Commentary Magazine


Topic: Anbar

Our Place In the World

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

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A Glaring Omission

After years of telling us the war on terror was creating more terrorists, the mainstream media has mysteriously woken up to the fact that Islamic extremism is on the wane. Newsweek is the latest publication to run a support-for-jihad-is-fading piece. Readers of CONTENTIONS should by now be familiar with the evidence: Iraqis have turned against radical clerics, Pakistani voters have rejected Islamist leaders, Turkey’s ruling AKP party is trying to modernize Islam, etc. The critical thing is the shift in Islam, not the acknowledgment from Newsweek, of course.

But there is an important omission in the sudden coverage of moderate Muslims: No one talks about the effect of the Iraq War. The MSM can dodge the issue all they like, but the fact remains that the Coalition’s toppling of Saddam facilitated the first organized rejection of fanatical Islam in the Middle East. Back in November 2005, while everyone stateside was crying fiasco, a group of Sunnis in Anbar province joined forces with a clutch of U.S. Marines and began to wrest their country back from al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. That effort grew into a statewide political movement that saw AQI on the run within two years. The Sunni Awakening in itself would not have been enough to stave off the deadly threat of extremism in Iraq. Without Prime Minister al-Maliki’s commitment to take on fanatical Shia militias, both the indiscriminate killing and the political torpor would have continued to hamper any truly national progress.

Both efforts continue to this day. And the fragile achievements they’ve engendered have allowed Iraqis to choose freedom over servitude, industry over stagnation. To think the emerging freedoms of the new Iraq have played no role in the ideological modernization of a region that’s been politically and religiously stymied for the better part of a century is to bury your head in the sand. To point to Iraq as a hindrance in this development is pathological. The MSM cites Scott Mclellan’s “revelation” that George Bush’s motivation for invading Iraq was to transform the Middle East as if that were an ignoble pursuit. And at the same time they rave about the transformation of the Middle East.

The point of all this is not to say “I told you so.” The benefit of the truth is that it’s true regardless of when the New York Times or Newsweek or the New Yorker decides to admit it. And the point is not to give George W. Bush his due. America moves forward by the lights of its collective ideals, not by the reputation of its individuals (despite what Obama fans think). Rather, the point is the soldiers. The thousands of men and women who’ve given everything–so that the insurmountable challenge of Islamofascism could be surmounted–have been dogged by American cynicism at every step. While protecting us and liberating others all Americans in uniform have heard from their homeland is that their mission is wrong, misguided, impossible. Now that we’re seeing the fruits of their effort, is it too much to ask that we acknowledge their contribution? This fight is ongoing, and it’s never too late for Americans to realize that supporting the troops means more than saying you support the troops. It means acknowledging the rightness of their mission, regardless of one’s partisan distaste for various personalities. The Muslim world is indeed changing–and it’s time we do the same.

After years of telling us the war on terror was creating more terrorists, the mainstream media has mysteriously woken up to the fact that Islamic extremism is on the wane. Newsweek is the latest publication to run a support-for-jihad-is-fading piece. Readers of CONTENTIONS should by now be familiar with the evidence: Iraqis have turned against radical clerics, Pakistani voters have rejected Islamist leaders, Turkey’s ruling AKP party is trying to modernize Islam, etc. The critical thing is the shift in Islam, not the acknowledgment from Newsweek, of course.

But there is an important omission in the sudden coverage of moderate Muslims: No one talks about the effect of the Iraq War. The MSM can dodge the issue all they like, but the fact remains that the Coalition’s toppling of Saddam facilitated the first organized rejection of fanatical Islam in the Middle East. Back in November 2005, while everyone stateside was crying fiasco, a group of Sunnis in Anbar province joined forces with a clutch of U.S. Marines and began to wrest their country back from al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. That effort grew into a statewide political movement that saw AQI on the run within two years. The Sunni Awakening in itself would not have been enough to stave off the deadly threat of extremism in Iraq. Without Prime Minister al-Maliki’s commitment to take on fanatical Shia militias, both the indiscriminate killing and the political torpor would have continued to hamper any truly national progress.

Both efforts continue to this day. And the fragile achievements they’ve engendered have allowed Iraqis to choose freedom over servitude, industry over stagnation. To think the emerging freedoms of the new Iraq have played no role in the ideological modernization of a region that’s been politically and religiously stymied for the better part of a century is to bury your head in the sand. To point to Iraq as a hindrance in this development is pathological. The MSM cites Scott Mclellan’s “revelation” that George Bush’s motivation for invading Iraq was to transform the Middle East as if that were an ignoble pursuit. And at the same time they rave about the transformation of the Middle East.

The point of all this is not to say “I told you so.” The benefit of the truth is that it’s true regardless of when the New York Times or Newsweek or the New Yorker decides to admit it. And the point is not to give George W. Bush his due. America moves forward by the lights of its collective ideals, not by the reputation of its individuals (despite what Obama fans think). Rather, the point is the soldiers. The thousands of men and women who’ve given everything–so that the insurmountable challenge of Islamofascism could be surmounted–have been dogged by American cynicism at every step. While protecting us and liberating others all Americans in uniform have heard from their homeland is that their mission is wrong, misguided, impossible. Now that we’re seeing the fruits of their effort, is it too much to ask that we acknowledge their contribution? This fight is ongoing, and it’s never too late for Americans to realize that supporting the troops means more than saying you support the troops. It means acknowledging the rightness of their mission, regardless of one’s partisan distaste for various personalities. The Muslim world is indeed changing–and it’s time we do the same.

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Al Qaeda Weakening . . .

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

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Wriggling Out?

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

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President Bush Gets It Right

Driving around town this morning I happened to tune into the President’s press conference. I confess I have stopped listening to them. I had long ago concluded that the histrionic press corps and the testy and now too-familiar replies from the President generally failed to illuminate or even amuse. However, I must say he was effective and even articulate on several topics of much interest in the upcoming race.

First, he was passionate and persuasive on free trade. (In reality, outside the confines of a Democratic primary now bearing down on Ohio, there are few, if any, justifications for unilaterally backing out of NAFTA.) President Bush made the domestic economic argument (i.e. we have gained jobs and are dependent on exports, and future high-paying jobs depend on open markets) as well as the international argument (i.e. if you want to help our friends and our own standing in the world then backing out of NAFTA is a strange way to go about it). It may not be popular in some states, but, like the President, John McCain is indisputably on the right side of this issue. (Or perhaps Obama doesn’t really mean what he says.)

President Bush also lit into Congress for holding up FISA re-authorization on the issue of immunity for telecommunications companies. As he said, how are we going to conduct surveillance and get private companies to cooperate if they are free game for the plaintiffs’ bar? Again, I would like to hear Barack Obama’s defense on this one.

President Bush also gave a rather articulate explanation as to why we should not sit down with Raul Castro, especially with no preconditions. He reeled off a list of reasons–giving prestige to a dictator, demoralizing human rights activists, and thwarting reform efforts. This is yet another issue on which, outside the confines of a liberal Democratic primary audience, Obama may have a harder time with his position.

Finally, President Bush echoed a point that McCain has picked up on: Obama’s notion that we should leave Iraq immediately but double back if Al-Qaeda reappeared is simply uninformed and goofy. The President noted that the terrorists did try to set up a base in Anbar province and the Marines successfully (at least so far) have defeated them. Obama will find a far tougher argument against an opponent whose main response is something other than “me too.”

All in all, I was reminded that on certain subjects President Bush can be quite effective.  Granted, much of the public may have tuned Bush out. But there is general election on the horizon in which a new, very forceful Republican can make his pitch on positions which (I suspect) will resonate with a good chunk of the electorate.

Driving around town this morning I happened to tune into the President’s press conference. I confess I have stopped listening to them. I had long ago concluded that the histrionic press corps and the testy and now too-familiar replies from the President generally failed to illuminate or even amuse. However, I must say he was effective and even articulate on several topics of much interest in the upcoming race.

First, he was passionate and persuasive on free trade. (In reality, outside the confines of a Democratic primary now bearing down on Ohio, there are few, if any, justifications for unilaterally backing out of NAFTA.) President Bush made the domestic economic argument (i.e. we have gained jobs and are dependent on exports, and future high-paying jobs depend on open markets) as well as the international argument (i.e. if you want to help our friends and our own standing in the world then backing out of NAFTA is a strange way to go about it). It may not be popular in some states, but, like the President, John McCain is indisputably on the right side of this issue. (Or perhaps Obama doesn’t really mean what he says.)

President Bush also lit into Congress for holding up FISA re-authorization on the issue of immunity for telecommunications companies. As he said, how are we going to conduct surveillance and get private companies to cooperate if they are free game for the plaintiffs’ bar? Again, I would like to hear Barack Obama’s defense on this one.

President Bush also gave a rather articulate explanation as to why we should not sit down with Raul Castro, especially with no preconditions. He reeled off a list of reasons–giving prestige to a dictator, demoralizing human rights activists, and thwarting reform efforts. This is yet another issue on which, outside the confines of a liberal Democratic primary audience, Obama may have a harder time with his position.

Finally, President Bush echoed a point that McCain has picked up on: Obama’s notion that we should leave Iraq immediately but double back if Al-Qaeda reappeared is simply uninformed and goofy. The President noted that the terrorists did try to set up a base in Anbar province and the Marines successfully (at least so far) have defeated them. Obama will find a far tougher argument against an opponent whose main response is something other than “me too.”

All in all, I was reminded that on certain subjects President Bush can be quite effective.  Granted, much of the public may have tuned Bush out. But there is general election on the horizon in which a new, very forceful Republican can make his pitch on positions which (I suspect) will resonate with a good chunk of the electorate.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Clinton Rewrites Her Attack On The Surge

Hillary is asked to defend her remark that it would take a “willing suspension of disbelief” to believe the surge in Iraq could work. Her answer: “That’s right.” She claims she opposed it correctly because the Iraqi government hasn’t made political progress. It would take a willing suspension of disbelief to accept her coy revision of her own line. In her statement at the time, she did mention political problems, but as a subsidiary point to her main critique, which was that there was little evidence of a reduction in violence. She also scoffed at claims of a change-from-below among Sunnis in Anbar province, and she was patently wrong about that.

Hillary is asked to defend her remark that it would take a “willing suspension of disbelief” to believe the surge in Iraq could work. Her answer: “That’s right.” She claims she opposed it correctly because the Iraqi government hasn’t made political progress. It would take a willing suspension of disbelief to accept her coy revision of her own line. In her statement at the time, she did mention political problems, but as a subsidiary point to her main critique, which was that there was little evidence of a reduction in violence. She also scoffed at claims of a change-from-below among Sunnis in Anbar province, and she was patently wrong about that.

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Dispatch from Task Force Justice

I visited Forward Operating Base Justice, located in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Khadamiyah, in April. Its commander is Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska. I recently asked him for an update on developments in his AOR (Area of Responsibility) that I could share with contentions readers. Here is his response:

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I visited Forward Operating Base Justice, located in the northwest Baghdad neighborhood of Khadamiyah, in April. Its commander is Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska. I recently asked him for an update on developments in his AOR (Area of Responsibility) that I could share with contentions readers. Here is his response:

Max,
Some notes below. I will include a few nonstandard items in the update. Apologize for the delay in response. Have been juggling missions, media, and other tasks over the last few days.

Asian World Cup Football: Did you see the CNN coverage live from FOB Justice of the Iraqi Soccer game? We threw a great party with all of our local nationals. You would have thought we were at an Army-Navy tailgate. We went downtown after the game and spoke to people on the street. Khadamiyah was absolutely nuts. Lots of fun and a cathartic experience for the Iraqis to see their team accomplish something across the sectarian divide. Hopefully, more good can come from the victory.

Immigration: A few days ago we said goodbye to “George” who is our first interpreter to get an invitation to the Embassy in Jordan. He will be a pioneer for many of our Iraqi interpreters who have applied for visas. We hope that he will not run into too much resistance and will get his visa. Stories from Jordan are not hopeful. One report said that Iraqis were getting turned around at the border if they said they were entering Jordan to go to the U.S. Embassy. George has a story about going to work for a Jordanian company that has a branch in Baghdad. He knows someone that made the recommendation for him. I have asked him to stay in touch with us, so we can track his progress and any pitfalls along the way. We gave him numerous gifts and a few certificates. I told him that his feedback could help shape U.S. policy. We also have one more interpreter who has his invitation approved. We have 22 total applications in the works. We have 59 interpreters on our base. Many have either chosen not to apply or have not met their year requirement. Many are spreading the word that we need some more interpreters, and telling about our success of getting interpreters approved for a trip to Jordan. We have also been pushing the refugee issue for families who don’t qualify under other provisions, like Iraqi Army leaders. Between the soccer party and our push to take care of our interpreters, I have seen hope in the eyes of our Iraqi colleagues. This initiative will be one of our proudest accomplishments. We will continue to use our success from TF [Task Force] Justice to sensitize other leaders to the subject.

Reconciliation: The MOI [Ministry of Interior] and other government leaders are very reluctant to endorse any initiative that empowers the local Sunni volunteers who are securing neighborhoods like Ameriyah. Ameriyah is like night and day now. One minute it was full-scale kinetic activity. Then our former enemies, Sunni insurgents from the “honorable resistance,” began asking for our assistance to drive al Qaeda out. They were immediately more effective than Americans in driving al Qaeda in Iraq from their neighborhoods. They only asked for U.S. support and coordination. They make no bones about their belief that we need to leave for our alliance to be successful beyond the defeat of al Qaeda. We recognize we may end up fighting these guys again if the GOI [Government of Iraq] doesn’t seize the window of opportunity that is now open. If the GOI can make reasonable gestures of reconciliation, like deputizing these volunteers as local police to secure their own neighborhoods, then we will have made huge strides. As always, the political line of operation is where we need the most help. We have had a steady stream of VIPs come to visit the volunteers. Everyone is pressuring the GOI. Lots of foot-dragging, mumbling, and playing with prayer beads. That being said, things have dramatically improved since the turning of Anbar province. We anticipate that the Shia government will demand repatriation of Shia families in some of these neighborhoods to demonstrate intent on behalf of the former insurgents. As long as each side continues in good faith, they will not undermine the process.

Militia Influence: On the other side of the fence, we have the militia. They are a tough nut to crack. I believe the economic line of operation will be the key to defeating the militia influence. We need to overcome the corruption and graft through vigorous, pragmatic economic policy that jump-starts latent industry and employment. Many of the State Owned Enterprises (SOE) are producing at minimal levels relative to Saddam days. These industries have the capacity to very quickly create jobs and generate productive capacity that spills across sectarian lines. The profit incentive will help drive Sunnis and Shia to collaborate together. As we create more jobs, militia recruiting pools will dry up. We need to create honorable alternatives that allow young, military-age males to provide for their families. The militia has their hands dug deepest into mob-like crime throughout the Shia communities, and most politicians can’t shed themselves of the militia influence (so a political approach is probably not feasible—just my opinion.) We must defeat the militia through economic means. I do have some hope that we might solve this Gordian knot, but it is far from undone. Paul Brinkley [the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation] and his group have the right approach, and are encouraging many in the SOEs to bring production back on line through smart application of grants and incentives. This has great potential, but will move with the lag associated with all fiscal economic policy. All other lines of operation must continue to buy time for economic progress to continue.

The Media: The fight is complex. The challenges are hard to boil down into 9-second sound bites or catchy headlines. However, we do spend a lot of time educating reporters, in addition to VIPs. We have a few die-hard reporters that travel to the fight and get a view from the ground on the challenges and opportunities facing our forces and the Iraqis. Most of the journalists I meet are tremendous professionals who make personal sacrifices to provide transparency in a society that needs media spotlights everywhere. The press is instrumental is helping keep the good people honest and the bad guys from committing even more egregious transgressions. Many of our media colleagues have brought attention to significant challenges like immigration, the need for diplomacy around the periphery of Iraq, detainee abuse, and other challenges. We need to encourage them and help them gain access to the stories that will shape human behavior in positive directions.

I hope this provides a brief glimpse into the complexities we face in western Baghdad. We have been very busy, but understand the need to get the word out.

Warm Regards,
Steve

Steven M. Miska
LTC, Infantry
Task Force Justice Commander

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This Just In: The CIA? Fallible.

On its front page yesterday, the Washington Post breathlessly touted a Bob Woodward scoop—namely that CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group on November 13, 2006, that “the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.”

If you read deep into the article you find that there is some doubt about what Hayden actually said. Not surprising, since Woodward seems to be working from interviews with participants relying on their memories rather than from a transcript. He quotes a “senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden’s session with the Iraq Study Group” who qoates Hayden as saying “The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term. . .” [emphasis added]

Whatever Hayden said, it’s hard to see why this is treated as front-page news. Is there anyone left in Washington who thinks that the CIA is an infallible oracle when it comes to the future of Iraq? (Or anyplace else, for that matter?) Its track record is spotty, to say the least. But then no intelligence analyst, no matter how astute, can predict all the twists in turns in a conflict that changes all the time.

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On its front page yesterday, the Washington Post breathlessly touted a Bob Woodward scoop—namely that CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group on November 13, 2006, that “the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.”

If you read deep into the article you find that there is some doubt about what Hayden actually said. Not surprising, since Woodward seems to be working from interviews with participants relying on their memories rather than from a transcript. He quotes a “senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden’s session with the Iraq Study Group” who qoates Hayden as saying “The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term. . .” [emphasis added]

Whatever Hayden said, it’s hard to see why this is treated as front-page news. Is there anyone left in Washington who thinks that the CIA is an infallible oracle when it comes to the future of Iraq? (Or anyplace else, for that matter?) Its track record is spotty, to say the least. But then no intelligence analyst, no matter how astute, can predict all the twists in turns in a conflict that changes all the time.

I am reminded by this of another Washington Post scoop, by Tom Ricks, that ran on September 11, 2006:

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country’s western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

Just as that dim assessment was being issued, the tribes in Anbar Province were turning against Al Qaeda. The result, almost a year later, is that violence in the province is down 80 percent and the political outlook is improving. In fact, the phenomenon of tribes turning against Al Qaeda is spreading from Anbar to neighboring provinces.

The CIA was undoubtedly right back in November that the short-term political outlook for Iraq was not good. It still isn’t. But as we have seen in Anbar, trends can change—dramatically.

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Lugar on the Surge

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.”

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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.”

But of those three factors it is the last that is clearly the biggest impediment to success. Yes, Iraqi politicians are at loggerheads over difficult issues; so are Senator Lugar and his colleagues. The whole surge strategy rests on the notion that improving the security climate will improve the political climate in Iraq. Since the attempts to improve the security situation have only just started—the final surge forces only recently arrived in Iraq—it is too soon to write off the chances of political progress. And, yes, there is “growing stress on our military,” but reenlistment rates remain strong, and, based on current projections, the army and Marine Corps can continue the surge until at least next April. (Longer if more National Guard and Reserve forces are mobilized.) Lugar seems to be asking for the surge to be called off not for these reasons, but because he doubts that any progress on the ground can be made fast enough to keep up with “the timetable imposed by our own domestic political process.”

Fair point, but that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Democrats are certainly eager to cut off funding for the war effort. But they are unlikely to succeed in the face of united GOP opposition, given that Republicans not only control the White House, but also maintain substantial minorities in both houses of Congress. If Republicans keep their nerve, there is a good chance that, as happened recently, they can win a showdown with Democrats over war-funding.

But if leading Republicans like Richard Lugar write off the surge prematurely, they are likely to set off a bidding war over troop withdrawals—a bidding war that Republicans cannot win and one for which they are likely to get scant credit from the electorate, given that troop withdrawals will almost certainly make the situation in Iraq even worse than it is today. The few undeniable signs of progress—e.g., the great improvements made recently in Anbar province—are likely to disappear if American forces start heading for the exits. That, in turn, will make it harder politically to keep even a minimal force in Iraq to continue missions—such as chasing al Qaeda and training the Iraqi Security Forces—which most Republican and Democratic leaders agree are still necessary.

It may well be that the surge won’t, in fact, work. But General David Petraeus and the 160,000 troops who are putting their lives on the line under his command deserve at least a decent chance to succeed without having the carpet pulled out from under them on Capitol Hill. Especially by Republicans.

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The View from Parris Island

I just spent several days on a tour arranged by the Marine Corps Association, speaking to various groups of Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina, their East Coast recruitment depot, and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, their main East Coast operating base. It was inspiring and educational in equal measure.

The educational part came from a meeting with the Marines’ newly formed Foreign Military Training Unit, part of the recently established Marine Special Operations Command. The Marines are, in essence, emulating the Army Special Forces by creating groups of eleven Marines (akin to the Green Beret A-Teams) who receive language and educational training and then journey to various parts of the world to train friendly military forces. The goal is to keep sending the same groups of Marines back to one country or region so that they can establish the personal relationships which are all important in this type of work. This initiative doesn’t get the headlines that the Marines receive for their heroic fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province, but, over the long term, it could make just as important a contribution to winning the struggle against radical Islam.

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I just spent several days on a tour arranged by the Marine Corps Association, speaking to various groups of Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina, their East Coast recruitment depot, and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, their main East Coast operating base. It was inspiring and educational in equal measure.

The educational part came from a meeting with the Marines’ newly formed Foreign Military Training Unit, part of the recently established Marine Special Operations Command. The Marines are, in essence, emulating the Army Special Forces by creating groups of eleven Marines (akin to the Green Beret A-Teams) who receive language and educational training and then journey to various parts of the world to train friendly military forces. The goal is to keep sending the same groups of Marines back to one country or region so that they can establish the personal relationships which are all important in this type of work. This initiative doesn’t get the headlines that the Marines receive for their heroic fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province, but, over the long term, it could make just as important a contribution to winning the struggle against radical Islam.

The inspirational part of my trip came simply from having the opportunity to chat with so many outstanding warriors, current and retired. I never get tired of spending time with men and women in uniform, and Marines are, on average, some of the best. They are so dedicated, so selfless, so gallant—and yet they wear their accomplishments and sacrifices so lightly, in keeping with a military code that is supposed to give credit to the team, not the individual. Drill instructors at Parris Island work 80 even 100 hours a week for less than $20,000 a year. (At least their housing isn’t as bad as it used to be. The Corps has brought in a private developer to create nice, tract-style homes on the base.) Other Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan risking life and limb for equally meager salaries.

And, however much civilian society may grow disaffected with the war in Iraq, the Marines stand ready to fight on—and on and on. I was chatting with one Marine captain, who has done a tour there (many other Marines have two, three, even four tours under their belts), and he told me that he and his peers have no desire to leave Iraq. Morale remains high, he said—a fact borne out by high reenlistment rates.

Marine recruiting is also running strong, even though all who sign up know that they will be heading “downrange” before long. This captain explained that the motivation for Marines isn’t so much that they support this particular war, although most do. It’s that a war is going on, and they feel the call to serve the nation. They don’t have to inquire too closely into the rights or wrongs of the conflict; they have been called upon to fight, and that’s all they need to know. The prospect of being killed or maimed isn’t a big deterrent. They know the risks they’re running, and many Marines I spoke to expressed amazement and disgust with the casualty-preoccupation of civilian society.

I admit to a bit of disenchantment when I traveled through Charlotte airport on my way home. Here I overheard the usual conversations of business travelers talking about market share and stock options and product rollouts. Somehow it seemed unworthy, even sordid, compared to the lives of duty, honor, country that the Marines lead.

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Anbar Against al Qaeda

I’ve argued in the past, and still believe, that you can’t blame the news media for the fact that we’re losing the war in Iraq. But it’s hard to defend some press actions, such as the decision by the New York Times to bury the most important Iraq story of the weekend. Readers of the Saturday New York Times had to turn to the bottom of page A8 to read this dispatch from Edward Wong in Baghdad: “In Lawless Sunni Heartland of Iraq, a Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays.”

Wong describes a trend I’ve been hearing about on the military grapevine but which hasn’t been much reported in the MSM: the growing willingness of tribal leaders in Anbar province to turn against al Qaeda and offer to fight for the government. The anti-al Qaeda sheiks have formed a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, and they’ve begun encouraging their young men to join the police and various militia forces to battle the jihadists. Thanks to the council’s efforts, the number of Iraqi police recruits in Anbar has shot up from 30 to 300 a month.

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I’ve argued in the past, and still believe, that you can’t blame the news media for the fact that we’re losing the war in Iraq. But it’s hard to defend some press actions, such as the decision by the New York Times to bury the most important Iraq story of the weekend. Readers of the Saturday New York Times had to turn to the bottom of page A8 to read this dispatch from Edward Wong in Baghdad: “In Lawless Sunni Heartland of Iraq, a Tribal Chief Opposes the Jihadists, and Prays.”

Wong describes a trend I’ve been hearing about on the military grapevine but which hasn’t been much reported in the MSM: the growing willingness of tribal leaders in Anbar province to turn against al Qaeda and offer to fight for the government. The anti-al Qaeda sheiks have formed a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, and they’ve begun encouraging their young men to join the police and various militia forces to battle the jihadists. Thanks to the council’s efforts, the number of Iraqi police recruits in Anbar has shot up from 30 to 300 a month.

Wong’s story focuses on the council’s leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawa, the 35-year-old chief of the Rishawai tribe, which accounts for about 40,000 of the 400,000 residents of Ramadi, the provincial capital. The sheik’s father and three brothers were killed, most likely by al Qaeda, but this hasn’t cowed him; it has only fueled his thirst for vengeance. Wong quotes a U.S. army civil-affairs officer, who emailed him before his own death in combat in December, that Sheik Abdul Sattar “is the most effective local leader in Ramadi I believe the coalition has worked with since they arrived in Anbar in 2003.”

A measure of caution is warranted here. We have heard before about tribal elders rising up against al Qaeda, and there have been previous reports about local militias, such as the Fallujah Brigade, which did not live up to their hype. But if the trends portrayed in Wong’s story continue, it will be a hugely significant break in the battle to reestablish control of Anbar province, the most lawless region of Iraq since the downfall of the Baathist regime.

You might think that this would deserve front-page play. But no. The Times editors have more important stories to place there, such as this article from Montpelier, Vermont: “Warm Winters Upset Rhythms of Maple Sugar.”

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Baghdad First

It’s early days in the Battle of Baghdad. Fewer than 3,000 of a promised 18,000 or more reinforcements have arrived. It will take at least six to twelve months before we know whether the crackdown is working. But already various commentators are stepping forward to dismiss the Bush plan as the “wrong surge” and to propose alternative strategies.

Three of the foreign-policy analysts I respect most—Charles Krauthammer, Fareed Zakaria, and Lawrence Kaplan—argue that we should be consolidating our forces in Anbar province, not trying to retake Baghdad.

There is no doubt that this Sunni province needs to be pacified eventually, but an Anbar-centric approach would not accomplish the goals these writers set out. Krauthammer notes correctly that, “If we had zero American casualties a day, there would be as little need to withdraw from Iraq as there is to withdraw from the Balkans,” but he gives little suggestion of how his plan to “maintain a significant presence in Anbar province” could be squared with keeping down casualty numbers, considering that Anbar is one of the most dangerous areas for American troops—more dangerous, in fact, than Baghdad over the past four years.

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It’s early days in the Battle of Baghdad. Fewer than 3,000 of a promised 18,000 or more reinforcements have arrived. It will take at least six to twelve months before we know whether the crackdown is working. But already various commentators are stepping forward to dismiss the Bush plan as the “wrong surge” and to propose alternative strategies.

Three of the foreign-policy analysts I respect most—Charles Krauthammer, Fareed Zakaria, and Lawrence Kaplan—argue that we should be consolidating our forces in Anbar province, not trying to retake Baghdad.

There is no doubt that this Sunni province needs to be pacified eventually, but an Anbar-centric approach would not accomplish the goals these writers set out. Krauthammer notes correctly that, “If we had zero American casualties a day, there would be as little need to withdraw from Iraq as there is to withdraw from the Balkans,” but he gives little suggestion of how his plan to “maintain a significant presence in Anbar province” could be squared with keeping down casualty numbers, considering that Anbar is one of the most dangerous areas for American troops—more dangerous, in fact, than Baghdad over the past four years.

Zakaria frets that the Baghdad clampdown will be perceived as anti-Sunni since the most immediate target is Sunni militants (the Shia militants are lying low for the time being). He quotes an anonymous “senior U.S. military officer” who says, “If we continue down the path we’re on, the Sunnis in Iraq will throw their lot behind al Qaeda, and the Sunni majority in the Arab world will believe that we helped in the killing and cleansing of their brethren in Iraq. That’s not a good outcome for the security of the American people.” Yet Zakaria’s preferred solution—“drawing down our forces to around 60,000 troops and concentrating on al Qaeda in Anbar province,” while presumably leaving the Sunnis of Baghdad to the tender mercies of the Jaish al Mahdi—would, if anything, exacerbate the perception of American policy as anti-Sunni.

For his part, Kaplan postulates, without any proof, that the U.S. could have greater military success in Anbar than in Baghdad, even though conditions there have been worse than in the capital. He fears that “Washington’s decision to twin its fate to Baghdad’s means that, if the city careens away, the United States will walk away not only from the civil war it could not quell—but also from the insurgency [in Anbar] it could.” But what would be the point of winning Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, if we lose Baghdad, the capital of the country? Which city is more important to Iraq’s future—an isolated outpost in the western desert, or a metropolis with one-fourth of the country’s population and much of its news media, business, cultural, and political leadership?

Krauthammer, Zakaria, and Kaplan are right to worry that the Baghdad plan won’t work. The odds are definitely against us by this point. But no other strategy—certainly not an Anbar-first approach—offers greater hope of success. I am reminded of the reasoning of General Franz Halder, chief of the German general staff, about Case Yellow, the plan for the invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940. He put the odds of its working at ten-to-one against but concluded that all the other alternatives were worse. Of course Case Yellow did work. And the odds of success in Baghdad are much better than ten-to-one against.

The enemy (both Sunni and Shiite) has chosen to fight in Baghdad. We have no choice but meet the challenge, or else concede defeat. Let’s at least wait to see what happens before moving on to Plan B.

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