August 18, 2007

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

"The surge, we all know, will end sometime in 2008, in the beginning of 2008, and we will begin probably a withdrawal of forces based on the surge..."

-- Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, last Friday.

"How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

Kenneth Pollack & Michael O'Hanlon, writing July 30th, in an op-ed titled: "A War We Just Might Win".

Odierno says "we all know" the surge will end in the "beginning of 2008", but apparently some enthusiasts (who see the surge needing to last "at least into 2008") didn't get the memo...

UPDATE: Oh my, Michael O'Hanlon, as quoted in today's NYT Week in Review: "...the time may be approaching when the only hope for a more stable Iraq is a soft partition of the country." Funny, I don't think the word "partition" (soft or otherwise) made it into the 7/30 piece...Perhaps it would have struck a too lugubrious tone for ye olde blockbuster op-ed!

MORE: A powerful rebuttal to O'Pollahan (Yglesias' sardonic amalgam) from men actually serving on the ground, rather than getting ferried around the week-long Potemkin circuit. Don't miss the powerful closer: "(w)e need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through." Translation: Mssrs. Pollack and O'Hanlon, please don't gauge our morale for us....(a point I'd earlier made here).

Posted by Gregory at August 18, 2007 05:00 PM


Can you explain the rationale for the strategies being described here

Falluja’s Calm Is Seen as Fragile if U.S. Leaves

and here

A U.S.-Backed Plan for Sunni Neighborhood Guards Is Tested

because it seems to me that this strategy of supporting/training/arming Sunni groups is completely counterproductive to the original purpose of the "surge." Instead, it looks like we are basically ensuring that the only way to prevent a Shiite/Sunni bloodbath in Iraq is the continued US presence....the the purpose of the Petraeus/Bush surge was never to provide an oppotunity for political reconciliation, but to enhance the level of post-occupation violence by "stabilizing" the situation by protecting/supporting the same Sunnis who made up the lions share of the insurgency prior to "the surge".

Given that these Sunnis are hellbent on reclaiming power over Iraq, and the Shiite majority is hellbent on maintaining power, and given the "diplomatic" policies of the US in the region, I don't see any explanation for the current strategy other than creating a situation where US forces must remain in Iraq to prevent the bloodiest civil war imaginable.

Posted by: p_lukasiak at August 19, 2007 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The American military's actions in Anbar actually seem to have fairly straightforward reasons behind them, and Cordesman's paper the other day summarizes them well.

The Americans have been seeking to reduce violence in the province and its use as a rear echelon by Sunni Arabs intent on terrorism in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq; local Sunni Arab tribes had meanwhile grown weary of the impositions placed on them by the al Qaida types -- enforcement of Sharia law, assassination of tribal leaders, that kind of thing. The surge coincided with the Sunni tribes' reaction against the al Qaida group but did not cause it. On the other hand the local tribes' prospects for success against fanatical, well-funded and organized terrorists would be doubtful were it not for the American military backing them up.

I don't think it's any more complicated than that, and I certainly don't think American commanders in Iraq have consciously set out to ensure that the American army would remain indispensable in Anbar indefinitely. If we had that much influence over Iraqi factional politics, or grasped them well enough to see far into the future, the Iraq adventure would not have turned into the disaster it has.

Posted by: Zathras at August 20, 2007 12:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I frankly suspect that the Pentagon and/or Cheney's office ghostwrote the O'Pollohack op/ed.

One indication is the way O'Hanlon, at least, has been backing off it, which he probably wouldn't if it was the fruit of his own work and thought.

Another indication is the way the Administration jumped on the op/ed for support - kind of like when they fed the New York Times some information via anonymous quotes, then promoted the the resulting story as if it were independent confirmation of their point.

With the Times being (one would hope) wary of that now, they might have resorted to placement of a ghostwritten op/ed.

Posted by: Jon H at August 20, 2007 02:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jon H:
You might be right. I wouldn't put it past the NYT. The still put Michael Gordon on the front page, so they have not learned their lesson yet.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience at August 20, 2007 02:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here is an idea.

Let's introduce the free market to punditry. If you repeatedly produce a defective product, YOU'RE FIRED.

Besides O'Hanlon and Pollack, who here would like to see a door(made in Bangladesh for pennies) hit Thomas Freidman on the ass on his way outta the NYT.

Posted by: DonkeyKong at August 20, 2007 05:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On the other hand the local tribes' prospects for success against fanatical, well-funded and organized terrorists would be doubtful were it not for the American military backing them up.

you aren't serious, are you?

keep in mind that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was considered to be merely 5-7% of the insurgency -- most of the rest of it was the former Baathists we are now calling "tribal Sunnis". AQM relied upon the co-operation of the former Baathists in order to be "well funded and organized" --- this is especially true with regard to the foreigners who went to Iraq to join AQM. The former Baathists may well have been getting annoyed with AQM, but they didn't need the US military to deal with the problem.

The former Baathists took advantage of the Bush regime's need to "rebrand" the Iraq conflict as a war against "Al Qaeda" --- Bush and Petraeus are willing to spend very large sums of money in this new public relations campaign, including giving cash to "tribal leaders" for their support.

One has to assume that Petraeus, at least, is able to see more than one move ahead, and understands that turning the former Baathist insurgents into "partners" of the US in its "war against al Qaeda" is a recipe for a bloodbath in Iraq. This is especially true as the US is forced by military necessity to reduce the number of troops in Iraq next spring..... or if things fall apart in Basra, and US troops have to be redeployed there to prevent chaos in the south (including all along the US supply routes for the rest of Iraq).

So, what is the plan here? What is the next move?

Posted by: p_lukasiak at August 20, 2007 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Donkeykong: it says something about our punditry values that Friedman is still getting face time on tv to spread his usual manure. Unfortunately no one has seen anything grow. The Friedman Unit is a downer! But he chugs along pulling in his checks and pumping out garbage.

Posted by: Alan at August 20, 2007 06:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Posted by: p_lukasiak, re: US forming ties with Sunnis in Anbar: "The former Baathists took advantage of the Bush regime's need to "rebrand" the Iraq conflict as a war against "Al Qaeda" --- Bush and Petraeus are willing to spend very large sums of money in this new public relations campaign, including giving cash to "tribal leaders" for their support."

There've been a few rumors going around in the news, months ago, that the administration was (quietly) announcing that it was going to tilt pro-Sunni, to help counterbalance Shiites and Iran.

In this case, it looks like it's happening now. Of course, the Shiites in Iraq ain't gonna like it, because it means that the US is allying with people who waging war against them, and destabilizing the government of Iraq. (hmmm, this also explains the Sunni walk-out of parliament)

Now, if the US had long-term high-level endurance in Iraq, this would make cold, colonial, imperial sense - help the Sunnis trash the Shiites, hoping that the Sunnis would need US aid to maintain power (shades of Saddam).

But it's probably simply that the administration is playing out the clock, and needs something that they can point to and call 'progress'.

Posted by: Barry at August 21, 2007 08:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

More About the Author
Email the Author

Recent Entries

The News
The Blogs
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Law & Finance
Think Tanks
The City
Epicurean Corner
Syndicate this site:

Belgravia Dispatch Maintained by:

Powered by