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September 15, 2007

The Bloody Aftermath
Posted by David Shorr

Kevin Drum's critique of the "Chaos Hawks" has challenged the assumption that withdrawal will cause the entire Middle East region to erupt in flames. In a rare break from fact-checking and bean-counting the incidence of violence in Iraq, Ilan (someone please set him free) points out the irony of how clearly surge supporters can foresee the chaotic consequences of withdrawal while utterly unable to show how their own strategy will work.

But a post by Suzanne last month is the only assessment I've seen that looks at the possibility of wider violence and genocide within Iraq from the angle of the responsibility to protect. I agree with much of Suzanne's ethical, security, and political analysis, but still reach a different conclusion: that a large troop presence is not justified on the grounds of genocide-prevention.

Continue reading "The Bloody Aftermath" »

September 14, 2007

Why We Can't Leave
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the New York Times Paul Krugman takes a stab at trying to explain the President's almost incomprehensible stubbornness about changing course in Iraq.

At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with this argument, namely that Bush would prefer to kick the can down the road and leave the Iraq mess for the Democrats, all the while blaming the left for losing the war.

This week, I saw a presentation from one of the nation's foremost experts on Al Qaeda expert that really made me question this notion. In an otherwise fascinating and brilliant overview of Al Qaeda's current status, this individual sounded one note that struck me as off-key, namely that we can't leave Iraq because it will play directly into the terrorist organization's narrative about American retreat - a narrative that was initially constructed in the aftermath of Vietnam and reinforced after American withdrawals from Lebanon and Somalia.

At the time, I found the notion troubling, akin to the "credibility" notion that infused the thinking of so many Cold Warriors during the Vietnam War.

But it got me thinking and I went back to look at the President's August 22nd speech to the VFW in August and I was struck by the fact that he made an almost identical argument.

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."

His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."

Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans "know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet." Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.

. . . Iraq is one of several fronts in the war on terror -- but it's the central front -- it's the central front for the enemy that attacked us and wants to attack us again. And it's the central front for the United States and to withdraw without getting the job done would be devastating.

If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened, and use their victory to gain new recruits. . .

Continue reading "Why We Can't Leave" »

Not just bad, Britney bad.
Posted by Moira Whelan

First, I’ve got to share this piece offering Dave Petraeus’s assessment of Britney’s career. It was awesome to see after IM-ing with friends last night the critical question about the President’s speech:

Who did worse, Brit at the VMAs or Bush in prime time?

After friends who were busy taking the speech seriously ignored me, I have to say others came through, offering sound assessments about career longevity, comebacks, network vs. cable, spouses and children. (The final decision incidentally was that Bush would fare better because of Jenna’s wedding. We all basically think Jenna’s wedding will be better than any weddings good or bad of present or former members of the Federline family.) All did note, however that we do understand this isn't really funny...because Bush is sending Americans to their death, while Britney is simply killing her career. We were a bit punchy and angry you understand, hence the dark humor.

I also wanted to note my other observation of the speech. At one point, President Bush refers to an email he received from the family of a soldier killed in Iraq. After giving the entire speech with the assistance of the teleprompter, he reads the email off of a piece of parchment paper.

Let’s back up. It’s an email. If he’d slid over to his computer to read it, that would have been much cooler. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume that the President probably doesn’t read his own email. Fine, but someone still printed it out on pretty nice paper. If you have Tivo and go back and watch the segment, you’ll also notice that whoever printed it did so in pretty big font…that like, took up the whole piece of paper---that the President didn’t really need. Cuz he had a teleprompter.

My point to all of this? Political theater. The whole email thing probably originated from a “brilliant idea” of some junior staffer who is thrilled to have a job in the last throes of the Bush Administration—and his mom told him it was “moving.” Maybe it's just me, but I find the deaths themselves moving, and I don't need them dramatized for me in the Oval Office. I get it, but it worries me that the President seems to think that the death of a solider he ordered to Iraq needs to be given a little theatrical oomph.

Generally, I don’t have a problem with political theater. I kind of like it actually. I do have a problem with BAD political theater, however. For that alone I am glad this week is finally over.

The end of nation-building, and what comes after
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Mort Abramowitz and I have a piece in the new National Interest, pouring cold water all over the idea that we know how to radically transform societies and build nations, democratic or otherwise, in 1-3 years -- but insisting that we're not off the hook for responding to strategic and humanitarian catastrophes, and providing long-term help to recover from and prevent them.  Yesterday we blogged a bit about how this plays out in Iraq.

Since the full piece is only accessible by subscription, here's the core point:

Our democracy increasingly lives in a short term world. Candor with the public – about aims, timeframe, and cost – is critical to sustaining long-term support.  Yet it seems that such candor makes it very difficult to get efforts underway.  In the wake of Iraq, frankly, it seems hard to imagine broad public support for nation-building again for some time to come.  Yet unfinished business in Afghanistan, the limbo of Kosovo, the unending urgency of Darfur, and a decade-neglected catastrophe in Congo are only some of the crises that weigh on our conscience and our national interest.  What will we do?

The answer – like the problems – is complex and frustrating.  We will need to change our habits of partnership, or the lack of it, in responding collapsed states.  We will need to change our way of preparing and funding certain foreign activities.  Perhaps most difficult we will need to change our habits of rhetoric.

How I Spent My Miserable Morning
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Fact checking the President's benchmark report.  I'm so sick of benchmarks.  Not that it means anything because according to the administration the benchmarks don't matter anymore. 

I find it a little irritating that these benchmarks were the first legislative accountability moment that the Bush Administration has faced since the start of the war, and somehow their response to all of this is...  "It's irrelevant"

September 13, 2007

Comments on the speech
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

President Bush:  The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress. For Iraqis to bridge sectarian divides, they need to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods. For lasting reconciliation to take root, Iraqis must feel confident that they do not need sectarian gangs for security. The goal of the surge is to provide that security and to help prepare Iraqi forces to maintain it.

70% of Iraqis don't feel that the surge has made them safer.  That means that according to the President's own standards the surge is failing.  The whole point of a counterinsurgency strategy is to make the population feel safe.  If they feel as if the government can protect them, they side with the government instead of militias and insurgents.  All the fancy charts and dubious statistics about violence matter less than whether the Iraqis truly believe that they are more secure.  Unfortunately, 70% of them believe that the surge has not made them safer.  Which according to the President's own measure means that the surge is failing. [BBC, 9/10/07]

President Bush:  Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces.

In January the President said that Iraqi security forces would be taking over by November.  "To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November." [White House, 1/10/07]

Over Two Years ago the President stated, “As Iraqis Stand Up, We Will Stand Down” [DOD, 6/28/05]

We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy.

American troops make up almost 95% of all coalition forces.  There are 168,000 American troops in Iraq.  All the other countries in the "coalition" have 11,685.  [Brookings,  9/10/07]

Jane to Mike [McConnell]: Please Stop.
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Were you disgusted by that whole business of Joe Lieberman pressing the Director of National Intelligence to say that the excessive new FISA law had enabled the capture of terrorism suspects in Germany, seeing this trumpeted in the papers, then the subsequent climbdown (oops, they were under surveillance for months, authorized by the previous law that the Administration claimed was "inadequate") covered as one paragraph in the Times and apparently not covered at all by the Post and CNN?  Wonder why no one said anything?

Representative Jane Harman to the rescue, at the Council on Foreign Relations no less.  Just a small bit of flavor:

"Jane to Mike: please stop. You're undermining the authority of your office."

Disclaimer/advertisement:  Harman's PAC, SecureUS, trains Democratic Congressional candidates -- from across the D spectrum -- to learn the basics and be comfortable going on the offensive on national security and military issues.  The PAC is a client of mine.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Spencer Ackerman has been doing some great work on trying to figure out the methodology behind the sectarian violence and civilian casualty numbers.  And today the LA Times also has a piece with MNF-I’s explanation.  I’m still looking for a clear breakdown, but my overall observation is that  all these numbers would have been much more credible if the military and Administration hadn’t gone out of their way to dramatize success.  Three examples

Image002_2 First, rather than emphasizing the change in civilian casualties from December (2 months before the surge began) to August the General should have just said there has been a 15% decrease in violence since the surge began.  From February to August.  That’s still a little misleading because numbers go up and down every month. For example, between July and February there was almost no drop at all and between when the surge was “fully in place” in June and August there was no difference in civilian casualties.  But he sold it so hard and he used the absolute highest data point. 

Then there is the argument that many others have already made that ethnic cleansing in Baghdad had already caused Shi’a and Sunni to separate, which meant that they were no longer as easily able to kill each other.  Again, General Petraeus’s slides don’t tell the whole picture.  Compare his maps below with those that the Jones report used.  Jones actually shows July 2006, when the city was still very much mixed.  As the maps indicate, by the end of 2006 the Shi’a and Sunnis had completely separated giving credence to the argument that a central reason for the drop in violence was the ethnic cleansing.  Unfortunately, you don’t get that understanding by looking at General Petraeus’s slides.

Jones Maps


Petraeus Maps


Finally, why did the Pentagon and Administration spend so much time emphasizing “sectarian violence” and touting it as a huge success?  Why did General Petraeus push sectarian violence is down by 75% statistic?  Trying to figure out the intent behind a killing is dubious.  Many victims in Iraq are found dead on the street.  There are some specific signs that indicate that a killing was likely sectarian nature, such as finding a body blindfolded and bound at the wrists, but there is no way to no for sure.  That is where the front of the head/back of the head controversy came from in the Washington Post.  So why didn’t the Administration and the military just come clean with civilian casualties from the start? 

The question is not whether or not they are flat out lying.  I don’t think they are.  But in these cases they have continuously gone out of their way to use incomplete data to show the most positive picture possible and then they ask us to believe all the source data and get indignent when we don’t.  If they don’t want their source data questioned they shouldn’t blatantly massage these statistics.

Rumsfeld goes to Cali
Posted by Moira Whelan

For those who missed it, Rumsfeld is taking a post at Stanford.

This is emblematic of my frustration with the "Foreign Policy Community." Now, I don't have any doubts that Rumsfeld's experience is something people can learn from, and I trust that students and colleagues of his will put it in the category of "what not to do," or maybe see it as textbook if you're into dismantling countries and constitutions...but to me, that's hardly the issue.

Think tanks, academic institutions, etc will start picking up these Bushies for two reasons.

First, they get to call themselves bipartisan and therefore allow the "liberal bias on campus" argument to be seen as reasonable, when it frankly isn't. We all know that campuses force people to THINK which according to some conservatives means LIBERAL.

Second, they draw money from foundations and individual donors. Think tanks and universities are no different than law firms in this respect. They bring people on to be rain makers. Even liberal donors will pay to sit in a room and tell Don Rumsfeld what they think about him.

Here's the problem: neither one of these things prioritizes the substantive contributions of the individual.

Agree or disagree with their politics, there are cases where this has been done right: Lee Hamilton over at Woodrow Wilson Center is a hands on leader. So is John Hamre over at CSIS and Richard Haas at CFR. The list goes on of "formers" from both sides putting themselves in a different environment and working just as hard as they did in their old jobs. They enjoy the chance to stop chasing the news of the day and focus instead on parts of the world and new trends being ignored, and more importantly  offering a chance for younger folks thinking about this stuff to have a paycheck while they do the heavy lifting and learn about the world they want to run one day. But be sure, even these resumes are not  lost on those making the decisions.

But when "thinking, writing and advising on important matters of public policy" is the best you can do for a job description of someone who just recently served as the boss of America's largest single employer--the Defense Department...I think we can all see clearly what is happening here. Expect it to happen more as people start leaving, and as think tankers pile into the (hopefully) new Democratic Administration.

A friend of mine once referred to think tanks as "IDP camps for the team out of power." As someone who's been there, I'd say that's about right (for the comfy confines of the Beltway anyway)...but those of us who've lived this life knew the difference between us and the Don Rumsfeld types---the "working hard" vs the "hardly working."

The Iran problem is in Afghanistan
Posted by Moira Whelan

Friends in government are telling me that people are getting pretty nervous about Iran…in Afghanistan. Some reporting has started to pop up but it seems that everyone is still focused on Iran and their activities with Iraq. The real story seems to be that Iran’s flow of weapons into Afghanistan is increasing and recently has been blatant and unapologetic.

As these stories pan out, which I’m sure they will, I don’t think the point can be missed. Iraq is distracting us from our real enemies. It’s draining resources away from fighting those who harmed us on 9-11.

Leader of the "Anbar Awakening" Killed
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The man most responsible for the political deal that was cut last year and actually lead to improvements in Anbar was killed this morning

The Dems 'Rodney King' Strategy
Posted by Michael Cohen

The Washington Post has a rather dispiriting piece this morning about the Democrat's changing political strategy on Iraq.

Instead of trying to force the Senate to vote on more aggressive and politically potent anti-war legislation the Democrats are now going to take a more pragmatic approach and offer bills that will 'hopefully' get the Senate closer to 60 votes and break a potential GOP filibuster. Yet, the article does not identify a single Republican who is now willing to change direction and cast a vote against the current policy in Iraq.

Sure, there are plenty of quotes from GOPers questioning the President's strategy (and I use that word loosely) but this quote from Gordon Smith sums up the situation:

"I'm not alone in my feelings, but so far I'm fairly isolated in terms of manifesting them with a vote," said Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), one of the party's few on-the-record war dissenters.

And then there is this from Jeff Sessions:

"I think Republicans, like a lot of Americans, are worried about how things are going. They're hearing mixed results. They don't believe everything that comes out of the State Department or the Pentagon or the White House. They're thinking critically."

With all due respect to these esteemed public servants; blah, blah, blah. How much longer do we have to read about "frustration" among Republicans about Iraq without seeing any of them actually casting a vote for a change in policy?

And then there is this pathetic quote from Harry Reid:

We're reaching out to the Republicans to allow them to fulfill their word . . .A number of them are quoted significantly saying that come September that there would have to be a change of the course in the war in Iraq.

Talk about a thin reed. Why Reid thinks that now the Republicans are going to change course, after basically telling them 'we're going to reduce the political pressure on you' is beyond me.

Here's the rub: No matter what the Congress passes, the President will veto it. So 60 is not the magic number - 67 is; and there is no way the Dems are going to achieve that goal. So my question is why not keep applying the political pressure? Why not make the GOP defend a policy that has about 30-35% support in public opinion polls?

I understand that Democrats love to pass legislation as a sign that they are getting something done. But if it has no chance of getting past the President's veto pen what exactly is the point? Believe me, if I thought this approach would have any success in changing course in Iraq I'd be all over it, but there doesn't seem to be any real evidence that Bush will acquiesce to legislation that changes our Iraq strategy. The only possibility of change is if Republicans grow some political courage and turn against their President. Letting them off the hook is not the way to accomplish that goal.

At the very least, applying maximum political pressure on some of the Senators up for re-election might actually clear some of these jokers out of the Senate - not only increasing the Democratic majority, but teaching these folks about the nature of representative democracy.

But instead Democrats are taking the Rodney King approach - 'can't we all just get along.' Its just further evidence that when it comes to wielding political power, Democrats don't get it.

September 12, 2007

Can't We All Just Get Along?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Kathy Griffin, who I actually think is a rather unfunny comedienne, had a mildly amusing line at the Emmys last night.

A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus," an exultant Griffin said, holding up her statuette. "Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."

As a Jew, I probably shouldn't chuckle about this, but it struck me more as a joke about celebrities/athletes etc thanking Jesus every time something positive happens as opposed to an attack on the Catholic Church. Surprisingly, the amazingly unfunny Bill Donahue of the Catholic League doesn't agree:

It is a sure bet that if Griffin had said, 'Suck it, Muhammad,' there would have been a very different reaction," Catholic league president Bill Donohue said in a statement posted on the group's Web site. He called on TV academy president Dick Askin to denounce Griffin's "hate speech" and on Griffin to apologize.

Apparently, the coffers at the Catholic League must be running a bit low. To be sure, a little bloviating from Bill Donahue is hardly surprising and should really end this discussion, but James Kirchick over at TNR had to offer his two cents in his usual overwrought, self-righteous style:

There certainly "would have been a very different reaction" had Griffin said, "Suck it, Muhammad." Not only would the liberal PC police be after her head (figuratively), but she would have a fatwa placed on her head (literally), would be placed under 24-hour armed guard and would have to limit any public appearances, if even make them at all. In other words, the Rushdie treatment.

That a comedian cannot make an innocent joke with the word "Muhammad" in it out of fear of getting killed--and not a supposed ban on "blasphemy" against Catholics, who don't, as a matter of course, burn effigies, destroy buildings, or murder people when someone says or writes something they don't like--seems to be the larger outrage.

First of all, I think Mr. Kirchick needs a crash course on the Crusades, not to mention deductive reasoning, but honestly is he really prepared to say that 1.2 billion Muslims "as a matter of course" burn effigies, destroy buildings or murder people when they see or read something they don't like?  I can only imagine Kirchick's hyperventilating reaction if someone generalized so egregiously about homosexuals or Jews.

I suppose this type of argument shouldn't be surprising coming from a guy who works for Marty Peretz, a veritable font of anti-Muslim bigotry. Nonetheless, the fact that a coterie of pro-Israel supporters continue to conflate support for the Jewish State with virulent, anti-Muslim attacks is deeply troubling.

I hope that when many of them to go shul tonight and tomorrow (and I have no idea if Mr. Kirchick is Jewish) . . . they listen really closely.

Update: One of the commentors has brought to my attention a quote from Ms. Griffin after the show saying that she "hoped she offended people" with her comment. So much for my notion that she was trying to make insightful social commentary about religion in the public sphere. I stand corrected and Ms. Griffin should be ashamed of herself. It's one thing to talk about ones own religious beliefs in public, it's quite another to purposely try to offend people of faith. There's nothing funny about that.

Prisoners of Uncertainty
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John Stewart made a profound point last night.  According to most of those who support an open-ended commitment to Iraq we can’t set a timetable for withdrawal because we can’t possibly predict what will happen in Iraq.  And yet, somehow we know exactly what will happen if we leave. 

Petraeus:  our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous.

Stewart:  Don’t criticize the surge because no one is can know what is going to happen.  Unless you’re talking about not sticking with the surge.

Petraeus:  A rapid withdrawal would result in… the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, rapid deterioration of local security initiatives, al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground… a marked increase in violence, further ethno-sectarian displacement…and exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.

Stewart:  That’s what happened when we went into Iraq

Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias poke some more holes in the “Middle East in Flames” theory.  The MEI theory is to Iraq what the domino theory was to Vietnam.  Inflate the consequences of failure and present a picture that we cannot afford to lose.  In Vietnam, the rationale was that all of Southeast Asia would go Communist and we’d end up fighting the Soviets in Berlin.  Today, it’s that the Middle East will fall apart and we’ll have Al Qaeda on our doorstep.

Note: Prisoners of uncertainty is a term from Zbig Brzezinski.

Obama and the Humanitarian Option
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Obama's speech on Iraq today was great.  My personal favorite part is the emphasis on the humanitarian aspect.  I've written before about how important it is for opponents of the war to make clear that they will live up to America's moral obligation to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people.  However, that simply does not mean leaving 168,000 troops in Iraq.  As far as I know, Obama is the first candidate to finally address this issue in a real way.  I hope the others will follow.

The President would have us believe there are two choices: keep all of our troops in Iraq or abandon these Iraqis. I reject that choice. We cannot continue to put this burden on our troops alone. I’m tired of this notion that we either fight foolish wars or retreat from the world. We are better than that as a nation.

There’s no military solution that can reunite a family or resettle an orphaned child. It’s time to form an international working group with the countries in the region, our European and Asian friends, and the United Nations. The State Department says it has invested $183 million on displaced Iraqis this year -- but that is not nearly enough.  We can and must do more. We should up our share to at least $2 billion to support this effort; to expand access to social services for refugees in neighboring countries; and to ensure that Iraqis displaced inside their own country can find safe-haven. 

We must also keep faith with Iraqis who kept faith with us. One tragic outcome of this war is that the Iraqis who stood with America – the interpreters, embassy workers, and subcontractors – are being targeted for assassination. An Iraqi named Laith who worked for an American organization told a journalist, “Sometimes I feel like we’re standing in line for a ticket, waiting to die.” And yet our doors are shut. In April, we admitted exactly one Iraqi refugee – just one!

That is not how we treat our friends. That is not how we take responsibility for our own actions. That is not who we are as Americans. It’s time to at least fill the 7,000 slots that we pledged to Iraqi refugees and to be open to accepting even more Iraqis at risk. It’s also time to go to our friends and allies – and all the members of our original coalition in Iraq – to find homes for the many Iraqis who are in desperate need of asylum.

Gerson and Petraeus - Birds of a Feather . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

In today's Washington Post, Michael Gerson has written one of the more galling pieces I've read about Iraq in a long, long time - and that is saying something.

First, Gerson accuses Democrats of unfairly slandering General David Petraeus. Let me say, right off the bat this is a joke. Petraeus is clearly and deliberately misleading both Congress and the American people about the true situation in Iraq. Instead of being praised he should be vilified for putting the lives of his troops at risk for what is clearly a failed mission. Don't believe me: ask Admiral Fallon. Petraeus is as much a political hack as Gerson.

Next he argues that "on Petraeus's brief watch, al-Qaeda in Iraq has suffered a major setback."

Really, how many times do we have to remind these jokers that AQI is not the issue here - a point well made by Andrew Tilghman in the Washington Monthly. What about that civil war, Mike?

But Gerson goes on:

In Baghdad, the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy -- a kind of community policing with very serious firepower -- has reduced sectarian murders significantly.

Others, such as my colleague Ilan have done an excellent job of pointing out that these assertions are simply unsupportable -- and to my earlier point that Petraeus is deliberately putting our misleading numbers about the extent of sectarian violence and civilian casualties.

But who's really to blame here - the Democrats, of course. Because in their view, according to Gerson;

Anything less than perfection in reaching a series of benchmarks is evidence of failure and reason for retreat.

Perfection? How about a scintilla of evidence that the surge is creating real momentum for political reconciliation or is laying the groundwork for a sustainable decrease in violence.

Continue reading "Gerson and Petraeus - Birds of a Feather . . ." »

He's Human After All
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Ezra Klein writes more about General Petraeus's exchange with Senator Warner regarding America's strategic interest. 

He may as well have begged, "Please, senator, I am only a man." And that he is. If David Petraeus is recusing himself from the question, "does this make America safer," then what do we care for his testimony? After all, the broader war we're fighting is not the global "War on Terror" or the surge in Iraq, but the war to make America safer. And Petraeus is advising us to look elsewhere for the answer to that question. Which makes his advice on Iraq next to useless.

The question in Iraq is not what the best pacification strategy is in an alternate universe when men are unlimited, money is no object, and the country's success is of preeminent importance, but how to balance its likely prospects of success, ceaseless chaos, and material demands in this universe. And that is a question Petraeus has said he will not answer, and indeed, has not thought about.

He's right.  This whole set of Congressional hearings is incomplete if Secretary Gates, Admiral Fallon and General Pace don't testify about whether or not staying in Iraq is America's strategic interest.

They Hate Us Because Our Diplomats Let Them???
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Further to my musings about how automatically everyone runs to the military side of the picture:  has anyone else noticed that GOP presidential candidates still think that beating up on our diplomatic service is a primary vote-getter?

Check out Rudy Giuliani's Foreign Affairs piece:

Our ambassadors must clearly understand and clearly advocate for U.S. policies and be judged on the results.  Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives.  The American ideals of freedom and democracy deserve stronger advocacy.  And the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end.

This is almost too ridiculous to parse.  Is he really saying that US diplomats don't understand US policies?  If so, whose fault is that?  Does he think they're not bright enough?  Does he really think that our people sit around Jakarta and Moscow and the Green Zone with their pinkies raised saying, "you're right, we've been wrong all these years, Chavez-style soft-authoritarianism really is the way to go, and George Bush does smell like sulphur??"

Continue reading "They Hate Us Because Our Diplomats Let Them???" »

A Thought on the Peaches and Ryan Show
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Is it just me, or are we collectively falling prey again to the hypnotic effect of men in uniform?  Don't we all agree that the purpose of the surge was supposed to be to create space for the political settlement, and if so, isn't really the more important presentation Ambassador Crocker's on whether and how there has been any political progress?  And yet that is drawing only a tiny portion of the media coverage and content -- and I guess the questions and comment from members of Congress as well.  An honorable exception being Ilan's extensive comments below.

In point of fact, I'm afraid this represents a really successful re-framing by the Administration, because while the military side of the report is mixed, the political side is unrelentingly grim; and while everyone was afraid to beat up too much on General Petraeus in his gallant uniform, Rs and Ds alike would have piled on Ambassador Crocker in his poor civilian striped pants had he been there alone.

Continue reading "A Thought on the Peaches and Ryan Show" »

David Brooks' Partition Figment
Posted by David Shorr

Anyone else get David Brooks-induced whiplash from his 'Road to Partition' column yesterday? Seriously, I don't know if I've ever seen so many switchbacks within the space of 760 words. Early in an article about the grounds for hope, Brooks quotes the harsh sectarian position of moderate Shiite MP Shatha al-Musawi and notes that "When conflicts become struggles for moral capitulation, they take forever to end." All the recent talk about how counterinsurgencies take a decade had me worried, but now apparently it's going to take forever! Yikes!

Brooks' concluding graf seems to read al-Musawi's mind. She's "unwilling to reconcile," yet "doesn't want to die in some cataclysmic civil war." Since there wasn't anything in the direct quote to indicate such a position, exactly what sophisticated journalistic technique is Brooks using here?

"Despite al the debates over the data, violence over all is on the decline." Ooops, better leave that for Ilan. Oh, not only is the Anbar miracle replicable, it's part of a "tribal revolt against extremism" that is apparently already spreading like wildfire. But that's not really what I wanted to talk about. Brooks takes Amb. Crocker to task for his "dubious assertions" regarding Iraqi leaders' emerging openness to power-sharing, and then in the next breath talks about a new effort by "sane sectarians ... to create a segregated yet inhabitable Iraq."

So here is the partition solution again, which is now not merely the obvious answer or natural drift of things, but portrayed as conscious project. Funnily enough, I agree with Brooks that the proper objective at this point is to "ensure that Iraqi sects compete for power in less violent ways." But trying to arrange a partition is a terrible way to achieve that objective. Telling the sects and tribes that now we're going to set boundaries and divvy up authorities only raises the stakes for the power struggle; why does anyone think that would have a calming effect? Anthony Cordesman has it right when he says "Partition is anything but soft." I also want to talk about something else that Brooks mentions, preventing genocide, but that's the subject of another (less snarky) post.

September 11, 2007

Petraeus Doesn't Know if His Strategy Makes America Safer
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg


Senator Warner: Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the congress here,this strategy. do you feel that that is making America safer?

General Petraeus: Sir, I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

Warner: Does that make America safer?

General Petraeus:  Sir I don't know actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind what i have focued on and what I have been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multinational force Iraq.

Rear Guard Action
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Looks like at least Admiral Fallon has had enough

NEWSWEEK has learned that a separate internal report being prepared by a Pentagon working group will “differ substantially” from Petraeus’s recommendations, according to an official who is privy to the ongoing discussions but would speak about them only on condition of anonymity. An early version of the report, which is currently being drafted and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year, will “recommend a very rapid reduction in American forces: as much as two-thirds of the existing force very quickly, while keeping the remainder there.” The strategy will involve unwinding the still large U.S. presence in big forward operation bases and putting smaller teams in outposts. “There is interest at senior levels [of the Pentagon] in getting alternative views” to Petraeus, the official said. Among others, Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon is known to want to draw down faster than Petraeus.

Testimony Live Thread
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

10:39  Thank god.  The senators are so much.  Biden just asked Petraeus if a Sunni in Baghdad could safely travel into a Shi'a neighberhood.  Petraues hemmed and hawed, but couldn't name one neighberhood where this could happen.

10:52  Good job by Dodd calling out Petraeus on the fact that violence came down between December and Febraurary when the surge started.  Petraeus argued that the announcement of the surge itself caused an initial drop in violence.

10:59  Petraeus says that they aren't arming tribes.  But there have been plenty reports of funding.  Money is fungible and according to many reports much of it gets used to buy weapons.

11:06 Hagel points out that Petraeus and Crocker haven't said anything about the South.  Nothing!  Not like it matters.  It's oh say the largest portion of the country...

11:12 Crocker argues that when security improves politics begins in Anbar.  But actually it was exactly the reverse.  In September there was a political agreement in Anbar.  The security improvements came later

11:39 Norm Coleman just applauded the fact that we would be at pre surge levels next year.  Good reelection strategy.  Oh and he also said we should have at least a 5 year commitment

11:52  Feingold is grilling Petraeus and Crocker on whether or not we should be going after Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the Maghreb and the larger fight on global terrorism.   Petraeus and Crocker say it's outside their purview.  But if Iraq is the central front of the war on terror shouldn't Petraeus be able to comment  on this.  Now Petraeus is saying that Admiral Fallon is better equipped to answer that question.  But Fallon has already expressed his opinion that we should significantly reduce forces to fight terrorism and other threats.

Adm. William J. Fallon, his superior, argued instead for accepting more risks in Iraq, officials said, in order to have enough forces available to confront other potential threats in the region.

12:10  Feinstein rightly criticizes Petraeus for his overly optimistic assessment for the Iraqi security forces in 2004 and the fact that when she met him in 2005 he was very positive.

12:24 If I had five minutes with Petraeus and Crocker, I wouldn't spend half of it on questions of the budget like Sununu just did.  Seriously?  There are some bigger issues out there.

12:53  Obama observes that Petraeeu and Crocker are both "punting" on whether or not we should be keeping 168,000 troops in light of the other threats facing this country.  It is sort of the $64 million question that they refuse to answer.  Obama also asks, what would possibly cause you to not recommend another Friedman Unit? 

1:13 Johnny Isakson says that 60% of American trust General Petraeus to make decisions on Iraq.  Maybe he should have mentioned that only 39% believe that Petraeus's report will be objective and not overly optimistic

1:31  Vitter just asked why we need to bring any troops home in December and shouldn't we just leave them in longer to be safe.... 

9/11 Tradeoffs
Posted by Ari Melber

As we turn from Iraq to 9/11, I've been thinking about how America's post-9/11 discourse has not changed much in six years.  Politicians and journalists still present most homeland security debates as tradeoffs between security and liberty. But the Bush Administration's most severe security measures since 9/11 are actually premised on radically different tradeoff: pursuing security by sacrificing the rule of law itself.

Continue reading "9/11 Tradeoffs" »

September 10, 2007

Getting shot in the front of the head
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Petraeus says it counts.  He also says that car bombings count.  Interesting, because the Times and Post say it doesn't.  Someone is wrong or misleading.

Update:  OK, here is the deal.   There don't seem to be any hard or fast rules.  But Petraeus wasn't asked how the military decides if it finds a body on the street whether or not that was or was not sectarian violence.  There's all kinds of subjective criteria that they can use to make these "sectarian violence" classifications.

Update II:  So here is the question.  When the military finds a body on the street or a body ends up in the morgue, how is the motivation behind the killing determined?  What do you use to determine whether or not it is "sectarian"?


Crocker Testimony
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Ambassador Crocker argued that progress is being made on the political front.  Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.  Iraqi leaders are still more tied to their sectarian loyalties than to the central government and have continued to pursue sectarian agendas.  Moreover, the GAO and NIE both agreed that there is little opportunity for significant changes in the political situation in the coming months.  Finally, hollow face saving agreements by the Iraqi government, such as the one cited by Ambassador Crocker, have been tried before.  They have continuously failed because a lack of support within parliament, or a genuine commitment to overcome sectarian differences.

Crocker:  Is the collective national leadership of Iraq ready to prioritize Iraq over sectarian and community interests?  Can and will they come to agreement about what sort of Iraq they want?

The National Intelligence Estimate concludes that the Iraqi Government is going in the wrong direction, but there is no viable alternative to Prime Minister Maliki.  “The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shi’a coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shi’a factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.  The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decision-making, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability to alternative coalitions.  We judge that Maliki will continue to benefit from recognition among Shi’a leaders that searching for a replacement could paralyze the government.”  [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

The Iraqi government is making little progress and has met only one of eight political benchmarks.  The Iraqi government met one of eight legislative benchmarks: the rights of minority political parties in Iraq’s legislature are protected. The government has not enacted legislation on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty, and militia disarmament.  [GAO, 9/4/07]

Members of the Iraqi Government Manipulate the Security Forces for Their Own Sectarian Purposes Shi’a supporters of Muqtada al Sadr have appointed Mahdi militia members to leadership positions in the Iraqi army. “In one of the more troubling examples of the relationship between the militia and Iraqi government, the Defense Ministry in January authorized lawmaker Baha Araji, a Sadr loyalist, to form a plainclothes army unit to patrol the Shiite district of Kadhimiya. The Baha Araji Company was a 300-man element of plainclothes Jaish al Mahdi operatives “that have subsequently been put in Iraqi army uniforms,” said Lt. Col. Steven Miska of the 1st Infantry Division. “Nobody in the Iraqi army chain of command wanted those guys in uniform. It was a political decision.” The Defense Ministry disbanded the unit in May. The commander became the head of a new battalion that included many of his former troops. [LA Times, 8/16/07]

The Prime Minister’s office has played a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior army and national police officers. At least 16 Iraqi Army and National Police commanders (nine of whom are Sunni Arab) have been fired, detained, or pressured to resign. According to Iraq Assistance Group commander Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, “Their only crimes or offenses were [that] they were successful.” For example, two high-ranking National Police officers described as “professional, non-sectarian, and focused on gaining [the] support of the populace” and “assessed as combating militia influences” were respectively detained and replaced. Col. Ehrich Rose, the chief advisor of the 4th Iraqi Army Division and veteran of previous advisory efforts, remarked, “the politicization of [the Iraqi Army’s] officer corps is the worst I’ve ever seen.” [Washington Post, 4/30/07]

U.S. general in charge of training Iraqis says the largest challenge is finding leaders free of sectarian loyalties. Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik said non-sectarianism was “much harder” to instill than teaching soldiers to fight. [NY Times, 7/29/07]

Crocker:  After weeks of Preparatory work and many days of intensive meetings, Iraq’s five most prominent national leaders from the three major communities issued a communiqué on August 26 that noted agreement on draft legislation dealing with de-baathification.

The NIE found that the current course is unlikely to lead to major changes in either the political or security situation.  “Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.”  [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

The NIE found that Sunnis are incapable of delivering on national reconciliation.  “The Sunni Arab community remains politically fragmented, and we see no prospective leaders that might engage in meaningful dialogue and deliver on national agreements.”  [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

Despite a tentative agreement by Iraqi leaders on key issues, the accord is not enough to lure Sunnis back into the government. Iraq’s top five political leaders announced an agreement late last month to release thousands of detainees being held without charge and to reform the laws that have kept thousands of member’s Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party out of government jobs. The agreement to ease restrictions on former Baath party members, could face a stiff battle in Iraq’s divided parliament. Many Shi’a and Kurdish lawmakers have objected to allowing Sunni ex-Baathists into jobs related to national security and are nervous they could once again regain dominance in the government.  According to an adviser to Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, "We left the government and we are not going back ever unless they meet all of the demands. [Washington Post, 8/27/07, Reuters, 8/27/07] 

These types of agreements on de-Baathification have been made before but they cannot be followed through on because of objections in parliament.  On March 26, a draft law titled the Reconciliation and Accountability Law was circulated by Prime Minister Maliki’s office.  It put a three-month limit on the ability of people to bring lawsuits against former members of the regime after which they would be immune from prosecution, eligible for work in the public sector and would receive pension benefits.  The law also weakened the power of the de-Baathification commission which had been used as a platform by the Shi’a government to exact revenge on Sunnis for past wrongs.  The law was derailed by Muqtada Al Sadr’s block in parliament and by Ahmed Chalabi.  [NY Times, 6/13/07United Nations]

The Iraqi cabinet approved an amended draft oil law, back in July to try to demonstrate progress before the interim benchmarks report but the agreement turned out to be hollow.  The law was pushed through without the support of Sunnis or the Kurdistan Regional Government and faces major opposition in parliament.  The oil law is important because it could help bring about national reconciliation by guaranteeing a fair division of oil revenues for Shi’a, Sunnis, and Kurds.  Unfortunately, the law was approved by the cabinet while the Sunnis were boycotting the meetings. Muqtada Al Sadr’s party, which represents the largest group of Shi’a, has also objected to the law and the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government have not yet seen the final draft.  [LA Times, 7/5/07.  AP, 7/4/07

Lawmakers met for the first time since their month long summer break, but it is not immediately clear whether it would be taking up key benchmark legislation demanded by Washington. The session opened with 158 members of 275 present — enough to form quorum, but the agenda was not immediately announced. While parliament was in recess, al-Maliki attempted to break the impasse with major Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders in a high-level meeting just over a week ago. They said they agreed in principle on some issues that the U.S. has set as benchmarks for progress, among them holding provincial elections, releasing prisoners held without charge and changing the law preventing many former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from holding government jobs and elected office. But no details were released and committees must hash out final versions of legislation to be presented to parliament. Iraqi officials have announced similar deals in the past, only to have them fall apart. [AP, 9/04/07]

Crocker:  A key challenge for Iraqis now is to link these positive developments in the provinces to the central government in Baghdad

American officers acknowledge that providing support to rebel groups is not new in counterinsurgency warfare and has backfired in the past with these elements turning against the United States.  In Afghanistan, the U.S. government armed the Mujahedeen and Osama Bin Laden to fight the Soviets.  They later formed Al Qaeda.  This tactic has been tried before in the French colonial war in Algeria, the British-led fight against insurgents in Malaya in the early 1950s, and in Vietnam and the effort often backfired, with weapons given to the rebels being turned against the forces providing them.  [NY Times, 6/11/07]

Arming Sunnis who oppose the Iraqi national government undermines national reconciliation efforts and further weakens the national government.  The U.S. policy of enlisting Sunni militants as allies in the fight against al Qaeda has drawn sharp criticism from the Shi’a prime minister who has threatened to start arming Shi’a militias in response.  Sami al-Askari, a key aide to al-Maliki and a member of the prime minister's Dawa Party, said the policy of incorporating one-time Sunni insurgents into the security forces shows Gen. David Petraeus has a "real bias and it bothers the Shi’a." A lawmaker from the al-Sadr bloc, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said al-Maliki has complained to President Bush about the policy of arming Sunnis.  "He told Bush that if Petraeus continues doing that, he would arm Shiite militias. Bush told al-Maliki to calm down," according to this parliament member, who said he was told of the exchange by al-Maliki.  [Washington Post, 7/28/07]

Sunnis are incapable of delivering on national reconciliation.  “The Sunni Arab community remains politically fragmented, and we see no prospective leaders that might engage in meaningful dialogue and deliver on national agreements.”  [National Intelligence Estimate, 8/23/07]

By arming Sunni tribal groups and at the same time arming security forces that are primarily Shi’a, the U.S is arming both sides in a civil war.  Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said commanders would face hard decisions in choosing which groups to support. ''This isn't a black and white place,'' he said. ''There are good guys and bad guys and there are groups in between,'' and separating them was a major challenge. According to Lynch, ''[the Sunnis] say, 'We hate you because you are occupiers…but we hate Al Qaeda worse, and we hate [Iraq’s Shi’as] even more.' '' [NY Times, 6/11/07]

Financing and training Sunni tribes hostile to the government contradicts General Petraeus’s own counterinsurgency manual.  The United States Counterinsurgency Field Manual, written by General Petraeus, states that “Counterinsurgents should avoid taking sides, when possible.  Perceived favoritism can exacerbate civil strife and make counterinsurgents more desirable targets for sectarian violence.” [Counterinsurgency Field Manual, 12/15/06]

New Thread: Petraeus's Testimony Fact Check
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Petraeus:  Iraq-wide, as shown by the top line on this chart, the number of ethno-sectarian deaths has come down by over 55%,

The Pentagon and Administration’s definition of “Ethno sectarian violence” excludes many types of violence that would indicate that the security situation in Iraq is not improving.  Shi’a on Shi’a violence in the South is not included.  Sunni on Sunni violence in the central part of the country is not included.  “According to one senior intelligence official in Washington. ‘If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian,’ the official said. ‘If it went through the front, it's criminal.’"  [Washington Post, 9/6/07]

According to numbers released by the Iraqi government, since July civilian casualties have risen 20% across Iraq. The numbers fell significantly in Baghdad.  The figures, provided by Iraqi Interior Ministry officials on Saturday, mirrored the geographic pattern of the troop increase, which is focused on Baghdad. The national rise in mortality is partly a result of more than 500 deaths, in an August truck bomb attack on a Yazidi community in August north of the capital, outside the areas directly affected by the additional troops.  [NY Times, 9/2/07]

Various numbers from the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior show no drop in violence.  According to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, 984 people were killed across Iraq in February, and 1,011 died in violence in August. No July numbers were released because the ministry said the numbers weren't clear.  But an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously because he wasn't authorized to release numbers said those numbers were heavily manipulated.  The official said 1,980 Iraqis had been killed in July and that violent deaths soared in August, to 2,890. [McClatchy, 9/10/07]

Petraeus:  "Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of the past 12 weeks, with the numbers of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest levels seen since June 2006."

According to General Petraeus Attacks are only down in only one of the last three weeks, but at the same time we have hit an all time low? In the National Intelligence Estimate released three weeks ago said that overall attacks had fallen in 7 out of 9 weeks.  “The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks.”  [National Intelligence Estimate]

The DIA’s statistics show that attacks on civilians were at the same level in July that they were in, back in January. The defense intelligence chart makes the point, with figures from Petraeus' command in Baghdad, the Multinational Force-Iraq. Congressional auditors used the same numbers to conclude that Iraqis are as unsafe now as they were six months ago; the Bush administration and military officials also using those figures say that finding is flawed.  [AP, 9/9/07]

Petraeus:  We endeavor to ensure our analysis of that data is conducted with rigor and consistency, as our ability to achieve a nuanced understanding of the security environment is dependent on collecting and analyzing data in a consistent way over time.

There were significant revisions to the way the Pentagon’s reports measure sectarian violence between its March 2007 report and its June 2007 report.  The original data for the five months before the surge began (September 2006 through January 2007) indicated approximately 5,500 sectarian killings.  In the revised data in the June 2007 report, those numbers had been adjusted to roughly 7,400 killings – a 35% increase.  These discrepancies have the impact of making the sectarian violence appear significantly worse during the fall and winter of 2006 before the President’s “surge” began.  [DOD, 11/20063/20076/2007]

For more information click here.

Additional comments below the fold

Continue reading "New Thread: Petraeus's Testimony Fact Check" »

The Bushies Find Another Part of the Middle East to Mess Up
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This disturbing article on Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams' ongoing efforts to destabilize North Africa is a bit old. Quite frankly, it's also a bit odd, providing yet more evidence that the neo-cons are a bizarre bunch. I stumbled upon the piece by accident while reading up on Morocco's recently-concluded elections. I have trouble understanding this phenomenon, but the neo-cons really do seem to enjoy sowing conflict between different factions, countries, and ethnic groups in the Middle East. It's one thing to mess up the region by accident through various degrees of incompetence. It's quite another, however, to mess up the region on purpose:

Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy, is again sowing the seeds of conflict in the Middle East. This time it's in the disputed Western Sahara, under Moroccan control following the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.

After being marginalized from the Arab-Israeli arena, now under the almost exclusive domain of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her State Department, Abrams is pulling free the grenade pin that may shortly cause North Africa to explode. He is on the verge of achieving a major U.S. policy shift that would have Washington backing Morocco's unilateral imposition of its so-called Western Sahara Initiative, or autonomy plan upon the indigenous Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.

Can someone please stop this man?

Live Blogging Thread on Petraeus Crocker Testimony
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

12:50 -  Nice shot by Lantos,  "the Administration has sent you here to convince us that victory is imminent.  Well I don't buy it."

1:05 - Ok, I'm waiting for the actual testimony to get rolling here.  It's been 35 minutes.  And still no Petraeus or Crocker

1:08 - Ros-Lehtinen says that she trusts Petraeus's numbers more than anybody else's.  But a number of news outlets beg to differ.  NY Times, AP, Washington Post, McClatchy and even inconsistencies in the Pentagon's own data.

1:23 - Seriously.  Some technical difficulties.  We're an hour in and no one has testified yet.  And one member who I didn't quite catch asked Skelton to kick someone out because they "looked" like they might cause a disturbance

1:34 - According to Petraeus sectarian incidents in Iraq are down in 8 of the last 12 weeks.  But according to the NIE it was 7 out of 9.  Not as promising last 3 weeks and why don't we go back further?  Why do we randomly choose the last 12 weeks?

1:53 - 130,000 troops in mid July 2008.  Is that what the American people voted for in
November of 06?

OK, I'm going below the fold

Continue reading "Live Blogging Thread on Petraeus Crocker Testimony" »

Liveblogging Petraeus/Crocker Hearings
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As a general rule, I find "live blogging" to be a bit of a silly practice but I'm going to do it anyway.   Here are some broad meta themes to watch out for.

1.  Violence:  Will General Petraeus use statistics to back up his conclusions on security.  What will be the source of the data?  How transparent will he be?  Will Congress push him hard on his measures of "sectarian violence" and what they do and do not include?

2.   National reconciliation:  Will Ambassador Crocker give an utterly negative assessment of the national government?  I don't know how he could do otherwise.  What might he use
to demonstrate progress if any at the national level?

3.  Anbar:  Will Ambassador Crocker argue that what's happened in Anbar represents progress and justifies sustaining the surge?  Will he state that it is as a direct result of the surge?

September 09, 2007

VSPs Gettin' Down
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

A few of the National Security Network's VSPs (Including yours truly) in a video, talking about Petraeus's testimony this week. 

Bottoms Up
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The new message for why we have to be in Iraq is that “bottom up reconciliation” is working in Anbar and therefore we should just replicate it everywhere and this time, finally, we will be on the right track, perhaps.   Brian Katulis has some questions about this strategy and I have one of my own as well. 

1.  Is this actually reconciliation?

What is the plan for integrating irregular Sunni forces into Iraq's national government? The Bush administration has opted to work around Iraq's national security forces by providing support to "irregular" Sunni forces drawn from Iraq's tribes, a new initiative that prompted complaints from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. If no clear plan is developed for integrating these Sunni irregular forces into Iraq's national government, Iraq's civil wars could become even deadlier in the coming years.

2.  Is this replicable in other parts of the country?

During the past six months, Iraq's south has seen escalating conflict between rival Shiite militias. In August alone, two governors of southern provinces were assassinated, militia clashes in the holy city of Karbala killed 50 people, and four top aides to the leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani were murdered. These events are signs that various political groups in Iraq's Shiite ruling coalition are engaged in a deadly struggle for power. Northern Iraq is experiencing conflict between Arabs and Kurds -- much of it centered on the disputed city of Kirkuk. Will the new "bottom-up" reconciliation model address these problems?

3.    Why do we need 168,000 troops to facilitate “bottom up reconciliation” and essentially act as political mediators?

Putting aside my skepticism about the “Anbar awakening,” I have little objection to the President changing his strategy (again) and putting more emphasis on negotiating agreements at the local level.  The national government is dysfunctional anyway and the country is already splitting apart and ethnically cleansing itself.  So try to work out deals at the local level and see if you can find local political accommodation.  This may lead to some kind of natural and evolving partition of the country or at least an extraordinarily decentralized structure, which is fine, as long as it brings stability.

But here’s the crux.  Why do we need 168,000 troops to make that happen?  The President’s argument was that the security that American troops provide creates political breathing space.  In Anbar, the reverse was true.  A political agreement was struck amongst the tribal Sheikhs on September 14, 2006 after which security began to improve.  More American troops were brought in to take advantage of the situation, not to create it.

So I say for now that the President can have his “bottom up” reconciliation and he can do it while withdrawing American troops out of the country.  If deals are struck, it might be reasonable to send a small number of American troops into certain areas afterwards to help take advantage of the situation, as they did in Anbar.  But until then, there is no reason for American troops to be acting as political mediators in the middle of various conflicts that they cannot control.

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