I think Gen. Martin Dempsey really hit it out of the park in Tuesday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Here is his meditation on two of the big lessons he learned in Iraq.
So I would -- I would -- looking back on it, at least my own personal view about Iraq in 2003 was that Iraq had a particular problem, and it was a regime that was destabilizing in the region and that we should take action, that -- it was my recommendation that we should take action to change the dynamic inside of Iraq and that the region itself would become more stable. I'm not sure it turned out that way. I mean, it probably -- it is, but it didn't happen exactly as we intended it, and that's because I don't think we understood -- let me put it differently. I didn't understand the dynamic inside that country, particularly with regard to the various sects of Islam that fundamentally, on occasion, compete with each other for dominance in Islam, and so -- Shia, the Shia sect of Islam, the Sunni sect of Islam -- when we took the lid off of that, I think we learned some things that -- and I'm not sure we could have learned them any other way.
I don't know, I've reflected about that a lot, but I've learned that issues don't exist in isolation. They're always complex. And I've been scarred by rereading a quote from Einstein, who said if you have an hour to save the world, spend 55 minutes of it understanding the problem and five minutes of it trying to solve it. And I think sometimes, in particular as a military culture, we don't have that ratio right. We tend to spend 55 minutes trying to -- how to solve the problem and five minutes understanding it. That's one of the big lessons for me in developing leaders for the future, not only in the Army but, if confirmed, in the joint force.
Another one is the degree to which military operations in particular, but probably all of them, have been decentralized. You know, you'll hear it called various things: decentralized, distributed operations, empowering the edge. Whatever we call it, we have pushed enormous capability, responsibility and authority to the edge, to captains and sergeants of all services. And yet our leader development paradigms really haven't changed very much. They are beginning to change, but I think that second lesson on the enormous responsibility that we put on our subordinates' shoulders has to be followed with a change in the way we prepare them to accept that responsibility.
I think those would be the two big lessons for me."
He also referred to H.R. McMaster as "probably our best brigadier general." Good for him.
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Naval History and Heritage Command
ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
And, as I paid $71.38 to fill my Toyota Highlander's gas tank this week, I thought that this also is a question that hits close to home. I think U.S.-Saudi relations are going to get real interesting in the coming months. Mega-reporter Karen DeYoung has an interesting article about a supposedly conciliatory letter President Obama has sent to Saudi King Abdullah. But I think the Saudis sense (correctly) that Obama's heart is not on their side. They saw how he jumped on the freedom train in his Libya speech, and they fear that train is steaming straight at Riyadh.
By Charles A. Krohn
Best Defense guest columnist
How can an informed American keep his or her head from spinning out of control, given reports of Mideast violence and conflicting claims from good guys and bad?
One day we are mesmerized by demonstrations in Cairo that Egyptian youth hope will herald in a new era of democracy and domestic tranquility. The next day we learn that the Islamic Brotherhood that earlier shunned revolution and kept its distance from rebels is now supporting elections later this year. Is it possible that some Islamics hope to gain power via the ballot box? In the meantime, rebels who toppled the Musharraf regime are back in the streets, calling for the ouster of army leadership, based on the army's repression of new demonstrations. Can "students" really challenge the institutional army with any realistic hopes of winning? If not, are endless demonstrations the wave of the future?
Who will stand and tell us what Egypt will look like in a year, maybe less? I don't expect to see any official predictions in writing, given the political differences, social mess and regional psychology.
Meanwhile, it looks like the outcome of the civil war in Libya is far from certain, downgrading the ebullience of the rebels and their allies, including the United States, of just a week ago, when it appeared the rebels' path to Tripoli was nearly open. At what point does President Obama decide who will have access to the estimated $100 billion in Libyan assets frozen in the rush to isolate Qaddafi?
Should Qaddafi win the civil war, which appears likely at the moment, some international precedent must exist that will refund the money to the legal head of state. And can we deny he's the head of state, if the rebels only control a small portion of the country? Should the plan to topple Qaddafi fail, seizing Libyan assets only to release them will make us look pretty silly. But all things being equal, the silliness may be lost in the noise level of setbacks elsewhere. Will the European interest fade or mobilize?
The news from Afghanistan is mixed, at best, and it's not much better from Pakistan. The hard part for many is to separate the linkage to identify winners and losers. It seems we may not have visibility into the process for years to come. That may be the best case, because it looks like our ability to influence the outcome is waning by the hour. I wish this weren't the case. General Petraeus is a great warrior, and certainly a model of honor, but he's no sorcerer, dammit.
I was intrigued to read this novel about that odd first year of the Iraq war. You remember -- that time back when Donald Rumsfeld insisted there really was no insurgency and some people still said we'd find that WMD any day now.
I enjoyed reading it, which I did in one day, thanks in part to the slow collapse of the Washington, D.C. Metro system, which took 90 minutes to get me home the other day. Crossing the Wire is mainly fun, especially if you were there back then. It is an ambitious, uneven novel, but so are a lot others, including the one I published. A sample of Kornhiser's dialogue, involving the hero, an officer repeatedly described as "the oldest lieutenant in the Army":
"...watch the goddamn friendly fire."
"You guys are supposed to like me."
"We do. That's why we missed."
It doesn't all work. Some bits are slow, even skippable. And several parts, especially about the Iraqi woman, struck me as more dream-like than realistic. (On the other hand, the summer of 2003 in Baghdad was pretty much like a bad dream.) But he's trying. I can't think of another novel on the war in Iraq, or at least one I enjoyed reading.
Here is another bit of soldiers' dialogue:
"Card's wife is adulerating with a Wal-Mart manager," Phillips kind of giggled.
"She got a right. Look at it this way, Card. She's keepin' the machine well oiled for the return of the hero."
Anyone know of other novels (not memoirs, I've read tons) about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan?
(And yeah, no mention of the State of the Union in the blog today. One of the nice things about not having a boss is not having to write about stuff that I find boring.)
Personally, I wish the general worried a bit more about the damage done to America by the government's embrace of torture as a policy under President Bush.
By Amanda Pfabe
Best Defense All American roving correspondent
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, spoke the other day at Johns Hopkins University's Rethinking Seminar about six security concerns that would keep him up at night were he still in the government. All six, he said, have a degree of imminence to them:
No. 1: Proliferation (specifically concerning Iran)
Hayden noted that answering questions pertaining to Iranian nuclear capabilities is easier to do than articulating how the Iranian government makes decisions. No one seems to know who or what influences policy. The confusion and mixed messages coming from Tehran surrounding the detention of the three American hikers, two of whom are still being held in Iran, in 2009 underscores the fact that Iran is a fully functioning society with a fully dysfunctional government.
His scary bottom line: Iran's quest to obtain nuclear weapons is a means to deterring the United States. Attempts to affect their nuclear capability, such as Stuxnet, will simply make them more committed to that quest.
No. 2: China
Hayden was quick to explain that China is not necessarily an enemy, as there are "logical non-heroic policies available to both sides" that can prevent conflicts. However, China's recent international behavior, such as the Chinese fishing boat's collision with Japanese coast guard vessels, can be described as triumphal and akin to that of a teenager whose strength has outstripped his judgment, experience, and wisdom. Several structural problems, including its uneven distribution of wealth, gender imbalance, and environmental disasters, promise to cause growing pains for China as it continues its ascent. Moreover, the legitimacy of the Communist Party governance is based on an unsustainable ten percent GDP growth per year.
Meanwhile, Joel Wing peers into the murky issue of who in the Iraqi government let those al Qaeda guys escape from jail in Basra. Certainly not one of our allies!
MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images
I was sitting around with my CNAS colleagues the other day, jiving about Stuxnet and other fun cyberwar stuff. I was thinking about how the Stuxnet raid on Iran blurs the line of warfare. That is, no one has declared war, but what happened was indeed a kind of assault.
As it happens, I am in the midst of reading a manuscript by an old friend that gets into a lot of the French and Indian War. One reason that conflict bears that name is that the French (like the English, who didn't do it as well) used the Indians to blur the line, conducting raids during peacetime, with plausible deniability. I didn't know, for example, that the famous and bloody Indian raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704 was organized by French commanders and launched from near Quebec.
It all makes me wonder if cyberwar is the Indian ally of the 21st century -- often helpful, but sometimes troublesome, especially if you are on the receiving end.
Some random Iraq thoughts:
ESSAM -AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images
For starters, anyone confused by Hizballah's relations to Amal would do well to think of Hassan Nasrallah as Marlo Stanfield and Nabih Berri as Avon Barksdale. The Stanfield crew never really destroyed the Barksdale crew -- they never really needed to. They just fought a series of conflicts and gradually displaced them as time went on. They're all West Side guys, just one crew is leaner and meaner than the other, and those who never grew comfortable with the new power order -- the Bodie's of Lebanon, if you will -- were eventually dealt with. The IDF is Officer Colicchio.
What worries me: Who in Beirut is Snoop, that scary girl who used the nail gun?
Anthony Shadid, the best Sadr-watcher among journalists, senses that Moqtada al-Sadr is going down the Hezbollah road -- that is, one wing inside the government, another wing, still armed, outside it.
In fact, it was hard not to draw at least superficial comparisons to another Arab Shiite movement, Lebanon's Hezbollah; both navigate political, social and military identities and have built personality cults around their leaders, junior clerics who rose to prominence as politicians."
Mookie gave a speech in Najaf on Saturday, then toured Karbala on Sunday. Looks like a victory lap to me.
(HT to PC)
Mookie is back in Iraq.
Relevantly, Joel Wing analyzes rumors that Maliki promised the Sadrists the governorships of four southern provinces in Iraq. "On the other hand," Wing notes soberly, "he could renege on his promises as he's done with others in the past."
Move along, nothing to see here, says the vice president. Joe Biden assures the Wall Street Journal's hard-working Gerald Seib that, "The really untold story here is the Iranians had virtually no influence." That would be good news if it were true. But given Biden's multi-year track record as a counter-indicator on events in Iraq … I mean, wrong in '91, wrong in '03, wrong in '07.
Here is Wing's told ya so, Joe.
One of my favorite analysts of Iraqi affairs is Toby Dodge, who manages to bring perspective others lack. I think over the last year he has been a bit more optimistic than I about where Iraq is going, so I was interested to see that his new analysis is pretty pessimistic. He weighs the new political situation in the balance and finds it wanting:
Those in Baghdad and across the northwest of the country who put aside their scepticism about the post-2003 political settlement are going to get precious little for their vote in March. The grave danger is that a fairly remarkable level of political mobilisation in the national elections will mutate into a justifiable sense of alienation, anger and possibly a return to political violence sustained by a widespread support base who once again feel excluded from national politics.
It seems to me that the only way to avoid this destabilising outcome is to give major spending ministries to senior members of Iraqiyya in the cabinet negotiations that will unfold over the next 30 days.
Either way, the events of last week have not been good for the sustainability of post-regime-change Iraqi politics.
(HT to JW)
These are the most requested books at a store in Amman, Jordan, that specializes in banned books:
Interesting that religion and culture play the role there that books about sex once did here.
By Elbridge Colby
Best Defense containment bureau chief
In a widely-reported speech on Nov. 8 to the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly reasserted his view that "[c]ontainment will not work against Iran" and therefore that "the only responsible policy is to prevent [Iran] from developing atomic bombs in the first place." Netanyahu left no doubt that he advocates the use of military force to achieve that goal. Nor is Netanyahu alone in promoting this view, not only in Israel and in the United States but elsewhere -- for example, the UAE's ambassador recently did so.
Without question, preventing an Iranian nuclear capability should be the objective of Washington and the international community, but is Netanyahu right that seeking to contain a nuclear Iran would be worse than taking military action to prevent Tehran from acquiring such weapons?
Most arguments against using military force to stop Iran's nuclear program focus on the costs to us, but the truth is that a bombing campaign is not actually necessary. Rather, there is good reason to believe that Washington, Tel Aviv, and their associates can deter Iran from transgressing their vital interests even if Tehran gets a nuclear weapon. Why? Containment or deterrence requires, inter alia:
- A regime whose behavior can be substantially influenced by credible threats and which values certain things that can be held at risk of damage or destruction;
- That the demands of the deterring party are tolerable to the targeted country, given the scale of the threat issued;
- And that this threat is backed by real capability and will.
U.S. and Israeli containment of a nuclear Iran would satisfy these criteria. First, the Iranian regime is malevolent, but it is not crazy. The regime in Tehran is dangerous, but experience and common sense indicate that it is sufficiently rational to understand the calculus of cost and benefit. Second, Tehran is vulnerable -- that is, the Iranians have much that they value that the United States and Israel can hold at risk. Third, the United States, Israel, and their associates clearly have the capabilities to follow through on their threats; indeed, the military balance, especially at the higher levels of warfare, is drastically tilted in the West's direction. Fourth, what we would ask for is reasonable; the vital interests that Washington, Tel Aviv, and their associates would demand a nuclear Iran not transgress are essentially status quo and would not need to involve the forced transformation of the Iranian regime.
Let's explore these points:
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a report from my CNAS colleague Jessica Ramirez, who the other day got up way early to go have breakfast with old Ryan Crocker.
By Jessica Ramirez
Best Defense breakfast club
Amid the smell of bacon and eggs at the Center for Strategic International Studies, the former ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, gave his two cents on Iraq's way forward at an event entitled, Iraq's Future: Stability, Security, and U.S. Policy. His presentation included a laundry list of some of the internal challenges facing the Iraqi government, or what passes for one. Among the challenges discussed were Kurdish-Arab tensions, economic and social development, internally displaced refugees, an imbalanced civilian-military relationship, and internal border disputes. As Crocker pointed out, "overlaying all of this is a profound trust deficit." Fear continues to dominate the society at every level and fosters a "you or me" mentality with an aversion to compromise or brokered solutions. This all-or-nothing game can be seen in the current gridlock in the formation of the Iraqi government, now stalemated for the seventh month. Crocker averred confidence that the formation will happen, and when it does the product will be headed by Maliki. However, the more interesting story will be what concessions and political arrangements will be made to get from here to there.
Moving from internal challenges to regional issues, Crocker assessed, "It's a tough region and the neighbors are looking for payback time." Among the regional influences on Iraq are Iran, Turkey, and Syria. These adversaries are counting on the United States to lose patience and when it does they will be there to fill the vacuum.
The consensus in the room was clear: Iraq is not getting the attention it deserves and it needs to return to the forefront. This view sharply contrasts with that of the 99.999% of the U.S. population that wasn't in the room, with 70% of Americans saying they do not want to hear about Iraq anymore. This is counter to the fact that nearly 60% of Iraqis believe it is a huge mistake for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. These startling percentages need to be addressed by the administration and Congress without delay. Any hesitation now will translate into severe future implications, especially in terms of the budget and shrinking public support. It is evident that Iraq would like to see a visible U.S. military presence, the U.S. play the role of a deterrent to other regional players, and U.S. military advising and training. In order for the U.S. to even come close to fulfilling those needs the administration needs to ask itself what priorities it is willing to give up to continue commitments made to Iraq.
Whether you tend to be a glass half-full person who is happy with what has been accomplished by the Iraqi government in terms of oil contracts or a glass half-empty kind of person frustrated at the continued sectarian tensions and inability to form a government, the bottom line is that it is imperative the U.S. take concrete steps to ensure its commitment to Iraq now and in the future. The debate over whether we should've or shouldn't have gone into Iraq is trivial. We did. Now we need to prepare to stand by Iraq in its path towards stability.
Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images
Maybe I'm going soft, but the Wikileaks dump kind of makes me ill. The whole situation strikes me as a bit sordid. I worry that great newspapers are getting played. If the leaks brought great revelations, I might think differently, but so far I don't think I have been surprised by a single thing I've read. Civilian contractors shooting up people, Arab-Kurd tensions, abuse of prisoners, Rumsfeld in denial, Iranian meddling, Maliki paranoid? At this late date, that's the full-house Iraqi version of a dog bites man story. (Or maybe a book.)
Here is an attempt to argue the opposing viewpoint. But I still say that adding mayonnaise doesn't turn chicken shit into chicken salad. Here's my test: Tell me one thing we didn't know last week that we know now about the Iraq war.
One of the ironclad rules of Middle Eastern politics is that the Kurds seem to lose in the end. This article, announcing a forthcoming Iranian campaign against the Kurds, suggests that we might be entering that phase of the Iraqi drama.
Kurdistan KURD كوردستان كردستان ا /flickr
The note below, from a friend in the Army, is interesting. The Army is formally stating that of course combat is continuing in Iraq, and indeed it is "prevalent." It is unusual for the Army to come right out and say the emperor has no clothes, but I think it had to in this case, because soldiers take medals seriously.
A little over a month ago, we watched the last combat unit (Brigade Combat Team or BCT) leave Iraq. It even occurred a few days earlier than the deadline. Of course, we all know that there are still close to 50,000 U.S. service members in Iraq, predominantly in what are now known as AABs (or Advise and Assist Brigades).
However, if one reads the ALARACT (All Army Activities) and MILPER (Military Personnel) messages concerning Operation New Dawn, one has to wonder if combat operations are really over or not.
For example, here is part of the message concerning wartime awards and badges (emphasis is mine):
"ALARACT 314/2010 CLARIFICATION ON WARTIME AWARDS AND BADGES FOR OPERATION NEW DAWN, DTG 051621Z OCT 10.
This message provides clarification on the awarding of wartime awards and badges for Operation New Dawn (OND). Effective 1 Sep 10, OND began signifying an end to combat operations in Iraq. However, combat conditions are still prevalent. Due to the nature of combat conditions, wartime awards will continue to be issued in theater until a date to be determined. Commanders will continue to process retroactive award recommendation through their peacetime chain of command to…"
So, we aren't executing combat operations, BUT we still have combat conditions. In conjunction with this, Hostile Fire Pay (rightly, in my mind) continues to be paid to those serving in Iraq and environs.
Another example… this one concerns expeditionary and service medals (emphasis is again mine):
"MILPER MESSAGE NUMBER 10-261 OPERATION NEW DAWN - REVISED CAMPAIGN, EXPEDITIONARY AND SERVICE MEDAL POLICY, ISSUED: [05 OCT 10].
This message provides revised campaign, expeditionary and service medal policy for Operation New Dawn (OND). On Feb 17, 10, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum to change the name of OIF to OND. This memorandum incorporates OND into DOD policy for award of the ICM, GWOTEM, and GWOTSM. OND will not mark the beginning of a new campaign phase for the ICM. See the message for more information."
I find the second one interesting in that the change from OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) to OND isn't even considered a new campaign phase for the Iraqi Campaign Medal. Interesting indeed.
I have no idea what is going on Iraq politically as we head into the seventh month of mucking around trying to form a government. Minor violence continues. U.S. troops are still getting shot at. And there is more evidence that Iran won the war in Iraq. Fouad Ajami says on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal that we are not to worry -- but are we to take his advice, given his "they'll greet us with flowers" track record? I mean, this is the guy Cheney cited in his August 2002 VFW speech in which, for the first time in U.S. history, a vice president took it upon himself to declare war. Anyway, the fact that Mookie is the kingmaker in Iraq now tells me that Prof. Ajami is whistling past the graveyard. The news side of the Wall Street Journal reports that, "A senior leader in Mr. Maliki's party said Mr. Sadr's movement had demanded key ministries, a 25 percent quota of all government jobs, including in the army and police, and the release of more than one thousand of his followers from prison." In other words, worry. It will be interesting to see the relationship between American advisors and units commanded by Sadrists. ("Hey, were you at the Route Gold all-night firefight back in spring 2004? So was I!") And Jwing says that Iran has activated a new Special Group in Iraq.
Thinking of the politics of Iraq, as we wait for a government to form, reminds me of Hilaire Belloc's little poem about "The Dromedary":
The Dromedary is a cheerful bird:
I cannot say the same about the Kurd.
Maybe this is a response to the FATA-lism of Pakistani officials.
Meanwhile, Iran crossed into Iraq to hit people it says were responsible for bombing a military parade in northwest Iraq the other day.
Makes me feel a bit like Rodney King.
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos/flickr
By Zachary Hosford
Best Defense nuclear warfare correspondent
As diplomacy falters and the potential for an Iranian nuclear weapon edges closer, public discourse has increasingly focused on U.S. and Israeli options for preventing such an outcome by other means. And of late, the option most thoroughly debated in government and on the pages of the policy journals is an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
With his recent National Interest article and last week's accompanying talk to a small group of journalists, academics, and think tank analysts in the journal's Nixon Center office space, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, veteran policy advisor, and current Brookings senior fellow, not only predicted that an Israeli attack on Iran would be calamitous but added that preventing it would require us to turn our focus from Iran's nuclear program to Israel's.
But first things first. Should Israel attempt to delay the Iranian program by force, he said, the result would be particularly disastrous for the United States. Iran, at the very least, would view an Israeli attack as being American-enabled-and perhaps explicitly approved -- which would prompt the regime in Tehran to retaliate directly against U.S. interests in the region. The drawdown of combat forces in Iraq as well as ongoing operations in Afghanistan would likely become significantly more challenging as Iran maximized its considerable influence in both countries.
So, Reidel continued, how can Washington forestall an Israeli attack? Sure, President Barack Obama could tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to strike Iran, promise to withhold the "IFF" codes identifying attacking Israeli jets as friendlies to the U.S. military aircraft patrolling the Middle East's skies, and threaten to reduce or halt Israel's annual military aid dollars, but these actions -- even if successful -- could only supplement a more substantial and lasting approach.
The crux of Riedel's argument? Convince Israel that it is safe to abandon its decades-long policy of maintaining a monopoly on Middle Eastern nuclear weapons. This argument might be easier for Americans to swallow, but if the goal is to dissuade the Israelis from attacking Iran, it will be a tough sell.
Riedel reaches back to deterrence theory by proposing that the United States offer Israel the benefits of American nuclear umbrella. This, of course, only works if those with their fingers on the hypothetical Iranian nuclear button are rational, and Riedel's mention of the Netanyahu quote claiming Iran is "crazy" casts doubt on the views of the Israeli leadership, to say the least.
Though Riedel could very well be accurate in his analysis, in order to keep his deterrence argument intact he needs to downplay the possibility that Iran would transfer a nuclear weapon to a third party. So, perhaps not surprisingly, he does not offer any evidence for why Tehran would keep it nukes to itself. On the surface, it does seem as though a Hizbollah nuclear attack on Israel would not be in the interest of either Hizbollah or Iran, but gut feelings and hunches are not likely to convince the Israelis to sit back and watch while Iran goes nuclear.
The second part of the two-fold Riedel plan would call for the United States to bolster Israel's second strike capability. That is, once the U.S. eases the Israeli population's fears with promises to employ the formidable American nuclear force in the event the unthinkable occurs, an arsenal of American-supplied hardware would ensure that a stricken Israel would still be able to retaliate with its F-15Is, Jericho IRBMs, and increasingly sophisticated missile defense system. This would enable permit Israel to maintain strategic dominance, even facing a nuclear Iran. Among other items, Riedel advocates selling F-22s to Israel, though they are probably not the most appropriate platform for Israeli defense needs, and are perhaps further obviated by recent Israeli cabinet agreement to allow the United States to give Israel 20 stealthy new F-35s.
Of course, one problem with publicly boosting the Israeli deterrent -- which Riedel readily admits -- is that it is exceedingly difficult to do without first acknowledging that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. While Israel should, in fact, officially announce its arsenal, there is little benefit for it in doing so, at least at the moment. It would gain little, given that everyone knows of the Israeli nukes anyway, and could potentially entangle them in international debates over the NPT and a nuclear-free zone.
So, could the U.S. out them instead? Doubtful. Washington has been extremely hesitant to adopt a tough approach toward Israel in the past, but if an Israeli action might risk significant consequences to U.S. personnel and strategic interests, perhaps we will be surprised …
Some soulless men celebrated the end of Ramadan by beheading a Sunni cleric in the Iraqi town of Muqdadiyah, and then setting the corpse on fire. His offense was that he had medical skills and had treated some of the guys in the Awakening/Sons of Iraq movement.
I remember a few years ago, a colonel in Iraq telling me that Muqdadiyah, in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, was the nastiest place he'd ever operated. I actually thought the group of towns just southwest of the capital along the Euphrates that U.S. troops called "the iyas" were the worst, but I am beginning to suspect the colonel might have been right. And yeah, I know there are a lot of other candidates -- Tarmiyah would be one, and also some of the villages midway between Bayji and Kirkuk.
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
A friend of the blog who can't allow his name to be used responds to last week's post by Peter Mansoor. Interestingly, he disagrees on the role of U.S. interests, but comes to a similar conclusion:
Call me Rosy, but I'm not seeing this quite as bad as you paint (apologies to Jessica Rabbit). Should the Iranians attempt to close the strait, they will face an international swarm of their own. Last time I checked, the U.S in recent history has ranged between 10% and 23% of petroleum imports from the Gulf (lower than other interested actors), but even this doesn't explain what is happening downstream of refineries/cracking plants as a significant percentage is blended with additives to achieve viscosity, octane, zinc levels, corrosion targets, and total base numbers to meet unique applications (which my company and a panorama of others export). Major worldwide shippers use OUR marine lubricants. Point: our imports include our exported, refined products, from specialized lubricants to transmission fluid, hydraulic oils, greases, and sulfur fuels.
It is natural for us to see this potential development as a U.S. crisis, but it would be a more pressing global issue and serve to orchestrate a multilateral response. The Iranians need gasoline and other products too, and they would face an internal crisis alongside an international cudgel. Reaction would be swift for precisely the implications you cite. I see no chance that Iran -- as we know it -- could survive such an effort for any significant period of time. The Saudis would certainly sponsor foreign remedies for Persian perfidy (hmmm, almost sounds like an NDU war game title).
We are deeply in the realm of speculation here, but I am hard-pressed to imagine the U.S. screaming in pain before other nations demand a Persian parking lot. I fear that time will tell."
An Iraqi TV show punks people by pretending bombs are in their cars... ? Ugh. Makes my stomach turn. But maybe Iraqis are so sick of all this that somehow it becomes funny.
(HT to CMcR)
Meanwhile, the killing of an Iraqi general barely makes today's newspaper. The Obama Administration certainly has read the mood of the American people well on Iraq: We don't care if the war is over, just as long as you don't tell us about it. Five gunmen attacked an American military convoy south of Baghdad. The troops were not "combat troops," so they used return fire to advise the attackers to die.
For those still keeping score, it has been six months since the Iraqi election. Ali al-Turaihi, an Iraqi government employee, ‘splains to Reuters that, "The crisis ... will continue for a long time because the decisions are not in the hands of Iraqi politicians. The delay in government formation is a struggle of regional countries."
Where is Iraq going while we are pretending to be out of the war?
Here's one answer. Ms. Liz Sly (great six-letter byline) of the Los Angeles Times reported that neighboring countries were sliding in to fill the vacuum being created by the partial U.S. withdrawal. "It is very dangerous," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told her. "It's a zero-sum game for these countries. Everyone wants to knock down the other one's policy."
Speaking of Iran, Joel Wing had a nice profile of Tehran's new ambassador to Baghdad, a general in the Qods Force who, interestingly, was born in Baghdad and fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war. Iraqi President Talabani isn't even waiting for Uncle Sam to leave to start warming up to Iran. Another returnee from Iran is the sadistic Shiite militia leader who was into using electric drills on the kneecaps of his enemies. And the oddest wrinkle of the month was old Tariq Aziz, ex-BFF of Saddam, criticizing the United States for bugging out.
And here is probably the best summary of the month's Iraq news. But a bit over-optimistic.
Bottom line: The Iraqi mess is far from over, and I don't think the Americans have extricated themselves. The best we may have done is reduce the American presence sufficiently to let natural political forces begin to work and Iraqi politicians to break through the current stalemate. This is likely to be a violent process.
MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a guest post from Andy Berdy, who knows what an infantryman is.
By Col. Andrew Berdy, U.S. Army (ret.)
Best Defense guest commentator
Can you explain to me how, or why, the myth of "all combat troops out of Iraq" is allowed to be perpetuated by the press, much less our senior military leadership? Yes, the mission has changed. But units like my son's Stryker Brigade (not the one that just left!) are, and always will be, combat infantry units.
This is fiction pure and simple. I just don't get how the nation has swallowed this and why members of the media are not reporting facts the way they are rather than the political PR message the Administration wants portrayed. Does anyone not think that the likelihood of continued combat operations is a reality? When casualties are taken by these "non-combat forces" will those casualties be characterized as "non-combat" as well? Does the public not understand that the secondary mission of our remaining forces is to be prepared to conduct combat operations either to defend themselves or to support Iraqi forces if requested? And when these train and assist "non-combat" units have to engage in, dare I say, combat operations, what will the Administration say then?
I can tell you, as a former brigade commander responsible for securing and helping to rebuild Port-au-Prince, Haiti, while we went in prepared for battle, and quickly transitioned to peacekeeping/nation building, there was never a moment that my infantry brigade was not prepared to conduct combat operations (which did occur late in the deployment) and there was never a moment when we were anything but a combat force. I suspect if you ask those troopers on the ground now they would agree with me and take incredible umbrage with what is being trumpeted on TV and in the press.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
I've been reading an advanced copy of Nir Rosen's new book on the U.S. in the Middle East. It is titled Aftermath and will be out in October, but you can buy it now on Amazon.
It is a very knowledgeable deep dive through Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. He contends that we still don't understand what we have gotten ourselves into. I don't agree with all of it, but I learned from it even when I disagreed.
What the occupation felt like to Iraqis:
Under Saddam the violence came from one source: the regime. Now it has been democratically distributed.
Why the U.S. military has a hard time carrying out counterinsurgency campaigns:
COIN was dangerous, and the military was risk-averse.
(Here I think Rosen means commanders, not troops.)
A great lesson on how to deal with local allies, especially those who have turned from the other side:
According to a major who served under Kuehl, ‘An unsung hero of this entire time period [of the surge] was the commander of a combat support hospital in Baghdad. More than anyone else he kept our sometimes tenuous relationship with the SOI [Sons of Iraq AKA insurgents put on the American payroll] on good standing, simply by admitting their casualties to his facility and treating them. The rules on this were somewhat in the gray area, and lesser men or those who did not see the strategic situation would have been justified refusing care and turning them away. I had one such conversation with a doctor on Camp Liberty who was discussing the practical reasons for not treating them, that they wouldn't have enough beds for the American casualties. I told him that if he wanted to quit treating American casualties altogether, all he had to do was treat those SOIs when they were injured.'
The effect of the surge:
It was only in 2007 that they [the Americans] finally conquered Iraq, with the help of stronger Iraqi Security Forces, but chiefly thanks to the Shiite defeat of the Sunnis in the civil war. The American surge of troops came at just the right time, and they proved flexible enough to take advantage of events on the ground. The subsequent relative decline in violence was meant to lead to political reconciliation, but it never happened.
Where we are now in Iraq:
Six years after the fall of Baghdad, it felt as if the Iraqis were occupying Iraq.
Meanwhile, Joel Wing says that Iran's farewell attacks in Iraq appear to be beginning.
Yes, if you think its purpose was to enable the United States to find a way to get out of Iraq with a few shreds of dignity. (But that would be cynical!) No, if you think its purpose was to improve security in such a way that Iraq would have a political breakthrough.
I dredge this all up because of a good article by young Leila Fadel in the Saturday edition of the Washington Post that examines how all the basic issues in Mosul remain unresolved. She writes that, "Kurdish and Sunni Arab leaders battle over disputed lands, provincial and central government officials wrestle for control, and Sunni insurgents continue to slip back and forth across the porous borders with Turkey and Syria."
This is a microcosm of Iraq's problems as a whole: There is no agreement on how to share oil revenue, no resolution of the basic relationship between the country's three major groups, and no decision on whether Iraq will have a strong central government or be a loose confederation. And no resolution on the future place of the Kurds and Kirkuk.
On the upside, it is going to be interesting to see how Iraqi officials treat journalists after there no longer are so many Americans about. Here's a taste that Fadel and her friends got from Iraqi Lt. Col. Shamel Ahmed Ugla when they asked about a detainee who said he was beaten as he was interrogated about his connections to al Qaeda: "If he was beaten, to hell with him," Ugla yelled. "Stop asking these questions."
U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos/flickr
When I was reporting in Iraq, the Washington Post's bureau chief had a list of emergency numbers printed up and put on a laminated card you could keep in your wallet. Like who to call if you are kidnapped.
If I had the power I'd print up this comment by Fred Reed, the Hunter S. Thompson of the right, laminate it, and give one card to every member of the Pentagon press corps:
Reporters don't meet Important People because we news weasels are meritorious, but because the press enjoys power all out of proportion to its worth. If people knew reporters as well as I do, they would emigrate. You could take a blind cocker spaniel with a low IQ and give him, her, or it a press card from the Washington Post, and in three weeks every pol in the city would kiss up to the beast, who would develop delusions of grandeur.
It's the reporter's disease: You come to believe that the Secretary of the Air Force wants a press breakfast with you because he respects the depth of your thought. No. He thinks you are an idiot, and in all likelihood loathes you, but he knows that what you write will show up in the White House clips."
I just want to note that one of my dogs already has delusions of grandeur, and she doesn't even have a press card.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.