April 07, 2008

Questions for General Petraeus

In advance of Gen. Petraeus's testimony, we here at Abu Muqawama have put together a list of questions we would ask the good general if we were important. Or, failing that, U.S. senators.

1. Strategy is about time and space. The surge was a strategy designed to buy time and space for Iraq’s political leaders to make critical political concessions that would allow the U.S. military to gradually begin its withdrawal from the country. Amid the well-deserved praise for the U.S. military’s new population-centric counter-insurgency tactics, have the political concessions taken place that allow the surge to be considered a strategic success?

2. To what degree did last week’s fighting in Basra and Baghdad erase the security gains that have been achieved since October 2006? And how would you describe the fighting? Was the fighting acts precipitated against the legitimate government of Iraq by Iranian-supported militias or was it intra-Shia fighting intended by Prime Minister Maliki to set the stage for this fall’s provincial elections?

3. Recent Senate testimony by General William Odom and journalist Nir Rosen presented a portrait of Iraq that is at odds with the more rosy picture painted by the Bush Administration. General Odom has said “the decline in violence reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strong men who distrust the government and occasionally fight among themselves. Thus the basic military situation is far worse because of the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political bosses. This can hardly be called greater military stability, much less progress toward political consolidation, and to call it fragility that needs more time to become success is to ignore its implications.” How do you respond to this?

4. An upcoming report by the Center for a New American Security recommends a policy of “conditional engagement” in Iraq designed to apply leverage to Iraq’s political leadership and hasten U.S. troop withdrawals if goals for political reconciliation and reform are not met. Do you think such a plan linking U.S. troop levels with political progress is a good idea, or does Iraq’s political leadership deserve more time before such goals can be set?

5. U.S. military leaders are reportedly growing increasingly frustrated by Iranian involvement in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi Army units. Should the U.S. take a more aggressive approach toward Iran, or does Iran not represent the kind of strategic and enduring threat to American security posed by transnational terror groups like al-Qaeda?

6. Recently, your image and person has been appropriated by conservative groups such as Freedom’s Watch to support the policies of the Bush Administration. Although there is little you can do about such groups from Baghdad, it is hard to imagine George C. Marshall having allowed his image and person to have been similarly used for political purposes during the Second World War. Do you worry that you, personally, are being politicized by the administration and its supporters?

7. Finally, Charlie asks, How do we know if we're losing? How do we know if our strategy is not working? Is it falsifiable?