Friday, June 22, 2007

When hippies trash the military

Here's another dang dirty hippie attacking the Defense Department (DOD), accusing it failure in The Surge, saying that the Iraqi don't have any security or sound infrastructure, that they could be there fighting 10 years or more at the current rate and of lacking integrity in their reporting! He even says we likely to lose in Iraq and that our worst enemy in the war has been ourselves.

This particular dirty hippie would be Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the countries most respected independent military analysts who specializes in Middle Eastern issues.

He's evaluating the Pentagon's official June report on conditions in Iraq in his paper, Still Losing? The June 2007 Edition of "Measuring Stability in Iraq" 06/20/07. Check it out. Cordesman's analysis is 12 pages of mostly grim accounts of how bad the current military, political and economic situation in Iraq is.

I don't want to give a wrong impression of Cordesman's argument in the paper. Cordesman supports the war but, unlike so many frivolous war boosters, he has consistently tried to be realistic about the challenges - and even then he may be over-optimistic. He even echoes Republican rhetoric in the following passage when he suggests that Congress could accelerate defeat by forcing a withdrawal. Yet he also says what Republicans consider heresy, that we are losing in Iraq - although it could be debated whether the transitive form "are losing" or the present perfect form "have lost" or the simple past tense "lost" is more accurate. Cordesman writes:

Finally, the June 2007 report may not openly say so, or try to deny the fact, but the US is now losing in Iraq. The pace of this defeat can easily be accelerated over the next six months by continued Iraqi failures at conciliation and growing unwillingness to sustain the war by the US Congress and American people. The facts on the ground can change to the point where the US may be forced into a rushed withdrawal, have to try to ameliorate displacement and separation and/or sectarian and ethnic cleansing, or deal with a level of humanitarian disaster it can now say it will ignore but not be able to ignore if it actually occurs. (my emphasis)
But there seems to be little hope that the Cheney-Bush administration is going to take seriously Cordesman's optimistic-but-hard-headed-realist approach seriously. Cordesman says of the DOD report:

The latest Department of Defense report on "Measuring Stability in Iraq" attempts to put a bad situation in a favorable light. It does not disguise many of the problems involved, but it does attempt to defend the strategy presented by President Bush in January 2007 in ways that sometimes present serious problems. More broadly, it reveals that the President’s strategy is not working in any critical dimension. (my emphasis)
He calls attention to an increasingly troubled area, one which is likely to become much more so as this year goes on, the city of Kirkuk:

A Kurdish struggle for autonomy and control of the north, displacing Iraqi Arabs, Turcomans, and other minorities, and seeking control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s northern oil resources, and the territory along the ethnic fault line in the north extending westward towards Mosul. Increased violence by displaced Sunni insurgents – including Al Qaeda - against Iraqi Kurdish civilians and politicians, concentrated in Mosul.
He doesn't expand on it here. But in this paper, he argues that "counterinsurgency" is the wrong approach, and that what is needed instead is "armed nation-building":

Victory [sic] in Iraq requires success in armed nation-buildinga process that can extend over a decade or more – not simply the defeat of the most violent elements in an insurgency. In fact, efforts to bring local security in a narrow area like Baghdad have almost certainly done more harm than good. They have focused toomany resources on one limited task and created a "center of gravity" that cannot have major importance without a far more effective national government and progress towards national conciliation. (my emphasis)
He harshes on the administration for bad reporting. In the world of Serious Military Analysis, this is really a strong criticism:

The US is often the first to call for transparency and integrity in the reporting of other governments. It has never provided transparency or integrity in its reporting on the war in Iraq. It has downplayed the growth of the insurgency and other civil conflicts. It exaggerated progress in the development of Iraqi forces, and has reported meaningless macroecomic figures claiming "progress" in the face of steadily deteriorating economic conditions for most Iraqis outside the Kurdish security zone, and does so in the face of almost incredible incompetence by USAID and the Corps of Engineers.

Perhaps most significantly, the US government has never openly discussed or analyzed its failures in not planning for stability operations or conflict termination, in creating an electoral process that polarized Iraqi politics around inexperienced sectarian and ethnic leaders and parties, and in creating a constitution that helped divide the nation without resolving any of the key issues it attempted to address. The same is true of US actions that blocked local and regional elections, allowed de-Ba’athification to remove many of the nation’s most competent secular and nationalist leaders and professionals from power, and failed to act on plans to disband the militias before transferring power from the CPA. (my emphasis)
Cordesman argues that this dishonest reporting in effect eleveated short-term public-relations/propaganda considerations above long- and medium-term effectiveness:

It seems likely that, in retrospect, this lack of transparency and integrity will come back to haunt the US. More honesty, objective self-criticism, serious effort to develop credible strategies and operational plans might well have prevented all of Iraq’s current civil conflicts and problems from reaching anything like their current scale. In fact, if the US loses in Iraq – as seems all too possible – its primary enemy will not have been Al Qa’ida, but the US government. (my emphasis)
The fact that some of the most serious criticism of the Cheney-Bush administration's Iraq War policies, and some of the strongest, is appearing in military journals and Web sites and is coming from military-oriented consulting groups like CSIS shouldn't be surprising. Debate over results and a self-critical attitude are necessary elements of getting things right. And its a good thing we're seeing such work from sources like this.

But not so much of this information seeps through to our mainstream press. They're too busy pursuing John Edwards' haircuts. Cordesman does get quoted a fair amount in the press. But CSIS is providing a large volume of material like this, easily accessible on their Web site and each normally containing far more meaningful information than ever emerages from one of Tony Snow's White House press gaggles. (I realize that's setting the bar very low.) These are good resources. If bloggers can find them, so can regular reporters.


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