News & Criticism

Victory in Iraq is What You Want it To Be

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From the Columbia Journalism Review, another of what I think is an interesting example of the "normalization" of Iraq, that I suggested back in October might mean that the war and any discontent over it will be a much smaller issue come this November than most suspected back in those halcyon days of yesteryear when it was to be a Hillary-Rudy sure-thing.

Excerpt, from their embedded reporter Paul McLeary:

Being out here, the one thing that is most striking is how cut off you feel from the political fight over Iraq back home. While pundits, politicians, blogs, and op-ed pages argue endlessly about the relative success of the "surge" and whether to pull the troops out, to the soldiers out here, the situation is vastly more complex.

There is no clear definition of victory in a fight like this. This isn't to say that we're winning—or losing—just that we're at a crucial juncture where things could quickly swing back toward chaos, or ahead toward increased security and stability. The choice at this point really does lie with the Iraqi people, and their government, or whatever branches of their government are actually functioning. Meanwhile, there is a great story to be told—at Camp Courage and throughout Iraq—of the efforts of American soldiers at a crossroads, who are serving simultaneously as fighters, diplomats, civil servants, and tribal consiglieri, while trying to build trust between Sunni and Shia sheiks, the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police, local Nahia and Qada councils (think city councils) and the Concerned Local Citizens movement, any of whom might be working at cross-purposes with each other at any given time. It's a down-and-dirty study in the application of counterinsurgency doctrine.

With no "clear definition of victory," the easier it will be to make anything look like victory, as long as it isn't clearly as bad as it was one or two years before.

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  1. …we’re at a crucial juncture where things could quickly swing back toward chaos, or ahead toward increased security and stability.

    So, I guess the next six months are key, then. ;-}

    Don’t the first surge units start going home in March? Anyone have a timeline on when troop levels revert to pre-surge levels?

  2. one thing its not is Vietnam, Saddam and his regime will never regain power and were defeated a long time ago. That never happened in Vietnam..

  3. Vietnam comparisons from the left are just as stupid as World War II comparisons from the right.

  4. except Hitler got his ideas from the Islamist and had similar goals as the Jihadist today do.

    Vietnam was just a Soviet Client state and a place after the Cuban Missle crisis, that JFK decided to push back Soviet expansion since he agreed with the Soviets to never touch Castro. Which is why that idiot is still in power to this day.

  5. There is no clear definition of victory in a fight like this.

    If McCain gets elected we’ll have 50-75K minimum on the ground in 2012. Those damned neocon, freedom at the point of a gun, Rrepublicans are trying real hard to get me vote for a Democrat for president.

    I just checked it out. This war/occupation stuff costs real money. Fiscal conservatism could be used to justify voting for a Dem.

    I know, that really is distasteful.

  6. Comparisons with past wars have their place, but it’s too easy to overplay those cards.

    It’s never been clear what would constitute a “win” in Iraq. This has been a problem from the beginning, and will remain a problem beyond the time the US decides to pull up stakes and leave. If such a time ever comes to pass.

  7. But even what’s now being described as success or victory – levels of violence comparable to 2004, an ongoing insurgency that requires American troops to be in active combat for years to come, an authoritarian government in Iraq with close ties to Iran – would not be greeted by the public as justifying the price our country has paid, or the damage we’ve done, or the opportunities we’ve missed.

    I remember 2002 and 2003. People who predicted an outcome comparable to what is now being described as “success” were all on the anti-war side, and their predictions were routinely dismissed as wholly-implausible nightmare scenarios dreamed up by people seeking to derail the war.

  8. It’s never been clear what would constitute a “win” in Iraq.

    Oh, it was clear as a bell in 2002: the destruction of Saddam’s WMD arsenal, and the installation of a regime that would not ally with al Qaeda.

    Mission Accomplished! Er, in 1998.

  9. Right now the USA is spending billions of dollars and losing soldiers on a weekly basis in Iraq. Six months from now, we’ll be doing the same, in August. If John MacCain wins the election, we’ll be doing the same in February ’09, two six-month units from now… except maybe with more money and soldiers going down the chute.

    And for what?

  10. If John MacCain wins the election, we’ll be doing the same in February ’09, two six-month units from now

    Yeah with McCain we will be doing the exact same thing in February ’09 alright. 2109, that is.

  11. It’s never been clear what would constitute a “win” in Iraq. This has been a problem from the beginning, and will remain a problem beyond the time the US decides to pull up stakes and leave. If such a time ever comes to pass.

    I recall (pretty clearly) when we first went in, that “victory” was a stable democratic government that was inclusive of all groups and a certain level of peace. Victory also included the discovery of WMDs and Saddam’s head.

    We got one of those. Considering our recent foreign policy success, that’s pretty good.

  12. Yeah with McCain we will be doing the exact same thing in February ’09 alright. 2109, that is.

    Unfortunately, if we keep doing things the way we are, I don’t think we will be doing the exact same thing in 2109. We will have already been devestated in a war with China (and maybe Russia) and the EU will be the dominant world power.

  13. Fiscal conservatism could be used to justify voting for a Dem.

    What if that 4-10% of the Public wrote in their candidate this election… in a 51-49% election world?

  14. The linked article started out well, but I am missing a ‘next page’ link, or is that all there is in this installment?

  15. except Hitler got his ideas from the Islamist and had similar goals as the Jihadist today do.

    Could you expand on that first part or provide a link? It’s fortunate the jidadists have but a tiny fraction of a fraction of Hitler’s power.

    Vietnam was just a Soviet Client state and a place after the Cuban Missle crisis, that JFK decided to push back Soviet expansion since he agreed with the Soviets to never touch Castro. Which is why that idiot is still in power to this day.

    It seems a little silly to ignore the next 7 administrations and put the blame at a guy who didn’t even finish one term almost 45 years ago.

  16. Meanwhile, there is a great story to be told-at Camp Courage and throughout Iraq-of the efforts of American soldiers at a crossroads, who are serving simultaneously as fighters, diplomats, civil servants, and tribal consiglieri, while trying to build trust between Sunni and Shia sheiks, the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police, local Nahia and Qada councils (think city councils) and the Concerned Local Citizens movement, any of whom might be working at cross-purposes with each other at any given time. It’s a down-and-dirty study in the application of counterinsurgency doctrine.

    Hopefully the individual soldiers, and military doctrine, will be educated, and edified, on how important communication and cooperation is to any future ‘interventions’. Kind of a weak hope, at this point, but glass = half full?

  17. For context, I would have liked to have seen in the opening segment of how many other BCT’s are involved in the same thing (a few? a few dozen?)

    FWIW, I think this type of ‘small ball’ is the only thing that has a potential to work. The problem is that we did not do it sufficiently at the begining – thank you Mr. Wolfowitz. So, it may be to little too late.

  18. The reason the military didn’t do that sort of thing at the beginning is because doing so would have directly contradicted the purpose of the invasion.

    Take the Anabar tribes – they approached our military in the Spring of 2003 to offer their services, and they were told “No, there is no place for tribal governments in the New Iraq.” It was incompetance; Bremer was right. Working with established, traditional authorities and local stakeholders would have been competely couterproductive to the achievement of the revolutionary re-ordering or Iraqi society and government that the war was supposed to achieve.

  19. wasn’t imcompetence.

  20. Paul McLeary certainly has gone native–“there is a great story to be told.” Well, what is it? Is Iraq going to become a stable, prosperous pro-American state in the next six months? Or can we look forward to a whole succession of “great stories” over the next five to ten years as the U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars trying to create an Iraqi government that can stand on its own two feet?

    I’m sure the guys at “Camp Courage” are great guys, showering in trailers and using portable toilets, but, um, so what? When I was in Vietnam we “showered” with a bucket of water and used outhouses, but still things didn’t go so well.

  21. I would argue that attempting to conduct a revolutionary re-ordering of society *without* co-opting the local elites shows both a historical blindness and neolithic incomptenence.

  22. We will be in Iraq as long at the majorty of American people want us to be there, plus or minus a few months.

    If they really wanted the Army out by now, we’d be out.

  23. Oh, I dunno – destroying the existing elite is probably the most efficient way to start off a revolutionary re-ordering. But we’re certainly not ruthless enough to do that (the Iraqis might be, however), and we’re not pragmatic enough to accept whole-sale cooption… which leaves what, precisely?

  24. I win a bet on 1/1/2010 if we have more than 10k troops in Iraq. The guy I made the bet with thought he was making easy money (actually Scotch) off me, but he was expecting a replay of Gulf War I and I was expecting a long-term occupation / rebuilding and I suspected a hot insurgency.

    I really wish I would have lost the bet (and still may). Better yet would be if I didn’t have to make it in the first place.

  25. With no “clear definition of victory,” the easier it will be to make anything look like victory, as long as it isn’t clearly as bad as it was one or two years before.

    In a sense, that is a bit of a victory. Not a “stick-a-fork-in-it-we’re-done” kind of victory, but, at the end of the day, you’ve just got to hope that it continues to get better for the Iraqi people and not worse.

  26. …and the EU will be the dominant world power.

    MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

  27. Don’t the first surge units start going home in March? Anyone have a timeline on when troop levels revert to pre-surge levels?

    To your first question: yes, Security Plan (milspeak for the Surge) combat forces begin redeployment in March.

    To your second question: There are no plans to draw down troops to a “pre-surge level”.

    Why?

    The increase of combat forces for the Baghdad Security Plan came with a commensurate increase of sustainment forces (for every one Combat Arms Soldier, there are three Sustainment Soldiers who support him). However, the draw down from a 20-Brigade Combat Team model back to pre-BSP levels does not call for a concomitant draw down of the sustainment forces sourced to support the 20-BCT model.

    In others words, post-Surge will have the same amount of combat troops that were here prior to the Surge, but the level of Sustainment Soldiers will stay at post-Surge levels.

    Kind of like when the government says that they’re cutting spending: they aren’t, they’re actually cutting the rate of increase, which isn’t the same thing.

  28. except Hitler got his ideas from the Islamist and had similar goals as the Jihadist today do.

    Wow, that’s some new scholarship that I’ve never heard of before. Seeing as Hitler hated Jews pretty much his whole life, and he didn’t have a whole lot of Islamists to talk to, I’m pretty sure that completely false, but I’ll read your book when it comes out.

    Vietnam was just a Soviet Client state and a place after the Cuban Missle crisis, that JFK decided to push back Soviet expansion since he agreed with the Soviets to never touch Castro. Which is why that idiot is still in power to this day.

    BZZZT! Wrong again. Vietnam was almost a completely nationalistic revolution that we got involved in misguidedly. It wasn’t driven from the outside, it was driven by internal politics.

  29. It wasn’t driven from the outside, it was driven by internal politics.

    That isn’t even remotely true. For good or ill, both sides (USA and USSR) viewed both Korea and Viet Nam as wars by proxy.

    Additionally, when Viet Nam was divided after the French colonial period ended, the North Vietnamese went on a cleansing spree against their “class enemies”…sounds familiar.

  30. “Could you expand on that first part or provide a link? It’s fortunate the jidadists have but a tiny fraction of a fraction of Hitler’s power.”

    —-

    there’s plenty to read on that, the obvious connections come to mind like killing the Jews and World Domination, etc. The Jihadist had this goal over 1200 years before Hitler came along and have gone through various periods of trying to acheive it. This being the latest push.

    One example, the Yellow Star of David that Hitler placed on Jews in Germany. The Islamist in Sharia ruled Caliphate states as early as the 8th century I beleive, did the same thing. As well as Red Stars for Christians.

    Mein Kampf is one of the best sellers in Palestine to this day…..its no wonder Neo-Nazi’s are allying with them.

    “Obsession: Radical Islams War on the West” has a whole section on Hitler and modern Islamist using the same sorts of brainwashing and propaganda, etc. Very fascinating….however Hitler actually didn’t come up with it all on his own.

    Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers -already, you see, the world had already fallen into the hands of the Jews, so gutless a thing Christianity! -then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies the heroism and which opens up the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so.” — Hitler’s Table Talk (August 28, 1942, midday)

  31. Seeing as Hitler hated Jews pretty much his whole life, and he didn’t have a whole lot of Islamists to talk to

    Although I’m not saying that Hitler needed any encouraging, nor giving credence to the idea that Islamism was in any way a genesis for, nor even a part of, the Holocaust, Hitler, Ribbentrop and Eichmann paid quite a bit of attention to Mohammad Amin Al-Husayni.

    I mean, you didn’t think the conservatives were bleating about “The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem” because they made this up out of whole cloth, did you?

  32. Five points:

    1. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003.

    2. They’re not insurgents, they’re resistance fighters. They’ll kill foreigners and themselves — down to the last man, woman and child — to extricate the infidel from the land of Mohammad. The enemy is non-deterrable.

    3. Democratic government is not compatible with Islam. Like Republicans, Muslims are only happy with an authoritarian theocracy. (And don’t anyone cite Turkey as an exception until you examine how religion permeates the entire culture.) Any “democratic” government will begin to collapse as soon as the foreign troops leave.

    4. In ousting Saddam, Bush not only vindicated (or one-upped, take your choice) his father, he destabilized the region. (E.g., Saddam’s last words were “Down with Persia.”)

    5. Only a draft — when everyone’s sons are susceptible to being killed in that desert hellhole, thus making this war personal — will inspire the American public to call for withdrawal.

    This is all a lie and a fantasy that has cost the lives of thousands of brave Americans who otherwise could be doing something that actually promoted this country’s interests. That’s the real crime.

  33. Richard-I think the American public is calling for a withdrawal already. The election should show how strong a call this is.

    Interestingly, the six candidates that are still running all have different positions on Iraq, which can basically be boiled down to this:

    Paul: All troops out, yesterday.
    Obama: All troops out, as soon as possible.
    Clinton: Most troops out eventually.
    Huckabee: Gradual reduction of troops over a very long period of time. Maybe.
    Romney: Status quo.
    McCain: Put more troops in, and bomb Iran while you are at it.

  34. Thousands of Arabs, Pakistanis, and Bosnian Muslims died fighting Hitler for the Allies MLK.

  35. Ayn_Randian,

    It wasn’t driven from the outside, it was driven by internal politics.

    That isn’t even remotely true. For good or ill, both sides (USA and USSR) viewed both Korea and Viet Nam as wars by proxy.

    You are correct that both the Russians and the Americans (and, to perhaps a lesser extent the Chinese) saw Vietnam as a proxy war.

    But it still remains true that more than anything else, the Vietnamese war was driven by internal politics. The Americans, Russians, and Chinese could not have done anything to change that fact, short of exterminating the entire country.

    My wife is (south) Vietnamese, here now as a political refugee. Her family was upper middle class during the war, and it’s been enlightening for me to talk to them and the family friends that are here.

    I’ll just note that if you talk to these Vietnamese people (who were actively involved in the war and all) about what happened over there, it does not sound like the same story that you’ll get out of currently published history books on the subject, which I’ve read many of.

    The driving internal politics of Vietnam is a long story, but surprisingly un-complicated once you start getting a handle on it. To understand what happened from ’55-’75, you really have to go back and start with what the French were doing around 1910-1920 time frame.

    The French, more than anything or anyone else, deserve full credit for creating the conditions that made it possible for communism to succeed in Vietnam. But once those conditions were created, it was very much a Vietnamese thing.

  36. Geotpf,

    Richard-I think the American public is calling for a withdrawal already. The election should show how strong a call this is.

    I think the preponderance of evidence says that this call is not very strong.

    Americans have a guilty conscience. We broke Iraq, after all, and now we don’t know what to do with it. So we’re going to stand and there and slowly bleed for a while.

    Until we feel that we’ve atoned for our sins. Then the pull out may happen, and the liberal left will bitch-gripe-moan about how horrible-evil we are while it’s happening.

    Not that we should have done it in the first place, but by now that story has already pretty much been told.

    Then again, maybe not everybody is listening just yet….

  37. Had lunch with a Marine who was blown off his Humvee in Iraq by an RPG. He’s healed remarkably well, especially considering he also took an AK round to the flak jacket. But he’s not quite well enough to get to stay in the Corps. His career is over as his chance to join the boys in blue.

    He told me the same thing all the righties are saying, troop morale is high. Both here and in Iraq. He said he didn’t feel abandoned.

    He also told me a funny story about an argument he had with a frothing leftist college chick who slugged him in the side of the head in a fit of rage.

    Now THAT’s real pacifism.

  38. With no “clear definition of victory,” the easier it will be to make anything look like victory…

    or defeat, as Mr Dougherty, seems itching to do.

  39. We broke Iraq,

    Yeah, it was working so well before.

    They’re not insurgents, they’re resistance fighters.

    Potato, Potahto.

    Like Republicans, Muslims are only happy with an authoritarian theocracy.

    Which explains why the authoritarian theocratic candidate is crushing all opposition in the Republican primary.

    In ousting Saddam, Bush not only vindicated (or one-upped, take your choice) his father, he destabilized the region.

    Bug, or feature? Without destabilization, how could progress of any kind break loose in the Middle East?

  40. Internally, on their timeline, the only way progress has ever happened.

  41. People forget how bad Saddam was. The death rate in January was less than a tenth of the monthly average of deaths attributable to the regime.

    Aside from that, I think it’s nice Iraqis can vote, criticize the government, have free press, own cell phones or generators or cars, etc: you know, liberty. They have a long way to go to approach anything resembling Western freedoms, but so does most of the rest of the world, and Iraq has taken huge, albeit painful, steps.

    Internally, on their timeline, the only way progress has ever happened.

    Germany and Japan. They suddenly achieved a lot of progress under under occupation and externally imposed constitutions.

    Sometimes internal barriers to progress need to be removed before that progress can occur. That can sometimes happen internally, as in the collapse of the Soviet Union or the liberalization of South Korea and Taiwan, but generally requires some level of outside push to remove those institutions, whether that’s military intervention or diplomatic/economic/NGO influence.

    Like Japan and Germany, Iraq needed a big push.

  42. In ousting Saddam, Bush not only vindicated (or one-upped, take your choice) his father, he destabilized the region.

    Like Reagan destabilized the Eastern Europe?

    When stability is a synonym for continued mass repression, it is not particularly desirable.

  43. MLK= LOLZ “the obvious connections come to mind like killing the Jews and World Domination, etc. The Jihadist had this goal over 1200 years before Hitler came along and have gone through various periods of trying to achieve it.” STUPIDEST THING I HAVE READ ALL DAY SINCE “Bake Sale at Carroll Gardens Voting Precinct.”

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