Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Surgin' Safari

F. Scott Fitzgerald discovered long ago that people can be stroked with words. In Washington, DC everyone likes flattery; and when it comes to generals and politicians inside the beltway, a smart journalist lays it on with enthusiasm if he wants the access he needs to write stories that translate into money. As Jeff Huber points out, this sort of behavior has grave consequences for U.S. National Security. In the course of cultivating access, the truth, the very thing the vaunted Third Estate claims to seek is entirely lost.
December 29, 2009

Another Surgin’ Safari

by Jeff Huber

Devotees of President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan hope to repeat the "success" of our surge in Iraq. That’s likely to prove easier to accomplish than even the most rabid Afghanistan surge proponent dares to hope.

The Iraq surge was already in motion in January 2007, when Bush and Cheney flipped off the Iraq Study Group and decided to escalate the war with David Petraeus, the "Teflon General," at the helm of the operation. A shameless self-promoter, "King David" created the illusion of a successful surge by lowering violence statistics through his usual method of operation: hand out weapons to the bad guys, bribe the bad guys not to use the weapons, and pretend to be shocked, shocked when the bad guys take the bribes and use the weapons anyway.

Petraeus’ personal stenographer, former journalist Thomas E. Ricks, admits that Petraeus misled Congress and the public into thinking he was trying to end the war when he was in fact laying "the groundwork for a much more prolonged engagement in Iraq."

Three years after the surge began, violence shows no signs of disappearing. Holiday attacks were especially brutal. Mosul Mayor Zuhair Muhsen al-Aaraji escaped an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve. (Mosul is the town Petraeus supposedly "tamed" during his first tour in Iraq. Within weeks after he left and the graft well ran dry, Mosul went up for grabs and has been a trouble spot ever since.)

Also on December 24, as the Shi’ite religious festival of Ashura approached, five attacks killed at least 19 people and wounded over 100. The Iraqi government was quick to blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, but I’ll bet you a shiny new Ohio quarter that the Sunni-based Awakening movement that Petraeus armed and funded had more than a little something to do with the attacks.

On Christmas Day, a roadside bomb killed six Shi’ites during a religious ceremony in Baghdad. In several parts of the country, fights broke out between Christians and Shi’ites over competing religious decorations.

Many Iraqi Christians were afraid to make any public celebration of Christmas. Midnight mass had to be observed in daylight. A bomb exploded near a historic Christian church in Mosul on December 23, killing two people and wounding five. Security around Christian churches was the heaviest it has been since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

On December 22, a series of coordinated car bombings killed 112 people in Baghdad. This was the third coordinated attack on Baghdad in four months; the bombs struck areas near justice buildings, a Finance Ministry office, and a police checkpoint, symbols of government authority all under tight security after the earlier bomb attacks.

On October 18, a roadside bombing and other attacks killed 10 U.S. troops, making it the deadliest day for American forces in 10 months. (We have, by the way, spent over $14 billion on programs to defeat roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices [IEDs] and have yet to find a solution. The Army’s Joint IED Defeat Organization [JEIDDO] rather symbolizes our entire war on terror: mind-numbing amounts of treasure poured down a rabbit hole to no avail.)

Iraqi security forces have proven unable to provide the security necessary to keep the peace. That should come as no surprise: the man in charge of training them in 2004 and 2005 was Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who, in that capacity, lost track of over 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols that without question found their way into the hands of militia groups. This happened while the staff at the U.S. Army War College was assembling the new field manual on counterinsurgency operations that Petraeus later took credit for writing, a myth that Ricks and other media sycophants helped propagate.

The best summary of the "success" of the Iraq surge came in the form of a July memorandum from Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Advisory Team, titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home."

Reese describes the "ineffectiveness and corruption" of the Iraqi government as "the stuff of legend." The so-called anti-corruption initiative is merely a campaign tool for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki’s government is taking "no rational steps" to improve the country’s infrastructure or oil exploration. Sunni reconciliation is "at best at a standstill and probably going backwards." The Kurdish situation "continues to fester." Political violence and intimidation is "rampant."

There is no possibility of implanting a "professional military culture" in Iraq’s security forces. Corruption in the officer corps is "widespread." Enlisted men are neglected and mistreated. Cronyism and nepotism are "rampant." Laziness is "endemic." Lack of initiative is "legion." Iraq’s security force’s "near total ineffectiveness" prevents it from becoming self-sustaining.

Gen. Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno, Petraeus’ handpicked successor as overall commander in Iraq who Ricks laughably claims was the real brain behind the Iraq surge, calls Reese’s concerns mere "tactical issues."

Gen. Stan "The Man" McChrystal, whom Petraeus handpicked to command in Af-Pak, has been charged with leading a successful surge in that theater of operations. Given the corruption that exists in the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the incompetence and corruption in their militaries, and the seemingly uncontrollable levels of violence in both countries, I’d say McChrystal is well on his way to surpassing the accomplishments of Petraeus and Odierno by a wide margin.

In fact, I see no reason why President Barack Obama shouldn’t fly aboard an aircraft carrier tomorrow and declare "mission accomplished" in Af-Pak.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It Won’t Work

It Won’t Work

Douglas Macgregor is a retired Army colonel. He is author of “Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting.”


President Obama may or may not realize that Generals Petraeus and McChrystal cannot fix Afghanistan. They cannot stabilize or control it. They cannot put a dent in the heroin trade, because we have nothing with which to replace it.

Adding more American troops to the Afghan morass merely diverts attention from the 120,000 U.S. troops languishing in Iraq.

Nor can the generals prevent Pakistan from moving ever closer to its nuclear showdown with India. What Petraeus and McChrystal can do is further entangle the United States, its resources and its forces in an unending war inside the ungovernable wasteland that lies between Iran and India.

For the political forces inside the Beltway desperate to keep the war going, adding 30,000 more American troops –- all we can realistically come up with at this point –- to the Afghan morass may be just enough to divert attention from the 120,000 United States troops still languishing in Iraq at the cost of billions we don’t have each month.

Mr. Obama must also know that widening the war inside Afghanistan to fight millions of Pashtun tribesmen is the equivalent of ending world hunger and poverty. It won’t work.

But it will help transform the Taliban’s fight with President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt narco-state into a Pashtun war of liberation against the unwanted American military presence that supports Mr. Karzai.

Still, pressing economic conditions at home combined with the realization that whenever the last American leaves Afghanistan it will look remarkably similar to the way it looked before our arrival may ultimately change Mr. Obama’s strategic calculus. However, until then, he will look a lot more like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, presidents who capitulated to the fear of seeming weak. Fortunately for Mr. Obama, his course in Afghanistan is not irreversible. Roughly 30,000 to 35,000 troops is not 300,000.