Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iraqi military

Odierno on Iraq

Raymond Odierno, America’s longest-serving general in Iraq, was the subject of an important interview with David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. Pointing out that in 2004-2006 there was an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole, Odierno made a claim that a few years ago would have seemed fanciful: “Sectarian violence is almost zero. … Yes, there’s still some terrorism, but it’s not insurgents anymore.”

As for the surge, Odierno made this underappreciated point: the surge “shows we learned to adapt, to change. We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations—all while in contact [with the enemy]. That’s an incredible feat.” For those who claim that the Iraq war was a victory for Iran, Odierno disputed that assumption. “They might have balanced each other but how they balanced each other … [caused] significant instability in the region,” the general said. He added that 85 percent of Iraqis believe Iran is trying to harm their country. “Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you’re there living and reading their newspapers and what they’re saying—it’s very clear they want to be their own country,” Odierno said. “They don’t want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.”

On the inability of the Iraqis to form a government more than a half-year after the elections, he predicted a governing coalition will emerge by October. And he said the thing he’s been most pleased with is how the Iraqi military has remained neutral throughout.

On the broader meaning and ramifications of the Iraq war, Odierno said: “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of Iraq in the Middle East as a whole. A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.”  He argued that “there’s a real opportunity here that I don’t think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there’s an opportunity we might never get again.” And he offered an assessment that is forgotten far more than it should be: “The fact that al Qaeda was targeting Iraq to be the center of their caliphate in order to carry forward terrorism around the world: They failed. … Now Iraqis are rejecting al Qaeda. Now we have a very important Middle Eastern country who is rejecting terrorism.”

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, many people settled on a narrative: it was a mistake of historic proportions that could not possibly turn out well. The surge was a “pipe dream.” New facts and changing circumstances could not shake people from their interpretation of events. No matter; reality does not depend on how dogmatists interpret it. And as we gain greater distance from the Iraq war, the good that it did comes into sharper focus.

Whether Iraq turns out to be the “game-changer in the Middle East” that Odierno says is possible remains to be seen. But this is what we know for now: the war was fought for honorable reasons. While serious mistakes were made and the cost has been quite high in several respects, Saddam — the genocidal leader of a criminal, soul-destroying tyranny — was removed from power. Al-Qaeda and militant Islam were dealt massive setbacks. The people of Iraq have been liberated. And a sworn enemy of America and freedom has become an ally and a (fragile) democracy. To be continued. But for now, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Among many others, we have Ray Odierno to thank for that.

Raymond Odierno, America’s longest-serving general in Iraq, was the subject of an important interview with David Feith in the Wall Street Journal. Pointing out that in 2004-2006 there was an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole, Odierno made a claim that a few years ago would have seemed fanciful: “Sectarian violence is almost zero. … Yes, there’s still some terrorism, but it’s not insurgents anymore.”

As for the surge, Odierno made this underappreciated point: the surge “shows we learned to adapt, to change. We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations—all while in contact [with the enemy]. That’s an incredible feat.” For those who claim that the Iraq war was a victory for Iran, Odierno disputed that assumption. “They might have balanced each other but how they balanced each other … [caused] significant instability in the region,” the general said. He added that 85 percent of Iraqis believe Iran is trying to harm their country. “Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you’re there living and reading their newspapers and what they’re saying—it’s very clear they want to be their own country,” Odierno said. “They don’t want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.”

On the inability of the Iraqis to form a government more than a half-year after the elections, he predicted a governing coalition will emerge by October. And he said the thing he’s been most pleased with is how the Iraqi military has remained neutral throughout.

On the broader meaning and ramifications of the Iraq war, Odierno said: “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of Iraq in the Middle East as a whole. A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.”  He argued that “there’s a real opportunity here that I don’t think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there’s an opportunity we might never get again.” And he offered an assessment that is forgotten far more than it should be: “The fact that al Qaeda was targeting Iraq to be the center of their caliphate in order to carry forward terrorism around the world: They failed. … Now Iraqis are rejecting al Qaeda. Now we have a very important Middle Eastern country who is rejecting terrorism.”

During the darkest days of the Iraq war, many people settled on a narrative: it was a mistake of historic proportions that could not possibly turn out well. The surge was a “pipe dream.” New facts and changing circumstances could not shake people from their interpretation of events. No matter; reality does not depend on how dogmatists interpret it. And as we gain greater distance from the Iraq war, the good that it did comes into sharper focus.

Whether Iraq turns out to be the “game-changer in the Middle East” that Odierno says is possible remains to be seen. But this is what we know for now: the war was fought for honorable reasons. While serious mistakes were made and the cost has been quite high in several respects, Saddam — the genocidal leader of a criminal, soul-destroying tyranny — was removed from power. Al-Qaeda and militant Islam were dealt massive setbacks. The people of Iraq have been liberated. And a sworn enemy of America and freedom has become an ally and a (fragile) democracy. To be continued. But for now, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Among many others, we have Ray Odierno to thank for that.

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Deadlines

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

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RE: Obama: ‘I Do Not Want to Screw This Up’

Max, the desire to not let everything we have accomplished and everything so many Iraqis and Americans died for come to ruin is nowhere stronger than in the U.S. military. Today Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:

“One of the things we tend to forget is how desperate we were in that fight, pre-surge,” Mullen said. He said that, despite continuing violence in Iraq, there are no signs that any groups seek to return to the kind of sectarian violence that plagued the country after the 2003 invasion.

“I certainly don’t take for granted the progress that we’ve made, I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mullen said.

As for the surge, it would be swell if Obama echoed that sentiment tonight. As for the work that needs to be done, however, we should be concerned if the following is applied too literally: “Meanwhile, he said the only thing that worries him now is the lack of a unity government — but that he expects one to form very soon. The military, he said, has no role to play in that regard, and the Iraqi military has remained neutral, he said.”

It is true that the selection of a new government is not the U.S. military’s job, but keeping the peace and acting as a spur to reach a deal certainly is. Moreover, U.S. civilian leaders should be there to cajole and mediate between competing groups.

The president could go a long way tonight in making all this clear to the American people, to the Iraqis, and to those who would benefit from mischief-making in what is, in essence, a petri dish for Muslim democracy.

Max, the desire to not let everything we have accomplished and everything so many Iraqis and Americans died for come to ruin is nowhere stronger than in the U.S. military. Today Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:

“One of the things we tend to forget is how desperate we were in that fight, pre-surge,” Mullen said. He said that, despite continuing violence in Iraq, there are no signs that any groups seek to return to the kind of sectarian violence that plagued the country after the 2003 invasion.

“I certainly don’t take for granted the progress that we’ve made, I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mullen said.

As for the surge, it would be swell if Obama echoed that sentiment tonight. As for the work that needs to be done, however, we should be concerned if the following is applied too literally: “Meanwhile, he said the only thing that worries him now is the lack of a unity government — but that he expects one to form very soon. The military, he said, has no role to play in that regard, and the Iraqi military has remained neutral, he said.”

It is true that the selection of a new government is not the U.S. military’s job, but keeping the peace and acting as a spur to reach a deal certainly is. Moreover, U.S. civilian leaders should be there to cajole and mediate between competing groups.

The president could go a long way tonight in making all this clear to the American people, to the Iraqis, and to those who would benefit from mischief-making in what is, in essence, a petri dish for Muslim democracy.

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Crocker on Iraq

The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is too modest to mention his own invaluable role in averting disaster in Iraq. He was, along with Gen. David Petraeus, responsible for the remarkable turnaround in the war and in staving off congressional calls in September 2007 to bug out. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, he explains:

The difficulty and delays we have seen since the March elections illustrate the fundamental truth that everything in Iraq is hard and is likely to continue being hard. When the next government is in place, it will have to wrestle with the tough issues that have been shelved since the elections and their aftermath. …

The threat of al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism persists in Iraq, as recent attacks have made clear. Iraq’s relations with its neighbors, especially Iran and Syria, remain difficult amid signs that Tehran is waiting for a U.S. exit to ramp up its efforts at destabilization and reclaiming the ground it has lost in Iraq the past several years. Other challenges include the rising popular impatience over economic stagnation and the lack of basic services; refugees; widespread corruption; and a growing imbalance between Iraqi military and civilian governance capacities.

He is not predicting doom, but rather urging patience and persistence:

It is not a record of failure but an illustration of the enormity of the challenges in Iraq. How successfully Iraqis deal with these challenges has a great deal to do with the level of U.S. engagement going forward, including the process of government formation. . . Our lack of strategic patience is something that, over time, our adversaries have come to count on and our allies to fear — in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Like others who have urged continued American involvement, Crocker points to the Strategic Framework Agreement and the possibility that the Iraqis may ask that our troops remain beyond 2011. (“If so, I hope we will listen carefully.”)

Here’s an idea: if Obama really wants to preserve our gains, why not send Crocker back to Iraq for a couple of more years? That would be a signal of support that the Iraqis would surely appreciate. And it would indicate that the president finally understands the strategic smarts of the Bush team, which snatched Iraq from the jaws of defeat.

The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is too modest to mention his own invaluable role in averting disaster in Iraq. He was, along with Gen. David Petraeus, responsible for the remarkable turnaround in the war and in staving off congressional calls in September 2007 to bug out. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, he explains:

The difficulty and delays we have seen since the March elections illustrate the fundamental truth that everything in Iraq is hard and is likely to continue being hard. When the next government is in place, it will have to wrestle with the tough issues that have been shelved since the elections and their aftermath. …

The threat of al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism persists in Iraq, as recent attacks have made clear. Iraq’s relations with its neighbors, especially Iran and Syria, remain difficult amid signs that Tehran is waiting for a U.S. exit to ramp up its efforts at destabilization and reclaiming the ground it has lost in Iraq the past several years. Other challenges include the rising popular impatience over economic stagnation and the lack of basic services; refugees; widespread corruption; and a growing imbalance between Iraqi military and civilian governance capacities.

He is not predicting doom, but rather urging patience and persistence:

It is not a record of failure but an illustration of the enormity of the challenges in Iraq. How successfully Iraqis deal with these challenges has a great deal to do with the level of U.S. engagement going forward, including the process of government formation. . . Our lack of strategic patience is something that, over time, our adversaries have come to count on and our allies to fear — in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Like others who have urged continued American involvement, Crocker points to the Strategic Framework Agreement and the possibility that the Iraqis may ask that our troops remain beyond 2011. (“If so, I hope we will listen carefully.”)

Here’s an idea: if Obama really wants to preserve our gains, why not send Crocker back to Iraq for a couple of more years? That would be a signal of support that the Iraqis would surely appreciate. And it would indicate that the president finally understands the strategic smarts of the Bush team, which snatched Iraq from the jaws of defeat.

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Obama Must Face Iraq’s Truth

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

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Al-Qaeda and The Turning Tide

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[...]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[...]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

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Obama’s Iraq Problem

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

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About That Basra Debacle . . .

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

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Disconnect

Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.

He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.

In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.

At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.

Barack Obama’s questioning of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reveals a series of disconnects in his (and many of the Democrats’) thinking and stated position on Iraq. He acknowledges that, with regard to al Qaeda, the goal is to “create a manageable situation where they’re not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq.” (General Petraeus finds this summary “exactly right.”) However, Obama asks not a single question about, seems uninterested in, and seeks to end the surge strategy which has furthered that exact goal.

He disclaims any intention to push for a “precipitous withdrawal” of forces, but declares again and again on the campaign trail without qualification that he will start pulling out brigades each month as soon as he is in office. He insists, “We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do.” However, he suggests the venture was doomed from the start and ends his time by complaining that “the amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget.” Afghanistan is where we should really be, he tells us, without explaining how leaving al Qaeda forces operating in Iraq will further our efforts elsewhere.

In sum, there is an utter disconnect between his stated intention (“we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq”) and the means (withdrawal) he advocates for achieving it. If he were honest, he would either say all is lost and there is no successful resolution, OR he would acknowledge that there is no reasonable way to continue to reduce al Qaeda’s influence other than to keep doing what we have been doing –killing many of them, destroying their safe havens, developing the Iraqi military’s capabilities, and providing security to the population.

At bottom, he seems to be hoping the public agrees with his characterization of the decision to go to Iraq (“a massive strategic blunder”) and to be betting that things miraculously will work out for the best. (For example, engaging Iran in diplomatic discussions will somehow go better after we have started pulling out troops). Or perhaps he figures that, in the end, no one will blame him if he reverses course and relies on the advice of the experts who have shown results with the strategy he disparaged. It is all quite unclear and rather illogical. But it may well be politically attractive.

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McCain’s Busy Day

John McCain snagged the biggest endorsement in Florida (and aside from Nancy Reagan, arguably the biggest in the race as a whole) tonight as Charlie Crist have him the nod, and a hug too boot. Crist has a 65 percent approval rating and this will help, if nothing else, by monopolizing local media coverage for the last day or so of the race. Why did Crist wait so long? He might have preferred another candidate, but waited to see if he might play a decisive role. Not to be overlooked: McCain endorsed Crist in his primary and certainly had a favor to call in. (In the category of gathering in the GOP establishment, Howard Baker who had backed Fred Thompson, also endorsed McCain today. No word yet on the popular, moderate Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.)

Until the Crist news broke, most of the day was spent in a heated argument between McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain pointed to an interview Romney gave earlier in the year on Good Morning America in which he suggested that “the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police, and the leadership of the Iraqi government.”

McCain contends this shows that Romney supported a secret deadline for withdrawal. Romney vehemently denied this and pointed to a number of his statements supportive of the surge and Bush’s policy. McCain shot back and later added statements from Lawrence Eagleburger and James Woolsey attacking Romney’s resoluteness.

Who’s right and does it matter? I think the best that can be said for McCain is that Romney played his cards very close to his vest until late last fall on the surge. You may recall the New Hampshire debate in which Romney would only say that the surge “apparently” was working. McCain pounced at the time and this left some conservatives speculating that Romney was prepared to distance himself from Bush. But the point of McCain’s attack today, I suspect, was to highlight in flashier terms the argument McCain has been trying to make for some time: Romney lacks national security experience, never spoke up about the Rumsfeld policy’s failings and didn’t advocate for the surge before it became obvious it was succeeding. If that is the discussion for the next couple of days, and not the two candidates’ relative economic expertise, that benefits McCain. On the merits of this particular fight, the usually supportive media are a skeptical of McCain’s charge.

John McCain snagged the biggest endorsement in Florida (and aside from Nancy Reagan, arguably the biggest in the race as a whole) tonight as Charlie Crist have him the nod, and a hug too boot. Crist has a 65 percent approval rating and this will help, if nothing else, by monopolizing local media coverage for the last day or so of the race. Why did Crist wait so long? He might have preferred another candidate, but waited to see if he might play a decisive role. Not to be overlooked: McCain endorsed Crist in his primary and certainly had a favor to call in. (In the category of gathering in the GOP establishment, Howard Baker who had backed Fred Thompson, also endorsed McCain today. No word yet on the popular, moderate Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.)

Until the Crist news broke, most of the day was spent in a heated argument between McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain pointed to an interview Romney gave earlier in the year on Good Morning America in which he suggested that “the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police, and the leadership of the Iraqi government.”

McCain contends this shows that Romney supported a secret deadline for withdrawal. Romney vehemently denied this and pointed to a number of his statements supportive of the surge and Bush’s policy. McCain shot back and later added statements from Lawrence Eagleburger and James Woolsey attacking Romney’s resoluteness.

Who’s right and does it matter? I think the best that can be said for McCain is that Romney played his cards very close to his vest until late last fall on the surge. You may recall the New Hampshire debate in which Romney would only say that the surge “apparently” was working. McCain pounced at the time and this left some conservatives speculating that Romney was prepared to distance himself from Bush. But the point of McCain’s attack today, I suspect, was to highlight in flashier terms the argument McCain has been trying to make for some time: Romney lacks national security experience, never spoke up about the Rumsfeld policy’s failings and didn’t advocate for the surge before it became obvious it was succeeding. If that is the discussion for the next couple of days, and not the two candidates’ relative economic expertise, that benefits McCain. On the merits of this particular fight, the usually supportive media are a skeptical of McCain’s charge.

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Our Man in Mosul

Yochi Dreazen has an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting on the heroic efforts of Colonel Saleem Qader, an Iraqi army intelligence officer, to clean up Ninewah Province (whose capital is the large city of Mosul). Dreazen writes:

U.S. commanders give Col. Qader much of the credit for a striking improvement in the city’s security situation. There hasn’t been a car bomb or large-scale attack here since early May, and U.S. commanders say the number of attacks has dropped to seven or nine a day from fifteen to eighteen earlier this year. Fewer than a dozen Americans have died in Mosul this year, a sharp reduction from 2006.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the U.S. troop presence in Mosul is down to a battalion—about a thousand men. In other words, Col. Qader and other members of the Iraqi security forces are managing to maintain order in this populous and volatile region pretty much on their own. That’s a cause for long-term optimism: It is not inevitable that Iraq will dissolve into all-out civil war once the U.S. starts to draw down its troop presence.

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Yochi Dreazen has an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting on the heroic efforts of Colonel Saleem Qader, an Iraqi army intelligence officer, to clean up Ninewah Province (whose capital is the large city of Mosul). Dreazen writes:

U.S. commanders give Col. Qader much of the credit for a striking improvement in the city’s security situation. There hasn’t been a car bomb or large-scale attack here since early May, and U.S. commanders say the number of attacks has dropped to seven or nine a day from fifteen to eighteen earlier this year. Fewer than a dozen Americans have died in Mosul this year, a sharp reduction from 2006.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the U.S. troop presence in Mosul is down to a battalion—about a thousand men. In other words, Col. Qader and other members of the Iraqi security forces are managing to maintain order in this populous and volatile region pretty much on their own. That’s a cause for long-term optimism: It is not inevitable that Iraq will dissolve into all-out civil war once the U.S. starts to draw down its troop presence.

But premature and excessive troop withdrawals could indeed create disaster, as happened in Mosul in 2004 after the 101st Airborne Division (commanded by Major General David Petraeus) was pulled out and replaced by a much smaller unit. It is imperative to avoid such drawdowns until there are competent Iraqi police officers and soldiers—men like Colonel Qader—to take up the burden of maintaining law and order.

The major question—and the real unknown—is whether the Iraqi political system will reward and support those, like Qader, who are trying to enforce the law in a non-sectarian fashion. There is cause for real concern on this score. Dreazen writes:

Because Col. Qader, a 46-year-old Kurd, toiled loyally in the army of Saddam Hussein at the time of the former Iraqi strongman’s brutal anti-Kurdish campaign known as the “Anfal,” his job is threatened by his superiors. Gen. Babakir al Zibari, chief of staff for the entire Iraqi military and also a Kurd, has ordered Col. Qader’s commanders to replace him, said U.S. officials. The commanders have so far refused. Gen. Zibari responded by cutting off Col. Qader’s salary and delaying the promotions of his commanders, these people said.

The good news is that, for all the lobbying against him, Qader remains on the job and alive, having survived assassination attempts. There are many Iraqis like him, struggling against terrorists to serve their country as best we can. Let us hope that they will not be betrayed by corrupt Iraqi politicians or by misguided American politicians.

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