Congressional Dems Showing Shell Shock over Iraq

Friday, President Obama announced a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq. Republicans, including John McCain, applauded the action. Democrats were bummed. Even as they get the deadline for which they’ve been chanting for six years, they can’t control the knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything but a Vietnam style airlift out of Iraq.

The President acknowledged this deadline of August 31, 2010 is two months longer than the 16 months he promised during his campaign. Apparently, those two months are quite offensive to Congressional democrats. I think Obama did a pretty decent job of juggling his firm 16-month deadline and his promise to withdraw with advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank goodness the situation in Iraq has improved sufficiently to allow that balance, or at least close enough.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi also protested Obama's suggestion that he might leave as many as 50,000 troops until the end of 2011. From the moment Hussein's regime was overthrown, democrats adopted the popular stance to oppose anything but an imminent timetable for our last soldier to leave Iraq.

I guess It's fair. Bush was pretty slippery about giving clear expectations for how long it would take to rebuild a nation almost from scratch. So the dems felt justified it playing a political game of "Are we there yet?" that they can't stop even now.

We educated Americans should have taken our cues from history to anticipate how long it would take to stabilize Iraq. We still have troops in Japan and Germany – now it's because there's a strategic advantage for doing so, but there was never any illusion before this war that rebuilding a nation should be a quick and easy job, as we have painfully relearned. History going back to the British empire also tells us we would have achieved our current peaceful state in Iraq much faster if we had maintained surge levels of troops from the beginning.

I assume and pray that the number of troops Obama leaves to advise and provide security will have something to do with the needs in Iraq, the lessons of history, and the advice of the Joint Chiefs. Maybe Nancy Pelosi should look into it. I hope things work out well enough for President Obama to keep that promise to have all troops out in 2011. We'll see.

Posted by Mark Montie at February 28, 2009 12:32 PM
Comments
Comment #276420

There was never any illusion before this war that rebuilding a nation should be a quick and easy job.

You must be kidding me…. According to Rumsfeld, McCain, and every Republican estimate before the Iraq war began the whole thing from start to finish was going to take a couple of months at the most and cost us nothing! You are seriously out of your mind if you think otherwise.

Also, stop lumping all Democrats together. The Democrat reaction is mixed, as one would expect from a group of thinking individuals. It’s Republicans that knee-jerk vote to the tune of their party’s talking points like a bunch of robots.

Posted by: Max at February 28, 2009 2:09 PM
Comment #276426

Max
It doesn’t matter what Rumsfeld said seven years ago about an easy victory or what Reid and Pelosi said a couple years ago about America’s defeat. They all said a lot of stupid things and they were all wrong. We should learn from the past, maybe question the judgment of those discredited individuals above, but we make decisions in the present about the future.
The coalition and our Iraqi allies have achieved success in Iraq. The turning point came in the spring of 2007, but we couldn’t really see until around the beginning of 2008. This shift in the situation requires a shift in thinking so that we can consolidate the achievement.

As Michael O’Hanlon, a Democratic – we don’t want to lump all Democrats together - analyst at the generally liberal Brookings Institute, wrote Given Iraq’s strategic significance, the mission ceased to be a “war of choice” the moment American forces crossed the border in March 2003. Now we have no choice but to see Iraq through to stability.

Our success in Iraq in 2007 permits us to withdraw with honor in the near future. We can be thankful that the bad advice we got from Rumsfelt, Reid and Pelosi didn’t keep us down.

CJ

Posted by: Christine at February 28, 2009 3:17 PM
Comment #276427

I have to agree with Max. We had to time going in just right, so we could be done before summer.
Also this surge thing is a myth. The Anwar uprising didn’t happen because the Iraqis were so scared of another 20 thousand troops. they decided to work with the Americans, because at the same time as the surge we started to treat the Iraqis like allies not the enemy.

Posted by: Mike the Cynic at February 28, 2009 3:36 PM
Comment #276429

Mike

That change in strategy you mention (treating Iraqis like allies) was part of the surge. The strategy changed in late 2006 and 2007.

We started to shift to protecting the civilian population and having U.S. troops live among the Iraqi people. This worked, but it also helped to have enough additional troops to actually protect the Iraqi people from the terrorists.

Our goal with the additional troops, in other words, was not to “scare” the Iraqi people, but rather to protect them so they would no longer have to fear the insurgents.

The “surge thing” is not a myth, but it is misunderstood. Some people just cannot understand what it meant. They are looking for a single explanation for a complicated process. The surge was a necessary part of the success, but not the only one and not sufficient by itself.

Posted by: Christine at February 28, 2009 3:57 PM
Comment #276431

Christine, I’m glad to hear a Republican say that about the surge. I’ve heard too many people say we need a surge in Afghanistan. Of course just throwing troops at it isn’t going to help.

As far as needing more troops to protect the Iraqis so they would no longer have to fear the insurgents. Some of the Anwar group were insurgents.

Yes you are right, Reid and Pelosi were wrong. They never should have voted to give Bush any authority. As far as Rumsfeld being wrong 7 yeas ago he had a lot of company. Most the Republicans, most the Democrats, and the talking heads on TV were all talking about how dangerous Iraq was. About the only ones talking against the invasion were Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Barack Obama.


Posted by: Mike the Cynic at February 28, 2009 4:50 PM
Comment #276432

The premise of this article does not make sense. Obama was quite clear about his plans for withdrwal from Iraq. Pelosi, Reid, and liberals like myself supported Obama. Obama won by a large margin. Would I like to see a withdrawal sooner? Of course. Does that mean Obama supporters are “shell shocked”? Of course not. That is ridiculous. It doesn’t even make sense. Where does this garbage come from?

Over one million Iraqis have died violently since the invasion. Over two million fled the country. Another two million are in internal exile, meaning they are homeless. The surge oversaw a period of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad which is hair raising. Tens of billions of dollars have been stolen, with investigations stonewalled by the GOP and Bush and all those “good german” conservatives. Cronyism and corruption occured on a mind boggling scale. The colossal failure to impose a deregulated and privatized GOP/conservative style economy upon Iraq is conventiently forgotten, and preposterous lies are foisted upon the public, as if Iraq had to be “rebuilt from scratch.”

It was a war of choice, based upon despicable lies, and paid for with the national credit card. Now we see an American economy in shreds, and the bill for Iraq will continue coming due for a long time, as soldiers return from extended tours, after spending much too long in combat zones, only to face an economy with no jobs. American ideals are also in shreds, with at least 21 deaths by torture investigated, and the worst material from Abu Ghraib yet to be released.

Posted by: phx8 at February 28, 2009 6:10 PM
Comment #276435

Mike

AnBar.

Many of the people in Anbar were insurgents, as you say.

It is a very interesting story. After the U.S. invasion, many people in that province were against the coalition. No surprise. This had been a stronghold of Saddam’s power and nobody likes to be invaded in general. Some really bad guys came into the mix and Al Qaida thought this was the place where they could defeat the U.S. and begin their caliphate. After about a year, a lot of the people came to understand that the insurgents were worse than the U.S. The Al Qaida guys were particularly savage, as it became a common thing to find headless bodies in the streets. Girls were raped into forced marriages. Boys were seduced – literally and figuratively – into the insurgency.

But the insurgents were too strong. It was like a neighborhood taken over by violent gangs. Some brave Iraqis began to stand up to the insurgents. A lot of the headless people found in the gutters were the first ones to stand up the insurgents. But resistence started to get some traction when they began to cooperate with coalition forces.

Most people just wanted to stay out of the fight. They cooperated with whoever was locally strongest. Throughout 2006 and into 2007, the balance shifted back and forth. The insurgents and many of the Anbaris thought that the U.S. would give up. When we didn’t – and when they knew it – the situation began to turn in the our favor.

Anbar quieted down remarkably by the fall of 2007. Order started to return, markets filled with goods and rebuilding began in earnest. This is what victory looks like.

Re “to hear a Republican” – we are currently between elections. We are not now Republicans or Democrats. As President Obama says, we are all Americans. We are talking about what is best for our country. John McCain praised President Obama’s plans for Iraq. He builds on the success won by President Bush’s steadfastness in late 2006 and the courage of Americans and Iraqis in the fight. When we succeed, it will be Obama’s success and Americas. If success helps him politically, fine. Leaders, like everyone else, should be rewarded for their success.

We can and should argue about politics and vote for the candidate that we think is the best to lead our country. But in between that voting, we should just get on with our own business and within the law support the government we and our fellow citizens have elected. And there should be no permanently Republican or Democratic positions.


Posted by: Christine at February 28, 2009 6:52 PM
Comment #276437

Some Congressional Dem’s will be greater obstacles to Obama’s agenda for the nation and people, than Republicans. This issue and the Congressional earmarks in the Budget may prove to be the first battle lines, but, I rather doubt it.

The honeymoon between them isn’t over just yet.

CPAC demonstrates there never was going to be a honeymoon between conservatives and Obama. But, that of course, comes as no surprise to anyone. The majority of Americans know straight talk when they hear it, so Obama will win out over CPAC each and every time. It appeared as though CPAC only accepts speakers with no education or acumen with logic. Perhaps, therein lies the flaw with the Republican Party.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 28, 2009 7:12 PM
Comment #276440

Christine,
That version of history in Anbar is complete baloney. The Iraqi Baathists were nationalists, and relatively secular. These were Saddam Hussein’s supporters. When the US overthrew Saddam Hussein, it gave the religious fanatics an opportunity. They used it to establish intolerant local governments among the Sunnis, and the fanatics executed Shias with incredible brutality, by suicide bombing and beheading. The Shia death squads responded, usually tortured and executed their victims by gunshot.

More Iraqis died by gunshot than by bombing or beheading. The majority of Iraqis were killed by Americans and Shia death squads.

One thing all sides (except the Kurds) agreed upon. They wanted Americans to get out. This held true for 90% of all Sunnis, nationalist and fanatic alike.

The turning point came when we “negotiated with terrorists.” The deal: guns, money and power to Sunni nationalists (many of them former Baathists and Saddam Husseins supporters), in exchange for killing the Sunni fanatics.

Yes, it was a proud moment in American history.

Tell me, Christine, what victory looks like. How many car bombs went off in Mosul this month? Tell me how many Iraqis died last month. Tell me how many Iraqis have died since the invasion. See if you can find those numbers, and then get back to me on ‘victory.’

Posted by: phx8 at February 28, 2009 7:24 PM
Comment #276442

phx8,

I think you’re arguing against my article and everything else you’ve ever read from a conservative at once. Are you saying you don’t see a potential dilemma between the commitment to pull troops in 16 months and the commitment to discuss it with the joint chiefs when Obama got into office and then decide how to procede?

As Christine said, the tide turned in our favor well before we could actually see it, and Obama has avoided that dilemma. So I would like you to explain what Pelosi and Reid are now woeing about.

I am in no way defending the Bush administration or their handling of the war. And I am not denying cronyism took place. I do believe the surge contributed to the current peace. And I don’t think it takes a “good German” to see that the concepts of democracy and federalism needed to be built from scratch in Iraq.

The problem I have with those democrats (point taken it isn’t all democrats) who are complaining about Obama’s withdrawal plans is that it’s the same dogmatic cry to leave Iraq they’ve been making from the beginning without respect to the changing situation there. Believe it or not, I, a conservative, pine for an end to the war too. I also want world peace and a million dollars.

Obama was an outspoken advocate for leaving Iraq as soon as possible. Now he’s in office and made a decision, I think, based on advice from the most qualified to give advice on the subject. And some of the members of his own chorus are jabbing him for it. What’s the benefit in belaboring the point that “we want the troops to come home.” Do you really think someone doesn’t?

I say they are shell shocked because they think they are still fighting a battle that seems to be over. Maybe they’re confused because their didn’t turn out to be a clear winner and loser in the debate.

Posted by: Mark at February 28, 2009 7:47 PM
Comment #276444

Mark,
Do you have an example of a “shell shocked Democrat”? I voted Democrat. I’m a liberal. I’d like to see a withdrawal as quickly as possible. (Most would consider an “immediate” withdrawal somthing that would take six months). I’m not shocked. I’m not even mildly flustered.

Obama visited Iraq during his campaign, met with generals there and at home, and always made it clear his plan was contingent upon circumstances. The current plan is very similar to what he wanted to do during the campaign.

I think what he’s doing in Afghanistan is the right choice, if it’s not too late already. Unfortunately, a lot has changed since the US went into that country. When Bush took office, the budget was projected to generate a $10 trillion surplus. Everyone wanted to see Afghanistan transformed into a country that would no longer generate fanaticism. Now, our economy is ruined, and we no longer have the means to transform it. We’d probably be better off doing the same thing in Afghanistan as Iraq: declare the Taliban to be good guys, give them money and guns, and beat feet.

Posted by: phx8 at February 28, 2009 8:08 PM
Comment #276446

Phx8

Mike talked about Anbar, where there were almost no Shiia. I was responding to that and the story I told is the way it happened.

My husband served there. Your choice of words and command of detail is a little off, but you are right that they worked to bring former insurgents over to the U.S. side. There is a distinction between terrorist and insurgents. The men on the ground with their lives on the line and closest to the situation make decisions that people far away in the safety of their living rooms might second guess based on the information they see on TV.

“Negotiating with the terrorists” I know that you are trying to be provocative, but the biggest criticism I have of your statement is that it betrays a very simplistic understanding of causality and the fluid nature of war. In the real world, it is usually not possible to see situation in your black and white terms. Even smart and “good” people make choices that are stupid or “bad” when judged by the non-participants far from the events.

Most Iraqi want us to get out and we want to leave. It would be great if life was just so simple, but President Obama sees the world in nuanced terms and he deserves our support. Don’t you think it is a good idea to leave a reasonably orderly place, whether or not you thought it was a good idea to overthrow Saddam Hussein six years ago.

Posted by: Christine at February 28, 2009 8:17 PM
Comment #276447

Christine,
I advocated “negotiating with terrorists” long and loud right here on Watchblog, and posters in the right column consistently disagreed with me. Supporters of the war denounced the idea again and again. They thought that was just terrible, talking with the insurgents. Eventually, we did just that, and it worked.

One person’s insurgent is another person’s freedom fighter. One of the sickening things about the entire invasion was that we overthrew Saddam Hussein, only to put a new government in place that consisted of people with the same philosophy. It’s Saddam Hussein again, sans Saddam (in the Sunni provinces). Surviving high ranking Baathists are supposedly excluded. Only now, the Sunnis command just the Sunni portions of the country, with the other thirds under the control of the Kurds and the Shia.

One very large issue has yet to be addressed, the disposition of Kirkuk. The potential for that to set off renewed conflict is high.

Obviously, we should leave Iraq in the best shape possible. However, our occupation was unwelcome by the vast majority of the Iraqis in the first place. It’s time to leave. I wish it were sooner.

Presumably, Obama has access to the best information possible. Hopefully, he has learned from mistakes made by the Bush, and not try to force facts to fit into an flawed ideology. He’s president of all the people, not just liberals, and I take that seriously, and I realize that means liberals will not get everything they want. Why Democrats and liberals would be shell shocked by Obama’s Iraq policy still confuses me. He’s got a terrible situation on his hands, and I think he’s doing the best he can.

Posted by: phx8 at February 28, 2009 10:22 PM
Comment #276449

Terrorist and freedom fighters are not only a matter of point of view. The only way negotiations work is if you recognize that there are significant variations among your enemies.

Sometimes you have to hold your nose and deal with some pretty bad guys, but that is always hazardous. The bad guys are often hated by the local population. They just have intimidated them. Little or no good can come from that sort of negotiation. They do not represent the community and cannot deliver long-lasting results. That is why negotiating with terrorists is usually a mistake.

Insurgency and terrorists are not the same. Put it in terms of our history. Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest, William Quantrill and Jesse James were all rebels, but there were big differences among them. Negotiating would not be useful with all of them about many things. There are things they could not or would not deliver.

Some of the terrorists were not worth negotiating with. They needed to be removed from the battlefield. A successful counter insurgency combines removing the really bad guys, negotiating with those who might be reasonably reliable, co-opting others, and convincing the majority of the population that you are serious.
This sounds very easy, but it takes a lot of local knowledge and it takes time to build the reputation for being consequent. The Marines built a reputation for being the toughest tribe in Anbar. This took a while to do.

Most people just want to be left alone. They sit on the fence in an insurgency until they can make a good guess about who will win. It reaches a kind of tipping point. That is why the trend changes direction way before you see the result. Then all of sudden, it seems the situation flips. That is what happened in Iraq. The provincial elections held last month were amazing. Iraq is now the most democratic country in the Arab world. I know that is not saying much, considering the competition, but it is astonishing when you look at what was going on in 2001.

Returning to the negotiation idea, without the preconditions of knowledge, reputation and the ability to carry out threats and promises, the idea of negotiation is childish. Simply advocating negotiation is pabulum. Insurgents often use negotiations or the promise of negotiations as time to rearm and regroup.
You mention your earlier prowess in arguing with others on this blog. Your statement implies that they didn’t agree that you won. I suppose you had trouble expressing the complication of your position on a short answer forum like this and I suppose your opponents did too. Maybe you could have reached an agreement is you had more space to share information.

But I do find something very interesting in your statement. You say you advocated negation with terrorists, which means that you evidently think you could come to some agreed position with them. Yet you are still stung by the fact that you could not reach a common position with conservative posters, who are fellow Americans and had much less on stake and more in common with you. Negotiations are great, but they are not the panacea. Sometimes you really do just have to win.

I only tend to post on Saturdays, so I probalby will not be back until next week. Please accept my appologies that I will not answer whatever point you might make. I will read about it next week.

CJ

Posted by: Christine at February 28, 2009 11:41 PM
Comment #276451

The biggest flaw in the premise of this article is the notion that we wanted to lose.

Democrats like myself opposed the surge because to all appearances, it seems like worse than more of the same. And if we remember the course of events up to that point, Americans had much reason to doubt that it would go well.

Even as the surge commenced, though, there was still much reason to believe that Bush’s efforts were a failure Up until about late in that year, the only thing the surge seemed to have succeeded in doing was drive up American casualties, adding about a thousand in the course of that year.

So it turned out well. Guess what: I’ll be very happy if we can gingerly step away from Iraq and not have it collapse. But much of the reduction in violence comes from the Iraqis themselves, rather than the troop surge by itself. Like with stimulus packages, multipliers do wonders.

I think we can credit Gates with the new direction he took, and with his implicit understanding that any kind of success would require the Iraqis to take the initiative.

The trouble with blaming Democrats for being impatient here, or at any point, and with Republicans patting themselves on the back for the late positive developments of the war lie in the fact that many of these approaches were suggested long before 2006, and the Bush Administration rejected them because they were intent on defeating the insurgents by military force, and condescending diplomacy, which expected enemies to come to the table ready to completely submit.

It took the spectre and then the reality of a complete electoral failure on the part of the GOP for the change to come.

The Surge, announced the way it was, seemed a response to that, one that, instead of doing what Americans wanted, instead just let Bush escalate the war so he could say he wasn’t doing more of the same. As an early advocate of increasing troop levels in the military to better handle the workload in pre Samarra Iraq, it was ironic to only see him double down then, not before when he had more troops left, and the political capital to recruit more.

I think the chief complaint of the Democrats is the verbal minuette between the definition of a combat soldier, a support soldier, and an advisor. Do I blame them? No. Obama needs to be held accountable. If Republicans had been this critical in their distinctions, the GOP might still have a majority.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 1, 2009 12:01 AM
Comment #276459

phx8,

When I say shell shock, I’m using it as the old term for PTSD. One of the symptoms is behaving as if one is still in battle even after he or she has left it. I see this as what some democrats are doing on the question of when and how to remove troops from Iraq.

Steven,

I don’t blame anyone for being wary about giving Bush more troops after the first part of the war. I agree that Gates had a lot to do with the turn around as well as Petraeus by making the Iraqis part of the solution.

I didn’t mean to imply that democrats wanted to lose either. Bush played with our expectations about how long the war would take from the beginning. I remember Rumsfeld responding to questions about that by talking in terms of months.

But it never made sense to me that overthrowing a totalitarian regime and leaving them with the tools to maintain a successful democracy could be done in a matter of months. We don’t have to go too far back into history to see that. Bush ought to have known that (and I think he probably did before the invasion) but so should have the democrats who voted for the war and then began calling for immediate withdrawal as soon as Hussein was gone.

There is no doubt that the war was prolonged by some terrible strategic mistakes early on. And there were many, both democrats and republicans, who spoke out about them. But when it came to suggesting more effective strategies, there was little offered. The democrats had “bring the troops home now” and the republicans had “stay the course.” Both positions were equally unhelpful.

I am grateful there were a few who broke with the prevailing ideologies and suggested strategies based on good logic and common sense. The the surge and policies to engage the Iraqi people were effective for reasons too nuanced for either party line to explain.

In my opinion, the difference between combat troops and advisers is relevant. Just as I think there is a difference between war and rebuilding, which is what we’ve been trying to do in Iraq. This distinction was much more clear when we were rebuilding Germany after WWII. One of the most important difference between then and now, in my opinion, is that then we kept enough troops in the country for security and advising to ensure an effective transition.

Posted by: Mark at March 1, 2009 2:08 AM
Comment #276466

>Our success in Iraq in 2007 permits us to withdraw with honor in the near future. We can be thankful that the bad advice we got from Rumsfelt, Reid and Pelosi didn’t keep us down.
CJ
Posted by: Christine at February 28, 2009 03:17 PM

Christine,

Even if you won’t read this until next Saturday…there can be no honorable withdrawal from something entered in dishonor…bad advice preceded the stupidity, and bad advice was included in the stupidity, but it was not bad advice that caused the stupidity…it was DISHONOR that caused the stupidity. Obama saw it from the beginning…finally, a man of honor in charge.

Posted by: Marysdude at March 1, 2009 5:30 AM
Comment #276468

Stephen D., more succinctly, we lost confidence in the Bush leadership which cost 36,000 American casualties in Iraq, and a trillion dollars which we never should have incurred.

Posted by: David R. Remer at March 1, 2009 5:36 AM
Comment #276477

Mark-
In all actually, it was a distinct minority of Liberals in America that was saying “bring the troops home now”. Democrats in congress would not have voted as they did unless they figured that their constituents would back them.

This is what bugs me about the conservative message about the war, early on: if you opposed Bush policy, obviously you wanted to yank the soldiers home pronto.

Not really. Go back through my posts from about 2004 to 2006. What you will find is that my positions were consistently about improving different strategic necessities, like equipment, vehicles, plans, and so on and so forth. While our protests against the manner in which we went to war were near constant, our calls for the war to end well in the beginning were equally as loud. Only when things descended into chaos did public opinion really turn against continuing the war in earnest.

If Republicans hand understood that, had encouraged that, they could have easily created a coalition early on to help win the war, or at the very least (if we’re talking cold blooded machiavellian thought here) make the Democrats shoulder equal responsibility. If Bush had emphasized the practical success in the war over fulfilling Rumsfeld’s agenda items, he might have been able to unite the country to win the war early on, or at least create a Korea-like stable armistice of kinds.

I think Americans want to be sure that their government is not undertaking stall tactics, that its being straight with them I don’t blame Pelosi or Reid for being skeptical about this, because if you really think about it, there are going to be Iraqi citizens who won’t really see the difference between a uniformed American who is an advisor, and one who is a combat soldier. Can you tell me, for somebody who is not an informed American, what the signs of that difference would be?
Instead, we’re left with a much diminished definition of success: getting out of Iraq with the country not collapsing in the meantime. This was never what people like me wanted.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 1, 2009 9:11 AM
Comment #276485

Other than Oil I never understood the Logic in Invading Iraq all the real bad guys came in after we took out saddam, I’m not even going to give neocons credit for that move on the chessboard The cost of human life and destruction was Horrible. and IMHO corruption is never going to go away.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at March 1, 2009 12:05 PM
Comment #276488


Has anyone heard the results from the recent Iraqi elections?

What I read was that the Iraqi’s rejected parties associated with the religious sects, the Curdish coalition as well as provincial governors and councils associated with America.

The Iraqi people have apparently decided that they want a strong secular and nationialist government and that they are not interested in a close working relationship with Washington.

So, we may be leaving Iraq even sooner than Obama and Maliki expect.

Posted by: jlw at March 1, 2009 1:27 PM
Comment #276497

Stephen,

It may have been a majority of Americans who were level headed about the war, but it was the extremists’ voices that were the loudest and seemed to be in control at the negotiating tables in Washington. It is regrettable that early on in the war there was not more effort to create coalitions. But it’s no surprise, that time may have been the most politically polarized in American history.

The Bush lead message of “you’re either with us or against us” was part of the cause of that polarization. But the liberal establishment had it’s own over-simplified messages. More recently, it was, “If you don’t want to bring our troops home immediately, you’re another Bush.” It’s not too hard to trace the political agendas behind either of these statements.

If under the current administration, a coalition breeding environment prevails, it was worth the republicans getting thrown out on their cans. Hows that for a conservative line?

Skepticism aside, in my opinion, its the democratic leadership in Congress that is the least inclined to coalition building now, and why should they be from a political point of view?

When it comes to Iraqis distinguishing between advisers and combat soldiers, you’re right. They can’t any more than we can distinguish between civilians and insurgents. That makes chatting on the street corner awkward. But the bottom line is whether there is trust. For us, that stems from the frequency of attacks on our troops. For them it’s whether they feel safer because those troops are there. Abu Ghraib didn’t help. Neither do civilian casualties.

Leaving the country with a reasonable chance of succeeding without being spat upon as we go, to me, is a pretty good definition of success. It would have been nicer to have happened years ago with fewer dead Americans and Iraqis, no question. And it’s OK for the Iraqis to be happy that we’re leaving. We’ll be just as happy.

Pelosi and Reid can be just as skeptical as they want about the strategy. But after all we’ve been through, two months and 15 thousand troops seems petty to moan about if there is sound reason behind the decision.

Posted by: Mark at March 1, 2009 4:20 PM
Comment #276507

jlw, the Iraqi elections were local, akin to our state and municipal elections, and not Federal elections. Which explains why they are not widely reported, both because tabulation of so many local races takes time, and because the do not afford as clear a picture of the national direction as Federal elections would have.

Posted by: David R. Remer at March 1, 2009 8:15 PM
Comment #276512

We should recognize that Obama’s new withdrawal plan is basically the same as Bush’s most recent one. The combat mission will be over in 19 mos? But they’ll still be ~50,000 American targets there, who will certainly defend themselves - by engaging in combat. Can somebody explain that?
Remember our initial mission - It was NOT nation building - that can only succeed if we stay there permananently - our initial mission was to destroy the WMD’s. That was completed before it began.

Posted by: Dr. Tom at March 1, 2009 8:53 PM
Comment #276515

Dr. Tom, Bush said he would never set a withdrawal date from Iraq, and often cited our troops in Germany and Japan a half century later in talking about withdrawing from Iraq. Obama has said all troops will be out by the end of Aug. 2011. A rather striking difference, if details are relevant to you.

Posted by: David R. Remer at March 1, 2009 9:18 PM
Comment #276520

Dr. Tom, this embassy looks to me like Bush had some really high “expectations” for Iraq….nation building might apply.

New embassy The embassy is on the Tigris River in the Green Zone

A new embassy, which has been referred to as Fortress America[4], opened in January 2009 in the Green Zone in Baghdad.[1] The embassy complex comprises 21 buildings on a 104 acre (42 ha) site, making it the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy in the world.[5]

It is located along the Tigris river, west of the Arbataash Tamuz bridge, and facing Al Kindi street to the north. The embassy is a permanent structure which has provided a new base for the 5,500 Americans currently living and working in Baghdad. During construction, the US government kept many aspects of the project under wraps, with many details released only in a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report.[6] Apart from the 1,000 regular employees, up to 3,000 additional staff members have been hired, including security personnel.

With construction beginning in mid-2005, the original target completion date was September 2007. “A week after submitting his FY2006 budget to Congress, the President sent Congress an FY2005 emergency supplemental funding request. Included in the supplemental is more than $1.3 billion for the embassy in Iraq…” An emergency supplemental appropriation (H.R. 1268/P.L. 109-13), which included $592 million for embassy construction, was signed into law on May 11, 2005. According to the Department of State, this funding was all that was needed for construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.[7] Construction is being led by the Kuwaiti firm First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting.[8][9][10]

The embassy has extensive housing and infrastructure facilities in addition to the usual diplomatic buildings. The buildings include:[6]

* Six apartment buildings for employees
* Water and waste treatment facilities
* A power station
* Two “major diplomatic office buildings”
* Recreation, including a gym, cinema, and a swimming pool

The complex is heavily fortified, even by the standards of the Green Zone. The details are largely secret, but it is likely to include a significant US Marine Security Guard detachment. Fortifications include deep security perimeters, buildings reinforced beyond the usual standard, and five highly guarded entrances.[citation needed]

On October 5, 2007, the Associated Press reported the initial target completion date of September would not be met, and that it was unlikely any buildings would be occupied until 2008.[11] In May 2008, US diplomats began moving into the embassy.[12] The embassy still does not have enough fortified living quarters for hundreds of diplomats and other workers, a problem which has run into 2009.[13]

[edit] Controversy

There have been allegations of unethical practices and human trafficking connected to construction of the new embassy.[14][15] Some opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq consider the embassy to be a de facto military base or “fortress,” considering the large numbers of U.S. soldiers and personnel and their beliefs about Iraqi sovereignty, comparing it to the United States Embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam War, or the Soviet Embassy in Kabul during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

From Wikipedia

Posted by: jane doe at March 1, 2009 10:11 PM
Comment #276523

OK All
We are getting out of Iraq. Many people think we should never have gotten in and should get out sooner but we are getting out without leaving massive numbers of troops. The big question is whether Afganistan will turn into BHO’s Vietnam. Will it become another black hole sucking up money and lives for years and years?What is our real goal there? Afganistan has defied more than a few empires.In modern history, the British and Soviets. We are compelled to be there IMO as no great power can allow a staging area for domestic attacks to exist. How to do that is the question. We do have the advantage of having NATO support there. Of great potential significance is a re-approachment to Iran. Iran holds the key to success or failure in Afganistan. There is still an amount of saber rattling going on concernning Irans nuclear ambitions but there is still no actual proof they seek nuclear weapons. There are plenty of accusations but no more proof than we saw about Saddams WMDs. There are certainly bad feelings on both sides. WE should remember that it was the CIA that put the Shah in power and although the hostage taking was humiliating they returned them without cutting off their heads. After 9/11 there was a demonstration in Terheran where 20,000 people marched to the former US embassy IN SYMPATY,with us and laid wreaths. Iran is very different than us but they are a civilized country and could be an invaluable asset as an allie in Afganistan.

Posted by: bills at March 1, 2009 11:00 PM
Comment #276531

1. We invade a sovereign nation on pretexts, lies and deceit.

2. We invade past the nations largest stockpile of weapons and ammunition without properly securing it.

3. We ‘win’ by taking Baghdad, then squander the quasi-victory by allowing the city rich in historical artifacts to be plundered by looters.

4. The weapons and ammo we left in the desert at the hands of insurgents are actually (surprise, surprise) raided and cached away for use by them and ever encroaching terrorists.

5. Terrorists are invited in because we have tried to take over a country without planning for post invasion reconstruction, and have supplied our troops with inadequate war fighting materials.

6. We begin to lose the ‘war on the ground’ because of our ineptitude.

7. We plan a ‘surge’ of troops and call it a strategy, even though it is actually just a tactic. The word strategy makes a better sound bite.

8. We see an improvement, which may or may not, have anything to do with our new ‘strategy’.

9. We take great national pride in the fact that two things have gone well in this stupidity, i.e., the invasion, which looked like a-walk-in the-park, except for giving free access to munitions to the enemy, and the ‘surge’ which may or may not have been effective.

10. We fail to acknowledge our national culpability in a dishonorable invasion.

And the argument here is what?..that the Democrats in high office are shell-shocked that Obama is leaving 35,000 to 50,000 troops for several months longer than expected??..that Obama is taking three months longer to get his initial withdrawal?..that the ‘so-called surge’ was effective?..that Cheney/Bush had enough sense to plan for a withdrawal?

I can answer many of these without breaking a sweat:

1. Democrats on the hill are being Democrats…never totally satisfied with anything or anyone.

2. Thankfully, Obama is flexible enough to make dicisions based on fact rather than fancy.

3. The so-called surge might or might not have been effective, and we will likely never know for sure, but one thing we do know about it is that it should never have been necessary, and would not have been necessary if we had handled the dishonorable invasion in any kind of sane way.

4. Cheney/Bush did not plan for a withdrawal. Such a plan would have meant one of two things, either

A. they intended all along to leave all that Iraqi oil up for grabs, or

B. they actually realized they needed a plan, as their individual and collective history indicated that ‘planning’ was taboo

Posted by: Marysdude at March 2, 2009 3:23 AM
Comment #276631

Marydude,

As usual, you have missed my point. The scariest part of this is that I agree with many of the points you just made.

I would say your first list is generally a good summary of the events of the Iraq War/occupation. Except I’m confused about who you mean by “we.” I assume it doesn’t include you on any counts. I don’t believe it includes me either (you might not agree about #10). “We” seems to mean the Bush administration and it’s invasion architects in the beginning, then grows to include the majority of the Congress. Toward the end, I’m guessing you mean conservatives, or at least supporters of continued operations. I think it’s important to be clear about who you are blaming for what.

And the argument here is what?..that the Democrats in high office are shell-shocked that Obama is leaving 35,000 to 50,000 troops for several months longer than expected??

I think the term “shell shock” is becoming a distraction. I’m saying the democrats in question have gotten so used to calling for immediate withdrawal that they don’t know what else to do now that it’s actually happening. And their tunnel vision is causing them to miss the opportunity to offer constructive input into the strategy from here on out.

..that Obama is taking three months longer to get his initial withdrawal?

That Obama is taking longer than his initial promise is not an argument, it’s a fact, and a particularly insignificant one in my eyes except that it shows he is not clinging doggedly to an arbitrary time frame that some democrats seem to hold sacred. I was merely pointing out that the new time frame, I believe, has more to do with the situation in Iraq than that arbitrary date set during his campaign. But since the two schedules coincide more or less, Obama doesn’t have to choose one over the other.

..that the ‘so-called surge’ was effective?

I’m not saying what exactly the surge did. I am arguing that the post-Rumsfeld strategy (meaning strategy) was effective. The surge was a part of that. We were rightfully proud of the success of this strategy because it was such a turn around from the utter lack of strategy that existed before.

..that Cheney/Bush had enough sense to plan for a withdrawal?

No one knows exactly was going through Bush or Cheney’s heads during the invasion. They were your “we” to start with, but the pronoun progressively got larger to include a lot of people who are now washing their hands of the whole thing.

You can’t very well blame anyone for believing the WMD story. We couldn’t check it. But we all had an equal opportunity to make the connection between overthrowing a government and the moral obligation to clean up the resulting mess. There was no need for Bush to walk us through that. We all had the opportunity to look in the history books and see that doesn’t just take a few months. We weren’t liberating France from Nazi occupation. Still, we all acted surprised it didn’t work the same way. My guess is that it gave Bush/Cheney the cover to act surprised too.

Of course they wouldn’t have a plan. That would have made their surprise less believable. It helped that nobody pressed them for a reconstruction plan in the pre-war debate.

My point here is that “we” are trying too hard to play victims of Bush/Cheney’s lies. The only constructive thing we can all do is to recognize our gullibility and be wiser the next time around.

Posted by: Mark at March 2, 2009 11:07 PM
Comment #276642

Mark,

‘We’ is America (the American people). I failed to keep my vision once, as I always intend to make the term ‘Cheney/Bush’ out to be one man. They were never separate in my eyes. Cheney made all the decisions while Bush was the decider. But occasionally I slip and use they when referring to him. You use the word strategy rather loosely. The only ‘strategy’ I’ve seen in this entire stupidity has been, invade/loot oil/brag. Perhaps you’ve been in on a strategy session that was never apparent to the rest of ‘us’ (the American people).

Wiki says:

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal.

Strategy is profoundly different from tactics. In military terms, tactics is concerned with the conduct of an engagement while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. In other words, how a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy.

Since there was no plan, other than invade/loot oil/brag, it seems unlikely to me that the so-called ‘surge’ was other than a tactic, i.e., if a frontal attack is faltering, a decision might be made that it is time to send the reserves in on a flank? How is that ‘tactic’ different than, if a post war crap-shoot is faltering, perhaps it is time to send in the reserves? We’ll call it a ‘surge’…and then brag about how effective our ‘strategy’ has been…pfft!

Posted by: Marysdude at March 3, 2009 5:25 AM
Comment #276678

I know what a strategy is. And so does Thomas E. Ricks, who recently wrote a book called THE GAMBLE: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008. Here are some excerpts from a review of this book.

At the center of the story is General David Petraeus, an intellectual who wrote the military’s manual on counter-insurgency. He, along with retired general Jack Keane, would push for a counterinsurgency strategy: “You must protect the people and separate them from the insurgents, and to do so you had to live among the population. And doing all that required a lot of troops.” Petraeus wanted US troops out of their big bases and armored vehicles, moving freely among the Iraqi population, building relationships that would foster better intelligence gathering.

That is a strategy that includes tactics like what we affectionately call the “surge”.

The second half of “The Gamble” outlines the implementation of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy. Petraeus began by lowering the Bush administration’s lofty expectations: Nobody on the ground believed democracy and sectarian reconciliation were possible anytime soon, so Petraeus instead aimed for a lessening of violence. But putting US troops out among the population “exposed them to hellacious new levels of violence,” writes Ricks, and there were casualties early on as the insurgents hit back.

Yet the strategy ultimately worked, in terms of security. The United States found allies among Sunni militias who hated Al Qaeda in Iraq, and while often unsavory, they provided solid intelligence and additional firepower: “They spoke the language, they knew the area, and they knew who wasn’t from it.” By the beginning of 2008, the new strategy was making measurable gains.

I think we agree, (and so does Mr. Ricks) that there was little evidence of any strategy for the first few years of the war under Rumsfeld. But then things changed, and I think it’s irresponsible not to acknowledge that fact.

You may not believe that the surge did anything. And you may, with phx8, choose to look at our actions in Anbar as rewarding killing with money and power. Real life doesn’t always make a good fairy tale. But somehow the situation in Iraq has improved. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there has been progress. Either this happened irrespectively of all these random, unplanned tactics, or someone somewhere, maybe Petraeus, made a cohesive plan – the only parts of which we are likely to see on CNN are the tactics.

Posted by: Mark at March 3, 2009 5:25 PM
Comment #276780

The meaning of English words changes over time. That it does so is commonly referred to with the term ‘common usage’. As it stands right now. Strategy answers; who, what, when, where and why, and tactics answers how. If enough writers misuse or mix or merge the two distinctly different words, eventually no one will remember which is which.

The decision to use Iraq as our stepping stone into the Middle East, to use it as a buffer against Iran, to use it because it has a friendly border (Kuwait),an ineffectual border (Syria), borders an ally (Turkey), and abuts an adversary (Iran), and contains the fourth largest oil reserve in the world, is strategic. To launch our attack and speed through to Baghdad, to move into Falugia, and to commit to a so-called ‘surge’ were tactics.

Mr. Ricks can call it what he wants. He is the writer and has much leeway in how he justifies and uses words…even when he uses them incorrectly.

Posted by: Marysdude at March 4, 2009 2:30 PM
Comment #276813

I like your definition of a strategy. And by it, Petreaus’ plan, as described in the paragraphs I cited, is a strategy.

You must protect the people and separate them from the insurgents … [Petraeus wanted the troops] building relationships that would foster better intelligence gathering.

…by (tactic 1) surging troop numbers and (tactic 2) getting them out among the Iraqi people.

I’m afraid we’re getting into a circular argument. I think the idea is more important than the terminology. I believe Petraeus provided leadership that was lacking previously, and as a result things have improved in Iraq.

Whether it will be enough to save Iraq as a peaceful state remains to be seen. I would say Obama’s time line to have the last American soldier out by 2012 is optimistic if that is his goal.

Posted by: Mark at March 4, 2009 8:02 PM
Comment #276835

Since we should not have been there in the first place (bad strategy), and since we have no business being there now (bad tactic), any time line is better than no time line. Obama knows this and his time line is as real as a time line can be. There are many variables and almost anything CAN happen, but barring some sort of eruption in Iraq, his draw-down will take place on or close to schedule. He has proven, so far, to be more honest in his efforts at holding to campaign promises than any President in my span of memory (FDR ‘til now, with the possible exception of HST, who stuck to his guns pretty well). I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Posted by: Marysdude at March 5, 2009 5:45 AM
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