Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It's all about the politics.


This post will analyze some of the aspects of the military operations portion of Bush's new plan for Iraq. The plans for reconstruction programs will not be addressed.

Before reading the rest of the post, I recommend reading Bush's January 10, 2007, speech.

The objective of this post is to show that the new plan has little chance of achieving its military goals, and thus the new plan is based on political objectives. More to the point, those political objectives are targeted to a U.S. audience. In other words, the whole point of this "new plan" is for the Bush administration to score some PR points here at home.

A quick review

On January 5, 2007, I made my first post about Bush's "new plan." Of course, at that time, the plan had not been officially announced, but Bush administration officials were nonetheless discussing it publicly. In the January 5 post, I quoted a January 3, 2007, report from NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, and emphasized this portion:
Interestingly enough, one administration official admitted to us today that this surge option is more of a political decision than a military one because the American people have run out of patience and President Bush is running out of time to achieve some kind of success in Iraq.
I have often noted that the Bush administration bases all it actions on politics. It's all about image and keeping power. What might actually be good for America is not important. The political nature of the "surge" is just further evidence.

As shown in previous posts, people with military experience agree.

My first post showed that the Joints Chiefs of Staff were opposed to the "surge," and yet Bush was determined to order it. Why else would he do that other than for appearances sake, especially after he has insisted all along that he listens to and follows the advice of the the military commanders?

My view of politics taking priority in Bush's "new plan" is shared by Paul Rieckhoff and Jack Jacobs. Jacobs unequivocally said that this "new plan" was based on political, not military objectives. Rieckhoff explained that the troops who will be directly bearing the burden of this "new plan" "feel like this is more of a political move than a military one."

If you don't want to simply take the word of Jacobs and Rieckhoff on the political nature of the plan, look at the plan and decide for yourself if it can succeed. Rieckhoff, Jacobs, and Phillip Carter all gave straightforward reasons why this new plan is likely not to work. The discussion which follows uses their statements as a framework, and I reiterate that the analysis in intended to show that the plan cannot be based on military objectives and thus is based on political goals only.

In general--too little, too late

Jacobs, Rieckhoff, and Carter all said that basically 20,000 are not going to make a difference. Jacobs noted that the surge would increase forces by 15%, and then stated that in order to make a real difference, the current forces would need to be increased by at least 100%. Rieckhoff echoed those thoughts by saying "If you want to increase troops, you‘ve got to do it by hundreds of thousands," and then he added a key consideration, namely that "it‘s probably too late to do that anyway." Carter put it nicely by saying that he though this surge "seems like too little, too late[.]" As I have tried to explain before, post-war Iraq was always going to be a huge mess no matter what was done, but if there was going to be any chance to get it and keep it under control, that control had to be established early and definitively, and that meant troops, troops, and more troops. Gen. Shinseki pointblank said so before the war, and look how he was publicly ridiculed. Had there been many more troops in Iraq immediately after "major combat operations," there would have been a chance to establish and maintain control. Other things needed to happen--and none of them did thanks to the complete lack of planning by the Bush administration--but the primary element would have been lots more boots on the ground. The time to try to put more boots on the ground IS NOT almost four years later. And now after almost four years have passed, and your stated goal is to clear and hold areas, 20,000 more troops is not enough to get the job done. Was that level sufficient just a year ago? No. Why is it going to be sufficient now? Now I know what some of you are thinking. This time it will be different because there are greater numbers of Iraqi army and police. I will address the problem with that thinking later.

So, 20,000 additional troops is basically too little, too late, but that is far from the only reason why Bush's new plan has little chance to succeed.

From a strictly military operations perspective, the scope of the plan is too small, and it is being sold to the public on the basis of a dubious statistic.
  • The "80% statistic"
[Not to be confused with the "07% solution," although it sure seems like the Bush administration has been using that.]

Carter's post said that the plan was "too focused on Baghdad." He explained this further in his interview on CBS News, as discussed in the next section. However, first I want to address what will surely be one of the most-repeated reasons as to why the "surge" will work.

After Carter said the plan was too narrowly confined to really make a difference, Katie Couric came back with this:
But 80% of the insurgency that we’re seeing is happening within 30 miles of Baghdad, so why do you feel it is too narrowly focused?
The definition of "the insurgency" needs to be examined. See, we have been told at different times that the insurgents were Sunni extremists, Saddam loyalists, foreign (as in non-Iraqi) fighters, foreign terrorists in general, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Iraq led by Zarqawi, sectarian militias...So I was curious as to the definition of the term, and I went to the Merriam Webster site and looked up the definition of "insurgency," "insurgence," and "insurgent," and here's what those terms boil down to: an uprising or revolt in opposition to civil authority, established government, or established authority. Under that definition, it does not seem that much of the violence in Iraq today is an insurgency. In the first years after the "end" of the war, there was definitely an uprising against the established authority, namely us. The majority of the violence now seems to be sectarian in nature, not political. The enmity between the Sunni and the Shia would exist regardless of whatever the governmental or authority structure might be, the point being that violence between the Sunni and Shia is not necessarily any kind of uprising against the government or civil authority. Moreover, in the case of present-day Iraq, an argument could be made that the sectarian violence is to some degree in support of the Iraqi government. The majority of positions in the government are held by Shia. The prime minister, Maliki, is Shia. Maliki was able to become prime minister because of the support of the largest Shia militia, the Madi Army, led by Muqtada al Sadr. Much of the killing has been carried out by Shia militias, and those militias have infiltrated governmental organizations such as the army and the police.

Bush did mention the 80% statistic. He initially said "Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves, and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis." Thus, it appeared that he was limiting this "statistic" to the sectarian violence, but then he went on to explain why past efforts to secure Baghdad had been unsuccessful, and in so doing muddled the issue: "Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: "There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents." So, are the sectarian forces also terrorists and insurgents? Are the terrorists and insurgents strictly sectarian? Who knows? There is no way of telling from these statements invoking the "80% statistic."

Here's the point of the preceding two paragraphs: When the Bush administration says that the "surge" should be limited to the Baghdad area because 80% of the insurgency is happening within 30 miles of Baghdad, don't take it at face value.

But what do I know? Let's take a look at the opinion of someone who has actually served in Iraq, namely Phillip Carter. When Couric brought up the "80%" statistic, Carter immediately responded with "I don’t know about that statistic. My experience was a little bit different."
  • And another thing...
I just have to point out another example of typical Bush bullshit. After his invocation of the 80% statistic, Bush said this: "Only Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people." Well, why are we then sending over 20,000 more troops to Baghdad to stop the sectarian violence? Anyone? Bueller?
  • Strategic and logistical reasons why securing only Baghdad is not enough.
In the CBS News interview, Carter then gave another reason why focusing only on Baghdad is not a winning plan.
What I’ll say is Baghdad is necessary, but not sufficient. If you are able to secure Baghdad, you may do so simply by squeezing the insurgents out to Anbar and Diyala and Saladin, and there are many other pieces to this puzzle.
In other words, while we may be able to secure and hold Baghdad, it is possible that the insurgents--whoever they may be--will simply leave Baghdad and set up camp in other areas. This is pretty much what has happened several times already. One way to stop this pattern is to clear an area, then leave troops there to hold it, which is to say make sure the insurgents cannot simply wait until the troops leave and then go back into the previously cleared area. Then there will be a need for other--which is to say additional--troops to go to other area to clear them, and once they are cleared, those other troops will need to stay there, and on and on. In other words, you need lots and lots of troops. At best, 20,000 might be able to clear and hold Baghdad, but not hold Baghdad AND clear and hold other areas. A January 15, 2007, New York Times article (discussed in more detail below) showed that there are still concerns in this regard:
Another concern is that the target of the new Baghdad plan—Sunni and Shiite extremists—may replicate the pattern American troops have seen before when they have embarked on major offensives — of “melting away” only to return later. Some officers report scattered indications that some Shiite militiamen may already be heading for safer havens in southern Iraq, calculating that they can wait the new offensive out before returning to the capital.

“This is an enemy that will trade space for time,” one officer said.
To be fair, the "new plan" is not just directed at Baghdad. Bush said that Anbar province has become the base for Al Qaeda in Iraq, that there have been gains made against Al Qaeda there, and that 4000 additional troops will be sent there. As Bush said,
These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists. America's men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan -- and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.
I will likely address in a separate post the full irony of Bush's statement, but for now I will simply say that 1) the Taliban--the government which allowed Al Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a safe haven-- has been staging a violent comeback in Afghanistan, and 2) Bush is taking away a combat brigade in Afghanistan and sending it to Baghdad.

The plan is highly dependent on conditions that likely will not happen.
  • In general
According to Bush's speech, the Iraqis have a lot to do in order for this plan to work. The basic question is whether the Iraqis can do these things. Regarding many of these matters, a better question is "what makes anyone think this time will be different?" The basic problem here was described by Carter in his blog post as follows: "We also seem to assume away the hardest problems, like the ability of the Maliki government to rein in sectarian violence, and the ability of the Iraqi security forces to function effectively." Michael Gordon of the New York Times stated the matter in a slightly different way in his January 11, 2007, article: "But the new plan depends on the good intentions and competence of a Shiite-dominated Iraqi government that has not demonstrated an abundant supply of either."

Bush also described the Iraqis' tasks as "benchmarks" that must be met. However, as the New York Times noted on January 8, 2007 (the plan had pretty much been disclosed in its entirety by then),
The Americans and Iraqis have agreed on benchmarks before. Indeed, some of the goals that are to be incorporated on the list of benchmarks have been carried over from an earlier list that was hammered out with the Iraqis and made public in October, but never met.
Again, what is going to be different this time? And more importantly, what happens if these benchmarks are not met? As I mention before, benchmarks must come with some sort of timetable and consequences for failure to meet the benchmarks. Otherwise, the Iraqi government not only has no incentive to meet the benchmarks, the Iraqi government has every incentive to do nothing and have us do all the work. Bush expressly said
I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people--and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.
And just what does "losing support" mean? Are we going to begin withdrawal of our troops? Are we going to stop spending money in Iraq? And if we are going to do those things, someone--anyone--explain to me how that would not be, under this administration's own rhetoric, cutting and running?
  • The crucial task for the Iraqi government
In describing again why this plan would succeed where previous ones had failed, Bush described perhaps the greatest task for the Iraqi government:
In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter those neighborhoods--and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.
(emphasis added). And he's done such a great job of it before when he said he would get control of the Shia militias. And chances are nothing will change this time. Two recent articles from the New York Times support the previous statement. John Burns and Sabrina Tavernise pusblished wrote the January 12, 2007, article "In Baghdad, Bush Policy Is Met With Resentment." As mentioned earlier, much of the sectarian violence is being carried out by Shia militias, and the largest and most powerful is the Mahdi Army, led by Muqtada al Sadr. Sadr and and the Mahdi Army control Sadr City, which is a very large area of Baghdad. The article noted that 1) it is Sadr's bloc in the parliament that put and keeps Maliki in power as prime minister, and 2) Iraqi officials said that the decision whether any forces are allowed into Sadr City will be left to Maliki. There will likely be no way to rein in the sectarian violence unless the Mahdi Army is controlled, and the two facts just mentioned don't make such control seem likely, now do they? Moreover, according to the article, after Maliki and Bush met in Jordan in November, Maliki wanted fewer, not more U.S. troops in Baghdad. So there's another indication that Maliki's government might not deliver on the pledge to eliminate sectarian and political interference. But wait, there's more...
  • Maliki's desire for fewer U.S. troops "was part of a broader impatience among the ruling Shiites to be relieved from American oversight so as to be able to fight and govern according to the dictates of Shiite politics, not according to strictures from Washington."
  • "Many Shiites said Iraq’s own security forces, which are predominantly Shiite, should be left to do the job of stabilizing the city[.]"
  • As of the date of this article, the plan was that the Iraqi general who would be in charge of the overall operation would report directly to Maliki--"outside the chain of command that runs through the Defense Ministry, which the Maliki government has long viewed as a bastion of American influence, and, because the defense minister is a Sunni, of resistance to Shiite control."
No signs of sectarian or political interference there, eh?

Three days later (January 15), John Burns had another article, "U.S. and Iraqis Are Wrangling Over War Plans." The lead paragraph painted a non-pretty picture:
Just days after President Bush unveiled a new war plan calling for more than 20,000 additional American troops in Iraq, the heart of the effort—a major push to secure the capital—faces some of its fiercest resistance from the very people it depends on for success: Iraqi government officials.
The story just get gloomier from there. This paragraph near the end of the article described a general concern about the Iraqi government delivering on Maliki's assurances of no sectarian or political interference:
American officers say that only time will tell, but that they will be surprised if Mr. Maliki and his top aides change colors, despite the assurances the Iraqi leader is said to have offered President Bush. As described by American commanders, the pattern in the eight months since Mr. Maliki took office has been for the Shiite leaders who dominate the new government to press the Americans to concentrate on Sunni extremists.
And this concern was expressed in different ways in other parts of the article:
First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

"We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. "We are being played like a pawn."
Maybe I am wrong in saying that Maliki will not make sure there is no sectarian or political interference. Perhaps he will make sure there is no interference when the targets are Sunnis. To put it differently, the Iraqi government--which is dominated by Shiites--could manipulate the operation in order to get American troops to carry a Shiite agenda. This possibility is increased by the nature of the Iraqi commander chosen by Maliki. According to Burns, that commander, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, is a Shiite from southern Iraq (the Iraqi Shia heartland), and has been strident in his calls for Iraqis to be in charge of this operation. Burns also reported that the Iraqi chain of command issue (the commander reporting directly to Maliki rather than the usual chain of command) has not been fully resolved, but that a compromise has tentatively established a "crisis council" of which Maliki would be one member. Still, there exists a possibility that Maliki will be ultimately in charge, and if that happens, the chances for the "new plan" being used to implement a Shiite agenda go up.

What all this means is that it is likely that the Maliki government either cannot or will not make sure that any crackdown on violence will be evenhanded between Sunni and Shia. There are many reasons to believe the Iraqi government will push for the targets to be predominantly Sunni. If this happens, not only will sectarian violence as a whole not really be reduced, but the Sunni population will become further alienated, and that will further escalate sectarian tension and unrest.

Other problems
  • Logistical concerns
Bush said in his speech that "These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations--conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents." However, Burns's January 15 article pointed out that
in many areas, there are no police stations, at least none suitable as operational centers, so the planners are seeking alternate locations, including large houses, that will have to be fortified with 15-foot-high concrete blast walls, rolls of barbed wire and machine-gun towers.
In addition, there apparently has been no plan formulated as to who--Americans or Iraqis--will be responsible for supplying the fuel need for Iraqi humvees, troop transports, and other vehicles.
  • The Iraqi security forces
This topic could have been included in the discussion of "assurances of no sectarian or political interference," but I wanted to first focus on the government as whole as led by Maliki. This topic addresses a specific portion of the government, the Iraqi security forces--the army and the National Police.

Burns described the problem regarding the National Police succinctly when he wrote
The plan gives a central role to the National Police, viewed as widely infiltrated by Shiite militias and, despite an intensive American retraining program, still suspected of a strongly Shiite sectarian bias. One American officer said that the National Police commanders have been “dragging their feet” over their role in the new plan and that they could seriously compromise the operation.
There have been sectarian problems in the army as well, as described in a January 7, 2007, article from the Chicago Tribune.
The Iraqi army is believed to be less sectarian than the police but it too has faced accusations of Shiite dominance. U.S. military commanders in Diyala province exerted more control over the 5th Iraqi Army Division in October after that Shiite-dominated force conducted abusive, arbitrary sweeps of Sunni Arab neighborhoods. Shiite-dominated Iraqi army units have also been accused of human-rights abuses in Anbar towns like Fallujah and Rutbah.
Given that Maliki appointed as commander a Shiite general and wants that general to report to him rather than the Sunni defense minister, there certainly seems to be a good chance of sectarianism playing a role in what the Iraqi army does.


So much of this "new plan" on its face does not make good sense. The military, both past and present, was against it. And there is no question that success of the plan is massively dependent on the Iraqi government in general and Maliki in particularly following through on what Bush has described as their "strong commitment." Past experience strongly indicates that these benchmarks will not be met.

So why has Bush ordered this plan? Well, it makes it look like he is doing something. It gives an appearance that he is doing what people want, namely changing the strategy. Of course, it really isn't a change in strategy, but that is beside the point. Bush, as he always does, wants to conduct a sales job to the public in America to make us think that he is doing something good. This plan is such a steaming pile of crap, that there is no way that it has been put forward and ordered on the basis of what might actually work. Instead, it is politically motivated.

Image is everything.

Substance is irrelevant.


Blogger Ray said...

During the Civil War, McClellan kept asking for more troops telling Lincoln he would succeed only if he had more bodies to throw at the Rebels. He had grand plans, but never seemed to be able to carry them.

So, Bush calls for more troops. A more fundamental question, what will those troops actually do? What is the plan of action? Is there one? Does anybody have any clue what those troops will do besides rebuild infrastructure and become terrorist targets? Sometimes size doesn't matter.

1/18/2007 7:54 AM  
Blogger WCharles said...

"A more fundamental question, what will those troops actually do?"

Who knows? Bush said the following in his speech: "Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs." That is still lacking in detail for me. Also, the question is complicated by the fact that it still has not been determined exactly who will be in charge. Apparently, American troops to some extent are going to be under the command of Iraqis.

As for rebuilding infrastructure, that task will go primarily to civilians through the State Department (then again, who is going to protect them?). Check out a NYT article from Jan. 15 entitled "Rebuilding Teams Would Swell Under Bush’s New Iraq Plan." This is what should have been done from the start, and, indeed, it was what the State Department had been working on for a year before the war, and the Bush Administration refused to use any of that work or any of the people who had been doing that work, but that's another story...

1/18/2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger Ray said...

" help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs."

And exactly how has that changed from our purported military mission up to this point? Wasn't that the objective ever since we declared victory?

1/18/2007 11:25 AM  

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