September 06, 2007

The Coming Iraq Extravaganza on The Hill

Bruce Ackerman, writing recently in the FT:

President George W. Bush’s campaign to stay the course in Iraq is taking a new and constitutionally dangerous turn. When Senator John Warner recently called for a troop withdrawal by Christmas, the White House did not mount its usual counterattack. It allowed a surprising champion to take its place. Major General Rick Lynch, a field commander in Iraq, summoned reporters to condemn Mr Warner’s proposal as “a giant step backwards”.

It was Maj Gen Lynch who was making the giant step into forbidden territory. He had no business engaging in a public debate with a US senator. His remarks represent an assault on the principle of civilian control – the most blatant so far during the Iraq war.

Nobody remarked on the breach. But this only makes it more troubling and should serve as prologue for the next large event in civilian-military relations: the president’s effort to manipulate General David Petraeus’s report to Congress.

Mr Bush has pushed Gen Petraeus into the foreground to shore up his badly damaged credibility. But in doing so, he has made himself a hostage. He needs the general more than the general needs him. Despite the president’s grandiose pretensions as commander-in-chief, the future of the Iraq war is up to Gen Petraeus.

The general’s impact on Congress will be equally profound. If he brings in a negative report, Republicans will abandon the sinking ship in droves; if he accentuates the positive, it is the Democrats who will be spinning.

In fact, if not in name, it will be an army general who is calling the shots – not the duly elected representatives of the American people.

Wars are tough on constitutions, but losing wars is particularly tough on the American separation of powers. Especially when Congress and the presidency are in different hands, the constitutional dynamics invite both sides to politicise the military. With the war going badly, it is tempting to push the generals on to centre stage and escape responsibility for the tragic outcomes that lie ahead. But as Iraq follows on from Vietnam, this dynamic may generate a politicised military that is embittered by its repeated defeats in the field.

From this perspective, the US owes a great debt to Harry Truman. It would have been politically convenient for the president to defer to General Douglas Mac­Arthur’s advice and invade China in the Korean war. But Truman fired MacArthur instead, opening the way for General Dwight Eisenhower to win the next election. While the Democratic party was a big loser, the principle of civilian control remained intact.

Mr Bush is no Truman. He has used Gen Petraeus as a pawn in a game to defer congressional judgment from the spring to the autumn. Now he is transforming him into a mythic figure, scheduling his report to Congress for September 11. As the nation pauses to remember that terrible day in 2001, the president wants his general to appear on television as the steely-eyed hero of the hour, leading the country to ultimate victory in “the war on terror”.

This puts Gen Petraeus in a difficult constitutional position. Paradoxically, it is now up to a military man to defend the principle of civilian control. Gen Petraeus should make his priorities clear by immediately disciplining Gen Lynch for his thoughtless breach of constitutional principle. When his moment of truth comes, he should make every effort to avoid being a shill for either the Republicans or the Democrats – emphasising that the important questions are political, not military. He should restrict himself to an impartial statement of the facts and refuse to judge the success of the surge.

Petraeus increasingly risks looking like a propagandist, especially given that there is a lot of O'Hanlon-esque selective number juggling going-on these days. I hope he does make every effort to "avoid being a shill" for his CINC, however, and I'll of course withhold judgment and analyze his and Crocker's testimony before making any definitive conclusions, but the mere fact even of having some of this testimony occur on 9/11 I find reprehensible.

Related, Petraeus' hyper-assiduous courting of the media (most recently, the 'reverse Cronkite' schmooze-fest with an impressionable Katie Couric) has one concerned we have a man who is beginning to believe some of the 'Gettysburg hype' (read: fantastical scenarios re: Iraq's future, rather than the more tepid 'strategic patience' line, itself something of a hail mary, but one that has dutifully made its way from the field to Tony Cordesman's trip report and now, rather too uncritically, to Roger Cohen and David Brooks' op-ed copy). After all, he's prosecuting the effort himself, perhaps it's going better than expected?

Meantime, don't miss this piece:

Iraq's army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven," according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.

The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is "dysfunctional" and is "a ministry in name only." The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

Although citing recent "tactical success" and favorable "strategic implications" resulting from the Bush administration's current war strategy, the commission recommends that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning internal security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies.

The assessment by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq is one of several independent progress reports ordered by Congress for delivery before the administration presents its own scorecard next week. Members of the 20-member group, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, traveled throughout Iraq over the summer and met with hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi officials as well as leading nongovernmental experts on the Iraqi forces. Jones will present the 152-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, in testimony today before the Senate and House Armed Services committees. [my emphasis throughout]

"Retasked", eh? Where have we seen that recommendation before, I wonder? And how many men have died in the meantime, and will still in coming days, before we fall into a more intelligent force posture on the ground, one grounded in strategic reality rather than utopic hope?

Posted by Gregory at September 6, 2007 12:54 PM

it may be that the most interesting things, in a clinical sense, to come out of this misadventure will be how perceptions of American democracy and the American military may be significantly tainted - and to what end who knows. Bad enough to have an idiot slacker born again wank as president or have the White House turned into a cynical PR organ serving Republican propaganda above all other considerations - but does it not seem the military is seriously ailing as well? Remember General Myers and what a Bush lackey he was? Has Rovian partisan cynicism metastisised? Does anyone really believe that Petraeus is a free agent here, above hidden agendas? Seems extremely unlikely - would Bush really be building him up so much without feeling pretty secure about what he's going to report?

Posted by: HTP at September 6, 2007 06:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As some other blogger said, the reason why the anti-war section of the political blogosphere waxes indignant is that the same general attitude that got us into war still exists and gets barely acknowledged.

This latest Bush administration spin, especially the latest insipid comments by Bush himself on our "kicking ass" to an Australian official, only serves to deepen said unacknowledged attitude.

I'm pessimistic enough to consider that a simple lie about "kicking ass" is easier to believe than the complicated truth we have today.


Posted by: The Mechanical Eye at September 6, 2007 10:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It appears as if the Jones commission is urging a modified version of Gen. Casey's policy, pre-surge. There is a greater emphasis on border security than there was up until the end of last year, but otherwise Gen. Jones seems to want to return to waiting for the Iraqis, or at least for the Iraqi army and local police forces, to stand up so we can stand down.

I don't see how this would get us anywhere, though it would be fair to point out that I don't think Gen. Petraeus's counterinsurgency will get us anywhere either. If some Iraqi provinces are going to explode in an orgy of sectarian killing if there American troops stationed there are redeployed, it won't matter if the Americans are redeployed to western Anbar or to Alabama. And assigning more American combat units to police border traffic crossing to and from Syria and Iran puts those units (by definition) on the Iraq's periphery, extending their lines of communication and increasing still further the opportunities for these to be mined. Increasing the American commitment to border security is another one of those ideas that might have made good sense in 2003 or 2004 and has since been overtaken by events.

Posted by: Zathras at September 7, 2007 04:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To my mind the only interesting aspect of Petraeus' dog and pony show will be whether it's the opening move of the Iran war disinfo campaign. I want to see how much blame is placed on "foreign meddlers" -- that'll be especially rich coming from the guy heading the occupation. But as far as an honest assessment of the situation and prospects in Iraq, I think Petraeus and his precious "report" are already thoroughly compromised. But the intended Beltway audience is pretty much delusional anyway, so I suppose it all balances out in some sick way.

Posted by: sglover at September 7, 2007 05:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Dems in Congress have the power to end the career of any officer they feel is not upholding their oath to defend the Constitution.

Maybe its time they made an example out of one of these propagandists in military clothing?

Posted by: alphie at September 7, 2007 07:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's just beyond satire now with you folks. Do you deny that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is waging war on us in Iraq; as they were with Syrian cooperation in Lebanon in 1983-84. As they did against the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1992,1994. That General Jaafari, a fellow
kdnapper along with Ahmadinejad; who specialist in dissident hit teams in Europe (Quassemlou, Vienna) is now running the organization. What is the
realistic alternative that you propose

Posted by: narciso at September 7, 2007 01:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What is the realistic alternative that you propose

You first. What is the realistic alternative that you propose?

PROTIP: Bombing Iran until ponies and puppies come out ain't it.

Posted by: Doug H. at September 7, 2007 01:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do you deny that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is waging war on us in Iraq; as they were with Syrian cooperation in Lebanon in 1983-84.

Ah yeah. Right about the same time that we were "waging war" on the USSR, or at least their Cuban minions, in Nicaragua. Why didn't Moscow launch their missiles? By your logic, they would have been correct to do so, right?

Posted by: sglover at September 7, 2007 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, for the record, I deny that the IRGC is waging war on us. We'll know it for sure when they are. They are a player, for sure. And they are up to no good. As we are up to no good, from their perspective, with our special forces probes into their sovereign territory. And as they think we are up to no good by supporting groups that the Iranians deem terrorists groups, active in their homeland as well. And is it so surprising, or unrealistic to think that if the IDF invades Lebanon the Iranians are going to come to the aid of the Shia' in the South? Yes, yes, yes, I know all about the 'good reasons' the IDF had for going in in 82 and 06. But please spare us the innocent victim act as if no one in Iran could conjure up hostility by our actions or the IDF's actions.

Posted by: jonst at September 7, 2007 08:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do you deny that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is waging war on us in Iraq

1. The Bush Doctrine states that "pre-emptive war," i.e., waging a non-declared war against a state that had not committed any acts of aggression against it, is a legitimate form of self-defense for sovereign nations.

2. Iraq is a sovereign nation.

3. Iran is right next to Iran, where a civil war is raging

4. The US is involved in that civil war. The US is also engaged in provocative behavior towards Iran.

Seems to me that Iran has a legitimate claim of self-defense here.

If you disagree, please state why you disagree.

Posted by: CaseyL at September 8, 2007 02:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

your moral equivalence renders you all flaccid.

Iran made their plans well in advance of the invasion. They want to undermine Iraq the way their Hezbollah subverts Lebanon and is a launching pad to attack the other democracy in the region, Israel. They want another base for misadventure, like al quaeda. Which you are only too happy to provide.

Iraq is being pacified, to the joy of most Iraqis. When enough of the extremists on both sides are killed, peace and political growth will prevail in Iraq.

Before the world, Iraqi sunnis have turned on al quaeda and are tag-teaming very effectively with the Americans to drive al quaeda out of the country.

To Osama's intense humiliation.

Did you hear him bemoaning the inaction of democrats in Congress to pull his chestnuts out of the fire in Iraq? Which are currently being incinerated by the Iraqis and the Americans....
I love it.

Posted by: neill at September 8, 2007 02:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Again with the sexual inadequacy references. Last time I think it was we (those who express disagreement with your perspectives)were "pussies". Now our opinions render us "flaccid". Odd.

In any event, yes, Iran made its plans in advance of the invasion. They said, 'hey, here's what we will do. Let's arrange it so two of our deadly enemies AQ and the Americans, battle it out right on both ends of our nation. And lets see, as well, if we can get an increase in the amount of naval power directed at us from the Gulf. Same thing from the air'

Then you go on to write the best sentence, or at least the most stunning, sentence I have seen written this year: "Iraq is being pacified, to the joy of most Iraqis". I could almost conjure up the celebratory notes of Ode to Joy when I read that. I mean what else can one say about that? True, it is vexing that there appears to be so much joy that the Iraqis can't stand it anymore and are leaving the country in record numbers. But you can't please all the people. There is always those types who don't see, and appreciate, when they have it good.

And you end by attacking Dems for appearing to side with OBL......I say, go for it hell with reality. And what's more I think your narrative is taking hold in DC among the Dems....and as such, they will do nothing meaningful to end our participation in the insane and counter productive occupation. So you should take satisfaction that the 'very serious people' in DC seem to agree with you. And yet, I have a hunch, at 3AM in the morning, when they are among themselves, (since doubt should never be expressed in front of the 'enemy') there is this vague feeling of unease. Nov 2008 is coming.

Posted by: jonst at September 8, 2007 12:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tonight's Wash. Post/ABC poll says that, by 53-39, the people expect Petraeus to deliberately lie in his report: (question #16).

Anyone care to take bets on the Congressional Dems nevertheless quaking in their boots at the dreadful political consequences of their questioning his statements in any significant way? Forget their actual policy recommendations; what nitwits are the Dems taking their purely political strategic advice from?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 9, 2007 05:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah, I can hear the joy of the Iraqis all the way over here in Texas.

I know this won't happen, but I wish the government would just stop pretending it cares what we think and tell us that we will be in Iraq for a long time to come. I've read that we're building the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Baghdad (and that like all the other construction projects there, it is rife with corruption and incompetence). It doesn't matter what Petraeus says, we're not leaving. Not for a really long time.

Posted by: LL at September 9, 2007 07:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, Bruce, you are 98% correct. Most (but no means all) the Dems will not question our noble General's proclamations. If it means the US army has to be worn down till it breaks, so be it. And anyway...if and when that horrible fate comes to fruition....the Dems can blame the GOP for it. Yes, both sides......profiles in not only courage, but wisdom. This is what it has come to. Kiss the Republic goodbye.

In the meantime Bruce....see your/our new bed parter.

Posted by: jonst at September 9, 2007 10:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"People of America: the world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of you being afflicted with disappointment.

And here is the gist of the matter, so one should pause, think, and reflect: why have the Democrats failed to stop this war, despite them being the majority."

Maybe he should start posting over at Daily Kos.

Posted by: neill at September 9, 2007 07:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill, really. TRY to grow up. Did you actually think that Osama would say in a message that is also sent to his followers: "Please, America, stay in Iraq" -- whether he really wants us to do so (and thus exhaust our strength, as the CIA suspects) or not? And until you can propose a way for us to actually win there (without a draft, presumably, since even the Bushites are opposed to that), what the hell military relevance does it have to our situation WHAT Bin Looney says?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 9, 2007 11:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

actually, al-Zawahiri DID say that not too long ago. seems to have been a change of heart...

Posted by: neill at September 10, 2007 02:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If so, they didn't get it from the poll results. Today's ABC poll of Iraqis: the Sunnis think by 93-7 that "attacks on US forces are justified". The Shiites are evenly split on the subject: (pg. 29). This, really, is not much different from the results of ABC's laat poll of Iraqis in spring 2004.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 10, 2007 08:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neill, feel free to go over with the other 28% idiots with Bush Derangement Syndrome and keep banging your pointy little head into a bloody pulp against the brick wall that is Iraq.

Unfortuately for you, the rest of us believe in fighting smart.

Posted by: neocock at September 10, 2007 11:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I really, really, really don't want to side with neill, but actually, this

And here is the gist of the matter, so one should pause, think, and reflect: why have the Democrats failed to stop this war, despite them being the majority."

is an extremely pertinent question, and "We don't have the votes, waaaah!" isn't an answer.

Maybe both Bush AND the Dems want to keep the Iraq disaster spinning along, each for their own purposes? Bush plainly wants to dump the mess and the blame on his successor -- it's how the worthless little shitstain has lived his entire life, after all. As for the Dems, I suspect they think they're being clever: Show me the politician who wouldn't salivate at running against a failed, wrong war, and the party that crafted it.

The Jackass wants to make Iraq the catalyst of a 1932-scale rout, and it might even pay off -- in the short term. But of course, it's the Jackass we're talking about, so thinking things through isn't exactly high on the agenda. If, as seems very likely, the Dems win the White House and both houses of Congress, they'll be perfectly set up for taking ALL the blame for "losing" Iraq. And in a real sense, they'll deserve it -- for abdicating their duties, and not ending Bush's war while Bush is still in office

Posted by: sglover at September 12, 2007 05:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If the US counterinsurgency mission were abandoned pursuant to the Democrats' preference for a more rapid withdrawal, the result would be massive civilian casualties and still-greater turmoil that could spread to neighboring countries -- that's merely a guess but it's probably the right one. (Isn't that right, Washington Post?)

Now, I know Bush is the devil and all, but do we *really* want to risk that?

Posted by: psfinegan at September 15, 2007 12:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Except, of course, that there is almost certainly no way for us to prevent it even if we stay in -- which (since Psfinegan apparently has never read this site or any other of the sensible anti-Iraq War sites) has always been precisely the problem. The real problem, lest Pefinegan forget, is that our "counterinsurgency" efforts have always been limited almost entirely to stepping on the Sunnis while leaving the Shiites alone, since we don't even begin to have enough troops to repress THEIR murderous militias (and could never have gotten those troops short of a draft that stated some time back).

Which means that we can't do a thing militarily to stop the imminent civil war -- our "efforts" in counterinsurgency now are stictly limited to fig-leaf operations, and particularly to supposed operations against "al-Qaeda in Iraq". (Which will almost certainly never be a significant threat to us no matter what happens, since the Shiites can't stand it and now the resident Sunnis can't stand it either. The only reason the latter will tolerate having it around is as emergency allies in their last-ditch struggle against the Shiites -- and in that case the a-Q troops, like the other Sunnis, will be too busy shooting at the Shiites and running for their lives to give us much trouble.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 15, 2007 06:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That's "a draft that STARTED some time back" -- not "stated". *sigh*

And as for Bush "being the Devil": he's not Voldemort in the current struggle -- that role, of course, still belongs to the Islamic fascists. He's merely Cornelius Fudge.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 15, 2007 06:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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

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