Monday, June 18, 2007

"It's So Irresponsible That They Can't Be Quiet for Six or Nine Months"

Technorati Tags: , ,

Remember those words? William Kristol said them on the January 21 edition of Fox News Sunday. He was referring to critics of Pres. Bush's then-proposed surge:

They’re playing — they’re leap-frogging each other in the degrees of irresponsibility they’re willing to advocate. And I really think people are being too sort of complacent and forgiving almost of the Democrats. ‘Oh, it’s politics, of course. One of them has a non-binding resolution. The other has a cap.’ It’s all totally irresponsible. It’s just unbelievable. The president is sending over a new commander, he’s sending over troops, and the Democratic Congress, in a pseudo-binding way or non-binding way, is saying, ‘It won’t work. Forget it. You troops, you’re going over there in a pointless mission. Iraqis who might side with us, forget it, we’re going to pull the plug.’ It’s so irresponsible that they can’t be quiet for six or nine months and say the president has made a decision, we’re not going to change that decision, we’re not going to cut off funds and insist on the troops coming back, so let’s give it a chance to work. You really wonder, do they want it to work or not? I really wonder that. I hate to say this about the Democrats. They’re people I know personally and I respect some of them. Do they want it to succeed or not?

Well, now Gen. David Petraeus has confirmed what the rest of us knew in January: William Kristol and his fellow travelers were full of crap then, and they're full of crap now:

Conditions in Iraq will not improve sufficiently by September to justify a drawdown of U.S. military forces, the top commander in Iraq said yesterday.

Asked whether he thought the job assigned to an additional 30,000 troops deployed as the centerpiece of President Bush's new war strategy would be completed by then, Gen. David H. Petraeus replied: "I do not, no. I think that we have a lot of heavy lifting to do."

Now the argument is that we have to stay in Iraq for another nine or 10 years:

Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, his diplomatic counterpart in Baghdad, said a key report they will deliver to Washington in September will include what Crocker called "an assessment of what the consequences might be if we pursue other directions." Noting the "unhelpful roles" being played by Iran and Syria in Iraq, Crocker said: "We've got to consider what could happen."

Comments by Petraeus on "Fox News Sunday" and Crocker on NBC's "Meet the Press" were an indication of the administration's evolving strategy for confronting rising congressional demands to begin planning troop withdrawals. In addition to warning about the possible regional consequences of withdrawal, both men emphasized a "mixed" picture on the ground, citing successes while acknowledging the difficulty of the task ahead.

Asserting steady, albeit slow, military and political progress, Petraeus said that the "many, many challenges" would not be resolved "in a year or even two years." Similar counterinsurgency operations, he said, citing Britain's experience in Northern Ireland, "have gone at least nine or 10 years." He said he and Crocker would make "some recommendations on the way ahead" to Congress, and that it was realistic to assume "some form of long-term security arrangement" with Iraq.

In this way, the surge's failure to accomplish what its proponents said it would accomplish becomes the central argument for continuing the surge. Frederick Kagan, the man who proudly and modestly bears the title of "surge architect," gives us a masterful demonstration of this strategy: He tells Time's Michael Duffy that conditions in and around Baghdad have improved significantly; then he warns that the level of violence is likely to rise over the summer; and finally he concludes that more time is needed to determine if the surge is succeeding:
Walking a reporter through what he believes to be the situation on the ground, Kagan unrolled two maps of greater Baghdad and delivered a before-and-after briefing on the surge. On the positive side of the ledger, Kagan said he saw three developments since the roughly 30,000 additional troops went into position in and around the Iraqi capital.

First, Kagan claims there has been a notable shift in attitudes among Sunni factions toward the U.S. and against al-Qaeda. Kagan ticked off a number of neighborhoods where local Sunni leaders have joined forces with U.S. troops to attack al- Qaeda cells. Kagan called that development, which he said he did not foresee, "a huge thing."

Second, he said there has been a drop in sectarian violence since U.S. forces increased their numbers in the Iraqi capital. He noted that the trend line for violence before the surge was pointing steeply up. Now, he said, that trend has not only leveled off but has dropped. "The question before was whether the civil war could be slowed," said Kagan. "Now the question is, can we end it?"

Third, Kagan saw progress in an unlikely quarter: the Iraqi Army. He claimed that those forces are increasing in professionalism and number.

Not everyone agrees with those claims. Pentagon officials recently told Congress that many Iraqi units are operating at only partial strength and that their numbers dwindle with each successive rotation through Baghdad. And while sectarian violence is lower than it was before the surge, there has been a spike upward lately. U.S. casualties, meanwhile, are rising. And there is widespread agreement that other Iraqi security forces, notably the police, are infiltrated by insurgents.

While predicting a violent summer, Kagan said the violence should "start to go down" in a few months. He does not expect it to be over by September, but said there should be visible trends in that direction. He admitted, however, that the insurgents get a vote in how this unfolds as well.

He said that he was looking for more Sunni leaders to reach out to U.S. forces in the coming months, and for a continued weakening of the Shi'a militias.

But none of these is guaranteed, he admitted, and he warned of possible developments that could be a harbinger of failure. A "spectacular attack by al-Qaeda" could spark a wider spiral of violence that would be hard to extinguish, he said. "They have tried it before, and they will try it again." He also fears a significant increase in Iranian support for those fighting U.S. forces. Finally, he noted that the shaky government of Nouri al-Maliki could just implode.

While that might not end the cause of progress in Iraq, Kagan said, it could lead to something worse for those who believed a surge would lead to a stabilization of Iraq: a breakdown in political support for the war effort in Washington.

Got that? Lack of progress in Iraq might not end the cause of progress in Iraq. But here is the worst thing that could happen if the surge does turn out to be a complete and utter failure: Hundreds of American troops and Iraqi civilians will be dead Frederick Kagan and his fellow warmongers will lose political support for continuing the war.

No comments: