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://newpaltzjournal.com

 
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