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More on Bush’s New Iraq Strategy

January 12, 2007

Timmy asks some good questions, Rob doesn’t.

I have not posted very regularly for sometime. I have also not been especially clear as of late. But I do sometimes wonder why certain questions arise. Perhaps I am the only war supporter you know, or I have so discredited myself in your eyes that all I can ever provoke is a knee-jerk reaction. I had hoped to at least open your minds up to the idea that supporting the war is at lest not crazy and immoral. In that I think I have failed.

There is much in this strategy that is debatable by people of good faith. The President said as much himself. I don’t know if this strategy will work or not, but it seems to be enough of a change to at least be regarded as something new. The rebuke and challenge to interference by Iran and Syria- which I somehow forgot to mention in my last post- is a lone a (potentially) important change.

It’s again approaching 1AM, so I will have to be brief and point to a few links which illuminate the important issues better than I could.

The rules of engagement needed to change. Our troops are not permitted to shoot when they need to and as a result are put in much more danger and are less effective than they could be. This is a complex issue- there are many good reasons for our policies that are prudent and moral- and the issue is explored in depth here and here.

Bill Roggio has a more detailed response to the effectiveness of the proposed tactical and operational changes- complete with all the caveats I think you and Rob are looking for.

Bush is not my President. He’s our President. He’s had lot’s of input from a lot of people- experienced people and new people chosen in the wake of the mid-term elections and the ISG. This is his course and I will hope for it’s successful execution. When we have a President Hillary in ’08, I will hope for a successful campaign against terrorism in her way too. Really. If you can’t reciprocate I understand but this is what I’m going to do.

Finally, I’ll note this link pointing to this piece of the ISG (pg. 50):

We could, however, support a short term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective.

Also, Tim correctly points out that the Pelosi article I linked to was from 2004, not 2006. I guess it’s no incumbent for you to explain what’s changed since then that would suggest giving up and going home will help stabilize Iraq or enhance the security of the US.

Another interesting link is this MSNBC story on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (who did not originally vote for the 2002 authorization to invade Iraq):

“We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies,” Reyes said. “We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan” was before the 2001 invasion by the United States.

Reyes also stressed that there needed to be greater “political accountability” demanded of the Iraqi government. But on the core issue of the U.S. commitment, Reyes—a Vietnam War veteran who partially lost his hearing in that conflict—even compared his position to that of another Vietnam vet, Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. Like Reyes, McCain also has called for an increase in U.S. troop strength. When asked how many additional troops he envisioned sending to Iraq, Reyes replied: “I would say 20,000 to 30,000—for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

This sounds like what Bush is going to do. Again that Democrats would now denounce it is not surprising, but it is extremely disheartening. I have no doubt that most are sincere in there concerns, but ultimately I think they are being weak and not holding the long-term safety of the country foremost in their minds. It’s not even the disagreement that disturbs me- it’s the petulant whining that “Bush said we were winning- but we’re not… Nyah nyah da boo boo”. We were winning. Now we’re not. Let’s figure out how to win… what’s so wrong with that idea?

No Rob they are not traitors- now please give me some substantial, reasoned arguments why these tactics won’t work.

It might look like this rebuttal to a Dean Barnett rant at Hugh Hewitt’s (via Instapundit- you should read it sometime it’s full of this kind of stuff).

I am not interested in holding up much of anything as perfect, much less President Bush. However, because something is not perfect does not mean I will mock and disdain it. I try not to mock and disdain anything, but sometimes it’s hard not to. For all of Bush’s failures as a communicator, in my view his stilted and weak articulation of his policies is still preferable to the ardent denunciations of the Democrats. Why? Ultimately I think that they believe that if we just get out of Iraq all this ugliness will go away. That too is a fantasy cakewalk which will not survive contact with reality. I can’t say it enough: let’s all figure out how to win.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob A. permalink
    January 12, 2007 12:50 pm

    Hats off to Tim C. for asking questions and making arguments in a way that I can’t. I admit that it’s hard for me to argue in a reasonable and gentle way with people like yourself who have mocked war critics for “daring” to suggest that the war wasn’t going well.

    “We ARE winning,” you used to say, Dave, and you used to ridicule those of us negative nabobs who denied that we’re winning. You used to dismiss us as unpatriotic for seeming to imply we weren’t winning. Now, suddenly, you’re asking for my help in “figuring out how to win.”

    Given my struggle to argue reasonably, I will defer to the Financial Times’ Phillip Stevens, the best foreign affairs writer in the world today. As he notes:

    >>There have been two wars in Iraq. The first has been the one in the mind of George W. Bush… Victory is the only option if, in the president’s words this week, the US is not to surrender the future to extremists.

    The second war has been the one we watch nightly on our television screens – the insurgency-cum-sectarian bloodletting that has cost 3,000 American and countless times as many Iraqi lives. In this grindingly vicious, increasingly complex conflict the US has for some time been facing defeat.

    Last November the two wars, the imagined and the real, might well have converged. The heavy losses suffered by the Republicans in the mid-term elections carried the message that America had lost faith in Mr Bush’s war. The voters wanted the troops to come home. Even as they spoke, the Baker-Hamilton study group concluded with commendable candour that the real war was indeed being lost. Surely, the pretence would have to end.

    Those who thought so underestimated, if that is the right word, Mr Bush. The president, as we heard again this week, will not let go of the war of the imagination.

    Iraq is fracturing along its sectarian and ethnic fault lines; the government of Nouri al-Maliki is propped up by Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, the nastiest of the Shia militias; the Sunni insurgency is undiminished; Iran and Syria are doing their best to stir further mischief. Mr Bush’s answer is another 20,000 troops and a change in the rules of engagement.

    This, it should be recalled, is not the first overhaul of Iraq policy. In November 2005, the White House published a National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Much of what Mr Bush said this week echoes that document. Sceptics will recall that the latest escalation of American forces will do little more than restore them to the levels of 15 months ago.

    In its own terms it makes sense, as Mr Bush now proposes, to embark on a determined effort to pacify Baghdad as a building block for reconciliation and reconstruction. Few would quarrel, either, with the president’s stern warning that Mr Maliki must reach out to marginalised Sunnis and former Ba’athists. To have the slimmest chance of stabilising Iraq, the US must break the vicious circle that holds politics hostage to violence and security to political deadlock.

    Mr Bush, though, has willed the ends without the means. Even if Iraq’s Shia leadership is willing to tame its militias – a doubtful proposition – 20,000 additional US troops is woefully inadequate. Treble or quadruple that number, military strategists say, and a “clear and hold” strategy in Baghdad might just work. In any event, Mr Bush has announced that the so-called surge is strictly temporary, thus further diminishing its likely effectiveness.

    Missing too is a political roadmap, for Iraq or for the region. Necessary though it is, admonishing Mr Maliki to engage the Sunnis is not of itself a strategy for political reconciliation. Reminding Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan that they have an important stake in Iraq’s stability likewise does not substitute for engagement with Iran and Syria.

    Here, Mr Bush has ignored the Baker-Hamilton insight that it will be impossible to stabilise Iraq without at least the tacit acceptance of its neighbours and above all of Iran. To the president’s mind, talking to your enemies is an admission of defeat. The irony is that, in the context of Iraq, to refuse to engage with those enemies makes a certainty of defeat.

    What we are left with, then, is a president still fighting the simple war he thought he had started in 2003. This owes nothing to the bloody tapestry created by myriad power struggles in Iraq. Instead, America is facing a finite number of Ba’athist and foreign diehards who, with resolve, can be beaten in battle.

    Mr Bush, of course, has not been alone in his delusions during these past few years. It is not that long since Dick Cheney, the vice-president, was publicly declaring the insurgency to be in “its last throes”. It will be for historians to judge when precisely the US lost the war. To my mind, though, there is a good case to pinpoint two moments almost at the outset. The first was Donald Rumsfeld’s response to the rioting and looting in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad. “Stuff happens,” the then defence secretary breezed, even as he prepared to reduce US troop levels in the face of rising disorder. Soon after, the administration handed the enemy 350,000 recruits by disbanding the army and purging Ba’athists.

    The sadness is that the descent into chaos was predicted as well as predictable. In 1999 the generals and policymakers in Washington carried out a series of planning exercises for the occupation of Iraq. The now unclassified conclusions have recently been published by the National Security Archive.

    “A change in regime,” the authors of the exercise code-named Desert Crossing noted, “does not guarantee stability . . . aggressive neighbours, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect stability”.

    They calculated that a force of 400,000 and an occupation lasting perhaps a decade would be necessary to build stable self-government in Baghdad. Even then, the assumption was that retribution against the Ba’athists would be limited and the army would be kept intact.

    The point these policymakers came back to again and again was a need to reach an accommodation with the regional powers, if necessary by ending the isolation of Iran. With what now seems like extraordinary prescience but at the time was seen as common sense, they cautioned: “More so than any other country in the region, mismanagement of Iran, with all its capabilities and possible intentions, could be disastrous for the United States and the coalition.” And so it has proved.

    One temptation now is to see Mr Bush’s latest strategy as a cynical manoeuvre. It might be an effort to run down the clock of his presidency – leaving the Saigon moment to his successor. Alternatively, the president might be seeking political cover for retreat later in the year – the administration could at least say it had done its best. My own inclination is to believe the worst. Mr Bush is still fighting that other war.

  2. Tim C permalink
    January 12, 2007 1:58 pm

    I looked over the NRO article and I’m still unclear on your answer my question:

    How is this different that what we tried before and failed before?

    I think you said in essence: “Our troops are not permitted to shoot when they need to and as a result are put in much more danger and are less effective than they could be.”

    How and where in the Bush proposal is language that discusses how our troops are now freed “to shoot when they need to…”?

    I’ll have some time this weekend to look over the actual Bush proposal and likely will have some real thoughts then…


  3. The Count permalink
    January 12, 2007 2:10 pm

    That would be the loosening of the rules of engagement. Our troops are almost never allowed to shoot first. If they return fire, there is an investigation as to why there was force escalation. Peruse some of my links.

    If you read the Roggio piece and still are unclear why what’s happening is different… read again. We’re going to confront meddling by Iran and Syria. We’re going after the militias- and so will Maliki (in theory at least). How it plays out, we’ll see. But if you look at my previous 4 posts or so, you can see how I would not be surprised if this is really more of a cover for a retreat. Retreating is complicated and actually requires more troops for a time to be done safely. How that is rah-rah on my part I don’t know. I still feel like you all aren’t really listening to me, but putting some kind of label on me and responding to that. Listen carefully.

  4. January 12, 2007 2:35 pm

    [from Rob’s FT quote]

    Few would quarrel, either, with the president’s stern warning that Mr Maliki must reach out to marginalised Sunnis and former Ba’athists. To have the slimmest chance of stabilising Iraq, the US must break the vicious circle that holds politics hostage to violence and security to political deadlock.

    This part was to me the most positive aspect of the speech. Some war critics have been saying for quite some time that our policies and war conduct have been providing just enough security to allow the sometimes-political-sometimes-militia-sometimes-clan/sectarian operators to dissemble, enrich themselve, stick it to their rivals, and then come running back to Uncle Sam for protection. If there is a salvageable Iraq in there somewhere, a little bit of stick along with all our carrots might induce the Iraqi factions to try to piece it back together, but only if they know the clock is tick, tick, ticking.
    I applaud the president for finally realizing that the “no timetables” mantra he was so fond of reciting just meant “as long as we’ve got ol’ Bush to kick around…”
    Limiting the stay of the “surge” force might make it less potent as a purely military tool, but to the degree that it provides an incentive to the Iraqis to take their future in their own hands, it’s invaluable. And if Pres. Bush has finally realized that staying forever regardless of what’s happening on the ground is a dead end, he might get a little more of the support that he wants from the American people.

  5. January 12, 2007 5:47 pm

    Wow! Very encouraging to get this comment, Andrew. I had overlooked this piece as well, but it is a much needed component of winning.

    Also glad to see you are interested in winning 😉

  6. Rob P permalink
    January 16, 2007 11:54 am

    I agree with Rob A. when he says:

    “Here, Mr Bush has ignored the Baker-Hamilton insight that it will be impossible to stabilise Iraq without at least the tacit acceptance of its neighbours and above all of Iran. To the president’s mind, talking to your enemies is an admission of defeat. The irony is that, in the context of Iraq, to refuse to engage with those enemies makes a certainty of defeat.”

    We probably do need to engage–militarily–those neighbors who are fomenting “civil war” in Iraq. Rob A. is correct to call them “enemies.” What we ought to do is treat them as enemies.

  7. The Count permalink
    January 17, 2007 12:02 am

    Good to have you back, anti-Rob.

    Here’s some good reminders of why Iran really is our enemy.

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