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December 27, 2005

A Fair Question
Posted by JohnNorris

The comments on the conduct of the war have been withering. One Canadian general has suggested that the strategy “will be used for generations as an example of how not to wage a war.” Another commentator has argued that America now has “the worst foreign policy team since the Second World War.” A major newsweekly has cited the war “as the latest example of an incoherent foreign policy driven by moral impulses.” British author Hugo Young has called it “a slow disintegration of American purpose.”

Iraq? Nope.

All of these were comments made in the first half of 1999 about the Clinton foreign policy team in the middle of the Kosovo bombing campaign. In retrospect, these comments look like a mixture of sour grapes and almost hysterical desperation.

This brings me to the question for the day: Is Iraq simply immersed in the darkness before a painful dawn, or have things really slid off the rails in such a profound way that it makes sense for the United States to begin a careful withdrawal? The answers are probably not as cut and dried as partisans on both sides of the aisle would like us to believe, and it is unfortunate that the atmosphere here in Washington has become so poisonous that intellectually honest debate has become very, very difficult. To all I wish a good New Year, and thanks to Derek for letting me sit in during his well-deserved absence.

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» Measuring the Consequences of Failure in Iraq from INTEL DUMP
The issue of whether or not we can win in Iraq is being hotly debated in this country. Rep. John Murtha’s demand for withdrawal and the subsequent period of news cycle domination lead to heated [Read More]

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I'm not (yet) in the "out now" camp, because I am concerned about the consequences for U.S. interests of a precipitous withdrawal, but how can anyone seriously believe that the decision to invade Iraq is someday going to be looked back upon as a "dawn," for Iraq, or for the Arab/Islamic world more broadly? Yes, I know, the hardcore neoconservatives still do, but Democrats? This post really underscores for me the fact that we Democrats have our own version of the neoconservatives, sans the disdain for international institutions, but with many of the same inclinations toward some form of "democratic imperialism."

Sorry, but I'm completely unimpressed with the quotes describing the Clinton Admnistration and I believe it undermines a far more serious situation.

I have repeatedly made no bones of the fact that I reluctantly supported the first Iraq war and I reluctantly supported the war in Afghanistan. The present war in Iraq, however, was wrong on principle, wrong on execution and wrong on the very simple smell test of Bush Administration intentions. Unilateralism, Bush's preemptive strike principle (preventive war to others), a call for nuclear bunker busters, the breaking of a series of promises and treaties and cowboy diplomacy are in no way equivalent to the Clinton era whether one agrees with Clinton's policies or not.

This is about the sixth or seventh time in the last week or two that I have seen these Republican talking points trotted out for public consumption; that these talking points have been circulating among more moderate voices is embarrassing. It is not appreciated. In a different piece I read, Tom DeLay was quoted saying something similar to the above quotes; how much credibility does Tom DeLay have these days?

I do not have a problem with Democrats who initially supported the war. I understand all too well the environment of late 2002, the failures of the media, the enormous political pressures, the W.H.I.G. product roll-out just in time for the midterm elections, and finally, and this is very important, the way many Democrats still took for granted the bipartisan rules that say you don't mess with foreign policy for purely partisan games and you don't lie to Congress and you don't lie to the American people about the reasons for going to war. But we have learned way too much since then to play rhetorical games with quotes from another time. Attempts to turn the focus on the present are all well and good but the present is a product of lies and blunders that has had an effect in Iraq, throughout the Middle East and in most capitals of the world that undermines America's foreign policy to an extent not seen in generations.

In the face of repeated failures, Bush turned down repeated opportunities to restore his credibility and the credibility of the United States when it might have helped salvage something out of this fiasco. The 'window of opportunity' that so many spoke of two years ago has closed.

We remain in Iraq for one reason only: to clean up Bush's mess. Nothing more. When the time comes that Iraqis say it's time to leave, it will be time to leave. I have no doubt we will carefully draw down, we will leave forces nearby and our air force will be available for action if necessary. We have the finest military in the world but that fact is irrelevant if we have lost the political and human circumstances necessary to accomplish anything.

You ask an excellent question- what is the reality of Iraq today? The media mostly reports, correctly, on loss of life but tends to either ignore the big picture or to only view the big picture within terms of it's own reporting. The media's view of Iraq is mostly incomplete. Many of the troops in Iraq feel the media has no idea what is going on there and from their perspective they see steady progress in a winning campaign. While there is inherent bias in the troops view of the war it is difficult to mesh the media and military's views.

Neither of which are nearly as important as the view of the Iraqi's. The bottom line is either the recent election produces a goverment that can govern the country or not. Down the road the only question is when that goverment is eventually voted out of power will Iraq have a peacefull transition of power?

The answer to the first question we'll probably know within 6-12 months. Right now it's just unknowable and people willing to state otherwise probably have never learned that the reason patience is a virtue is because it is hard.

Lane Brody

Tactically, there's a possible valid reason to keep our military in iraq: We're keeping the insurgents from moving to stage 3. They're keeping their tanks and big artillery mothballed because if they take it out now we'll destroy it. Assuming they're going to do that when we leave, then we have to stay until it degrades -- because we mustn't arm the iraqi army to be strong enough to stop them.

But we have the problem that iraqi civilians wind up despising our troops wherever we stay too long. (Except possibly in kurdistan.) Even Mosul. Even the british have faced that in the south. Our solution has been to abandon shia areas where we aren't fighting yet, and concentrate on sunni areas where we have no goodwill to lose. We're coming up with ways to reduce our interaction with civilians.

Iraqis think they win if the security improves and the crime goes down and they get a functional government and an improving economy. If they can get enough sunnis participating in the iraqi government, and that government appears not to be our puppet, and the sunni insurgents get accepted as legitimate militias and stop getting attacked, then it might work out. The violence might be reduced to an acceptable level, comparable to northern ireland at its worst or better. Our military is useful to them only on the assumption that fails and the sunnis have to be suppressed. But our military helps keep it from happening by occupying sunni areas and staging punitive strikes on other sunni areas etc. And there's the reasonable assumption that the iraqi government is still our puppet.

So we might win despite the presence of US forces. And we might lose even if those forces are withdrawn.

The latest ABC poll looks promising, if you believe it.
http://abcnews.go.com/International/PollVault/story?id=1389228
Since various entities want to falsify such things, and may have the opportunity, these polls aren't exactly reliable. This particular poll involves people who are doing rather better economically than the last ABC poll, which gets interpreted as improving conditions but which might be bias. The response rate was 82%, and those who answered may not represent the other 18%.

But the poll claims that among their sample, only 6% thought that US forces leaving would be the best thing that could happen in iraq next year. Fourth on the list, outranked by security, peace-and-stability, and a better life which together got 60%, it came in ahead of sound government, a better economy, reconstruction, improved services, etc. Only 9% thought that the US forces not leaving iraq would be the worst thing that could happen, outranked by chaos, civil war, and terrorism.

Only 28% of the sample put getting US forces out as one of their three top priorities for the next year, way behind regaining public security 81%, rebuilding infrastructure 46%, ensuring that most people can make a decent living 34%, and establishing a stable government 34%. Though if I read the table right, 26% didn't answer that one.

18% of the sample had confidence in coalition forces, while 23% had not much and 55% had none.

Comparing support and opposition for coalition forces in iraq, they compare the current poll 11/22/02 with one they did in 2/28/04. Strongly support is stable at 13%. Somewhat support is down from 26% to 19%. Somewhat oppose changed to 21% from 20% and strongly oppose is 44% from 31%. No opinion is down from 10% to 3%. So weak support and no opinion are each down 7% and strongly oppose up 13%.

For how long coalition forces should stay, it came out:

26% leave now.
19% stay until the iraqi government elected in december is in place.
31% stay until security is restored
16% stay until iraqi security forces can operate independently
3% stay longer
1% never leave
4% no opinion

That's much better than I expected. That translates to 45% for us to leave, and 51% to stay forever, since as long as we stay security will not be restored and the iraqi security forces won't be able to operate independently.

41% say security has improved since the end of the CPA, while only 31% say it's gotten worse. 6% of that 41% put americans/coalition as primarily or secondarily responsible. 34% of the 31% blame us for it getting worse, while 17% blame terrorists.

So all in all, iraqi opinion about US forces is improving but still not particularly good.


Iraqi opinions about politics look somewhat promising. 57% preferred democracy to a strong leader-for-life 26% and an islamic state 14%. 91% agreed they need a strong leader and 90% agree they need democracy, but it looks like the priority is on democracy. However, 66% said they'd never join a political party, 64% said they'd never join a demonstration, and 22% said they'd never talk about politics (while answering a poll!). I think the Saddam-era paranoia runs deep, and it may not die out until the generation that lived under him is gone. Assuming current death squads don't teach them that lesson all over again.

In the beginning, US forces failed to identify the center of gravity for the stabilization phase of the campaign — indigenous security forces. Once the correct judgments were made at the political level, the military adapted rapidly to establish those forces in furtherance of the short-term political objective to create a reasonably stable government. That government is now emerging, and appears to be capable of governing.

It is unclear whether the long-term political goal — a new balance of power in the region to counter Syrian and Iranian logistical support for terrorism — will succeed after the new Iraqi government begins to actually govern. The signs are good. Syria is on the defensive at the UN. Iran has undermined European goodwill. There is reason to be hopeful, but diplomacy is volatile. Results will be the only acceptable proof, and such results will be long in coming. America is not a patient country.

Without question the military is winning the war, but will Bush's long-term strategy for liberalization of the middle-east succeed in the end? It's hard to say, but at least Bush has a long-term vision in the region, something no American President has ever had before.

Jeff,

As to Syria, I think you are correct. As to Iran, I think you are quite wrong. Iran has strong ties to the majority faction (UIA) that will form the new Iraqi government's basis. Iran has probably benefitted from the invasion insofar as the current balance of power within Iraq - both with regards to the internal Iraqi political situation, and with regards to the US military being tied down. Also, Iran is backed by China and probably Russia.

I don't think either Syria or Iran are particularly significant in terms of Salafist terror - the Al Qaeda brand. AQ is largely a product of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Read George Friedmann's "America's Secret War" for what I think is the most compelling geo-strategic reason the war was fought - which was "shock and awe," pressure Saudi Arabia, and put a bigger US footprint in the region.

As to democratization, it will happen, but it will be largely Islamist in nature. Also, the key factor causing it will be satellite TV undermining traditional state apparti's monopoly on information.

In the beginning, US forces failed to identify the center of gravity for the stabilization phase of the campaign — indigenous security forces. Once the correct judgments were made at the political level, the military adapted rapidly to establish those forces in furtherance of the short-term political objective to create a reasonably stable government. That government is now emerging, and appears to be capable of governing.

Jeff, I don't see any basis for confidence that the central government is increasingly capable of governing, or that indigenous security forces are any closer to the day when they can assume responsibility for Iraq's security, and underpin the power of the central government.

Since the election, the insurgency has resumed in full force. The resounding success of the Shiite bloc and SCIRI in that election seems, if anything, to have confirmed many Sunni Arabs in their perception that they cannot achieve even their minimal political aims in the context of the current political process, and to have devastated any incipient hopes they might have had of participating in a meaningful way in a governing coalition that protects their interests.

The "government of national unity" movement, and the associated protests over alleged vote fraud, don't seem to be going anywhere. Indeed this movement appears to represent only the very small number of people who voted for Iyad Allawi. The disproportionate noise and visibility of this movement, relative to its size in the population, and its relatively skilled use of the media, suggest to me that it is more the creation of some foreign intelligence service than an indigenous Iraqi phenomenon.

You may want to read these two reports from Tom Lasseter, both of which appeared yesterday, for another perspective on where things are now headed in Iraq:

Kurds in Iraqi army proclaim loyalty to militia

Many Iraqi soldiers see a civil war on the horizon.

Iraq's security forces - such as they are - still lack coherence, discipline, and above all, a real commitment to a unified Iraqi state. They also lack the firepower to secure the state. The US is thus in a very difficult bind. No government can successfully govern without the firepower that goes with a strong central state, so that they can repel external enemies and subdue internal enemies. And frankly, despite plenty of politically correct words to the contrary, I don't think the US government has the slightest intention of turning over and serious military tools to these forces in the forseeable future. There is simply no one that can be trusted with them. No informed US official can have any confidence at all that military equipment we give or sell to Iraq's "government" will not end up in the possession of one of several warring militias in a civil war, or used recklessly against some other state, or even turned against us.

Perhaps the rejectionism of the Sunni Arabs would not be cause for pessimism, if there seemed to be any realistic prospect that they could be subdued militarily and brought into the sphere of central government control by a combination of US and indigenous security forces. But the indigenous forces are not able to subdue central Iraq - they are not even close. They lack both the firepower and commitment to do so. US policy up to this point has been to stay in Iraq and finish this job themselves. But if the experience of the rest of the region is a guide, the US is in for a very long haul, and faces decades of continuing occupation and resistance.

One hears optimism from time to time from some members of the armed forces. They often express the sense that they are "winning". (To what extent these voices are truly representative of all of our soldiers in Iraq it is impossible to tell.) And they are right in the sense that resistance is now confined to a smaller region than it once was. But I fear they err in assuming this means that there is continued progress toward ending the insurgency and building a unified Iraqi state. Rather, the three main parties in Iraq appear to be choosing up sides and securing their own turf. Since the US is fighting the Sunni insurgency, it is not in the interest of either the Kurds or most of the Shiites to resist the US forces. Once these parties understood that political reality - the Kurds got it right away, even before the war, while it took some time for the Shiites - they took matters into their own hands, organized themselves politically, brought security to their regions, and refrained from attacking US forces.

But I think it is naive to suspect that process to continue on the same trajectory. Of course, the Shiites of the south had no enduring interest in fighting the US, since they were the majority in Iraq, and the US was fighting their main political enemies, and working to build an Iraqi state which the Shiites would control. And of course,the Kurds had no interest in fighting the US, since the US was embarked on a project which facilitates the Kurds' ultimate goal of independence.

But it is hard to see how the Sunni Arabs will ever find it in their interest to give up fighting, so long as the US is bent on using military power to force them to submit to the authority of a central government that is hostile to Sunni interests. Of course, if the US was fighting a more-or-less rational state in central Iraq, and the Sunni Arabs were under the firm political control of that state, and loyal to it, then it is possible that we could beat them in the way states typically beat other states in war, by inflicting so much damage that the enemy surrenders and submits, and delivers up its population to the will of the victors.

But we see nothing like that in Central Iraq - at least not at this time. Instead we have a very popular, but decentralized and politically fragmented struggle, with dozens of cooperating groups under no organized, central political control. Such a struggle can last for decades and generations, with the fighting becoming an established way of life.

That is why I have been arguing for some time that the US must change its approach, and give up its - to my eyes futile - effort to build a unified Iraqi state and subject the Sunni Arabs in Iraq to that state's authority. Taking the fight to the insurgents on a daily basis, keeping central Iraq in a state of violent chaos, and disrupting the natural indigenous political processes in that region in favor of the political interventions of external groups, is only forestalling the necessary processes of political reorganization that must take place in central Iraq if its is ever to be secured. In a sense, the problem is that our forces are only fighting an amorphous enemy, rather than a politically organized one. One might think that this is to our benefit. But that is not actually so. If there was a politically organized enemy, then there would be someone to either defeat or negotiate with. And amorphous enemy cannot be negotiated wioth, because no one can deliver a broad-based agreement, and it cannot be defeated, because there is no entity that is even organized enough to surrender.

We should extricate ourselves from the fight with the insurgency, insofar as those insurgents are primarilly focussed on repelling the US, and the agents of the new "government of Iraq", from their region. We should recognize that there are going to be three successor states in Iraq, and turn to the business of settling the terms of the divorce. We need to begin to think about borders between these regions, and demilitarized zones around disputed areas inside Iraq. Our military efforts should then be reoriented toward those that transgress those borders and zones. With any luck, we can bring down the casualties on all sides, and help to produce a settlement that has a chance of enduring.

Dan, that's an interesting strategy. Here's my problem -- we cannot hope to attempt that strategy until January 2009. Do yo think the situation will be stable enough that this will still be a viable approach then?

When our OODA loop now has a 3 year delay, how can we hope to prevail?

Dan, that's an interesting strategy. Here's my problem -- we cannot hope to attempt that strategy until January 2009. Do yo think the situation will be stable enough that this will still be a viable approach then?

When our OODA loop now has a 3 year delay, how can we hope to prevail?

That is a problem J Thomas. On the other hand, it would have been hard to predict even a year ago that the political discussion in this country would have evolved in the way it has. I still have some hope that a combination of informed public discussion, and realism from the commanders on the ground, might lead even the Bush administration to change its approach.

Jeff, I don't see any basis for confidence that the central government is increasingly capable of governing, or that indigenous security forces are any closer to the day when they can assume responsibility for Iraq's security, and underpin the power of the central government.
Huh? The Iraqi army is performing an order of magnitude better than just three months ago, and it continues to gain in strength and capability daily.
Since the election, the insurgency has resumed in full force. The resounding success of the Shiite bloc and SCIRI in that election seems, if anything, to have confirmed many Sunni Arabs in their perception that they cannot achieve even their minimal political aims in the context of the current political process, and to have devastated any incipient hopes they might have had of participating in a meaningful way in a governing coalition that protects their interests.
Not really. Sunni's are being Arabs; they posture boldly, making unrealistic threats. Eventually they must capitulate. Other than death, there really is no other choice for them. The "full force" of the insurgency is quite blunted because it cannot stop the political tides from washing them away.
Iraq's security forces - such as they are - still lack coherence, discipline, and above all, a real commitment to a unified Iraqi state. They also lack the firepower to secure the state. The US is thus in a very difficult bind. No government can successfully govern without the firepower that goes with a strong central state, so that they can repel external enemies and subdue internal enemies. And frankly, despite plenty of politically correct words to the contrary, I don't think the US government has the slightest intention of turning over and serious military tools to these forces in the forseeable future.
Iraq has some outstanding commando brigades, and the compentencty fo forces is ever increasing. You repeatedly fail to account for this fact. The tools of counterinsurgency are actionable intelligence, a trained human being, and small arms of various kinds. What is this "firepower" you think we will never give them?
Perhaps the rejectionism of the Sunni Arabs would not be cause for pessimism, if there seemed to be any realistic prospect that they could be subdued militarily and brought into the sphere of central government control by a combination of US and indigenous security forces. But the indigenous forces are not able to subdue central Iraq - they are not even close. They lack both the firepower and commitment to do so.
This is false. If anything, US forces are restraining Iraqi commando forces. They definitely have the will to defeat the Sunni insurgents, by any means necessary.
But it is hard to see how the Sunni Arabs will ever find it in their interest to give up fighting, so long as the US is bent on using military power to force them to submit to the authority of a central government that is hostile to Sunni interests.
The eradication of the Sunni insurgency is not necessary for US forces to draw down to much lower, and sustainable, levels. The Iraqi Army will force the Sunnis to submit or die. It really will be that simple.
Such a struggle can last for decades and generations, with the fighting becoming an established way of life.
Sure it can. But the Sunnis cannot win it, while the capabilities of the Iraqi government get stronger and stronger. The trend is definitely in favor of the government.
We should extricate ourselves from the fight with the insurgency, insofar as those insurgents are primarilly focussed on repelling the US, and the agents of the new "government of Iraq", from their region.
Duh. That's been the goal for at least eighteen months now.
We should extricate ourselves from the fight with the insurgency, insofar as those insurgents are primarilly focussed on repelling the US, and the agents of the new "government of Iraq", from their region. We should recognize that there are going to be three successor states in Iraq, and turn to the business of settling the terms of the divorce. We need to begin to think about borders between these regions, and demilitarized zones around disputed areas inside Iraq. Our military efforts should then be reoriented toward those that transgress those borders and zones. With any luck, we can bring down the casualties on all sides, and help to produce a settlement that has a chance of enduring.
We can't. That would violate the UN Charter, which is why all such suggestions have been steadfastly rebuffed by the Administration..
When our OODA loop now has a 3 year delay, how can we hope to prevail?
If US forces cannot orient on new threats faster than that, then we are lost. But the notion is quite stupid on its face.

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