January 29, 2008

Surge to Victory?

As Colin Kahl explained, correctly, in Middle East Policy, the recent drop in violence in Iraq can be chalked up to four things:

1. The Surge and the new U.S. population-centric counterinsurgency strategy and tactics.
2. The fact that Moqtada al-Sadr has, largely, stayed out of the fight.
3. The fact that the U.S. has co-opted or bought off Sunni tribes, who themselves have gotten sick of al-Qaeda. (The "Sunni Awakening")
4. The fact that, sadly, most of the sectarian cleansing that was to take place has taken place already.

By Abu Muqawama's math, the U.S. is directly responsible for at least half of those things -- #1 and #2 and maybe #3. (And through 3+ years of bumbling, maybe #4 as well.) That means the U.S. has gotten a lot smarter about fighting this war in Iraq. Having said that, it had always been the position of this blogger that the transitory military gains achieved in Iraq mean nothing so long as concrete political compromises and reforms do not follow. (Bing West and Max Boot have more on Iraq's No. 1 Problem, via the invaluable SWJ blog.) So if, by chance, you happen to be the one viable presidential candidate who supported the Surge from Day One, you might want to, you know, tone down the rhetoric. Just a suggestion. Sir.

Mark Perry, meanwhile, has an interesting, generals' eye-view of the debate on Iraq and the Surge in Asia Times. Some of you Hizbollah-watchers know Mark from his three-part piece, with Alistair Crooke, on Hizbollah and the 2006 War. What Abu Muqawama did not know until recently is that Alistair Crooke is based in Beirut, while Mark is based in and reports from DC. Mark has particularly harsh words for Jack Keane:

Keane's intervention with Bush to shift American policy was so far outside of military tradition as to be virtually unprecedented. In only one other case - when Maxwell Taylor was named to replace Lyman Lemnitzer by John F Kennedy as Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) chairman in 1962 - has a retired officer intervened so publicly to shift American policy. "Jack Keane was way out of line," a retired four-star army officer who served as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander says. "He's a first-class self-promoter, one of the army's real kiss-ups." [Gen. Jones, is that you? --AM]

In essence, the case against Keane, repeated now by the coterie of retired senior officers, is that "Keane pulled a Taylor" - that, in the words of a retired four-star officer "it looks as if he wanted to get back into the JCS - that he wanted to get his boy [General David] Petraeus a good job".

Keane's pride in his role and in Petraeus' success was on full view during his armed services testimony. But his reading of what went right in Iraq and why is at odds with narrative accounts of on-the-ground American combat officers, and tilted to give himself, Petraeus and the "surge" strategy full credit for what Keane called "a remarkably successful military campaign that will be studied for years".

According to Keane, the violence in Iraq only began to go down "after all the troops were in place" - the implication being that a flood of US soldiers intimidated and scattered insurgent forces, an argument he emphasized by saying that, until he and Petraeus arrived on the scene, and given the Pentagon a dose of backbone, the war was lost. "We had never taken on defeating the insurgency," he said, "we had always left that up to the Iraqis" - a statement that will, no doubt, come as a shock to those marines of the First Marine Expeditionary Force who fought house-to-house in Fallujah in April of 2004, as well as to the families of those soldiers who lost their lives serving under Petraeus' predecessors.

It is such statements that make Keane one of the most reviled figures in the military community, and that does no favors for his protege, Petraeus, who must remain in uniform - and deal with the senior commanders whom Keane regularly insults.

The differences between Keane and McCaffrey are stark: where Keane is proud and ready to declare victory, McCaffrey is analytical, careful and intent to tell anyone who will listen of the obstacles that remain. While "AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] has been defeated," McCaffrey says, "there are still 3,000 attacks per month against US, coalition and Iraq forces. There is still a civil war going on."

Read the full articles here: Part I; Part II