July 28, 2008

Spinning Off Pieces of the Surge

Justin Katz

Statements such as this suggest that Obama (probably among many Democrats and some Republicans) either doesn't think comprehensively when it comes to strategy or is anxious to diminish America's importance as an agent for change:

... the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," contended that the decline was brought about not just by the U.S. troop increase, but also by a combination of factors, including Iraqi Sunnis' decision to turn against al-Qaida.

The Sunnis' turn was hardly independent of a confidence that American troops were there in force (and for the duration) for assistance.

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True, except that they made the decision almost a year before the surge began, and they had far less help than the year next. What Obama said is correct, and it has been clear for some time that McCain is clearly not the expert he claims to be, and has far less knowledge than Obama of, what's that word -- yes! -- facts!

Posted by: Johng at July 28, 2008 11:05 AM

Or, as many observers have noted, the military's policy of paying the Sunnis to fight al-Qaida resulted in the Anbar Awakening. No doubt, the soon to be deployed surge played a major role, but it was hardly the only factor. Why is Obama's nuanced view of the mulitple factors that likely cause a complicated effect like reduced violence so troubling for you?

Is it that you prefer McCain's simple explanation of more troops, end of story? That seems a very naive view of how the world works in complicated situations. But all of this surge debate is really a side show.

The debate should be about the decision to start this war in the first place. On that, the two candidates' positions are clear. And on that point, the American people overwhelmingly support Obama. So it is no surprise that McCain focuses not on that point, but on the "surge".

As for the other relevant question -- what to do now -- it seems that McCain (and Maliki, and Bush) now agrees with Obama that a withdrawal in the coming year or so is reasonable. Seems like Obama was right on the two questions that matter the most.

Posted by: Pragamatist at July 28, 2008 12:49 PM

A hearty second to johng and Pragmatist. Justin, you keep looking at only a piece of the situation, and not surprisingly, only the piece that you like. If you had any integrity you'd present the full, or at least a fuller picture. Couple this with your pic of Obama with a cigarette in his mouth and then your recant or admission to disguising the truth. Lie (prevaricate, exaggerate) to make a point and then recant. What a cheap trick! It only goes to show that you have no real argument to make. Give us a little Sgt. Friday and just stick to the facts.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at July 28, 2008 3:50 PM

There are beneficiaries of $4 gasoline that we Americans may want to consider and see as the proverbial gift horse. Iraq , with newfound wealth from soaring oil prices, is showing signs of stabilization. Iraqi citizens, through no fault of their own, have endured a hellish life of war, violence, and deprivation. Finally they are seeing some improvements in the most basic of human needs. The Iraqi government, with its new oil wealth, has begun asserting itself with its neighbors like Iran and also with the US . Could this presage an end to American military involvement in Iraq ? A stronger and wealthier Iraq could be a major factor in regional politics, and, in doing so would aid American interests. Not the narrow agenda of the present administration but the wider interests of the American people. Recent reports that the major western oil companies have signed agreements with Iraq confirm the fact that $4 or maybe $5 gas is the inevitable price for peace.

I don't think the surge had much to do with the present situation. The solution in Iraq was always going to be political- ie local- maybe corrupt- incomplete.

Posted by: David at July 28, 2008 7:53 PM

Must reading on Iraq, the surge, and the meaning of everything. It is from the Los Angeles Times, so some of you might want to get out whatever it is you use to ward off evil (liberal)spirits. You could put Fox News on in the background! But please read, and reconsider your knee-jerkedness. Because too many have died for too little. Yes, what follows are 2 different points of view! Yes, you are still reading Anchor Rising!

Are we winning in Iraq?
David B. Rivkin says all signs point to a dramatic turnaround for U.S. forces. Joseph Cirincione says the war has been among the greatest disasters in U.S. history.

July 28, 2008

Today's question: Violence in Iraq has dropped sharply. Can we finally say we're winning the war? Under what circumstances can the U.S. declare victory? All week, Rivkin and Cirincione debate Iraq, unilateral war and more.

The U.S. can win, but Iraq isn't the only battlefield
Point: David B. Rivkin

The situation in Iraq has improved dramatically as a result of the surge, innovative counterinsurgency tactics and improved outreach by U.S. forces to local elites. The level of violence is drastically reduced, and so is the U.S. casualty rate. Al Qaeda in Iraq is reeling. Its leadership has been decimated; its ability to mount major operations has been considerably reduced; and, according to Al Qaeda's own internal communications, the terrorist organization is having serious trouble attracting and motivating new recruits. Further, Al Qaeda's plans to create a state in Iraq's Sunni heartland are in shambles, and its reputation for prowess in the jihad has suffered. That so many of Iraq's Sunni tribes have allied themselves with U.S. forces in a movement dubbed the "Sunni Awakening" strikes a particularly severe blow to Al Qaeda's attempt to pose as the champion of Sunni Islam.

The once powerful Mahdi Army also has been greatly weakened, both militarily and politically. Having lost their stranglehold over key Baghdad neighborhoods, the Mahdists' ability to inspire fear and extort money has been greatly reduced.

Positive shifts in the political environment have accompanied and reinforced the improvement in the security situation. Sunni leaders are rejoining the government. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's administration has demonstrated its willingness to take on Muqtada Sadr and other radical pro-Iran Shiite leaders. Upcoming provincial and local elections are expected to produce further political gains for democracy and stability.

That the Maliki government has been a tough bargainer in negotiations over the future legal status of U.S. forces in Iraq is another sign of success. The Iraqi government's confidence at the negotiating table underscores not only its need to reflect domestic political imperatives but its confidence in the future of Iraq. All signs point to the emergence of an imperfect but viable democracy in which Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can participate. This is a momentous development with tremendously positive implications for Iraq and the Islamic world as a whole.

These developments give us a solid basis to conclude that we are indeed winning the war in Iraq. That the media -- for whom the strategically specious debate about why the Iraq war was unwinnable and why the U.S. defeat there did not matter that much used to be de rigueur -- have moved on to debating the definition of victory is one of the best indicators of how far we have come. There is no doubt that the U.S. military posture in Iraq and the tempo of combat operations will be dramatically reduced in the months and years ahead.

At the same time, of course, it does not follow that we should rush into an unconditional drawdown of U.S. forces on the basis of artificial timelines. Strategic decisions must be made on the basis of actual strategic conditions, a view shared by the Maliki government and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Moreover, inasmuch as the conflict in Iraq is but one major front in a broader U.S. effort against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other jihadist entities, as well as an integral part of American efforts to contain Iran and bring about positive geopolitical changes in the greater Middle East, ultimate success in these undertakings, as opposed to victory in Iraq, may still be some time away.

David B. Rivkin Jr., partner in the Washington office of Baker Hostetler, contributing editor of the National Review and National Interest magazines, served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations in a variety of legal and policy positions.


Still a disaster
Counterpoint: Joseph Cirincione

Never in American history has our nation suffered such a precipitous decline in power, prestige and credibility as we have since we invaded Iraq. Debates such as this imply that opinion on the wisdom of this war is evenly divided. It is not. It is not even close. Most experts and citizens believe that President Bush committed one of the worst mistakes any president can: leading the nation into an unnecessary war.

The majority of experts agree that this was perhaps the worst strategic blunder in our 232 years as a nation. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security advisor, said it is a "historic, strategic and moral calamity." The American people today say, 2 to 1, that the war was a mistake. A July 18-21 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for example, found that 62% of Americans disapprove of the job President Bush is doing in Iraq. Twenty months ago, 67% disapproved.

On the narrow question of whether the terrible situation in Iraq has improved, you are right, David: We have made progress. It is less awful in Iraq today than a year ago. But it is not primarily because of 30,000 additional American troops. In a nation of about 27 million people spread out over 170,000 square miles, that would be attributing an almost magical power to our soldiers. Rather, we can look at three factors: the political decision of Sunni tribes to turn against the Al Qaeda jihadists in Anbar province and -- for the moment -- to have a truce with coalition forces; the decision by Shiite militias in southern Iraq to call a truce in their civil war; and the increased U.S. troop presence and improved tactics in Baghdad and other surrounding areas.

There has also been economic progress (as a decrease in attacks allows infrastructure development) and some political progress. But the political reconciliation is the most important component of any long-term solution. It was the original point of the surge and where the least progress has been made. The Iraqi government remains dominated by Shiite politicians with Sunnis as hesitant participants and Kurds still pushing for independence. Six years, more than 4,100 U.S. deaths and almost $1 trillion after the war began, we are still far away from a stable, democratic government.

The violent attacks in Iraq today, with at least 70 killed in suicide bomb attacks against Shiites and Kurds in Baghdad and Kirkuk, remind us that the violent, multi-part civil war could erupt again at any moment. There are not and cannot be enough U.S. forces to suppress these wars.

The only solution is the one recommended by many experts, including the bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III: Decrease U.S. troops levels, increase pressure on Iraqi politicians to reconcile, and go on a diplomatic offensive involving all the nations of the region to stabilize Iraq. Bush and Sen. John McCain rejected this advice, seeking an illusory military victory. Many others thought the Iraq Study Group's recommendation was our only hope. It still is.

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy, and the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." He served on the staff of the House Armed Services and Government Operations committees.

Posted by: Richard at July 30, 2008 6:12 PM
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