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November 30, 2006

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The Democrats also need to make it plain to Bush (and the American people) that anything but deescalation is going to have to be paid for up front. In other words, "You choose--your war or your tax cuts!"

That confrontation will comne either in Feburary when Bush submits his budget (which, as usual, won't have Iraq in it) or later, when they come in for a Supplemental of up to $160 billion for the war and lots of other goodies that the military wants.

Excellent analysis Mimi, thank you very much. I think what is lost in most coverage, however, is that the ISG simply appears to be acknowledging that we are one step closer to the doomsday scenario: a regional war which cuts oil exports and causes a world wide depression. Saudi Arabia has a significant Shia minority, which works the Saudi oil fields. IIRC all these countries have Kurdish minorities. Another issue is the lack of unity among Iraq's Shia militias. A lot of commentators say that al-Sadr is more a figurehead than someone who can actually give orders.
"Bush is going to prove more flexible than many people now believe, because he is basically going to be given a great deal of support for that flexibility and very little if any for digging in his heels." I hope you are right about this, but I don't see any evidence of it. I think it is equally likely that Baker and the rest of the GOP may decide to join the Democrats in impeaching Bush and Cheney and replacing them with McCain (or someone else)? as a way of getting a headstart on 08 and inoculating the GOP from the neocons.

Bushie says:

“there’s one thing I’m not going to do: I’m not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.”

If there is any other thing he is not going to do it is admit this is a battlefield. Except maybe inadvertently.

What I fear is that events have already made whatever the ISG has come up with obsolete. Three summers ago we were told there was no insurgency. Two summers ago we were told that anyone suggesting there would be a civil war was nuts. One summer ago we were told that anybody who was suggesting a civil war was already beginning to happen was nuts. Last summer we were told that "civil war" didn't describe something lesser. All but a few diehards - including the Prez, of course - have stopped saying there is no civil war, although some have tried to substitute "ethnic cleansing" as a better alternative description. Yikes. But while the civil war talk has been convincing more people, the prospects for regional war have been accelerating, and mentioned by most only in concert with a U.S. withdrawal.

For me, the problem with all the plans, proposals and positive scenarios being put forth is that there are so many regional forces which gain by the ...uh ... turmoil. These beneficiaries are in both Sunni and Shi'a camps (and among the Iraqi Kurds who can use this as an excuse to formalize their all-but-official independence), and they clearly have the upper hand at the moment. This is so even though, as you say, the rank-and-file Middle Easterner wants peace.

While the Saudis may be summoning the Vice President of the U.S. for finger-wagging sessions, the only real clout they have is the oil weapon, whose use could easily turn out Pyrrhic. Its prodigious air force is next to useless for any action in Iraq, and its army is, at 200,000, insufficient to keep the lid on there. It might be valuable to the beleaguered Sunni population, but that puts them in league with the Sunni fighters. And if the Saudis were to adopt that approach, they'd have their own minority Shi'a population to deal with - a population which, coincidentally is concentrated near the vulnerable oil fields.

Saudi boots in Iraq??? Sounds like a prescription for a wider war, between Sunnis and Shi'ites, stretching from Lebanon to Iran to Saudi Arabia.

My hope is that the threat of a wider war might bring people to their senses--admittedly a slim hope. The Saudis are already no doubt helping finance the insurgency, but could undoubtedly do more. Think of the level at which they supported the resistence to the Soviets in Afghanistan. Plus encouraging fighters.

I think the Baker-Hamilton position will become the new "centrist" CW and the Dems will then move things further toward withdrawal. Bush will become increasingly isolated or move to Baker-Hamilton as the lesser of two evils. The Dems would do well to constantly stress the costs of the war and the possibility of a "peace dividend" to further isolate Bush and get more people behind withdrawal, although a majority already clearly supports it.

Mimikatz I admire your spirit and optimism. Unfortunately I am rather pessimistic. I am convinced that Bush will not withdraw or redeploy out of Iraq. Its too much of a bitter pill for him to swallow. I believe Iraq will remain as a top issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. The Dems will be caught between the "centrists" who voted for the war and will now advocate all kinds of ponies including euphemisms like "stability" and "reconciliation" - and the "get out of the Iraqi anarchy" candidates who will be painted as the "those that want to lose Iraq" candidates by the corporate media and the DC punditocracy.

The reason I am a pessimist about Iraq is that I believe its too far gone. Too much blood has already been shed. Vengeance permeates their society. Ethnic cleansing in and around Baghdad is well on its way. Millions of Iraqi are already displaced - refugees in their own land. Neighborhoods are lobbing mortars at each other. This battle for power in Iraq will not be over until someone wins or all sides fight each other to a stalemate.

This recent report from Iraq by Patrick Cockburn gives a sense of what is really happening on the ground. Iraq Nears "Saigon Moment"

Iraq may be getting close to what Americans call 'the Saigon moment', the time when it becomes evident to all that the government is expiring. "They say that the killings and kidnappings are being carried our by men in police uniforms and with police vehicles," said the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari with a despairing laugh to me earlier this summer. "But everybody in Baghdad knows that the killers and kidnappers are real policemen."

It is getting worse. The Iraqi army and police are not loyal to the state. If the US army decides to confront the Shia militias it could well find Shia military units from the Iraqi army cutting the main American supply route between Kuwait and Baghdad. One convoy was stopped at a supposedly fake police checkpoint near the Kuwait border earlier this month and four American security men and an Austrian taken away.

The US and British position in Iraq is far more of a house built on sand than is realized in Washington or London despite the disasters of the last three-and-a-half years. President Bush and Tony Blair show a unique inability to learn from their mistakes, largely because they do not want to admit having committed any errors in the first place.

Civil war is raging across central Iraq, home to a third of the country's 27 million people. As Shia and Sunni flee each other's neighbourhoods Iraq is turning into a country of refugees. The UN High Commission for Refugees says that 1.6 million are displaced within the country and a further 1.8 million have fled abroad. In Baghdad neighbouring Sunni and Shia districts have started to fire mortars at each other. On the day Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death I phoned a friend in a Sunni area of the capital to ask what he thought of the verdict. He answered impatiently that "I was woken up this morning by the explosion of a mortar bomb on the roof of my next door neighbour's house. I am more worried about staying alive myself than what happens to Saddam."

Iraqi friends used to reassure me that there would be no civil war because so many Shia and Sunni were married to each other. These mixed couples are now being compelled to divorce by their families. "I love my husband, but my family has forced me to divorce him because we are Shi'ite and he is Sunni," said Hiba Sami, the mother of four, to a UN official. "My family say they [the husband's family] are insurgents and that living with him is an offence to God."

Maybe it is precisely because I am pessimistic about the prospects for Iraq if nothing different is done (and I agree with you and Cockburn here, it's awful) that I think there will be a change. The costs of not changing are just becoming so prohibitive, both for the US in lives and particularly treasure and world respect (US brands are suffering abroad, for gods' sake), and for the region as a whole.

More and more of the opinionati see it now, and more and more of the country. Bush is just going to be completely isolated if he doesn't change, which is why I think he ultimately will, voluntarily or involuntarily. One man, even if he is President, can't just stand there and stamp his foot forever while he loses the support of everyone who isn't also delusional. He will come around. Or he will be gone. And I think the former is the likelier.

I can't beleive the ISG is going to make any difference. Its prescriptions will be overrun by realities on the ground. Probably already have been; are folks aware of how very precarious Lebanon is?

So if the ISG becomes the conventional wisdom, we'll still be running along behind reality.

As for the Democrats, though some will push a little for competence and/or withdrawal, a fractious coalition without executive power isn't going to come up with a policy in the middle of a disaster. Individual Presidential aspirants might -- but so far I don't see any of them brave enough to confront this genuine disaster with anything more than attempts to please a hypothetical majority of voters.

So what happens when "realities on the ground" overtake even minimal consensus proposals like B-H? Don't we still have to get out, maybe just sooner than B-H says? Maybe precipitously (the "Saigon moment") or ignominously, if the Green Zone or one of our bases is attacked? But this isn't Dienbienphu, it is a city of 5 million people (or was). Our options are really limited if all hell breaks loose to trying to extricate ourselves.

OTOH, some people think that Maliki is on his way out, to be replaced by a strongman, maybe Sunni. (Pat Buchanan even suggested Maliki might want to check the biographies of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother in Vietnam. I'd suggest people read Charles McCarry's "Tears of Autumn" before going down that road.) That just seems preposteropus to me, given the ethnic/sectarian makeup of the country. Even with Saudi help Saddam's kind of control isn't going to be restored. They are 3 1/2 years too late on that one.

And, I meant to add, if all hell breaks loose don't we more than ever need a Paris Peace Conference with all parties in the region including Syria, Iran and Israel, plus the US, Europeans, Russians etc"?

it appears that the saudis told bush in no uncertain terms that they didn't want the u.s. to pull out of iraq... it also seems highly unlikely that the u.s. is going to abandon the 14 permanent military bases under construction or the vast embassy complex in the green zone... i think the isg is simply smoke and mirrors, giving us the illusion that serious discussions have been held and that reasonable decisions have been reached, all of which point to, according to bush, that there will be no military pullout... they may change terminology, characterizing u.s. military presence as "advisory," but, as at least i well remember from vietnam, that's a bunch of dingo droppings... if the maliki government falls, as it appears may very well happen, there will be a lot of huffing and puffing and tut-tutting, but that won't really make any difference either... as far as the u.s. and bush is concerned, there might as well not have been any functioning iraqi government since the occupation started because having one or not having one makes precious little difference... the u.s. isn't about to give up its precious middle east base of operations that gives us hegemony over oil from the 'stans, iraq, and, potentially, iran... neither will we give up the breeding ground for the insurgency and terrorism that underwrites the necessity to engage in the endless war bushco craves...

Can anyone go into a private room with Bush and say, "this has to stop".....anybody? I don't think his dad could, that's for sure. Cheney is a true believer and is deluded as Bush, so he's not likely. I think it would take Rove and/or Cheney. I suspect Bush trusts nobody else.

It's all pretty amazing, this could play out so many ways. This insane affair could crush a few of the so-called "favorites" in the '08 WH race.

It really is a slow-motion train wreck. The Saudis may not want us to pull out, because it exposes the Sunnis, and no doubt told Cheney they will fill the vacuum if we do. But things are deteriorating so much that staying may not be possible, at least not in they way we are doing now. Then what? I think this will take at least 6-8 months, but by then I expect us to be on our way in fact if not explicitly. The people just don't support the war, and I think that matters, at least to everyone who has to run in 2008, to say nothing of vote on a budget in 2007.

it seems necessary for these fertilizer delivery folks to talk and make up stories that they think the public will purchase wholesale. It is important to maintain great profit to all parties concerned except the original creator of the fecal matter, who has been killed because they knew too much.
to believe that anyone would pull us out of iraq is not logical. our politicians caved under the derider all along, and there is little chance that they will change now. I think it is due to too many profits, corporate threats for death to the little people they pay for to run congress favorably to their needs.
imagining that we will have change defies all actions by every aspect of our government for the last 6 years. just having people able to investigate doesn't stop the wholesale slaughter of our planet, far from it. the corrupt in the new majority will take their money and vote with, watch it happen. once elected, they care only about being re elected. not all, I am not that pessimistic. only enough to stagnate the changes that could save us.

we are at the end of the era folks. we can do our best to lower our carbon footprint, but there is not enough voluntary action to save the world on which we live. it may decide to off us, or part of us and solve the matter, or we will do it to ourselves. the era was civilization.

the next dominant species? remains to be seen.

so we agree hold a conference on how to clean up the mess that george and dick made

and then, two days before the conference starts, dick and george leak a slew of secret memos that torpedo the conference before it begins

what's the point ???

couldn't we be more productive by rearanging the deck chairs on the Titanic ???

at least the Titanic has stopped sinking

I don't think we could find the bottom in Iraq

The titanic still may sink. The democrats(intelligence committee) won't put in the 9/11 recommendations for security because they already broke too many rules and ethics and do not want an investigation.

Investigate the dems on the intelligence committee and you'll find out they made some big mistakes.

swe, which dems? What mistakes?

Month after month, official Washington downplayed the trickle and then constant stream of bad news out of Iraq, content to advertise hopeful signs like free elections. But even this president finally had to face the bloody facts and draw the obvious conclusion: The coalition of the ever-less-willing in Iraq was losing the war. And to leave the conduct of this war to the same generals with the same minimal strategy would lead to the same defeat.
Something new was called for, anything new. So the old approach has been shelved, and the old generals eased aside or kicked upstairs. Their old assurances had long since ceased to assure. (Why one of them -- George Casey -- is being nominated for Army chief of staff mystifies. Why reward failure?)
A new commanding general now has been called in, complete with a new strategy and a new team of subordinates to carry it out. His approach is an open book, specifically the U.S. Army's new counter-insurgency (COIN) manual published just last month. The new commander -- Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Ph.D. -- should know it well; he was the strategist responsible for putting it together.
The new manual lays out the challenge now facing American forces and our allies in Iraq, and how Gen. Petraeus proposes to respond to it: Clear and hold enemy strongholds. We've cleared them before, but neglected to hold them. The general does not propose to repeat that strategic error. His aim will be to isolate the enemy from popular support. He understands that not all the insurgents can or need be killed or captured to achieve that aim -- so long as they are neutralized.
Already the first tentative but hopeful results of such a strategy are being reported in Baghdad, where leaders of Muqtada al-Sadr's murderous Mahdi Army are being rounded up. Armed gangs are disappearing from the streets of Sadr City as they go into hiding. Meanwhile, Sunni terrorists try to kill as many innocent civilians as possible in hopes of keeping the sectarian violence going, the country ungovernable, and American public opinion demoralized.
As the debate over the war mounts this week, here is what may be the most relevant excerpt from the new counter-insurgency manual, with emphasis added:
"Most enemies either do not try to defeat the United States with conventional operations or do not limit themselves to purely military means. They know that they cannot compete with U.S. forces on those terms. Instead, they try to exhaust U.S. national will, aiming to win by undermining and outlasting public support."
Militarily, the new strategy may work, but only if given time, patience and support. But what about politically? None of the lessons from this new manual will avail if the war isn't won on the decisive front in any such conflict: the home front. That is where another war was lost, the one in Vietnam.
In the long shadow of that defeat, it became easy to forget that the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam was holding its own, thanks to American air and logistical support, until Congress pulled the props out from under the Vietnamese. The same impulse can be seen in today's demands that American troops be withdrawn from Iraq, or at least not reinforced.
To quote Gen. Petraeus' manual again, our enemy will "try to exhaust U.S. national will, aiming to win by undermining and outlasting public support."
A number of resolutions withdrawing support from the war are being readied in Congress, with Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Joe Biden leading the push to oppose the new strategy and the additional troops it requires. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama will be right behind them, with an eye on next year's presidential election.
Vermont's Patrick Leahy would simply cut off funds for the troops. And he knows what effect that would have, for he cites the outcome in Vietnam as the example to follow: "This is the only way we stopped Vietnam... when we finally had a vote in April 1975, a key vote on the power of the purse, that's what stopped it." And sealed freedom's fate in Vietnam. Not to mention Laos and the killing fields of Cambodia.
Unless the home front stands united, no new general in Iraq, even one with a new strategy that has begun to produce results, will be able to stave off defeat. And with defeat would come disastrous consequences throughout that volatile part of the world -- and beyond.
Divided we fall.

I agree with john casper

Critics of the war in Iraq say there is nothing new in the "National Strategy for Victory" President Bush outlined at the Naval Academy last week. This is one of the rare instances where critics of the war in Iraq have gotten something right.
I read carefully both the 35-page document prepared by the National Security Council and the text of President Bush's speech outlining it, and found in them nothing I didn't already know. This is what I expected. One shouldn't change a sound strategy when it is clear it is bearing fruit. All that's happening is that the president finally is explaining his strategy to the American people.
When can most of our troops come home? The short answer is: when Iraq has a stable, democratic government capable of defending itself.
So when will that be? Pretty soon. There need not be a significant weakening of the resistance before there can be a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The key to the U.S. security strategy is to create Iraqi army and police units of sufficient size and quality to be able to protect the country (mostly) by themselves. As the president put it in earlier contexts: "As they stand up, we'll stand down."
The Iraqi army will be "built out" (reach the size planned for it) by May or June of next year, and the Iraqi police are slated to be "built out" early in 2007.
Despite a large number of casualties from terrorist attacks, there's been no shortage of recruits for the Iraqi army and police. Though performance has sometimes been spotty, for the most part Iraqi soldiers perform well in combat. "A year ago, (insurgents) freely attacked the Iraqi military," said Army Brigadier Gen. Daniel Bolger, who is in charge of training Iraqi soldiers. "So the hostiles have resorted to remote bombings because they cannot stand and fight the Iraqi soldiers anymore."
The security situation is much improved over a year ago, said Steve Southerland, a retired Air Force officer now working as a civilian contractor in Iraq. "I have been here nearly 14 months, Steve said in an email to me. "When I arrived I was greeted by no less than 5-18 mortar attacks per day at Camp Anaconda (in Baghdad). The International zone was no better. All that has changed. We actually see people walking their pets on the streets and the mortar and rocket attacks are extremely rare."
The security situation has improved chiefly because there are now so many Iraqi troops in the field. The president said 80 Iraqi battalions (500-800 men each) are now in the fight, and 3,500 new police officers are being trained every 10 weeks.
The increasing number and skill of the Iraqi soldiers and cops means that they can garrison communities once they have been cleared of insurgents.
"Clear and hold" is having a powerfully deleterious effect on the resistance, because it means the terrorists (largely) are unable to recover lost ground. The harmful effect on the resistance will multiply in the months to come, as more Iraqi units join the fight, and existing units gain more experience.
Currently, there are about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, up from 137,000 to provide additional protection for the referendum on the constitution in October (which proceeded almost without incident), and for the election for a permanent government under that constitution scheduled for Dec. 15th. A few weeks after that election is over and a new government is formed, troop levels will drop back to the 137,000 level, probably a little further. More reductions -- to or just a little more than 100,000 troops -- will be made once the Iraqi army is "built out" in May or June.
The role of the U.S. forces that will remain in Iraq will change. Iraqis will take the lead in fighting and patrolling, with U.S. forces as backup. Most of the bases from which U.S. troops currently are operating will be turned over to the Iraqis.
Currently, only one Iraqi army battalion is considered capable of operating entirely on its own. The others rely on Americans for fire (artillery and air) support, logistical support, and some intelligence support.
It will take a few years to build up support units in the Iraqi military. But most U.S. combat units likely will be out of the country by the end of 2007, sooner if the resistance continues to weaken at the rate it has in the last several months.
The war in Iraq is being won everywhere except in the news coverage of it. The president must continue speaking out. The people aren't going to get the truth unless he tells it.
US forces are now in a precarious and untenable position in Iraq. The window of opportunity for an easy exit has passed. Three years of fighting an open source insurgency has destroyed Iraq's economy (through systemsdisruption starting in 2004), worn down US commitment/curtailed operational flexibility (the IED marketplace during 2004/05/06), and forced a country-wide descent into primary loyalties (through a combination of social systems disruption that reached a crescendo in 2006 and an early reliance on loyalist paramilitaries as a force multiplier back in 2004). Iraq is now in full failure and as a result, the assumption that the US will be able to continue with its partial efforts at urban pacification has become dangerously wrong.
The reasons should be obvious. US forces are now surrounded by a sea of militias and insurgents. Within Baghdad itself, where the current pacification effort is focused, US troops are badly outnumbered in extremely difficult urban terrain. Worse yet, the opposition is growing in numbers, sophistication, and aggressiveness at a rate more rapid than the static number of US troops can build up the Iraqi military. It is now only a matter of time before either a misstep or a calculated event pushes the countryside into full scale warfare.
In this near term conflict, we are likely to see a repeat of the lightly manned defensive hedgehog used successfully by Hezbollah against Israel. That lesson was not lost on this war's open source participants, particularly Sadr's Mahdi Army, which uses Hezbollah as a model (which implies they might try to replicate Hezbollah by translating success on the battlefield into the critical currency of "legitimacy"). If placed along critical US military supply routes or immediately outside US mega-bases, and augmented by informational superiority (a combination of better local intelligence and advanced signals intercepts), these defensive tactics would extract a heavy toll on US troops (even as the US wins a tactical victory). Further, if repeatably successful, these efforts will force the US to forgo all efforts at offensive pacification operations in favor of basic force protection (not only for US troops, but the tens of thousands of civilians on these bases). From that point on, the timer will be on until a US forward base is overrun (when it finally goes off, we will be cooked).
Of course, the above outcome grows increasingly likely as the rhetoric for a war with Iran heats up, given that Iran can easily supply the weaponry necessary for these tactics. Since the current US administration's timeline for this new war isn't Iran's nuclear development cycle, but rather the US '08 election cycle (because they don't trust the next administration to make the tough decisions on the issue), this may come into being soon.

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