Friday, September 14, 2007

gone to ground

The above video from the excellent TPM blog juxtaposes Tony Snow's insistence that upcoming token troop withdrawals in 2008 will be executed based on whether those troops are needed for security "on the ground" or not, when it is blindingly obvious to everyone in uniform that they will be withdrawn because their tours simply cannot be extended further. It's like a soccer coach claiming that his team will only leave the field once they have scored more goals than the other side, not simply because the 90 regulation minutes of play (and in this case double overtime and penalties as well) are up. I wonder who could possibly be fooled by this.

The problem with the discussion surrounding the surge is that it has focused on numbers instead of tactics. It was never about adding 30,000 troops to Iraq. It was about pursuing a new counter-insurgency strategy with a new SecDef (Gates) and field commander (Petraeus). Petraeus was the obvious choice because he personally wrote the Army's new Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
This is the first new counterinsurgency field manual to appear in 20 years, and as such, it serves as a tacit admission that the American strategy in Iraq is simply not working. The manual’s perspective takes on additional significance since its chief author, Gen. David Petraeus, has just taken over as the top commander in the war.

Petraeus, who wrote his dissertation at Princeton on the military lessons of the Vietnam War, distinguished himself in Mosul with his hearts-and-minds approach. Shortly after the 2003 invasion, he used the 101st Airborne to establish an overwhelming presence in the city, then promptly instituted foot patrols, held local elections and distributed money for reconstruction. At the year’s end, Mosul was one of the few pacified areas. But Petraeus’ approach ran counter to Rumsfeld’s. At the beginning of 2004, Rumsfeld replaced the Airborne with a Stryker force one-fourth as large. The Stryker Brigade halted the foot patrols and the local government’s efforts. Within a few weeks, Mosul was in chaos. The question facing Petraeus now is whether that process can be reversed — three years later, on a much larger scale, and with a budding civil war. It’s a tough test for the theory set out in his handbook.

The problem is that three years of following the Rumsfeld doctrine of light, fast, kinetic forces has tapped out the armed forces. Three years of ANY strategy would have; that is the elephant in the room. There are a finite number of discrete units in the military, and their deployment durations have been extended and repeated to the point that the DoD policy of time limits on active-duty deployments was lifted entirely [edit: removed incorrect assertion that there was an eighteen month legal limit on such deployments]. For example, there are 42 brigades in the regular (non-reserve) Army, and 20 are in Iraq. We are keeping 20 brigades there for fifteen months at a time. Under normal conditions each unit would receive twice as much time home as it would deployed, but simple arithmetic will show you why that has been cut in half. Not simple enough for Tony, I guess.

Keep in mind that this refers just to the Iraq theater; meanwhile the Koreas have not peacefully reunited and Afghanistan has not transformed into a unified secular democracy. The 30,000 additional troops deployed for the surge represented a fraction of the troops required to pacify Baghdad alone. Essentially, Petraeus was looking to repeat his 2003 performance in Mosul four years later certain neighborhoods in Baghdad.

This also throws into relief exactly what has been happening in Al Anbar and around Basrah. In the vast western province of Al Anbar we have cut a deal with the Sunnis. We grant them amnesty and a shitload of cash, then force Maliki to recognize their militias as "legitimate" security forces, and in exchange they kill off all of the foreign fighters in their area. In Basrah the British have abandoned their pointless mission of sitting around being mortared, and we have ceded the area to Iranian influence... for now. More on this at the bottom. Meanwhile, the Kurdish north has heated up considerably as both the Turks and Iranians have crossed the border in pursuit of separatist Kurdish groups.

In short, for Petraeus' principally sound tactics to have a chance at success, he needs more troops. An order of magnitude more. It would not be far fetched to imagine that Generals Zinni and Shinseki spend their holidays burning Rumsfeld in effigy.

So what now? The best answer comes, as usual, from former Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright: internationalize the conflict.
This disconnect between mission and capabilities should be at the center of debate [...] That leaves coordinated international assistance as the only option.

Without a doubt Madam Secretary, but I just covered all of that. So how do we get there from here?
President Bush could do his part by admitting what the world knows -- that many prewar criticisms of the invasion were on target. Such an admission would be just the shock a serious diplomatic project would need. It would make it easier for European and Arab leaders to help, as their constituents are reluctant to bail out a president who still insists that he was right and they were wrong. Our troops face death every day; the least the president can do is face the truth.

Clever, Madam Secretary. I too would be shocked to see Bush take some responsibility. If he so much as emerged from hiding behind our latest field commander I think I would shock my pants. In fact, I believe you may have even been writing about me in your op-ed:
A cynic might suggest that the military's real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster.

Well, color me cynical.

Finally, to return to the Basrah issue. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the military (remember Moveon, they take their orders from the decider) keeps full fledged operational planning for attacking Iran as up-to-date as possible as a matter of simple competency (and the gigantic clusterfuck that such an attack would entail) let's take a look at where Basrah lies:

Ah yes: right on the highway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. In other words, between American troops and their eventual point of large scale withdrawal from Iraq. There are three reasons why we will not deal with the Basrah situation until we withdraw. First, our supply lines aren't seriously threatened (yet). Second, we will absolutely flatten the place on our way out the door. Third, it will make a great casus belli for war with Iran. While Al Anbar is the big newsmaker out of Iraq right now, the real story lies in the south.

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