More Hogwash on Iraq

General David Petraeus, Bush’s latest appointee for chief of American forces in Iraq, is trying to avoid setting any concrete failure standards for the surge. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he failed to answer any question about goals, timetables, or deadlines, and said nothing apart from the usual spiel about victory.

In his opening statement, Petraeus, 54, painted a grim picture of conditions in Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. … But hard is not hopeless,” he said.

In theory, it’s true: hard is not hopeless. In practice, the US has already lost in Iraq. It’s failed to contain the insurgency, and under its watch a large mass of Shi’as switched loyalties from pro-American Sistani to anti-American Sadr. Its original stated aim – to usher in a pro-American, democratic Iraq – is a pipedream. Bush made pro-Americanism an almost fringe view, and as early as 2003, it was obvious the alternative regime in Iraq was going to be an Iran-style theocracy rather than a liberal democracy.

Stentor once wrote about studies of irrationality. Firms that had spent three million dollars out of five on a project that then turned out to be worth only one million would always finish the project instead of cut their losses and save a million dollars. Bush’s inability to admit failure is just another example of this in action: he’d rather spend a hundred billion dollars and get two hundred thousand more Iraqis killed in the hope of achieving something that won’t even recover these costs.

Asked by McCain how soon he thought he would know whether the new strategy was working, Petraeus said, “We would have indicators at the least during the late summer.” As currently planned, he said, the last of the five additional U.S. Army brigades would be ready to fight in Baghdad by the end of May.

A good rule of thumb about Iraq is that anyone who’s hyperopic enough to institute seven-month plans has no idea what he’s doing.

Thomas Friedman has gotten away too much with saying “The next six months are crucial”; Petraeus isn’t an op-ed writer for the newspaper every political activist in the US loves to hate, but a General who’s by and large above criticism. When the additional troops fail to deliver the goods by late summer, he’ll just shift the goalposts to winter ’08, and Bush will call everyone who objects a defeatist.

8 Responses to More Hogwash on Iraq

  1. Axel says:

    I like Gen. David Petraeus who also co-authored the new counterinsurgency doctrine which is worth reading, expecially for armchair generals like Rummsfeld. You know: Among the blind a one-eyed is the king. He already gave an interesting interview to SPIEGEL ONLINE in December:

    “We Have to Raise our Sights Beyond the Range of an M-16”

    In an interview with SPIEGEL, General David Petraeus, a former commander in Iraq who is now responsible for training United States Army troops, discusses the lessons of Baghdad, the reasons a war can’t be won using weapons alone and why America’s future warriors need a post-graduate education.,1518,455199,00.html

  2. Axel says:

    Sorry Alon, can you please delete the first entry…

  3. I skimmed Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manifesto and I was shocked by how bad it was. I mean, the guys who are currently not winning in Iraq have codified their non-expertise as a guide for future generations.

    The experiences of Mattis’s First Marine Division get a whole gushy textbox about how these soldiers did everything right in terms of counterinsurgency: working with the locals, gathering intelligence, improving infrastructure. There’s just one problem, their region of Al Anbar province is an absolute disaster. It was named one of Iraq’s worst areas back in September by an independent CIA report.

    So, either they weren’t really doing what the doctrine advises, or they did everything “right” according to Petraeus and still didn’t get anywhere. It doesn’t speak well for the quality of the report or the doctrine.

  4. Axel says:


    in my opinion, the focus on counter-insurgency in Iraq is years too late. But I see the FM 3-24 as important because some essential topics are raised: It draws no distinction between civilian and classic military operations, it almost equates the importance of the two. Now, military must do its utmost to avoid large-scale destruction and, by as early as the initial attack, not only protect the civilian population but also support it with all available means in order to secure its cooperation for regime change. As far as I know, that’s new for the US military and a sea change when it comes to training and combat procedures. It has little in common with the Rumsfeld Doctrine when US soldiers and civilians now should learn Arabic and become culturally sensitive to the conditions of the local population as a way of improving critical intelligence!

    With the 101st Airborne Division, Petraeus worked very hard to keep the Kurds from encouraging their fellow Kurds in Turkey from rising up. He also helped keep the Turks out of the Kurdish region of Iraq. I think this was one of the very few convincing operations in Iraq. After the 101st left in 2004, public order decayed rapidly.

    But don’t calculate the recommended number of US troops for efficient counter-insurgency operations! The report says the ideal ratio of troops to population is 20 per 1,000. Iraq’s population is 26m.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Is the manifesto as bad as the interview Axel links to, Lindsay? In the interview, he presents a confused view that is best described as “Shooting first and asking questions later is a bad idea, except when it isn’t.” It reads like a parody of politics, in which the politicians always speak in wide platitudes but offer nothing more specific than “I support making things better.”

    At any rate, that whole operation is one that is begging for results-based management. It’s common for the US to promote Orwellian views of international relations, where reality is distorted to fit what must be true. The First Marine Division is doing what it’s supposed to, so it must be a great success story.

  6. :trophy: Cool! There is no adjective that can properly describe this. This deserves another 100 comments it is so good

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