August 15, 2005

Why I've Been Emotional on Iraq

I've been getting lots of mail/comments that I've become 'unhinged' on the Iraq issue and such. Look, I'll grant that some of my recent posts were shrill and perhaps too emotional. But this is a blog, and we hyper-ventilate now and again, and these posts weren't rough cuts for comme il faut FT op-ed submissions or Foreign Affairs pieces, but my gut take based on informed speculation about a lot of alarming noises emitting from Washington. What got my goat last week? Lotsa talk about draw-downs that sounded suspiciously like fait accomplis rather than merely potential moves truly linked to carefully gauged conditionality pursuant to the actual situation on the ground in Iraq. And I'm certainly not alone, on the conservative side of the fence, in having such concerns.

Witness Bill Kristol:

The president seems determined to complete the job. Is his defense secretary? In addition to trying to abandon the term "war on terror," Rumsfeld and some of his subordinates have spent an awful lot of time in recent weeks talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq--and before the job is complete.

Until a few months ago, Bush administration officials refused to speculate on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. They criticized those who did talk about withdrawing, arguing that such talk would encourage the terrorists, discourage our friends, and make it harder to win over waverers who wanted to be assured that we would be there to help. The administration's line was simply that we were going to stay the course in Iraq, do what it takes, and win.

The president still tends to say this. But not Defense Department civilian officials, who have recently been willing to indicate a desire to get out, and sooner rather than later. After all, Rumsfeld has said, insurgencies allegedly take a decade or so to defeat. What's more, our presence gives those darned Iraqi allies of ours excuses not to step up to the plate. So let's get a government elected under the new Iraqi constitution, and accelerate our plans to get the troops home. As Rumsfeld said Thursday, "once Iraq is safely in the hands of the Iraqi people and a government that they elect under a new constitution that they are now fashioning, and which should be completed by August 15, our troops will be able to, as the capability of the Iraqi security forces evolve, pass over responsibility to them and then come home." The key "metric" is finding enough Iraqis to whom we can turn over the responsibility for fighting--not defeating the terrorists.

As Newsweek reported last week: "Now the conditions for U.S. withdrawal no longer include a defeated insurgency, Pentagon sources say. The new administration mantra is that the insurgency can be beaten only politically, by the success of Iraq's new government. Indeed, Washington is now less concerned about the insurgents than the unwillingness of Iraq's politicians to make compromises for the sake of national unity. Pentagon planners want to send a spine-stiffening message: the Americans won't be there forever."

But not-so-well-hidden under the pseudo-tough talk of "spine-stiffening" is the inescapable whiff of weakness and defeatism. Rumsfeld either doesn't believe we can win, or doesn't think we can maintain political support for staying, or doesn't believe winning is worth the cost. So we're getting out, under cover of talking about how "political progress is necessary to defeat the insurgency."

It's of course true that political progress in Iraq is important. And the political progress is heartening. But political progress is not sufficient to defeat the insurgency. There has been no more impressive example of political progress than the January 30 elections. But the insurgency continues.

Furthermore, how likely is political progress if everyone in Iraq decides we're on our way out? The talk from the Defense Department about withdrawing troops from Iraq is doing damage to our chances of political and military progress. The more we talk about getting out, the more our enemies are emboldened, our friends waver and hedge their bets, and various factions decide they may have to fend for themselves and refuse to commit to a new Iraqi army or government.

The fact is that political progress needs to be accompanied by an effective military counterinsurgency. And no matter how good a job we are now doing in training Iraqi troops, it is inconceivable that they will be ready to take over the bulk of the counterinsurgency efforts in the very near future. Further, if an Iraqi troop buildup is accompanied by an American force drawdown--as unfortunately even the president suggested Thursday ("As Iraq stands up, our coalition will stand down")--then we will be able at best to maintain an unacceptable status quo. More likely, since Iraqi troops won't be as capable as American ones, the situation will deteriorate. Then the insurgency could become a full-fledged guerrilla war, inviting a civil war--and we would be faced with a choice between complete and ignominious withdrawal or a recommitment of troops.

The only responsible course is to plan on present troop levels for the foreseeable future and to build up Iraqi troops, so as to have enough total forces to win--to provide security, take the fight to the enemy, reduce infiltration on the borders, and so forth. What the president needs to do now is tell the Pentagon to stop talking about (and planning for) withdrawal, and make sure they are planning for victory.

The president knows we have to win this war. If some of his subordinates are trying to find ways to escape from it, he needs to assert control over them, overrule them, or replace them. Having corrected the silly effort by some of his advisers to say the war on terror is not fundamentally a war, he now has to deal with the more serious effort, emanating primarily from the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, to find an excuse not to pursue victory in Iraq. For if Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, we need to win there. And to win, the president needs a defense secretary who is willing to fight, and able to win. [Emphasis added]

I agree with virtually everything Bill Kristol writes above. The President needs to hear this message loud and clear from conservatives who care about our national resolve and the stakes in Iraq. Think the stakes are just some mid-sized Arab country and, should they not be able to 'get their act together' (in large part because of our abysmal failure to create secure conditions from the get-go), well, tant pis--let a civil war run its course a la Lebanon and, 15 years hence, freedom will finally ring in Firdos Sq (as it did in Martyr's Sq!)--the Ignatius meme? That's just not serious folks. Go read Henry Kissinger on the stakes at play.

The war in Iraq is less about geopolitics than about the clash of ideologies, cultures and religious beliefs. Because of the long reach of the Islamist challenge, the outcome in Iraq will have an even deeper significance than that in Vietnam. If a Taliban-type government or a fundamentalist radical state were to emerge in Baghdad or any part of Iraq, shock waves would ripple through the Islamic world. Radical forces in Islamic countries or Islamic minorities in non-Islamic states would be emboldened in their attacks on existing governments. The safety and internal stability of all societies within reach of militant Islam would be imperiled.

This is why many opponents of the decision to start the war agree with the proposition that a catastrophic outcome would have grave global consequences -- a fundamental difference from the Vietnam debate.

The stakes are immense. I mean, how dare we be seriously talking of withdrawing in '06 given the dismal state of affairs in Iraq? It's laughable, really. As John McCain put it well yesterday:

The day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the green zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq. We not only don't need to withdraw, we need more troops there. And if we aren't able to get more troops there, which I've been advocating for years, as you know, then the Iraqi military, as they're trained up, should be a supplement to the American forces that are already there, not a replacement for.

Chris, why do we always hear the names, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, these names in the Sunni triangle over and over again? It's because we go there, we take care of the enemy, but because we don't have enough troops to control it, we leave. And they return, and then we have to fight and sacrifice all over again. So we've got to stay until the job is done.

We are making progress in the south and in the north. There are signs of progress. If you looked at the story this morning about -- in Ramadi, Zarqawi's people who said that the Sunnis have to -- the Shiites have to leave are being fought again. So there is progress. But when we've only got three battalions that are fully trained and equipped to do the job, we've got a ways to go, and if we do anything more premature than that, we risk this whole thing. And we cannot afford to fail, we cannot afford to fail.

Bottom line people. For the forseeable future Iraqi forces can only supplement U.S. forces, not replace them. Or we risk losing this war (Yes, rampant sectarian violence is a 'loss'). If we really are lucky enough to turn some corner, and it really looks like we can pull 30,000 guys out in late '06, well God Bless. But cheap talk that sounds suspiciously like a timetable for pulling out men without regard to conditions on the ground provides, to use a Rumsfeld phrase, a 'lifeline' to terrorists and insurgents. So whoever is emitting such signals out of DoD needs to shut up. Now. If they can't, the President must exert leadership and force them to. His recent comments about staying the course in Crawford are to be welcomed. We'll see if they did the trick. If not, and such noises keep seeping out of DoD--again, he will need to exert leadership. And if it is Rumsfeld, in the main, making such noises (as I strongly suspect and as is much of the Washington scuttlebutt)--it is yet another reason he should be fired.

Mr. President, this hubris-ridden, incompetent Secretary is increasingly becoming a major liability to you. Think beyond Andoveran codes of loyalty and such. This isn't the Andover cheerleading squad or Skull & Bones. It's really, really important--the ramifications of failure in Iraq are immense--and so the effort must be seen through with steely resolve. If a key member of your team doesn't understand that an Iraq characterized by civil war or dueling militias is a strategic and moral failure, he must be taken off your team. National interest must trump any residual loyalty. Again, how can we be talking about troop pull-outs when, in the capital city itself, the mayor is sacked in some putsch, one cannot drive safely from the airport to downtown, and dozens of Shi'a police recruits are massacred by Sunni insurgents? Again, this is in the capital itself. Not to mention there is a roiling insurgency throughout the strategically critical Sunni heartland (as well as recent, and very alarming, moves towards Shi'a autonomy in the south of which more later)? Was this pull-out talk perhaps meant as some tactical signal to the Sunnis that they need to start playing ball or we will leave them to the bloodthirsty revenge-minded Shi'a? Absurd. Again, an Iraq characterized by large scale sectarian killings will be a strategic defeat for America, as well as a massive moral failure. Thinking conservatives cannot allow this to happen. We supported Bush because we thought he was likelier to provide serious war leadership with the rock-gut conviction to see it through even past '08 (hopefully handing off to his successor a project moving in positive direction). If his Defense Secretary is not on this page anymore, his Defense Secretary must go. And I bet if you were in a room with George Schultz, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger--off the record of course--they'd be telling POTUS the same thing. Rummy's not up to the job. He's failed you Mr. President. Repeatedly.

Posted by Gregory at August 15, 2005 03:49 PM | TrackBack (2)

that's the spirit! as the Russians say, if all you have is a hammer treat everything like a nail

Posted by: s masty at August 15, 2005 05:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I liked the WS piece. The difference was tone and emphasis. Pointing out a potentially bad policy drift and blaming Rummy for it is one thing - looking at every piece of news out of Iraq in the most pessimistic way possible is another.

Not all of us are thoughtful conservatives Yada, yada. I most certainly am not. I come here cause its on of the few places on the blogosphere that concentrates on the WOT, and that focuses on reason and facts and NOT on emotion. That was why I was concerned about the tone - its simply detracts from why I come here.

As for rampant sectarian violence, the operative word is rampant. There WILL be violence when we leave, since its unlikely the insurgency will have ended at the time Iraqi forces are stood up. It WILL be sectarian, since the insurgency practices sectarianism as one of its key strategies. How rampant it can be, and still make sense for us to leave, is an interesting question, and one where you and I probably dont agree with Rumsfeld. Maybe.

But its hard to see who is really advocating what through the screen of leaks. Meanwhile, AFAICT, the situation changes on the ground every day in Iraq.

WaPo on Sunday had an article on Sunni Dulaimi tribesmen chasing Zarqs guys out of Ramadi, to protect Shia from ethnic cleansing. NYT had an article on Sunday on an Iraqi unit that has taken over Haifa Street, one of the roughest places in central Baghdad. A Zarqawi aide has been killed in Mosul, by Iraqi forces, who increasingly seem to be running Mosul themselves.

What does all this mean? Id like to see a serious, rational analysis of the situation on the ground. The MSM doesnt provide it, and the sane center of the blogosphere doesnt seem to be touching it either - I can only assume theyve been burned by "good news from Iraq" too many times before.

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 15, 2005 05:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

hats off to mccain who seems to be the only guy who picked up on the Ramadi story.

I also see an excluded middle. The assumption seems to be either

1. We stand down as they stand up. If we get 100,000 fully able Iraqi troops, we pull out a 100,000 US, leaving 38,000 US and 100,000 Iraqis


2. No withdrawls. If we get 100,000 fully able Iraqis, we stay the course with 138,000 US troops, and so have 238,000 troops.

When i think the real plan being tossed around is more like \

3. When we have 100,000 Iraqi troops, we pull out 20,000 americans. leaving 118,000 US plus 100,000 Iraqis, or 228,000 total. IF we have 150,000 able Iraqis, we pull out 30,000 US, etc.

Now I know there are arguments for 2, over 3. Every soldier helps to give you more boots on the ground in Qaim, Ramadi, Hit, etc. Thats a huge factor.

But thats NOT the only factor. there are two others 1. The political reality in Iraq. A partial withdrawl could be used as a signal to reachable Sunnis that this is NOT a permanent occupation (while still leaving enough troops to signal that we will not let the Iraqi govt fall a la Saigon) Also a signal to the region.
2. Sustainability. 138,000 US Troops may be better than 100,000 troops, but NOT if they arent sustainable, both practically and politically. Cutting back enough so that we dont have to send NG there, and can deal with the NG recruiting problem, would be a big and important gain. Cutting back enough to give the fence sitters in the US public a sense that things are under control, and a willingness to give the govt more time to win, would also be useful.

If all the above can be accomplished, while the TOTAL forces opposing the insurgency increase dramatically ( by pulling US troops out on one for four, or one for five basis as Iraqis reach full capability, that seems like it might be a good idea.

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 15, 2005 06:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Getting rid of the Defense Secretary is a nice start, but if you trust the *rest* of the Can't Shoot Straight Gang to successfully conclude a war that they have so far conducted disatrously ... well, you are more trusting than I.

I don't claim to know what the best solution is here, but "staying the course" for a war that was sold on false pretences doesn't ring true for me. I respect the moral convictions that the US can't leave Iraq worse than they found it, but seriously, what are the options? We are in the unenviable situation of having no good options left. It's all very well to talk about more troops being needed *now*, but if the leadership had been serious about conducting this engagement, they would have started out with enough (paging General Shinseki!). Now the army enlistment numbers are tanking, and military brass are muttering about a "broken army" if this continues beyond another year. So, now what, a draft? The President's approval numbers would go through the floor. They're pretty low as it is. Most of the country has lost confidence in him already.

You say you want the President to "exert leadership." Why start now? He never bothered to make an honest case for why the US needed to be in Iraq to begin with. Did he not think he needed to, or was there no case to be made that would survive scrutiny?

Posted by: farmgirl at August 15, 2005 06:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg - exactly who's failed who here? The defense establishment that actually has to run this war under Bush's constraints know they have a bad hand dealt to them. McCain's talking across purposes - if we are having the same challenges in the same regions, and the issue is a lack of US/Iraqi manpower, then MORE PEOPLE have to be deployed. At the same time, this situation has to be turned over to the Iraqi security forces at some point. And after all, if 50,000 insurgents have been captured or killed, according to Gen Keane, well, how many more can there be? Maybe 20, 30, or 40,000 tops?

Bush and Rummie keep saying they give the military leaders all the people they request for the Middle East, and yet the Marine Corps troops in west Iraq say they can't manage the region with the current manpower. So can the defense budget, combined with all those tax breaks and industry "incentives," manage an increase in operations to where we're spending $8-10 billion a month for as long as it takes to quell the violence? Hell no.

Events in Iraq are overtaking this administration too quickly. It appears that a three-region federalist state is all but inevitable. Why else is it that we see stories such as this in the WaPo?

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

Rummie, for all his faults, isn't a dedicated neo-con. He knows at least when the business is running dry and when it's time to go home and declare victory. Shame that Bush is driving some need to cement his "legacy."

Posted by: J. at August 15, 2005 06:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The problem is that everyone of the accomplishments that you've mentioned (and others that you haven't, like Salman Pak finally appearing to be under Iraqi government control), gets jeapordized by this talk of an early withdrawal.

The reason that Sunnis seem to be willing to finally sit down is an increased realization that there's probably no chance that they'll manage to take over all Iraq/spring Hussein from jail. If you start going wobbly, well, the Ba'athists could very well decide to take their chances and make the sort of push necessary to grab the whole banana.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at August 15, 2005 06:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No need to excuse emotions becoming overheated about the war. I agree that the time for Rumsfield has come and gone. Yes Bush needs a secretary committed to change in the Middle East. Contrary to popular belief Bush received many votes from non-religous Americans solely to handle Iraq. I get very unnerved when I hear about pull-outs or draw-down in forces. We need more troops to help secure Iraq. Regardless of your opinion before the war any clear thinking person must realize we need to win this one. I dont think lower expectations are a bad thing. The hype is that Iraq would be a liberal democracy like the US. No way! Hopefully they can be a tad more liberal than we were at the outset of our slave holding, no womens rights, no minority rights(think race not politics) and then there were the Indians. If the Iraqis can become connected with the outside world and begin to intergrate their economy we will be much better off.

Posted by: Roy Bettencourt at August 15, 2005 06:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. President, this hubris-ridden, incompetent Secretary is increasingly becoming a major liability to you. Think beyond Andoveran codes of loyalty and such. This isn't the Andover cheerleading squad or Skull & Bones. It's really, really important--the ramifications of failure in Iraq are immense--and so the effort must be seen through with steely resolve.

Just a really, really simple question for Greg and anybody else who wants to take a stab at it: I know y'all have huge amounts of respect and admiration for GWB's determination to win the War on Terror, and that's all well and good. But name me one thing - one single thing - that he's done in his Presidency that suggests he's capable of disciplining his underlings in the manner you suggest.

Posted by: Chris at August 15, 2005 06:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"WaPo on Sunday had an article on Sunni Dulaimi tribesmen chasing Zarqs guys out of Ramadi, to protect Shia from ethnic cleansing. NYT had an article on Sunday on an Iraqi unit that has taken over Haifa Street, one of the roughest places in central Baghdad. A Zarqawi aide has been killed in Mosul, by Iraqi forces, who increasingly seem to be running Mosul themselves."

The trouble is that these things are isolated and not part of an overall plan that consists of an irreversible sequence of stages leading to victory. We need a command decision to stop trading cities every six months with insurgents. We need a plan to bring Iraqi police into violent areas (not just one street but whole cities) and sustain them, adding areas and holding each one.

Calculate the number of police necessary to hold one area and the number of troops that need to be on call to back them up. Train the police and troops and then deploy. Arrest insurgent suspects turned in by anonymous civilians through tiplines that protect their identity. If the population serves as the eyes and ears of the government, and the government sustains its presence, insurgents won't be safe and their supporters in the area won't try to replace them. As more and more areas become unsafe for insurgents in this way, the zone of violence will finally contract.

Personnel changes at the top of the US government are irrelevant if the new leaders have no clearer an idea of how to proceed than the old ones. Give the Pentagon a clear sequence of stages to pursue that can begin when enough Iraqis are trained to take and permanently hold one area successfully.

Posted by: David Billington at August 15, 2005 06:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The problem is that everyone of the accomplishments that you've mentioned (and others that you haven't, like Salman Pak finally appearing to be under Iraqi government control), gets jeapordized by this talk of an early withdrawal"

why should talk of a withdrawl of 20,000 to 30,000, conditional on the state of the Iraqi forces, do that? If youre doing something that A. strengthens your ability to stay longer and B. Improves your political maneuverabilty in Iraq, that could be seen as sending the message to fence sitting sunnis that the insurgents cant win. Its quite different from promising a COMPLETE withdrawl, by a fixed date.

I am put in mind of the arguments made by some about the withdrawl from Gaza - that it signals weakness, and a willingess to withdraw under fire. If, otoh, it represents conserving of force, and lessening of vulnerability, it may create an improvement in the political dynamic.

In any case, my reference to those was NOT to disagree with the substance of the post, but to speak to the potential role of this blog.

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 15, 2005 06:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Firing Powell, Armitage, and Feith, and sending Wolfie out of DoD, and Bolton out of State.


Your discussion assumes that it makes sense to develop a strategy for US troops to win the war, by occupying certain towns, etc. The strategy is focused on training large numbers of Iraqis, and keeping the insurgency off guard meanwhile.

It sounds like what you want is a battle line. "we have enough troops to hold Ramadi, so lets keep Ramadi, and not go into Hit, Qaim, etc at the cost of leaving Ramadi." Except that allows the insurgents to build up intense centers of resistance, like they did in Fallujah. The officers on the ground seem to find it more useful to keep knocking the insurgents off guard, and denying them a permanent sanctuary, even if it means we keep going into the same place again and again. This is emotionally hard on the homefront - it looks ALOT more like Viet Nam, than like wars we've won. The diff from VN has to be in the motivations of the Iraqi troops, and in the hearts and minds of the population.

As for how Iraqi forces are used, afaict that IS being decided carefully. It seems to be Baghdad first, then Mosul and other parts of the Sunni Triangle, and Anbar last. But of course the details are NOT public. Operational security conflicts with homefront morale, but its hard to see how to get around that. Its certainly NOT wise to lay out military plans in public, and so the absence of a public plan should not be construed as absence of a plan, though its true that earlier planning failures dont inspire confidence.

Posted by: liberalhawk at August 15, 2005 07:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Er... Feith's an arguable case (though still a bit of a reach), but what evidence do you have that Powell was fired? And isn't it common for a deputy SoC to step down when his boss leaves? As for Bolton, I wouldn't consider that much of a disciplinary move.

Posted by: Chris at August 15, 2005 08:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kristol seems to have it right - "The more we talk about getting out, the more our enemies are emboldened, our friends waver and hedge their bets, and various factions decide they may have to fend for themselves and refuse to commit to a new Iraqi army or government."

Simple - yes it is

Its not nuanced in any way at all in fact. Its just - we're not going anywhere, anytime - not until a democratic and representative Iraqi government tells us to leave

All of this talk about how promoting some timeline for withdrawl will weaken the terrorists is 100% wrong Any indication of weakness will embolden them - and terrify the poor souls who are struggling to form a real nation out of this chaos

The 8M who voted cannot be ignored - THEY are Iraq

Not the terrorists - be they 5,000 or 50,000 strong

Posted by: Pogue Mahone at August 15, 2005 09:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

if rumsfeld doesn't have the balls to go after iran and syria, then that's all she wrote. someone needs to hand him a pair, or at least journey on a quest to find lance's lost nut. cuz we'll need it... like it'll take a mustard seed of his caliber to grow on the barren soil rumsfeld has tilled and sown.

Posted by: al at August 15, 2005 09:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'd like to add a few thoughts that came to me while reading this post:

1) McCain's comment about the airport road -- readers of my prior comments know I'm a big McCain supporter. I think he would have been head and shoulders above GWB as Prez; but on this issue he's dead wrong. Saddam had to keep thousands of troops posted on the airport road, eventually he had all the palms cut down to decrease the hiding space for brigands and organized crime hyjackings. If Saddam couldn't secure it, with a palpable climate of totalitarianism, how the hell is our Weimar Republic going to do any better? People traveling that road are going to have to be as protected as people on the airport road in Lagos, Nigeria or three dozen other capitals for the foreseeable future, and the fact that we have not brought Geneva like security to the country is not going to be a defeat, although we all know the howls of glee from the avant-guarde that will try to portray it as such.

2) You are not lookng at this as a political leader must, i.e., while budgeting your political capital. More troops, in the abstract, would be nice. If we could start over with a clean slate I would strongly support that demand. Bush, and the Congressional Repubs, have other things they want to do -- staying in power being high on the list. Remember Kerry's sophistry about a double secret plan for a draft? The Repubs are not going to allow a manpower crunch be addressed in any way suitable for what you are recommending. We might get a lowering of standards of recruits, we might allow more aliens to enlist as mercenaries in our armed forces, we might jack up the bonuses to encourage some increase in our manpower, but aour military cannot sustain the current commitment on an indefinite basis.

Posted by: wayne at August 15, 2005 09:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who would you like to see as the new SecDef if Rummy was fired or resigned? We always hear you, Kristol and others wanting him fired, but I'm curious who would make a replacement... obviously the new person would want to have new ideas and the same feelings about victory this being a war and caring about victory as Bush does.

Posted by: Justin at August 15, 2005 09:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


If we really want to travel to la-la land, I'd recommend that Bush call the Dem's bluff, demote Rummy to Asst Sec for Long Range Planning, and put Biden, Gen Zinni, or Wesley Clark on the spot. Then we'd see how much the French and Germans really want to help us out but we just won't ask.


Rereading this post, I'm reminded of Lincoln's admonishment of McClellan before the First Battle of Bull Run. McClellan was a great organizer, but was terrified of the unknown, and refused to move until he was positive that everything was perfect. War does not allow you to organize everything to perfection, sometimes you have to fight with the army you have. Lincoln told McClellan he knew his troops were green, but pointed out the other side was green as well. How exactly is the "insurgency" going to organize itself into a viable opposition if we withdrawl 30,000 troops?. If we get concrete intelligence that outside actors are directing the fight we can enforce the Bush Doctrine against them. If they try to reconstruct another haven like Falluja, we will still have enough assets on the ground to deal with it.

Posted by: wayne at August 15, 2005 10:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg (and your supporting commentators): You have moved deeply into Fantasyland, for two reasons. First, we don't have nearly the troops available to "win," and no prospect whatsoever of getting them. We simply can't afford what it would take to put another 200,000 troops on the ground - not only in direct cost and stress on the military, but in the gaps it would leave in our strategic posture worldwide. Second, and even more important, it has become clear that as far as U.S. interests are concerned THE WAR IS LOST EVEN IF THERE WEREN'T A SINGLE TERRORIST INCIDENT OR AMERICAN FATALITY FROM THIS DAY FORWARD. Large portions of Iraq's power structure are being infiltrated by Iran agents or their supporters, and it is increasingly apparent that even areas not under Iranian influence will still be run by religious extremists, not secularists (except for the areas controlled by the Kurds). Iraq will become yet another disfunctional Islamic state, and there's nothing we can do to change that outcome. Except for the removal of Saddam Hussein himself, none of our objectives for the war have been met or will be met. For that, we can thank the incompetent, naive, and arrogant Bush administration, and its supporters - not least this well-intentioned but hopelessly unrealistic blog and its supporters.

Posted by: czapnik at August 15, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You have been favorably linked by ObWi (

(My apologies for the intrusion; your trackback does not seem to agree with my browser.)

Posted by: von at August 15, 2005 11:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"Your discussion assumes that it makes sense to develop a strategy for US troops to win the war, by occupying certain towns, etc. The strategy is focused on training large numbers of Iraqis, and keeping the insurgency off guard meanwhile."

Sorry if I was unclear. The strategy I outlined is intended for the deployment of Iraqi troops and police as they reach operational readiness. As for our role, please see below.

"It sounds like what you want is a battle line. "we have enough troops to hold Ramadi, so lets keep Ramadi, and not go into Hit, Qaim, etc at the cost of leaving Ramadi." Except that allows the insurgents to build up intense centers of resistance, like they did in Fallujah."

I'm not saying never go for Hit, Qaim, Fallujah, and the other places after Ramadi. I'm just arguing for taking places in succession and then holding them. I don't see why we can't seize and irreversibly hold some places with the forces that we and the Iraqis have that are sufficient to do so now, and then add places as the number and readiness of Iraqi police and troops grows.

We didn't retake all of the Japanese-held islands in WWII at once. We were selective. The Iraqis should be selective until there are enough Iraqi troops and police to control the whole country. There absolutely is a territorial dimension to counterinsurgency. There is no single territorial object that wins the war, as there is in a conventional war. But if Iraqis secure their base areas and then gradually retake the Euphrates valley and hold every part that they retake, and then move inland to the north and south, the whole country will eventually be secured in stages.

I think this makes more sense than trying to conduct temporary sweeps over a wider area with forces that are inadequate to secure anything. I don't say these sweeps are without value. They may keep insurgent momentum from growing. But they have done nothing to reduce the insurgent replacement rate, the only metric that counts. The question is whether search-and-destroy is the only way to deploy forces in the transition from US to Iraqi responsibility. The alternative I propose is not absent from present strategy and I am only asking whether it could be emphasized more strongly from now on.

The situation is not the fault our officers and troops, who are trying to make the best of the situation they are in (and improvising in ways that are an enormous tribute to their ingenuity and courage). It is the civilian leadership that needs to decide whether to continue with more of the present emphasis or not.

Posted by: David Billington at August 16, 2005 03:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Now that's the sensible and brilliant Gregory I've been accustomed to. Excellent post. You've convinced me.

Posted by: Dan Larsen at August 16, 2005 04:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Lincoln told McClellan he knew his troops were green, but pointed out the other side was green as well"...

it was mcdowell-- and didn't he get his clock cleaned?

Posted by: fat sam at August 16, 2005 04:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't see why regulars here are worried that the US might withdraw. Permanent bases are being constructed. Israel will not be left in the lurch. Control of Iraqi oil will not be relinquished. Shia Iraq will not be permitted to become greater Iran. Turkey Syria and Iran will continue to be protected from Kurdish national aspirations. Halliburton, Bechtel, Carlyle etc will not countenance a downturn.

Relax folks - you're there for the duration. Way too many imperatives stand in the way of withdrawal. I could have assured you of all of that before Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched. In fact, I did, even as I backed Shinseki against Rumsfeld and even as I thought that Rupert Murdoch's expectation of a return to $20/barrel oil was a mite optimistic.

So why so nervous?

Posted by: AlanDownunder at August 16, 2005 08:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was very worried about this war in the beginning. Not because I felt it was the wrong thing to do, but that the press and others (mostly Liberals) would pound on the bad (That is in every war)r, so often that even people who wanted this would would begin to question themselves. This would embolden the enemy, and our loses would multiply because of that. I'm actually amazed we lasted this long.
Lybia, Dr. Kahn, and Lebanon show me it was the right thing to do. But since then the attacks have continued, and the press has kept pounding away at it. Right or wrong, negative press will eventially wear people down, like it has. Good news helps, but it's one step forward and two back.
What scares me is, if this always happens (this war started with a favorable rating), what else can you do when you have to go to war?. Nuclear weapons?

Posted by: plainslow at August 16, 2005 02:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fat Sam,

I stand corrected, my mind said after Bull Run, but my pesky fingers typed the word "before." My bad, guess I should proofread before I submit. McClellan took over after that loss, but had the same problem of "the slows" and Lincoln's message was to him as well. My point is that we seem to be attributing more prowess, ability and organization to our enemy than we are granting to the govt we are standing up. Granted the Baathists may have some advantages, but if they can be brought out into the sunlight we can destroy them.


Churchill once said (Winston, not Ward) that any man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart, any man still a socialist at 40 has no head. I understand the inclination to indulge in some preening and posturing about how different you are from those uptight establishment types, but don't you think it was a good thing that the evil Bushies decided to stop starving thousands of little Iraqi children to death with their mean sanctions? Even an evil despot can sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Posted by: wayne at August 16, 2005 02:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Are you saying liberalhawk isn't a liberal because he's a hawk? Does Pat Buchanan's anti-war stance make him a socialist? Not one thing I posted above has left-right relevance, so kindly reserve Churchill's aphorism for antiquated lefties and college republicans.

As for your point, I'll observe that Iraq has gone from frying pan to fire under various applications of external heat over past half century and I don't see the burners being turned down any time soon.

Posted by: AlanDownunder at August 16, 2005 03:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg seems to be relying on Washington scuttlebutt the reliability of which is unknown to us. Maybe Rummy has lost it for good. Didn't he already ask to resign in the past? Or perhaps he really believes that a drawdown of troops is possible in the next 18 months. He might even be right. Even so, the only way to talk now is to the contrary, as McCain, Biden, and Bush all do. We'll see if Rummy gets on the same page or not. And if we are able to draw down troops in the near future, let it be a pleasant surprise.

As for the facts on the ground in Iraq, things are going as well as can be expected. Back home, you have a war-weary nation, but so long as Biden and Clinton and McCain and Bush hold their ground, not to worry.
The cut and run crowd will be marginalized.

Posted by: JohnFH at August 16, 2005 09:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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