Senator Richard Lugar is winning encomia from all the predictable quarters—e.g., Joe Conason in the New York Observer—for his supposed wisdom and independence in declaring the surge a failure before it has barely begun.
Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared in a widely covered speech that he doesn’t think “that the current ‘surge’ strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President” and that we should therefore “downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq.” Interestingly, Lugar does “not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been some progress in security” as a result of the surge. He just doesn’t think that the surge will succeed in the long run because “three factors—the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military, and the constraints of our own domestic political process—are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time frame.”
Why did the CIA botch its Iraq-WMD estimate so badly? One factor was appalling tradecraft, some of it touched on in George Tenet’s memoir and all of it explored thoroughly by the Silberman-Robb commission.
Another factor was the unexpected behavior of Saddam himself. Saddam, to state the obvious, knew that he had no WMD program or stocks of any note. He also knew that we suspected him of having them and that we were threatening to take action against him on those very grounds. He also knew that if he cooperated fully with the UN inspectors, they would find next to nothing. But instead of cooperating, he chose a very different course.
Saddam, it would seem, wanted to appear to have the WMD. He evidently did not want hostile powers, like Iran or the U.S., to think that military action against him would go unpunished. It was thus a matter of keeping up appearances. Bluffing was a means of deterrence.
The CIA was surprised by this. Should it have been?
President Bush and his Russian counterpart have not yet met in Kennebunkport, but Lou Dobbs has already figured out what will happen this coming Sunday and Monday in Maine. A few weeks ago, the CNN anchor had this to say about the upcoming summit between the American leader and Vladimir Putin: “A meeting in which I’m sure both men will look deeply into one another’s eyes and come up with the architecture of a brilliant geopolitical relationship between the two countries.”
Who can blame Dobbs for sounding so cynical and sarcastic? He has, after all, identified the one thing that will not happen during the upcoming talks. Bush and Putin will undoubtedly trade many fine words during their session in the sun, but they will not do much to improve ties between America and Russia.
Moscow, unfortunately, now has an agenda that clashes with ours. The Kremlin no longer feels itself tethered to America—or even to Europe. “Until recently, Russia saw itself as Pluto in the Western solar system, very far from the center but still fundamentally a part of it,” wrote Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center last year. “Now it has left that orbit entirely.”
Readers of contentions interested in learning more about current military operations in Iraq than what they get from the headlines (which invariably focus on casualties, not on why or how they were incurred) would be well advised to read two Internet postings. The first is a report by Kimberly Kagan, an independent military historian and analyst, on the website of her think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. The second is a blog post written by David Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian army with a Ph.D. in anthropology who has been serving as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser. Kilcullen’s item is especially interesting because for the past few months he has had an insider’s perspective on the operations conducted and planned by U.S. forces in Iraq; in fact, he has been helping to shape the very operations that he explains here.
I have little to add except to note the cognitive dissonance I feel reading Kilcullen’s report alongside the news media accounts. The former conveys a sense of purpose and planning behind current operations, while the latter present the news from Iraq as a senseless parade of mayhem. The reality, of course, lies somewhere in between—there is only so much that even the most astute military commanders can control in the heat of battle, and much of what happens is outside their design. But it is important to realize that what we’re seeing in Iraq is not just random, meaningless violence. Both sides—coalition and Iraqi forces, as well as the Sunni and Shiite extremists—put a lot of thought into what they do. This is a war, even if a very decentralized one, and needs to be understood as such. Kilcullen’s post furthers that crucial understanding.