Saturday, November 19, 2005

Friday Night Lowlights

A few points to make about the debate in the House last night:

1. The phrase "cut and run" is a favorite talking point, so let's think about what it means. It implies a time element---that beginning to withdraw now would be "too soon." We are approaching the three-year mark in Iraq. What length of time would suffice? Five years? A decade? "Cut and run" also implies that the "job" is not done. The main job, of course, is training Iraqis to be able to maintain their own security. So how's that going? Gen. George Casey told us in late September; read about it here. After two and a half years, we've managed to train about 800 Iraqi troops capable of operating on their own without U.S. assistance. That's not a typo---there are two zeros after that 8. How many people realize that? And for those who might argue that the capability and independence of Iraqis will increase rapidly as they gain experience and their military infrastructure grows, Gen. Casey told us that the number of Iraqi troops able to fight on their own is actually falling. At the current rate, it will take another decade to train a mere 5,000 Iraqi troops capable of fighting without our help. To achieve that objective, at our current casualty rate we would suffer about 10,000 dead U.S. troops and almost 100,000 wounded.

2. Another talking point is that a timetable---or even the debate about one!---"sends the wrong signal to terrorists" (predictably, I did not hear the word "insurgents" mentioned once in last night's debate). The corollary to this is the "wait us out" canard: the assertion that if the insurgents think we're leaving, they will simply sit tight. This implies that if the insurgents believe we are there to stay, they will lay down their arms, console themselves with a "well that's that, we gave it our best shot but darnit they're not leaving" and suddenly become good citizens.

3. Next talking point: "we can't let down the Iraqi people." Of all the arguments from the stay-the-course bunch, normally I would be most sympathetic to this one. But what do the Iraqi people think? They've made their opinion quite clear. Read about it here.

4. Over the past few days, the need to "support the troops" has been cited constantly. But supporting the troops has nothing to do with the reflexive, blind-faith acceptance of their mission. In fact, the two are mutually exclusive. The support-the-troops mantra is the most maddening and dangerous of the talking points from the stay-the-course crowd, because it betrays a fundamental failure to understand the implicit agreement that exists in a democracy between civilians and the military. Murtha (and it's no surprise, of course, that he understands this) explained this well when he said that the troops are relying on us to speak up, since they cannot do it themselves.

I explained where I stand on the withdrawal issue in this post a few months ago. Essentially, I still feel the same way: immediate en masse withdrawal would be a mistake. But particularly after Gen. Casey's report to the Senate, it has become clear that the crucial underpinning of our exit strategy---the training of Iraqis---is in shambles. Either we're not taking it seriously because we have no intention of ever leaving, or our presence serves as a disincentive for the Iraqis to take it seriously themselves. How else to explain 800 Iraqi troops capable of operating on their own after two and a half years? The only viable alternative now is to start bringing home troops regularly and incrementally. One battalion a week should return. At that pace, we would have about 40,000 fewer troops in Iraq a year from now---certainly a significant withdrawal, but appropriately phased to allow us to gauge the effects (adjusting the pace if necessary) and still respond to any military exigencies.

What's now clear is that the status quo---and all that implies for our future loss of blood and treasure---is absolutely untenable. The citizens of the two nations involved understand this, and they have spoken.

49 Comments:

Anonymous phoebes said...

Well put.

11/19/2005 9:28 AM  
Blogger mjs said...

The White House/Republican "strategy" espoused last night in the House is basically to fight in Iraq "until we are done" or, as Bush says, until we achieve "total victory". The White House cannot say how long that will take or what more can be done to achieve this vague, ambiguous goal any sooner. In the meantime the country is creeping closer and closer, incrementally, to political meltdown. Witness Rep. Schmidt's abominable comments last night in House. We should leave Iraq if for no other reason than to protect peace at home because I smell revolution in the air.

11/19/2005 11:15 AM  
Anonymous bluebird said...

The argument that announcing a timetable for withdrawl would 'endanger our troops' flies in the face of the assertion made by these same people that announcing a timetable will allow the insurgents to "sit tight", as you say, and wait till we leave. If the latter is true, then there's nothing more effective we could do to protect our troops than to announce their withdrawl.

I don't know if these war-proponents' claims are true or not, I'm merely pointing out the inherent contradiction in their talking points.

11/19/2005 12:53 PM  
Blogger SeekerBlog.com said...

I appreciate your depression with regard to readiness levels of the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces = IP and ING). A possible contributing cause is the inability of the media to explain what is actually happening, and the Bush administration's communications ineptness. The 800 Level 1 force figures that were front-paged for weeks tell us nothing about actual on the ground operational capability. If you'll check into the resources I'll offer in the following, you'll understand why it is meaningless, and also what is really happening. What Zarqawi is worried about is especially the Level 2 IP and ING forces, who are responsible for their own areas, but use MNFI support for logistics and air. Zarqawi is also concerned about the Level 3 forces who, for example, now secure the Airport Road. As of October there were about 197,000 Iraqis "in the fight" in Levels 2 + 3. [Level 3 is the "fighting-alongside" category which have small U.S. forces embedded].

The initial stumbles and 15-month delay in building Iraqi Security Forces are due to the poorly designed executive structure in Iraq where responsibility (Military) and authority (CPA) for creating the ISF were separated. I have concluded that this account gives us a peek into the management tangles that hobbled the Coalition from the first day after the end of major combat operations. I suspect future historians will grade the Bush leadership poorly on the management design.

However, once the CPA was out and a year ago Lt. Gen. David Petraeus was assigned total responsibility for developing the ISF, progress began accelerating very dramatically. The Petraeus speech 1 October at Princeton will give you many insights you should have been able to read in the NYT. The task Petraeus undertook is staggeringly complex - this briefing helped me.

The bottom line, I believe, is that the growth of ISF capability has gone geometric - and it has been completely off the legacy media radar screens.

One last tidbit for a brighter outlook is to examine how the Iraqis see their future, and what they think about their security situation.

11/19/2005 1:08 PM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

This post makes a serious attempt to look at the problem on hand as a business person would, devoid of politics. Alas, things were that simple. Politics is ingrained so much in this debate because it is the question of cost - lives and dollars. Knowingly or unknowingly Politicians make America to pay the cost and want to continue to pay the cost. Politics is very funny - using arguments, debates, big phrases like Freedom, Patriotism, etc.; all that it does is in the end extract the price of war from America. All this means, rightly or wrongly the policy direction of Iraq war will be largely dictated by current wind direction in Politics. Republicans are still strong at that and any serious criticism of war needs to be addressed at the level of crass electoral politics.

About what happened on Friday night in the House, I have following to say:
http://21stcenturypolitics.blogspot.com/2005/11/having-it-both-ways-republican-and.html

11/19/2005 1:43 PM  
Anonymous thirdeye said...

OK, here's my prediction. One year from now, Saddam Hussein will be back in power in Iraq.

11/19/2005 1:57 PM  
Anonymous lilybart said...

How long does it take to train OUR troops?

During WWII and Vietnam, after you were drafted, how long did it take to get you up to speed??

There seems to be NO GOOD REASON except incompetence by the top leadership, for this not to be much farther along by now.

Train them somewhere else.
Set up a training place in a friendly country nearby (running out of those thanks to Bush) and move those guys and make soldiers of them.

But the other problem....WHY are the insurgents fighting? there must be something wrong in the government set up that makes people feel that they won't be fairly treated.

OUR constitution works generally. We are not killing each other, though there are disagreements. We must feel that there is an essential fairness or we would turn violent too.

Trained soldiers are not the problem. The NEED for them is and that should be taken care of by diplomacy and International cooperation and peacekeeping.

11/19/2005 2:51 PM  
Anonymous howard said...

The status quo is untenable, but we have a president who does not have - and never has had - the ability to oversee and articulate a strategy.

steve d., i think there's some wishful thinking mixed in there, but i'm generally familiar with the links you've cited, and the fact is, they are irrelevant to the key question, which is whether the status quo is tenable or not. Maybe it isn't going to take a century for the iraqis to "defend" themselves, maybe it's only going to take them 3-5 years. still not tenable.

PS. since you seem like a reasonable, well-informed individual, i'd suggest you don't undercut your good arguments by saying that "Zarqawi" is worried about "x" or "y." You have no clue what he's worried about, nor is he the sum total of the insurgency - indeed, he is a parallel force to the insurgency.

11/19/2005 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said.

Do you think Bush and Republicans will use politics and around election time next year we'll have a "faux" pull-out, they'll flip-flop on everything they are saying today (par the course), only to find after the elections, surprise, we are back at square one in Iraq.

3 years doing the same thing, doesn't seem like much of a plan. We are losing billions of dollars, and thousands of lives.

11/19/2005 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had a time table for the Iraqi election; perhaps a time table, a new tactic, will make the Iraqi people get serious about saving their OWN country. As long as we are there, we give them an excuse.

If democracy is the reason, what kind of democracy is gained by having someone else fight your battle? Hell, at this rate, if we are fighting their battle for independence, we SHOULD get the Iraq oil don't you think. It seems to me that most of the insurgency are Iraqi's. So what exactly are we fighting for.

11/19/2005 4:39 PM  
Blogger SeekerBlog.com said...

Howard,

Good point on Zarqawi - I was seeking a shorthand for the opposition leadership, he is the best known name. Regardsless, it's unknowable what is in his mind. Better to say "if I were leading the FME + Islamists, I would be very depressed that the ISF has passed critical mass". From here forward, the gap between the ISF capability and that of the bad guys will grow at an accelerating rate.

Re status quo, or rather the inverse position: we must do something different. To some that means "send a lot more troops"; to others "bring the troops home". Personally, I believe that in April 2003 a much larger force with Barnett's SysAdmin profile would have been a major improvement. We've never been short of war-fighters, but have been terribly short of police, and civil affairs (which includes SOF). The U.S. did not have that SysAdmin force to send. The only good news on that is that the U.S. military has learned from the post-war phase even if the administration has not. Movement is underway to shift resources from the Leviathan to the SysAdmin side.

As to least-worst-choices available today, the best outcome will be that analysts look back from Jan 2008 to conclude "you know, it turned out we could have drawn down the war-fighter manning a few months earlier, beginning mid-2006". The only prudent option is to man above the level you think may be required until it's clear the ISF *AND* the Iraqi government have it under control.

Iraq may yet fail for a long list of reasons. Corruption, is my biggest worry. But intimidation is a very high leverage tactic (together with assassination). The FME segment of the bad guys had 35 years of training in both, and ASFAIK they still have access to unlimited funds and weapons.

11/19/2005 4:54 PM  
Blogger I said...

TCR - you found the answer...

Either we're not taking it seriously because we have no intention of ever leaving,

11/19/2005 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree, no intention of ever leaving. BINGO!

11/19/2005 7:24 PM  
Anonymous thirdeye said...

But the other problem....WHY are the insurgents fighting? there must be something wrong in the government set up that makes people feel that they won't be fairly treated.

The insurgents are fighting because they want American and Israel out of their land. Pure and simple. NO other reason. Get used to it.

Either we're not taking it seriously because we have no intention of ever leaving,

Oh the intent is desperately there, my friend. And the frustration of how to get out of this mess will soon cause a lot more problems than people can even imagine now.

11/20/2005 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess "cut and run" doesn't apply to Bush. It seems he can't get out of a room fast enough, or country, when confronted with questions that he might have to answer. Another example of do as I say, not as I do.

""Respectfully, sir -- you know we're always respectful -- in your statement this morning with President Hu, you seemed a little off your game, you seemed to hurry through your statement. There was a lack of enthusiasm. Was something bothering you?" he asked.

"Have you ever heard of jet lag?" Bush responded. "Well, good. That answers your question."

The president then recited a list of things of that he viewed as positive developments from his Beijing meetings, including cooperation on North Korean nuclear disarmament and the ability to have "frank discussions" with his Chinese counterpart.

When the reporter asked for "a very quick follow-up," Bush cut him off by thanking the press corps and telling the reporter "No you may not," as he strode toward a set of double doors leading out of the room.

The only problem was that they were locked.

"I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn't work," Bush quipped, facing reporters again until an aide rescued him by pointing to him toward the correct door."

11/20/2005 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all that matters to the administration now, is that they're not seen as having 'lost' the war by having pulled out during W's term. Leave it to the next guy to 'cost us victory.'

11/21/2005 2:41 AM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/21/2005 3:05 AM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

Why are insurgents fighting in Iraq? One reasonable answer is it is actually a fight between Sunni and Shiite which is taking place. It is a sectarian fight. That is one thread in Rep. Murtha's thinking. What are we doing there when those people are fighting among themselves? Get out. Because otherwise American Army will be broken and will not have an ability to fight another war, the real war on Terror.

Has anyone read James Fallows in Atlantic? I have not, but apparently that article is the one which is making waves at present; everyone is talking about that. As Krugman quotes him in NYT - either we only loose Iraq but keep our Army or we loose both. What do you want? Rep. Murtha is saying that he wants our Army back intact, not ruined Army.

Beyond this line of thinking, there are two fundamental questions to be addressed: (Joe Klein in Time and Weekly Standard – Kristol, Barnes gang):
- will larger Middle East be stable after we pull out and
- will America be safer after the pull out?

I do not agree with Rep. Murtha’s assertion completely that American Army is the main reason for instability in the region (I rather share his other argument of preserving American Army from the corrosive effects, probably substantiated by Fallows). This is because it is the sectarian fight there. If you want a parallel, imagine 1947 in the Indian Subcontinent. Hindus and Muslims were killing each other in millions, British left, killing still continued. British realized that by then things were out of their control. What the heck India – Pakistan are still not able to solve their problems after 4 wars in 5 decades. We have to remember that Sunni and Shiite animosity is way too deep, way too ingrained in Islam’s history. Saddam as Sunni power and Ayatollah’s of Iran have been at throats for more than a decade. So notwithstanding the grand talk of freedom and democracy of Bush and NeoCons; the tectonic fissures of Shiite - Sunni fight are too deep and powerful to be controlled by the presence of American forces or the passage of new constitution or parliamentary elections in Iraq in short term.

So pulling American forces will not bring stability to Iraq is true because in the first place it is a mute point how much Americans are a force in the local conflict. No doubt pull out will further make that region instable. This answers the first question in a negative way. As a result, very likely the region will be another Afghanistan. What with Iran on the border, conservative Shiite would eventually skid in the Ayatollah world view of hating America. It is just the matter of time and it is more likely to happen because for the sheer survival of Shiite in the Sunni surrounded area, they will have to form comradeship with Iran. In the NeoCon world view pulling Americans at this point is indeed giving fillip to the enemy. That is true but unavoidable.

Then, the larger question for those who back the immediate pull out is what if we need to send American Army again in future in that area to root out Terrorism? It is like if the world had taken care of Afghanistan earlier; Taliban would not come to the power. In other words, if pull out backers want to avoid the fate of Bush (misleading American public); they better tell American pulblic that in future American forces may need to go back to that region. These leaders better tell that now otherwise they will fall victim to the same credibility issue as like Bush.

What do we gain then by pulling now? Here comes Rep. Murtha (and possibly James Fallows) line – we get to preserve our Army first instead of breaking our war machine by over use, we get breathing time to refurbish American fighting forces, we get a new opportunity to undertake fresh assessment of War on Terror, as a consequence we get a new opportunity to apply our forces in the way it is required and where it is needed and we get a renewed opportunity to sell the Global War on Terror to the whole world so that it becomes more participatory instead of one man show of America.

Will it not crumble the image of America as a Super Power if we pull out now? Sure it will. It will not make it easy to negotiate with Iran or N. Korea or other rogue states. But then what matters most – prestige and imperial aura of America in the world or affordability of American public. If American Leaders sold them the war cheaply and the continuation of that imperial policy is coming at the cost of an ability of American State to tend towards now and current needs of American people; how can you try to pretend to be the Super Power? In the end Super Power status is to serve American People better. If the leaders make the error of attempting to preserve this status by way of selling something which American people did not buy in the first place; then hell with the goals of those leaders. Those goals mean nothing to American people. This is what crucially needs to be understood by NeoCons so that they can rest their ghosts of Vietnam calmly (their Vietnam ghost – only if America was stronger, we could have won there; only if Liberals had not sabotaged war efforts at home, America would have prevailed).

But in any case, things need not be so dire even if American Army leaves Iraq. In the larger scheme of things, Vietnam war turned out to be less significant. America’s loss neither resulted in win for China nor for Russia. America could rebuild her Army, make it a better force and most importantly could refocus on the main enemy of Cold War – Soviet Union. So similarly, immediate pull out from Iraq may be costly for America in short term; but will give her more room to address long term challenges in a better way.

This brings us to the last point – who will be those leaders who will sale this to American people or rather in whom America will trust to pull this off. Bush – being a sitting president he can do it; but unlikely. The hunch is the whole current batch of Congressional leadership in both parties is tainted so much by Iraq issue and very few of them have got a consistent read on the situation; it gives uncomfortable feeling in expecting these leaders to pull of this transition. Sen. Clinton, Sen. McCain and many others of this world are way too vested in this quagmire to project any cleaner track record to pull off this transition. This is where Gov. Bill Richardson, Gov. Mark Warner, Rudy Gulliani of the world would get the opening for their future American Leadership. Worth to watch who bells the cat and who pulls off this magic.

11/21/2005 3:27 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I strongly recommend James Fallows' article in the Atlantic. The article covers when/if there will be an Iraqi army capable of operating on its own.

11/21/2005 11:40 AM  
Anonymous thirdeye said...

It's unfathomable to me how anyone can believe they are making relevant comments to this situation and completely fail to mention how every communication from the insurgents, terrorists, whatever you want to call them uses the words "Israel" and "America" in the same sentence. I can only conclude, umesh patil, you must be an ostrich.

11/21/2005 1:35 PM  
Blogger Keone Michaels said...

I have been reading your posts for some months and generally agree with your analysis. But I think you are in serious error by thinking that we should stay one minute longer than we have to to withdraw safely.

Similar thinking as yours was advanced just previous to our withdrawl from Vietnam. All sorts of horrible and dire scenarios were predicted, and in the end an entirely different more benign outcome transpired.

In the final analysis in our global position the only thing we can take care of is ourselves and we had better start doing it. Immediate withdrawl from Iraq is just a first step.

11/21/2005 2:29 PM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

Agreed, they always make reference to Israel and America in their communication. But how often you notice the mention of foreign forces in domestic dispute? A mature democracy like USA is also not immune to that. (Remember Freedom Fries as a name for French Fries?) The point is we have to see what is below the rhetoric. Israel and America are quite often the boogey to settle your domestic scores. It has been always that way. Not that they love America; but other aspects are under current to this vitriolic towards America. Wiseness is for America to realize when it is futile to get involved in their domestic power struggle and hence to get out.

11/21/2005 2:30 PM  
Blogger 277fia said...

Can someone explain to me if pullout means no permanent US bases in Iraq? My understanding all along has been that the US intends to maintain at least four major bases in Iraq permanently.

At this point, why can't Secretary Rumsfeld provide information to the American public about permanant bases and staffing?

11/21/2005 4:46 PM  
Anonymous thirdeye said...

Wiseness is for America to realize when it is futile to get involved in their domestic power struggle and hence to get out.

Unfortunately this means giving up Israel and I don't think Americans are prepared to do that.

At this point, why can't Secretary Rumsfeld provide information to the American public about permanant bases and staffing?

Excellent point. It would force them to admit their plans for permanent staffing or else lie through their teeth.

11/21/2005 6:38 PM  
Anonymous me said...

If the USA pulls out of Iraq....then my best guess is that Iran will invade and take over. This is what I would do if my agenda includes the elimination of Israel.
thoughts?

11/21/2005 8:44 PM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/21/2005 9:09 PM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

People are unnecessarily mixing two separate arguments:
- Arab Israel conflict and
- America's current Iraq occupation.

Just because America may move out of Iraq occupation does not mean that America has to drop the engagement in Arab Israel conflict. Neither American people would like that (that is sure) nor it is needed. World as well understands that, else why Arab would still root for American engagement in that conflict? What else would you attribute to Rice's success in the latest agreement about trade in Gaza strip? Of course she gets the credit but the larger point is America's engagement there is genuine, with a long history and credible across multiple administrations. Arab world knows that if they do not have the control of America on Israel; Israel would simply use the nuke over Arab land and it will be the end of the world.

Beyond this to stretch America's engagement in the Arab Israel conflict as a pretext for continuing Iraq occupation is buying the damaged goods reasons of NeoCons and President Bush who argued so long to justify this Iraq war. No point being victim here to that faulty logic. We want to go beyond that.

11/21/2005 9:50 PM  
Anonymous thirdeye said...

If the USA pulls out of Iraq....then my best guess is that Iran will invade and take over. This is what I would do if my agenda includes the elimination of Israel.
thoughts?


Precisely.

People are unnecessarily mixing two separate arguments:
- Arab Israel conflict and
- America's current Iraq occupation.


They are absolutely inseparable.

Just because America may move out of Iraq occupation does not mean that America has to drop the engagement in Arab Israel conflict.

America is fighting Israel's war. Moving out of Iraq is tantamount to an Israeli surrender.

Arab world knows that if they do not have the control of America on Israel; Israel would simply use the nuke over Arab land and it will be the end of the world.

If the Arab world wants to use America to control Israel why did they perpetrate 9/11 which actively engaged America to fight Israel’s war? You might want to rethink the notion that Arabs are trying to use America to control Israel. That might have been the motivation back in the 60 and 70s but the Jihadists want holy Armageddon by trying to destroy both America and Israel.

11/21/2005 10:07 PM  
Blogger Umesh Patil said...

Thirdeye -

I do not think Bush, the current administration and Republican party are beholden to Israel. I am not Republican and I do not agree with the policies of the current Administration. But that does not mean one has to make a wrong assumption that America's current Iraq war is about Israel. Your conspiracy theories about 9/11 are also equally wrong headed.

In the end to continue a dialogue with you is no use. Too sad that we have more such people in America than who are interested in a dialogue based on reason. I better stop wasting my time with you.

11/22/2005 1:46 AM  
Anonymous thirdeye said...

I do not think Bush, the current administration and Republican party are beholden to Israel.

America - all administrations and parties - has been beholden to Israel since 1948. To deny this is a gross misunderstanding of the bigger picture.

Your conspiracy theories about 9/11 are also equally wrong headed.

I did not articulate any consipracy theory.

Too sad that we have more such people in America than who are interested in a dialogue based on reason. I better stop wasting my time with you.

Suit yourself. Just don't be surprised if the outcome differs from your expectation.

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4/29/2006 1:31 AM  
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3/17/2007 8:04 PM  
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