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August 19, 2006

Something Truly Radical

Max Boot weighs what he calls "radical strategies" for securing Baghdad:

If the present strategy doesn't work, what's the alternative? The most radical course would be a total U.S. withdrawal. The likely result would be an all-out civil war in which Iraqi casualties could easily soar to 1,000 a day and the price of oil could go above $100 a barrel. Proposals to carve up Iraq into three separate states — Sunni, Shiite and Kurd — would not ameliorate the violence because major cities such as Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk are full of different religious and ethnic groups that would fight for control.

THINGS MIGHT ultimately work out if the current, moderate Shiite leadership were to prevail. But the more likely result would be the empowerment of radicals on both sides, with someone like Muqtada Sadr taking over in Baghdad and a rump, Taliban-style Sunni state being carved out of western Iraq. U.S. prestige would be deeply wounded, and Islamist terrorists would be encouraged to keep attacking us outside Iraq.

No wonder almost all Iraqi political factions are opposed to a U.S. pullout. They know what horrors would ensue.

It's funny how seldom we hear that last truth echoed on Capitol Hill, though it managed to penetrate even the pages of the New York Times a few weeks ago. The fact is that the last thing the Sunnis want now is for US forces to leave. We are their best protection because, for many Iraqis, we have come to represent stability and the rule of law:

Hamid Ayad could not forget the last time U.S. soldiers came to his door two years ago. They tossed smoke bombs and burst into his home, then arrested his four brothers, he said. They were later jailed at Abu Ghraib prison.

Three days ago, another group of U.S. soldiers came to his home in the volatile western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah, this time accompanied by Iraqi troops. The U.S. soldiers politely asked if they could enter his large home. They asked to register his family's eight cars, and they did not confiscate the family's AK-47 rifle, their only means of protection.

That made Ayad, 24, feel more confident about the Iraqi soldiers. Only two months ago, Shiite Iraqi soldiers on patrols in Amiriyah taunted Sunnis like him, he said. They did little to shield residents from the sectarian clashes strangling their lives. But on this day, the Iraqi soldiers he met were courteous and seemed genuinely concerned.

"Their image has changed," said Ayad, who holds a business degree but is unemployed. "Now, you feel like they are there to protect you. They are not acting or faking. The Americans have them on a tight leash."

A lot has changed in Iraq, but you rarely hear that in the stale rhetoric of politicians about how we can't seem to adapt. The fact is that we're constantly adapting, constantly changing tactics, just as the terrorists do. And what the Post describes, oddly, is precisely the kind of operation Boot calls for later in his editorial; only it would seem we're already doing it and, more surprisingly, the Washington Post has chosen to cover it in a wonderful three page article that shows the media don't only write bad news about the war.

But the important thing to note, given the fragile confidence established by this operation, is how vital it is NOT to draw down our forces yet. That is exactly the wrong thing to do at this point. As Boot has pointed out, no one - except perhaps the terrorists - wants us to leave. What we are doing - and this is important - is handing over security operations to the Iraqis and changing the focus to assisting them : making sure they are conducting security sweeps properly with dignity and respect for the rule of law, rather than conducting the operations ourselves. This is what will, in the long run, establish confidence in Iraqi institutions. But that is going to take time. Boot, on the other hand, calls for a drawdown of US forces:

But there's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

There is some evidence the visible partnering of US troops with Iraqi patrols who take the lead is effective in building confidence. We may have found the right force mix. Note the new determination to eliminate sectarian loyalities from the IA. From the Post story:

After searching more than 6,000 homes and buildings, the soldiers confiscated only 28 unauthorized guns and 47 hand grenades and arrested eight suspects.

"It doesn't matter how many guns we found," Col. Robert Scurlock Jr., commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, told reporters Wednesday. "It gave people the confidence in the Iraqi army and security forces. And we will continue to build that trust."

The Iraqi army is seen by many Sunni residents as sympathetic to Shiite militias, such as the Mahdi Army, linked to radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Ayad recalled an attack last month when gunmen ambushed a bus in Amiriyah and killed six passengers and the driver, then set the vehicle ablaze. Like many in his neighborhood, he believed that the Mahdi Army orchestrated the attack -- and that the Iraqi soldiers there to protect the neighborhood looked the other way.

"The burned bus is still there," said Ayad. "The Iraqi army had two checkpoints, but they didn't stop" the gunmen. "On the contrary, they were cooperating with the Mahdi Army and allowed them to enter our neighborhood. I didn't trust the Iraqi army then."

Brig. Gen. Abdul Jaleel Kahlaiaf, commander of the Iraqi army's 1st Brigade, 6th Division, said he was determined to erase such perceptions. Iraq's Defense Ministry, he told reporters in Amiriyah, is now requiring all recruits to sign a pledge that "they should be loyal to Iraq, not a sect."

"Those soldiers who have a sectarian bias will not stay with us," he said in a room at Amiriyah's municipal office.

During Operation Together Forward, US forces deliberately stayed in the background:

The photos included an Iraqi soldier in brown camouflage holding the hand of a trusting, smiling boy on a Baghdad street.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders tried to spread that image in Amiriyah. The four-day operation began on Sunday with U.S. and Iraqi troops conducting door-to-door searches; the Iraqis were often given the lead role.

"The intent was to do it with dignity and respect for families," said Scurlock. Several "problem" mosques, where insurgents allegedly had stockpiled weapons, were taken over and "now we've posted guards and returned them back to the people," he added. They also registered guns and created a census of the residents

The impact on the violence was immediate. Residents said they didn't hear a single gunshot or mortar explosion, and by Wednesday they were experiencing a rare calm.

A drive that day through the streets, in a heavily armed U.S. military convoy, revealed a neighborhood of silent streets blocked with razor coil and shuttered shops. The few souls outside stared blankly at U.S. Humvees cruising by slowly.

"Since we began the operation, not one person from Amiriyah has died, not one act of violence has occurred," Scurlock said.

Many residents wonder how long the peace will last. The U.S. military will soon give the Iraqi troops full responsibility again for the security of Amiriyah.

Already, the mistrust is creeping back.

Sheik Mohammed Faiz, the imam of the Sunni al-Abbas mosque, said he was wary of what he viewed as a U.S. military takeover of the mosques.

"The American forces kicked out the local guards from the five local mosques in Amiriyah and replaced them with fixed Iraqi soldiers in order to protect it," said Faiz. "We think they have those soldiers as eyes on the mosques, not to protect it but to monitor those who are getting in and out of the mosques."

Others are convinced that most of the insurgents had fled before the security clampdown and are planning a return as soon as the U.S. military pulls out.

"Amiriyah has become more quiet and more secure after the presence of the American forces, but once they leave, the area will return as it used to be," said Abdul Aziz al-Kubaissi, 55, another resident. "Al-Qaeda and the other insurgents fled with their weapons one day before the beginning of the operation."

That sense of unease is shared by Omar at Iraq the Model, who was encouraged by Operation Forward Together but worries about what will happen if such efforts are not maintained:

This sounds like encouraging news that the plan is going to deliver some positive results in extremely dangerous areas as al-Doura and the commanders are saying that similar operations will be repeated throughout the entire capital which is good, but I also have some concerns as to the durability of expected stability to be brought by this operation(s).

Later, he was happy to see the appearance of fortified checkpoints:

Instead of reinforcing checkpoints on the outer circle of Baghdad, US troops are installing concrete walls and creating designated gates around/at the entrance to localized areas where the troops alongside Iraqi forces conducted extensive cordon_and_search operations.

...Now this looks like a method that has good chances for success, and I believe the chances will be much better if US advisors keep an eye on the performance of the IP units manning these fortified check points.

It seems the common theme here is a strong continued partnership between the IA/IP and coalition forces. At the risk of talking about something I admittedly don't know much about, this is why India survived after the British left: they had a strong civil service and legal system left in place after decades of colonial rule.

It strikes me as naive beyond belief to think that we can just pull up stakes suddenly and expect the Iraqis to pull through when they have a malicious and active insurgency trying to undermine them at every turn. We may not like it, but we are in this for the long haul.

We've been training the IA, they are stepping up to the plate, and we are beginning to pull back and let them assume responsibility for their own security. But I continue to believe that we need to maintain a strong presence in the area and considering that Israel has had to deal with terrorism and terrorist acts for literally decades now, to pretend that the presence of insecurity is some barometer of impending disaster for any democracy in the Middle East rather than a normal condition for that region is really a bit rich. The truth is that democracy, especially in the Middle East, is something of a hothouse flower.

That does not mean it is no longer worth the candle, unless the United States is going to retreat from the world stage, close all our airports to incoming traffic, retire to some agrarian 18th century Jeffersonian fantasy world that no longer exists where we can place our heads firmly between our legs and bid our collective derrieres a fond adieu. The unpleasant truth is that in a world without borders, if we're not willing to fight for democracy we're likely to spend most of our time fending off attacks from the type of fundamentalist wacko who doesn't believe 'live and let live' is a winning philosophy.

Posted by Cassandra at August 19, 2006 08:51 AM


This is so much better than thinking about you slitting your wrists before dinner, dontcha think? :)

This is, I take it, a long response to Tigerhawk's question about "What to do about Iraq?"

I would only add, that until we decide what to do about the support of Syria and Iran, among others, for the "insurgency", financial and otherwise, we still have a serious strategic problem that has no clear resolution.
Brave and decent Iraqis can stand up and serve the national cause, and the great majority of Iraqis can support a democratic solution to governance, but as long as outside money is supporting and fomenting terrorism in-country, we are going to have a serious problem.

We (not me, Tonto, the US Army Special Forces), need to formulate a serious counter-insurgency operation to covertly "take out" the financial base (in Syria and Iran, and elsewhere) that supports the continued terrorism, IED's, the Mahdi army, etc. That means going over the border and (let's not parse words here) k-k-k-k-k-killing the bad guys that are supporting this from "safe havens". And that, my friends, would indeed be a dirty business.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at August 19, 2006 11:57 AM

I suppose so.


I get so tired of the knee-jerk responses on both sides, and the insults, and the shouting. And I agree, Don. You have to cut the head off the snake. People keep talking about closing the borders, but that's silly. We can't even secure our own borders.

And partitioning Iraq is equally silly. The Turks will never stand for an independent Kurdish state, as much as I hate to say that. And that is a tragedy for they really deserve it. We are not operating in a vacuum here.

I am so tired of vapid talk about bringing back Colin Powell. He was tired before he took over State. He was the least-travelled Sec. of State at the time when we most needed an active Sec. People need to stop lionizing him. He was never in control over there and the state dept. was a liability rather than an asset. Bush deserves a certain amount of blame (and I will readily assign it to him) for allowing Rumsfeld to run roughshod over Powell but for Christ's sake - did the man not have any balls? He was a 4 star general. He should have been able to handle Rumsfeld and he wasn't able to stand up to him. That alone tells you all you need to know about him and his ability and toughness. This isn't kindergarten stuff - if you can't hack it then you need to be in a sphere where your abilities mesh with the job you are doing. Powell was misplaced where he was. Period.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 12:08 PM

Pardon the caps...
Colin Powell didn't have any "balls?" Are you serious? What's "balls," dear heart? Having the temerity to speak up when you've got no political portfolio, and to wait patiently for the inevitable smack down? Is that "balls?" How about vehemently disagreeing with your civilian superiors about military tactics, but then sucking it up and putting your best proffessional face forward? "Balls?"

Yeah. Balls are underrated.
Churchill, MacArthur, Patton, Thatcher, Halsey.

I'll take one Colin Powell to ten &^%$#@ Wesley Clarks and eight Rummys.

Balls is right.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 19, 2006 03:00 PM

Pardon the explosion.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 19, 2006 03:09 PM

At that level, I would define "balls" as having enough fire in the belly to fight for the right to be in charge of your fricking Cabinet-level department, which Colin Powell signally failed to do.

I would define it as having the courage to tell your boss, privately, when he is not doing what you think is the right thing (if indeed that is what you believe) and then if you really, really, really feel strongly that that is the wrong course for the nation, turning in your resignation if he will not listen to you. And if you do not feel that strongly about it, then telling him what you think and then getting on board with his policy 100% and not undermining him to the press behind his back when you are overseas like Colin Powell did on several occasions.

That, in my opinion, mr rdr, is not "balls". It is arrogance. If you disagree with your boss, you tell him privately. If it is a serious disagreement you either make a clean break or support him.

Period. I am not a big fan of half measures and I have never gotten over sitting on a plan and watching Colin Powell backbite the President of the United States to Tim Russert. Maybe that is your idea of balls, but it certainly is not mine, nor any military person's I have ever met. That is when I washed my hands of Colin Powell once and for all.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 03:12 PM

Cassandra: I second your view of Powell. He had a long career and is probably personally courageous and smart. But tough and durable are not words that come to mind. I don't want him at the top.

He looked great in the uniform and was the sort of guy you could never dislike. The perfect planning officer. Knew everything in the manuals. No personal flaws.

None of that is bad. Few people have even his good attributes.

Posted by: K at August 19, 2006 03:17 PM

Well thanks, but I think maybe I need to learn to keep my opinions to myself :)


Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 03:30 PM

I beg to differ. "Balls" does not require one to cave to those interests to which one does not subscribe, hand in a resignation, and abandon the field. It takes far bigger balls to hang in there (Whoa! Pun!) and repeatedly make your intuitions, based upon your experience, known to those with their hands on the levers. If that advice is baldly ignored, then as a citizen you have every right to voice those concerns to any available interested party - so long as no secrets are divulged. Powell may have disagreed with administration policy towards Iraq, and God knows where we might be today had his advice, rather than Rummy's, been followed. But to tar this unabashed patriot with personal ineptitude goes too far.

Powell is no diplomatically-cocooned Warren Christopher or Madeline Albright. He is a military man deserving of our respect in his knowledge of the art of war. And though his personal view of geo-political tactics are now eclipsed in terms of this administration's agenda of "nation building," the strategic importance of Powell's doctrine of "overwhelming force" has yet to be debunked.

I refrain from the condemnation that immediate events, particularly those political, would visit upon such a servant and patriot.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 19, 2006 03:49 PM

Of course, I could be wrong.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 19, 2006 03:52 PM

Again, I think it's best if I just stay out of this.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 04:25 PM

Having read General Powell's autobiography (which, frankly, is pretty sanitized) some years ago, and also read quite a bit about his career, I would hazard several comments about him.
1) He was identified and groomed for high command and/or high office (due to his personality, abilities and intelligence) over 30 years ago (his Fellowship in the White House in the'70's when he was a Colonel).
2) He knows how the game is played, regardless of his "aw shucks, I'm just a simple soldier" humility bit.
3) The "Powell Doctrine" works great in it's frame of reference, which if my reading of American history is any guide, occurred once, and that was WWII. Frankly, we stopped short of the mark in the Gulf War of '91, because of a politcal loss of nerve on the part of Bush '41, Colin Powell and Joe Don Baker (sic) (Jim Baker).
The United States has fought in many engagements, some very important and necessary to policy (and our survival) and some, unfortunately bungled (like in Somalia), in its history, that fell well short of the "Powell" Doctrine.

Colin Powell has a lot of admirable qualities as a man and as a career officer in the US Army, but I agree with Cass. He either could not or would not wield control over his own cabinet department. My guess in part is that he inherited a bureaucratic quagmire left behind by Strobe Talbot and Madeline Alwrong, but he was never able to make the State Dept. respond to his direction, if he even tried. Dr. Rice is having the same problems now. It is difficult enough to run a government, without "free agents" at State and CIA undermining your policy whenever they feel it is appropriate by leaking "classified" information and briefings to the NY Times and the Washington Post, and undermining the stated position of the President of the US whenever they feel like it.
Spd, how would you feel if your trusted secretary kept faxing your legal briefs and notes to your courtroom opposition whenever she felt that you were holding an "incorrect" position on a legal matter?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at August 19, 2006 04:28 PM

Boy is my self-control being severely tested today.

I'm sure spd would have no problem with that. After all, she's a citizen too. Aren't we all?

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2006 04:35 PM

Yeah, okay, my brothers and sisters.
Y'all dance with the one who brought you.
I've got me my own dance card.
And there's more than a few spaces to be filled.

No offense meant, and I hope none taken. I'm just disgusted with the *&@#&% bunch of them.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 19, 2006 04:58 PM

I agree with you there, to a certain degree. It's certainly hard to discern exactly WHAT some of our government apparatchniks really intend, with the level of "doublespeak" now presently in vogue.
At another level of masochism, I also "enjoy" having these debates with my pot-smoking hillbilly brother-in-law, who is convinced that GWB was in cahoots with the Saudis and Bin Laden to bring down the WTC and have this GWOT to increase oil company profits. He was pretty sure in May that gas would be $3.50 or $4 a gallon right now. "They're killing us!" was his reference to Bush specifically and Republicans in general. He votes Democrat, I think.
Oh, and he works for KBR (Kellogg, Brown and Root), which is a division of Halliburton, so he also hates himself for not getting a better job. :-)

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at August 19, 2006 06:12 PM


I'd like to take a moment to pay you an off-topic, yet somewhat related, compliment.

I've only been reading your blog for a few days now, but I've noticed a differennce between it and other conservatice-leaning blogs run by wives of servicemen. Moist of the other blogs are run by women who are using them as forums for dealing with the feelings and trials caused specifically by their husbands' enlistments and/or deployments. There's nothing wrong with that -- it's an understandable reaction to a really crappy situation. But it has struck me that the emotions that these women are feeling taint even their political commentaries. I don't want to sound sexist, because I don't think it's a result of their gender, I think it's a resuylt of their circumstances. Hell, if my WIFE were in the military, I'd probably be one of them.

But you seem to have found an apprpriate level of dispassion -- yeah, I know you're a military weife, and I know that that fact informs your views, but I've also been struck by the levbel of thought and reason you put into your poists, and the level of intellectual, tactical, and even strategic comprehension you display in your posts -- you don't just support your husband, it's obvious you "get" what he does. My hat id off to you.

Posted by: Brian B at August 20, 2006 03:09 AM

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