Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cordesman on the McCain escalation

The Surge:

Antiwar Hungarian poster from the First World War

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is often quoted as an authority on the Iraq War. And with good reason. He knows his stuff, he's been following events closely and he's maintained a critical realism about the war, unlike many of his fellow war supporters. And he has a new paper out evaluating the McCain escalation plan that Cheney and Bush have adopted for Iraq:
The New Bush Strategy in Iraq: Is Victory Still Possible? 01/16/07 (CSIS).

I quote Cordesman a lot, and there's a kind of "giving evidence against one's own interest" credibility about the fact that he supports the war still but is very critical about the problems and about the Cheney-Bush administration's dishonesty about the war. He hasn't been a cheerleader and dissembler like many of the warbloggers and Republican politicians.

Still, given the problems he describes, it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand how he can draw even the cautiously optimistic conclusions he does, given the grimness of the facts he describes. In this paper, he says that the New Way Forward (the McCain escalation) "may be able to defeat the insurgency and reverse Iraq's drift towards civil war". It offers "a significant chance of success", he writes.

Then he describes some of the obstacles to that goal.

The Iraqi government is undependable, he writes. They don't want to disarm the Shi'a militias/death squads. The security forces are riddled with Shi'a and Kurdish militias. The number of US troops being brought into Baghdad are unlikely to be able to accomplish what Cheney and Bush claim. Not even in Baghdad, and forget about Basra, Kirkuk and Mosul. The actions "will almost certainly mean a major confrontatio with [Muqtada al-]Sadr and the Mahdi militia". The necessary nationwide political conciliation is unlikely to happen anytime soon. It is "very doubtful" that the November 2007 goal for Iraqi forces to be in the lead in all provinces is going to be achieved. There's no guarantee that whatever Iraqi army and police actually show up to fight in Baghdad will actually fight the insurgents and sectarian militias. There also won't be enough Iraqi forces in Baghdad anyway. The police in Baghdad are either tied in "to Shi'ite militias and death squads" or "ineffective, corrupt, and not properly trained or equipped for the mission". Bush's claim that Iraqi forces would take the lead is bogus, it's going to be Americans "that will do almost all of the hard fighting". The so-called benchmarks make actually have a contrary effect to their alleged intent. The Iraqi government may try to use US troops as support for the Shi'a militias in their civil war with the Sunnis.

Other than that, the chances for the McCain escalation look pretty good!

I don't want to diss Cordesman, because he is one of the best and most serious military analysts around, and he is producing a huge amount of valuable work on the Iraq War alone, plus writing on other topics, as well.

Most of the paper consists of a lengthy "fisking" of Bush's Surge Speech of 01/10/07. I'll probably be quoting more from it in other posts, because it has a wealth of information and analysis on what The Surge really encompasses. He has combined the Surge Speech with other related official pronouncements. He writes:

The reader should be aware that the official statements quoted here not only provide a far broader picture on the new strategy the President has proposed, but differ significantly from many of the "leaks" and private interpretations of the US plan.
Still and all, at what point to the fatal weaknesses in the Cheney-Bush war effort that Cordesman points out as capably as anyone make him give up his optimism and start to say that continuing the war is irrational and reprehensible?

In his Executive Summary, after citing the many factors that doom the McCain escalation even before it begins, he says that "the odds of success are probably less than even". I suppose if the definition of "sucess" he's using is limited to not compounding the disaster we know as the Iraq War, that makes some sense.

To be fair, what he says is that the McCain escalation may "succeed over time". Cordesman has been consistent as far as I've seen in saying that prosecuting the war to a point where we achieve stability with a friendly Iraqi government reasonably in control of the whole country would require an active American combat presence of 5-10 years. And the last time I saw him saying that he clearly meant 5-10 more years from now. So he's evaulating the prospects from the assumption that the US may yet undertake such a "long war" in Iraq.

But how long can he keep this up? In the print edition of Middle East Policy Fall 2006, Cordesman wrote on, "Winning the "war on terrorism": a fundamentally different strategy". There he said:

The U.S. focus on the role Iraq now plays in the larger war on terror is valid, but far too many see this nearly monolithic focus on terrorism, military victory, and imposing an American political system as proof that the invasion of Iraq was motivated by concern for Israel's security, Iraq's oil and the quest for military bases in the region. Once again, the United States does not need to change its core policies, but it needs to give the highest possible visibility to aiding the Iraqi people, deferring to a sovereign Iraqi government, and showing that Iraqi oil is for the Iraqis and that Washington has no intention of maintaining any military presence that the Iraqi government does not need or want.

Far more important than any such policy pronouncements, however, is a policy that there must be no more Abu Ghraibs or Hadithas. Mistakes in war will happen, and history is full of such mistakes. The implications, however, of mistakes like Haditha go beyond their tactical importance in the field. Such mistakes cut to the heart of the U.S. posture in the region - the way Iraqis, Arabs and Muslims see the United States - and they are used repeatedly by al-Qaeda and other extremists groups as rallying cries for recruitment. Both the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are religious, political and ideological battles. Every American abuse of the values the United States stands for does far more harm in losing this battle than any direct act of treason. (my emphasis)
Now, this is sensible and consistent with what other reality-based experts on the region are saying. The atrocities that have been a part of the US conduct of the war are hurting both the Iraq War and the larger "war on terror" more "than any direct act of treason". That's pretty strong stuff, which certainly won't make the warbloggers happy to hear.

Meanwhile, it vital to defer to the "sovereign Iraqi government", but Cheney and Bush clearly treat that entity like colonial puppets, and more-or-less openly threaten to overthrow it if Prime Minister Maliki doesn't do what his masters want.

It's also critical to show that "Iraqi oil is for the Iraqis" but the administration is imposing new laws on oil production and export that will give far larger profits to oil multinationals than they would have been able to get before.

It's also necessary to demonstrate that the US is not intending to maintain "any military presence that the Iraqi government does not need or want". But the administration is clearly intending to maintain permanent bases, and is even imposing the McCain escalation against the wishes of the Maliki government.

These elements that Cordesman says are so vital not only to the Iraq War but to the larger GWOT (global war on terror) aren't happening. In fact, the Cheney-Bush administration continues to compound these very problems.

So what will it take for Cordesman to say, okay, we can make theoretical models of what might succeed under conditions that don't exist and never will. But it's the Cheney-Bush administration running the war, and all they are doing is causing more damage to American interests at this point. So let's forget the optimistic blather and get American soldiers out of this catastrophe.

Like I say, Cordesman is a great source and you'll see me continuing to link to his material. In fact, I may quote him more than any other single writer on the Iraq War. But it seems to me that it's past time for him to get his policy conclusions and recommendations in line with what his analysis is clearly indicating.

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