March 24, 2008

AEI: The Way Forward in Iraq

Fred Kagan was on the Charlie Rose Show last week talking about the Surge and Iraq. It really annoys Abu Muqawama how Kagan can't bring himself to ever criticize our efforts in Iraq prior to the Surge. He says we pursued a very "sophisticated" but ultimately inappropriate COIN strategy prior to the surge. C'mon, man, just admit we screwed a lot of stuff up in the years before the surge and, over time, gradually got better and better at COIN until the stage was set for the kind of population-centric plan executed by LTG Odierno's team in 2007. It's not like we just alternated from one awesome plan to the next awesome plan until we finally found one that worked. We screwed up. A lot. Abu Muqawama himself screwed up. Just be honest and admit it.

Since Fred Kagan and AEI have apparently exerted a lot of influence on the White House's thought process on Iraq, though, it makes sense that we all buckle down and read their latest report, issued today, on the way forward. Abu Muqawama has just read the executive summary and agrees with the emphasis on the important provincial elections coming up this fall. But two things jumped out at Abu Muqawama:

1. Where is the regional context, gang? You can't recommend that 15 brigades stay in Iraq through January 2009 with the possibility of a mini-surge in the summer or fall without taking the situation in and needs of Afghanistan into serious consideration. (Or maybe you can. But you shouldn't. And if this is mentioned in the full report which Abu Muqawama has not read yet, apologies.)

2. What's going on with this paragraph?

The growth of anti-Iranian sentiment in both Sunni and Shiite Arab communities in Iraq holds out the possibility that Iraq can become a bulwark against Iranian aims in the region, and that Iraq can, with American support, return to its role of balancing Iranian power without being the regional threat it had become under Saddam Hussein.

Look, Fred, try selling this snake oil to an American mother whose son is in Baghdad right now. She ain't buying. Creating a bulwark against Iranian influence, while nice, isn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq. It was never part of the deal struck with the American people and was no where on the list of reasons for going to war. There are a lot of good reasons for staying in Iraq, in numbers, but this isn't one of them.

Update: Abu Muqawama just searched the entire document for any mention of Afghanistan and only found one mention of substance: Kagan & Co. claim Iraq -- and not just Afghanistan -- is very much the front lines in the war against al-Qaeda. Okay, Abu Muqawama isn't buying. That may have been true in 2006, but the al-Qaeda threat is greatly reduced in Iraq these days. Surely there are a lot more al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan than there are in Iraq, yes? And while the folks at AEI seem to agree we are winning in Iraq -- Kagan even goes so far as to say on Charlie Rose that the situation isn't even fragile anymore -- no one mentions that we are very much losing in Afghanistan. So why is Afghanistan still an economy of force mission? And how can you recommend a plan for Iraq without also considering the needs of the mission in Afghanistan? Maddening.