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05 August 2007


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frank durkee

Thanks for reiterating what we all need to pay attention to in this situation. I only wish this type of analysis were getting broader coverage and repetition. It would help all of us in our BS dectors.


The O'Hanlon/Pollack op-ed systematically downplayed the lack of progress on political reconciliation. Their only mention of this issue was buried at the end. To top it off, the title of the piece was "A War We Might Just Win," despite the fact that there had been no progress whatsoever on an essential part of the plan.

Even more annoying from the point of view of an opponent of the original invasion, O'Hanlon and Pollack tried to portray themselves as critics of the administration. Both supported the launching of this war. Pollack himself was author of an early book advocating forcible regime change in Iraq. And both supported the surge.

People with judgment this poor should not be able to dishonestly lay claim to greater prescience than they have ever shown. Their op-ed was outrageous.

It was good to see the two of them dialing it down a bit on FNS today, but folks with a record like theirs cannot be trusted on the war. In the end, their continued support for the war is just a fruitless search to salvage something out of their utterly destroyed professional reputations.

505th PIR

Dead On. Malike's failure provides a historical window though limited and dependent on external conditions in equal measure to internal ones for a "Nation's Father" to emerge. It ain't lost yet.

Doubters beware. A short month or two ago there was no one on this blog that thought security in Iraq could be improved. It has improved and it will continue to do so overall in the coming months with a few setbacks along the way.



For the record I think it true to say that the title was selected by the Times. But my hunch is O'Hanlon/Pollack were happy both with the title...and the fact they could deny that it was their idea. I believe that it serves their deeper purposes with the essay. (Yes, I question their motives...for those asking)

It totally baffles me how one could think that one could strengthen the Sunni tribal forces....and not have the Shia dominated govern take it as anything less than an extreme (and physical) threat. It seems to me to a policy DESIGNED to foil any nascent reconciliation.


Also, they were basing their appraisal on a very brief, "minded" visit. The proverbial Potemkin Village effect is a distinct possibility. Al Franken spends more time in Iraq entertaining the troops.

Few people know that Moshe Dayan went to Vietnam as a war correspondent/observer in 1966. When it came time to return home he didn't return via the U.S. as promised, because his assessment of the situation was so bleak: "the Americans are winning everything--except the war." This was over a year before the shock of the Tet Offensive.

Dayan prepared throroughly for the trip by meeting with French generals from their Indochina War. When one of them advised him that the trip would be a waste of time because he would see nothing, Dayan replied that at least he would see that he could not see, which would be instructive in itself--proving that in the Kingdom of the Blind the one-eyed man is King.

W. Patrick Lang


The Shia government will never reconcile with the Sunni Arabs from a sense of duty or generosity. They will have to feel "threatened" before they might bargain, even then, it is "iffy," pl

Babak Makkinejad


Dayan also wrote a detailed account of his trip through Vietnam (in Hebrew) I should think. I do not know if an English version is available.

I was struck by his observation of the dissonance between the high caliber of the individual US Officers and Officials and the policies themselves.

Richard Whitman

I feel like I am getting a PR snow job on recent reports of our "sucesses" in Iraq. Is it real??The SecDefense said today on tv that he and the JCS will be massaging the Sept Petraeus/Crocker report before it is sent to the White House and released to Congress. Get ready for some real BS.



Point taken..still:

Its one thing for an adult to feel threatened...its an entirely different thing for an infant to feel threatened. The strategy seems wildly incoherent and contradictory to me.

al palumbo

I believe there are some pundits, experts, and talking heads that are fundamentaly misunderstanding and misrepresenting the effect of the counterinsurgency now taking place in some of the Sunni controlled areas; if in fact, we can reasonably call it a classic counterinsurgency program based on Fall's equation.

There has been an on going power struggle for control of this Hydra-like insurgency between some Sunni tribes, Baathist elements and AQ in I. That much is known. By arming and supporting the Sunni fighters the US is helping one insurgent group eliminate noxious competitor. God bless them. However, that doesn't mean that the insurgency is waning or is any less lethal to US and Iraqi forces, or that our counterinsurgency is beginning to work. What we are seeing is a consolidation of power among the different insurgent groups, not a decrease in the insurgency. Make no mistake, the insurgency will continue and grow despite our efforts. Ultimately it will be left to the Shiites to deal with it along with the remnants of AQ in I. And it will be the Shiites who will determine the outcome of the civil war.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Political Action component of Fall's equation has been a failure. I wish to quote Gailbraith on the insurgency:

"But even if Iraq's politicians could agree on benchmarks, this wouldn't end the insurgency or the civil war. Sunni insurgents object to Iraq being run by Shiite religious parties, which they see installed by the Americans, loyal to Iran, and wanting to define Iraq in a way that excludes the Sunnis. Sunni fundamentalists consider the Shiites apostates who deserve death, not power. The Shiites believe that their democratic majority and their historical suffering under Baathist dictatorship entitle them to rule. They are not inclined to compromise with Sunnis, whom they see as their longstanding oppressors, especially when they believe most Iraqi Sunnis are sympathetic to the suicide bombers that have killed thousands of ordinary Shiites. The differences are fundamental and cannot be papered over by sharing oil revenues, reemploying ex-Baathists, or revising the constitution. The war is not about those things."

So, if Galbraiths conclusions are accurate (and they do seem difficult to dispute) CI = PA + CO + CA isn't happening and isn't likely to happen in Iraq.

Its striking that these experts are now defining success in Iraq as "enough stabiliization to allow our orderly departure." I wonder what these experts think is a reasonable timetable for stabilization/orderly departure? I also wonder what these experts think the continued cost should be in blood and treasure? Finally, I wonder just how these experts hope to stabilize a country that wants to tear itself apart?

The president and his defenders cannot come to terms with what most Americans see as an obvious fact: This war is lost and we should bring our troops home.


It appears that we have substantively changed course, even as the decider denies it to save face. Those of us "on the left" should commend the effort.

Although it is impossible to know the sincerety of our effort, there is at least a great deal of smoke surrounding a diplomtic "surge".

We often do not see our opponent's true intentions, in this case the Iranians could ultimately be the force that compels a shia -sunni resolution. They will be our allies in 10 years, why not start now?

Duncan Kinder

What sort of political action could be possible under circumstances such as this:

BAGHDAD — Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, officials said Saturday.

Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz al-Shimari said power generation nationally is only meeting half the demand, and there had been four nationwide blackouts over the past two days.

Power supplies in Baghdad have been sporadic all summer — when average daily temperatures reach between 110 and 120 degrees — and now are down to just a few hours a day, if that. The water supply in the capital has also been severely curtailed by power blackouts and cuts that have affected pumping and filtration stations.

Karbala province south of Baghdad has been without power for three days, causing water mains to go dry in the provincial capital, the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

Electricity shortages are a perennial problem in Iraq, even though it sits atop one of the world's largest crude-oil reserves. The national power grid became decrepit under Saddam Hussein because his regime was under U.N. sanctions after the Gulf War and had trouble buying spare parts or equipment to upgrade the system.

One of the biggest problems facing the national grid is the move by provinces to disconnect their power plants from the system, reducing the overall amount of electricity being generated for the entire country. Provinces say they have no choice because they are not getting as much electricity in return for what they produce, mainly because the capital requires so much power.


The only option the US govt has to affect success in Iraq is through military means. On political levels Iraqis and US have completely different goals: US desires a complete, if benign, control of Iraq and its resources and Iraqis will attempt to thwart that outcome, atleast politically, just because they are Iraqis and to reject any proposals from US just because they came from the occupiers. US are willing to get killed for their strategic goals but a better life for Iraqis is not one of those goals. Choice is annihilation of a significant portion of population or Hezbollah-style winning of hearts and minds. Both options are not doable.US can keep trying different tricks to divide and rule and exhaust Iraqis but seems like Iraqis are made from a different mold, and here lies the fascination with the whole affair: why haven't they broken yet.


As an amateur who believed our military policy of Containment was the right stance versus the dethroning of a problematic dictator.

O'Hanlon and Pollack have given the military its due acknowledgement that their efforts have not been in vain. Yes, headway is being made and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

But Political Action is not on the horizon nor has the US given its military vast assistance building up Iraq's political and civil processes.

Thus our future efforts should be to pull back into a strong Containment mode and let them have at it until the new Dictator takes control.

Ben P

Colonel Lang,

I have three questions to pose you:

1) How long is the current force level sustainable? I'm hearing a draw down of some level will be necessary in early 2008.

2) Where do you see Iraq in say 2010? My sense is that there are possible long term trajectories. That the civil war becomes more "regularized", particularly in the urban areas in the middle of the country, as the takfiris are gradually squeezed out and the Sunni forces take on a more explicitly Ba'ath/nationalism cast fighting Mahdi army/police forces. See this Washington Post report (http://fairuse.100webcustomers.com/mayfaire/latimes40.htm) for more of what I'm getting at. I sense Maliki doesn't fear the Anbar situation as much as he does things like the creation of "neighborhood watch" groups such as the above.

3) Finally: to what degree is the Sunni insurgency (and I'm not talking about AQinM here) a non-tribal phenomenon. Weren't the Baathist/Arab Nationalists ideologically anti-tribe? I notice in the latest numbers there were still over 400 attacks in Anbar province in June on US troops (down from 800 last year). Is this attributable to the lack of tribal authority in important areas of the province?


Apropos I reproduce below the start of today's Juan Cole, addressing the failure of political action from some Iraqi Sunni perspectives. Political success to an Iraqi means a lot more than stabilization sufficient for orderly U.S. withdrawal. Which might not be attainable without some political solutions, surge or not.

Local Sunni anti "Al Qaeda in Iraq " operations are a tactical sideshow, even in the sense that they provide the press some bait and switch diversion from strategic political failures on all sides. While brainiacs parse the U.S.- Anbar Sunni relationship, the general Iraqi political failure almost cries out for total sectarian civil war as a resolution, for the moment, of the collapse of civil society and infrastructure, the rule of law, and sectarian insecurity. This must be the focus. Ergo, the screws - whatever they are - really need to be put to the Shia governing elites. The ones not in a position to flee if total civil war erupts, maybe.

Anyway, here's Juan's great peek into the discussion in Arabic in al-Hayat on the occasion of another Sunni withdrawal from Parliament:

Remember all that reporting about "progress" against "al-Qaeda" in al-Anbar Province? But for Sunni Arab Iraqis to hate the foreign Salafi fighters is not strange, and it says nothing about al-Anbar's relationship to the Shiite government in Baghdad. al-Hayat writing in Arabic reports that its interviewees in al-Anbar wholeheartedly supported the withdrawal of the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni fundamentalist) from the Baghdad government. They characterized the move as "deserting a sinking ship."

Su'ud Ahmad, a researcher in the Political Science college at al-Anbar University told al-Hayat, "For the Iraqi Accord Front to continue in the government throughout the recent period was not particularly useful, once the other parties had determined to dominate the government, especially the Shiite Alliance, and to ignore the Front's presence and that of the people it represents." He added, "The Front could not prevent the massacres to which the Sunnis are subjected in Baghdad right to this moment, and could not stop the expulsion of hundreds of Sunni families at the hands of sectarian militias (with the supervision of the government occasionally), could not accomplish any positive change, including regarding the issue of thousands of detainees in the prisons of the Interior Ministry and the prisons of the American Occupation-- the bulk of which are Sunnis."

Shaikh Dr. Thamir al-Dulaimi, an imam, preacher and professor in the Islamic Law Division of the College of Law in Fallujah told al-Hayat, "This step came very late in the day, after the character of the government had become clear soon after the elections, but it is a step on the correct path, since it deprived the government of its ability to claim that it represented all the sections of the Iraqi people at a time when it was practicing the most hideous sort of ethnic cleansing and expulsions with regard to the people in the entire modern history of Iraq.">

So jonst, Dr. al-Dulaimi accuses the government of ethnic cleansing, not a bit of partisan recalcitrance. An extreme (and physical) threat to the Sunni minority, who have waited for two Shia dominated governments to establish order, security, and govern.

We are at a stage here where an orderly armed standoff as a prelude to forced negotiations is the batna - best alternative to negotiated agreement. Like pl says, there isn't going to be any agreement, let alone government, until the Shia are forced to share. They show no sign of doing it and the U.S. seems unable or unwilling to. Perhaps a Shia government won't feel threatened enough to bargain until well into a U.S. withdrawal.

"iffy" is a marvelously apt understatement of the whole assumptions thread a bit back. Let's assume in this case nobody wants to give up power to their sectarian or political enemies. Like the Sheiks in Anbar won't, once their latest bit of local empowerment - license to employ what they no doubt regard as liberated entitlements of tribal patrimony - is challenged by a central authority.

And Malaki the unwilling, incapable man who nonetheless cannot be replaced. Until, I suppose, it is officially declared that the surge is won, but the center cannot hold.

It is mind boggling - the fighting might mostly cease in the south, the surge in some sense work - tho its hard to judge the political effects of the heavy aerial bombardment often called up - but there will be no effective, never mind legitimate, government to grasp the momentum away from civil war. If it wished to.

And here the States has no political 'surge' strategy - Bush's anti-al Aqaeda success rhetoric hardly substitutes for Iraqi governance.

What the heck do they do if they declare the surge a success? or a failure? Or the foreign fighters are greatly reduced? Surely this means that the Sunni's will still need to exert more pressure on the Iraqi government? To establish their bona fides as a sufficient "threat' worthy of serious negotiation after AQ had been dealt with? Because they will be the biggest elephant in the room


A Little OT, but some levity:


Clifford Kiracofe

<"without an Iraqi government that wants inter-communal reconciliation there will be no peace in Iraq.">

What are the options for changing the current government, one way or another? Any suitable leader -- civilian or military -- in the wings?


Col. Lang,

Given the total isolation of non-military personnel in the "Green Zone," and the general lack of security for even the military, given the paucity of Arabic speakers, given the lack of political contacts in what used to be a closed, embargoed and isolated country, given the lack of institutional support for "political action" within the U.S. Army, what would lead anyone to think the U.S. has even the basic tools to understand the political situation in Iraq much less act within it?

Cold War Zoomie

The only reason this entire mess hasn't completely disintegrated is because our military is so friggin dedicated. They keep going and going and going over there even though the civilian "leadership" and policy wonks flounder around.

What makes my blood boil is that the incompetent baffoons who started this thing aren't held accountable because our men and women in uniform have been able to keep the whole process limping along. As long as it's not a complete disaster there's always a *possibility* of success. And the baffoons can keep kicking the can down the road every 4-5 months.



Speaking of "people on the left," Gov. Bill Richardson looks beyond counter insurgency tactics:

"We must remove ALL of our troops. There should be no residual US forces left in Iraq. Most Iraqis, and most others in the region, believe that we are there for their oil, and this perception is exploited by Al Qaeda, other insurgents, and anti-American Shia groups. By announcing that we intend to remove ALL troops, we would deprive them of this propaganda tool. And once all US troops are out of Iraq, Al Qaeda foreigners will no longer be able to justify their presence there, and the Iraqis will drive them out."

W. Patrick Lang


Nothing wrong with being "on the left." My use of the erm is merely descriptive. I do get a kick out of the
Jean Jaures channeling on the part of some of the migration activists. "Workers have no borders," etc. pl

W. Patrick Lang

Ben P

I am trying to teach people to think about these things, not to think for them. pl


I'm on the (far) left and the O'hanlon piece won't be remembered within six months (except when people point to the hopeless optimism of "we just might win"). All the happy talk and optimism in the world won't change a thing on the ground over there - just ask John McCain.

The fundamentally flawed assumption underlying the surge strategy was the idea that if only the U.S. tamp down the sectarian violence, then all the hardcore sectarian parties (Shia mainly) that the U.S. was instrumental in installing into power would make nice with the Sunnis and share some of the power. All the security in the world won't change the fact that SIIC and Dawa do not have any interest in reconciliation at this point, and the U.S. is too politically dependent on their tacit acceptance of the occupation of the country to push them forcefully in that direction. That's the underlying reason why Petraeus and Maliki are getting into screaming matches with one another - neither can dispense with the other and they're stuck, sinking deeper into the quagmire.


You remind me of the Monty Python satire, "The Life of Brian," about an ordinary man mistaken for The Messiah, when he clearly doesn't want the job. At one point Brian protests against the sheeplike quality of the people who are following him--"You've got to think for yourselves!" he admonishes them. They immediately parrot back, "You've got to think for yourselves!"

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