Sunday, April 27, 2008

Second sight

Fred Kagan tries to answer the question of "How We'll Know Whether We've Won in Iraq" and argues that the achievable endpoint we should be working for is a stable, representative and pro-Western state on the Euphrates, an ally in the fight against terrorism. Kagan argues that to a significant degree, we are already halfway there.

Kagan makes the argument that without the blinders of Washington politics we would be amazed by what has been achieved.

there is no state in the world that is more committed than Iraq to defeating al Qaeda. None has mobilized more troops to fight al Qaeda or suffered more civilian casualties at the hands of al Qaeda--or, for that matter, taken more police and military casualties. Iraq is already America's best ally in the struggle against al Qaeda. Moreover, the recent decision of Iraq's government to go after illegal, Iranian-backed Shia militias and terror groups shows that even a Shia government in Baghdad can be a good partner in the struggle against Shia extremism as well.

Much has been made of the inadequacy of the Iraqi Security Forces' performance in Basra. If the Pakistani army had performed half as well in its efforts to clear al Qaeda out of the tribal areas, we would be cheering. Instead, Pakistani soldiers surrendered to al Qaeda by the hundreds, and Islamabad shut the operation down; it is now apparently on the verge of a deal with the terrorist leader who killed Benazir Bhutto. Iraqi Security Forces who underperformed were fired and replaced, and operations in Basra and elsewhere continue. The United States has given Pakistan billions in aid since 9/11 so that it could fight al Qaeda in the tribal areas. To be sure, it has spent far more billions on the Iraq war. Still, one may wonder which money has produced real success in the war on terror, and which has been wasted.

Even if the reader is not willing to go along completely with Kagan's argument, it might be fair to concede that the points carry enough force, and recent developments are encouraging enough that even critics ought to have an open mind. Before throwing something away, it's always a good idea to check whether something valuable is in it.

An open mind is what Austin Bay hopes to reach in his pilot offering at Austin Bay's Arena Academy. Austin's pilot offering is to examine seven scenarios that would follow a premature withdrawal from Iraq. He argues that whatever one thinks about Iraq, a careful walk through of the scenarios would be an exercise in intellectual due diligence. Kagan tries to make roughly the same point:

The question Americans should ask themselves next is: Have the opponents of this strategy offered a clear definition of their own goals, along with reasonable criteria for evaluating progress toward them? Or are they simply projecting onto those who have a clear vision with which they disagree their own vagueness and confusion?

Here is a gauntlet thrown down: Let those who claim that the current strategy has failed and must be replaced lay out their own strategy, along with their definition of success, criteria for evaluating success, and the evidentiary basis for their evaluations. Then, perhaps, we can have a real national debate on this most important issue.

I suspect that in the minds of many, the question will be begged. A large percentage of public policy debates are determined not by winning intellectual arguments but by forming attitudes. A friend of mine wrote in a private email that many people in his San Francisco office don't even think about the War on Terror or the fact that America hasn't been attacked by 9/11. All that is a hum on a distant planet; something on the margins of their consciousness. Arguments invoking the numbers of Iraqi Government divisions, the Anbar Awakening, etc might as well be a recitation of track lengths in a obscure railroad. A certain percentage of people have made their minds up. 'America has lost. The TV says so. And besides, so what?'

That response underscores the importance of leadership, something which GWB has ultimately failed to provide enough of. While leadership includes reasoned argument, it is ultimately about forming attitudes. Winston Churchill was able to create an attitude of inflexible defiance when the facts all but shouted that Britain was defeated. What US leadership must do is convince people they are winning when in fact they are.




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9 Comments:

Blogger Teresita said...

W: Fred Kagan tries to answer the question of "How We'll Know Whether We've Won in Iraq" and argues that the achievable endpoint we should be working for is a stable, representative and pro-Western state on the Euphrates, an ally in the fight against terrorism.

The President already articulated the defintion of victory in Iraq in 2003:

Short term, Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.

Medium term, Iraq is in the lead defeating terrorists and providing its own security, with a fully constitutional government in place, and on its way to achieving its economic potential.

Longer term, Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.


The problem is that we are five years out from that original vision, and we have only some of the short-term goals and one medium term goal (constitutional government) to show for it. This gives us some idea of how much longer the Iraqis need to learn democracy: 15 more years. And they actually have until January 20, 2009.

4/27/2008 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I think for those of us who do follow statistics in Iraq, the more we see of Iraqi's themselves, honor killings, corruption, and under the table deals with Serbia, the less we are likely to want to stick around or to treat them with the respect that an ally deserves.

Of course, as allies go, we put up with France's antics for decades before Chirac and deVillepin finally went one step over the line and sank that country in American public opinion. If they'd just give up their honor killings, the Iraqi's wouldn't really be any worse than the French.

4/27/2008 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Coyotl said...

I think for those of us who do follow statistics in Iraq, the more we see of Iraqi's themselves, honor killings, corruption, and under the table deals with Serbia, the less we are likely to want to stick around or to treat them with the respect that an ally deserves.

Good points, Nahncee. In addition, the Iraqi ruling elite could gain alot more credibility with the American public by renouncing Shiite Islamofascism, especially those Iraqi politicians (like Maliki) who belong to Shiite Islamist parties like Da'wa (the call to Islam). And his parliamentary partner, the Khomeneist SIIC party and its Badr militia, should renounce their own warped Islamist theology and agenda and stop accepting money, intel and military logistics from Iran. They're pro-Iranian agenda stinks to high heaven and they don't bother to hide it.

While we're at it, let's have them all denounce Shar'ia, which even Noah Feldman has now admitted to be enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. After all, why should our soldiers fight and die for a Shiite Islamofascist, Sharia-based regime that is unabashedly pro-Iranian?

Oh yes, I would also like a pony.

4/27/2008 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Coyotl: In addition, the Iraqi ruling elite could gain alot more credibility with the American public by renouncing Shiite Islamofascism

Now why the hell would they do that when the Bush Administration won't even let those of us in the Federal government say that "I" word? Or the "J" word (Jihadist). Or the "M" word (Mujehadeen).

4/27/2008 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

"What US leadership must do is convince people they are winning when in fact they are."

Tough crowd here, W.

I think some reasonable benchmarks, more than the ten points of light put up as a show of progress, are in order. Especially in the government meting out of Justice, Interior operations and movement away from the UN political set up
to one that gives better representation to parties in their various districts.

Militarily the battle is nearly in hand, but as there is no purely military solution, IMO a quantifiable and measurable goals on the civilian side need to be demonstrated as a sign of victory.

4/27/2008 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger showhank said...

Way back in Nov 06 I asked Wrechard:


Wretchard,

What is your definition of victory in Iraq? I know you have had some concerns in prior posts about this issue.

I always thought we really went there to have troops on both the KSA and Iranian borders.

Thanks in advance

Showhank
11/09/2006 07:23:00 PM


He answered:

showhank,

Last night I had a Korean visitor at home and remembered thinking that from '45 to '50, the US supported a counterinsurgency against Kim Il Sung and propped up a guy called Syngman Rhee, who graduated from Princeton. When the Korean War broke out, Truman was vacationing in Missouri. The Navy's carriers had been weakened in favor of the useless (for Korea) B-36. McArthur sent occupation troops in from Japan and they were slaughtered. The Allies recovered, but the Chinese intervened. The First Marines were nearly encircled at Chosin. You know the story. It was a fiasco. I remember a movie called Pork Chop Hill, with Gregory Peck and vaguely remember the references to the cowardly ROKs. They were worthless. Anyhow when Truman left office in 1953, he was one of the most unpopular Presidents the US had ever had.

Then I remembered the childhood stories of how Ed Landsdale beat the Huks. What most people forget is how close a former US colony came to being the original Vietnam. Two Philippine Presidents were routed by the Huks over 8 years. It took the third President, Ramon Magsaysay to beat the Huks. I had the habit of walking old battlefields and visited what is now a Manila suburb that the Huks took in raid in 1949 or thereabouts.

I asked myself: when did we know we had won in Korea? And when were the Huks beaten? It's impossible to justify an open-ended commitment but I think we just held on in Korea, even though we seemed beaten, simply because it was important. And the US held on in the Philippines just because nobody noticed in those days that such things happened. And at some indeterminate point we won. You know, we didn't quite know we had the Soviets beat. The very biggest names in media were surprised and shocked when they realized it had already happened. They're still debating when and how it happened.

Withal, many Koreans feel no gratitude towards America. And I can assure you that many leftist Filipinos scoff at America who would have been sent to year zero concentration camps by the Huks.

The answer to your question is probably we would recognize victory when we saw it. Now post-Saddam Iraq is about a year and half old, which is short by the standards of comparison I've invoked. Would things have worked out given enough time? I don't know. A lot of people now think Harry Truman was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But we know that now. No one would have guessed it then.
11/09/2006 07:59:00 PM

I almost moved to UAE earlier this year, I think I could live with the version of Islam practiced there. I would not want it transferred to the West but if we think of the world as a Federalist experiment writ large I can live with the faults of some sovereigns . Iraq might never be what we want it to be but I would hope it can be something we can live with some day.

The big thing we are going to need is patience and consistent effort. So to some extent having the average American forget about Iraq could in some cases work to our advantage. Out of site out of mind and perhaps no demands to throw everything we have gained out the window.

4/28/2008 12:38:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 04/28/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

4/28/2008 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Wretchard wrote:

"That response underscores the importance of leadership, something which GWB has ultimately failed to provide enough of. While leadership includes reasoned argument, it is ultimately about forming attitudes."

I remember seeing Muhammad Ali using the rope-a-dope strategy in the ring. Why would anyone take hits like that?

George Bush is taking hits and counterpunching once in a while at press conferences etc. Does it work? Yes and no.

"Yes" in the sense that we are less than a year into the surge strategy. Remember back to surge discussion at that time (check the posts on the Belmont Club) and see how low U.S. morale and commitment could go. Congress, including Republicans, deserted the U.S.S. Bush en masse. To the credit of Wretchard and others, they pointed out that we, i.e., Americans, had few options other than win. The alternative was the helicopter evacuation scenario. All G.W. could do was hunker down, take the hits, and wait for his plan to work. Ouch.

After Reagan left office, America loved him. Before that, lots of people, especially the media, derided him. Lesson: Americans and the media like a strong horse, too; many of them just don't want G.W. to be riding that horse, especially a stallion. G.W.'s fate, if he's lucky, will be exoneration and maybe even adulation, a la Truman and Reagan. G. W. has guts, if not the gift of effective public communication.

4/28/2008 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger Noocyte said...

I have found Kagan's work on Iraq to be lucid, edifying, and thoughtful. His ability to synthesize large amounts of material into a form which permits the discernment of patterns is admirable and all-too rare in conversations on the subject. Alas that they are confined to publications which are unlikely in the extreme to be consumed by those who would most benefit from his bracing tonic against the numbing catastrophist mantra which drones from the body-count media.

For those with eyes to see, the progress in Iraq is as undeniable as it is "fragile and reversible." It seems to me that a regular series of 'fireside chats' in the mold of Kagan's articles would have gone a very long way toward inoculating the public against the tendentious bloviations of those who would harness our collective fatigue to gain political advantage. When a consistent supply of reasonable discourse is wanting, then the mind will tend to gravitate toward the bracing certitude of those who believe their perspectives to be foregone conclusions and their opponents to be deluded or malicious. We have had more than enough of that!

The reality of Iraq is a layered and complex one, fraught with seeming contradictions which can only be resolved when seen through an alternating series of portraits captured by zoom and wide-angle lenses. Instead, the selective cropping which has characterized our National conversation on Iraq would do Reuters proud!

4/29/2008 10:51:00 PM  

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