Friday, February 23, 2007

In For The Long Haul

Michael Hirsch writes in Newsweek that the Petraeus Plan counterinsurgency plan the U.S. military is currently using in Iraq means U.S. troops are going to be deployed there for years to come. Key quotes:

To a degree little understood by the U.S. public, Petraeus is engaged in a giant “do-over.” It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus’s predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant “superbases,” where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus’s plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of “mini-forts” all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis—who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own—are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”


“This is the right strategy: small mini-packets of U.S. troops all over, small ‘oil spots’ [of stability] spreading out. It’s classic counterinsurgency,” says one of the Army’s top experts in irregular warfare, who helped draft the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus produced while commander at Fort Leavenworth last year—the principles of which the general is applying to Iraq. “But it’s high risk and it’s going to take a long time.”


The Army expert in irregular warfare notes that insurgencies take on average 10 years to defeat. And while technically we’re about four years into this one, the Pentagon was in such denial for so long about confronting the Iraqi insurgency—and wasted time on so many errant alternatives—that America may be at square one in fighting it, or possibly even “in negative numbers,” this expert says.

Couple of things here: the preznut's troop surge plan was sold to the American public as temporary. The administration and its allies spread the word that the surge was needed to get Baghdad under control and once that goal was achieved, the U.S. military would begin turning operations back over to the Iraqi security forces.

But now Hirsch tells us that the administration knows that the only way the Petraeus Plan can be successful is if we are willing to continue it for years to come. Administration figures never gave a timetable for how long the surge would continue, but if they are planning on 5-10 more years of 160,000 Americans working the counterinsurgency beat in Iraq, then the preznut and his Grand Old Party apologists engaged in a blatantly false advertising campaign to sell this surge (as they did with the original invasion for that matter - remember the smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud they warned us about?) Didn't they learn any lessons after they lied about the original rationales for war?

But for the sake of argument, let's say the administration manages to convince Americans that the Petraeus Plan is worth pursuing for the next 5-10 years. I'm dubious that they can do that, but let's say they can: The next pertinent question becomes - Will 160,000 troops actually be enough military force to make the plan successful? When Petraeus and the other military experts were writing the book on counterinsurgency techniques, they were envisioning adding more than 21,500 additional troops to Baghdad for the surge. The first few days that the surge was employed showed a decrease in violent activity. But after that, the levels of violence around Iraq returned to normal, even if some of that violence had shifted from Baghdad (where the extra troops had been added) to other areas where troops were not deployed in any great numbers. Can 160,000 American military troops realistically stop the insurgency and the sectarian violence with such small numbers (especially now that the Brits and Danes are on a timetable to withdraw the rest of their troops from the country)? And if they can't, will Americans be willing to send more in to complete the mission?

Doubtful. I'm not even sure the American military can handle the current level of long-term deployments they're using in both Iraq and Afghanistan right now. How can they conceivably add more in the near future without completely breaking the services?

A half-assed mess is what these people have created in Iraq. Had Rumsfeld/Bremer/Cheney et al. been willing to admit an insurgency existed back in 2003-2004, a counterinsurgency plan like Petraeus' could have worked. But for them to be starting the Petraeus Plan almost five years into the war, with most Americans ready for a withdrawal timetable and not a commitment of 160,000+ troops for the next 5-10 years, seems senseless to me. The troop levels are too little, the plan is being deployed too late, and there is no way the American people are going to back this thing for any extended period of time.

And yet Bushie and Cheney will certainly try. And anybody who opposes them will have their patriotism, their courage, and their will challenged.

Yeah, they're in it for the long haul. But are the American people?

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