Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Iraq Roundup

Big news out of Iraq is this piece by Michael Gordon in the NYTimes. Gordon only gets access to these stories because he is a "trusted" journalist in the White House's eyes. So this is definitely a line the administration wants to get out, but important to look at nonetheless.

Gordon's article covers a new plan devised by the American military staff and Amb. Crocker in Iraq which covers a security transfer over the next two years. In other words, more of the same. i.e. Continuation of the "surge/escalation". I would imagine the political bet is that Congress is never going to cut off the funds and Harry Reid is too ignorant to realize he could have 70 votes tomorrow for Baker-Hamilton, but Bush may take a Lugar-Warner type amendment and just ignore it. Such a bill would assume Bush would execute its meaning. Unlikely in my view.

Back to Gordon:

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document. The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq. That signaled a shift from the previous strategy, which emphasized transferring to Iraqis the responsibility for safeguarding their security. That new approach put a premium on protecting the Iraqi population in Baghdad, on the theory that improved security would provide Iraqi political leaders with the breathing space they needed to try political reconciliation.

In other words, the exact same strategy since the transfer to the interim government, constitution, and elections: a unified non-sectarian Iraq that is an ally in the war on terror and beacon of democracy in the Middle East. Also a continuation of the Khalilzad vision of Sunni integration into the leadership.

Which, er, is coming it would appear in the near future, yes? The Shia and Kurds have no reason to deal. The Sunni have no bargaining chip. Period. End of sentence. The only chip the Sunnis might have is a fear of a Sunni-backed "surge" of their own from the West, back by Saudi, Egyptians, and Jordanians. Of course the Iranians will counter from the East. But the Sunni regimes will not invade so long as the Americans are there.

Consider the following from Petraeus' own EO:
“If eventually the Iraqi government and the various sects and groups do not come to some sort of agreement on how to share power, on how to divide resources and on how to reconcile and stop the violence, then the assumption on which the surge strategy was based is invalid, and we would have to re-look the strategy,” Colonel Mansoor added.
My only question: how long before eventually is admitted?

To be fair, there is a sense throughout the piece that they realize the chances for success are not terribly high. They are military men after all and have been assigned a task by civilian leadership and are doing whatever they think best to achieve that goal, however workable or unworkable they think the overall policy.

The smartest element of the plan might be the following:
The plan also emphasizes encouraging political accommodation at the local level. The command has established a team to oversee efforts to reach out to former insurgents and tribal leaders. It is dubbed the Force Strategic Engagement Cell, and is overseen by a British general. In the terminology of the plan, the aim is to identify potentially “reconcilable” groups and encourage them to move away from violence.
But given the overall lack of a national-federal establishment, I don't know if these deals hold or fray in the medium term.

Because here is the meat of the plan:
The plan envisions two phases. The “near-term” goal is to achieve “localized security” in Baghdad and other areas no later than June 2008. It envisions encouraging political accommodations at the local level, including with former insurgents, while pressing Iraq’s leaders to make headway on their program of national reconciliation. The “intermediate” goal is to stitch together such local arrangements to establish a broader sense of security on a nationwide basis no later than June 2009.
So the benchmark is now Summer 2009. Or is it Summer 2008? There is no movement to the larger scale accommodation. However much tactically can be gained by surging and local deal brokering, there is no context within which it functions. There is no effective government on the national scale. Everyone is holding their position for the coming fight. All this does is yet delay again the inevitable. And cause higher American casualties in the meantime and keep the US bogged down and delay having the Army face the near total and extremely painful overhaul that is going to have come in the wake of the failure of the post-conflict stabilization.


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