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This Disconnected Debate

April 13, 2007

I’m in the thick of it on a pilot, and won’t have a day of for about two weeks. I don’t even have much time to read, much lest post but I’ll toss this one out for debate:

Charles Krauthammer in National Review Online: Democrats ignore real progress

The news from Anbar is the most promising. Only last fall, the Marines’ leading intelligence officer there concluded that the U.S. had essentially lost the fight to al-Qaeda. Yet, just this week, the marine commandant, Gen. James Conway, returned from a four-day visit to the province and reported that we “have turned the corner.”

Why? Because, as Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, the Australian counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, has written, 14 of the 18 tribal leaders in Anbar have turned against al-Qaeda. As a result, thousands of Sunni recruits are turning up at police stations where none could be seen before. For the first time, former insurgent strongholds such as Ramadi have a Sunni police force fighting essentially on our side.

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a major critic of the Bush war policy, now reports that in Anbar, al-Qaeda is facing “a real and growing groundswell of Sunni tribal opposition.” And that “this is a crucial struggle and it is going our way—for now.”

Timmy C. keeps wanting me to read up on Obama’s plan. I’ve responded to that in the comments, but my main point is the situation is changing on the ground so much that his plan is now increasingly obsolete.

Not totally obsolete mind you. Nor is the news from Iraq all good. That has never been my point. What is really happening is very complex, and what really matters is our resolve to win. Krauthhammer also makes a point I made recently:

(W)here was the mandate for withdrawal? Almost no Democratic candidates campaigned on that. They campaigned for changing the course the administration was on last November.

Which the president has done. He changed the civilian leadership at the Department of Defense, replaced the head of Central Command and, most critically, replaced the Iraq commander with Petraeus—unanimously approved by the Democratic Senate—to implement a new counterinsurgency strategy.


Also thanks to commenter Kathleen for her thoughts. I hope to respond to them sometime this week when I have a moment.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim C. permalink
    April 16, 2007 12:39 pm

    I think you are smart to be so cautionary… Patraus himself was clear we won’t really know if the surge is working until late summer… And there are lots of signs of new tactics by the insurgents: chlorine bombs, bridge explosions, attacks inside the green zone, and escalated violence outside bahgdad that indicate that the Shia may have just melted away during the insurgency, outside of the capitol.

    But either way, I think it smart to wait until late Summer to begin seeing if the surge “worked.”

    Here is what I see as a metric of if it does. And these “facts on the ground” seem all to unchaged so far to me. And to my mind, these are the facts on the ground that Obama and other Dems plans are specifically addressing:

    From Fareed Zakaria’s last column:

    “It would seem reasonable, then, to measure progress not just by neighborhoods secured and militants killed, but in political terms as well. And as it happens we have a series of benchmarks that have been set out at various points by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government.

    Just before the referendum on Iraq’s Constitution in October 2005, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad brokered a deal that secured Sunni participation in exchange for the Iraqi government’s promising to set up a committee to amend the Constitution to incorporate Sunni concerns later. This was to have been done four months after the formation of Iraq’s elected government—in other words, by September 2006. Nothing has happened. When he took office, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced plans for an ambitious program of national reconciliation. Nothing has happened.

    In January, after persistent inquiries from Sen. Carl Levin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote to Levin setting out the benchmarks and timeline that the Iraqi government had signed off on. They included new election laws, the scheduling of provincial elections, laws on investment and oil-revenue sharing, the disbanding of militias, the reversal of de-Baathification and the granting of amnesty. In supporting the surge, Sen. John McCain also listed these goals as crucial to progress.

    But none of them has taken place.

    The revenue-sharing law has passed the cabinet but not yet moved through Parliament. The Los Angeles Times reported in February that Baghdad had abandoned plans to reverse de-Baathification. It quoted a U.S. official who said that the reform, far from advancing as promised, was “moving backward” and was “almost dead in the water.” The amnesty law also appears moribund.

    These two measures have historically proved crucial in almost any political process that has ended a civil war. Without some kind of amnesty and prospect for rehabilitation, there is little incentive for insurgents to lay down their arms and join the political process. Last week the Sunni vice president of Iraq urged his own government to begin talks with the insurgents, a position that General Petraeus has also taken.

    There are less formal benchmarks that are also not being met. Maliki was to have reshuffled his cabinet to remove members who actively fomented civil war. That has not happened. The government was to finally start spending money in Sunni areas. That has not happened. Militias were to be demobilized. Instead, one of their most notorious leaders has been released from prison and publicly embraced by Maliki.

    For four years President Bush has given Iraq’s leaders unconditional support. They have not interpreted it as a reason to make compromises. In fact, talking to both U.S. officials in Iraq and Iraqi politicians, it appears that the chief reason there has been some movement on a few of these issues—the oil laws and noninterference in U.S. military operations, for instance—was the fear that Congress was going to force a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

    The Democratic bills in Congress have two features: timeline and benchmarks….

    But the benchmarks to measure Iraq’s political progress—prominent in the Senate bill—are entirely in keeping with the basic strategy being outlined by Gates, Petraeus and, indeed, Bush. The only difference is that this is a strategy with teeth. If the Iraqi government does not do what the administration itself has argued is crucial to success, then American troops should begin withdrawing. (There will still be a need for a reduced force to fight Al Qaeda, secure Kurdistan and prevent major refugee flows.)

    Announcing his new surge policy on Jan. 10, President Bush said, “I’ve made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.” In a sense, Congress is merely following through on the president’s promise.

  2. Tim C. permalink
    April 16, 2007 12:42 pm

    Here is a good article listing the political “facts on the ground” the benchmarks that have not been met, and that are a good metric I think to seeing if the surge is working, or if more pressure, such as the Obama plan of something similiar is still relevant and needed:

  3. April 17, 2007 10:27 am

    Hmm… Tim’s last 3 comments had gone to the spam filter here (which doesn’t send me a notice to moderate). Some questions in my last comments appear to have been anwered here.

  4. April 17, 2007 10:50 am

    Interesting article from April 2nd., Tim. It seems fair to me. Of especial interest to me:

    For four years President Bush has given Iraq’s leaders unconditional support. They have not interpreted it as a reason to make compromises. In fact, talking to both U.S. officials in Iraq and Iraqi politicians, it appears that the chief reason there has been some movement on a few of these issues—the oil laws and noninterference in U.S. military operations, for instance—was the fear that Congress was going to force a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

    I’ve said that a few times- hadn’t seen it in the MSM. The trick I think, as is always the case when using force, is to threaten without having to use it. The problem is that a failed Iraqi state is not in the interests of the US, the region, or most Iraqis. To simply withdraw if things don’t go our way would be a huge mistake, and we would be forced to return eventually to an even worse situation.

    As far as forcing the Shia’s hand- well the fact is they were brutally repressed by the Sunni minority for a long time. The Sunnis seem to be the ones that have not been able to accept that they are going to have a wearker position in the new Iraq, even under the best of circumstances.

    I think that this column also points out that there really is much more agreement on what needs to happen in Iraq than the rhetoric on both sides would allow. In fact both sides seem to be locked in to some strange kabuki dance ritual that has almost no bearing on reality. We need the surge – more troops with better strategy and freer rules of engagement- not just so bad guys can be killed, but to open up a safer political reality for the Iraqi government to make the political risks it needs. Indeed many of the bad guys may be laying low, but if a more peaceful reality can be brought upon the situation I think they will be increasingly unwelcome when they try to return. Peace and commerce are hard to resist.

  5. Tim C. permalink
    April 17, 2007 10:16 pm

    Hey Dave:

    “I’ve said that a few times- hadn’t seen it in the MSM. The trick I think, as is always the case when using force, is to threaten without having to use it.”

    Not to overly beat this drum, but in the Obama plan, if the pressure did work, and we were still needed, we wouldn’t have to use that threat.

    I also mention the zakaria article as i think those can be the metrics by which both supporters and dissenters of the surge strategy can look at to judge the surge’s success… And even those of us who saw the surge as a mistaken “more of the same” strategy still hope somehow it works.

    I too think both sides may be closer than the rhetoric indicates: the real solution here is that the metrics that Zakaria listed HAPPEN. The vast majority of the disagreement between Dem and Republican is about how to best pressure their hand.

    BTW, another quote this one from Defense sec Gates on the Democrats threat as helping:

    “The debate in Congress . . . has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited,” Gates told Pentagon reporters traveling with him in Jordan. “The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact . . . in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.”

  6. April 18, 2007 10:11 am

    Tim- I should have been clearer, I meant to say something like “as with the treat of force, the threat of precipitous withdrawl is a dangerous one. In the end you don’t really want to use it, but you may need to in order to remain credible.”

    I understand the reasons for leaving and for being frustrated with Maliki. We can’t let those frustrations leave us with an even bigger problem is we leave on principle.

  7. tim c. permalink
    April 21, 2007 12:58 pm

    Another example of how pressure needs to happen to get the Shia government to compromise. After Gates (sounding very much in line with the dems plan) said to Maliki and co in essence: “Compromise on these political issues by summer, or we’ll use that as a factor in deciding how long to keep troops in country,” he was given this response: “Time is Irrelevant.”

    From the tiWashington Post:

    “Asked how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had responded, Gates said Maliki had reminded him that the parliament is independent, suggesting he could make no assurances on the legislation.

    Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. ‘These demands are already Iraqi demands,” he said. “The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant.'”

  8. April 21, 2007 1:53 pm

    There’s no question political pressure needs to applied to the Iraqi government. I have no problem with that. How you get this proverbial horse to drink water is obviously quite a problem. Improving safety in Bagdhad is bound to help, but too much safety and everyone gets complacent. Too little and they begin to calculate who they’re going ally with if the Coalition leaves. It’s a tricky balance, all too easy for the enemy to upset.

    Just as we cannot go in with guns blazing and force compliance through brute force, neither can we somehow legislate from afar how the deliberative process is going to go. They are after all a sovereign nation. In the end though, the political reality has far less to do with any proncouncment by American politcal figures and much to do with the will of the American people. We will at least try to leave if we don’t see some political progress soon. Yet it is not in our national intrest to leave a failed state in our wake. We are inextricably linked in this mess together. It is a fantasy to think that we could leave and forces of darkness would not rush in to fill that vacuum.

    Let’s say the words, make the threats and see what happens. Hopefully things will change. But let’s not pretend the Dems are doing this out of some sort of strategic principle. Murtha was calling for complete withdrawl back in Dec 2005, the eve of their elections. I think those kinds of pre-emptive votes of no confidence have done far more that you are willing to admit to poison the well of the Irai political process.

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