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Re: General Petraeus’s Staff Made Me Do It

As if determined to show how self-destructive a blog can be in the hands of a perennially angry man, Joe Klein has decided to respond to my posting. You can read the exchange for yourself and see if I was “berserking another big lie” about Klein or simply pointing out the core argument he made, which he now wishes to back away from.

I’d add just one other substantive point to the back-and-forth between Klein and me. Back in the July 9, 2007 issue of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol wrote an editorial, “Richard Lugar,
Meet David Kilcullen,” where he draws attention to a very intelligent June 26, 2007 posting by Kilcullen on his smallwarsjournal.com blog. In it, Kilcullen reports a comment he made 10 days earlier to Austin Bay:

I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the “surge” and say ‘Hey, hang on: we’ve been going since January, we haven’t seen a massive turnaround; it mustn’t be working’. What we’ve been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven’t actually started what I would call the “surge” yet. All we’ve been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it’s already failed is “watch this space”. Because you’re going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we’re operating that will make what’s been happening over the past few months look like what it is-just a preliminary build up.

After a very intelligent explanation of the theory behind the surge, Kilcullen turned to the practice of it:

The practice, as always, has been mixed. Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared…. It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential accommodation. The Embassy and MNF-I continue to work on these issues at the highest levels but fundamentally, this is something that only Iraqis can resolve: our role is to provide an environment in which it becomes possible.

These are the wise, measured words of a man who knows of what he speaks. They are manifestly not the words of Klein, who just two months before Kilcullen wrote his analysis was saying that Bush was:

adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground…. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Either way, I am delighted to see Joe moonwalk away from his initial claim that, in his words, “my doubts about the surge came as a result of long conversations with members of the Petraeus staff. Key members of the team opposed the operation, including Petraeus’s top counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen and others, whose names will remain private because our conversations were.”

So we have now, perhaps, arrived at that all important common ground. It is indeed refreshing to hear Joe Klein take responsibility for his consistently disastrous judgments on Iraq.



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