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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The President's speech: First reaction 


I'm running out the door to a dinner appointment, but I did want to post my very quick reaction to the President's speech and the day's discussion about the new plan:

1. I have no idea whether this will work, but I believe that the downside of its failure -- a delay in the American retreat by months or perhaps a year -- is far exceeded by the potential upside, even if the chances of success are low.

2. If I heard the President to propose some version of the oft-discussed Iraqi oil trust, I am very pleased.

3. Since killing al Qaeda is Job One, the mini-surge in al Anbar in support of the Sunni tribes is worth doing even if we can't secure Baghdad.

4. Embedding American troops into Iraqi units, in force, is classic counterinsurgency. We should have done it a long time ago, and the fact that we are doing it now is undoubtedly attributable, at least in part, to David Petraeus.

5. For the first time that I know of, the President accused Iran of waging war on the United States (that is what supplying arms to our enemies is, in case you missed it). [UPDATE: Michael Ledeen heard it, too.] The extra carrier task force was necessary and welcome punctuation, and in any case the ground is laid for air strikes along the borders of Iran and Syria.

Comment at will, and I'll check back later.

MORE:

6. On the walk to dinner I remembered a final "first reaction": I am quite heartened by the hint that we will adjust the rules of engagement to raise the risk to insurgents and their allies.


18 Comments:

By Blogger Jeremiah, at Wed Jan 10, 10:44:00 PM:

Thoughts on substance - This President has been trying to tell every one of his countrymen since 9/20/01 that this will be a long and difficult war in which victory and defeat will wear unfamiliar faces. I agree with your assessment that mentioning Syria and Iran out loud is a precursor to directed action against those states, unfortunately too long in coming and now runs the risk of being sidebarred by the French Democrats. All in all, a lackluster TV performance that will further embolden his critics, but no one can blame him for being tired in the face of his insincere but effective critics.

Thoughts on history - Who would have believed that an incumbent and lame duck president in time of war would be forced to broadcast his strategy as commander in chief for his enemies to hear and to which they will certainly react? A sad day for America, a free press and our Constitution.

Speculation on the future - Al Qaeda and the Iranians will now move their forces out of Baghdad for 90 - 180 days. We have telegraphed our intention and they are listening. Once the "sweep" of Baghdad's 9 districts is complete, and precious few "insurgents" have been found, we will leave that city, looking a little foolish, but also encouraged to leave Iraq as well because the few "insurgents" found in the city have been eliminated. At that moment, our enemies will move back in and create the bloodbath we have been trying to avoid - leaving our departure as the apparent cause of the mayhem. There are few approaches that will produce different results, and I won't speculate here for fear of informing the enemy's thinking. But this is a bad approach if played out as described.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 10, 11:02:00 PM:

I agree with Jeremiah - I cannot stand the telegraph pass we are sending to the Iranians and Syrians and other bad guys. I would prefer we send those extra men and every boot on the ground into Syria to clean up that cess pool and to send a very clear message to the Iranians.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Jan 11, 07:07:00 AM:

Yes and no.

For some, even I believe many, of these criminals moving isn't all that easy. A trip to ITM will reveal that government forces are already locking down the city. The fighting began in earnest a few days ago.

It is not as easy as simply hopping in a car and driving away from B-dad. Some will make this trip, but where will they go? Many of the cities in Iraq are now patrolled by people who have intimate knowledge of the population. When crime spikes, it will be the newbies who will be rounded up.

An insurgency, even one as brutal as this one, still needs the three b's. Obtaining these vitals requires a support system and that support system is right now focused on B-dad.

Yes, some will flee, but many lack that luxury. Further many of the foot soldiers in this strife are not committed full time warriors. Instead they are casual participants, "draftees" and opportunistic petty criminals. When the power structure that compels them exits stage left, they have less reason, and ability, to carry on the life of crime.

While I agree that our current state of discourse is disheartening I do not believe that this speech in and of itself will make the task ahead impossible.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jan 11, 08:58:00 AM:

In our enlightened age it is almost impossible to move a great number of troops without the word getting out. And the whole idea of a surge has been talked about for some time. Raids and movement of IA troops have been reported for the past few weeks. But the warning to Iran and Syria was needed politically. It may not do much good, but we can at least say they were warned. Of course if the rat lines are attacked, the media will report the death of the innocents just like some years ago when we hit a bus on the Syria border full of civilians; civilians that were recruited and being transported into Iraq for suicide missions. That story came from bragging of one of the Syria recruiters in an interview. I don’t remember a MSM follow-up on the original report with that information. The government certainly does a poor job of pushing its story; but then the MSM won’t carry it anyway.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Jan 11, 09:40:00 AM:

It scares me when Bush and Leeden are on the same page.

Leeden two days ago: "We’ve got lots of soldiers sitting on megabases all over Iraq. They should be out and about, some of them embedded, others just moving around, tracking the terrorists, hunting them down. I don’t know how many guys and gals are sitting in air-conditioned quarters and drinking designer coffee, but it’s a substantial number. Enough of that."

The president didn't happen to mention designer coffee, did he? Designer coffee, Syria, and Iran are the root of all our problems in Iraq.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Jan 11, 11:17:00 AM:

Then be very afraid Lanky (I guess)

What are you afraid of, anyway? What's your biggest fear concerning an apparent agreement between the POV of Ledeen and the words of the president?  

By Blogger MR, at Thu Jan 11, 01:00:00 PM:

Looks like "The Dunce" might just invade Iran and Syria while he's still in office...God help us.
www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Thu Jan 11, 01:22:00 PM:

"The Dunce"

You better get used to less-than-brilliant leaders. The smartest individuals seldom make it to the top in any society or organization.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Jan 11, 03:09:00 PM:

I read Ledeen's pieces on NRO and I've heard a few of his radio interviews. he does not advocate military action against Iran.

He believes that a stated policy of "regime change in Iran" coupled with overt attempts to help Iranian dissidents is all that is required.

so I wonder about LB's concern.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Thu Jan 11, 04:19:00 PM:

"1. I have no idea whether this will work, but I believe that the downside of its failure -- a delay in the American retreat by months or perhaps a year -- is far exceeded by the potential upside, even if the chances of success are low."

I suppose this is our fundamental disagreement. There is a slim chance that remaining might make things better. There is also a chance that remaining might make things worse. There is simply no question that we will have to leave Iraq at some point, sooner rather than later. Will staying for longer actually extend the civil war in Iraq by providing the just enough security for nobody to win? It's a possibility. Given this extremely questionable benefit resulting from the surgescalation, going forward anyway at the cost of money and lives is simply wrongheaded.

Jeremiah says, "There are few approaches that will produce different results, and I won't speculate here for fear of informing the enemy's thinking."

I'm confident that agents of al Qaeda in Iraq are scouring the internet as we speak, hoping that "Jeremiah" has somehow slipped up and tipped his hand, giving them the strategic leg up they so desperately need.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Jan 11, 04:53:00 PM:

Can you support either of these statements?

There is a slim chance that remaining might make things better. There is also a chance that remaining might make things worse.

What's the basis for your analysis? What lead you to conclude that that "there is a slim chance"?

Why do you believe that this is true?

There is simply no question that we will have to leave Iraq at some point, sooner rather than later

Given our extended military presence in many countries, and our forward basing in smaller installations all over the world, what leads you to conclude that we must leave Iraq?

Did you know that we have resources in Dijobouti before the Somalia fighting for example? how about Mongolia? How many American soldiers are now in Yemen? How long have they been there?  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Fri Jan 12, 01:44:00 AM:

I will answer these questions in reverse order for clarity.

"Given our extended military presence in many countries, and our forward basing in smaller installations all over the world, what leads you to conclude that we must leave Iraq?"

Because Iraqi and American public opinion is against our staying. The Iraqis will not stop attacking us as long as we stay. Americans will not support staying as long as Iraqis are attacking us. The populace has turned against this war, as have virtually all congresional Democrats and a good chunk of Republicans. When you lose the support of the country, you can no longer conduct a war for long.

"What lead you to conclude that that "there is a slim chance"?"

Given that we cannot stay for long, we must leave either now or later. If we leave later, as I explained in my previous post, there is a possibility that we "extend the civil war in Iraq by providing the just enough security for nobody to win". This would qualify as making the situation worse. I don't think this is going to happen. I think the most likely outcome is that the President's new strategy will accomplish nothing, and the long term trajectory of Iraq will not be substanitally different if we surge now and withdraw later or withdraw now. The civil war must be fought. The only question is one of timing. Given this, it scarcely makes any sense to sacrifice more money and lives to achieve no predictable effect on the situation.  

By Blogger Jeremiah, at Fri Jan 12, 11:49:00 AM:

shochu john: So are you positing that the stability of the government going into the civil war is irrelevant?

In my view, civil wars can settle things like constitutional questions, but cannot settle things like millennia-old religious differences.

So, while I tend to agree on the inevitability of civil war to hopefully settle the political issues, I am concerned that a central government that is unbalanced (and in the case of the Shia majority, unchecked), will guarantee that the "civil war" will not be about Iraq, but about Iran, the Mahdi, Israel and Hezbollah. If we are going to step aside and allow the boils to be lanced, it would be prudent to ensure that if the constitutional authority prevails, it is a strong and relatively sensible one.

If it does not, by the way, all bets are off and we'll be back in force much sooner than we want to be anyway.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Fri Jan 12, 02:06:00 PM:

Jeremiah,

While your concern about the partisan nature of the Iraqi government is valid, I note that we have no plan to address this, nor do those conducting the war even seem to think its a problem they should address. Do we have any reason to think that if we surge or stay longer that the government will somehow become less a product of various Shi'a factions operating in control of or under the color of various Iraqi government agencies? I don't see it. The Iraqi government, it seems to me, is in no danger of acting more like a government operating under "constitutional authority" and less like a loose collection of mainly Shi'ite partisan interests as a result of this new policy.

"If it does not, by the way, all bets are off and we'll be back in force much sooner than we want to be anyway."

I will agree that all bets are off, but I disagree that we will be back in force. There will be very little popular support for returning to a country we just managed to extricate ourselves from, no matter how bad it gets over there.

I will also note, somewhat as a side note, how absolutely unrealistic it is to think that we can use our surge force to take out the Mahdi army in Baghdad. We and our erstwhile Iraqi allies cannot keep Mahdi army militiamen out of Saddam's execution, and we're going to drive them out of Sadr City? Right.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Fri Jan 12, 04:44:00 PM:

Can we completely eliminate the Mahdi army? yes, as a matter of fact we can.

How?

(1) eliminate their raison d'etre.

(2) Interdict their funding

(3) Kill or incarcerate their leadership

(4) Kill or incarcerate any "soldiers" who chose to resist.

I sense a change that directly addresses the partisan nature of the government: that is the US will treat Iraq like a colony. a perfect example is the storming of the Iranian office in Irbil. the local "authorities" were upset and nobody cares, this is because we possess the most lethal force in the area.

My bet is that whether Maliki likes it or not the US forces will make many more unilateral decisions. It will no longer be possible for an apprehended criminal to use the rampant corruption of the government to obtain release. This will be delicate perhaps but it must happen. If Maliki cannot seperate himself from the string pullers in Sadr city, then he will fail as PM. There is no reason why that failure should impact our effort to quell the violence.

It seems clear to me that Iran is being sent a message and I suspect that more such messages are forthcoming. the model that Iran desires is on display in Lebanon. There the Nasrallah lead hezbullah are attempting to thug their way into leadership. They have experienced more resistance than they expected as Siniora has stiffened his resolve. The hamhanded efforts by the hezbullah have devolved into street theatre.

Iran is attempting to create the same set up in Iraq via either the Badr corps or the Mahdi army, or both. Unfortunately for the Mullahs, the US military is NOT the Lebanese army and therefore this approach only works well once they convince people like you that we should leave the field of battle.

Actually I seriously doubt that the Mahdi army will put up much of a fight. We decimated them twice only to see Sadr walk because of his connections to prominent but corrupt Iraqis. Such a situation is far less likely in the colony scenario I am advocating.

No body of armed men has withstood an assault lead by our forces. Not once in Iraq has any prolonged battle resulted in an insurgent victory. snipers and IED's are dreadful, of that there is no doubt, but they are a symptom of insurgent failure. Two years ago these guys were storming police stations at will. Now they are killing each other and engaging in random, remote control attacks on co altion forces. There is no doubt in my mind that this all the effort these guys can currently muster.

We no longer hear about the "millions of new jihadis" because they never materialized. The anti Iraqi forces can do no more than roadside bombs and random mortar rounds, they cannot take or hold any ground we chose to occupy.

Cleaning out sadr city can be done one of two ways and we have demonstrated proficiency in either. Fallujah fell to us in a matter of days and that was the strongest stand those guys ever took. do you really think that a ragtag bunch of criminals and wannabes will stand and fight the US Marines?

the other option is Ramadi, which is slowly but surely tipping in our direction. My source tells me that there is far less military action there now than there was in the fall. In other words, we're winning.

Sorry john, but I can't agree with your superficial analysis of the situation. I don't know how you arrived at your conclusions but my view of the current data leads me to believe that we are trying something different and that the differences are significant.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Fri Jan 12, 05:48:00 PM:

"Can we completely eliminate the Mahdi army? yes, as a matter of fact we can. How?"
"(1) eliminate their raison d'etre."

They have two. Driving the (1) Americans and (2) Ba'athists out of Iraq. I can see how we can remove the motivation for wanting Americans out of Iraq. By withdrawing, but somehow I doubt that's what you meant.

"(2) Interdict their funding"

Which comes from where, goes to who, and works how? Despite their fealty to Muqtada, the Mahdi army is far less centralizied than you seem to think it is.

"(3) Kill or incarcerate their leadership"

See above re: centralization of leadership. Being alive is not one of the prerequsities for being the spirtual inspiration for the Mahdi army. Kill Muqtada and you have one more martyr, just like his dad. You don't really want to make the same mistake Saddam did, do you?

"(4) Kill or incarcerate any "soldiers" who chose to resist."

Those that stand and fight are prepared to be killed. Most will disperse and fight another day.

"I sense a change that directly addresses the partisan nature of the government: that is the US will treat Iraq like a colony. a perfect example is the storming of the Iranian office in Irbil. the local "authorities" were upset and nobody cares, this is because we possess the most lethal force in the area."

This seems like de-Iraqization. Given that local forces are so corrupt and cannot be trusted to solve anything, we'll come in and do it. The problem with this is the amount of manpower required to do it. As I have previously exlained, increase the troop surge by a factor of ten, then you will have a force capable of trying to gain control of this "colony" which has decended into utter chaos without much in the way of local allies.

"My bet is that whether Maliki likes it or not the US forces will make many more unilateral decisions. It will no longer be possible for an apprehended criminal to use the rampant corruption of the government to obtain release. This will be delicate perhaps but it must happen. If Maliki cannot seperate himself from the string pullers in Sadr city, then he will fail as PM. There is no reason why that failure should impact our effort to quell the violence."

Condi has also been talking smack to Maliki in much the same fashion. One thing, though, if we are going to simply relegate the, ah hem, democractically elected government of Iraq, to utter irrelevance in the ruling of their own country, not only are we alienating those who are at least pretextually our allies, but we are also labelling as an utter farce the lip service we have been paying to the political progess in Iraq. If you want to junk this failed exercise in democracy and start anew, as I said, we're going to need a lot of manpower to do it, especially as we will be alienating the Shi'a.

"It seems clear to me that Iran is being sent a message and I suspect that more such messages are forthcoming. the model that Iran desires is on display in Lebanon."

This is rather puzzling. I would think the Iranians would like to see team Shi'ite win, not so much the nationalistic and generally Iran-suspicious Sadrists, but the Iran-friendly SCIRI. Iran gains by having Iraq in chaos only so long as the U.S. forces remain (what's a drain on us is good for them). As soon as we leave, they would prefer a stable, friendly government (the Islamic Republic of Iraq, if you will), as chaos in no longer beneficial.

"No body of armed men has withstood an assault lead by our forces. Not once in Iraq has any prolonged battle resulted in an insurgent victory. snipers and IED's are dreadful, of that there is no doubt, but they are a symptom of insurgent failure."

This is a bit asinine. Few forces in the world face the U.S. Marines in battle and win. That's why the smart thing to do is use snipers and IED's and, when things get too heavy, put the guns away and blend back into the population. That's their strategy, and if it hasn't been working, why is Iraq in utter chaos?

"Two years ago these guys were storming police stations at will."

Now we storm the police stations because they control them.

"Now they are killing each other and engaging in random, remote control attacks on co altion forces. There is no doubt in my mind that this all the effort these guys can currently muster."

They have been randomly attacking coalition forces for years. Now, they are also killing each other at a startling rate. This says to me that we have both an insurgence and civil war to deal with.

"We no longer hear about the "millions of new jihadis" because they never materialized. The anti Iraqi forces can do no more than roadside bombs and random mortar rounds, they cannot take or hold any ground we chose to occupy."

They've never been able to take any ground we chose to occupy. The problem is the amount of ground we can occupy, which is not all that much. Don't write off the jihadis (I presume you're talking about the al Qaeda wannabes). Their presence depends on who wins the civil war. If Iranian-backed shi'ite gunman can roll over the Allahu Akhbars in Anbar (by essentially exterminating the whole province mind you) once we leave, then there may be fewer jihadis. However, there are also many other ways the civil war could crumble that would result in better situations for them.

"Cleaning out sadr city can be done one of two ways and we have demonstrated proficiency in either. Fallujah fell to us in a matter of days and that was the strongest stand those guys ever took. do you really think that a ragtag bunch of criminals and wannabes will stand and fight the US Marines?"

No, as I said above. They'd be foolish to do so, which is why they won't. They'll either lie low or relocate. Even if we do secure Baghdad, another province will flare up, and when we send troops to correct that, Baghdad will flare back up. It's whack-a-mole and we don't have enough hammers to hit all the mole holes at once.

"the other option is Ramadi, which is slowly but surely tipping in our direction. My source tells me that there is far less military action there now than there was in the fall. In other words, we're winning."

That's the thing about whack a mole, just because there is no mole popping out of any one paricular hole now doesn't mean we're winning.

"Sorry john, but I can't agree with your superficial analysis of the situation. I don't know how you arrived at your conclusions but my view of the current data leads me to believe that we are trying something different and that the differences are significant."

That's fine. When the surge fails to work, and public opnion forces a withdrawal, I'll be here, politiely refraining from saying, "I told you so."  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Jan 12, 06:37:00 PM:

And if it does work?  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Sun Jan 14, 01:46:00 AM:

Then you can rub my nose in it while I marvel at this wonderful last minute reversal of fortune.  

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