Monday, July 30, 2007

The "Mini-Surge" is Showing Some Promise

For those who disagree with the Iraq war and the Bush Administration, one thing would improve the stock of our integrity--to admit that, despite our feelings one way or the other, the mini-surge is working in Iraq. Updated 8/4/2007

On today's edition of The Right Balance with Greg Allen, guest Daveed Gartenstein-Ross pointed out much more eloquently than I that a person lacks integrity when they let their politics color their opinion of what reality is. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current goings-on in the Iraq war. A lot of people are against the Bush Administration's handling of the Iraq War (including me), and they can't seem to admit when something goes right (not including me).

Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution are now admitting that it is going right (H/T Utah Rattler).

Troop morale is higher than possibly ever.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Parts of Baghdad are looking better.

In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

The north is seeing large-scale US troop reductions due to the success there. The Iraqis' greatest fear is that we will leave too soon.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

O'Hanlon and Pollack state (and I agree) that we can't stay there forever, but to leave too soon would be a travesty.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

Investor's Business Daily weighs in on this subject as well.

It's now quite clear how the results of the surge will be dealt with by domestic opponents of the Iraq War: They're going to be ignored.

They're being ignored now. Virtually no media source or Democratic politician is willing to admit that the situation on the ground has changed dramatically over the past three months. Coalition efforts have undergone a remarkable reversal of fortune, a near-textbook example as to how an effective strategy can overcome what appear to be overwhelming drawbacks.

A cursory glance at 1943 would have given the impression of disaster: Kasserine, in which the German Wehrmacht nearly split Allied forces in Tunisia and sent American GIs running; Tarawa, where over 1,600 U.S. Marines died on a sunny afternoon thanks to U.S. Navy overconfidence; and Salerno, where the Allied landing force was very nearly pushed back into the sea.

But all these incidents, as bitter as they may have been, were necessary to develop the proper techniques that led to the triumphs of 1944 and 1945.

Someday, 2006 may be seen as Iraq's 1943. It appears that Gen. David Petreaus has discovered the correct strategy for Iraq: engaging the Jihadis all over the map as close to simultaneously as possible. Keeping them on the run constantly, giving them no place to stand, rest or refit. Increasing operational tempo to an extent that they cannot match, leaving them harried, uncertain and apt to make mistakes.

Update 8/4/2007 It appears that al Qaeda thinks quite highly of General Petraeus as well. The London Times reports:

Fed up with being part of a group that cuts off a person’s face with piano wire to teach others a lesson, dozens of low-level members of al-Qaeda in Iraq are daring to become informants for the US military in a hostile Baghdad neighbourhood.

The ground-breaking move in Doura is part of a wider trend that has started in other al-Qaeda hotspots across the country and in which Sunni insurgent groups and tribal sheikhs have stood together with the coalition against the extremist movement.

“They are turning. We are talking to people who we believe have worked for al-Qaeda in Iraq and want to reconcile and have peace,” said Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which oversees the area.


rmwarnick said...

I saw Kenneth Pollack on CNN this morning claiming to be a critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, which is only true if by "critic" you mean "cheerleader." Pollack was in favor of invading Iraq before Bush was.

Michael O'Hanlon is no different. Show me any statement he has made concerning Iraq over the last four years that was true.

rmwarnick said...

Talking Points Memo has more on the "phony war critics" O'Hanlon and Pollack.

And more: "It's been endlessly observed that being wrong repeatedly just hasn't disqualified experts from continuing to get platforms such as this one to continue making predictions about the disaster they helped create..."

rmwarnick said...

Glenn Greenwald has a rundown of O'Hanlon's happy talk and rosy predictions going back to 2003.

Think Progress has more. Pollack and O'Hanlon were totally wrong in 2002-2003 and they are wrong now.

Frank Staheli said...

There wasn't a whole lot of uniqueness among TPM and Think Progress. Glenn Greenwald was much more detailed.

When Pollack and O'Hanlon were in Iraq in late 2003, it was (or appeared to be) still going well.

They've recently gone back and, through their wanderings, they found that it's going well again. I'd rather that you not resort exclusively to attacks on their character, but rather try to show how their statements about things going well in Iraq are false.

Interestingly (1) they have been critical of Bush from time to time, and (2) they estimated that it would take 3-5 years to successfully turn Iraq around.

rmwarnick said...

I'm not attacking anyone's character, I just think it's laughable that Pollack and O'Hanlon have any credibility at this point. They've both been wrong consistently for years. Shame on CNN et al. for allowing them to claim the mantle of "war critics." They supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq from day one-- in Pollack's case, well before that.

As for how the occupation of Iraq is going, read the papers. Check out IraqSlogger. Read O'Hanlon's own Iraq Index.

rmwarnick said...

On The Huffington Post, Joseph Palermo takes on the O'Hanlon/Pollack ope-ed point by point, including some of the things they forgot to mention:

- 1-2 hours of electricity in Baghdad
- 60 percent unemployment
- rapidly increasing US casualties
- rampant corruption in reconstruction projects
- 8 million Iraqis destitute according to Oxfam
- 2.5 million refugees & 2 million IDPs

Frank Staheli said...

They weren't talking about electricity, indigent people, unemployment, etc. It goes without saying that electricity, indigence, and unemployment are much worse than they should be. Why does Joseph Palermo exult so in his obviously "non-Eureka moment"? Pollack and O'Hanlon were talking about improvement in stability of a country so that they can have more electricity, and less indigence and unemployment. Over the past 2-3 months, THAT has been happening.

You say "rapidly increasing US casualties". This is not true. In the past 2-3 months, US casualties are trending downward, which is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that far fewer soldiers are now living on FOBs and far more combat missions are currently being performed.

rmwarnick said...

If you go back and look at the statements by General Petraeus and other backers of the so-called "surge," they promised only one thing for sure: more American casualties.

June was the third consecutive month that has seen 100+ American deaths. April had 104, May 126 and June 101, making it the deadliest quarter in the Iraq war since March 2003. We had 74 dead in July, which may or may not count the three who died yesterday.

The total wounded was 647 in April, 652 in May and 730 in June. I don't have a number for July. I fail to detect a downward trend.

Frank Staheli said...

Downward trend? You just listed one: 126, 101, 74.

rmwarnick said...

Frank, I wouldn't have expected you to play a silly numbers game with these grim statistics. In military terms, you count dead plus wounded evacuated from theater. In April, 751. In May, 778. In June, 831. The July total isn't available yet.

As General Barry McCaffrey pointed out many weeks ago, our forces have been losing the equivalent of a battalion a month. Clearly, it's now gotten worse than that. These losses are unsustainable and you know it.

rmwarnick said...

IraqSlogger points out the following trend in numbers of US killed in action:

July 2003 - 48
July 2004 - 54
July 2005 - 54
July 2006 - 43
July 2007 - 78

It's reasonable to say that more aggressive tactics are resulting in higher casualties. The generals have been up front about that. I'm not sure you can say casualties are down.

Danny said...

I can see it now... Two years from now, we have a minimal amount of troops in Iraq and it is quite stable. They become one of our greatest allies.
And when this does happen, people like Richard, will still be saying what a disaster it was and how it was a huge failure. All because they are too ignorant to see the truth. They just want to hate whatever isn't liberal. Yes, sime things could have been different. There was some mistakes made. But, assuming you learned how to ride a bike, you fell a few times. Sometimes, unfortunately, that has to happen in other aspects of life as well. Especially when it comes to peoples lives instead of a scraped knee. But, Freedom isn't free. Learn that phrase. Unfortunately, the price is lives. But that being the price, you sure enjoy it, considering your whining. Let some Iraqis enjoy the same, they don't whine as much.

rmwarnick said...

Danny-- you have mastered the art of faith-based strategic thought, much like President Bush and the neocons. Cast aside the chains of reality, and anything becomes possible!

Danny said...

You have mastered the art of bullshit--thow away your chains and see reality!
You seem like a reasonably smart person. (Not reasonable by no stretch). But you are blinded by pessimism and far left ideas. All I am saying is that we need to give the Iraqi people a chance at freedom, and what we are doing now is helping. What do you propose we do that will work?

ryan said...

Freedom...freedom from life.

rmwarnick said...

Not too surprising, but now it comes out that reduced casualties in July coincided with a reduction in the operational tempo. Reason: either political or because it's just too damn hot in Iraq.

"Mindful of the political fallout from a rising American death toll in Iraq, the U.S. military has pulled back from widespread use of aggressive tactics on the ground this summer, helping to explain a modest reduction in the number of soldiers killed in July, according to intelligence and military sources."