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November 20, 2005

What McCain Dubbed John Kerry's "Path to Disaster" in Iraq is now Bush Administration Policy
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I have for sometime believed that the Bush Administration would follow the Orwellian approach of claiming to be fully committed to the Iraq mission, while looking for any possible way to begin to draw down troops (the decent interval being the apparent preferred option right now).

The evidence is now beginning to come in.   At the end of October John Kerry announced a plan for gradual withdrawal from Iraq based on benchmarks, starting with 20,000 troops who would come home right after the December elections.  On November 10 in a major speech, John McCain said the following:

Senator Kerry’s call for the withdrawal of 20,000 American troops by year’s end represents, I believe, a major step on the road to disaster.

According to the New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld said this morning that:

Mr. Rumsfeld said that there were plans to draw down the current level of 159,000 troops in Iraq to about 137,000 or 138,000 after the elections. "We're bulked up right now because of the elections coming up Dec. 15," he said.

A simple misunderstanding caused by McCain's unawareness that there would be a special infusion of extra troops right before the election who were not needed to stay on?  No way.  For Rumsfeld to say, during the deadliest 3-day period in Iraq since the invasion, that we are planning to pull out 20,000 troops a month from now is flat out inconsistent with Bush's professed policy of staying the course despite the hardships.   

They vehemently deny it (that is when they're not admitting it) but the Administration is making plans to pull back.    It's starting to look like the route out of Iraq may involve just as much misrepresentation and subterfuge as we had on the way in.

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James Fallows' recommendations on what to do in Iraq, after having talked with dozens of military officers and policymakers:


A Marine lieutenant colonel said, "You tell me who in the White House devotes full time to winning this war."... In the end the United States may not be able to leave honorably... But if we were serious about reconstituting an Iraqi military as quickly as possible, what would we do?

...The U.S. military does everything in Iraq worse and slower than it could if it solved its language problems. It is unbelievable that American fighting ranks have so little help....

Nearly three years after the invasion of Iraq the
typical company of 150 or so U.S. soldiers gets by with one or two Arabic-speakers. T. X. Hammes says that U.S. forces and trainers in Iraq should have about 22,000 interpreters, but they have nowhere near that many. Some 600,000 Americans can speak Arabic. Hammes has
proposed offering huge cash bonuses to attract the needed numbers to Iraq.

Instead, according to the Wall St. Journal, we are **removing** Arabic speakers from Iraq, and the US embassy's regional office in Mosul soon "won't have a single Arabic speaker or Middle East expert on its staff."

None of the other things Fallows suggests we need to do immediately is being done either.

Since neither the Army nor the the administration is taking this seriously, why shouldn't we leave? Better to lie while getting out than to lie while staying in.

It's a given that the Bush Administration is incompetent but sometimes the things that happen go so far off the chart that incompetence doesn't quite cover it.

Has there been any analysis of why this is so? The language issue as an example was obvious before the war and I heard people arguing for working with European nations that had reliable Arabic speakers but not much happened.

We had crews of democracy workers going around Iraq at the same time that whispers about Abu Ghraib were clearly reaching the Iraqi street.

The Iraq War was supposedly a test case for the principle of preemptive war. If the concept was a real one, which many conservatives still insist it is, it seems every effort would have been made to protect the principle.

It may be that we're seeing a perfect storm of lies, politics and incompetence but the rational part of my mind keeps seeking additional explanation for such a series of decision fiascos. I confess to some minor reservations about Larry Wilkerson but he may have his finger on the key point when he talks about the breakdown of the national security apparatus that appears to have been the result of simply bypassing the apparatus for various kinds of expediency.

Forget politics for a moment even if that's not really possible. When one stands back a moment and looks at what's going on, we have a profound policy collapse occurring in relation to national security, the military, the reserve concept and foreign policy. Is it possible that what we're seeing is the equivalent of the John Birchers of the 1950s running amok? Forty years ago, the John Birchers, the Joseph McCarthys and even the Barry Goldwaters were always considered dangerous, if not a joke. It may be that what we're witnessing is the outcome of the steady collapse of a conventional wisdom over the last thirty years that once held right wing ideologues and their fantasies at bay.

I find the comments here to be wildly uninformed.

We are facing the world's foremost experts in urban guerilla warfare, yet casualties of US forces are very, very low, and the casualty rate among Iraqi civilians from urban warfighting is so low that it has no historical precedent.

The US operatioanl approach may go by a new name, "take, hold, build," but it is still the old tache d'oeil method for combating an insurgency. That we have the world's best insurgents on the run, unable to stop political progress, shows our success not our failure.

Jeff Younger, where do you get your estimates of iraqi civilian casualties? Why do you trust them?

Jeff,

Don't you think there is more to measuring how well things are going in Iraq than counting up the casualties resulting on each side from US military engagements?

The supporters of the war frequently assert that critics like me are ignoring the signs of steady progress toward victory. But these supporters often seem to view the situation in Iraq with narrow tunnel vision, directed entirely toward conventional military results in a series of engagements between US troops and their targeted enemies of the moment. After each battle, we get a line score: its always something like "US 100, Insurgents 10. Another win for our team. We have them on the run now!"

Yet in much of the country, people seem to be at each others throats, and there are daily reports of torture, kidnappings and assasinations, death squad activity, ethnic cleansing, disappearings, and violent religious oppression. These events often have little to do with the US directly, and perpetrators seem to be the "good guys" as well as the bad guys. So far as I can tell, the level of violence and mayhem seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. The attacks against civilians have been more frequent and more deadly, and the oppression more fierce. Meanwhile the political progress you see seems to be mostly in the direction of a fragmented, violent and unstable country, ruled by militias and fanatical thugs who are not nociceably more civil than Saddam, and who potentially pose an even more dangerous and diffuse threat to the stability of the region.

Suppose, though it seems unlikely at the moment, the Sunni resistance is ultimately crushed and neutralized, and the political forces currently in the ascendancy consolidate their control over the country. We then will have traded in a brutal and oppressive old-style Arab nationalist regime for a brutal and oppressive, new-fangled theocracy. Yes, we may defeat the "insurgency". But will the result be a victory?

In any case, even that scenario seems a long way off. For while the US military is racking up body counts in its battles in remote towns against insurgents, the rest of the country seems on the verge of civil war. The military can win every battle with "insurgents" that it fights from now until doomsday, but that doesn't mean the effort is producing a good outcome in Iraq.

Dan, in another thread Jeff posted a link to a paper that gave lots of statistics and time series.

They could monitor electricity production (which peaked higher than ever before last summer, but then dropped, apparently due to insurgent attacks), and oil production (which is holding steady and dropping a little, though it will rise when they get some renovations done), and numbers of police and iraqi army guys, and official political developments like elections. It claimed that iraqis were more and more handling their own defense, they're in control of 450 square miles someplace, and a big chunk of Baghdad, and so on. And some places when they need backup they're backing each other up instead of depending on us to back them up.

A lot of the important statistics could not be collected. Like, they couldn't tell about how the economy was doing, but they're arranging things to get that information someday.

And they couldn't tell how many crime victims there are, but someday the police will convert from being military units fighting insurgents to actually doing police work. And the judges have been purged and are all reliable, so that's a plus.

It wasn't just our casualties versus insurgent casualties. I didn't see estimates of insurgent casualties at all. The idea is that when people see democracy working they'll give up supporting insurgents and the insurgency will dwindle away.

It actually looked reasonable. If you believe the things they could measure that look good are real and important, and the things they didn't or couldn't measure are either unimportant or perhaps are going well, then it makes it look like we could be making progress.

If you believe the numbers are mostly garbage, and the numbers they don't reveal are probably bad, then it doesn't look like progress at all.

Another way to look at this is that Kerry already knew about the 20K and is kind of full of it ...

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