December 12, 2005

Cease The False Declarations of Victory! (We Implore You)

Kissinger just nails it (hat tip: RCP):

The views of critics and administration spokesmen converge on the proposition that as Iraqi units are trained, they should replace American forces – hence the controversy over which Iraqi units are in what state of readiness. But strategy based on substituting Iraqi for American troops may result in confirming an unsatisfactory stalemate. Even assuming that the training proceeds as scheduled and produces units the equivalent of the American forces being replaced – a highly dubious proposition – I would question the premise that American reductions should be in a linear relationship to Iraqi training. A design for simply maintaining the present unsatisfactory security situation runs the risk of confirming the adage that guerrillas win if they do not lose.

The better view is that the first fully trained Iraqi units should be seen as increments to coalition forces and not replacements, making possible accelerated offensive operations aimed at the guerrilla infrastructure. Such a strategy would help remedy the shortage of ground forces, which has slowed anti-guerrilla operations throughout the occupation. While seemingly more time-consuming, it would in fact present better opportunities for stabilizing the country and hence provide a more reliable exit route.

The actual combat performance of new units cannot be measured by training criteria alone. The ultimate metrics – to use Pentagon jargon – is to what extent they are motivated toward ultimate political goals. What they fight for will importantly determine how well they will fight.

A responsible exit strategy can only emerge from a subtle interplay of political and security elements – above all, the consolidation of a national government. Real progress requires that the Iraqi armed forces view themselves – and are seen by the population – as defenders of the national interests, not sectarian or regional ones. They will have become a national force when they are able to carry the fight into Sunni areas and grow willing to disarm militias, especially in the Shia regions from which the majority of them are recruited.

To delegate to military commanders the ultimate judgments as to the timing of withdrawals therefore places too great a burden on them. Their views regarding security need to be blended with judgments regarding the political and collateral consequences that a major new initiative inevitably produces. Such a balance presupposes that all sides in our domestic debate adopt a restraint imposed on us by the consequences of failure.

For the decision to start withdrawals will have a profound psychological impact, the most immediate of which will be on the Iraqi political structure. Will the initial reductions – set to begin sometime after the December election – be viewed as the first step of an inexorable process to rapid and complete withdrawal or as a stage of an agreed process dependent on tangible and definable political and security progress?

If the former [ed. note: the likelier scenario, in B.D.'s view], the political factions in Iraq will maneuver to protect their immediate assets in preparation for the coming test of strength that will seem to them inevitable between the various groups. The incentive to consider American preferences for a secular and inclusive government in a unified Iraq will shrink. It will be difficult to broaden the base of a government at the very moment it thinks it is losing its key military support. In these circumstances, even a limited withdrawal not formally geared to a fixed timetable and designed to placate American public opinion can acquire an irreversible character. [emphasis added]

I've been chiming on for months about these themes but, alas, B.D's no Henry Kissinger and my soap-box is quite a bit smaller. But it's all here. The fact that 'as they stand up, we'll stand down' is bunk (it should be instead that, as they stand up, we'll stand up with them). The fact that even Henry Kissinger is telling anyone who will listen we had too few troops in theater, thus slowing down counter-insurgency efforts these past years. The thinly veiled criticism of our poorly performing Secretary of Defense, who (as is is wont, avoiding any real assumption of responsibility) wants to have the commanders advise when troop draw-downs can take place (Kissinger points out the obvious, that such decisions in the Iraq context constitute critical political judgments too, not ones that are solely for the purview of generals in the field). Kissinger also makes the point that local actors, if they see the Americans pursuing a hasty draw-down, will start planning for a post-American future, thereby no longer unduly concerning themselves with fostering a strong central government and enshrining minority rights.

Yes, all this 'stay the course' stuff is all hokum and wasted talk and disingenuous hemming and hawing if the Murthas are right, and this whole Iraq adventure was but 'flawed policy wrapped in illusion' and so on. But is it, really? I don't think so, not based on the merits to date anyway. I remain hopeful that a functioning democracy can take root in Iraq over the next decade or so. But, make no mistake, it will take massive American involvement to get us to that still so elusive finish line. Look at Bosnia, for example. We've had troops in that country for over a decade, not to mention varied (and quite activist) proconsuls manning the helm and getting recalcitrant parties (like Hercogovinian Croats and Serbs in Repulika Srpska) to play ball together. The situation in Iraq is much more complex and difficult than many of the matters Paddy Ashdown handled with such aplomb in Bosnia. And if we mean to accomplish two critical goals, a) helping midwife a strong central government (albeit with federalist arrangements) that is democratic in nature and truly respects minority rights, and b) putting together a truly national army, with a multi-ethnic, professional officer corps not loyal to Badr or Mahdi or peshmerga or some Sunni tribe, but the Ministry of Defense of the democratic government of Iraq based in Baghdad--you better believe we've got a long road ahead indeed.

As Kanan Makiya, a keen observer of the Iraqi political scene, who supported intervention in Iraq, put it:

The 2003 Iraq war has indeed brought about an irreversible transformation of politics and society in Iraq. But this transformation has not consolidated power, as the great revolutions of the past have tended to do (in France, Russia and even Iran), nor is it distributing power on an agreed upon and equitable basis, as happened after the American Revolution and as Iraqi liberal democrats like myself had hoped would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Rather, it is dissipating it. And that is a terrifying prospect for a population whose primary legacy from the Saddam Hussein era is a profound mistrust of government in all its forms.

By ceding and dismissing centralized power, Iraqis may end by ceding all their power. Iran in the short run, and the Arab world in the long run, will fill the vacuum with proxies, turning the dream of a democratic and reborn Iraq into a dystopia of warring militias and rampant hopelessness.

Later, Makiya speaks of the "furies" we've unleashed in Iraq. Managed over many years yet, with active American involvement helping sheperd the process through the many challenges to come, these furies might yet lead to a functioning (if often unwieldy) democracy in the heart of the Arab world. This would be an historic accomplishment of the first order. But we are still very far from this goal indeed, as people like Kanan Makiya and Henry Kissinger and John McCain and Bill Kristol and Andrew Sullivan and, yes, the proprieter of this blog--have been arguing frequently in varied fora. One of the key dangers in all of this, it might be pointed out, are false declarations of victory (that, in turn, help lead to too rapid deadlines that, despite attempts to conceal any linkage, are often really more related to American political calendars than actual conditions on the ground in Iraq). Come December 15th, if the elections move forward without catastrophe (which they will), there will be much euphoria about what a massive step has taken place, and there will be declarations of victory aplenty. But these triumphalist notes are dangerously premature indeed, as serious observers well realize. To be sure, who but the greatest cynics can remain unmoved at the specter of the veritable birth of modern, post-Saddam Iraqi politics, with myriad political parties sprouting up, and even formerly hostile Sunnis being urged to take up the ballot box rather than the gun (if only temporarily)? But still, minimizing the endemic violence, the myriad perils still facing Iraq, and just speaking breezily about a normalization of Iraqi politics (bombings happen a lot in the Arab world, after all!) is just bunk. Yes, it is irresponsible in the extreme to have already declared victory. And so I offer up Exhibit A, via various E-mails to me over the past two days, namely this gem from Australian blogger Richard Fernandez, known as Wretchard in the blogosphere, who writes about Iraq:

Victory when it came, was both greater and less; more partial and more complete than expected. It did not take the European form of parades down the Champs Elysee [sic], followed by a return to old and establish ways of governance. What the destruction of the Ba'athist regime did was reanimate long suppressed local and ethnic interests and channel them into competition through the ballot box -- with the occasional recourse to violence. Tremendous forces have been unleashed which critics of the war will point to as signs of an incipient civil war, but which supporters of OIF will describe as a newly liberated society feeling its way forward.

Now it's true, Fernandez, who in his evidently irrepressible optimism has become something of a Juan Cole of the Right (neatly inverting Cole's pessimisme de la gauche), I'm afraid to say, plays to an audience of commenters with names like "Pork Rinds for Allah" and "Vercingetorix" and other such farcical monikers that elicit giggles in more comme il faut company. They eagerly imbibe the ready dispensation of gravitas-infused essays from points Down Under, dressed-up with ponderous, near inscrutable sounding titles like the "Three Conjectures" (read it, it's the product more of schoolboy fantasy than policy analysis, replete with laugh-inducing numerical charts about "Islamic losses" vs. "Non-Islamic losses" in soi disant 'modeled' nuclear exchanges, and requisite mention of the dearth of a "red telephone," so that the crazy Ayatollahs can't be rung up to halt all the nuclear madness, alas, and intimations about all the "uncontrollable escalation" inexorably resulting in grim apocalypse for all the hapless Mahomedans in our midst). Through all this pulse-quickening fare, one espies a barely concealed Islamo-phobia of the most ignorant kind (Wretchard gravely advises his readers, in his latest declaration-of-victory-post, that "Arabs aren't all the same". Well no, they're not Wretchard, as we've known for some time now, just as Filipinos or Aussies, for that matter, aren't all the same either, I would have thought, no?). Said rank ignorance (or is the appropriate word in the lexicon dhimmitude, one forgets?) of the Arab world is crossed with rather wild Dr. Stranglovian speculations that would force even, say, a Charles Krauthammer to admonish a too excitable tutee about the perils of overly enthusiastic devotion to doctrinal exuberances.

But Fernandez does have a talent, it must be said, at dressing up such adolescent, under-informed, near hysterical cogitation into masters thesis sounding fare, the type that leaves more impressionable readers with the feeling of having been positively blinded by varied epiphanies about the Bold Steps so urgently needed--the better so that the Battle against Islamofascists can be bravely carried forth to final victory (you see, we've only won in Iraq, so far, alas). I mean, what does this sentence, haphazardly plucked from the Conjectures 'piece', bloody mean? "Due to the fixity of intent, attacks would continue for as long as capability remained. Under these circumstances, any American government would eventually be compelled by public desperation to finish the exchange by entering -1 x 10^9 in the final right hand column: total retaliatory extermination." Well, I've been careful here, even sat down and poured myself a stiff drink so as to steady the nerves, given the near panic-inducing import of all this heady algebraic-looking chart-making (maybe it's dark memories of high school pre-calculus that have me all in a tizzy!). And so, with some trepidation, I've just now taken another guarded peek at the chart, and I think it means this, in plainer English sans all the hifalutin' numbers: namely, that every Muslim in the world would be dead (that's the -1X10^9 position, folks). Why? Because they achieved nuclear capability, set off a bomb in Tulsa or something, and as no rational actors are sitting about the Kremlin chatting with POTUS sur le telephone rouge to calibrate all the tit-for-tat, we're all heading to hell in a handbasket, with Mecca in the cross-hairs as thrilling end-note coda. Or some such. But perhaps I'm missing something, and Pork Rinds for Allah or Vercingetorix or some other groovily-named commenter can educate naive simpletons like myself who Just Don't Get It, that is, all the thrilling high-jinx Bunker-Speak animating various swaths of the blogosphere.

But I digress. My point in this little spot of blog poo-pooing fun? Anyone who would declare victory at this juncture is either genuinely delusional, or the cheapest of hacks. On the delusional prong, others have put it far better than I. As a recent E-mailer put it to me: "When your ideology is a function of theology, reality matters not a whit. You create reality with language. We're seeing the consequences of faith-based warmaking". Yes, and faith-based blogging too, which depresses me so as, for months now, what I've tried to project in this blog is that real victory in Iraq cannot be measured for years yet, and patience and fortitude and the long view are absolute prerequisites to getting to the finish line. Empty talk re: how victory today doesn't include parades down the Champs Elysees, or defining victory down so that it constitutes little more than an Iraq wracked by endemic violence in some civil-war era Lebanon-like scenario, well it might earn Wretchard some kudos in his comments sections, and rah-rah and bully to him for it, but it's certainly not doing anyone favors in terms of serious policy debate in places like Washington and New York. Certainly not regarding how to carry this massive Iraq project--one still fraught with such peril--forward to a successful conclusion. Look, I've read some of Wretchard's previous writings with interest and, yes, occasional admiration. But I'm sick and tired of these fake declarations of victory, as I think they do a real disservice to prosecution of the war effort (they are the flip side of the coin, but not dissimilar in ultimate effect, to the defeatism of a Howard Dean). Thus my indignation, and my pot shots in the direction of precincts like the Belmont Club. We'll try to move back into non-rant mode tomorrow night...

Posted by Gregory at December 12, 2005 12:30 AM | TrackBack (1)
Comments

Cute, seems I found a farcical fan over at Belgravia Dispatch. Yay! for me.

Too few troops? Have to use them, Greg. If you are restricted on ROE, if you allow safe houses like mosques for instance, or do not advance into the Sunni triangle so as to not provoke an insurgency [oops!], or to back off from Fallujah the first time for some fantastical ‘softly, softly’ approach, troop numbers are immaterial. 500K troops, which don’t exist, btw, sitting on their hands because lawyers won’t let them pull the trigger, work just as well as 150K or 40K troops sitting on their hands because lawyers…

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, Greg. Your criticisms are sometimes reasonable, but often can at least be contested. Your infallibility, and the accompanied exasperation, is somewhat fallible, and inappropriate.

Have we won in Iraq? Yes. If winning was in defeating the Saddamite regime we won nearly three years ago. Yes, if we look at a dozen other goal posts. Absolutely not if we set a stable, successful Iraqi democracy as the goal, because that takes a bit more time to set up. The rule of thumb is 3-4 elections and a peaceful change of power. By definition, we cannot have ‘won’ under this criteria as elections require terms which require years.

No, what is quite clear is that the Sunni insurgency has nearly been strangled. The jihadist element is now, and long since has been, at war with the Baathist element. If Britain had up and quit the Coalition, this would rightfully be heralded as a significant, if not fatal, reversal of fortunes. The same thing has happened in our enemy’s camp. Yay! for us.

In the future, we shall still have to disarm the Shia militias of al Sadr, or deal with them, with the execrable Iranians and Syrian, and Saudi, groups. We have much work to do. But call success by its name, or you risk being resigned to that sad group that won’t recognize it if it hit them in the face.

Posted by: Vercingetorix at December 12, 2005 04:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

now you're just making me laugh. This is the group, the party, and the people you voted with and for.

Perhaps you should go ahead and ignore your instincts to lean Republican and help Democratic candidates you agree with. We need a Congress that will fulfill their oversight mandate and actually challenge the administration on their bold pronouncements.

BTW, you call Howard Dean's pronouncement "defeatism" but I'd point out that the course we're on isn't the course you prescribe for victory. In fact, it's not on any course any serious commentator I've read or listened to has suggested. So, I ask you, barring any course correction, is victory going to happen?

Posted by: just me at December 12, 2005 04:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you're reading a bit too much into Wretchard's argument, and the condescending snark doesn't bolster your argument.

If, indeed, you even made one.

Posted by: Joey at December 12, 2005 05:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, that was good, but "dhimmitude", what the heck does that mean??

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at December 12, 2005 05:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As someone on the Murtha side of the issue who can't get your trackback system to work, let me offer you some mild praise. No idea whether you want it or not.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf at December 12, 2005 06:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As someone on the Murtha side of the issue who can't get your trackback system to work, let me offer you some mild praise. No idea whether you want it or not.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf at December 12, 2005 06:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Me thinks you ask too much of the American people. I agree that in an ideal world we would stay the course and crush the last remnents of the insurgency, buck up the centrist, secular, liberal elements of the govt, and disarm Sadr to make the Sunni's happy in return for all the good things they have done for us. I doubt very much its going to happen though. Baring Cheney taking over if something, god forbid, happened to Bush, I don't see much evidence of a high pain threshold (pun intended) in this crew.

The lowest recorded poll numbers for a president in history were for Truman leaving office in 1952 -- I believe something like 21% approval rating -- because he was thought to have led us into a war of choice, bungled it's execution, and then could not extracate us from the conflict during never-ending peace talks. Do you think GWB has the stamina to take that kind of a beating? A different president would have done so much better with the hand Bush was dealt, but I don't see more than 40,000 troops in Iraq in 2008.

Posted by: wks at December 12, 2005 06:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Me thinks you ask too much of the American people. I agree that in an ideal world we would stay the course and crush the last remnents of the insurgency, buck up the centrist, secular, liberal elements of the govt, and disarm Sadr to make the Sunni's happy in return for all the good things they have done for us. I doubt very much its going to happen though. Baring Cheney taking over if something, god forbid, happened to Bush, I don't see much evidence of a high pain threshold (pun intended) in this crew.

The lowest recorded poll numbers for a president in history were for Truman leaving office in 1952 -- I believe something like 21% approval rating -- because he was thought to have led us into a war of choice, bungled it's execution, and then could not extracate us from the conflict during never-ending peace talks. Do you think GWB has the stamina to take that kind of a beating? A different president would have done so much better with the hand Bush was dealt, but I don't see more than 40,000 troops in Iraq in 2008.

Posted by: wks at December 12, 2005 06:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good God in Heaven, the parody almost writes itself:

In the future, we shall still have to disarm the Shia militias of al Sadr, or deal with them, with the execrable Iranians and Syrian, and Saudi, groups. We have much work to do. But call success by its name, or you risk being resigned to that sad group that won’t recognize it if it hit them in the face.

You and what Army, Mr. Vercingetorix? How do you propose to "disarm" the "execrable Iranians"?

We have much work to do? Yeah, if you want to Crusade through the whole God-forsaken Middle East. Better be raising some taxes to pay for that fool's errand. Might want to consider a draft, too.

Posted by: stickler at December 12, 2005 07:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Too few troops" is the right way to go: Why is the U.S. in Iraq?

I don't think the violence in Iraq will be "endemic", at least not if the U.S. stays around long enough for the entire neighborhood to get cleaned up.

Posted by: Solomon2 at December 12, 2005 01:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Too few troops" is the right way to go: Why is the U.S. in Iraq?

I don't think the violence in Iraq will be "endemic", at least not if the U.S. stays around long enough for the entire neighborhood to get cleaned up.

Posted by: Solomon2 at December 12, 2005 01:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

First, I dont think the admin intends a one for one withdrawl as Iraqi forces stand up. The buzz is a a drop of 10,000 to 30,000 troops, to match the 100,000 or so troops that Iraq has stood up. I think the intention is to draw down slowly enough to relieve the stress on the US military (which is real, if not as bad as the pessimists assert, and which you have not addressed) while IMPROVING the security situation on the ground in Iraq.

Second. Dr. K seems, like you, to want to defer any withdrawl until Iraq is more firmly on a secularist, liberal, path. There are several problems with this. 1. As I said above, it ignores stress on the US military. 2. It ignores the US political scene - which isnt just Bush irresponsibly wanting to leave early - its the entire polity questioning whether we should stay at all. And which will take zero withdrawls as a sign that things are much worse than advertized, and will NOT conclude as you do, that we therefore need more force, but will decide its all futile, and will want total withdrawl 3. The Iraqis themselves - I dont think you can use the limitless presence of American forces as a tool to get exactly the regime we want in Iraq. Democracy is a messy thing(Rummy may have taken that meme too far, but at some level he was right), and people have to learn to work it on their own. And in their own way. I wonder if Dr. K is to be considered the expert on this matter. His policies that placed secularism ahead of democracy, gave us support for the Shah at his most repressive, and a legacy in the region and around the world that still hurts us. His approach to Latin America, still stands between us and many people in Latin America, and in Europe.

Third - Wretchard is sometimes silly. So? He was pretty dead on accurate about what was going in Fallujah last year, and its only for stuff like that that I read him. Im not sure whats the point of including him here. Are you implying that anyone whos optimistic on the right is a wretchard? That anyone who thinks a withdrawl of 20000 troops in mid-2006 is a reasonable part of a victory strategy for Iraq, is wound up in strangelovian conjectures? Sometimes seperate posts on seperate issues are good.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 12, 2005 03:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If the former [ed. note: the likelier scenario, in B.D.'s view], the political factions in Iraq will maneuver to protect their immediate assets in preparation for the coming test of strength that will seem to them inevitable between the various groups"

so, in an aside, an editors note, youve established the assumption that the political implications of small withdrawl are the same as those of a hard and fixed timetable. Thus implicitly dismissing the entire debate occurring in Washington now as irrelevant. Everybody from Cheney to Murtha who doesnt want to keep forces at 138,000 or higher is on one side, and Dr K, McCain and Kristol (?) and Greg are on the other side. Well. IF i believed that any withdrawl signaled to everyone the equivalent of what a fixed timetable did, I suppose Id be with you. But I dont. The whole point of the Presidents recent speeches, and of Rices discussions, etc is to seperate a limited, condition based withdrawl from a timetable for full withdrawl. In fact their political judgement, one with which I agree, is that a limited condition based withdrawl is NECESSARY to keep US support (including Pentagon support) for a continuned presence. Really Greg, youve assumed away what is at issue.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 12, 2005 03:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me second LH on Wretchard, it's your blog, and we appreciate your efforts, but I think your ad hominums are your least effective postings.

Posted by: wks at December 12, 2005 03:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BTW, nuking an American city might not destroy Islam, but it would, I think, be very, very, very bad for Islam. And for all the rest of us as well.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 12, 2005 04:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael Pecherer wrote:

Greg, that was good, but "dhimmitude", what the heck does that mean??
Gregory does seem to have misused that term (and by his own admission he wasn't quite sure if it was the right term to use) in his post.

Anyway, to answer Michael's question, dhimmitude, in a nutshell, refers to the second-class citizenship to be "enjoyed" by non-Muslims in a society under Islamic law. The word (and several variants thereof) is also frequently used across the right side of the blogosphere to refer to those on the PC left who are over-eager to accommodate Islamic supremacists including terrorists. There's even at least one blog devoted to the subject of dhimmitude, and Western dhimmitude in particular.

Posted by: Joshua at December 12, 2005 05:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you're reading a bit too much into Wretchard's argument, and the condescending snark doesn't bolster your argument.

I kinda thought so too, but then I read the comment from "Vercingetorix". Guys like him might make entertaining war re-enactors, but that's about it. They'll go on at length about the thickness of the armor on various tanks in World War II, and somehow never mention how the Nazis fucked themselves by totally alienating about 90% of every population they occupied. This kind of techno-fetishism wasn't central to our debacles in Vietnam and Iraq, but it sure helped grease the skids.

Posted by: sglover at December 12, 2005 06:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Me thinks you ask too much of the American people. I agree that in an ideal world we would stay the course and crush the last remnents of the insurgency, buck up the centrist, secular, liberal elements of the govt, and disarm Sadr to make the Sunni's happy in return for all the good things they have done for us. I doubt very much its going to happen though.

Yep. And while we're on the subject, perhaps some war enthusiast might explain the wisdom of ceaselessly low-balling the costs and duration of our Mesopotamian adventure? Doesn't that kinda sorta set up the whole enterprise for a big fall? It still eludes me how, if we're supposed to be in some kind of like and death struggle for Freedom, or Christian Civilization, or whatever the hell it is we're doing, we can't even ask the citizenry to pay the taxes to support the goddam thing.....

Posted by: sglover at December 12, 2005 06:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You assume the Pentagon has opted for a 1-1 force reduction? You must have missed L/G Casey's comments about 1-, 5- and 10-year status of forces plans. How about this? As they stand up (in capability), we stand down (in capability). Also, current force strength is higher by a couple 10's of thousands than the base 140,000 or so due to delayed rotations home as replacements arrive in theater. Maybe this was planned to coincide with the elections? Give Rummy at least minimal credit, please?

It's a f***ed up war. All wars are f***ed up. GWB's team ain't perfect, but thank G-d the SCOTUS told Florida (7-2) they had to adhere to their own election law. I can't imagine a Gore or Kerry administration understanding, let alone prosecuting, a war on Islamofascism.

Posted by: Larry at December 12, 2005 07:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg wrote:

"The fact that 'as they stand up, we'll stand down' is bunk (it should be instead that, as they stand up, we'll stand up with them)."

In fact Geg, that is exactly what the US has been doing. There has not been a significant US troop reduction from Iraq in over a year. In the meantime the Iraqi security forces have been growing in size & experience and are being deployed around Iraq. The Iraqis are taking over command of quieter regions, thus freeing up US troops to go after the terrorists. And the Iraqis have been joining these counter-insurgency operations in greater numbers. The net result is a large increase in the ability to go after the insurgency. The combined US-Iraqi units leverage the best of what both have to offer: US has the superior training and technology, the Iraqi's understand the local people, culture & language. Both sides learn from this exchange.

Greg, you criticize the US for NOT doing exactly what they ARE in fact doing. Only an idiot would think "'as they stand up, we'll stand down" is a policy to be implemented on a 1:1 ratio on a daily basis. And only somebody willfully unaware of the facts would say the policy is bunk. This has been the consistant policy for the past 18 months, & it's working.

Posted by: Kenneth at December 12, 2005 07:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg wrote:

"The fact that 'as they stand up, we'll stand down' is bunk (it should be instead that, as they stand up, we'll stand up with them)."

In fact Geg, that is exactly what the US has been doing. There has not been a significant US troop reduction from Iraq in over a year. In the meantime the Iraqi security forces have been growing in size & experience and are being deployed around Iraq. The Iraqis are taking over command of quieter regions, thus freeing up US troops to go after the terrorists. And the Iraqis have been joining these counter-insurgency operations in greater numbers. The net result is a large increase in the ability to go after the insurgency. The combined US-Iraqi units leverage the best of what both have to offer: US has the superior training and technology, the Iraqi's understand the local people, culture & language. Both sides learn from this exchange.

You criticize the US for NOT doing exactly what they ARE in fact doing. The policy, "as they stand up, we'll stand down" isn't meant to be implemented on a 1:1 ratio on a daily basis. One would have to be willfully unaware of the facts to say the policy is bunk. This has been the consistant policy for the past 18 months, & it's working.

Posted by: Kenneth at December 12, 2005 07:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

um, sorry about the double post.

Posted by: Kenneth at December 12, 2005 07:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In a fog of cuteness comes a voice snippy and arch /
Tis Belgravia Bob's latest snobbish demarche /
It's not whether the troops are too many or too few /
Nor whether we stay or simply skidoo /
The matter is this, as simple as can be: /
How today can I say I'm smarter than thee? /
Complexity is better (even when it's invented) /
Than anything optimistically presented /
Even with analysis thin, and logic astray /
And even when kissing up windbag Henry the K /
So long as its fuzzily negative and not too specific /
Andrew Sullivan might get others to click it.

Posted by: George at December 12, 2005 07:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

liberalhawk: "Well. IF i believed that any withdrawl signaled to everyone the equivalent of what a fixed timetable did, I suppose Id be with you."


I certainly agree with you that Greg is completely dismissing the political realities of the situation, which is that withdrawal is borderline inevitable on a political level.

I also think that Greg doesn't really consider the intelligent and detailed arguments being made that consider US forces to be a net negative impact on Iraqi growth, but then again, you don't either.

However, the main point of me putting up that quote here was to demonstrate that the very idea of "withdrawal means the terrorists win" is a red herring. It's always been a red herring. It's a lot like when Republicans flatly refuse to consider any tax increases ever at any time and under any circumstances. No sane general would ever frame things that way, and neither would any sane political actor.

I mean, it's either true or it isn't true, right? This is why the whole big-chested no-timetable talk is so much BS. Withdrawal is withdrawal. All the reasons it makes sense and is desirable are the same, timetable or no timetable. Whether you announce your dates in advance won't fool 'the terrorists'. It's just a way to artificially create a way you can withdraw without being like "those liberal defeatists."

Posted by: glasnost at December 12, 2005 07:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

God post.

The Sec. Defense avoids any real assumptions of normal language. He is an epistemology professor gone haywire.

Posted by: Chris at December 12, 2005 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

George,

Sweet.

FYI, Greg,

"dhimmitude" does not mean "rank ignorance". What's with your new habit of dropping French phrases into your rants? It doesn't help your weak arguments and it makes your complaints of "farcical monikers that elicit giggles" and "schoolboy fantasy" sound rather hypocritical.

You used to have an interesting blog. What happened?

Posted by: Kenneth at December 12, 2005 07:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me second LH on Wretchard, it's your blog, and we appreciate your efforts, but I think your ad hominums are your least effective postings

hell, I enjoyed his rant... I just wish he had made it a separate topic for discussion, and let the thread be about the Kissinger speech.

and I'm with glastnost on this one -- it would be wonderful if we could throw a couple of hundred billion (and a couple of thousand of American lives) each year at Iraq indefinitely. But it would be more wonderful if we could provide health care for every American, alleiviate world hunger, and a host of other things that wouldn't cost as much as what Greg now supports with regard to Iraq (and Greg -- do you support raising taxes to pay for this little war?)

The other problem, of course, is that a US commitment to a long term military presence in Iraq dedicated to the creation of a purely secular democracy probably wouldn't go over too well with the (current, and for the foreseeable future) powers that be in Iraq. How many of the millions of Iraqis who want to see a non-secular Shiite government is Greg (and Kissinger) willing to see slaughtered in order to achieve is vision remains a question not only unanswed, but unasked (until now....)

Posted by: lukasiak at December 12, 2005 07:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The very first words on Wretchard's blog, 4/30/2003: Now that the war in Iraq is over…

"Clueless" comes to mind.

Posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus at December 12, 2005 08:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This would be an historic accomplishment of the first order. But we are still very far from this goal indeed, as people like Kanan Makiya and Henry Kissinger and John McCain and Bill Kristol and Andrew Sullivan and, yes, the proprieter of this blog--have been arguing frequently in varied fora.

It's amusing to see Sullivan included with the list of those who think we need more troops, committed for longer, and with the express goal of transforming the region through our efforts in Iraq. This being the same Sullivan who wished (and wishes) that John Kerry were President right now. Yeah, that sure would've helped with those goals, right? Hell, a President Kerry would already be withdrawing forces at breakneck speed.

Posted by: DFV at December 12, 2005 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"US forces to be a net negative impact on Iraqi growth, but then again, you don't either"

I didnt, cause Im not sure its true. See Kagans artivcle in todays Weekly Standard, which supports Gregs policy recommendation. I think the evidence that a trained, equiped, motivated and nationally loyal Iraqi soldier is better in the fight than an American soldier, on a soldier for soldier basis - the cultural and linguistic knowledge, and nationalist sensitivities, trumping the technical superiority IS true. But Im NOT sure that, for any given number of Iraqi troops, having fewer US troops in country weakens the insurgency. At least until we get to zero, and that doesnt weaken the insurgency enough to overcome the loss of the troops and their abilities. So Im with Greg, McCain, etc. IF we had the political will, and IF the military was not facing "breaking", we'd be better off with zero withdrawl. But thats not reality.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 12, 2005 09:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"withdrawal means the terrorists win" is a red herring. It's always been a red herring. It's a lot like when Republicans flatly refuse to consider any tax increases ever at any time and under any circumstances. No sane general would ever frame things that way, and neither would any sane political actor.

I mean, it's either true or it isn't true, right? This is why the whole big-chested no-timetable talk is so much BS. Withdrawal is withdrawal. All the reasons it makes sense and is desirable are the same, timetable or no timetable"

No one is saying we should never withdraw (Well apart from those who cling to the fantasy of permanent bases). The point is whether there should be a timetable, or conditions only, and what the conditions should be.

In any organization, the boss wants to know when the work is gonna be completed and the product can be released, the article posted, whatever. The worker bee wants it to be 'when its ready' cause he knows there ARE variables that are uncontrollable, and that to release when its NOT ready is a disaster. The boss wants timetables, cause he doesnt trust the worker bee to be doing his utmost, and cause he needs to plan things to coordinate with it. Now the Pentagon undoubtedly has an INTERNAL timetable, since they do need to coordinate things - and they have the CONDITIONS under which that would change. The issue of publishing a timetable is what happens IF conditions arent where we now expect. IE lets say we say we'll have 30,000 troops out by August 2006, ASSUMING that theres been a compromise on constitutional revisions that takes a third of the insurgency off the battlefield, ASSUMING that stand up Iraqi forces at the present rate, ASSUMING that the new govt can control militias in the South, and this doesnt cause 25% of the new Iraqi army to go AWOL, ASSUMING, etc, etc. And then that stuff does NOT happen, and Centcom decides they CANT give up the 30,000 troops. Does everybody in the US say, oh right, lets stay the course. Or do we see huge headlines about how the deadline was missed, about how the admin LIED, about how this is proof of quagmire and ALL troops should leave NOW?

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 12, 2005 09:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In the future, we shall still have to disarm the Shia militias of al Sadr...

I'm not sure if this was due to somewhat unclear diction, but the Sadr militia (the Mahdi Army) is only one we need to disarm - or enable the Iraqi government to disarm. There's also the Badr brigades of SCIRI, the peshmerga of the Kurds (probably two separate peshmerga groups) and a host of smaller outfits.

I don't know how we plan on accomplishing this, but the lack of a monopoly on the use of force, and the ethnic/sectarian composition of such militias, present an insurmountable obstacle to Iraqi democracy unless and until they are neutralized one way or the other.

Otherwise, great post Greg. I agree wholeheartedly that if anyone really values success, and not just the ability to say the word, then we must discuss these topics sans spin and pollyannic proclamations. Honesty trumps sanguinity.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 12, 2005 09:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have no special insight into the mind of Henry Kissinger, but a couple of things do seem clear from his column quoted here.

One is that he is less worried about the next step in Iraq than with the one after that. A drawdown of American forces after a newly elected Iraqi government gets established is likely, for reasons having to do with the need to reduce the strain of the Iraq deployment on the Army and Marine Corps. The question is: is this going to be a one-time thing, with further steps toward withdrawal contingent on developments in Iraq, or is it the first step in a withdrawal that will proceed regardless of what happens there. Kissinger's Vietnam experience plainly leads him to fear the latter.

The other is that Kissinger is a little perplexed as to how the necessary decisions in our Iraq policy are being made. He's not alone. He does not think withdrawal decisions should be made only by commanders on the ground in Iraq; that they might be is a fair inference from some of the things President Bush has said, but it isn't clear at all that this is actually the case. To oversimplify, if Amb. Khalilzad, for example were convinced that withdrawal below a certain point would badly screw things up I don't think the withdrawal would happen without at least some considerable delay. Now, this could be completely wrong. My guess that the nuts and bolts of Iraq policy are mostly being worked out by Khalilzad and Centcom, with some clearance by upper echelons in Washington, is just that -- a guess. If I were right, the policymaking process would be....unusual in the history of American government.

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn of my major gripe with Kissinger's analysis. It lays out the things that must not be done lest disaster result; it has helpful suggestions for managing the Iraq problem far into the future. What it doesn't do is address the costs of the commitment in Iraq.

So long as the United States the greatest part of its ground combat power and spends tens of billions of dollars each year in Iraq, this country will preoccupy our leaders and compromise every other thing we try to do in the field of foreign affairs. Relations with China and India must take a back seat to managing the Iraq problem; the retreat of democracy in Latin America will continue without American interference; any trade deals that cannot be worked out by trade ministers will not be worked out; NATO will continue to drift; resources needed to hunt down those al qaeda terrorists who have not already relocated to Iraq will continue to be limited. Military transformation will proceed at a much slower pace as procurement resources are expended on replacing equipment destroyed or depreciated in Iraq. Efforts to build united fronts with other governments against rogue governments like Iran's developing nuclear weapons will continue to be undermined and such public diplomacy as our government does will continue to emphasize the Arab world at the expense of every other region.

Kissinger should remember that the vast American commitment to Vietnam exacted similar costs. The struggle to limit them, and maintain a foreign policy that moved American interests forward instead of one that responded passively to the actions of others is a central theme in Kissinger's own memoirs. And we have now one other significant problem that the United States did not have in the Vietnam period: every last dollar of the Iraq war's cost has been borrowed.

I would expect Greg to be oblivious to this aspect of our situation in Iraq, and he has never disappointed me. The truth is, though, that we cannot afford a "super-Bosnia" -- a large, mostly American commitment to keep Iraq just from blowing up -- into the indefinite future, which is Greg's clear preference though I doubt it is Kissinger's. I mean that quite literally. We simply cannot afford it, not without either drastic reductions in spending on our own citizens or tax increases even larger than those that will eventually be necessary. And these are two things the American public will not accept.

So we are back to the question Kissinger discusses and with which I started here: if withdrawal of troops form Iraq does begin next year, is it to be part of a plan designed to further American interests or simply the first step in a wholesale pullout regardless of its consequences? It's a good question, but not a complete question. The central issue of our policy in Iraq is not what is best for Iraq; it is what is best for the United States. What is not only best but is required for the United States is a drastic reduction in the size and cost of our commitment in Iraq in a much shorter timeframe than the multiyear periods (five years? Ten years? Twenty?) some people have talked about rather casually.

Success in Iraq cannot, by definition, result from the actions of Americans alone. It will happen as the result of Iraqi actions; Iraqis will reap its benefits, and Iraqis will pay the price of failure. We can give them better odds; we can prevent a newly-elected government from being overwhelmed by its enemies before it can establish itself. We cannot and must not mortgage the whole of American foreign policy to domestic developments in one, mid-sized Arab country.

Posted by: JEB at December 12, 2005 10:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wretchard rarely attackes the Administration, but that hardly makes him a hack, just a partisan. For all the hits the Belmont Club gets, it is hardly the CBS Evening News or even Katie Couric. Wretchard's posts are generally informative, detailed and truthful (hardly the criteria of hackery). While Wretchard and the Belmont Club may arguably be too optomistic--that is why we have Belgravia and Andrew Sullivan to give us objective counter-point. Of course on fighting the war, Wretchard is correct--great progress has been made. That does not mean the Insurgency is even close to being eliminated--but if one of the goals of this war was to get rid of Saddam it looks like that has taken place.

Of course you do have Kissinger on your side, so you must be right! Why not quote Scrocroft too?

Posted by: Skeptical Gnome at December 12, 2005 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have to admit, you're much less effective pissed off. I've always had you, Dan Drezner, and Wretchard as my "big three" foreign policy analysis bloggers, with you generally closest to my own position. You just said of Wretchard, "I've read some of [his] previous writings with interest and, yes, occasional admiration." If you don't dismiss Wretchard entirely, are the vicious ad hominem attacks really necessary? And blasting a blogger for the idiocy of his or her commenters is tremendously unfair (what should Wretchard do, ban them?). The comparison to Juan Cole, who has, among other actions, sought "opposition research" against other bloggers, is likewise unnecessary. I've always expected, and generally gotten, a higher level of discourse from you than dismissing your opponents as purveyors of "adolescent, under-informed, near hysterical cogitation." You insult well (very well, I must admit). I merely question how productive that is.

Posted by: Dan Larsen at December 12, 2005 11:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As Kanan Makiya, a keen observer of the Iraqi political scene . . .

Makiya seems to have been the originator of 'sweets and flowers'.

Posted by: David Tomlin at December 12, 2005 11:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jeez, we got tweaked-out frat boys and inbred racist hillbillies running foreign policy…no wonder we’re getting our asses handed to us by Iranian mullahs and Sunni fanatics.

Posted by: NeoDude at December 13, 2005 12:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This (from JEB) needs to be repeated...

The central issue of our policy in Iraq is not what is best for Iraq; it is what is best for the United States.

The bottom line here is that Bush screwed up, and screwed up badly, with his little Iraq adventure. Its the "New Coke" of foreign policy --- and the sooner we abandon it, the better off the United States will be.

Posted by: lukasiak at December 13, 2005 01:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This (from JEB) needs to be repeated...

The central issue of our policy in Iraq is not what is best for Iraq; it is what is best for the United States.

The bottom line here is that Bush screwed up, and screwed up badly, with his little Iraq adventure. Its the "New Coke" of foreign policy --- and the sooner we abandon it, the better off the United States will be.

Posted by: lukasiak at December 13, 2005 01:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JED, I commend you. That was a superb post that has mirrored my own awareness on this topic - but I have not expressed it as effectively as you have here. Well, in my response to Greg's Saturday question on 10/7/41 vs. 9/11/01 I mentioned that our distraction in Iraq will lead us to a decline in commonality with and power vs. the ROW. But you do a superb job of quanitfying and specifying some of the costs - and also capturing the *image of stagnation, distraction, overinvestment.

The political reality that we can't handle this for another decade is generated by the factors you speak of. I'm sure that a lot of senators are aware of the situation as your portray it, if only on a gut level.

The best thing about the realist-friendly, This-much-blood-and-treasure-into-Iraq flat-out-hurts-America is that you don't even have to get into the argument of whether or not US forces in Iraq are flatly counterproductive for the Iraqi people and political system, which encouters a lot more blowback.

Liberalhawk:

I understand your portrayal of a qualitative, conditions-based timetable vs. A rigid timetable. It's a valid way of looking at the situation - meaning, (self-servingly perhaps) my argument is just as effective in that paradigm.

Here I go.

1. Given the regional environment, historical performance of Western democracies in counter-insurgency, and current world balance of power, we are not going to achieve permanent military victory over the insurgents. We do not have this capability. This will not change, so a conditions-based withdrawal based on military victory does not make sense.

2. In insurgency campaigns in a foreign country that you are not planning to permanently colonize, settle, and annex, there will always be hostility towards the presence of your soldiers. There's hostility against our soldiers in South Korea, and said soldiers are not even blowing up school buildings and arresting young men with judicial impuity on a regular basis. A conditions based-withdrawal based on "until they like us" does not make sense. This hostility is the mover of point #1.

3. Because most of the population is fundamentally hostile to us - though some of them tolerate us based on the greater perceived threat from their own citizens - and some do not - any democratic polity functioning according to the wishes of its citizens would have us ejected. Only an autocratic government disinterested in public opinion will tolerate our permanent presence in the role we now play. Thus, our presence fundamentally distorts and impedes Iraqi democracy. It's a democracy, except you can't make decisions relative to the US troops on your soil. That's why every government that coexists with us having the run of the place will always be a puppet government to some extent. We can't stay there until they stop being a puppet government: the two factors are mutually exclusive. The government that gains legitimacy will be the one that kicks us out, and that's how it will happen. A conditions-based withdrawal based on "until they're a real democracy" does not make sense. It's self-contradictory. Point #3 is based on Point #2.

What can we do? Well, you can say that we can weaken and diminish and punish the insurgents until they may hopefully be interested in peace when we leave. (we could also negotiate with them directly, which is, I guess, happening to the extent that it ever will). We can, you can argue, try and set an initial example and create a few initial instances of compromise and cooperation among the ethnic groups in the hope that the pattern will stick after we leave. We've done this.
We can... that's about it. The insurgency will wax and wane. You might even, if we were more bloody-minded, be able to beat it into a dull murmur, as the Russians appear to have done in Chechnya. Of course, they're not a democracy. But the hatred persists - in fact, there is a direct tradeoff. Not only that, it metastizes and spreads.
I'm leading back into a discussion of the costs - but most pro-war arguers blow off the costs without thought. So, regardless of the costs, and the hatred you imbue into two additional generations, discountingly that entirely - we are subject to diminishing returns. Future successes will not really be ours. The conditions for the conditions-based withdrawal aren't really going to occur. Our presence makes that impossible. We're going to leave in a muddle with no clear victory either way. We can do more damage to our situation, but we've already done as much as we can realistically do to make things better.

Being afraid of the effects of change does not replace a coherent and achievable strategy to create further positive results. Which we do not have. And can not.

Posted by: glasnost at December 13, 2005 01:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

sigh.

Posted by: Vercingetorix at December 13, 2005 02:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We shall see, sglover, we shall see.

Btw, I hope that in Mr. Stickler’s super draft, super-tax-hike paradise/alternate universe, he had never echoed the tripe about the US occupation being the problem. More troops = more/less security?

Which is it, chaps?

Posted by: Vercingetorix at December 13, 2005 02:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is Henry Kissinger really the guy you want giving advice on how to defeat a guerrilla counterinsurgency?

I mean, come on.

Posted by: just wondering at December 13, 2005 07:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Vercingetorix opines:

Btw, I hope that in Mr. Stickler’s super draft, super-tax-hike paradise/alternate universe, he had never echoed the tripe about the US occupation being the problem. More troops = more/less security?

... and I blink, astonished at this arrant nonsense.

"Super-tax-hike paradise/alternate universe"?

I didn't call for invading Iran and Syria while Iraq and Afghanistan were still on slow boil. You did. That costs money and will require troops.

Posted by: stickler at December 13, 2005 08:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Given that this is a lenghty and costly commitment, what is it that you see in Bush that makes you think he's up for it? Do the talk of cakewalks, the mission accomplished banner, the understaffing of the invasion and the occupation, the attempt to turn things over to Chalabi and get out, or the "best sacrifice you can make is to shop" speeches encourage your belief in Bush as the steadfast leader who can call for the commitment that is required for victory? He's been trying his best to get out ever since we knocked over that statue of Saddam. I guess in the end you go to war with the president you have...

Posted by: Retief at December 13, 2005 06:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Thank god about speaking up about that Belmot club guy wretchard,. Go back 2 1/2 years and he has the gueriillas completely defeated except of course it isn't really a guerilla war. He declares complete victory 3 or 4 times a year.

It''s llike 1984. These people don't understand the degree that they act to disillusion with their false promises or how their this "best of all possible wars" scnerio acted politically to encourage the administration from focusing on real problems and dangers and addressing them.

Now of course it is more difficult. The military has undergone substantial strain and because we didn't put in place decent accounting systems and bureaucracies the corruption is vast and unmeasured and so on.

I don't think the situation is hopeless. And I do believe unlike Vietnam this place is smack dab on the middle of US vital interests. But we've made lots of mistakes and sadly Dean may be right it may be useless. And people like Wretchard are far more responsible than those on the left for getting us there.

I am thankful that in recent wweeks the president has started to acknowledge some of the complexity and difficultlties by admitting such things that the unsurgenct is primarily local, the unevenness of progress and the toll on the Iraqi people. I also fear people like Wretchard will do all they can to discourage this because it interferes with their magical view of the universe

I don't want to bring Godwins law down on my head, but they do remind me of Hitler playing with toy soldiers decaring victory after victory as the allies advanced and finally declaring the Germans unworthy because where his figure representing a German company of old men and boys easily defeated the figureine of a Russian division in real life the unworthy Germans died. The only war commentator I can think of with equal capacity is "Comical Ali."

Posted by: kathy at December 13, 2005 06:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First, thanks to Joshua for clearing up my ignorance on "dhimmitude". As a member of a group that has had the short end of that stick for centuries, I should have known what it meant!!

JEB writes:"Success in Iraq cannot, by definition, result from the actions of Americans alone. It will happen as the result of Iraqi actions; Iraqis will reap its benefits, and Iraqis will pay the price of failure. We can give them better odds; we can prevent a newly-elected government from being overwhelmed by its enemies before it can establish itself. We cannot and must not mortgage the whole of American foreign policy to domestic developments in one, mid-sized Arab country."

In my view, that is the key insight in the above posts. We can articulate any number of goals and objectives with or without timetables (and I agree that timetables are an exercise in self delusion and ultimately harmful in that they stimulate deferred resistance). However, the events on the ground have a life of their own and I have yet to hear any prognosticator achieve a record of respectable accuracy. The Iraqis are either going to move in a constructive direction (from their perspective) under the protective American umbrella, or the entire situation is going to progress to a tipping point where one of the stronger factions sees its moment and goes on a military offensive. That, in turn will likely precipitate a nationwise scramble for whatever crumbs remain. For example, the Kurds in the North are presently cooperating with the US objectives, but they know the beasts much better than we do and they have their eyes on the Kurkirk oil. Were events to move in a direction such that to the Kurds it appeared that the Sunni's were be placated by giving them Kurkirk, you can bet that military moves would be contemplated. What then? Would US forces be in a confrontational mode with the Kurds? Likewise, the Shia have a number of different factions, the most concerning, at least for me, are the Sadr group. I think Sadr is an opportunist of the first order and were Sistini to expire, Sadr would certainly look for an opening to assume that leadership. That, in turn, would put him in conflict with other Shia groups and I could easily see the British tangled up in a grand neighborhood brawl in which the Iranians have chosen sides and are pumping the fight.

Finally (and that alone is a laugh), I have no real sense of the unity or lack of unity among the Sunnis, who are on the defensive due to their minority status which in turn causes them to perceive the risk that they will ultimately receive "hind tit" in any possible political settlement. Thus, I agree with glastnost that there will be no end to the "insurgency" for the forseeable future and that the most that we can hope for is that it will be reduced to a level that is manageable for the Iraqi forces.

Where does this lead? I have been undergoing a change in my perspective. I have supported the war and continue to do so. I have, however, come to the conclusion that the event that will precipitate our withdrawal will not be a timetable, or a US domestic election, but rather will be the outbreak of a civil war in Iraq of a dimension where would we to remain in country in force, we would be required to take sides with either the Shia or the Kurds, or be in the impossible middle.

Now before you jump on me, I am very comfortable with the notion that a significant portion of the current insurgency is, in fact, a civil war of sorts. However, as the nasty domestic protagonists and the AQ faction are primarily Sunni (with quiet but increasingly common Shia revenge actions), there is an upside limit on the amount of warfare that can and will proceed. That limit drops out if and when the Shia, or a significant alliance within the Shia factions decides that enough is enough and decides that a serious effort at ethnic cleansing in the Sunni triangle is in order. Will the American military (and the British if they are still with us) put down the Shia? It will depend upon the vigor of the Shia attack and the breadth of support that it has within the Shia communities (I hate that word).

To me, the event that poses the greatest risk of this degeneration will be the demise of Sistini. He has an influence that is great, but I certainly don't have any notion that there is another cleric or other leader waiting in the wings to step into his shoes. His demise will, in my opinion, precipitate an intense power struggle among the Shia and certainly one or more of the contestants will fly the banner of revenge on the Sunnis. At this point all bets are off and we will get out fast.

Will this signal the total failure of American policy up to that point? Not necessarily so. Even if the country ends up split between the Kurds and the Shia, with some refuge for the Sunni, the key question will be whether any or all of these "entities" will lean toward a democratic structure, or an Islamofacist structure, or in the case of the Shia, some sort of puppet state of Iran. The great hope is that enough of the Iraqis are sufficiently secular in their perspectives that they will find a place for Islam without, in effect, creating another Iran in the South. I have greater hope for the Kurds, who, I suspect will get their own state after all the dust clears and who seem to have already made progress in a democratic direction. Democratic progress among the Shia is a more open question although there is hope. The Sunnis will be a marginal group.

In the bigger picture, it is undeniable that there are democratic stirrings throughout the Middle East and if these continue in a positive direction, all will not be in vain.

There is tremendous complexity here and while we all debate the possibilities in good faith and with varying but heartfelt perspectives, I ultimately believe that events have a way of moving on their own notwithstanding the presumptively wise prognostications of the Kissingers of the world.

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at December 13, 2005 07:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It''s llike 1984. These people don't understand the degree that they act to disillusion with their false promises or how their this "best of all possible wars" scnerio acted politically to encourage the administration from focusing on real problems and dangers and addressing them.

During the run-up to our glorious adventure, nothing spooked me quite as much as the behavior of war advocates. If you remember those days, it seemed that every week the administration would trumpet some new "evidence" of Saddam's mighty world-threatening arsenal. Aluminum tubes, germ-spewing aerial drones, purported mobile biowar labs.... None of them lasted longer than a week; within days of the initial hype, they'd be discredited. (In the end, this embarrassing parade was what finally turned me emphatically against the idea of starting the war, because it raised real questions about the administration's basic competence.) But the astonishing thing was how war enthusiasts kept swallowing the disinfo, seizing on each new "proof", time after time after time. Plainly the technical offices that debunked the administration's lies were in league with Our Foes.

It's the kind of thinking that Stalin admired, and knew how to use. I won't be at all surprised when the same people tell me, in complete earnestness, how the future Iraqi anarchy / theocracy / both represents both a sterling example of Freedom (tm), and the most dazzling triumph of American foreign policy ever.

Posted by: sglover at December 13, 2005 08:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Given the regional environment, historical performance of Western democracies in counter-insurgency, and current world balance of power, we are not going to achieve permanent military victory over the insurgents. We do not have this capability. This will not change, so a conditions-based withdrawal based on military victory does not make sense.

2. In insurgency campaigns in a foreign country that you are not planning to permanently colonize, settle, and annex, there will always be hostility towards the presence of your soldiers. There's hostility against our soldiers in South Korea, and said soldiers are not even blowing up school buildings and arresting young men with judicial impuity on a regular basis. A conditions based-withdrawal based on "until they like us" does not make sense. This hostility is the mover of point #1.

3. Because most of the population is fundamentally hostile to us - though some of them tolerate us based on the greater perceived threat from their own citizens - and some do not - any democratic polity functioning according to the wishes of its citizens would have us ejected. Only an autocratic government disinterested in public opinion will tolerate our permanent presence in the role we now play. Thus, our presence fundamentally distorts and impedes Iraqi democracy. It's a democracy, except you can't make decisions relative to the US troops on your soil. That's why every government that coexists with us having the run of the place will always be a puppet government to some extent. We can't stay there until they stop being a puppet government: the two factors are mutually exclusive. The government that gains legitimacy will be the one that kicks us out, and that's how it will happen. A conditions-based withdrawal based on "until they're a real democracy" does not make sense. It's self-contradictory. Point #3 is based on Point #2."

A. The fundamental condition is not that we beat the insurgency completely, OR that we are liked, OR even that we have a democracy (though thats important for broader reasons) the fundamental condition is that the Iraqi govt has a force at its disposal such that it can contain the insurgency on its own, and can negotiate with such elements of the insurgency as are reconcilable, from a position of strength. At THAT point we can withdraw, and whatever negatives are associated with our presence can dissipate, and the Iraqis can deal with the insurgency, as other states have dealt with insurgencies. But NOT before. Until that time, we must contain the insurgency if not beat it

B. Reports from Iraq the last 12 months, give at least hints that we can do more than contain the insurgency. If we cant destroy it - and Iraqis must do that - we CAN weaken it in many ways. So qualify A - we must AT least contain, but hopefully, while Iraqi forces are prepared, we can weaken the insurgency

C. I do not agree that only an authoritarian govt would not expell us. Thats clearly incorrect, unless you are talking about a permanent presence. It seems clear that politicians who can garner the support of a majority of the Iraqi electorate want a US presence until the conditions I have mentioned in A and B are achieved.

D. I dont intend to dispute point 2, since I dont think until they like us is a valid condition. But I think youve oversimplified. In recent months dislike for some insurgents seems to have grown among Iraqis in the Sunni triangle. And of course when and where we achieve military successes, we can lessen our own militiary activities, and lessen the causes for dislike.


E. Most important, this isnt binary. We dont face a choice between patrolling every street in Iraq, and withdrawing all of our forces over the horizon. There are numerous intermediate approaches, some of which are already being applied. For example until the Iraqi forces are able to fight the insurgents directly, we can use our troops on the cutting edge, and use Iraqis to occupy afterwards - thats clear and hold - we clear, Iraqis hold - this minimizes exposure to US troops by the population, and at least in part addresses some of your concerns. Similarly by turning over provinces to Iraqi forces, we make clear that we dont intend to be there permanently.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 13, 2005 09:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Howard Roberts

A Seven-point plan for an Exit Strategy in Iraq


1) A timetable for the complete withdrawal of American and British forces must be announced.
I envision the following procedure, but suitable fine-tuning can be applied by all the people involved.

A) A ceasefire should be offered by the Occupying side to representatives of both the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite community. These representatives would be guaranteed safe passage, to any meetings. The individual insurgency groups would designate who would attend.
At this meeting a written document declaring a one-month ceasefire, witnessed by a United Nations authority, will be fashioned and eventually signed. This document will be released in full, to all Iraqi newspapers, the foreign press, and the Internet.
B) US and British command will make public its withdrawal, within sixth-months of 80 % of their troops.

C) Every month, a team of United Nations observers will verify the effectiveness of the ceasefire.
All incidences on both sides will be reported.

D) Combined representative armed forces of both the Occupying nations and the insurgency organizations that agreed to the cease fire will protect the Iraqi people from actions by terrorist cells.

E) Combined representative armed forces from both the Occupying nations and the insurgency organizations will begin creating a new military and police force. Those who served, with out extenuating circumstances, in the previous Iraqi military or police, will be given the first option to serve.

F) After the second month of the ceasefire, and thereafter, in increments of 10-20% ,a total of 80% will be withdrawn, to enclaves in Qatar and Bahrain. The governments of these countries will work out a temporary land-lease housing arrangement for these troops. During the time the troops will be in these countries they will not stand down, and can be re-activated in the theater, if both the chain of the command still in Iraq, the newly formed Iraqi military, the leaders of the insurgency, and two international ombudsman (one from the Arab League, one from the United Nations), as a majority, deem it necessary.


G) One-half of those troops in enclaves will leave three-months after they arrive, for the United States or other locations, not including Iraq.

H) The other half of the troops in enclaves will leave after six-months.

I) The remaining 20 % of the Occupying troops will, during this six month interval, be used as peace-keepers, and will work with all the designated organizations, to aid in reconstruction and nation-building.


J) After four months they will be moved to enclaves in the above mentioned countries.
They will remain, still active, for two month, until their return to the States, Britain and the other involved nations.



2) At the beginning of this period the United States will file a letter with the Secretary General of the Security Council of the United Nations, making null and void all written and proscribed orders by the CPA, under R. Paul Bremer. This will be announced and duly noted.



3) At the beginning of this period all contracts signed by foreign countries will be considered in abeyance until a system of fair bidding, by both Iraqi and foreign countries, will be implemented ,by an interim Productivity and Investment Board, chosen from pertinent sectors of the Iraqi economy.
Local representatives of the 18 provinces of Iraq will put this board together, in local elections.


4) At the beginning of this period, the United Nations will declare that Iraq is a sovereign state again, and will be forming a Union of 18 autonomous regions. Each region will, with the help of international experts, and local bureaucrats, do a census as a first step toward the creation of a municipal government for all 18 provinces. After the census, a voting roll will be completed. Any group that gets a list of 15% of the names on this census will be able to nominate a slate of representatives. When all the parties have chosen their slates, a period of one-month will be allowed for campaigning.
Then in a popular election the group with the most votes will represent that province.
When the voters choose a slate, they will also be asked to choose five individual members of any of the slates.
The individuals who have the five highest vote counts will represent a National government.
This whole process, in every province, will be watched by international observers as well as the local bureaucrats.

During this process of local elections, a central governing board, made up of United Nations, election governing experts, insurgency organizations, US and British peacekeepers, and Arab league representatives, will assume the temporary duties of administering Baghdad, and the central duties of governing.

When the ninety representatives are elected they will assume the legislative duties of Iraq for two years.

Within three months the parties that have at least 15% of the representatives will nominate candidates for President and Prime Minister.

A national wide election for these offices will be held within three months from their nomination.

The President and the Vice President and the Prime Minister will choose their cabinet, after the election.


5) All debts accrued by Iraq will be rescheduled to begin payment, on the principal after one year, and on the interest after two years. If Iraq is able to handle another loan during this period she should be given a grace period of two years, from the taking of the loan, to comply with any structural adjustments.



6) The United States and the United Kingdom shall pay Iraq reparations for its invasion in the total of 120 billion dollars over a period of twenty years for damages to its infrastructure. This money can be defrayed as investment, if the return does not exceed 6.5 %.


7) During the beginning period Saddam Hussein and any other prisoners who are deemed by a Council of Iraqi Judges, elected by the National representative body, as having committed crimes will be put up for trial.
The trial of Saddam Hussein will be before seven judges, chosen from this Council of Judges.
One judge, one jury, again chosen by this Council, will try all other prisoners.
All defendants will have the right to present any evidence they want, and to choose freely their own lawyers.





Posted by: howard roberts at December 14, 2005 12:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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