Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush: Ahead or Behind the Curve?

Tonight the President rehearsed the now well worn dire warnings of "failure" in Iraq (a.k.a. "the quagmire"), but didn't add much to assist in an ongoing assessment of progress or retreat in the overall project.

The general tenor has moved from "Victory is certain" to "there is no magic bullet for Iraq".

Yet, there continue to be conflicts (necessary ones?), within the overall thinking. "America stands for freedom" and Iraq is "critical" in the "war on terror" (yes, they are still using that hapless phrase). However, such things are conditional in a somewhat unspecified way:

I [President Bush] have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people ...
From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence, and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists, or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?

I say 'necessary' because such contradictions seem to be part of trying to deliver steadfast message than can only help in a war-of-attrition and trying to manage the politics of shifting burdens.


Among the critical things not supplied are any new metrics to give the average American a sense of how the "coalition" is doing, in any systematic way, although gone are the blanket trust-me statements that plagued past public assessments (unless one is rigorous enough similarly to fault the blanket assessment, "the situation in Iraq is not acceptable").

We are told we are at a critical juncture. It seems to me that almost all military campaigns are constantly at a critical juncture, so one must take this statement as a patch, a way to warm over a change by 'seeing' future tactical opportunity rather than prior tactical misstep.

If this critical juncture is brought about by a realization that we don't have enough troops to "hold" areas that have been cleared, that insight has been on the table in a very high profile way for months now. It suggests incompetence to only be realizing that the 'whack-a-mole' approach is a loser in terms of fighting insurgency.

Besides, if the security strategy is still clear-hold-build, then calling it all a "new strategy" is slight of hand.


I noted a while back that the emergence of induced sectarian strife probably violated some of the given assumptions in the old "Strategy for Victory in Iraq".
There seems to be no good idea about how to stem the cycle of violence, apart from more troops while getting the Iraqi government to actually try a rule-of-law approach, rather than a eye-for-eye approach.

This background briefing suggests that there is an Iraqi-inspired plan to handle the sectarian violence around the capital. It does NOT offer a strategic outline of what the plan amounts to, therefore obviates later assessment, nor does it suggest why prior efforts didn't meet their objectives, precisely. The hope is that better organization and more resources will do what could not be done before:

The good news is that the Iraqi government has -- they have come forward with a plan. This was first given to the President when he was in Amman, Jordan, and met with Prime Minister Maliki's security people, the government security people, and our commanders have been working on that plan. The good news is that they believe that the plan fixes the problems that plagued our earlier efforts to bring security to Baghdad and is a plan that will work. And he'll describe it in some detail. - Senior White House Official
The details, from President Bush:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work.

Now let me explain the main elements of this effort: The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations -- conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.
What we don't have good information on is what is driving the sectarian violence, with some suggesting that it is reprisal and some suggesting that it is Shia trying to consolidate power inside Baghdad.


In terms of any broad understanding of how long or how far the insurgency might yet wear on (some average estimates of similar conflicts run to nine years), nothing is given. "Sacrifice" is called for, but no cost and no CURRENT cost is mentioned, other than the lives of the brave soldiers who follow orders.


There will be no grand diplomatic initiative as recommended by the Baker report. Iran and Syria are complicit in destabilization, an assessment, so far, offered time and again, recklessly, without any Karine-A like evidence.

This go-it-alone mentality continues to suggest that the militarists, despite Rumsfeld's departure are still in control of the government or that President Bush has yet to learn how to do diplomacy - true diplomacy - after all these years. "America must win" is still the operating belief - there is no sharing of risks and no sharing of glory, no prepping for passing the political baton to others who also have a stake in stability.

What Secretary Rice's announced visit to the mideast will specifically attempt to achieve is unknown. However, W. Patrick Lang offers up a clear perspective on how failure to adequately prep a regional engagement leaves the US without one, good political exit strategy.


Notes that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Generals Casey and Abizaid are slated to leave stand in stark contrast to evidence from Vietnam that short tours of "advisers" greatly contributed to an inability to be effective on the ground. Perhaps it is time for them to move onward, but shifting of personnel in a complex, long, and phased campaign weakens the effort, rather then re-enforcing it.

The notion of doubling the number of transition teams is great. Perhaps that will help to create information flow that will keep corruption and incompetence in a new Iraqi central government from getting as far out of hand as it seems to have done in Afghanistan. All the same, what is paramount is coordination between the political efforts (reconstruction) and military efforts, and no assurances were given that organizational changes that improve integration of effort are on the way.

However, the problem that this type of effort (counter-insurgency) might need to be planned in chunks of time of 2-3 years seems to escape the people for all parts of the political spectrum.


These are the few commitments we get for the upcoming year:

To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

Elections "later this year". Reform of Baathification has been on the table for how long now? At least since last fall. Amend the constitution ... for pity's sake, the country barely has a functioning central government and the chief worry is how to amend the constitution?

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