Had Iraq clearly been on the path of becoming a free, peace, non-theocratic representative republic, the GOP would have been in the majority today (in my opinion), missteps by Republicans in Congress notwithstanding. The fault for the embarrassing loss last November can be squarely laid at the feet of George W. Bush. Because of his substandard performance on Iraq for the past three-plus years, I became a Dissatisfied. What's more, after considering the cumulative effects of all of his other un-conservative actions, I'm at a point where I've pretty much lost confidence in Bush as even a semi-competent commander-in-chief. This isn't an easy conclusion to come to because I've carried Bush's water on a whole range of issues over most of his six years in office. It's also not easy because I'm a Republican and have been one for over a quarter century.
But despite my skepticism of the president, I do support Bush on the Petraeus plan to turn Iraq around, but under one condition: that al-Maliki be reasonably committed to it. I say this not because I have faith in Bush, but because I believe Petraeus is the best man for the job, and the general has literally written the book on counterinsurgency ops.
The Petraeus plan should have been in effect over two years ago, so it is encouraging to hear that the Senate approved Petraeus' promotion to four-star general and to his new job as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. At the same time, it is equally discouraging to see Republicans display spines of Silly Putty in supporting resolutions that would rebuke the very plans that Petraeus would execute. And that is why I put my name on the list, and I find myself in full agreement with Mark I.
Petraeus gave a frank assessment of the mistakes we've made in Iraq, and it was refreshing to hear it (more on him here). More importantly, Petraeus has a plan to address the mistakes. Embedding more of our soldiers with Iraqi troops and training more Iraqi troops are part of the package, and so is adopting an effective clear-hold-build strategy in the areas of conflict.
To get more of a flavor of what Petraeus will do, the new counterinsurgency (COIN) manual is an indicator, and it's worth taking the time read (I've paged through it and read portions, and am in the process of going through it word-for-word). Military might is but one component of the strategy. Most of the other tactics are political, economic, intelligence and media related. Under COIN doctrine, military responses are measured and judiciously applied. Unfortunately, the media message is harsher rules of engagement and a freer hand at going after Irianian spies and militants. There are cases where harsher tactics are necessary, but in general the focus is restraint. The COIN strategy is indeed "graduate level warfare", but that is what it will take.
Al-Maliki has been more in the forefront recently about securitizing Baghdad, and there may already be signs that it's working. His most important job is to back up his words with actions and to consistently sustain them. I hope he can do it.
Finally, since this is an Information War, the White House can do its share by better communicating the new plan. There should be less focus on "more troops" and more on what those troops will be doing. Tony Snow can challenge reporters to embed more and rely less on stringers with unknown biases. The mainstream press has faithfully catalogued the numbers of casualties by terrorist and insurgent attacks, and it wouldn't hurt for Snow to fill in the rest of the picture with insurgent/terrorist casualties (this might trigger Vietnam memories, but this is a different war, different situation).
As embeds Michelle Malkin, Bill Roggio, Michael Yon and Bill Ardolino have pointed out in their posts, Iraq is a complex situation. There are many incidences of success, and obviously there have been setbacks. But most of the soldiers on the ground appear optimistic of success and believe in their mission. Too bad that more politicians in DC do not believe so, and do not have the stones to stick to it.
Quite frankly, it appears to me that those advocating unilateral withdrawal must also believe that Iraq is a lost cause. It is a defeatist position. I believe it's premature to think that, but I'm closer today to thinking we've lost than a year ago. But if we go down, I'd rather go down after making every effort to make it work. The Petraeus plan looks to be one of the last and best tries. If we've made no discernible progress by this November, I may just put myself in the defeatist camp and call for a phased drawdown. But not now, and not with this plan.
(Update below the fold)
For whatever reason, I can't post a comment from my home computer (damn that IE 7.0!), so I thought I'd put it here in the form of an update...
I'll get to other comments later, but I wanted to address the Zogby poll mentioned in the Star & Stripes article. I have many concerns about it. First, I question Zogby's objectivity when it comes to affairs in the Middle East, not to mention his left-leaning political biases. Second, the poll was funded by a wealthy unnamed anti-war activist, so there's an obvious agenda and motivation. Third, the questions were developed not just by Zogby, but by faculty members at the Le Moyne Center for Peace and Global Studies. Although the center claims non-partisanship, there is ample reason to believe those who collaborated with Zogby are on the far side of the liberal/anti-war spectrum and would frame questions which would conform to their ideology (cite). Fourth, the wording of the questions and structuring of the answers is a concern (commentary here). For example, question #7 gives two options indicating understanding of the mission and four options pointing to lack of understanding. Another question put white phosphorus and napalm in the same category, which is absurd. I could go on. Fifth, the methods for selecting respondents and the locations were kept secret, and as for demographics, the interviewers didn't ask about rank or education, so we can't tell how representative the sample really is.
The timing of the poll is also an issue. The interviews took place prior to the Golden Mosque bombing and prior to the outbreak of sectarian violence, and not long after the third election in Dec-2005. Troop drawdowns were scheduled by the U.S. military and would have been below 100,000 by year end had not the Sadrists responded the way they did. The major concern at that time was general security and Sunni insurgent/terrorist attacks. The Sadrist attacks by militants sect-terrorists came after the interviews were held.
Also, in the S&S article, experts were unsure how to interpret the poll and the percentages are highly unusual, such as the 85% who thought they were in Iraq to retaliate for Saddam's involvement in 9/11, and the high percentage who thought that removing WMDs was not a main reason for removing Saddam. The poll may have been dead-on accurate, but there's plenty of reason to be highly skeptical of its results. Given the players involved, I see little chance that it was objective, even though it was passed off as such.