Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iraqi Security Forces

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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Maliki Stands Firm

It seems like only yesterday that, in the course of an online debate on the surge, my fellow Council on Foreign Relations fellow Steve Simon was claiming that “the ill-fated Basra offensive . . . was a humiliating blow for Maliki.” I tried to point out to Steve that, notwithstanding poor planning and early setbacks, the Basra offensive was not so ill-fated–that it was actually bolstering Prime Minister Maliki’s standing.

That was last week. Today, as if to confirm that analysis, the New York Times runs a long front-pager from Basra that calls the offensive “a rare success” for “forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki,” who “have largely quieted the city.” The Times is right to note that the gains are “fragile,” but they are nevertheless impressive: “in interviews across Basra, residents overwhelmingly reported a substantial improvement in their everyday lives.”

Notwithstanding some support from coalition forces, principally in the form of air cover and military advisers, almost all of the fighting has been done by the Iraqi Security Forces. The people of Basra realize that and are grateful. The Times quotes “one youth named Alaa” as saying: “I want to thank Mr. Nuri al-Maliki, because he cleaned Basra of murderers, hijackers and thieves.”

Meanwhile, further north, fighting continues in Sadr City despite a weekend truce proclaimed by Maliki and Moqtada al Sadr. The outcome is still uncertain, but it appears that Iraqi and American forces are making good progress in securing the southern third of Sadr City, which is being sealed off from the rest of this teeming slum with a giant concrete wall.

Pressure seems to be building on the Mahdi Army, which is probably why Sadr proclaimed the latest ceasefire. Of course his word isn’t worth much. And even if he is sincere, lots of Shiite extremists will continue resisting no matter what. But while death and destruction are never good news, this fighting nevertheless represents progress of a sort. The Sadr City offensive, like the Basra offensive, shows that the Iraqi government isn’t as sectarian as its critics feared: It is willing to take on Shiite as well as Sunni extremists. That will bolster the government’s standing and further the cause of sectarian and ethnic reconciliation.

It seems like only yesterday that, in the course of an online debate on the surge, my fellow Council on Foreign Relations fellow Steve Simon was claiming that “the ill-fated Basra offensive . . . was a humiliating blow for Maliki.” I tried to point out to Steve that, notwithstanding poor planning and early setbacks, the Basra offensive was not so ill-fated–that it was actually bolstering Prime Minister Maliki’s standing.

That was last week. Today, as if to confirm that analysis, the New York Times runs a long front-pager from Basra that calls the offensive “a rare success” for “forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki,” who “have largely quieted the city.” The Times is right to note that the gains are “fragile,” but they are nevertheless impressive: “in interviews across Basra, residents overwhelmingly reported a substantial improvement in their everyday lives.”

Notwithstanding some support from coalition forces, principally in the form of air cover and military advisers, almost all of the fighting has been done by the Iraqi Security Forces. The people of Basra realize that and are grateful. The Times quotes “one youth named Alaa” as saying: “I want to thank Mr. Nuri al-Maliki, because he cleaned Basra of murderers, hijackers and thieves.”

Meanwhile, further north, fighting continues in Sadr City despite a weekend truce proclaimed by Maliki and Moqtada al Sadr. The outcome is still uncertain, but it appears that Iraqi and American forces are making good progress in securing the southern third of Sadr City, which is being sealed off from the rest of this teeming slum with a giant concrete wall.

Pressure seems to be building on the Mahdi Army, which is probably why Sadr proclaimed the latest ceasefire. Of course his word isn’t worth much. And even if he is sincere, lots of Shiite extremists will continue resisting no matter what. But while death and destruction are never good news, this fighting nevertheless represents progress of a sort. The Sadr City offensive, like the Basra offensive, shows that the Iraqi government isn’t as sectarian as its critics feared: It is willing to take on Shiite as well as Sunni extremists. That will bolster the government’s standing and further the cause of sectarian and ethnic reconciliation.

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Re: James Glanz

I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.

There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.

Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.

In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.

One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.

Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.

I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.

There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.

Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.

In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.

One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.

Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.

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Fighting in Basra

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

I have hesitated to comment on the fighting raging in Basra, which has spilled over into other cities including Baghdad, because the shape of events is so difficult to make out from afar-or for that matter even from up close. The best analysis I have seen is this article in the Financial Times which notes that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is taking a major gamble by challenging the power of the Shiite militias–more like criminal gangs-which have seized control of Basra, Iraq’s second or third largest city and home to its only major port.

While most news coverage has focused on the renewed fighting as signs of impending doom–or at the very least evidence that the surge isn’t working so well–the FT correctly detects a silver lining: “If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

This gamble is long overdue. The British basically abdicated their counterinsurgency role in the south and allowed thugs to take over Basra. The police force is particularly corrupt. Maliki is now sending the Iraqi Security Forces to do what the Brits wouldn’t: clean up Dodge.

The risk of course is that Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi (JAM)–one of Iraq’s largest and most threatening militias–will go to the mattresses in retaliation. There is some evidence of this happening with ultra-violent “Special Groups”, which have been loosely associated with JAM, ramping up rocket attacks on the Green Zone. There have also been clashes reported in Sadr City, Hilla, Karbala, and other Shiite areas.

But the Sadrist leadership has stuck by its promise to maintain a ceasefire, at least when it comes to operations against coalition forces. Even though some more mainstream JAM elements, not just the Special Groups, seem to be drawn into fighting against the Iraqi security forces and to a lesser extent coalition forces, that is not necessarily a bad thing. If we’re going to have a showdown, better to have it now then in the fall when there will be substantially fewer American troops on the ground.

The power of militias has been one of the most corrosive features of post-2003 Iraq. No prime minister, including Maliki, has shown much willingness or ability to take on the gunmen, because successive Iraqi governments have depended for their existence on political parties closely aligned with the militias, notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr trend. If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

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A Response to Charles Kesler

Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Let me address these points in order.

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.

We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.

Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.

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Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Let me address these points in order.

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.

We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.

Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.

This doesn’t mean Iraq is a calm and safe country, nor does it mean that ultimately we will succeed. But it does mean that progress on (a) the security side and (b) bottom-up reconciliation has been astonishing, happening more quickly and spreading more widely than almost anyone thought possible at the beginning of the year. This is not a sufficient condition for success in Iraq, but it is a necessary one. The notion that the surge has bought only time is simply wrong.

Professor Kesler then asks, “What comes after the surge?” Here are some possibilities. The surge may buy time that will allow the Iraqi Security Forces to build up so they are better able to handle a host of security challenges. It may make those challenges far more manageable than they would otherwise be, meaning the chance for success will improve. And it might well allow for bottom-up, top-down, and center-out reconciliation to take place.

If Kesler had asked “What comes after the surge?” last year, one answer would have been, “The Anbar Awakening,” which is spreading far beyond Anbar, and the massive Sunni rejection of al Qaeda in Iraq. The surge didn’t create these encouraging developments, but it has assisted them mightily. It’s also worth adding that Kesler probably did not anticipate either one.

Finally, Professor Kesler urges the GOP to “separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war” and conservatives “to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq.”

But of course the administration does not have a “stand-pat” policy; the Petraeus strategy is a significant break with the Rumsfeld-Sanchez-Abizaid-Casey strategy that preceded it. We have, in fact, reasoned our way to an improved policy on Iraq. It has taken more time that any of us wished, but it is bearing good fruit. And now, in the wake of such substantial progress in Iraq, it would be reckless and unwise (and perhaps even un-conservative) to change.

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Hunting the PKK

As I have indicated previously in contentions, I have limited sympathy for Turkish complaints about the Armenian genocide resolution. Although I think it’s a mistake for Congress to pass this legislation because it will aggravate the Turks, I also think it’s a mistake for the Turks to engage in genocide-denial. From their own perspective, they would be much better off to admit the crimes committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, and move on.

But the Turks are on firmer ground with their complaints about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which uses northern Iraq as a sanctuary for launching attacks into southern Turkey. The Erdogan government has responded by asking parliament for authorization to conduct raids into northern Iraq—something that the Turkish military has long been seeking and a demand to which I am sympathetic, notwithstanding the problems it undoubtedly will cause with America’s Kurdish allies in Iraq.

Countries have a responsibility for policing their own soil and ensuring it is not used for attacks on neighboring states. Iraq has been falling down on the job. In general, of course, the Iraqi state is incapable of policing itself, but this is much less the case in the Kurdish North, where the peshmerga fighters—many now part of the Iraqi Security Forces—exercise a fair degree of control. And yet the PKK, a vicious Marxist terrorist group that seeks independence for Kurdish areas of Turkey, has been able to operate from northern Iraq with impunity. Turkey has suffered a steady stream of casualties, including the loss of thirteen soldiers in just one attack this month.

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As I have indicated previously in contentions, I have limited sympathy for Turkish complaints about the Armenian genocide resolution. Although I think it’s a mistake for Congress to pass this legislation because it will aggravate the Turks, I also think it’s a mistake for the Turks to engage in genocide-denial. From their own perspective, they would be much better off to admit the crimes committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, and move on.

But the Turks are on firmer ground with their complaints about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which uses northern Iraq as a sanctuary for launching attacks into southern Turkey. The Erdogan government has responded by asking parliament for authorization to conduct raids into northern Iraq—something that the Turkish military has long been seeking and a demand to which I am sympathetic, notwithstanding the problems it undoubtedly will cause with America’s Kurdish allies in Iraq.

Countries have a responsibility for policing their own soil and ensuring it is not used for attacks on neighboring states. Iraq has been falling down on the job. In general, of course, the Iraqi state is incapable of policing itself, but this is much less the case in the Kurdish North, where the peshmerga fighters—many now part of the Iraqi Security Forces—exercise a fair degree of control. And yet the PKK, a vicious Marxist terrorist group that seeks independence for Kurdish areas of Turkey, has been able to operate from northern Iraq with impunity. Turkey has suffered a steady stream of casualties, including the loss of thirteen soldiers in just one attack this month.

The Turks’ desire to take military action is understandable, and fully in keeping with the Bush Doctrine. It would be better, of course, if Iraqi and U.S. forces were to do more to shut down PKK activities. But if they can’t (or won’t), the Turks have a right to act. The Iranians already have been taking similar action, shelling Kurdish villages supposedly sheltering terrorists operating against the regime in Tehran.

Naturally, however, if the Turks and Iranians exercise their right of “hot pursuit” of terrorists, then the U.S. should as well. Of course, if our military starts hunting those responsible for terrorist attacks in Iraq, it might well wind up crossing the borders of Syria and Iran. So be it. As Bill Kristol has argued: “After all, if Khameini . . . has already established the principle of cross-border attacks against accelerators of violence, who are we to disagree with the wisdom of the Supreme Leader?”

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Correcting the GAO

The Washington Post gave front-page play last week to a leaked version of a draft Government Accountability Office report, claiming “Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals.” Bill Kristol has already pointed out some of the report’s flaws—namely that it measures whether the Iraqis have “completed” (as opposed to simply made progress on) many irrelevant “benchmarks” mandated by Congress in an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration.

But I was still left wondering about one part of the Post’s front-page piece: “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced.” The Post article goes on about the GAO report: “While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged.”

How can it be, I wondered, that GAO claims that the level of violence in Iraq is unchanged when every observer who has returned recently from Iraq says otherwise? I put that question to a friend of mine, an officer currently serving in Baghdad. As he explains below in this email (see below the jump), the problem is that GAO is citing suspect statistics. The figures he presents—generated by the U.S. military using procedures that have remained consistent and are generally accepted throughout the U.S. government—paint a picture of impressive progress since the surge began. (I’ve added a few explanations of acronyms.)

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The Washington Post gave front-page play last week to a leaked version of a draft Government Accountability Office report, claiming “Report Finds Little Progress on Iraq Goals.” Bill Kristol has already pointed out some of the report’s flaws—namely that it measures whether the Iraqis have “completed” (as opposed to simply made progress on) many irrelevant “benchmarks” mandated by Congress in an attempt to embarrass the Bush administration.

But I was still left wondering about one part of the Post’s front-page piece: “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced.” The Post article goes on about the GAO report: “While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged.”

How can it be, I wondered, that GAO claims that the level of violence in Iraq is unchanged when every observer who has returned recently from Iraq says otherwise? I put that question to a friend of mine, an officer currently serving in Baghdad. As he explains below in this email (see below the jump), the problem is that GAO is citing suspect statistics. The figures he presents—generated by the U.S. military using procedures that have remained consistent and are generally accepted throughout the U.S. government—paint a picture of impressive progress since the surge began. (I’ve added a few explanations of acronyms.)

Max,

We disagree with the methodology the GAO uses to calculate its statistics, and we told them so during their short visit here last month. As you note, the GAO statistics differ considerably from the data we have for the same periods.

The statistics we use come from MNF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] databases which are a carefully managed collection of both Iraqi and Coalition reports. We strive to be rigorous in our data collection and checking, so much so that the analysts from CIA and DIA who worked on the National Intelligence Estimate, after spending three days poring over our methodology and data, announced that MNF-I numbers are the most accurate and would be used for the August 2007 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] on Iraq. We do use Iraqi data that is verified by our forces. And we also continue to update/reverify data after the receipt of “first reports” (which are, as you know, generally wrong) and subsequent reports. The death toll in the recent truck bombings against the Yezidi villages in northwest Iraq, for example, when verified by our Special Forces teams after the dust literally settled, was a good bit lower than original accounts reported, and we thus adjusted that report downward. Sometimes, as in many Baghdad bombings, the first reports are low and we adjust the numbers upward in subsequent days. Some statistics we are tracking follow:

-Throughout all of Iraq, since the height of the ethno-sectarian violence in December 2006 until the end of August 2007, the overall number of civilian casualties (killed and wounded) has dropped 71 percent. Just counting civilian deaths, by any means, the numbers are even more dramatic, with a 74 percent drop since December 2006.

-Ethno-sectarian deaths (e.g., AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] bombing Kurds or Shi’a Arabs or Turkmen or Yezidis, etc., or JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi led by Moqtada al-Sadr] killing of Sunnis, etc.) in all of Iraq are down to less than one half of levels at the height of the violence last December.

-Attacks of any type in Anbar Province have gone from a high in October 2006 of more than 1350 per month to fewer than 250 per month now.

-The number of ammunition and explosive caches found has risen from a total of 2726 in 2006 to over 4350 this year (through the end of August).

-Overall incidents of violence against any target (ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], CF [Coalition Forces], civilian) in Iraq are down from a high of 1700 per week when we started the surge of operations in mid-June 2007 to fewer than 960 per week now. Overall incidents have declined in eight of the past eleven weeks. Last week’s number of incidents was the lowest in over a year.

-High profile attacks (car bomb, suicide car bomb, and suicide vest attacks) nationwide are down from a high in March 2007 of more than 170 per month to 88 in August.

-Since the intent of the surge was to secure Baghdad, which is the political heart of Iraq, here are some statistics focused on the ten security districts that comprise Baghdad from December 2006 to the end of August 2007:

-Car bomb attacks: 44 in December 2006, nineteen in August 2007 for a 57 percent drop.

-All IED’s [improvised explosive devices]: 240 in December 2006, 203 in August 2007 for a 15 percent drop.

-Explosive belts (Suicide vests): two in December 2006, zero in August 2007.

-Mortar and Rocket Attacks: 139 in December 2006, 98 in August 2007 for a 29 percent drop.

-Dead civilians (not just ethno-sectarian violence, but all categories): 2193 in December 2006, 575 in August 2007 for a 74 percent drop.

-Wounded civilians: 876 in December 2006, 302 in August 2007 for a 66 percent drop.

-Dead Iraqi security forces: 44 in December 2006, twenty in August 2007 for a 45 percent drop.

-Wounded Iraqi security forces: 136 in December 2006, 61 in August 2007 for a 55 percent drop.

-575 dead in Baghdad in August from all causes is still excessively high and we continue to work to drive down the violence. Nonetheless, by all of these measures there has been progress in bringing greater security to Baghdad.

Our methodology and numbers have been scrubbed thoroughly by the intelligence community and declared by the intel community the best available measures and data. We carefully examine both Coalition and Host Nation reports to ensure we have the most inclusive data available. Iraqi reports come from a variety of official governmental sources including the National Operations Center, the Baghdad Operational Command, the National Joint Operations Center, and Joint Security Stations. Unfortunately, the media and other agencies often use suspect data provided by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, which is less rigorous and perhaps also motivated by a sectarian agenda.

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Letter from the Front

Has the surge already failed? That’s the impression you get from the MSM. The reality on the ground is a little different. Although the last surge troops only arrived in June, they have already had a significant impact. How significant? In preparing to testify before a congressional committee tomorrow, I put that question to a friend of mine, an American officer serving in Baghdad. Here is his response, which he agreed to let me share with contentions, provided that I did not use his name (I’ve added explanations of a few acronyms):

Max,

Here are some positive results of the surge strategy to date—I’m sure you’ve got the negatives down pat from all the media reports.

- Deaths caused by sectarian violence in Iraq are down 75 percent from January to June

- VBIED’s [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices]/Suicide attacks cut in half from March to June; VBIED’s at lowest level since August 2006

- Casualties from VBIED’s cut in half from February to June

- Attacks in Al Anbar cut by 80 percent since February

- ISF KIA [Iraqi Security Forces killed-in-action] at 2-3 times the level of Coalition KIA—Iraqis are fighting and dying for their country

- Tribes are rejecting Al Qaeda in Al Anbar, Salah Ad Din, Ninewa, Diyala

- AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] is on the defensive and slowly dying—BUT WE NEED TIME TO FINISH THE JOB or they will recover

- Government of Iraq is rejecting militias and authorizing strikes anywhere in Iraq

- Government of Iraq responded well to second Samarra Mosque bombing

- Government of Iraq has formed a Reconciliation Committee to engage local groups and bring them into the process against Al Qaeda and in support of the GoI

- Government of Iraq improving budget execution

The big negative, of course, is lack of political reconciliation at the national level, but this is a lagging indicator. Progress is being made at the local level, and I believe the national leaders will follow in due course once the trend is clear.

Best from Baghdad,

[Name Deleted]

Has the surge already failed? That’s the impression you get from the MSM. The reality on the ground is a little different. Although the last surge troops only arrived in June, they have already had a significant impact. How significant? In preparing to testify before a congressional committee tomorrow, I put that question to a friend of mine, an American officer serving in Baghdad. Here is his response, which he agreed to let me share with contentions, provided that I did not use his name (I’ve added explanations of a few acronyms):

Max,

Here are some positive results of the surge strategy to date—I’m sure you’ve got the negatives down pat from all the media reports.

- Deaths caused by sectarian violence in Iraq are down 75 percent from January to June

- VBIED’s [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices]/Suicide attacks cut in half from March to June; VBIED’s at lowest level since August 2006

- Casualties from VBIED’s cut in half from February to June

- Attacks in Al Anbar cut by 80 percent since February

- ISF KIA [Iraqi Security Forces killed-in-action] at 2-3 times the level of Coalition KIA—Iraqis are fighting and dying for their country

- Tribes are rejecting Al Qaeda in Al Anbar, Salah Ad Din, Ninewa, Diyala

- AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] is on the defensive and slowly dying—BUT WE NEED TIME TO FINISH THE JOB or they will recover

- Government of Iraq is rejecting militias and authorizing strikes anywhere in Iraq

- Government of Iraq responded well to second Samarra Mosque bombing

- Government of Iraq has formed a Reconciliation Committee to engage local groups and bring them into the process against Al Qaeda and in support of the GoI

- Government of Iraq improving budget execution

The big negative, of course, is lack of political reconciliation at the national level, but this is a lagging indicator. Progress is being made at the local level, and I believe the national leaders will follow in due course once the trend is clear.

Best from Baghdad,

[Name Deleted]

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Going Backward in Baqubah

One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.

Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.

Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.

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One of the most common arguments employed by those who argue for a rapid drawdown of U.S. force in Iraq is that we don’t need to have a lot of troops trying to police a “civil war” between Shiites and Sunnis. A far smaller number of soldiers, primarily from the U.S. Special Operations Command, supposedly could achieve our core mission of disrupting al-Qaeda operations.

Never mind that we haven’t enjoyed much success in using commando forces to go after terrorists in unfriendly terrain. How often, after all, do we strike against terrorists in Syria and Iran? Or even in Pakistan? The reality is that without a permissive political climate and plenty of on-the-ground support our special operators, skilled as they are, have a very limited ability to prevent terrorist groups from making major gains.

Recent events in Iraq reinforce the point. As Rowan Scarborough notes in the Washington Examiner, the city of Baqubah served as a template for the previous U.S. strategy (which looks a lot like the future strategy advocated by most Democrats and Republicans, such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel) of rapidly turning over “battle space” to the Iraqi Security Forces and drawing down our own forces.

By last year, the entire province of Diyala, of which Baqubah is the capital—an area with over a million people—was being held by just one U.S. brigade, no more than 5,000 American soldiers in all. Notwithstanding the presence of these combat forces—and the skilled commandos of the Joint Special Operations Command who could always swoop into the area, as they did when they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a year ago—Diyala became a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Alexandra Zavis summarizes what American troops have found in recent weeks as they have moved en masse back into Baqubah as part of the “surge of operations”:

For more than a year, hundreds of masked gunmen loyal to al Qaeda cruised this capital of their self-declared state, hauling Shiite Muslims from their homes and leaving bodies in the dusty, trash-strewn streets.

They set up a religious court and prisons, aid stations, and food stores. And they imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam on a population that was mostly too poor to flee and too terrified to resist. . . .

Evidence of the group’s reign included an interrogation center with knives and saws, its walls peppered with bullet holes and smeared with blood. Nearby, a house had been converted into a prison, with six numbered cells with metal doors and bars across the windows.

Residents said they were terrified of being stuffed into the trunk of a car and carted off to one of these places for such minor infractions as smoking in public. . . .

Residents said the militants gradually began taking over last year, parading through the streets in trucks, brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and using bullhorns to inform residents that they were now part of the Islamic State of Iraq.

They banned smoking, closed down barbershops and coffeehouses, and required women to cover themselves in black robes with only a slit for their eyes. Iraqis working for the Baghdad government or for U.S. forces were hunted down and killed, residents said. Even a trip to Baghdad was grounds for suspicion.

If al Qaeda could set up a miniature Talibanistan almost under the noses of (undermanned) American bases, just imagine what they would be able to do in Iraq if most American forces withdrew altogether. If our commandos couldn’t stop the radicalization of Baqubah when they were located only a few miles away at Balad, how much luck would they have if they relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles away to someplace like Kuwait or Iraqi Kurdistan, as suggested by Jack Murtha and other advocates of “redeployment”?

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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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Dispatch from Baghdad

I recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal counseling patience in allowing the troop surge in Baghdad to show its impact. This is an e-mail that I received in response from Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska, commander of a small base that I recently visited in northwest Baghdad, called Forward Operating Base Justice. He agreed to let me share it with COMMENTARY readers:

Max,

Great article. Keep beating this drum. Most of the leaders on the ground simply ignore the political discourse, as it is not helpful to our mission. Nobody wants to be in the middle of a civil war, low-grade or not, but we have found ourselves here. The only solution military leaders on the ground have is to work with the good allies we have made in Iraq.

We have some true patriots that are sacrificing everything and betting on the U.S. to be there for them. How could we look them in the eye if given the order to pull out? The vast majority of the people on the street want what every American wants—hope for tomorrow, good schools and opportunity for their children, a safe neighborhood, employment. Almost nobody trusts the politicians, but they might if they see the coalition forces standing side by side with Iraqi Security Forces for long enough. As the public begins to develop confidence in the Iraqi formations, that trust could rub off into government legitimacy. Our only other option would be to replace the government, which nobody in the U.S. seems to have the political stomach for at this juncture.

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I recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal counseling patience in allowing the troop surge in Baghdad to show its impact. This is an e-mail that I received in response from Lieutenant Colonel Steven Miska, commander of a small base that I recently visited in northwest Baghdad, called Forward Operating Base Justice. He agreed to let me share it with COMMENTARY readers:

Max,

Great article. Keep beating this drum. Most of the leaders on the ground simply ignore the political discourse, as it is not helpful to our mission. Nobody wants to be in the middle of a civil war, low-grade or not, but we have found ourselves here. The only solution military leaders on the ground have is to work with the good allies we have made in Iraq.

We have some true patriots that are sacrificing everything and betting on the U.S. to be there for them. How could we look them in the eye if given the order to pull out? The vast majority of the people on the street want what every American wants—hope for tomorrow, good schools and opportunity for their children, a safe neighborhood, employment. Almost nobody trusts the politicians, but they might if they see the coalition forces standing side by side with Iraqi Security Forces for long enough. As the public begins to develop confidence in the Iraqi formations, that trust could rub off into government legitimacy. Our only other option would be to replace the government, which nobody in the U.S. seems to have the political stomach for at this juncture.

Given that reality, we need to stand by the Iraqis. How long, you ask? I am on my second tour following a year in Tikrit from 2004-2005. A realistic goal is to have stabilized this region by the time my eleven-year-old son is old enough to serve in the military. Not that he is preordained to serve, but my hope is he will not have to deal with the complexity and tragedies that I have witnessed in Baghdad over the last eight months. My only other goal is to be able to look myself in the mirror every day, knowing that I stuck to my principles and did as much as possible to win in this very dangerous environment.

If our government decides to prematurely pull out, I would fail to reach both goals, and my son and his generation may find themselves embroiled in something far worse than what we experience now—all because my generation couldn’t get the job done.

Thanks for your continued intelligent contributions to the current debate. I will try to ignore it all and stay focused on the reality of real people trying to find hope for tomorrow on the streets of the most lethal city in the world.

Sincerely,
Steve Miska
LTC, Infantry
Task Force Justice Commander

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Should We Stay or Should We Go?

It’s official. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds that American attitudes about Iraq are schizophrenic—at least on the surface.

In a sampling taken May 4-6, 68 percent of respondents said that they think it is likely a withdrawal of U.S. forces would lead to “a full-scale civil war and result in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.” 66 percent believe “al Qaeda would use Iraq as a base for its terrorist operations.” 52 percent believe “a broader war involving several countries in the Middle East would break out.” And 55 percent believe “there would be new terrorist attacks against the U.S., like the ones that occurred on 9/11.”

All of those conclusions would seem to strengthen the case for “staying the course,” as President Bush proposes. Yet 59 percent of respondents say that we should “set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at that time.” Only 36 percent say that we should “keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation gets better.”

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It’s official. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll finds that American attitudes about Iraq are schizophrenic—at least on the surface.

In a sampling taken May 4-6, 68 percent of respondents said that they think it is likely a withdrawal of U.S. forces would lead to “a full-scale civil war and result in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.” 66 percent believe “al Qaeda would use Iraq as a base for its terrorist operations.” 52 percent believe “a broader war involving several countries in the Middle East would break out.” And 55 percent believe “there would be new terrorist attacks against the U.S., like the ones that occurred on 9/11.”

All of those conclusions would seem to strengthen the case for “staying the course,” as President Bush proposes. Yet 59 percent of respondents say that we should “set a timetable for removing troops from Iraq and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq at that time.” Only 36 percent say that we should “keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation gets better.”

How to square the circle? How to reconcile Americans’ (well-founded) belief that disaster will follow if we leave Iraq with their equally intense desire to do just that? Apparently, it comes down to the fact that most Americans don’t think that our staying in Iraq staves off any of the disasters they envision. Of those surveyed, 58 percent said that the likelihood of terrorist attacks on the U.S. would not be affected by leaving Iraq or by staying the course there.

But that conclusion is at odds with the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community. The National Intelligence Estimate, issued in January, had this to say:

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate . . . we judge that the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries—invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally—might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] would attempt to use parts of the country—particularly al-Anbar province—to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiraling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.

All of this—and in particular the part about al Qaeda—suggests that the terrorist threat against the U.S. would increase if our troops were to leave Iraq. And, although National Intelligence Estimates have been wrong before, there is good reason to think that the consensus conclusion is right on this issue.

In the past four years, Iraq has become the central front in the global war on terrorism. If we leave prematurely, it will be seen as a victory for al Qaeda, which will then shift resources to fight us on other battlefields, starting with Afghanistan.

Democrats are dreaming if they think that stationing U.S. Special Forces troops “in the region”—i.e., hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from the conflict’s center—could do much to contain the damage. How many Special Forces raids do we conduct today against terrorist safehouses in Iran or Syria? None, as far as I know. If we pull the bulk of our forces out of Iraq, logistical and political complications would prevent the kind of regular commando incursions needed to contain the al-Qaeda threat. In any case, we wouldn’t have the human intelligence to act. Spy satellites simply won’t provide the actionable intelligence we’d need.

Talk of the Iraqi “civil war” has distracted the American people from the real stakes in Iraq. The administration would be well advised to remind everyone of what’s involved—though by this time its credibility is so shot that its warnings may not be believed by anyone not already firmly in the anti-withdrawal camp.

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If I Were an Iraqi Politician . . .

Following the President’s veto of the Iraq spending bill, Democrats have dropped their demands for pullout timetables. They are talking instead about imposing “benchmarks” to force the Iraqi government to pass an oil-sharing law, disarm sectarian militias, hold provincial elections, and take other important steps. The main dispute now centers on whether these benchmarks will be nonbinding or whether they will be tied to mandatory penalties, such as the cut-off of some U.S. funds.

That’s progress, I suppose. But the Democrats are undermining the prospects of achieving the reforms they claim to want by their insistent calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops ASAP.

Put yourself into the mind of a Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ask yourself this question: Would you be more willing to compromise if you think U.S. troops are in Iraq for the long term, or if you think they’re about to leave?

Hmmm. Let’s see. If the U.S. troops leave now, an all-out civil war is likely to erupt. It will be every man for himself. The nascent Iraqi Security Forces will probably splinter along sectarian lines, leaving Iraqis of all stripes to seek safety from extremist militias. It would be the Lebanese civil war on steroids.

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Following the President’s veto of the Iraq spending bill, Democrats have dropped their demands for pullout timetables. They are talking instead about imposing “benchmarks” to force the Iraqi government to pass an oil-sharing law, disarm sectarian militias, hold provincial elections, and take other important steps. The main dispute now centers on whether these benchmarks will be nonbinding or whether they will be tied to mandatory penalties, such as the cut-off of some U.S. funds.

That’s progress, I suppose. But the Democrats are undermining the prospects of achieving the reforms they claim to want by their insistent calls to start withdrawing U.S. troops ASAP.

Put yourself into the mind of a Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite politician in Baghdad, and ask yourself this question: Would you be more willing to compromise if you think U.S. troops are in Iraq for the long term, or if you think they’re about to leave?

Hmmm. Let’s see. If the U.S. troops leave now, an all-out civil war is likely to erupt. It will be every man for himself. The nascent Iraqi Security Forces will probably splinter along sectarian lines, leaving Iraqis of all stripes to seek safety from extremist militias. It would be the Lebanese civil war on steroids.

If that’s likely to happen soon, what incentive do Iraqi politicians have to make concessions today to their mortal enemies? If they think the U.S. is seeking an exit strategy, they are far more likely to hunker down, keep their powder dry, and grab every advantage they can in order to give themselves an edge in the coming struggle.

Conversely, if Iraqis think that U.S. troops are in it for the long haul, they will become far less dependent on militias and may be willing to make the compromises necessary for national reconciliation. If U.S. troops, working with Iraqi forces, succeed in blunting the power of the extremist militias, this may create some breathing room for moderate political elements—and they do exist—to come to the fore. Chaos in the streets favors thugs like Moqtada al Sadr. If we can impose a period of calm, it might allow moderates like Ayatollah Sistani to reassert their influence.

In other words, the best bet for getting important legislation through the Iraqi parliament is to stick with General David Petraeus’s security plan. But the Democrats are undermining that plan with their calls for troop withdrawal. Even if American troops make gains on the ground in the next few months, it will be hard to convince most Iraqis to put their faith in the coalition and government forces as long as the message emanating from Washington is that our troops are about to head home.

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News from Ramadi

It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.

Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.

Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).

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It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.

Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.

Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).

Max,

Sorry about the delayed response, but email went down and then I had a couple real busy days. Bottom line on last week’s VBIED [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device] attacks—

The first one targeted an IP [Iraqi Police] station. It was intercepted and destroyed prior to reaching the station but caused 5 IP WIA’s [wounded in action] and over 20 civilian WIA’s. Another VBIED attacked an IP checkpoint on the highway resulting in 13 IP KIA [killed in action] and 8 IP WIA. This VBIED was also attempting to destroy an IP station but was intercepted before it could reach its target. The casualty count was so high because the IP’s were in the process of shift change at that location.

Last week the IP’s successfully intercepted a VBIED on the highway with no civilian or IP casualties. The IP’s did the same thing yesterday with no casualties. I gave awards to last week’s heroes and will do the same for those who stopped yesterday’s VBIED attack.

The IP’s in Ramadi are constantly on guard against VBIED’s. Unfortunately, even if the VBIED fails to reach its target, they still are deadly to anyone nearby. Al Qaeda will continue to try to attack the Ramadi IP’s and civilians with these VBIED’s in order to gain headlines. They know they were defeated in Ramadi so this is their attempt to save face and strike back at the force that drove them out of town. These murderers don’t care how many civilians are killed as long as they get a headline. Unfortunately, U.S. media seems to reinforce this behavior. One thing is certain, the people of Anbar will never accept al Qaeda and the police here will continue to fight back regardless of the danger they face. These attacks only strengthen their resolve.

We are currently conducting a large operation to clear terrorists out of the Abu Bali tribal region east of Ramadi. This area developed into a terrorist safe haven after we cleared Ramadi. Using coalition forces and ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], we are doing the same, deliberate clearing methods that we used in our previous operations. We have encountered many IED’s (reminds me of [Operation] Murfreesboro [in February-March]) but have cleared the area and are building another new JSS [Joint Security Station]. Almost immediately, the local population asked to start a neighborhood watch, and now these citizens are pointing out caches and IED’s.

We also successfully cleared an area to our south called al Tash. This was another area al Qaeda moved to when we cleared the city. We started getting increased IED attacks from this area so we went and cleared this town and established a JSS. Locals there now want to join the police force, and we haven’t had a single incident down there in about 2 weeks. I think al Qaeda is beginning to get the idea that we don’t like them in the neighborhood.

We are also working very hard with local religious leaders to improve popular support and conditions here in Ramadi. I have been meeting with prominent Sunni clerics from Anbar, and we think we will be able to reopen the main mosque here in Ramadi next week (I’m sure you saw it while you were here—it’s the really big one just north of the Malaab). This will be a huge event since this mosque is the centerpiece of Islamic worship here in Ramadi and has not been in operation for years due to the fighting. We are working religious-leader engagement at every level, and it is really paying off. A couple months ago, about half the mosques in Ramadi were broadcasting anti-coalition messages. Last Friday, there wasn’t a single anti-coalition sermon, and there were even a couple mosques that broadcast a pro-coalition message—I’ve never seen that before in my three tours over here.

Have to get back to work now . . . will give you an update on our efforts to help the Iraqis rebuild in my next email. This is an important aspect of counterinsurgency that will take a little time to explain.

Take care, John.

Rock of the Marne!
John W. Charlton
COL, Infantry
Commanding
Camp Ar Ramadi, Iraq

As Colonel Charlton keeps me posted, I will pass along his updates. They are not all likely to be positive. There is a war on, after all, and the enemy remains tenacious and brutal. We mustn’t set unrealistic goals in Ramadi (or anywhere else in Iraq) and then engage in self-flagellation if we don’t achieve them. Anbar, and the rest of Iraq, will remain violent for years, probably decades, to come. The question is whether we can get that violence down to a sustainable level, a level that doesn’t threaten the functioning of Iraq’s emerging government and civil society. So far that’s just what Colonel Charlton and his men have managed to pull off in Ramadi. Even the New York Times is taking notice. But all such accomplishments are fragile.

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A Tale of Two (Iraqi) Cities

I came to Iraq to find out what’s going on over here, but even when you’re here—perhaps especially when you’re here—it’s hard to get a complete understanding of the situation. You start to see complexities and nuances that defeat attempts at the sort of generalizations that are so easy to make from thousands of miles away.

Case in point: Tuesday in Baghdad. The newspapers are full of reports about a “fierce gunbattle” that took place that morning in Fadhel, a primarily Sunni neighborhood in east Baghdad. Four Iraqi soldiers were reported killed in a clash with insurgents; some fifteen U.S. soldiers were wounded and at least one U.S. helicopter was damaged by groundfire. It so happens that I was only a few miles away when all this happened, staying at a small U.S. installation called Forward Operating Base Justice located in the Khadamiya neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad, across the Tigris River from Fadhel. Yet the first I knew of this battle, which dominated the news cycle for at least 24 hours, was when I returned to Camp Victory, a much bigger U.S. base near Baghdad International Airport, and logged on to the Internet.

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I came to Iraq to find out what’s going on over here, but even when you’re here—perhaps especially when you’re here—it’s hard to get a complete understanding of the situation. You start to see complexities and nuances that defeat attempts at the sort of generalizations that are so easy to make from thousands of miles away.

Case in point: Tuesday in Baghdad. The newspapers are full of reports about a “fierce gunbattle” that took place that morning in Fadhel, a primarily Sunni neighborhood in east Baghdad. Four Iraqi soldiers were reported killed in a clash with insurgents; some fifteen U.S. soldiers were wounded and at least one U.S. helicopter was damaged by groundfire. It so happens that I was only a few miles away when all this happened, staying at a small U.S. installation called Forward Operating Base Justice located in the Khadamiya neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad, across the Tigris River from Fadhel. Yet the first I knew of this battle, which dominated the news cycle for at least 24 hours, was when I returned to Camp Victory, a much bigger U.S. base near Baghdad International Airport, and logged on to the Internet.

Far from being the scene of fierce fighting, Khadamiya was remarkably quiet during the two days I was there—Monday and Tuesday. On Monday night, April 9, the fourth anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, I went with some soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division on a foot patrol of the area. Shops were open, people were in the streets, and there was no threat of any kind. On Tuesday morning, I drove out of the base to attend a security meeting with local Iraqi leaders and security officers. Then I drove around with some American MP’s to visit Iraqi police stations. Again, all was quiet.

At the end of the day I drove in a convoy of Humvees straight across Baghdad, down Route Senators and then Route Irish, from FOB Justice to Camp Victory. We were not attacked on the way. In fact, the soldiers I was with were wondering why the situation was so placid—little realizing that things were not so placid on the other side of the Tigris. But since that’s another brigade’s AOR (area of operations), the soldiers I was with from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division were oblivious to those events.

What accounts for this tale of two cities—one quiet, one tumultuous? Primarily ethnic composition. Khadamiya is a Shiite stronghold where extensive security, provided primarily by Iraqi forces, prevents Sunni insurgents from penetrating. Iraqi troops and police officers have good relations with the locals. Fadhel is an area with a larger Sunni population where Sunni insurgents have gained a foothold and where residents are suspicious of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Security Forces.

Simply being on the ground makes you realize how facile and distorting are all attempts to generalize about the situation. Is Baghdad secure or not? It all depends on where you are, and when you are there.

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Boot and Hanson, Final Round: Smart Aggression

Dear Victor,

My reaction to your call for more aggressive tactics can best be summed up with that classic phrase beloved of Supreme Court justices: concur in part, dissent in part.

I am all in favor of aggressive action to stamp out the insurgency. But we need smart aggression. Dumb aggression can do more harm than good. That’s what we saw in 2003-04 when many U.S. units employed large-unit sweeps supported by heavy firepower. Those kinds of conventional tactics never work against a counterinsurgency—they failed for the Americans in Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and were failing for the British in Malaya in the late 1940’s, before Britain adopted more appropriate tactics in the early 1950’s.

The difficulty lies in the fact that insurgents are seldom obliging enough to mass their forces and then wait patiently to be destroyed by superior firepower. Guerrillas almost always melt away before large opposing forces, snipe at their flanks, and return in force only when the army has gone back to its bases.

The only way to defeat this tactic is to garrison the area with small outposts of soldiers who interact with locals and develop the intelligence needed to identify insurgents. Once identified, that’s where the good kind of aggression comes in—anyone taking up arms against the government needs to be killed or captured. The problem is that Western militaries, including our own, have a surfeit of aggression but usually lack the patience and know-how to figure out whom to focus their aggression on. Unfocused displays of brutality only serve to alienate the population and recruit more manpower for the insurgency.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten it right. Our soldiers (and also contractors) have displayed too much casual brutality toward the populace of Iraq, often (understandably) motivated by “force protection” considerations. I’m thinking of Humvees or armored Chevy Suburbans careening through traffic, causing accidents, their occupants shooting at vehicles that get too close; soldiers opening fire at checkpoints and riddling cars full of confused civilians with bullets; or soldiers cordoning off neighborhoods and breaking into houses in the middle of the night.

When it comes to dealing with actual insurgents, our troops have had their hands tied, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal in the spring of 2004. Aggressive interrogations are out. Detainees in American custody have the option of remaining silent, and they have an excellent chance of being released through one of the multiple layers of legal review, Iraqi and American. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of success.

Of course there are limits to how brutal American—or any other Western—troops can be without causing a backlash on the home front, as the French learned in Algeria. The Iraqis have much more freedom of action; nobody would be terribly shocked if they behaved the way the Algerian or Egyptian security forces did in putting down Islamist uprisings in the 1990′s. The problem is not so much that the Iraqi Security Forces are too brutal; it’s that they are stupidly brutal—or rather that their brutality is too often designed to advance a sectarian, not a national, agenda. They are murdering and torturing Sunnis indiscriminately, not reserving their venom for actual insurgents. Again, there has to be a balancing act, and the Iraqis aren’t getting it right—perhaps can’t get it right.

I should add the obvious: it’s much easier to describe the balancing act while sitting in the safety of one’s study than to actually figure out how to act while under fire. That’s why counterinsurgency has been described as the graduate level of warfare. Our troops are slowly acquiring the skills they need but, as we both agree, the big question is whether they will have the time and support needed to apply what they’ve learned.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson III

Dear Victor,

My reaction to your call for more aggressive tactics can best be summed up with that classic phrase beloved of Supreme Court justices: concur in part, dissent in part.

I am all in favor of aggressive action to stamp out the insurgency. But we need smart aggression. Dumb aggression can do more harm than good. That’s what we saw in 2003-04 when many U.S. units employed large-unit sweeps supported by heavy firepower. Those kinds of conventional tactics never work against a counterinsurgency—they failed for the Americans in Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and were failing for the British in Malaya in the late 1940’s, before Britain adopted more appropriate tactics in the early 1950’s.

The difficulty lies in the fact that insurgents are seldom obliging enough to mass their forces and then wait patiently to be destroyed by superior firepower. Guerrillas almost always melt away before large opposing forces, snipe at their flanks, and return in force only when the army has gone back to its bases.

The only way to defeat this tactic is to garrison the area with small outposts of soldiers who interact with locals and develop the intelligence needed to identify insurgents. Once identified, that’s where the good kind of aggression comes in—anyone taking up arms against the government needs to be killed or captured. The problem is that Western militaries, including our own, have a surfeit of aggression but usually lack the patience and know-how to figure out whom to focus their aggression on. Unfocused displays of brutality only serve to alienate the population and recruit more manpower for the insurgency.

It’s a delicate balancing act, and I’m afraid we haven’t gotten it right. Our soldiers (and also contractors) have displayed too much casual brutality toward the populace of Iraq, often (understandably) motivated by “force protection” considerations. I’m thinking of Humvees or armored Chevy Suburbans careening through traffic, causing accidents, their occupants shooting at vehicles that get too close; soldiers opening fire at checkpoints and riddling cars full of confused civilians with bullets; or soldiers cordoning off neighborhoods and breaking into houses in the middle of the night.

When it comes to dealing with actual insurgents, our troops have had their hands tied, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal in the spring of 2004. Aggressive interrogations are out. Detainees in American custody have the option of remaining silent, and they have an excellent chance of being released through one of the multiple layers of legal review, Iraqi and American. That needs to change if we are to have any chance of success.

Of course there are limits to how brutal American—or any other Western—troops can be without causing a backlash on the home front, as the French learned in Algeria. The Iraqis have much more freedom of action; nobody would be terribly shocked if they behaved the way the Algerian or Egyptian security forces did in putting down Islamist uprisings in the 1990′s. The problem is not so much that the Iraqi Security Forces are too brutal; it’s that they are stupidly brutal—or rather that their brutality is too often designed to advance a sectarian, not a national, agenda. They are murdering and torturing Sunnis indiscriminately, not reserving their venom for actual insurgents. Again, there has to be a balancing act, and the Iraqis aren’t getting it right—perhaps can’t get it right.

I should add the obvious: it’s much easier to describe the balancing act while sitting in the safety of one’s study than to actually figure out how to act while under fire. That’s why counterinsurgency has been described as the graduate level of warfare. Our troops are slowly acquiring the skills they need but, as we both agree, the big question is whether they will have the time and support needed to apply what they’ve learned.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson III

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Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Just Enough to Stave Off Defeat

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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