Petraeus Overplays His Hand

"The reality is, it is hard in Iraq."

That statement by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker pretty much sums up what he and Gen. David Petraeus presented to Congress yesterday. Iraq is hard, but we are making headway; victory is possible, if we only persevere.

Except that in making this pitch, Petraeus and Crocker overplayed their hand. They overstated the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Iraq in an effort to justify the mission -- a mindset that has generated a deeply flawed strategy. They also overplayed the surge's success -- downplaying or discounting factors that likely did more to create today's improved security conditions. While their "Anaconda" strategy looks cool on a PowerPoint slide, it confuses the issues of control and influence, putting too much stock in America's ability to engineer success in Iraq. And, perhaps most tellingly, the two men made the case for perseverance without placing Iraq in the context of vital U.S. national interests, offering only apocalyptic predictions of what would happen if we don't stay the course.

The AQI threat. According to Petraeus and Crocker, the real threats in Iraq are al-Qaeda and other sinister forces originating in Iran and elsewhere. Blame for all of Iraq's bloodshed lies with these parties.

It makes for a neat narrative. It's also wrong.

The vast majority of Iraqi violence over the past five years has been caused a) by ethno-sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites; b) intra-sectarian fighting amongst Sunnis and Shiites; c) fighting over scarce resources (oil, fuel, water, food, control over ministries with responsibility for the same); and d) fighting by Iraq's homegrown Sunni insurgency and homegrown Shiite militias. AQI has played an important role as catalyst and spoiler -- stoking the fires of sectarian violence (as with the 2006 mosque bombing in Samarra), and keeping them going whenever peace threatened to emerge. But that is a supporting role, and it is a mistake to cast AQI in the lead role and to characterize U.S. efforts in Iraq as a counterinsurgency against AQI.

Clausewitz once wrote that the most important challenge for a commander was to visualize the battlefield -- because all plans and actions flow from his understanding of the situation. Our skewed visualization of Iraq -- and overemphasis of the AQI threat -- has pushed us to adopt an extremely risky strategy of standing up Iraqi security forces and local partisans that will, if we ever withdraw or downsize our forces, create the conditions for a massive civil war. Our singular focus on AQI has also caused us to neglect other important strategic imperatives -- such as reforming the rotten Maliki government and improving the ability of its ministries to govern the country.

Other Sources of Success. As a factual matter, there is no question that security in Iraq is improved. But Petraeus and Crocker downplayed the many reasons why this is so.

MNF-I Slide
In his slides, Petraeus depicted the changes in the Baghdad population since the height of sectarian violence in 2006. It's clear that the Shiite vs. Sunni battle for Baghdad has produced a city that is more homogenous, less integrated, and less dense than before. But what about the rest of Iraq? What about the massive flows of displaced people? And what to make of the relative importance of the political deals with Sunni and Shiite political leaders that have kept their partisans out of the fight? These have all had a massive impact on the security situation -- probably more of one than that exerted by U.S. military forces. Petraeus and Crocker hinted at the importance of these factors, but gave them scant attention, possibly to stress the continued importance of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Control vs. Influence. On slide 9 of his briefing, Petraeus described the "Anaconda" strategy for crushing AQI. It's a great metaphor and a good conceptual model. But, again, it focuses too narrowly on just one threat to Iraq's stability. And, more problematically, it buys in to the idea that we can actually control events and engineer success through the application of enlightened counterinsurgency doctrine. That's wishful thinking.

At this point in the war, with the forces we have deployed, we don't control much of anything -- except those few locations where we dominate the ground by sheer presence. Mostly, we influence events, acting indirectly through Iraqi proxies and other mechanisms.

It's hard to fault Petraeus and Crocker for their relentless optimism; after all, they are commanders who must lead and inspire troops in combat and express public confidence in their mission. But here, I think they are expressing too much confidence in their strategy and its ability to achieve victory (whatever that means). Counterinsurgency is a messy business, and even the best strategies often fail to produce success.

Seeking a Strategy. So what is our strategy in Iraq? And for that matter, what is "victory?" How does a "victory" in Iraq relate to America's larger national security interests? Petraeus and Crocker effectively punted on these grand questions, as they did last September, offering only that we needed to persevere and succeed to avoid vague Somalia-like predictions of what might happen if we don't.

That's not a good enough answer for me. I don't think that Petraeus and Crocker justified our enormous investment of blood and treasure with their testimony yesterday.

But I also think that responsibility is above their paygrade. The real answers to these grand questions must come from the White House and Pentagon -- and they must be argued convincingly enough to earn the support of the American people and their elected representatives.

Yesterday's testimony highlighted our strategic drift, and how Sisyphean our efforts in Iraq have been for the past five years. We owe something more to our men and women serving in Iraq, and to the Iraqis.

By Phillip Carter |  April 9, 2008; 9:46 AM ET  | Category:  Iraq
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Excellent blog on why we really aren't winning in Iraq and why American sacrifice in blood and treasure has not and will not be worth it.

Posted by: Dave Southern | April 9, 2008 9:22 AM


I think you miss an important point about AQI. Once we leave Iraq, AQI will have little reason (and no support) to stay in Iraq. Iraqis did not support AQ's way of life prior to the invasion, and they surely will not support AQ after we leave. AQI is simply tolerated as a means to end the US occupation, or more likely, as a surrogate force to exact revenge.

Therefore, any argument that we should stay in Iraq to fight AQI is what we could call "a self licking ice cream cone."

Posted by: bg | April 9, 2008 9:29 AM

Great critique of the testimony, and a very realistic assessment of the realities and strategy, such as it is, of the US in Iraq. Thank you.

Posted by: Bullsmith | April 9, 2008 9:52 AM

Not sure if there isn't a contradiction in your point ie Pet and Crock overstate AQI danger in order to justify mission they have trouble justifying otherwise and yet, as you state, via Clausewitz, they don't really understand the 'situation'. Seems rather to me that they overstate AQI because they indeed do understand the situation but are not sure how they would explain it to the American public. Surge didn't really do what it was meant to do but did help in creating, through a somewhat convoluted series of events and circumstances, an improved environment regardless - and so in spirit of better the devil you know isn't it best to ride those circumstance rather then jump to others [withdrawal etc] that may smash you against certain rocks lurking in the darkness? Hard to explain all this to the rather naive electorate, no?

Posted by: oblong | April 9, 2008 9:52 AM

The only thing I wish this blog entry had added was the estimate for how big AQI is. What I've seen is that it's less than 10% of the insurgency. Yet the proportion of the press it gets here in Disinfo Central (the American media) makes it look like it's 90% of the insurgency. That's exactly how John McCain can get away with asserting preposterous statements like "if we pulled out now Al Qaida would take over" and people barely bat an eyelash. In addition to being small, AQI has no support from the civilian populace. They aren't taking over, whether we're there or not.

Misinforming the American people about the situation facing them has NEVER been a winning move. Just look at Vietnam, and the runup to this falsely-presmised war. The media should start doing it's job and pointing these falsehoods out. Though I have no illusions that they will start doing that now. Misinformation has served them far too well to date in terms of pumping up readership. "Fighting terrorism" in Iraq sells better than "mired in the middle of a civil war". Zero professionalism, that's our media.

Posted by: Mark | April 9, 2008 9:56 AM

I think the clearest indication that we have been going down the wrong road comes from the "We don't know what victory looks like, but we'll know it when we see it" approach. Unless American lives are in immediate danger, no war should be fought without a realistic cost/benefit analysis. Clearly, this conflict is still missing that part.

Posted by: Richard Murphy | April 9, 2008 10:04 AM

Generally a good analysis, but it isn't really up to Petraeus and Crocker to justify the strategic value of the Iraq war effort to American interests. They are the technocrats developing and executing the tactics to implement the strategy. It is legit to question them on what success the tactics have achieved, whether they are the correct tactics, whether execution has been sound, what we can achieve with these tactics, etc. Justifying the expense of the war in lives and $, defining exactly how it impacts America's future, developing our strategy vis-a-vis Iran which seems inarguably to be strengthened by this war, defining what victory is in this strategy and when it is time to say victory is either achieved, unattainable, or too expensive to achieve -- those are the jobs of the President and Congress.

President Bush has done nothing but repeat a few content-empty jingoistic slogans again and again. As a result, he has not convinced Americans that this war is necessary or beneficial to us. The failings of the President and his administration are manifest. The questioners in Congress have also failed. They never fulfilled their duty to question the need for the war and have not contributed to a definition of what success in Iraq should be defined as or when the cost of achieving that has become too great. Like Petraeus and Crocker, Congress has been content to follow the President's course and wait for the next administration.

Posted by: allentown | April 9, 2008 10:18 AM

I just think it's a pity that Petreus and Crocker have to carry the administration's water. It must be very hard to be a soldier who is first forced into an untenable situation by an inept, responsibility-dodging executive and then is called on to take the public hits for it too.

Posted by: Seth | April 9, 2008 10:20 AM

This article bring out a question in my mind, why are we there? I think the overstatements about AQI have been addressed the article and by others. But Sadr showed that the Americans control little, and Sadr controls much. He only had to order a lifting of his ceasefire and we saw the fighting escalate, with rockets landing in the green zone. It still requires air support to drive to the airport. America controls little there and so America has little reason to remain there. If we left tomorrow, there would likely be some bloodshed as the civil war erupts. But the ethnic cleansing is pretty much complete within Badhdad and other cities. With the Americans gone AQI would be wiped out by the Iraqis who consider them foreign invaders. They have no support within Iraq. What would come after that I'm not sure, but that is no reason to continue a large military occupation. Through a controlled withdrawl the Iraqis would be forced to make decisions and take actions to stabalize their nation which they currently have no need to make. The only reason we remain there is because our commander in chief wants to maintain American control over the Iraqi land and people.

Posted by: Sully | April 9, 2008 10:23 AM

What if Petraeus is being coy for a good reason? What if they see a way forward where JAM is marginalized and Iraq's Shia are governed by some soft tyranny based around the real power which lurks behind the dullish Maliki and where the US partners with the Sunni to create a workable balance of power within that context? If they indeed do see a way towards that scenario Petraeus obviously can't talk about it because it would jeopardize the favorable dynamics in Iraq and stoke public unease in US since such a scenario would require a long term commitment by US military. But if such a scenario exists doesn't that alter one's perception of Petraeus' performance yesterday?

Posted by: orso | April 9, 2008 10:31 AM

Interesting and valuable piece. However I have to state that you have significantly understated the impact of AQI. Having spent 18 months in Iraq, working with Iraqis of all orientations, AQI is inherently the core of most of the violence. For while you are correct that most violence has been between shia and sunni, what you are downplaying is that this violence has continued because the militias that cause it have been able to garner popular support as "protectors" of their populace. They have earned these titles because the sectarian violence caused by, and perhaps most importantly threatened by, AQI has created mass fear. With the dimuation of AQI, and resultant decrease in justification for militias, the excesses of the militias have been thrown more into the light and the Iraqi people have been turning against them. Iraqi's by and large are like everyone else and just want to be secure, give them this safety and you allow them to act rationally. But this will only remain as long as AQI is kept off balance. This is the reason for the focus on it. While AQI might represent only a fraction of the real violence, its presence enables the vast majority of the attacks that occur.

I recognize you have a valid view of and understanding of many of the issues involved. But I would encourage you to give full recognition to what truths there are. Failing to do so only encourages uninformed speculation and action.

Posted by: Lee | April 9, 2008 11:03 AM

"Mostly, we influence events, acting indirectly through Iraqi proxies and other mechanisms."-->Phillip Carter

Isn't this what we accuse the Iranians of, in their dealings with the Iraqis?

Posted by: Mark Pyruz | April 9, 2008 11:17 AM

Petraeus has been given a task by the CIC. His job is to complete it to the best of his ability. Whether the job should be done or not is not for him to question. That is a job for congress and the American people. A new CIC may have a different perspective and a different task for the army and marine corp. I, for one. hope so.

Posted by: CT Foxx | April 9, 2008 11:19 AM

The bottom line remains the same:

The only real objective in Iraq is to force the people of Iraq to serve the interests of the United States ahead of their own, and the reality is that this criminal occupation isn't in the terests of either nation.

It remains what it always was: an inexcusable crime against peace.

Posted by: Charles Gittings | April 9, 2008 11:36 AM

It's sad to see a political general and an overly ambitious ambassador trying to defend GWBush's failed policies in Iraq. They are simply parroting lines dictated to them by Bush and Cheney. If they were men of integrity, they would both have refused to take their assignments and resigned. But they are not. Petraeus has already betrayed his troops by forcing them to stay longer than promised and Crocker has failed miserably to persuade the Iraqi government to adopt policies that will prevent its collapse. Another great upheaval is coming in Iraq starting this summer shortly after the surge troops leave. The entire enterprise will collapse in bloody fighting and we will still have 100,000 troops caught in the middle. It's time to end it.

Posted by: DSRobins | April 9, 2008 11:50 AM

Perhaps it might be relevant for Mr. Carter to expose somewhere in his entry that he has openly endorsed Barack Obama, and even has a page on the campaign's web site:

Or is full and open disclosure not a "change we can believe in?"

Posted by: Bob Owens | April 9, 2008 11:53 AM

I'll take a swing at Mark's question:
"The only thing I wish this blog entry had added was the estimate for how big AQI is. What I've seen is that it's less than 10% of the insurgency."

I doubt anybody in the world has an accurate count on the current size of AQI but everything I've read suggests that they are currently VERY small, perhaps 1,000 people in all, probably fewer than that.

They were a lot bigger until the Sunni's got tired of being afraid of them and made a deal that even we couldn't refuse.

Big problem is that lacking a trusted police force, it doesn't take a lot of people to cause major havoc.

Larry Niven
"Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. It falls apart at a touch"

Posted by: Pluto | April 9, 2008 12:37 PM

Fully agree w/ Mr. Owens that Mr. Carter needs to fully disclose his endorsement of Barack Obama.

His blog reads more like an Obama speech "...Yesterday's testimony highlighted our strategic drift, and how Sisyphean our efforts in Iraq have been for the past five years...." than an impartial analysis of the testimony.

Posted by: gustavo | April 9, 2008 12:38 PM

I'm glad you know so much about the goings on in Iraq through your telescope in D.C. than the commanding officer.

Why didn't Congress unanimously approve you to be the architect of the counter insurgency?

Posted by: right | April 9, 2008 12:39 PM

"AQI has no support from the civilian populace. They aren't taking over, whether we're there or not."

Not only that, but I would argue further that AQI is not even related--in a sense other than the name which has been co-opted--to the greater Al Queda organization that was responsible for the attacks of 9/11.

What is essentially a case of copyright infringement is the greatest propaganda victory of the current iteration of the Iraq War.

Posted by: ibc | April 9, 2008 12:40 PM

Could we please have an organizational table of AQI? If not, could we stop conflating our business interests in Iraq with the fellows in Pakistan.

Posted by: Lee | April 9, 2008 12:50 PM

When you have a splinter in you hand, you remove the splinter. So, remove George and his Dick and healing will begin.

Posted by: Jim | April 9, 2008 12:57 PM


Thanks for the posting that note about my support for Barack Obama. This is an opinion site, and I do have a point of view (which may or may not be your point of view, or the right point of view). I will always strive for intellectual honesty, accuracy and fairness, but I think it's only fair to note that my blog posts will be informed by my experiences, opinions, etc. Look forward to having you participate here, and to future discussions in the blogosphere.

Posted by: Phillip Carter | April 9, 2008 1:03 PM

whether we talk about the loss of 4,000 lives lost or 100,000; spending 500 billion dollars or 3 trillion; or the simple and wanton disregard by this governance for the will of the people. we (or the iraqis) are neither safer, freer or winners. if 9/11 is the culprite which i believe to be a criminal act and not an act of war then let's stop the insanity of fighting crime in the middle east. after all we have crime right here in our own streets. second no household, city council, corporation or country can spend money at this level of excess and lack of accountability without serious and dire consequences. we need to face the facts and not continue in wishful thinking.

Posted by: steven nelson | April 9, 2008 1:05 PM

It's a pity that even with millions of taxpayer dollars to hire staff who are expert in foreign and military policy to advise them, the members of the two Senate committees holding hearings yesterday did not manage to ask many intelligent questions of the witnesses. The facts posted above by Mr. Carter are not a secret, but are known to many in Washington. Why were they not brought up in the questions that were asked? Once again our leaders have given a poor account of themselves.

Posted by: simon | April 9, 2008 1:06 PM

Phil, you remain a national treasure with your usual insightful analysis. I hope the Post's readers click the link to your bio to understand the military background and Iraq experience you bring to the table.

I would add one more thing: to obtain the goal of 'security' the military command has focused on achieving a measurable benchmark - reduction of casualties - to quell the political and popular dissatisfaction with the war, and to protect our troops. Yet in doing so, the wallbuilding that has turned Baghdad into a rat maze may permit its residents a modicum of security to help them endure, it effectively creates a segregated form of quasi-imprisonment that in no way bolsters the very concept of a functional civil society.

It serves short term objectives at the expense of the cooperative social interaction required of any healthy society. Or more simply, it dead ends at security and any potential for a definable success requires a livability that is effectively blocked.

I also don't fault the military for this: they carry out the objectives they're assigned to do. But the designers of those objectives gain nothing for Iraqis but a temporary zone of moderate safety. Instead of a civil, democratic society, they've got a segregated compound existence in their capital city, a segregated security force, a government that only acts in alliance against the most popular leader in the country to maintain their own political strength, but remains incapable of compromise on essential points that are mandatory to 'success' such as an oil revenue sharing plan, a job development plan for millions unemployed/underemployed, a plan for rebuilding vital infrastructure and an integrated security force.

Their government seems oblivious to the American public's insistence on withdrawal so long as our financing spigot props them up and our military keeps them fairly well protected.

And with a withdrawal, I expect many of them will simply take their money and run, fleeing into exile, leaving behind their constituents to bear the brunt of their refusal to do a damn thing beyond living on the dole.

Success? No, that way has always led to madness. And the buck stops in the White House for making their own political madness endemic.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden | April 9, 2008 1:08 PM


I would take issue with a few points.

1. I am not sure why you think the ethnic cleansing is nearly complete. Why Baghdad may now have homogeneous neighborhoods it is not at all a homogeneous city. I see no reason to think that the Shia and Sunni in Baghdad would simply agree that current balance is fair and so be it. The battles over the mixed neighborhoods are largely finished. The battle for Baghdad proper has not yet begun.

2. I see little reason to expect that AQI would be thrown out by the Iraqis. When the competition for resources and wealth begins the Sunni are going to need all the help they can get. I find it very unlikely that they would ostracize a fairly wealthy and well manned ally in the face of impending Shia domination.

Posted by: John-Michael | April 9, 2008 1:14 PM

"Mostly, we influence events, acting indirectly through Iraqi proxies and other mechanisms." For those of you who do not understand it, including it seems, Mr. Carter, that is how counterinsurgencies are fought. Little is actually controlled, much is influenced, for better or worse.
It would also be refreshing to stop hearing, from those who can't seem stop repeating the Democratic candidate's wrongly articulated statements about how the recent events in Basra constitute an "upsurge in the violence." This was not some unforseen series of events by insurgents but a deliberate act by the legitimately constituted government of Iraq to disarm and subdue illegal militias loyal to private citizens instead of to the GoI, something they wouldn't have had to do if the British had done their job in Basra instead of sitting on their collective arses for the past two years. The fact that operations did not meet the Government's expectations shows the work still to be done in training and seasoning the fledgling Iraqi Army and Police. That it was attempted at all and was partially successful shows the work that HAS been done. We've been in Iraq for 5 years and only in the last 2 have we begun to execute well. I make no excuses for the first three, extremely poor execution from a government and a military singularly unprepared and unpredisposed for COIN opns. Now that we're finally getting it right, it's going to take awhile to be successful, something that should have been explained to the American people in the beginning much more vigorously than was done. But that is one of the fundamentals of COIN: Commit to the Long Term. A stable, representative Iraq, well disposed toward US interests in the region will be much preferrable to a puppet state of Iran. It would be nice if our liberal bretheren would get onboard or at least get out of the way and let us get there.
Lastly, sorry Ryan but there is no such thing as a "crime against peace.'

Posted by: Gaius Marius | April 9, 2008 1:16 PM

Your pardon Charles. I referred to you as Ryan. Apologies.

Posted by: Gaius Marius | April 9, 2008 1:18 PM

Phil: "Except that in making this pitch, Petraeus and Crocker overplayed their hand. They overstated the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Iraq in an effort to justify the mission -- a mindset that has generated a deeply flawed strategy. They also overplayed the surge's success -- downplaying or discounting factors that likely did more to create today's improved security conditions."

If one assumes that the real target was Congress and US public opinion, they didn't do any such thing. Their job was to sustain 'The Surge' for a few more months, until Bush and Cheney leave office. That's the reason that they started the whole surge, and it's worked brilliantly.

Posted by: Barry | April 9, 2008 1:22 PM

If the thinking behind the strategy is as muddled as the thinking that went into that PowerPoint slide, the cause is hopeless.

Posted by: Peter Principle | April 9, 2008 1:23 PM

Gaius Marius -- precisely right. The essence of COIN is doing things "by, with and through" local allies and partners. However, I fear that Gen. Petraeus' strategy has an internal contradiction to the extent that it a) embraces this indirect theory of action while b) hoping we can "engineer success" through our actions.

Posted by: Phillip Carter | April 9, 2008 1:26 PM

@Bob Owens
nice pickup. Another Obammunist hack weighs in against Petraeus and Crocker while not bothering to mention his political ties.

Nothing damages Obama as much as good news about progress from Iraq, therefore the WaPo brings in a stealth supporter to disparage it. No disclosure needed, they have hope and change which trumps honest discourse.

Posted by: DaMav | April 9, 2008 1:30 PM

I have to wonder why the General did not talk on the subject at hand and why the ambassador did most of the speaking of which not one straight answer was given.he was asked about how we aew doing? But never attempted to address it. instead addressing other matters avoiding the question(s) asked altogether saying well these people are doing this or that and we have to wait or something to that affect.not ever directly answering the question(s) asked.sounded off more like a politician avoiding issues than an ambassador to anyplace.Not I repeat Not even giving the General who is supposed to know what is going on a chance to get a word in short the whole thing stinks.

Posted by: waddayouthink | April 9, 2008 1:38 PM


Posted by: Irma Franklin | April 9, 2008 1:40 PM

"A stable, representative Iraq, well disposed toward US interests in the region will be much preferrable to a puppet state of Iran"

Gaius Marius

Which countries leader is welcomed with a red carpet and kisses and on the streets in broad daylight and which countries leader flies in under cover of night and leaves before anyone knows he is there? It would be nice if our conservative bretheren would get onboard or at least get out of the way and let us get fully into Afghanistan; where the REAL al-Qaeda are.

Posted by: Nick | April 9, 2008 1:51 PM

This whole affair is digusting and has been to politicized to ever know the truth. War is not easy to understand and the average American cannot understand how to wage it, that is why we have professional soldiers. I am a veteran and heavily involved in combating the "terrorist" threat and I believe that GEN Petreaus is as good as it gets. Politicians and idiots from both parties try to make the issue simple but it is not simple.

One thing that I notice in the blog is that Al Qaeda is a small part personel wise, like Mr. Carter mentions but they fan the flames whenever peace threatens. AQI heavily finances the insurgency and by fanning the flames plays a disproportional role in the continuing violence.

War sucks but it is not simple as politicians like to act it is. They have no experience or framework to ever understand the consequences of their collective vote. Congress voted to allow the war as a whole and should be held accountable as a whole. The past is the past, deal with what is happening now. Do not ask someone to come speak before Congress to deliver facts and then tell them what you "think" is going on. GEN Petreaus could have called in and accomplished the same goals as this "hearing" accomplished.

PS. Mr. Carter why dont you write a story about how both parties do not care about the truth about the war even though they are on the opposite ends of the spectrum but they do care if they get reelected.

Posted by: Jason | April 9, 2008 2:35 PM

The real question is, does it matter if we pull out now or if we wait 10 or 20 years?

It's a safe bet that the country is going to erupt into civil war sooner or later, probably pretty much as soon as they can. Will us staying another 20 years simply delay that until then? Are we just postponing the inevitable, at amazing cost to the American taxpayer?

Posted by: Hillman | April 9, 2008 2:57 PM

It has been just a little under 230 years since the American/English revolutionary war. Moreover, we continue to skirmish to keep our Constitution pristine. The latest is the American Democratic Party, listen to them slam our President and his administration, for they want to remake the USA into a different country than our founders left us. We have been helping Iraqi people gain their freedom for five years and some want us to give up and leave it the Iraqi people. Should we not give them help until they can control their criminals also?

Posted by: Billgls | April 9, 2008 3:16 PM

"One thing that I notice in the blog is that Al Qaeda is a small part personel wise, like Mr. Carter mentions but they fan the flames whenever peace threatens. AQI heavily finances the insurgency and by fanning the flames plays a disproportional role in the continuing violence."

Jason, as someone who has been fighting the terrorists, as many regular commenters on Phil's blog have been as well, do you not agree that if we left Iraq, AQI would no longer have a reason to be there, and thus, their support base would dematerialize? If we left, and AQI left, wouldn't that be a sufficient method of meeting our goals if removing AQI was our true primary intent?

Posted by: bg | April 9, 2008 3:26 PM

Iraq March 2003 to April 2008 YEARS

4025 Killed
Battle of the Bulge Dec 16 to Jan 25 5 WEEKS

81,000 American casualties, including 23,554 captured and 19,000 killed.
Gettysburg July 1 to 3 DAYS

Nearly 8,000 had been killed outright.
Blood and Treasure is sacred in all conflict.

Posted by: Jeff C | April 9, 2008 3:30 PM

Phil, This was an excellent analysis, although I totally disagree with your conclusions. We are all bound by our pre-conceived views and opinions.
I do not believe that Clausewitz was any more brilliant than Gen David Petraeus. I served with him for 10 months during 2007 and am totally confident that he understands the Battlefield of Iraq. Shia Militants are still considered to be redeemable, whereas AQI must be marginalized and eliminated, as they are beyond redemption. Therefore, AQI must be the first priority.
Look at the Strategy being employed as related to Geography. We went in focusing on Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala with a clear understanding that it would drive a wedge between the Sunni and Shia elements (north and south, respectively). Now we have Sunni AQI alienated from the Sunni population in the central and northern Provinces and no place to go / hide down south. The same holds true for the Shia Militias who can't operate outside southern Iraq and the Baghdad Slums of Sadr City.
With 26 million Iraqi and 170,000 Coalition Forces it has obviously been necessary to "influence" much of the current results through Tribal Leadership and Iraqi Security Forces. I believe we all felt that was what we were expected to do.

Posted by: Dennis McCool | April 9, 2008 3:50 PM

For all this to make sense we have to go back to the real the Commander-in-chief, and look the reason why we went to war. It was a two for, (one) for the neo-conservative think tanks that wanted to go to Iraq for ideological reasons and (two) for a President that came into office partly spooked for being "selected by Supreme Court and his father's (Former Pres. Bush) inabilty to to win a second term after winning the Gulf War. The second part of this has been completed because Pres. Bush Chenney and Rove have fulfilled their goal of legitimizing their presidency by taking advantage of the American people at their most vulnerable time after 911 to start a useless war that will gaurantee them re-election, if only they can start it and make sure that it does not end quick ( because if his Dad had prolonged the Gulf war he probably would have been relected, because they took advantage of the known fact that people are reluctant of changing leaders during a war or they sense that their nation is in war. That's why we are having all these late surges and patches we are having now. If have have gone in their with overwhelming force, all these would have been over, but the war would not serve any purpose for Rove, Bush, Chenney and the republican agenda, because it would have ended too quick and would not have counted for thier relection, just like the Gulf ended too quick and did help his Dad's relection. The first part, for the neo-cons is still ongoing and the President who used the war to fulfill his and his party's political goals is only thier fulfilling, his end of the bargain of making sure that we stay their untill the ideological part for the neo-cons are fulfilled. The General and his staff are just doing what they commanded to do.

Posted by: Henry O | April 9, 2008 4:04 PM

From our good friend Gaius Marius:
"That it was attempted at all and was partially successful shows the work that HAS been done."

Of course! Failure is a sign of how successful we are! Or are about to be! Or might be one day if those GD back-stabbin' libruls would allow us to be!

And further:
"A stable, representative Iraq, well disposed toward US interests in the region"
Let's see...
1. Protect the state of Israel
2. Kill lots of brown people
3. Drink their milkshake

Did I leave any US interests in the region out? I'm not sure how any of the 3 listed above really coincide with the interests of the Iraqi people. Oh, that's right! Their interests don't matter. Everyone with any brains knows brown people are incapable of doing anything but killing each other off.

Posted by: Corner Stone | April 9, 2008 4:08 PM




Posted by: Arrabbiato | April 9, 2008 4:19 PM


Hey Philip, have you ever held a security clearance as a private sector attorney working on govt. contracts? Have you ever read classified intell. briefs on Iran, worked as a govt. lawyer on terrorist cases, ANYTHING TO QUALIFY YOU AS COMPETENT TO WRITE ON THE MATTERS AT HAND?

No? Then get the eff out of here, your comments are no more knowledgeable than cocktail chatter-they can be dismissed out of hand!

Posted by: Arrabbiato | April 9, 2008 4:26 PM


For the record, CPT Carter served in the Diyalla province. He got classified briefs and interacted with locals everyday. Does that make him more credible to you now? It shouldn't, but there you go if that is what you need to listen to his perspective.

As someone who does read the classified stuff myself, we both know that "classified" is not synonymous with "truth." And anyone who assumes you can simply dismiss comments from someone simply based on a "you haven't been there" bias, probably should be dismissed themselves. I've been there 3 tours, so by your logic, my argument likely has more weight than yours, yes?

If I remember correctly, some war veterans read some classified reports and decided to recommend that we look for WMD in Iraq. How'd that work out? Maybe they should have at least listened to some really smart "haven't been there" people with no security clearances.

Posted by: bg | April 9, 2008 5:00 PM

Crocker and Petraeus along with arr the republicans asking questions (and giving rah rah speeches)were falling all over themselves trying to see who could say "al-Qeida" the most times!

All in all it was a pathetic performance of misleading statements!

Betray-US is earning that 4th star he sold out for! What a shame!

Posted by: Robert Egan | April 9, 2008 5:19 PM

Yonkers, New York
09 April 2008

Philip Carter's critique of the presentations made by Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker deserves very serious attention by the top echelons of the Pentagon, the US military, the Congress, the White House, and the American people.

Mr. Carter obviously has no reason not to call a spade a spade, unlike Petraeus and Crocker who are under subconscious pressure to make an assessment of the situation in Iraq which would sound like a Rachmaninoff piece to Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Service Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, let's face it, have no exit strategy--except to "stay the course," to "have a little more patience," to "persevere," etcetera, etcetera, till the US achieves victory.

But it should be plain to all by now that given the complexity of the situation in Iraq, this is an an unwinnable war. Mr. Carter's essay makes that point all too obvious for all to see.

But Mr. Bush & Co. have only nine more months to go. There is hope that the next administration, hopefully not a Republican one, will really get serious about extricating America from a war which was unjust, illegal and waged on false pretenses in the first place--but do so responsibly in a well-phased and systematic manner.

Posted by: Mariano Patalinjug | April 9, 2008 5:23 PM

Seth said "It must be very hard to be a soldier who is first forced into an untenable situation by an inept, responsibility-dodging executive..." let me respectfully point out - as a veteran of Westmoreland's Vietnam - that at this point Petraeus has traded with the devil to get where he is... he will now pay any price in casualties and pain to others in return for his station and perks ... he has been cheaply purchased and he will always be correctly seen as a fellow traveler of Bush et al...

Posted by: smallcage | April 9, 2008 5:36 PM


If we leave Iraq before the Iraqi state has something resembling a monopoly on violence would you expect some sort of civil conflict to break out? If you answer yes to that, would you not expect AQI to lend support to their Sunni brethren? Again if that answer is yes I find it fairly easy to imagine AQ receiving sanctuary is western Iraq in return for their services.

If you would answer no to either question please let me know why. If I had reason to hope that there would either not be civil war or that civil war was inevitable regardless of our actions I would be all for leaving this disaster toute suite.

et al...
As it stands now, I find the avoidance of civil war a compelling reason to stay so long as it appears even somewhat likely that this nascent Iraqi government could gel into a legitimate and sovereign state.

I think we not only have a moral obligation to avoid that conflict if possible, but the prospect of a semi-failed state in western Iraq seems fairly likely should we leave prematurely. That would be a thorn in our sides and would pose a constant threat to regional stability which would likely involve our troops in Iraq again in the not-so-distant future.

The prospect of a regional conflict while less likely seems plausible enough of a result of a sudden power vacuum in Iraq. We will undeniably have a competition between the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds for Iraq's resources. The Sunni have their friends, the Shia have theirs and everybody hates the Kurds. The Arab states certainly do not want open conflict with Iran and vice verse but hey, no one wanted WWI either (except for maybe a few German generals). By creating a power vacuum in Iraq we will have planted about the only conceivable powder keg that could make such an eventuality come to pass. Again, not terribly likely, but there is no way to predict with confidence that it would not happen and hard to argue that the seeds for such a conflict would not exist. I think that simply writing that scenario off as a bunch of doom and gloom talk, as many have done, is a bit feckless.

Posted by: John-Michael | April 9, 2008 5:52 PM


What qualifies Phil Carter to comment on national security, given that he is a govt contracts attorney?

Not surprisingly, another Bushie fails to do their homework by bothering to read his biography posted ON THIS WEBSITE. So leave it to me: he is a veteran, commanded an MP platoon prior to 9/11, graduated from UCLA School of Law where he took several courses in national security and taught one on terrorism, started his national security blog "Intel Dump" while in law school, a blog highly respected in the military, and also served over a year in Iraq by volunteering to leave his highly-paid big firm position for a year with a 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) team that worked with the Iraqi police and court system. He has also authored several articles on national security that have been published in the New York Times, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Monthly. He also has written op-eds for the New York Times. He also has been written about by the Wall Street Journal, including a page one article about him while he was under fire in Iraq. He has also appeared on news shows such as the PBS Newshour, all talking about national security and usually about the war in Iraq.

So he is a military police soldier who joined the Army years before 9/11, an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran, a commissioned officer, a distinguished attorney, a respected scholar, an esteemed journalist, and is well thought of by the military, including just about every soldier or officer, including me (a former infantry officer), that has had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.

Other than that, I suppose he has absolutely no right to be commenting about anything at all.

Posted by: jd | April 9, 2008 6:23 PM

Excellent analysis, Phil. Personally, I can't see why we're staying in Iraq. We're losing thousands of American lives...not to mention tens of thousands of Iraqi lives...and wasting trillions of dollars, apparently just to "prevent" something from happening, when no one can know for sure that it will indeed happen. In fact, we're almost certainly just postponing the inevitable: sectarian fighting between religious sects that have been killing each other since the 7th Century. Hard to see any point in our troops dying, or our trillions being wasted, for that.

Why do we believe or trust those making dire predictions when they're the same ones who promised (it's a "slam dunk") that Saddam had WMD; assured us that the Iraqi people would welcome us as saviors; sent the most inept political hacks to "administer" the country; etc etc etc?

We "won" the war already: brought down Saddam Husayn and "eliminated" his WMD...well, we would have, if it had been there. Those were the original aims of the invasion, I believe. Let's get our troops out now.

Just my opinion...but, as an American, I'm fully entitled to have one. An essential part of what being an American is all about, Arrabbiato!

Posted by: Rigged | April 9, 2008 6:33 PM


RE: the cost of success
At least with the old "Intel Dump" crowd, inbred, foul mouthed, etc. as it was/is, you did not have to deal with the kind of Drool Cuppers you now seem to host here. Arrabiato? is that some kind of coffee? Is it served in a silver drool cup?

As ZZ Top said, You're Bad, You're Nationwide! It does not seem to be cost free, however.

Posted by: Fasteddiez | April 9, 2008 6:36 PM

"If we leave Iraq before the Iraqi state has something resembling a monopoly on violence would you expect some sort of civil conflict to break out? If you answer yes to that, would you not expect AQI to lend support to their Sunni brethren?"

John, a fair question.

Yes, I do expect a significant chance of continuing sectarian conflict in Iraq long after we leave. However, I am not convinced that AQI will continue to do well in Iraq after such an event.

AQI, and its many predecessors (AMZN, TWJ, AAS, AI) arose and took root because of a need. That need was the Americans (although we could quibble that AI was there before we were). AMZ was stupid in declaring war on all Shia apostates and accepting the Takfiri label. Sorry, that is a tangent.

I do agree that if we leave, and if there is continued sectarian violence beyond today's level, AQI will surely attempt to label the Shia led government as Apostates and will want to remove them. AQI will surely support Sunni Militias to fight against Shia militias, again, assuming there is more open fighting. But we are making a lot of assumptions.

So perhaps I should qualify my argument. I believe that if we stay, AQI will always exist in Iraq in some form (albeit a well suppressed one, but keep this in mind, it isn't the 170,000 troops keeping down AQI, it is more likely a much smaller contingent of Special Ops).

Therefore, if destroying AQI is a precondition for exiting, we will never leave. If we leave, I believe that AQI will eventually no longer have anything meaningful to offer the Iraqis except a very unpopular concept of government and more violence. And thus I believe there is a much better chance of AQI leaving Iraq if we leave, than if we stay.

As far as a regional war, or even a prolonged civil war for that matter, I wouldn't be too worried about that. I think Iran will take care of everything just fine. Does that worry me. Sure, but it is their backyard and there isn't much we can do about it without significantly escalating the war. Is it our obligation to clean up the mess we've made? That hinges on the argument, can we clean it up, or are we just making a bigger mess and prolonging the conflict? Perhaps the moral obligation is to leave and let them govern themselves as they see fit, as much as that may displease us.

Posted by: bg | April 9, 2008 6:39 PM

"Petraeus has been given a task by the CIC. His job is to complete it to the best of his ability. Whether the job should be done or not is not for him to question. "

Kind of.

Petreaus campaigned for the job, as he campaigned for Bush by writing that little op-ed in 2004 claiming that preparing Iraqi forces to take over was coming along well.

So I don't really expect him to give an unbiased assessment of how the job is going or whether it is even possible -which is part of his responsibility to the Congress and the American people. Both Crocker and Petreaus serve at the pleasure of the Prresident; sometimes people in such positions mistake this for serving the president rather than the people.

Last year Petreaus said his task was to speed up the clock in Iraq and slow it down in Washington. He has been more successful in Washington than Iraq.

A month ago, hoping Sadr would renew his cease-fire, MNF-I spokespersons were saying nice things about al Sadr. Then Cheney paid a visit and we're now partnering with Dawa and ISCI to defang JAM. It's a risky strategy - it could lead to pacification in the South and Baghdad, or to open civil war. We'll see.

But, contra Marius, the old Roman warrior, al Hakkim and Malaki are closer to Iran than al Sadr.

Posted by: LowHangingMissles | April 9, 2008 6:58 PM

"Petraeus has been given a task by the CIC. His job is to complete it to the best of his ability. Whether the job should be done or not is not for him to question."

No doubt true, the job of the Army is to follow orders, and the president is the highest-ranking general and has the right to issue lawful orders.

But the general does not work for the president. No soldier does. They all work for us. They do not take an oath to the president, they take an oath to the Constitution. That Constitution is what the general should be serving.

Thus testifying before Congress in a way designed only to benefit the President, rather than testifying openly and honestly and forthrightly about the facts on the ground, without fear or favor of any politician, is a failure of the general to perform his duty.

He owes the Congress nothing but complete and total and candid honesty. Instead they could not get him to commit himself, he engaged in word games and half-truths, and he danced around straightforward questions.

A simple question to our leading general is something like "what do we need to ensure we win this thing?" He won't answer it simply. He could say "I don't know" but then he appears incompetent (our Army knows what it will take to stabilize Iraq - a lot more time and money and effort, we are not even at the halfway point yet - but that is kept out of the news). Plus, it would be a lie. He instead tells us little and pushes the administration line of "what is the least we can get by with without total failure." That is a betrayal of his oath of office, one I took as well and for which there is no excuse to violate.

In short, he put his career ahead of his troops, and more dangerously, he put the president ahead of Congress in his loyalties. A soldier should have no loyalty to either Congress or the Courts or the President, but instead to the Constitution. Petraeus decided he works for the president. For that reason he is unfit for command and should be relieved for failing to fulfill his sacred oath.

It isn't about his assigned job, it is about how he is doing it - lying to Congress, or at least not giving them his full and complete and professional military opinion backed up by unimpeachable data. So if he did not technically commit perjury, that does not excuse his failure to do his duty in an honorable way. He has brought disgrace upon himself, the Army, and our nation by his careerism and by his willingness to say what he is told to say to Congress. Congress does not want the administration's testimony, it wants the general's testimony. He didn't provide that, he instead was a parrot for the administration. For that he should be ashamed.

He could have resigned. He could have told the straight truth. He could have done a lot of things, but what he did was say what he was ordered to say (or worse, persuaded to say). No president has the legal authority to order a general to say anything to Congress. When Congress asks questions soldiers should answer honestly and completely, just as they should if the president asks questions of them.

Petreaus did not. He put his loyalty to the president ahead of his loyalty to the Constitution, a Constitution that gives Congress authority over the military, including when to wage war, funding it, regulating it, and everything else.

He is just like Oliver North, a disgrace to his uniform for putting a direct order from a president ahead of the commands of the People as written in the Constitution he swore to protect and defend.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 9, 2008 7:50 PM

You've made a fool of yourself, as jd at 6:23 p.m. notes. Phil Carter, among other things, has served in Iraq and been pricy to classified briefings. I recognize that pro-war Bushies have trouble engaging debate on the merits, but if you're going to resort to ad hominem attacks instead you might want to have some idea what you're talking about.

Posted by: cdt | April 9, 2008 7:52 PM

forgot to sign that last comment. It was by me, JD from the old Intel Dump (as most who have read that blog no doubt already recognized).

Posted by: JD | April 9, 2008 7:53 PM

damn. I was referring to the comment at 7:53 pm about Gen. P, not the comment by cdt. I wrote the comment about Gen P.

Posted by: jd | April 9, 2008 7:54 PM

This whole affair is digusting and has been to politicized to ever know the truth. War is not easy to understand and the average American cannot understand how to wage it, that is why we have professional soldiers.
The truth has been becoming self evident given time and the average American can figure it out. I will argue that we are not fighting a war in Iraq and even professional soldiers are clueless as to how to define victory or predict/plan an American centric outcome. Religion (sects), tribalism, and millions of different stories on the ground in Iraq will determine an outcome. We are but a resented player and never will be part of the final solution. We do know that AQI will not be the final power in Iraq and we know that Saddam & sons is toast. We have showed them how to play democracy and now we have earn the right to leave.
Don't turn out the lights on the way out.

Posted by: rich Rosenthal | April 9, 2008 7:55 PM

"""At least with the old "Intel Dump" crowd, inbred, foul mouthed, etc. as it was/is, you did not have to deal with the kind of Drool Cuppers you now seem to host here."""

What fasteddiez said..

Posted by: Soliton | April 9, 2008 8:30 PM

Poor Petreaus and Crocker, maybe Georgie should have had them appear in cheerleader outfits, would have made their presentation more honest.

Posted by: Tbone | April 9, 2008 8:33 PM


First off let me say it is refreshing to have an exchange that does not devolve into incendiary invective shortly after word one.

I don't think we have any need to destroy AQI to extricate ourselves from Iraq. We seem to have already seen much of their popular support/tolerance evaporate and we have been able to marginalize their organization to a fairly satisfying degree. If we can keep a lid on them, I do no see why AQI could not be dealt with by the Iraqis.

I think our primary disagreements hinge on how desperate a situation we envision were the US to leave Iraq in a state similar to what we have today.

Right now the Shia are in a much more favorable position than the Sunni whether we are talking about population, organization, or geography. If we were to leave and the Sunnis were relocated to the areas of Iraq where they are the predominant sect they would not inherit a significant portion of Iraq's primary resource. How hard and how desperately would they be willing to fight to get their piece? Certainly the Shia will have Iran for support. Will the Sunnis be able to count on the Arabs? If so will the Arabs go far enough to give the Sunnis a real fighting chance? If so what would Iran's response be? When does the escalation stop?

I would also ask, will the Sunni ever exist peaceably with their much more prosperous Shia neighbors who's wealth will undoubtedly be regarded as the result of the slaughter of Sunni brothers and sisters?

That is obviously a bunch of question marks, but so is any projection into the future. I am just not reassured by either history or human nature that the Sunnis will except there lot when they should. The Arab states do not want Iranian hegemony, and I do not imagine that there people will take the Shia slaughter of their fellow Sunnis well.

The complexity and dire consequences inherent in any such situation are the best reasons I can think of to immediately discount any ideology like neoconservatism. Their militant Wilsonianism seemed dangerously idealistic to me as an undergrad. Little did I think I would see their policy put to work a few short years later.

Nonetheless, what is done is done. We have this mess, and we have to try and make the best of a bunch of profoundly crappy decisions. I just see the more negative results of us leaving as being less attractive then us staying. I also see the negative scenarios of us leaving as being far more likely outcomes than a limited civil conflict.

And do not apologize for your tangent. It is an interesting departure. I do not put much stock in the Takfir label being a significant deterrent to Muslim on Muslim violence. What I see as being more likely is that the label will be used to incite violence. Shia radicals will quickly wra- up (murder) Shia moderates should we leave prematurely. They will need to clear the way to mass ethnic cleansing and their own rise to power. The Sunni will be tarred with the Takfir label as a justification for what is about to happen to them. You can point to any of the violence in Iraq as proof of the other side's departure from Islam. The Shia will then be Takfir for their atrocities.

I understand that label cannot be thrown around lightly. The desperate nature of the situation in Iraq would lend itself to a loosening of normal theological standards though.

Back to the original discussion; I do not see much of a role for AQ in post occupation Iraq unless the Sunnis are in a truly desperate situation. I do tough see the Sunnis being in a truly desperate situation as a fairly likely outcome if we leave Iraq before it has become a true state.

By the way, I am not at all confident that Iraq will reach that point any time soon. I really hate this situation.

Posted by: John-Michael | April 9, 2008 9:15 PM

As one of the old Intel Dump crowd who's not really decided whether or not I want to get heavily involved in this new effort (Fast Eddie sums it up nicely), I did want to weigh in along with the others about Phil Carter and his credentials. Although I sometimes find him a little stodgy and corporate, Carter is the real deal. And he's got all of the credentials in the world to be opining on these topics (listen up, WaPo), even though it's my considered opinion--as a combat veteran--that vet status isn't at all necessary.

OTOH, we know nothing about the person known as Arrabiato. But it does occur to me that Arrabiato probably doesn't have any problem with Limbaugh and Hannity or any of the other war lovers out there who've never served and whose only qualifications seem to be a loud voice, utter ignorance of the issues they address and willing corporate sponsors.

Arrabiato, I hope you've learned something here, both about Phil Carter and about human nature. If not, do everyone a favor and stay under your rock.

Posted by: Publius | April 9, 2008 9:58 PM

Just Out on the W.w.w.:

Leading article: The clear choice facing America
The appearance before two Senate committees of David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, had been the hottest ticket in Washington. He was to be quizzed on the state of this despoiled country and its prospects, five years after President Bush had hailed the felling of Saddam Hussein's statue as inaugurating a new, and infinitely better, age.

General Petraeus, as always, looked the part of the stern, ascetic military man. This time, though, his message was downbeat. He might be the author of the much-vaunted "surge", which reversed months of staged reductions in US troops, and this strategy might indeed have brought a fall in both military and civilian casualties. But he evinced little of the triumphalism that might have been expected for someone who, almost single-handed, had saved Mr Bush's political skin.

Late segment:

The Iraq that emerged from his account was an occupied land on the perilous brink between peace and war. A cynic might argue that General Petraeus's prime interest was to secure more funds for his operations, and that portraying everything as hunky-dory would not serve that end. But he seemed genuinely more concerned with the risks inherent in the current situation, where the incidence of violence is creeping up again - even Baghdad's "Green zone" is no longer impervious, and the long transition to the next President has begun.

Any election year introduces an element of uncertainty in Washington that only exacerbates any uncertainties abroad. This year's fiercely-fought contest compounds the sense of impermanence many times over. Victory for either Democrat in November could propel US Iraq policy in a sharply different direction. General Petraeus can be forgiven for not wanting to lead his troops out of Iraq, essentially in defeat, but - as Hillary Clinton pointed out in her contribution - what might be the responsible course to a general, looks like the height of irresponsibility if you regard current US Iraq policy as bankrupt and an unsustainable burden on US policy generally.

Posted by: Michael of up West.Orig.Manhattan.Now Jerusalem. | April 10, 2008 3:30 AM

Picture Post: The fall of Saddam - and 'the green blob'

By Kim Sengupta
Thursday, 10 April 2008

When the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Firdous Square, Baghdad, five years ago this week, I was standing next to Col Brian P McCoy of the American marines, who had led the US force into that section of the city.

It was the iconic moment in the Iraq war, a symbol, as the Americans wanted to portray it, of "liberation". But the script began to fall towards farce even as the attempts began. The 30ft edifice simply would not come down, despite desperate efforts. At the end they brought in a Hercules, a vehicle used to salvage broken 75-ton tanks, which smashed down the steps to the plinth along the way. At last the statue fell, and the Americans had their symbol of victory.

Then there was the "jubilant crowd", as portrayed on Western television, taking part in the ritualised downfall of a tyrant. But that, we subsequently discovered, was not quite the true picture.

The crowd had been bussed in from Saddam City, later to be renamed Sadr City, a vast Shia slum on the edge of Baghdad. It formed a rent-a-mob which, in subsequent days, went on to loot and burn the Iraqi capital while American troops simply stood by - another attempt to portray the invasion as a precursor to a popular uprising.

Col McCoy winced when he saw an American flag being put on the face of Saddam and ordered that it should be replaced by an Iraqi flag, much to the chagrin of some of his comrades. We were told at the time that it was a Stars and Stripes that had flown at the Twin Towers on September 11, and had somehow been rescued for just this very day. "That's bulls..t," said the Colonel. "Look at it, it's brand new." He also said that he and his troops should leave Iraq to the Iraqis "as soon as possible, otherwise there would be trouble". How right he was.

(Link superfluous.Article here.)


Four months ago, I revisited Firdous Square, which is just behind the Palestine Hotel, where foreign journalists were corralled by the Iraqi authorities back in 2003. There, in its unkempt surroundings, with tumbleweed blowing, was the replacement for Saddam's statue, erected less than two months after its predecessor was torn down. It purportedly shows a couple with a child holding up an Islamic crescent moon framed by a Sumerian Sun. Its official name is Najeen, or "Survivor", but Baghdadis call it "the green blob". After universal derision, the career of its sculptor, Basim Hamid, has nosedived too.

Posted by: Michael of up West.Orig.Manhattan.Now Jerusalem. | April 10, 2008 3:53 AM


Looks good. Will give it the once over from a Clausewitz perspective.

Two points that come out rather clearly to me:

First, AQI is necessary from a domestic propaganda perspective since it can be used as an example of "success". That it will not effect the overall outcome (that is the actual political purpose) in Iraq is besides the point. Notice how the supposed "special force units" is replacing this particular theme. . .

Second, it all comes down to domestic politics as Clausewitz's general theory allows. . . more to come.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 10, 2008 6:31 AM

>>John-Michael | April 9, 2008 5:52 PM

You argue the position dispassionately and well. Not to be crass, but how much should we spend on this open-ended and--according to McCain--multi-generational effort? I'm talking about money, specifically. Why is this kind of argument never accompanied by any attempt to muster the political will to pay for this massively complex and difficult endeavor? I don't mean to call you out for hypocrisy; I don't know what your stance is on the issue of paying for the war, and it wasn't immediately germane to the point you were trying to make. But to me it's part of the air of unreality and unseriousness about the whole enterprise, from the lies about WMD onward.

If this really is the defining struggle of our time, and the consequences for pulling out as disastrous as its proponents claim, shouldn't they have shown some interest somewhere along the line in persuading the public to put its money where their mouths are? There have in fact been some legislative efforts in this direction, which were promptly quashed by, essentially, the pro-war party. Whereas from the beginning the argument always always from the primary architects of this quagmire was that it would be cheap. (Fond as the war proponents are of WWII analogies, imagine FDR or Churchill concluding one of those great speeches rallying the nation for the struggle ahead by pointing out that it would also be cheap. Pay for itself even!)

How can it possibly be true that the indefinite occupation of Iraq is both vital to our national survival and not worth paying for on the books?

Posted by: DrBB | April 10, 2008 6:32 AM

Interested always in connections with Clausewitzian theory, and Phil here makes the comment, "the most important challenge for a commander was to visualize the battlefield - because all plans and actions flow from his understanding of the situation".

This is from Chapter 3 of Book 1 where Clausewitz describes the traits of a military genius. There are various abilities mentioned, but two seem to describe what Phil is mentioning here. The first is Coup d´oeil, or in German Takt des Urteils, which is the ability to make rapid and accurate command decisions based on correct evaluations of time and space, or simply "the quick recognition of truth". This is more associated with tactics Clausewitz tells us, but also has it's place in strategy. The study of strategic theory and military history, in fact all military education for combat arms officers, can help develop this sense in some whereas others come to it naturally. This ability is not gained by using a method, or ticking off boxes on a list, but has to do with the intellectual qualities/abilities of the officer in question.

The other ability is a sense of the terrain and country in which the commander is operating and which will influence his operations. The former ability Clausewitz links more with the intellect, the latter with the imagination.

Interesting link with Clausewitz, but how well does it describe what we see going on here?

Petraeus being a very political general I would quote rather from Chapter 8 of Book 6:

"The counterweights that weaken the elemental force of war, and particularly the attack, are primarily located in the political relations and intentions of the government, which are concealed from the rest of the world, the people at home, the army, and in some cases even from the commander. For instance no one can and will admit that his decision to stop or to give up was motivated by the fear that his strength would run out, or that he might make new enemies or that his own allies might become too strong. That sort of thing is long kept secret, possibly forever. Meanwhile a plausible account must be circulated. The general is, therefore, urged, either for his own sake or the sake of his government, to spread a web of lies. This constantly recurring shadowboxing with the dialectics of war has, as theory, hardened into systems which are, of course, equally misleading."

Posted by: seydlitz89 | April 10, 2008 1:02 PM

Phil, best of luck with the new site. Although it is not the old Intel Dump, I am delighted that you and your views are getting increased exposure.

JD and Publius, many thanks for addressing Arrabbiato's post. I considered doing so but I am afraid that none of my efforts were up to the site's posting standards.

Posted by: BillD | April 10, 2008 1:56 PM


Questions about what we are willing to pay for success in Iraq (if that is even possible) need to be asked and discussed. Given the exclusively politically charged, substanceless, talking points debate between the legislature and the executive over the past five years, I have little hope that this and other serious issues that the people often like to discuss will get any sort of reasonable public airing. That is a shame.

I think we can continue to afford the conflict by continued deficit spending for many years to come. Do I think that approach is either desirable or responsible? I absolutely do not.

I think succeeding in Iraq is very much in our national interest. Aside from avoiding the negative and more near term consequences of a premature withdrawal, I see a larger issue at play as well. The long term governance for the region is very much up for grabs. We have a lot of disenfranchised and impoverished people being governed with little representation. Currently the model in the region is the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Having a similar but much larger revolution sweep the region sometime in the next fifty years is a worrisome possibility. If Iraq were to become a stable and relatively wealthy state loosely based on Western liberal principles, it would serve as an invaluable bulwark against a more destructive change in the region.

That is one admirable thing about the neoconservative school of thought. To their credit they realized that the support of despots was not a viable long term strategy in the region. Fostering democracy now could stave off a disaster a few decades from now. The hubris involved in how they decided to foster democracy is where they and I very sharply departed. Their notions of the relative ease of actively engineering such change were seen as ridiculous by realists and neorealists. There were plenty of very smart people in the administration foretelling the disaster that the invasion would precipitate. Unfortunately those voices were either marginalized or beaten into submission and we went with the false comforts of moral and intellectual conceit.

Sorry,,,, way off track

As far as funding the war goes I think we should raise taxes to pay for it. We should have some more apparent skin in the effort. We are not asking people to grow victory gardens, collect scrap, or buy,,, hey there is an idea lets sell war bonds. That way supporters can more actively support and no one has to take the politically odious step of raising taxes. I am young enough that I have no need for much fixed income in my investments, but I would shift a significant amount (to me at least) of savings to war bonds. It would still be deficit spending, but at least the money would be staying in the country.

Seriously though I think a much more convincing case needs to be made to the public, and the responsible action for Congress to take is to raise taxes. The problem with the first task is that virtually no one involved with the current administration has significant credibility left. How about Powell for VP? It is going to be a task left to the next administration and probably necessarily so. I think the funding issue will be delayed as well, and maybe they will sell war bonds (but we'll probably call them freedom notes).

At any rate I think the $3,000,000,000,000 number that has be thrown around is probably a reasonable and not overly conservative estimate. If our per year cost is still where it is today five or six years from now that will be a bad sign. Five years from now we should begin to see a noticeable downward trend in costs. If not Iraq's progress, if there is any, will have been so glacial as to call the whole project into a fairly damning position. I do not think we are near that point yet. Ten years from now we need to be at a fairly stable and sustainable place.

Posted by: John-Michael | April 10, 2008 2:23 PM

"I would also ask, will the Sunni ever exist peaceably with their much more prosperous Shia neighbors who's wealth will undoubtedly be regarded as the result of the slaughter of Sunni brothers and sisters?"


I believe yes. The Sunni and Shi'a lived together peacefully for a very long time before we showed up. I've visited Iraq on several occasions, every where from Baghdad to Mosul to Sulymaniyah, and every where I went I found a diversity of ethnic groups living together as they have always done.

You have extremists on both ends who make the most noise, and get the most attention. We served as catalysts when we began segregating Iraqis (favoring Shi'a likely on accident, but perceived as purposeful), and then AMZ and his Takfiri types attacked Shia, who then ganged up to attack Sunni in response, and then later in a more proactive measure (as I witnessed Shi'a militias displacing Sunni in East Baghdad for profit in the name of "security").

I believe that Iraqis are more nationalistic than most give them credit for. However, on the other side of the coin, there is another very important result of the US invasion on Iraqi society, one which gets very little attention. Tribes are no longer very important. Under the Saddam Regime, and throughout history, tribal affairs was critical. Today, I don't think we see tribe being as important, as sectarian militias, criminal groups and political parties are taking the place of tribal importance.

Posted by: bg | April 10, 2008 5:59 PM


I Completely agree that Iraqis of all sects can coexist perfectly peacefully. That has pretty much been the case in the past. That along with Iraq's former vibrant middle class are two of the primary reasons I can still hold onto a reasonable amount of hope.

As we have seen that coexistence is reversible under stress though. Right now the extremists are primarily just making a lot of noise. That is because they know they have a very good chance of dieing in a protracted struggle with us. By us I mean not only US forces but the IA and the various other paramilitary elements that we have supported. Late 06 and early 07 was a different story. We had fewer troops, the IA was still less capable, and we had not yet co-opted the myriad of other factions who we now count as oh so tentative allies. We saw the country starting to slip into civil war.

Were we to withdraw anytime soon the IA would have insufficient capabilities in terms of not only man power but in armament, logistics, organization, and espirit de cour as well. Our tentative allies would make other arrangements more to their future benefit, and any semblance of national order will quickly disintegrate. History the world and time over has shown what happens when order vaporizes. Former cross sectarian bonds will more than likely mean nothing as people attach themselves to their best hope for a secure future.

I would also point out that in truly chaotic situations it is usually the extremists that come out on top. They generally first eliminate the moderates on their own side and then focus on their exterior opponents. I would put very little stock in the possibility of moderates holding any sway after we begin to pull out.

This is not necessarily directed at you bg, but this discussion brings up another subject. The notion that we can immediately begin a gradual pull out as Obama has outlined and perform any substantive mission other than force protection is probably pure fantasy. We immediately lose almost all our allies and many of our current "allies" will likely become enemies anew. No one is going to stake their future with the retreating party. The future that we hoped for will be forever gone, and the competition for control of an alternate future will begin in earnest.

I do not seriously expect Barack to hold to that plan. I think the gravity of reality will preclude any such decision once someone is actually sitting in the big chair.

Posted by: John-Michael | April 10, 2008 7:53 PM

"I do not seriously expect Barack to hold to that plan. I think the gravity of reality will preclude any such decision once someone is actually sitting in the big chair."

Concur on all points above. Re: Obama, I believe is a very intelligent man, as well as a gifted politician. I believe that if he is elected, he will pull a substantial amount of troops, at least 100,000, but will leave a substantial Special Ops and internal defense training force for the foreseeable future. I am just dying to hear what his justification will be.


"We saw the country starting to slip into civil war"

This did not happen in Late 06, early 07 as you suggested. I warned my chain of command of the pending civil (sectarian) war back in 2004, and again in 2005, and I watched it with my own eyes come to fruition in East Baghdad in early 2006. This scenario was not a surprise to anyone except those who only hear what they want to hear.

Posted by: bg | April 11, 2008 7:50 AM

It's hard to imagine any justification for us still being in Iraq 10, or even 5-6, years from now. There hasn't been a single development to give the slightest indication that we'll ever leave behind a "stable, peaceful, democratic" Iraq when we end our matter how long we might stay. How is that possibly supposed to happen...just through wishful thinking and hoping? Even Petraeus and Crocker didn't have the slightest idea. The "surge" has indeed reduced the level of 2005 levels, as I understand it, though the violence has of course increased again lately. The Iraqis have shown little or no inclination to achieve national "reconciliation"...the various parties are much more interested in protecting their own turf and influence and fighting over wealth. Our occupation has just been a neon-lighted recruiting poster for insurgents, and it always will be. It's also interesting that Iran seems to get more respect in Iraq than we do...their president was greeted openly and warmly, while our president and other senior officials sneak in to visit.
Why Iraq could even remotely be considered worth thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and trillions of our dollars completely escapes me -- and I spent 40 years in the US intelligence community. We've already "won" in Iraq...we removed Saddam Husayn and "eliminated" his WMD -- well, we would have if.... Those were the original goals, so we've "won" on those issues. Hopefully, the next president will listen to the views of the American people (supposedly, we have a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people"...though Cheney clearly doesn't believe it) and do everything possible to remove our troops from Iraq rapidly, and end the folly and the complete waste of lives (American and Iraqi) and significant resources.

Posted by: Rigged | April 11, 2008 12:35 PM

Re the administration and their leadership in Iraq - one needs to analyze closely what it means to "win" in a conflict such as that in Iraq. If it means decimating the population, does that not indeed qualify for the ultimate Pyrrhic victory in favor of democracy? And does that then constitute true democracy? Do we have any idea what we are doing, or what the "end game" is?

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