Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Last week we were thick with mainstream media reportage detailing the dire warnings emanating from straight-shooting, Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who had just returned from a week in Iraq and Kuwait. On a mission to conduct a "strategic and operational assessment of security operations," by his own account, McCaffrey visited "combat units in the field as well as senior U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials."

Remember this
Washington Post headline:

"McCaffrey Paints Gloomy Picture of Iraq: In Contrast to His Previous Views, Retired General Writes of Strategic Peril .

"An influential retired Army general released a dire assessment of the situation in Iraq, based on a recent round of meetings there with Gen. David H. Petraeus...."

(Read the entire Post article here)

Today, the retired general speaks for himself in an op-ed piece for the
LA Times (full article here).

The highlights:

"[W]e have little choice as Americans except to give our new military commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and our new ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, the political and military support they need during the next 12 months. Failure in Iraq at this point could generate a regional war among Iraq's neighbors that would imperil U.S. interests for a decade or more."

"I know that the problems we face are grim indeed, but Petraeus' strategy is sound, and the situation is not hopeless."

"The threat we face is huge."

By the way, there is still plenty of gloom in his assessment:

"100,000 armed militia," some "foreign fighters," "a couple of thousand Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq extremists [intent on provoking] sectarian violence through murderous attacks on the innocent civilian Shiite population and their mosques."

[Many of] "Iraq's neighbors...have intensified the civil war as an extension of their own larger [regional goals]."

"Iran has provided the Shiites with leadership from the elite Quds Force of its Revolutionary Guard and with highly lethal EFP (explosively formed projectile) bombs, which are a major cause of U.S. casualties.

"The Syrians have provided sanctuary to Saddam Hussein Baathists.

"The Syrians also have ignored or aided the passage of 40 to 70 jihadists a month into Iraq. (Most of them are suicide bombers who are dead within two weeks.)

"The Turks also have made threatening military and political moves to confront the prosperous Iraqi Kurdish regions at their border.

"This is a dangerous neighborhood.

In McCaffrey's words: "What is the basis for hope?

"U.S. troops continue to show determination, discipline and courage."

Iraqi police and army are coming on line in large numbers.

"The Maliki government has finally gotten its nerve and allowed joint operations by its police and U.S. special operations forces to arrest Sadr militia members in Baghdad.

"Petraeus has placed more than 50 Iraqi/U.S. police and army strong points throughout the city. The murder rate has plummeted in response. The Sunni tribes in Anbar province have turned on the foreign fighters.

"We will know by the end of the summer if Petraeus' strategy is going to prompt an adequate political response from the Iraqis."

On the other hand?

"We are running out of time.

"The American people have walked away from support of this war. The Army is beginning to show signs of great strain."

"By the beginning of the coming year, we will be forced to downsize our deployment to Iraq or the Army will begin to unravel."

"The United States is now at a crossroads. We are in a position of strategic peril. We need to support the U.S. leadership team in Iraq for this one last effort to succeed."

Thank you, General. Well said. Now, let's see how much press this statement gets in the mainstream media.
The President's initiative in the Middle East was never a sure thing. But I have argued, and still believe, that it was a calculated risk worth taking and continues to be a calculated risk worth supporting.

But, at this critical stage of the long campaign, when a critical mass of Americans are increasingly disheartened and Congress is perilously close to pulling the plug, one must ask this question: what if we fail?

What then, if we succeed in losing this war?

Background: How did we get here? Why the project for "renewal in Iraq" and beyond? After 9/11, it was apparent to any observer that the status quo in the Middle East was no longer tenable for the United States. Our Cold-War era, "pragmatic" policy of accommodating and facilitating tyrannical regimes, for reasons of vital national interest, wrought a generation of jihadists intent on Islamic revolution. The Islamists hated their own exploitative and corrupt governments, they hated Israel, and they hated us for enabling the two primary objects of their enmity. 9/11 illustrated in the most horrific manner that our great island fortress could be penetrated by these jihadists, and likely would be again. America was under attack.

The project to remake the Middle East into a more just and safer place for its own people, and more friendly in general to the United States and the rest of Western civilization, was an attempt to "drain the swamp." A freer, more democratic Middle East, so the theory went, would take responsibility for itself and be consumed with self-improvement, looking inward instead of outward, which would drastically reduce the threat of terrorism. We would become brothers, bonded by our mutual love for self-determination, amelioration and peace.

Frankly, the Bush administration vastly underestimated how hard this would be. While some academics tossed around timetables of four, five, six years and beyond, Washington never took the "pessimists" seriously. The administration believed, with a little luck, this thing might go fairly quickly and easily, and then we could move on to the next outlaw. To the surprise of many, we encountered a great battle in Iraq. Notwithstanding, victory remains possible. Iraq is still the key. If we can stabilize Iraq (and I firmly believe that all is not lost), our aspiration for a safer Middle East remains viable.

But what happens if Iraq never gets better, and circumstances (or a Democratic controlled United States Congress) force the US to abandon the project to reform the Middle East? Are we back to square one? No. If we leave Iraq in defeat and disarray, we are actually much worse off than we were the day after 9/11. The world will no longer be a safe place for Americans to travel or do business. What will that mean? It will inaugurate a radical transformation of American life. Returning to the pre-9/11 realities is not an option.

The complicated terror network organized to humble the United States exists to break the American hegemony on their side of the world so that the jihadists can foment a revolution over there unhindered. In that way too, 9/11 is similar to Pearl Harbor. Japan attempted to obliterate the US naval presence in the Pacific not to conquer the United States, but to give Japan free reign to conquer the Pacific. Like our presence in the Pacific during the 1930s and 40s, we have myriad self-interested reasons to be in the Middle East, but we also play a stabilizing role in the region.

Can we do something that will make the Islamists leave us alone? Yes. We can pack up and go home. But not merely in Iraq. To appease the terrorists and extremists, we must fold our tent and leave the Middle East to the Arabs entirely. In the early moments of the national crisis following 9/11, I believed that the safest course would be complete retreat, a return to isolationism. President Bush offered a different course, which was bold and risky, but, if successful, it will preserve our way of life. I credit him for his vision and courage in the face of a horrible moment in which no good choices existed.

If not Bushism, what? The remaining option is qualified Buchanism: neo-isolationism. We must leave our friends in the Middle East to fend for themselves, and pull-up stakes as the key player in, and international protector of, the global economy. Failure in Iraq will force us, eventually, into a much wider involuntary retreat. The America-policed international order will collapse (probably sooner than later), and the world will likely devolve into a much more violent and less stable place.

Therefore, if we fail in Iraq, our withdrawal begins the inevitable process of leaving American business interests in the Middle East and around the world unprotected and irresistible targets for Islamist revolutionaries and other malefactors. If our ability to protect our interests abroad collapses, then our economic empire necessarily disintegrates as well. Our current world order evaporates and another takes its place.

What then?

No one knows. Only time will tell. My guess is that objective observers will find the next world order strikingly less benevolent than the American Century, but, from our perspective, we can rest assured that American interests will suffer in myriad ways.

Again, we can not predict the future. Perhaps the clock would turn back one hundred years. Perhaps it will mean a simpler spiritually richer life for many Americans. Of course, if that happens, more of us would probably need to work for a living, making things and growing things. It could mean that our culture would need fewer academics, poets, entertainers and service providers.

What we know for certain? Our lives would change dramatically.
I appeared on KWTX (local TV) three times in less than twenty-four hours this week. I talked a lot, but I did not say anything worth repeating here.

However, here is what I am hearing around town:

At the Wal-Mart this morning around 6AM:

One employee to the other: "How come you are not wearing your [support the troops] badge?"

"I don't support the war."

"I know but you support the troops, right?"

"I don't support the killing."

"I know. It is just like Vietnam. But you should wear your badge."

"I don't support all that killing."
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This reader comment attached to the previous post comes from one of our most thoughtful cyber neighbors and merits a spotlight.

Evrviglnt wrote:

"8. To do nothing different is to fail. To send more troops with a plan to hold ground and effect some semblance of peace is an attempt to show Iraqis that it can be done, life need not be simply one bombing after another. We need momentum in the right direction; there are few options now, including surrender. This is the right choice by the commander in chief.

"That is not to say I am not terribly disappointed in my president, I am. For years now I have defended his decision to invade Iraq because I understood his long term plans, recognized the advantage of having a foreign battlefield with which to engage fanaticism, and I agreed with his optimism that freedom is a natural yearning of the oppressed. I am less idealistic now, and find myself on that cusp where one side demands total and overwhelming military domination, the other - bringing our soldiers home. I am not a violent man, but if we will not change the rules of engagement so our soldiers can do their jobs with withering ferocity and efficiency, then bring them home..."
Quick Thoughts:

1. The President admitted errors in judgment--but he remains unrepentant. He is staying the course, with adjustments.

2. The President did not change one mind in America last night.

3. The President is isolated. Congress cannot stop him, but they can make his life difficult via resolutions and hearings. The Democratic leadership strategy now is to foment debate and discontent in hopes of bending the will of the President.

4. As Democratic Party strategists admit, there is no political advantage to be gained through investing in this policy.

5. The "bi-partisan working group" to which the President referred consists of Joe Lieberman, a Senator from Connecticut and a former Democratic Vice Presidential nominee--just to name a few.

6. The Democrats have no alternative other than "redeployment" and striking a deal with Iran and Syria.

7. This "new plan" is a long shot. In fact, it is mostly a way to buy time. But what are the other options?

Transcript and video here.
For three years of war, the Bush administration deluded itself into thinking that they sat atop a generational political realignment. Karl Rove et al saw George Bush as a McKinley-like figure who had inaugurated a decades-long Republican dynasty.

What is wrong with dynasty? Dynasty lacks accountability.

No pressure in Iraq guys, we have a compliant Congress. Don't bother selling this to the American people, they understand GOP means patriotism, peace through strength, and a no-nonsense view of the world; we speak the same language; the electorate is in the bag.

Now George Bush is operating within a new model. The administration understands all too well today that the American people are fed up with where we are in Iraq, and we want to quit. This past election saw crushing defeats for the President and his policy, and the next election, if we are in the same position in Iraq, will be much worse.

An aside: At least one of two things is true: the President and his brain trust badly misjudged the obstacles in the Middle East, and/or the President failed miserably in articulating what was ahead of us and preparing us as a nation for the long siege against Islamism, history and fifty years of American foreign policy in the region that works against us.

What can Bush do? He can give up. He can pack up the troops and bring them home. He can say he made a huge mistake. He can ask forgiveness and reach across the aisle for help in shutting down military operations. He can say his heart was in the right place, but events overwhelmed him. We wish the people of Iraq the best, and we hope that the Middle East finds the right path on the long highway of life--but we are done.

Or he can say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I am certain that the President is going to give this project one more shot. The President must understand, finally, that he has used up all his “political capital.” For a very brief period, he can stand against an electoral mandate and a hostile Congress--but not for long. He must make decisive progress, and it must come quickly.

With the clock winding down, President Bush is putting the ball in the hands of Lt. Gen David H. Petraeus. Is victory still possible? Stranger things have happened. Generals Grant and Sherman turned the tide for President Lincoln during desperate times. Has President Bush found himself a fighting general? Perhaps more importantly, is George Bush ready to be a fighting president?

Here is a New York Post column from Ralph Peters, who argues that Petraeus is capable but possibly not belligerent enough.

A profile of Petraeus from the Washington Post here.
The problem is not that we invaded Iraq. The problem is that we are currently losing the fight for stability in Iraq.

Just for the record, one more time, here are the reasons that going into Iraq made sense at the time:

1. Saddam was bad. He deserved ouster, capture, trial and execution. Twenty-five million Iraqis deserved an opportunity to take control of their lives free of Saddam's oppressive regime.

2. Saddam was at war with the United States and a threat to regional security. For more than a decade, we flew combat missions over Iraq and drew anti-aircraft fire everyday. Our forces were stationed in Saudi Arabia to neutralize the threat Saddam posed to the region. Our presence in Saudi (part of our essential commitment to preserving the peace) irritated the international Muslim community. In fact, Osama bin Laden cited our presence in Saudi Arabia as the casus belli for war against America in general and 9-11 specifically.

3. Saddam was contained--but only as a result of the costly military commitments cited above. In addition, Saddam was contained as a result of a United Nations sanctions regime. Before the war, several human rights organizations charged that the heartless US-driven sanctions policy had killed upwards of 500,000 Iraqis through malnutrition and lack of adequate medical attention. Later, we learned of massive corruption on the part of the UN in administering the sanctions against Saddam's Iraq. Moreover, by 2002, the flagging resolve of the French and other European powers threatened the entire sanctions program. Containment was a leaky policy taking on more water every day.

4. Saddam unbound meant a return to the status quo ante bellum in which he had threatened his neighbors and worked assiduously to manufacture and deploy weapons of mass destruction.

5. All of that seemed no longer tenable in a post-9-11 world. Why? Saddam was connected to 9-11 in that the insecurity he created in the region contributed to the greater instability and discontent, which facilitated terrorism. If Saddam could be deposed, many of us believed that a new Iraq would emerge, which would begin a process that might lead to an era of reform in the Middle East, which might ultimately make Islamic terrorists as rare and irrelevant as Ku Klux Klan terrorists.

All that to say, Iraq was a war of choice--but it was not a frivolous choice. Granted, now we face potential crises in the region of our own making that dwarf the old inconveniences. However, while it is tempting to view the past through the knowledge of the present, we must remember that the Iraq policy emerged from a long list of terrible choices. Doing nothing was an extremely unattractive option in the post-9-11 world.

The Bottom Line: all of that is unalterable history. Now What?
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
We are about to enter one of the most crucial periods in our national history. What happens in Iraq is vital to our future. There is a cacophony of voices on where we went wrong, who is at fault and what to do now. We should not panic. We must be careful not to succumb to our collective depression. There are answers to be found. Troubled times call for steady hands and an understanding of and a recommitment to who we are as a nation.

Although I offer no solutions in this post, here is a word or two in re perspectives, which go along way in determining how one views the predicament. In essence, there are three main camps regarding the present crisis in Iraq:

1. Those who were against the war from the beginning. They see Iraq as doomed from the outset and an egregious and unnecessary mistake. They blame the President, the neo-cons, the media, and all the other echelons of less-adamant citizens who were inclined to trust American institutions and support the war. They tend to want out at any cost, honestly believing that the price of withdrawal (no matter how high) is less onerous than a continued military commitment.

2. Those who favored the war initially, but who, at some point, soured on the action as a result of the failed reconstruction. They see Iraq as a defensible war of choice, disastrously prosecuted by an inept Bush administration. They are bitter and humiliated, and they blame the President and his men for making them look like fools. They also blame the MSM for reporting the war in a way that limited American options and facilitated the popular disgust that exacerbates the current dilemma. Most of them are hoping that James Baker and the return of the realists will somehow blaze a path to "peace with honor;" that is, cutting our losses and surviving to fight another day.

3. Those who continue to support the war and our original objectives. They believe that staying the course will eventually bring peace to Iraq and the greater Middle East. They have not given up and believe that the policy will work, if given enough time. Generally, they are loyalists by nature: loyal to party; loyal to country; loyal to their President. Mainly, they tend to lash out at the media and blame the "disloyal" Democratic opposition for most of our ills, although they are quietly frustrated with the administration as well. However, even these optimistic stalwarts are composing the rationale for failure in Iraq.

An important point: None of these groups are particularly objective; their perspectives are altered by, respectively, inordinate skepticism, excessive vanity and uncritical fidelity.

An important related point: how you view the war today, in large part, depends on how you felt about the war in the spring of 2003.

Disclosure: I am mostly a hybrid between groups two and three. I am a frustrated loyalist; I wax between complete despair and cautious optimism.

Truism: Success has many authors; Failure is a bastard.

Another Truism: Things are never as bad as they seem.

21/11: Going Big

From yesterday (Monday):
Tom Ricks in the Washington Post:
"Pentagon May Suggest Short-Term Buildup Leading to Iraq Exit:

"The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.

"Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home." The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said."

Read the full story here.

Here is a review of my prediction from a few months ago. I am not sure if I stand by it today (and some of it is already flat wrong), but it may be a jumping off point for discussion:

Quoting myself from June 29:

"Recently, the word "timetable" has claimed center stage in any discussion of Iraq. Does the President have a timetable? YES. Although the WH denies a timetable, any serious reading of the situation in Iraq and Washington leads to only one conclusion:

"Iraq must be wrapped-up by January 20, 2009. The Bush brain trust is big on presidential history (especially that of Bush-41). They have taken great pains to avoid the missteps of the father, and they understand that unfinished business is risky business (for example: see Saddam and Somalia).

"Prediction: President Bush will not leave Iraq in the lurch. The coming congressional campaign season will see quiet progress on the civil side of things, which will allow for moderate draw-downs of US troops.

"Then, in the weeks and months after the election, President Bush and the USA will "get bloody." In a similar move to the assault on Fallujah in November of 2004 after the presidential election, I expect the President to make one final push for military supremacy in Iraq.

"The President is never going to face another American election. This is an advantage for him. His legacy depends on victory in Iraq. All he needs to do is win. On the other hand, President Bush's moment is drawing to a close. After the Congressional election, the remainder of his term will be measured in months.

"He must defeat the insurgency before they (the insurgents) come to view him as a lame duck. The USA may have won the war in Iraq with the re-election of President Bush in 2004. An insurgency is hard-pressed to wait-out an American president for four years. But if the USA does not deliver the knock-out punch early on in 2007, the insurgency will see a light at the end of the tunnel.

"What goes without saying, of course, is that no future president, Republican or Democrat, will be invested in this war like George Bush. No successor to Bush will feel the press of history in the same way that the President copes with that oppressive sense of urgency and necessity every day of his administration."

The post in full here.

Today's addendum: One thing that seems to have changed since then is the basic threat. Many observers see the insurgency as mostly under control but view the civil unrest and sectarian violence as the current insoluble problem. We'll see.
Where we failed in Iraq:

1. We vastly underrated the task before us in 2002 and 2003.

2. We were very slow in adapting to reality and changing tactics.

3. We are three-and-one-half years into a war, and our government is pleading for us (the American people) to have faith in their ability to get it right--without giving us a lot of foundation for the leap they are asking us to make. The problem is not that the President is changing tactics. The problem is timing.

Three-and-one-half years is as much time as you can expect the American people to advance you in a war. If the war was unwinnable in that stretch of time, then it was a foolish undertaking. If the war was winnable in that span of time, then it has been foolishly prosecuted. Either way. The clock is running out.

4. Granted we may finally have it right (or we may be on the verge of having it right), but the administration is down to almost no credibility with the majority of America.

Why must American presidents win wars quickly?

Because Osama is right. Defeating the United States is a matter of endurance and ruthlessness.

The Wizbang essay again (the lesson of Vietnam):

"The North Vietnamese knew they could never defeat the US in a face-to-face battle; every time they tried, they lost and lost decisively. They had no chance of attacking our ability to wage war; our industrial base was thousands of miles out of their reach. So they, instead, attacked our resolve. That was a key factor that led to our eventual withdrawal from Viet Nam, followed shortly thereafter by the abrogation of the peace treaty and the final conquest of the South."

By the way, that was essentially the strategy of George Washington in the American War for Independence. Washington understood that if he never lost his army, the British could not win the war. And if the British could not win, they would eventually lose.

They did. They grew frustrated with a seemingly endless and immensely costly war to achieve a goal that increasingly appeared less than a vital interest. They eventually threw in the towel.

For what it is worth, the Revolutionary War was America's longest war that we actually won. Vietnam was longer--but we lost that one. It is important to point out that the Revolutionary War was fought prior to Constitutional government. There was no president and no midterm elections.

Generally, Americans need to strike and win quickly. We have had long wars (the Civil War and WWII to name two), but in both cases we made progress at crucial times. We were on the way to beating back Japan in the Pacific by the summer of 1942. We had air supremacy over Europe by 1943. Americans could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The fall of Atlanta came at a fortuitous time for Abraham Lincoln in the months prior to his bid for reelection in 1864. The Philippine War was long and bloody (about the same duration as our current war), but the victory was in hand by the time the war became a matter of intense public debate.

This war is too long. No one (not even the President or his closest supporters) sees a light at the end of this tunnel. We are in trouble--not because we cannot beat the insurgency at some point given enough time. We are in trouble because time is running out for us politically.

This is not to say that we cannot save ourselves and the Iraqis (and the world), but we need to move quickly, act in a united way and get a little lucky.

Note: the Wizbang essay referred to above is cited in Part I (below); it is "A few random thoughts about the war in Iraq, and warfare in general."