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Topic: Kenneth Pollack

Not Time to Come Home

It’s time to declare victory and go home. That was the formula that Senator George Aiken famously suggested for Vietnam in 1966. Today, it bears relevance to Iraq. No, not to the U. S. military presence in that country, but to the Democrats in Congress.

Since November, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats have demonstrated shocking disdain for the well-being of our country. Their only concern has been to defeat or embarrass George W. Bush. Once, one of the noblest American traditions held that politics stops at the water’s edge. But, for the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, it seems that the inverse is true: namely, that national interests stop when the opportunity arises for partisan point-scoring.

In the last few weeks, however, a number of Democratic voices have been raised to observe that General Petraeus’s surge strategy seems to be working in Iraq. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution in a widely quoted op-ed. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois reported from Baghdad that our forces are “making some measurable progress.” And Anthony Cordesman, a strong critic of the war, said after a recent visit to the country, “real military progress is taking place.”

In view of these hopeful assessments, it would be criminally irresponsible to deny Petraeus the time and resources he needs to see if he can pull America’s chestnuts from the fire. It would also, in the end, be bad politics. Congressional Democrats should drop their efforts to force surrender upon us. Instead, they should try to take credit for the fact that things are improving. They can argue plausibly that by holding Bush’s feet to the fire, they forced him to adjust strategy, bringing on a new field commander and authorizing the surge. The Democrats should, in short, declare victory and go home.

It’s time to declare victory and go home. That was the formula that Senator George Aiken famously suggested for Vietnam in 1966. Today, it bears relevance to Iraq. No, not to the U. S. military presence in that country, but to the Democrats in Congress.

Since November, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats have demonstrated shocking disdain for the well-being of our country. Their only concern has been to defeat or embarrass George W. Bush. Once, one of the noblest American traditions held that politics stops at the water’s edge. But, for the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, it seems that the inverse is true: namely, that national interests stop when the opportunity arises for partisan point-scoring.

In the last few weeks, however, a number of Democratic voices have been raised to observe that General Petraeus’s surge strategy seems to be working in Iraq. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution in a widely quoted op-ed. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois reported from Baghdad that our forces are “making some measurable progress.” And Anthony Cordesman, a strong critic of the war, said after a recent visit to the country, “real military progress is taking place.”

In view of these hopeful assessments, it would be criminally irresponsible to deny Petraeus the time and resources he needs to see if he can pull America’s chestnuts from the fire. It would also, in the end, be bad politics. Congressional Democrats should drop their efforts to force surrender upon us. Instead, they should try to take credit for the fact that things are improving. They can argue plausibly that by holding Bush’s feet to the fire, they forced him to adjust strategy, bringing on a new field commander and authorizing the surge. The Democrats should, in short, declare victory and go home.

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Rational Optimism on Iraq

The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.

See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”

Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”

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The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.

See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”

Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”

Unfortunately, that matching political progress has not yet materialized. To be sure, there have been surprising and encouraging gains at the local level where Sunni tribes are increasingly turning against al Qaeda. But at the national level the political gridlock is worse than ever. The latest news from Baghdad is that five ministers belonging to Ayad Allawi’s secular Iraqiyah party have suspended their participation in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet (though they continue to run their ministries). This comes on top of similar boycotts by the six ministers from the Iraqi Consensus Front, the major Sunni party, and six ministers from Moktada al-Sadr’s radical Shiite party. In all, seventeen ministers, or nearly half the cabinet, are not participating in its deliberations at the moment.

Confidence in Maliki’s government seems to be plummeting, and various Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish chieftains seem to be farther apart than ever when it comes to vital legislation, such as the law to share Iraq’s oil wealth.

Of course, no serious proponent of the “surge” expected that Iraqis would get their act together overnight. In fact, the theory has always been that gains in security are a necessary prerequisite for the major political factions to make compromises. Since the gains in security are just beginning, it is far too soon to say that political progress won’t happen, too. After all, who would have predicted the turnaround in the attitude of the tribes that has occurred over the past year? Yet even supporters of the surge—a group to which I belong—must admit, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that it’s dismaying to see the political situation regressing, at least at the national level, even as the security situation is progressing.

That doesn’t mean it’s prudent to wash our hands of Iraq, or give up on the surge. Cordesman’s report, making the case for “strategic patience,” has it right. But even the most ardent backers of General Petraeus should not let their hopes run out of control. Given how bad the situation was by the time Petraeus took over, there is still a possibility he could do everything right and fail.

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Time and Our Side

contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

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contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

Ignatieff also explains his support for the war on fairly narrow grounds: his (admirable) emotional attachment to Iraqi exiles who believed the war was the only chance that members of their generation would have to live in freedom in their own country. The humanitarian case against Saddam was overwhelming, but it was not anything like the sole reason to go to war. The United States believed, with the rest of the world, that Saddam had WMD stockpiles. (We know now that he wanted to end sanctions while preserving his capability to reconstitute his WMD program when the sanctions regime ended.) Hussein was also the most destabilizing figure in the Middle East, having invaded two countries and committed genocide in his own. He was responsible for the death of more than a million people. Recklessness and hyper-aggression were in his DNA.

A third point: Ignatieff seems to be arguing for an American withdrawal, though he doesn’t say it outright. This would consign Iraqis to cruelty and slaughter on a scale that is almost beyond our capacity to absorb. In the words of the New York Times reporter John Burns, “cataclysmic violence” would follow in the wake of an early American withdrawal. Ignatieff, who supported the war for humanitarian reasons, is already being cited by those who want to accelerate an American withdrawal, despite the ethnic cleansing and genocide that would follow. This would be a difficult thing for a man like Ignatieff, of impressive moral concerns and commitments, to defend.

We may now be at a hinge moment in Iraq, when—after years of costly mistakes and misjudgments—we are on the right path. General David Petraeus says he needs one thing more than any other: time. Anyone who purports to care about the future of Iraq, and of the Iraqis, owes him at least that much.

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Casualty Counts

Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.

I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.

There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.

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Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.

I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.

There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.

As this Associated Press story notes, that seems to be what’s happening: they report the death tolls for July as 73, while the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count reports it as 74. Whether 73 or 74, that’s the lowest figure in eight months—since November 2006, when 70 Americans were killed.

We should not, of course, read too much into these statistics. There have been declines in past summers as well, while in previous falls, the numbers of casualties have again increased. (Perhaps insurgents don’t enjoy fighting in 120 degree heat.) It doesn’t take many atrocities to cause a spike in the body count. And even though, now, the number is lower than it has been in the past eight months, 73 dead Americans is still 73 too many. Nevertheless, as the public and its elected representatives try to draw conclusions about whether the U.S. strategy is working, they should take the current decline in casualties as a modest indicator of progress.

But, of course, mere facts won’t change the minds of committed antiwar advocates. Check out this CNN interview with Congressman Jack Murtha. He was asked for his thoughts on yesterday’s O’Hanlon-Pollack article in the New York Times. Here is Murtha’s reply: “I don’t know where they were staying. I don’t know what they saw. But I know this, that it’s not getting better. It’s rhetorical is what is getting better.”

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John Burns

Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.
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Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.

You can read a transcript of his fascinating interview with Hugh Hewitt here. Some highlights: asked if the surge is working, Burns replies

I think there’s no doubt that those extra 30,000 American troops are making a difference. They’re definitely making a difference in Baghdad. Some of the crucial indicators of the war, metrics as the American command calls them, have moved in a positive direction from the American, and dare I say the Iraqi point of view, fewer car bombs, fewer bombs in general, lower levels of civilian casualties, quite remarkably lower levels of civilian casualties. And add in what they call the Baghdad belts, that’s to say the approaches to Baghdad, particularly in Diyala Province to the northeast, to the area south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and to the west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, there’s no doubt that al Qaeda has taken something of a beating.

He goes on to warn that this has not so far led to political reconciliation:

I think it’s probably fair to say that the Iraqi political leaders, Sunni, Shiia, Kurd in the main, are somewhat further apart now than they were six months ago. In other words, the Bush administration’s hope that the military surge would be accompanied by what they called a political surge, a movement towards some sort of national reconciliation, uniting around a kind of national compact, that has simply not occurred. Indeed, the gulf between the Shiite and Sunni leaders in the government is probably wider than it has ever been.

While this might be music to antiwar ears, Burns deflates one of the chief arguments made by Democrats who contend that their demands to pull U.S. troops out are putting pressure on the Iraqi politicians to compromise. Au contraire, Burns points out:

[T]he more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They’re much more inclined to kind of hunker down. So in effect, the threats from Washington about a withdrawal, which we might have hoped would have brought about greater political cooperation in face of the threat that would ensue from that to the entire political establishment here, has had, as best we can gauge it, much more the opposite effect. It has had an effect of persuading people well, if the Americans are going, there’s absolutely no…and we’re going to have to settle this by a civil war, why should we make concessions on that matter right now?

He then goes on to warn about the consequences of an American drawdown:

[A]n accelerated early withdrawal, something which reduced American troops—even if they were placed in large bases out in the desert—to, say, something like 60-80,000 over a period of six to nine months, and in effect, leaving the fighting in the cities and the approaches to the cities to the Iraqis, I think the result of that would, in effect, be a rapid, a rapid progress towards an all-out civil war. And the people who are urging that kind of a drawdown, I think, have to take that into account.

There is much more of interest in the interview; you should read the whole thing. And while you’re at it, take a look at this Washington Post story. The lead sums it up nicely: “House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party’s efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.”

Given the positive assessments coming from such dispassionate analysts as John Burns and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, the chances of just such a positive report from Petraeus seem to be growing—and hence leftist activists’ hopes of abandoning Iraq seem to be fading. At least for the time being.

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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.

The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.

What went wrong?

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An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.

The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.

What went wrong?

A recent military visitor from Iraq posited that the British tried a mild peacekeeping approach in an environment that instead called for a tough counterinsurgency strategy. As the Times’s Stephen Ferrell notes, “the British-led coalition forces have adopted a far less aggressive and interventionist stance than American troops have farther north.” That approach seemed to work initially because there wasn’t much violence, but it came at a cost. As Farrell writes, “critics accuse the British of simply allowing the Shiite militias free rein to carry out their intolerant Islamist agenda, which involved killing merchants who sell alcohol, driving out Christians and infiltrating state institutions and the security forces.”

Now the militias are feeling their oats and the British are feeling under siege. The palace in Basra that serves as their headquarters has become one of the most-mortared positions in all of Iraq—according to the Times, the troopers call it the “worst palace in the world.”

The British difficulties have been exacerbated by their well-publicized decision to reduce their troop levels in Iraq, and to pull back from the center of Basra to a compound located outside of town. Far from placating the armed gangs, the British decision has only emboldened them. Everyone, it seems, is determined to get a last lick in—no doubt trying to establish “anti-colonial” bona fides in the coming struggle for power.

There is a lesson to be learned here by advocates of an American troop drawdown. Even if the drawdown were to be only partial, it could easily get out of hand by creating the perception that we’re on the way out and can be attacked with impunity. As Napoleon said, “In war, moral considerations account for three-quarters, the actual balance of forces only for the other quarter.” If we set a withdrawal timetable, the moral balance will tip against us even faster than the actual balance of forces—with deadly consequences.

We can avoid that problem by sticking with the “surge,” which, as another Times article notes, is working. This one is an op-ed written by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, who have just returned from Iraq with a glowing report on all the progress that General David Petraeus and his soldiers are making. Pollack and O’Hanlon echo the sense of cautious optimism that I have been feeling for the past several months. That’s pretty significant coming from two Democratic analysts who, as they note, “have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.”

A White House official has labeled their article “significant, and possibly climate-changing.” Let’s hope that’s the case.

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