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Posted by on Mar 30, 2007 in War | 39 comments

Is the Surge Working? You Must Be Kidding


Aftermath of a suicide bombing near a Mahmudiya hospital

The keys to the success of President Bush’s “surge” strategy are ending the orgy of sectarian violence and bringing the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to heel.

Well, it has been an awful week for both objectives:

* In the northern city of Tal Afar, a bombing in a Shiite neighborhood by Sunnis killed 70 people and a reprisal massacre of Sunnis by Shiite police officers left 70 more dead. Al Maliki ordered the obligatory “investigation,” but 18 police officers suspected of participating in the massacre were released after being briefly detained.

* In Baghdad, at least 60 people, mostly women and children, were killed when a man with an explosive belt walked into a crowded street market the Shaab neighborhood and detonated it.

* Elsewhere in the capital, a bomb placed on a popular shopping street in the Baya district killed 10 people, while a suicide car bomber detonated himself at an Iraqi Army checkpoint in the Jamiya district, killing three soldiers. Meanwhile, at least 25 bodies were found throughout the city.

* In the predominately Shiite town of Khalis in bloody Diyala Province, a coordinated attack involving three suicide car bombers killed at least 28 people, including women and children.

* In Mahmudiya, a car bomb exploded near a hospital, killing four people.

No one said that the surge would work overnight, but if there are real signs of progress, as opposed to a few good days in a row, I keep missing them.

It’s real simple:

There cannot be a military solution without a social solution and there cannot be a social solution without a military solution. This week was a notable setback for both efforts.

More here.

Photograph by Ibrahim Sultan/Reuters

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • Elrod

    I think we are on the brink of seeing the Shi’ite death squads springing back into full retaliatory mode. They may have to break away from (or continue to break away from) Sadr himself, but I don’t see how the Shi’ite militias stay off the street. In Tal Afar they already launched their reprisal attacks.

    I sense an overall pattern here. Iraq’s political leadership and the US launch some high-profile change in tactics – the New Way Forward, Operation Together Forward, the Surge – the insurgents and militias lie low for a bit until they see how the new tactic works, and then they spring into action based on inherent weaknesses in the counterinsurgent tactic. It’s all so predictable. What’s sad is that the inevitable readjustment is interpreted by war supporters as evidence of “progress” or even “victory” when it’s nothing more than a feeling out phase.

    Let’s face it: there’s just nothing we can do to prevent the Iraqis from carrying on their civil war.

  • Elrod:

    You are correct and then some. I too have been waiting for the re-emergence of the Shiite militias. It will matter not if some, most or all are aligned with Al Sadr when they push back against the Sunni insurgents who are behind the rash of bombings.

    The surge is much too little much to late and it is time to get the hell out.

  • kritter

    It also doesn’t help that we announce ahead of time just how the strategy is supposed to work, in order to get the public and Congress on board. The insurgents simply plan around our announcements. Part of the problem seems to be that we are concentrating more on not letting the terrorists see us in retreat , than what actually works.

    As Elrod says, it all was predictable from the beginning. Was the surge born of desperation to have some part of this debacle give us a period of temporary success- however meaningless? I think the debate needs to move beyond what will embolden our enemies and how we can best support the troops, to what is in our best national interest.

  • Kritter:

    I think the debate needs to move beyond what will embolden our enemies and how we can best support the troops, to what is in our best national interest.

    It’s not a pretty sight, but that’s what has begun to happen in Congress.

  • It’s time to enlist Gov. Bill Richardson, Shaun. Read my today’s post on Richardson and recent posts on McCain and Lieberman declaring success.

  • stevesh


    Could be my server but you’re “More here” (to Kiko’s?) link doesn’t work.

  • Apologies. It was a bad link to a WaPo story. Link fixed.

  • Jackson

    I wish I had time and space here to try to educate the author of the article, who thinks that one bad day or 10 or 20 bad days proves that the “surge” is not working. The simplicity and emotionalism of his statements:

    ( to paraphrase, “the terrorists killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians today in suicide bombings, it is ugly, repulsive. They are still doing it after a month from when we sent in the surge to stop it, so we need to get our troops out of there now and let the Iraqis fight it out.”)

    What non-sense. The tactics of the surge have been in use in Ramadi for a couple of years (remember Falluja? Ramadi has been just as much of a rats nest, but instead of a massive assault and clear, we are doing a neighborhood by neighborhood security operation.). Ramadi is steadily improving (2 steps forward and 1/2 back). But it is not there yet, and it may take another year or two. I doubt the surge will make a huge difference for 6 months to a year. Also the surge is not big enough. You should be arguing for more troops, not a pullout. (Strategicly and tactically thinking). Instant gratification is not going to come in this war. Insurgencies are usually defeated over a period of 10 years. We have been in Iraq, what 4 now? The good news is our losses are far less in people that in Vietnam or WWII so far. The bad news is, people do die and get maimed in wars, and they are costly.

    However, trying to educate someone who only knows what they see on TV about the war we are fighting with a post or two … is a bit like trying to teach the World War II part of American history to a high school class in a half hour lecture.

    If you can put your emotions on hold (it is terrible that people are getting killed daily in this war. It wrenches my heart to see the suffering on TV. But the Islamic radicals have no such compunction – should we abandon Iraq to them?) I digress, if you can put your emotions on hold, and try to think in long term strategic and short term tactical terms … Go to Bill Roggio’s website with a few hours of reading time. Read his blog back into the recent past. Follow some of his links. Try to develop a clear picture of exactly who is perpetrating the attacks and what their goals are. Then ask yourself if it is our duty to the Iraqi’s, and to our children, to stop these extremists. Here is the link:

    Especially follow some of the links to some of the Iraqi citizen bloggers in Bagdad and elsewhere in Iraq when you run across them in Bills blog. Most of the people in Iraq are not involved in this sectarianism. Most are innocent bystanders, who would love it if it would all just go away. But al qaeda in Iraq will not go away if the US leaves, it will simply grow stronger.

    War is about death. It is a dirty nasty business. Unfortunately, if someone threatens you with a knife, it behooves you to not to pull your punches. It also, makes no sense to run away, if they will simply chase you, or turn and kill the child standing beside you after you are gone. The battle in Iraq, for us, is beyond Shia Sunni sectarianism. It is all about the guys perpetrating most of these mass casualty attacks: al qaeda. The radical islamists. Go now, get some education. Please. It is not as simple as the media, the Bushies, or the Democrats would have us believe. They all have vested interests in keeping the American people from “getting it”.

    By the way, watch what Hillary Clinton says, closely. I suspect she knows. She was privy to a lot when Bill was President. Her refusal to call for a quick pullout is for good reason. She recognizes that it is against the strategic interests of this country. If she is elected president, I expect her to pursue a similar course to the one we are currently on. The difference is, had she been president instead of Bush, we might not be in Iraq. But now that we are there – Iraq is where the battle against the Islamic Fascists (al qaeda) is primarily being fought. There and Afghanistan.

    Please, we all need to get beyond our hatred of the fact that we are in a war and understand it properly before throwing in the towel and expecting it to go away. That worked fine in Vietnam, the Vietnamese had no interest in the death of all Americans. These Islamic radicals want exactly that, unless of course we are willing to all convert to Islam, keep our women at home and wearing Burkas, get rid of music and TV and books that are not Islamic based, etc.

    We need to pull together as a nation to fight and defeat the radicals who would quickly turn our country into glass if they had nukes. I believe it will take at least another 10 years, and probably 50. This war will not go away if we run from Iraq. It may pause and fester a few years before it gets a lot worse, but it will not go away. The Nazi Fascists did not go away because Chamberlain gave them Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, etc. They simply consolidated their gains and moved into France. This is little different. Both were cults. True believers of this ilk do not stop pursuing the non-believers and apostates until they are all dead or converted. This war has been going on at a low level for well before and all during the Clinton years. It has been getting hotter and hotter with time. They are not going to leave us alone, just because we give them Iraq.

  • Davebo

    War is about death. It is a dirty nasty business. Unfortunately, if someone threatens you with a knife, it behooves you to not to pull your punches.

    Right. As soon as someone actually threatens us with a knife or any other weapon we can test your hypothises.

    For now however, we are not at war. We are occupiers of what we claim to be a sovereign nation. If you wan’t to continue the occupation of Iraq for 10 to 50 years, I’d highly suggest you come up with a way to pay for, and participate in that endeavor.

    Count the rest of America out.

  • kritter

    Jackson- most people don’t want a complete pullout in Iraq, they want our resources better used to fight al queda in Anbar or wherever. But you don’t use your resources wisely by getting in the middle of a civil war. Even Petraeus only gave the surge a 25% chance of working.

  • Jackson:

    There are no corners to be turned because, as I noted, there cannot merely be a military solution and a social solution is unattainable now, six months from now or six years from now.

    Analogies to WW2 are inappropriate. Analogies to Vietnam only work some of the time. Dragging Hillary and other wannabes into this is a distraction.

    The war is lost, my man. Put away your history books, ease yourself off of your high horse and begin the long and painful process of acknowledging that grim reality, because you will have to sooner or later.

    That is unless you plan to join the president for the retirement phase of his denial as he searches through the scrub brush back at the ranch in search of his legacy. He certainly will need the help.

  • Davebo

    What disturbs me about people like Jackson here is their revisionism.

    Our war in Iraq is a 10 to 50 year evolution? I don’t recall anyone mentioning that in late 2002 or early 2003.

    What I heard was talk about weeks, not months, with a cost of 50 billion or so.

    So, since Jackson has known all along that this war would run for decades, surely he can point us to his prior posts or comments screaming at the top of his lungs that the administration was lowballing the costs and duration for the Iraq war. That their claims of a quick fix were wrong and they were setting up the public for a huge dissapointment.

    I’d love to read those comments. But I’m not holding my breath.

  • Elrod

    If we had 400,000 troops your post would make sense. The Iraqi army is utterly useless without American backing, and that’s not likely to change much in the near future. But 30,000 troops is a joke.

    You are wrong about who “the enemy” is in Iraq: it isn’t just Al Qaeda no matter how many times you stamp your feet. Iraq’s violence is primarily local in nature. Those who commit the mass casualty attacks in Iraq are doing so so they can destablize the Shi’ite-led government and then destroy the Shi’ites in open war. Only a tiny segment of them hope to use an Islamist Iraq as a launching pad for taking over the world. More of those types of Islamist expansionists can be found in Afghanistan and the western provinces of Pakistan than in Iraq. That’s not to say there aren’t genuine Al Qaeda elements (not just AQI) in Iraq, or that OBL and Zawahrii don’t think Iraq isn’t important in the global jihad. It’s just to say that the fundamental divisions within Iraq are historic, local and sectarian, and only partially connected to global jihadism. If our fight is to take out global jihadism, we are not doing a good job of it by carrying on the war in Iraq.

  • kritter

    Jackson- Maybe you could be a little less condescending? It puts people off here, who might otherwise have a more open mind to your arguments.

  • Entropy

    Counterinsurgency is an ugly, tough, long, difficult process. There are inevitably setbacks. A setback or a “bad” week, for lack of a better term, does not mean the strategy has failed, particularly since it’s barely begun. Americans are known for impatience, but this is getting ridiculous. The right and left are already trotting out “evidence” to support their own preconceived views of the surge. It would be nice if people would give this new strategy a chance to work.

  • Counterinsurgency is an ugly, tough, long, difficult process.

    No one ever said it wasn’t, but we aren’t just facing attacks on our own troops. We are facing large attacks by Shia on Sunni and vice versa.

    It’s hard to see how 30,000 more troops would be able to pacify Baghdad, not to mention the rest of the country.

    Would any of you hawks put any serious money on the success of the surge to quell violence in Iraq? I doubt it.

  • DaveA

    Hmm, not sure I agree its a failure yet, any more thna its a success. After all in Baghdad, at least things are calmer reprisal wise and thats a start.

    However, Jacksons

    “What non-sense. The tactics of the surge have been in use in Ramadi for a couple of years (remember Falluja? Ramadi has been just as much of a rats nest, but instead of a massive assault and clear, we are doing a neighborhood by neighborhood security operation.)”

    Is, to borrow a phrase, non-sense. Fallujah? A city we had to level about 1/3 of, installed extreem security to the point of cripplign the economy, and so on? Yeah, well in case you have not checked recently, at night it is a slipped back inot a no-go zone for us/security forces. That is your def working right? Ramadi, slightly different methods, same results. Remember to those residents we are invadors, and they are freedom fighters. With some 75% of the inhabitants thinking its good to kill us is… success? Lets be real and say, barring exterminating them, we lost Sunniland already.

    “But al qaeda in Iraq will not go away if the US leaves, it will simply grow stronger.”

    Probably false… Lets start with there was NO Al-qaeda in Iraq before we came. Now its there, and has been growing steadily… But the two must be completely unrelated? Not. The Iraqis will take care of Al-qaeda when we leave. At least, assuming the state does not disolve, in which case us being there will mean dreck all anyway so no difference. Right now, we are currently the more objectionable/weaker side, and so it grows.

    Terrorism has been on the rise steadily world wide since the invasion. If we had stuck to Afghnistan, and not tried to solve what are generally police/intelligence issues with brute military might, it would be better. Yes, the terrorism will flat out happen here regardless of pull out or not, We have harmed too many in a culture that takes revenge and honor very seriously. The genie is already out of the bottle in that regard whatever we do. so lets at least work to lesson it…

    Oh, and to cap it off, our commander in chief is way out of his league brains wise. The political representatives we have in Iraqi are largely cluelss automatons ,of which something silly like only 9 speak arabic fluently… And, the whole process has been frought with a frightening amount of corruption. Quite seriously, we could win every military engagement for the next whenever, and still lose with a team like that.

    No, best withdraw. Yes the results will be ugly, but staying is just building the how ugly the ending will be, and prolonging the process to boot.

    Terrorism itself is on the up swing because

  • Jackson

    I expected to bring out strong comments. I like the give and take generated from my other post on the Kruppheimer (sp?) article better than the ones here. These seem more like personal attacks in one or two cases.

    I’ll do my best here to address them quickly because I really must move on (no pun intended). By the way, you really should spend some time on Bill Roggios site, fascinating reading.

    I understand your point about us being occupiers and not currently “threatened with a knife”. But I disagree with part of it. There is the knife threat (witness 9/11, the Spanish train bombings, the London subway bombings, etc.). The problem with recognizing it clearly is that it is in slow motion. There are long pauses between events.

    By definition, yes we are occupiers in Iraq. The state of affairs there is unfortunate (we should probably never have invaded). However, we are also at war there with the insurgents, many of who are al Qaeda. My point is that it behooves us to have the will to stay and to increase troop levels until we can bring security to the people of Iraq and ensure that a moderate government (or at least not an Islamic radical one) will survive.

    DaveBo says in another post:

    “What disturbs me about people like Jackson here is their revisionism …”.

    I am attempting to revise nothing. I am not a Bush appologist. He has made huge mistakes as president both domestically and in our war with the Islamic Fascists. I cannot at the moment think of any major policy or decision of his that I agree with, possibly excepting the invasion of Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden. Oh wait, they let Bin Laden get away – …

    My point is that al qaeda is thinking and planning in terms of decades and centuries. A world wide insurgency, which is what we have now (who ever you want to blame for it), is going to take a long time to defeat. Especially since we are fighting true believers and they are not all bottled up in one or two places, like Germany and Japan were in WWII. Iraq may be much more orderly in 10 years, but the global war on (I hate the term “war on terror”) Islamic Fascism may well last 50 years. Will it be a big hot war like Iraq all that time? Probably not. I agree with something Shaun has implied in a way, ultimately the solution is social. The societies with the radical Islamists in their midst must control those elements and prevent them from dominating the culture with their insanity.

    I am very very concerned about Pakistan and the war being fought in its frontier provinces (where the Taliban continue to consolidate their rule). Because that war is now about to start spilling over into the Pakistani cities and ultimately the government of Pakistan and thereby it’s nukes could be at risk. Long term I see that as a much bigger danger than Iraq. But if Iraq is any example, invading Pakistan’s frontier to go after the Taliban is probably not the correct approach. Once again read Bill Roggio for more on this situation (

    So – I did not know all along that this war was going to last decades. Initially, I was hoping, that Afghanistan was it (and even there, as I said to a friend in Europe at the time, perhaps we should have turned the other cheek about the Taliban refusing us Bin Laden, and tried to use special ops to get him).

    Like most people, after 9/11, I had no idea that a somewhat significant percentage of the muslim world hated us and that a small percentage of those that hated us were radicals who wished us all dead. I expected Afghanistan to be the war of 9/11 and I guessed at the outset it would last 3 or 4 years. The quick “victory” made me happy and I was later disappointed when it became clear we missed the al qaeda leadership and that it was dragging on.

    I had no clue about Iraq, wondered what the heck Bush was doing taking us there, but, colored by 9/11, half believed the WMD talk. Now I consider all that a mute point. What is done is done, we just need to take appropriate action from where we are now.

    Clearly al qaeda and Iran are both struggling for control of Iraq. I think it is in our national interest to see that the oil wealth of Iraq does not go to them (preferably it will go to the “man on the street” as it does in one or two of the more enlightened gulf states). But the point is, I don’t want people dedicated to our destruction to gain that much power. I believe that we have no choice but to see the war through … spend years and treasure trying to achieve stability, security for the people of Iraq, and a moderate government.

    Slinging out the “revisionist” comment is simply you emotionally linking me with the Bush administration. Just because I agree that he is right that we are “stuck” with Iraq, or as he says that we must “stay the course” … (as Colin Powell said, “you break it, you own it”) – that doesn’t make me responsible for all his other failed policies, claims, and reasons for taking us there in the first place. I truely think we are stuck and must work our way through the mess, not run from it.

    Shaun wrote:

    There are no corners to be turned because, as I noted, there cannot merely be a military solution and a social solution is unattainable now, six months from now or six years from now.”

    I don’t think there is a corner to be turned. I think this is a long hard slog that will go on and on with incremental progress. There are things like that in the world: no quick gratification. I am looking forward to getting better brain power in the White House in a couple of years, hoping that they can be smarter about just what you mention, the “social solution”. And I do think there can be one, just as there has been one in Yugoslavia. The factions still hate each other, but they are not currently fighting, because Nato is there ensuring the peace. A similar solution must be found in Iraq. I see no alternative that will not threaten our long term security.

    Assuming the war is lost simply because it continues, is like assuming a ballgame is lost and leaving the field in the third quarter, just because you are behind IMO. I hate sacrificing all this blood and treasure, but I see no alternative.

    Our parents and grandparents had to make real sacrifice in WWII. And with good reason. I personally believe that this war has that kind of reason. You wave WWII off as irrelevant as an analogy because it does not fit your belief system, but it is the most appropriate one I can find – we have an enemy dedicated to our destruction and to world domination. And, here is the crux of the problem: unlike in WWII, there now exists in the world WMD’s. If these Islamic Fascists can obtain them, our goose is cooked. Of course that is a big IF. But I do not think we can risk the establishment of al Qaeda in Iraq or Shia extremism in Iraq. It is important that neither has access to all that oil wealth.

    The Iranians are rushing headlong to get nukes (this is undeniable – anyone in denial about this is just making up his reality). At least the world community is somewhat united (via the UN) in trying to stop them via sanctions. I suspect that the Iranians will have to be dealt with by the next administration in the White House. And Pakistan is going to be really sticky if things continue to deteriorate there.

    I am not claiming that the violence in Iraq is all al qaeda, nor am I claiming that al qaeda in Iraq is composed mostly of foreigners. What I am claiming is that they are the ones perpetrating most of the mass casualty type attacts and that they are the primary ones that we must eliminate for Iraq’s social solution to be possible. Please read Bill Roggio’s website for a clearer look at what is actually happening in Iraq. There is no depth to most of what I read about what is happening there.

    You wrote:
    “If our fight is to take out global jihadism, we are not doing a good job of it by carrying on the war in Iraq. ”
    I actually agree completely with this statement of yours. It is why it is so maddening that the war in Iraq ever was started (over non-existant WMD’s presumably). However, I now think that global jihadism is well established in Iraq – it has been a magnet for the cause, both among the world’s Sunni’s and the local Sunni’s. Unfortunately, I think that to leave Iraq now guarantees that we leave it to the baddest of the bad (those who can extort, intimidate, and kill the best). That would be the global jihadists. This is what I see as the crux of the dilemma. And the only solution that I see is security for the Iraqi people, one neighborhood at the time. And by the way, I think 400,000 US troops might be a good idea. I certainly believe strongly that with the current nature of world threats, our military, which is much smaller than it was during Gulf War I, should be brought back up to at least that size, probably more considering the number and variety of threats.

    I hope that together we can find the correct way to defeat these Jihadist Radicals. If it is to leave Iraq – then I am all for it. But I just can’t see at this point how it will improve anything in the longer term (3 or 4 years, much less 20). I just cannot see how abandoning the moderates in Iraq will do anything for the reputation of the US in the Islamic world. Which reminds me, I think we are seriously losing the propaganda war and that part worries me as much as anything, because therein lies the recruitment of future jihadists. Also see Roggio for more on that aspect.

    Unfortunately, I have little time for this kind of posting, but I will come back over the next day or two to read additional responses, even if it is a while before I can find more time to post more replies of my own.

    PS. Thanks to whomever sponsers the forum.

  • Jackson

    kritter Says:

    Jackson- Maybe you could be a little less condescending? It puts people off here, who might otherwise have a more open mind to your arguments.

    My apologies. I am sorry for any appearance of being condescending. It is inappropriate and stupid. My posts are simply my opinion, no different than anyone’s. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll try to avoid that impression in the future.

  • Jackson:

    You demean the people who fought and died in World War II and their families back home by insisting on comparing that world war against the spread of fascism with a war in Iraq that is nothing more than some neocons who needed to scratch their Saddam Hussein itch and saw the 9/11 attacks as perfect cover to do so. And of course has spiraled wildly out of control.

  • Jackson


    It appears to me that you are so busy being mad at the way we got into this mess, that now you wear blinders that prevent you from being able to see what is really happening.

  • mikkel

    Jackson: you are obviously intellectually honest so I have a question I’ve been dying to get an answer to for the last couple of years. Based on what I’ve read, you accurately assess both the Al Qaeda element to the equation and the rationale for staying in Iraq. I just don’t see how we can achieve our goals.

    The popular power structures in Iraq are connected to Iran (to the point that the major political party has the same name, save the country) so if we do stabilize the country those will be in charge. Unless of course a nationalist Al Sadr type gains power and then it’d be extremely unstable again. Of course we could just give up and suppress the populace but then we’re back under the Saddam situation.

    I’ve heard people argue that we can defeat the insurgency and restore order (something I disagree but let’s assume it is right) but I’ve never heard anyone even attempt to explain how this would let us achieve our strategic goals. We have few friends in the region (personally I think the list is as short as Israel, Jordan, Hezbollah excluded Lebanon, Kuwait and Kurdistan) and none of them are major players in Iraq at all. Any player that can potentially win will hurt the situation even more.

    Please, I’m begging you or anyone to point out not the dangers of leaving (which I fully agree) but how staying can possibly help. At this point we are completely impotent on a strategic level, which is why I favor helping our friends stay stable and leaving to see what happens. Why destroy all our power trying to plug the dam with our finger when it’d be better off to let it break and then rebuild after the water has stopped flowing?

  • kritter

    Jackson- apology accepted and thanks!

    I honestly think I am going to stop debating about the war. The opposing positions are very polarized and I don’t think anyone’s mind will be changed by a different point of view. They’ll have to come to a new position based on events on the ground. But I think its a straw man to say that the Dems no longer want to fight al queda in Iraq- they want more flexibility to put limited resources where it will best help the fight- they’re not denying that terrorism is a problem.

  • mikkel

    This is my rationale. It’s hardly from an anti-war person. And (even though I haven’t read it) views from a man that has had much experience dealing with how to respond to situations where there is no “good” solution.

  • Jackson


    Thanks for the kind words. Your points are well taken.

    Some thoughts: In Anbar we have tribes turning against al qaeda because of its brutality. There are now pitched battles between the tribes (working with US troops as backup, I might ad) and al qaida – as they try to drive the Jihadists out of their territories.

    We currently have some of Sadr’s militia coming into line (I think as a result Malaki’s statements before the surge that no one would be immune and because we are working the Iranian part of the insurgency directly by arresting the Iranian agents in Iraq). Also, I have read that Iraqi’s in Bagdad are quite relieved to now be able to move around through many checkpoints without having to show if they are Sunni or Shia. The average man on the street does not trust the militias or the Iraqi police (yet). The Iraqi army, they trust more, and the Americans. If, over time, we can supply security … the average person in Iraq is not a religious fanatic. There are deep divisions in the society, yes. And they will take decades to repair totally (look at the issue of race relations in the US). But, once we have reliable, non-partisan, Iraqi security forces. And once security for the average person is in place. I think we will see the Iraqi moderates running the country (no one will want to return to the chaos of today except the extremists and I suspect that they are no more than 10% of the population). Is this likely in 2 years, in 5 years? I don’t know. But I have hope and believe that it is possible.

    Reliable, non-partisan Iraqi security forces are the key. They are coming along. Not as fast as the Bush admin would have you believe and not as slowly as some of the Democrats in congress would imply. My current best guess is that 2 years from now, if we keep working it, things will look a lot better.

    And the primary reason will be adequate numbers of reliable Iraqi Army units IMO. Police that are not corrupt or involved in sectarian issues will take longer. The sooner the US can draw back and draw down the better, of course.

    Not a very good answer. But this is the “toughest nut” in Iraq.

    A stable, moderate Iraq changes the equation much for the better in the Middle East, if it can be achieved. Big if, but we are stuck with that task now it seems to me.

  • Entropy

    Please, I’m begging you or anyone to point out not the dangers of leaving (which I fully agree) but how staying can possibly help. At this point we are completely impotent on a strategic level, which is why I favor helping our friends stay stable and leaving to see what happens. Why destroy all our power trying to plug the dam with our finger when it’d be better off to let it break and then rebuild after the water has stopped flowing?

    That’s a good debate to have. If a “stable, independent, democratic Iraqi friendly to the US” is not possible, then what is the best course of action?

    I think abandoning Iraq is probably the worst choice for many reasons. First of all, we have a moral and legal obligation to the Iraqi government and Iraqi people. Secondly, abandoning Iraq largely means abandoning all our strategic interests and simply hoping for the best. One possibility is to withdraw the majority of troops and pick a proxy to support which would defend our interests, allow the US to influence events for the better, and hopefully, over the long run, bring some measure of stability to Iraq. Here is an example and some detail of that strategy laid out.

    I’d also like to point out that the kind of war we’re in in Iraq is a marathon fight. No one with any knowledge of the history of counterinsurgency believes the surge will work miracles in a year. A quick look at similar conflicts over the last century shows that conflicts like Iraq tend to last for a decade or more no matter what happens. A primary failing of the Bush administration was not preparing the American people for the commitment Iraq would require. They were ignorant of history, of the region, the people of Iraq, etc. and as a result of that and the mismanagement of the war, American political support will not meet the required timeframe to see this war through to success. And yes, it could still be successful over the long run if political support could be maintained. Those who claim the war is “lost” and that there is no chance of winning have not examined the many historic examples to the contrary. But that’s all academic at this point.

    The left’s mindless obsession with the dubious origins of this war and the right’s with “winning” are making discussion of rational alternatives to abandoning Iraq or staying in strength impossible. There are alternatives to explore, but few seem interested in that discussion on either side of the political spectrum. It’s clear that given waning political support for the war that Bush’s objectives cannot be met, so we must consider acceptable compromises that help guard American interests and promote stability in Iraq and the region.

  • Jackson

    Mikkel said:

    This is my rationale. It’s hardly from an anti-war person. And (even though I haven’t read it) views from a man that has had much experience dealing with how to respond to situations where there is no “good� solution.

    Great links! Thanks. Most cogent arguments I have seen for quick withdrawal. Its going to take me a while to think about the General’s comments in particular.

  • Entropy:

    I think abandoning Iraq is probably the worst choice for many reasons.

    This is why I — as an early supporter of the war who has turned against it and now concedes that it is unwinnable in the traditional sense — find it difficult to speak in absolutes.

    Yes, the U.S. created the nightmare that Iraqis have lived under because of an utterly botched occupation. Yes, historic enmities between sectarian groups were bound to flare into the open and make matter worse. Yes, a consequence of the botched occupation was bound to be a new front for Islamic terrorists. Yes, there is a very real concern that by “abandoning” Iraq, the war will spill over its borders.

    But having said all that — and in the absence of “acceptable compromises” to which you allude but do not articulate — the U.S. commitment cannot be indefinite. It is the very presence of U.S. troops that is the major reason that chaos has continued through every change in tactics and strategies.

    For my money (and it is my money, damnit!), the deadlines set in the House and Senate bills make sense.

    Once again, it is time to go — and sooner than later.

  • mikkel

    Jackson I think it is theoretically possible to provide security but I disagree that we can see the creation of non-partisan security forces or government. The major problem is that Iraq doesn’t have the prerequisites needed for a functional democracy. They don’t have an independent judicary, their economy is almost entirely based on a localized natural resources and still have stronger tribal than national ties (in fact, I’ve heard several reports about customs where it was pointed out that it was unIslamic — such as honor killings — and the people admitted that tribe was more important than even religion) so even though the majority of people are not radical they still vote based on loyalty and the power players are encouraged to be radicalized. (On this point, even the eternally optimistic brothers at Iraq the Model agree). I mean the Shiites won’t even let low-level Baathists back into the government, there is very little interest in reconciliation. That’s not even counting that all their neighbors are trying to use them for their own geopolitical reasons.

    It’s a lot like Palestine where few people are radical but all of the political players are and the people vote based on loyalty instead of confronting their “leaders” and definitely Afghanistan.

    Still it’s not all lost but as you’ve said it will take decades to develop these things even in the best case scenario. You recognize this but all the pro-staying debate is disingenuous by pretending that all will be better in a year or two. If the debate was about whether we could up our commitment to what’s needed or withdrawal because the cost is too much then that would be a good debate to have…but instead the cost to win is obscured.

  • Elrod

    I wouldn’t advocate utter and complete withdrawal either. I propose moving the bulk of our troops to Kurdistan and leave Special Forces to continue training the new Iraqi army and carrying out special missions against Al Qaeda. This is not true counterinsurgency, of course, but without the half million troops at our disposal, I don’t think counterinsurgency the way Petraeus spelled out in his manual is possible. By moving to Kurdistan, we protect what they’ve achieved, keep Turkey out, keep an eye on Iran, allow for the possibility of re-engagement in Iraq proper if absolutely necessary, and move our troops out of harm’s way. We also free up tens of thousands of troops for transfer to Afghanistan where, yes, the “real Al Qaeda” still awaits. The Iraq war as currently fought is disastrous for US manpower, financial resources, US morale, and American geopolitical standing. People speak as if we “will” lose influence around the globe if we pull out. I’d argue that we’ve already lost that influence by failing to replace Saddam’s regime with a remotely stable government. Now it’s time to cut our losses in the Iraqi theater and readjust so we can still fight the larger jihadist menace.

  • mikkel

    Entropy: again your link actually asks the difficult questions. I personally find them lacking. For instance, “Pakistan’s Musharraf would be a good model, or perhaps someone like General Hamdami from Saddam’s old Army.” Look, I’ve seen Musharraf speak on TV and listened to how he does things. He’s amiable, extremely intelligent and I think genuinely is trying to help Pakistan. Still, he’s a dictator and in order to maintain power he’s had to make a devil’s agreement with Taliban linked tribes and has an out of control intelligence agency with links to Al Qaeda. Like the Saudis, he clamps down where he can but mostly has to let things go because he would lose power if he did too much. All the meanwhile, anger and radicalism continues to fester.

    I think Bush is right, our policy of supporting proxies is responsible for a lot of the problems (not necessarily direct Anti-Americanism but radicalism in general) and going back to that model won’t solve anything in the long run. I dunno, I think the best solution is to not worry about having our hands in every cookie jar. I personally think we should disengage. Instead of trying to micromanage everything and get it to go in our favor, we should remain external and try to convince the region to modernize through our progress. Small groups of terrorists will exist of course, but they should be hunted on a law enforcement/intelligence level. It’s hard to say that we should leave when we don’t know what will happen, but the chances of dictating what will happen is very small considering the amount of resources we are willing to put in. The end result is the same.

  • mikkel

    I agree with Elrod but think we should also try to bolster Lebanon and focus on getting the trifecta of Lebanon/Turkey/Kurdistan to create an ideal model for the rest of the region to copy.

  • Entropy

    It is the very presence of U.S. troops that is the major reason that chaos has continued through every change in tactics and strategies.

    That is commonly assumed but is incorrect. The implication of such a statement is that if US troops completely withdrawal, then violence will go down because US troops are the cause or catalyst for the violence. If US troops leave there will be a period of significantly increased violence, ethnic cleansing, etc. The vast majority of violence in Iraq today is Iraqi-on-Iraqi or Foreign fighter-on-Iraqi. I don’t see how anyone can reasonably argue that the presence of American troops is causing Iraqi’s to kidnap and lop off each other’s heads or drive car-bombs into markets full of Iraqi’s. Does anyone seriously believe that will stop if American troops were gone tomorrow?

    But having said all that — and in the absence of “acceptable compromises� to which you allude but do not articulate — the U.S. commitment cannot be indefinite.

    I did provide one alternative in the link in my previous comment (see the link). My main point, however, is that very few are discussing even the possibility of alternatives, much less actual alternative strategies, to say nothing of what our goals and interests are in the region. The left is obsessed with “Bush lied” and “get out now” while the right is obsessed with “fight them there or fight them here” and other nonsense. We need to identify our national interests in Iraq and the region as a whole and then pursue the policy and action that is most likely to protect those interests.

    Whatever happens, US troops levels will go down significantly early-to-mid next year. To conduct the surge the military in essence took a high-interest payday loan on future readiness to gain a temporary increase in troop levels. That loan comes due early next year and units will have to leave Iraq to refit and troop levels will probably have to drop to around 100k.

    For my money (and it is my money, damnit!), the deadlines set in the House and Senate bills make sense.

    Once again, it is time to go — and sooner than later.

    I believe the so-called deadlines are unconstitutional. If you read the bills they in essence order the Secretary of Defense to withdraw all troops from Iraq. Congress does not have the constitutional authority to “order” the military to do anything. They can pull funding or de-authorize the war or both, but Congress has no Constitutional authority to directly order a cabinet officer of the executive to deploy, not deploy, or redeploy forces.

    Not that it matters, because that bill will never see the light of day.

  • Entropy


    There certainly are downsides to the “strongman” route or a military coup and it may be true that any benefit may not be long-lasting, but such tactics have worked in Latin America in some cases, notably El Salvador and Chile. In both those countries the US supported coups by dictators which eventually morphed into free states (both countries are rated “free” by freedom house).

  • mikkel

    I wish I could find it but there was this report on the elements needed for a nation to have a good chance of creating a succesful democracy. Chile and Argentina were prime examples of dictatorships that laid down those elements for the transition, but almost none of the Arab countries really have these things (Iran has most of them and is almost under dictatorship by “accident”). If I have time to look for it I will.

  • Entropy


    The major problem in with Arab nations is the population boom they’re experiencing. Youth bubbles have historically generated instability and that’s a lot of what we’re seeing in the middle east now. Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilizations” talks about this in some detail. Additional food for thought:

    In economic terms we have already commented that the combined weight of the Arab states is less than that of Spain. Strip oil out of Mideast exports and the entire region exports less than Finland. According to the transnational Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), regional economic growth is burdened by declining rates of investment in fixed capital structure, an inability to attract substantial foreign direct investment, and declining productivity — the economic trinity of disaster.

    Economic stagnation coupled with rapid population growth is reducing living standards throughout the region, both comparatively and in real terms. In the heady days of the late 1970s oil boom, annual per-capita GDP growth of over 5% fueled high levels of expectations. GDP per-capita grew from $1,845 to $2,300. Today, after adjusting for inflation, it stands at $1,500, reflecting an overall decline in living standards over 30 years. Only sub-Saharan Africa has done worse. If oil wealth is subtracted from the calculations the economic picture for the mass of Arab citizens becomes dire.

    Things are indeed bad in the Arab world and will get much worse.

    These are obstacles not faced in Latin America in the past two decades. BTW, that quote is from this article.

  • Entropy

    Personally, I don’t subscribe to Bush’s hope for democracy in the Arab world, particularly since most democracy movements are also Islamist.

  • Entropy

    Here’s justification for my contention the surge will end next year no matter what happens and that troops levels will decline dramatically. This is MG (ret) Scales:

    Bean counters in the Pentagon tell us that Army recruitment and retention are in good shape. Problem is, our cumbersome readiness reporting system only informs leaders in Washington of conditions on the ground many months after the force begins to break. Today, anecdotal evidence of collapse is all around. Past history makes some of us sensitive to anecdotes and distrustful of Pentagon statistics. The Army’s collapse after Vietnam was presaged by a desertion of mid-grade officers (captains) and non-commissioned officers. Many were killed or wounded. Most left because they and their families were tired and didn’t want to serve in units unprepared for war.
    If we lose our sergeants and captains, the Army breaks again. It’s just that simple. That’s why these soldiers are still the canaries in the readiness coal-mine. And, again, if you look closely, you will see that these canaries are fleeing their cages in frightening numbers.
    The lesson from this sad story is simple: When you fight a long war with a long-service professional Army, the force you begin with will not get any larger or better over the duration of the conflict. For that reason, today’s conditions are pretty much irreversible. There’s not much that money, goodwill or professed support for the troops can do. Another strange consequence is that the current political catfight over withdrawal dates is made moot by the above facts. We’re running out of soldiers faster than we’re running out of warfighting missions. The troops will be coming home soon. There simply are too few to sustain the surge for very much longer.

  • Jackson

    Here is an article entitled “How to Win in Iraq, and How to Lose”, from the Wall Street Journal. It compares Iraq effectively to the war the French fought in Algeria and notes striking parallels, both in the war’s strategy and tactics, and in how the French domestic politics eventually led to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Well worth the time to read IMO. Here is the link:

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