There is no getting around the facts. In the month of May, civilian casualties went up, extra-judicial killings (EJKs) went up, and U.S. military casualties went up. The number of suicide bombings went down.
The troubling part is the EJKs, which could mean several things. It could indicate that Sunni and Shiite militias have ramped up, but the numbers may also include the results of skirmishes between Sunni tribes and al Qaeda. It's hard to know without examining every single incident. But the statistics aren't unexpected, as General Petraeus made clear in his DC news conference over a month ago.
The surge strategy is in process but won't be at full manpower until later this month. At best, there will be three full months from the time of full troop mobilization to General Petraeus' September briefing on the status of Iraq. It is no coincidence that the next round of funding requests will also occur at that time. For me, I'm giving the surge strategy 'til the end of the year, so I'm reserving judgment on how it is working. There are small signs of progress, such as the salvation councils popping up in the provinces surrounding Baghdad. But there are plenty of signs of little-to-no progress, the most prominent being the lack of political breakthroughs on the national stage.
At this point, I'd like to take a few moments and address where I've been wrong on Iraq. For anyone who doesn't think I've acknowledged--or even recognized--that I've made mistakes, then you would be laboring under a major misimpression. If I've missed something from my list below, I'm sure a commenter or two will step in and, if there's merit, I will update accordingly.
WMDs. Yes, I thought Saddam had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and I thought that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. I don't feel too bad about being wrong on this because I'm in good company. Also, for me, WMDs weren't casus belli. Removing Saddam would've been okay by me anytime after he violated the first of the dozen or so binding UNSC resolutions. In my view, he himself was a weapon of mass destruction, and he provably demonstrated that he was not a person who could be trusted.
In retrospect, when Bush 41 launched his coalition-building efforts in the run-up to the Gulf War, he should have pushed for Saddam's removal as one of the primary objectives. But it was a tough call to weigh the risk of fewer coalition members and a removed Saddam, or more coalition members and Saddam still in power. Looking back on it, the former choice may have been better long-term.
The 2003 post-war plan. There were workable plans for rebuilding Iraq, but the administration (from Bush on down) didn't put them into practice. I was wrong at that time to believe that the administration had actually adopted one of those workable plans.
Also at the time, I didn't know if we had the right manpower levels in post-war Iraq, but as the situation progressed, it became ever more clear to me that General Shinseki was right. We needed several hundred thousand troops to stem the post-war chaos and anarchy. That lack of manpower opened the door to a Sunni-Baathist insurgency, a growing Sadrist movement and an influx of al Qaeda.
I was baffled by Bremer's decision to fire the Iraqi army. He explained his reasons but they never really made sense to me. I never did see the wrongness of retaining troops below the level of general or colonel. Tens or hundreds of thousands of fighting-age males would have been employed and paid and in charge of keeping order, rather than unemployed, unpaid and idle.
I was wrong to think there was more substance behind the plans that the administration outlined. There were plenty of bullet points, but little beyond them that I could see.
Competent personnel. I was wrong to think that, at that time, Bremer and Rumsfeld and the generals had a good bead on the situation and knew how to handle the challenges. Over the ensuing months since May 2003, that presumption completely tilted over. I wrote in October or November 2004 that Rumsfeld should not have been Defense Secretary in Bush's second term because of how poorly the Iraq situation was going. I also wrote prior to November 2004 that Dick Cheney should not have been vice president in Bush's second term because of his role in the Office of Special Plans. Of course, the buck stops at the commander-in-chief. He made some right moves after 9/11, but his personnel choices, communications apparatus and other matters of judgment have been goddawful. At Redstate, I wrote this blog entry on the failure of the generals, which went over real well with a couple of RS directors.
That Iraq turned the corner. Not long before the four contractors were murdered in Fallujah in April 2004±, I wrote at Tacitus that Iraq had turned the corner. Boy, was I wrong. Chastened by that, in subsequent posts I have purposely refrained from phrases such as "we are winning" or "we've turned the corner", etc. I've tried to temper my posts by acknowledging that there are plenty of challenges out there.
The Iraqi elections. I wrote about the elections here. I still think they were important milestones because of the adverse consequences had those elections failed.
That Victor Davis Hanson reference. In this post, I quoted VDH approvingly in his criticism of Scowcroft-Albright-Brzezinski that "Bush doctrine will not work and that the Arab world is not ready for Western-style democracy, especially when fostered through Western blood and iron." As I see it, the Bush doctrine has failed because Bush is a failing president. I still believe that the Arab world can handle Western-style democracy but with plenty of Islamic flourishes painted in, such as in Afghanistan. Whether democracy can be fostered via Western military might, I'm not so sure. It's sorta-kinda working in Afghanistan, and we'll see by year-end how things are going in Iraq.
Bush's statements (and others) on counterinsurgency. In 2005, Bush and others spoke about new strategies such as clearing, holding and building, but the actions fell way short. They were nice-sounding words but the real commitment to mount a proper counterinsurgency campaign wasn't there. After getting trounced in last November's election, Bush finally got serious about making changes and there is now a U.S. commander in Iraq who has written the book on counterinsurgency doctrine. In my opinion, if the current strategy fails, it'll be because it was implemented too late, not because it lacked soundness. There was also talk of new plans for Iraq, which sounded favorable but my support was conditional on their being well executed.
Training Iraqi troops. I was too optimistic that enough Iraqi troops were being trained well enough to manage things independently or with American overwatch, but at the time I wrote this post (which was prior to the bombing of the Golden Mosque), training was proceeding apace. The bombing in Samarra triggered a new and unprecedented wave of sectarian violence, which in turned revealed that our training of Iraqi forces was not what it should have been and was not as advertised. As it turns out, this process is going to take a while, and military transition teams (MiTTs) are going to have their hands full.
This sentence. "Improvements to our strategy and tactics can surely be made, but success ultimately depends on our will to prevail, nothing more" (cite). I bring it up because I'm sure someone else would have done so if I didn't. I still agree with the sentence. With sufficient commitment to victory, the leaders will find a way to prevail, and do what it takes to make it so. In World War II, we made plenty of mistakes, and thousands or even tens of thousands died as a result of them. But collectively, the American people were willing to accept those sacrifices. Not so the current conflict. What bothers me about the president's words is that the words weren't being backed up, so I'm beginning wonder whether he has the requisite will to prevail. He didn't take the necessary steps until after getting embarrassed at the polls last November, and even now it doesn't look like he's doing enough. This is one of several reasons why I have little to no confidence in this president.
Treatment of prisoners and detainees. My position has been clear since the get-go, and it hasn't changed nor will it.
Anyway, I thought I'd get this out in the open.