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December 12, 2006


Welcome to the ranks of the loser-defeatists! We're glad to have you. ;-)

Great post, thanks. Don't know if you've seen this David Letterman clip with Our Fearless Leader in it, but its pretty funny--

Andrew: thanks. I'm in more or less complete agreement with you, not just on the policy but on the horribleness of the options and the awfulness of having to conclude that this is the best one.

I also agree that it's important to take the time one needs to get it right. My frustration with Bush (on this score, leaving aside all the other frustrations) is both that he has consistently acted as though he had all the time in the world, so that there was no cost to staying in denial, and that at this point he seems to me to be waiting for reasons that are partly political, not just because it takes time to get things right.

Normally I like agreeing with you; on this one, I hate it.

Even if the Iraqi army is turned into a lean mean fighting machine you still have a really big problem. Namely that well organised military forces commanded by a disorganised government tend to start thinking coup (see Fiji for a prime example). Civil order needs to be built up at exactly the same time otherwise military dictatorship is a distinct possibility.

All of the boring stuff with roads, hospitals, sewerage and civil servants needs the kind of attention that it's really not getting.

As Saudi Arabia has seemingly informed the US, by way of Cheney being summoned before the House of Saud, that Saudi Arabia would directly intervene in Iraq should the Sunni population be under threat of genocide, and as that would likely draw Iran and Turkey into the fray, I don't think that the US can withdraw at this point.

I take it FOB = Forward Operating Base in this context, not e.g. Friend of Bill.

Andrew, good luck to you and Godspeed.

Don't do anything I wouldn't do. And since I would spend most of my time ducking and whimpering, you have your work cut out for you.


I find it amazing that everyone talks about Bush talking to people as if it were the most astounding happening. I keep asking myself, to what else has he paid attention for the last nearly 6 years? And NOW he bothers to ask "experts" what might be the best thing to do?

I just can't get past the image of him NOT asking anyone for ideas for more than 5 years.


Andrew, congratulations for facing the facts squarely. Ugly, aren't they? I was against this war from the start, which no doubt helped me to conclude much sooner that Iraq was FUBAR, but I appreciate the strength it takes to let go of a dream.

It really is just about down to Laura and Barney now, isn't it?

Agreed on all counts. Unfortunately, I also agree with ++
ungood about the likely larger effects, which, given that this area is the world's oil basket, could be truly terrible. I'd hope that planning is going on for this--but then, I also assumed in the runup to the war that the Pentagon would plan well for all possibilities. (I thought the war was not needed, but that is a separate question). So I'm not exactly optimistic.

Bravo Andrew.

Your view is the sensible long term view based on the recognition that the war aims cannot be salvaged. Although its a "loss," it is better described as a strategic retreat -- to laypeople they mean the same thing (and politically it is a loss), but they are very different military concepts.

According to war supporters, you are also now responsible for our failure since you are undermining our will, which allegedly is all that is necessary to win.

The short term consequences of withdrawal are admitttedly bad, but putting off the day of reckoning is not going to change that equation. No one has any plan or idea on how our continued presence will fix the mess so as to lessen the bad consequences of a withdrawal down the line. Better to have a managed withdrawal that maximizes whatever small influence we still have than a more chaotic one later.

My guesses on what is coming.

We are in the political phase of how to end domestic policy in support of an unsuccessful war, which for Viet Nam dragged on for years. Many more Americans are going to die needlessly because of the political cowardice of so many who once supported the war and now don't know how to acknowledge the loss and deal with it. Better to put off that day of reckoning with countless short term political manuevers (the ISG is full of that). War planning has devolved into short term political calculations -- send 20,000 troops to create the illusion that we are doing something, etc. (McCain's position is deeply cynical and irresponsible).

The Iraqis are simply waiting for us to withdraw in order to start the final resolution by force of who will run the show there. There is no government, army or other institution separate and apart from the armed factions that dominate the country, and we are viewed by Iraqis as one of those factions. The only Iraqis who want us to stay are the ones relying on our power to keep the other factions at bay. Our presence does nothing but put off this day of reckoning amongst Iraqis, which will occur no matter what we do (since we cannot stay forever and can no longer get them to resolve their differences by some other means -- they hate us and we have no influence except through force).

The same is true of the neighboring powers -- they are waiting to see what we finally do before starting to make their moves. I think short term concerns of a growing regional war are overblown (the Saudi's talk of intervention are mostly bluster for home political consumption), though the long term disruptions could be profound.

And I expect us to continue to stay the course for a very long time, but under new labels invented by Bush that change basically nothing. He already has in place the mind set that allows him to reject demands from everyone to change policy, and the belief that his stubborn single-mindedness will be vindicated by "history."

Just as its going to get worse in Iraq, its going to get worse here politically.

I think short term concerns of a growing regional war are overblown (the Saudi's talk of intervention are mostly bluster for home political consumption)...

Why do you think that?

... it's time to look at how to extract our forces from Iraq with the least amount of risk to them and those Iraqis who have worked with us.

One of the very sad things is going to be the fate of those Iraqis who have worked with us; they will probably be left to twist in the wind -- casualties of the US inability to forge a coherent plan for leaving, and of the fact that making plans for them is explicitly a plan for leaving.

BTW, Iraq is not a War On Terror. update your Official Phrase Books accordingly.

this may be part of the reason why the U.S. has been oddly delinquent in making the Iraqi Army self-sufficient

The other part being that from the beginning, regardless of anything US officials have said, our actions have shown that the USG has never had the slightest intention of having the Iraqi Army be self-sufficient.

The recent practice and apparent future plan of 'embedding' U.S. combat troops with Iraqi police and army units is the worst of all worlds. It is a disastrous attempt to cling to a military solution when there is no military solution.

Serious negotiations with all regional players, including the countries bordering Iraq and those with significant flows of Iraqi refugees, are the only way to avert a regional proxy war. And to prepare the ground for such talks the U.S. government must commit to a full withdrawal of troops by some definite date.

Juan Cole, who I've criticized in the past, impressed me yesterday at the Congressional oversight briefing on Iraqi casualties yesterday by saying straight out something that is essential to an understanding of our presence in Iraq that most members of Congress are still unwilling to admit: U.S. troops, whether intending to or not, are taking a side in the civil war. The example Cole gave was of the troops in Baquba, killing Sunnis on behalf of the SCIRI-dominated political apparatus there.


I think short term concerns of a growing regional war are overblown (the Saudi's talk of intervention are mostly bluster for home political consumption)...

Why do you think that?

First, I suspect that the pressure for action in Saudi Arabia is from the bottom up -- the royalty would probably be glad to stay out of it if they could politically. That is their historical posture. My understanding is that the Saudi tribes and Sunni tribes in Iraq have a fair degree of kinship -- the political pressure to do something must be enormous. If they follow pattern, the royals' agenda is going to be to appease that feeling as much as possible while actually doing as little as possible.

Second, what exactly are the Saudis going to do? They can provide covert aid and monetary support for Sunni resistance, but what else? Current Saudi policy is to close the border and not permit cross-border support (I wonder how much goes on anyway under the table, perhaps with the royals turning a blind eye). But put their own troops into the meat grinder? For a non-populous country, they have a decent sized and well-equiped army (200,000 per Wikipedia and large defense spending on sophisticated weapons -- how much could they send off to Iraq?), but obviously not enough to do much about Iraq except protect some areas of Anbar.

My own guess is that the Shia will ethnically cleanse Sunnis from most areas except Anbar and other majority Sunni provinces where there is not much of value anyway. The Sunni will remove any Shia from those areas. The Sunnis will be largely left alone in those areas -- would the Saudis go there, and for what purpose other than symbolic?

If they were to intervene by having troops cross the border, it would be viewed as an act of war by the Shia in Iraq and risk triggering other interventions by Iran, et al. Would the Saudis risk that? I seriously doubt it, and they would be right to hesitate. It is seriously not in their interest to provoke a broader war. And I don't see the Saudis and Iranians cooperating concerning Iraq such that the Saudis could intervene without these ugly consequences.

Iran has no reason to intervene absent intervention by somebody else. A good chunk of the ruling Shia in Iraq are already its close allies (though there will be plenty of bloodletting amongst Iraqi Shia, too, as power is consolidated).

The Saudis may mass troops at the border, make loud pronouncements about protecting Sunni, and maybe even win some small concessions which the Shia in Iraq would do anyway. And then the Saudis will declare victory and hope the home folks are not too angry at their basic inaction.

I don't think Syria is a serious military player in this. Turkey may be a wild card, but the Kurds seem to be laying low, and therefore this will remain quiet?

That's my best guess. Anything is possible as time passes should the situation grow more unstable (which I don't think it will -- I expect a period of extreme violence settling into a more low level war after mass ethnic cleansing. But overall stability depends some real wild cards -- the extent to which the Shia in Iraq do not schism into major warring factions and Kurdish passivity about not getting Kirkuk).

I hope we remain in sufficient control, and the situation remains stable enough, so that we can withdraw. This doesn't really include the "fighting withdrawal."

For instance, If I remember correctly, Abdullah has a power-sharing relationship with an unfriendly brother in SA; and neither are the actual designated heir. SA could go unstable.

I can imagine other scenarios that would keep us in place.

If they were to intervene by having troops cross the border, it would be viewed as an act of war by the Shia in Iraq and risk triggering other interventions by Iran, et al. Would the Saudis risk that? I seriously doubt it, and they would be right to hesitate. It is seriously not in their interest to provoke a broader war. And I don't see the Saudis and Iranians cooperating concerning Iraq such that the Saudis could intervene without these ugly consequences.

You're defining the consequences as dire, as are the Saudis. But they say the consequences of direct intervention would be less ugly than the consequences of not doing so. In the exact words:

In this case, remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region.

To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse.

Andrew, Take care in Iraq.

Does anyone think that this is at all possible? (sorry dont know how to link)
(80% solution- siding with the Shites)
Could this be why the Saudi ambassador has resigned?

More anti-Shia saber-rattling from Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH: A group of prominent Saudi clerics have called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilise against Shiites in Iraq, although a statement they issued fell short of calling for a jihad, or holy war.

The statement appearing on Saudi Islamist Web sites on Monday said Sunni Muslims were being murdered and marginalised by Shiites, backed by Iran, and the US-led forces.

Saudi Arabia, a bastion of Sunni Islam, backs the Shiite-dominated government of Nuri al-Maliki largely because it fears that sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites could lead to the break-up of its northern neighbour and spill over its borders.

“We direct this message to all concerned about Shiites in the world: the murder, torture and displacement of Sunnis ... is an outrage. We don’t think you would accept to be treated like this,” said the statement, dated Dec 7.

“Muslims must stand directly with our Sunni brothers in Iraq and support them by all appropriate, well-studied means ... Muslims generally should be made aware of the danger of the Shiites,” it said.

“Clerics and intellectuals should not stand hands folded over what’s happening to their Sunni brothers in Iraq; all occasions should be used to expose the Shiites’ practices ... What has been taken by force can only be got back by force.”

Even if the Saudi royals decide that direct conflict with Iran in Iraq is not worth it, which is debatable, the fragility of their own political situation may compel them in order to maintain order within the kingdom.

Andrew, Take care in Iraq.

I've reread this post several times now, and I cannot find anything that refers to Andrew going to Iraq.

What did I miss?


"A group of prominent Saudi clerics have called on Sunni Muslims around the world to mobilise against Shiites in Iraq"

Have they been keeping quiet all this while in the hope that the admin would fix Iraq, but now they've given up?

"What did I miss?"

I think a game of telephone.

dpu, some one wished him well in Hilzoys 'oh my god' post.


But that says "As for the ongoing efforts to shift security responsibilities to the Iraqis, I may soon have a better opportunity to speak to that fight." ...and then he speaks to it in the post above.

Am I being dense, or are conclusions being leapt to here?

Have they been keeping quiet all this while in the hope that the admin would fix Iraq, but now they've given up?

I think that things are getting worse.

d-p-u: if you read down, you'll find more info ("I can't blog about it because the censure blogging from Iraq" in slightly different words. I just pointed to the first indication.

Stay save Andrew.

Ah, okay. Shhh.

I suppose I should straighten the mess I've created out. I am not officially going to Iraq yet. Last week I found out I had been accepted back onto active duty. I have spoken to my branch manager and he thinks that the best assignment for me is commanding a battalion MiTT team, which would entail going to Iraq, embedding in an Iraqi battalion and serving as advisers to that battalion; I would be in charge of them team and would also be responsible for advising the Iraqi battalion commander. I will probably end up getting that assignment, but I won't know for sure for another day or two. If I do, then I will be far better qualified to speak to the efforts of building the Iraqi Army, but I may be hard-pressed to tell anyone about it.

Thanks to all for the kind wishes. My apologies for having been obtuse in my original statement.

Didn't you read the Shhh part?

...and if I may say, I can't think of anyone better to at least attempt to fix things. You have a fine mind and good analytic skills. Best of luck.

Andrew: I can't think of anyone I would rather have in charge of training a battalion for the battalion's sake, or anyone I would less rather see harmed in even the tiniest way, at least among people who stand a chance of going over there. If you go, stay safe, and my thoughts will be with you throughout.

Yes: do good if you can, Andrew, and stay safe.

Re the Saudi Ambassador resigning: one thing I've read is that he's being promoted to Foreign Minister. Nothing sinister there, although the context (SA taking a more active role in Iraq) has to be considered. I wonder who'll replace him.

What hil and dpu said.

Andrew, will you be able to keep in touch with us from Iraq, just let us know thhat you are ok regularly?

Try not to get killed. If possible, also try to do a little good :)

You listed "non-Iraqis who want to take advantage of the current situation to install a favored government" as among those who are contributing to the current mess. Sounds like a good description of the neocons to me.

But yeah, take care and keep your head down.

Re Saudi ambassador: Even if he's going to become Foreign Minister, isn't this unusually sudden ?

Re Andrew: My best wishes for your safety. You'll be in the thoughts of many of us every day.

Andrew, speaking as a career coward, thank you for serving. I admire your virtu.

Last night, altho I forget the specifics, I started a link-and-write but desisted. I was unsure about being negative in the face of Andrew's decision. If I view the near future of Iraq as a Balaklava or Dien Bien Phu...and I certainly can be wrong...should I remain silent? I doubt that I can significantly shake Andrew's resolve or demoralize him...he pays little heed to it is mostly a question for myself. "Supporting the troops" is a...I did not want to face this problem again, after going thru it forty years ago. Is it right to cheer the Light Brigade as they ride into...? As hell, insert Wilfred Owen poem here, and move on.
Stirling Newberry takes on Max Boot on military transformation. Why we are losing in Iraq, or one reason among many.

Military Revolutions


"To deal with the 21st century geopolitical reality, a genuine military revolution will be required, capable of placing truly individual superiority troops at every street corner, which the current military cannot do – it has better foot soldiers, but fewer of them.* It will also require a change in the economic doctrine of war, to prevent insurgencies from destroying the economic basis of military power.

Or more developed nations are going to just have to write off large chunks of the planet as being unmanageable. Which will have its own costs." ...SN

*In the article, Stirling indirectly connects the socialist/nationalist movements of the late 19th century. The forces and feelings that made the October Revolution possible are very connected to what made the Somme and Omaha Beash possible. Socialized man. But technology has recently created high-value targets (soldiers) without commensurate force multiplication. That will require a social/political/technological revolution of society, just as it required an enitire country to build a battleship. Whatever. Read it if you like.

...doing the wrong thing may well do more harm than good.
Tragically, we've been doing the wrong thing more often than not in our prosecution of this war.

Godspeed, Andrew, and may you remain safe and sound throughout your time in-country.

The first wrong was thinking an invasion of a sovereign nation would reduce or curtail terror. I'm afraid there is no way to repair that mistake. I think left to themselves, the Iraqi's can figure this out. A brief period of increased violence but then a majority would emerge. The US would have to deal with and aid that ruling entity.
We should remove all of our troops by the end of January.

double plus ungood:

Thanks for the first quote -- my guess is that it is still bluster. Note that the Saudis still speak vaguely about what they will do. There is no mention or hint that they will actually cross the border with troops. Why is that omitted? If I was seriously contemplating direct armed intervention and wanted to induce a change in behavior based on that threat, I would voice it rather than be vague.

Your second quote is a good taste of how hot the political pressure is on the Saudi royals to do something.

I would still guess that the Saudis will go slow and make noise, while watching developments closely. It is possible that events in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia get so heated that direct action becomes their only choice.

Bush is not going to withdraw from Iraq at any time in the next year, so the royal family may not have to do anything.

My own take on the alleged reading of the riot act to Cheney by Saudi roylas was that they were desperate to influence the US to stay in Iraq so that the Saudis would not be pressured to have to do what they definitely do not want to do -- intervene in Iraq.

dmbeaster - I guess my feelings on the Saudi/Iraqi Sunni intervention problem is similar to my reasons for opposing the Iraq war in the first place. If the intent was to depose Hussein and set up a democracy, one has to measure both the likelihood of success and the price of failure. In that case, the chances of success were slight, and there was an enormous cost associated with failure, which made it quite risky.

We have a similar measurement that needs to take place here. While direct Saudi intervention is not assured, there are several reasons to think it likely that they may take that action to save the Iraqi Sunni from genocide or ethnic cleansing. If they do take that action, then the costs associated with it are enormous, from our perspective.

One other thing to consider. There is a political benefit to the Saudis should the US pull out its military, the threat of US military action against Iran in order to curb its nuclear program becomes a possibility. The fact that the Saudis do not want to take advantage of that scenario indicates to me that their recent comments are not bluster.

Stay safe, Andrew. And the best of luck to everyone on solving this horrible bloody mess.

Yup, I'm pretty much aligned with Andrew's thinking.

I'd only add that competent management of our departure could substantially mitigate the consequences but--based on past performance-- it's not reasonable to expect competence from this administration. That caution, however, applies to any course of action we might choose.

The problem is not only that all the "options" are fraught with ugly consequences. The problem is also, and fundamentally, that there is no such thing as "Iraq" or "Iraqis", and the sooner we face that, the sooner we can move on to the real solution: three new countries.

In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by equivocating at this point.

- sgage

Just to keep everyone in the loop, I'm still waiting to hear what my assignment will be. Iraq is not locked in stone as yet.


Thanks for the link. That's an interesting article. I may put up my own thoughts on it at a later date.

I missed this discussion when it happened. Andrew, if you do go back to Iraq, my very best wishes for your time there - hoping all will be well with you and with the people you'd be responsible for. Second Lily's hope that you'd be able to keep in touch to let us know you're OK.

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