Monday, September 03, 2007

A Moment, But Which Moment?

Freg Kagan calls the President's visit to Anbar the Gettysburg moment of the war in Iraq. I wouldn't go so far, but let's hear what Kagan has to say:

It has been one of the most violent provinces in Iraq, and one of the most dangerous for American soldiers and Marines, until recently. Now it is one of the safest — safe enough for the war cabinet of the United States of America to meet there with the senior leadership of the government of Iraq to discuss strategy. Instead of talking about how to convince the Anbaris that the Sunni will not retake power in Iraq any time soon, Bush, Maliki, Petraeus, Talabani, and Crocker talked about how to get American and Iraqi aid and reconstruction money flowing more rapidly to the province as a reward for its dramatic and decisive turn against AQI and against the Sunni rejectionist insurgency. In any other war, with any other president, this event would be recognized for what it is: the sign of a crucial victory over two challenges that had seemed both unconquerable and fatal. It should be recognized as at least the Gettysburg of this war, to the extent that counterinsurgencies can have such turning points.

Of course you can take the comparison to Gettysburg as bad news, if you're so inclined. This means the rest of the shooting war and Reconstruction is yet to follow; that long years lie ahead; that the generational war is begun, but not yet completed.

On the other hand you can take Kagan's comparison to be inadequate. Although Kagan spends the rest of his article demonstrating why the success in Anbar -- and the methods used to achieve them -- are pivotal to the solution of reconstructing Iraq in general he completely avoids addressing the larger question. That is the possibility that success in Iraq may be a decisive point in the war on terror as a whole. One of the key phrases that has made its way into the President speeches in Iraq is "bottom-up". "Bottom-up" is the new code word for "bringing democracy" to a particular situation; but it is a concept that is subtly yet fundamentally different from its predecessor. It emphasizes organizing before elections. It requires ground capability -- interpreters, PRTs, political warfare, information operations -- as precursors to diplomacy, grand bargains, treaties and aid packages. Properly understood, "bottom-up" is a word for an entirely new capability which America doesn't have yet possess, though arguably the USA is working on it.

But the one problem with "bottom-up" is that it may be overpowered by those other powerful Washington DC processes, like "inside-out" and "topsy-turvey". And most especially, "not invented here". The biggest challenge of the campaign in Iraq is not reconciling the Sunnis with Shias; but reconciling the Blue and Red; in creating a consensus foreign policy between the Republicans and the Democrats. Iraq is like Vietnam in this. It is not about a war in a far-away country. It is also about a struggle in America. Viewed in these terms, the success in Anbar, however glorious, seems still small and far away.


Blogger Unknown said...

Properly understood, "bottom-up" is a word for an entirely new capability which America doesn't have yet possess, though arguably the USA is working on it.

--- I think the case can be made that America does have the capability. It is found in the can do spirit and dedication of its GIs. Despite all the pressure and danger, American soldiers have become another tribe in Iraq, one with honor and vision. Yet another reason to thank God for men and women such as these.

9/03/2007 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Ticker said...


I agree. But using a term from my former life, the solution was a kludge. That's to say people were forced to improvise; and while that might have certain advantages some way must be found to put this whole thing on a sounder footing.

There are still many challenges facing the US in the war on terror. We need to find ways to recreate this success far more cheaply and efficiently. Right now it may be that we are still not mobilizing all the sources of national power for the task. Austin Bay mentioned the need for a "Goldwater-Nichols" act for civilian agencies. I don't know what the details are. But I think you get the drift.

This will only come when the opinion leaders understand the need to achieve these goals. Right now it's still a sell. And a hard sell.

9/03/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

To flog an idea I put forth a couple of years ago under another nym, there has to be a point where you politely tell the warriors they are no longer in charge and the civil affairs dudes are. To use current American military jargon, the maneuver units cease being the supported units and start supporting the CA units. In fact, send Airborne-Ranger MG Shmedlap and his division staff home and have the maneuver brigades report to a Civil Affairs two-star. I know that this is heresy to the hard-chargin', command-selected studs who run the Army, but it is the only way we will close this thing out.

In other words, dear Wretchard, we do have the tools to do this right. What we are lacking are the culture and command structure to push the bottoms up approach to the tipping point.

9/03/2007 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I would characterize a lot of American volunteer response as bottom-up, particularly those who responded after 9-11 and less visibly after Katrina.

The Web is a bottom-up phenomenon, wouldn't you say? How about the US Revolution?

9/03/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger buck smith said...

Wretchard, you are brilliant as you so often are. Which factions in the Blues might join a coalition with the Reds that will try for vicotry in Iraq and in the wider war. Here is a simple test:

1. Does the person oppose the US interventions in the Balkans under CLinton ? Any person who opposed the Balkans' intevention will never support victory in Iraq, nor against the jihadis in general.

1. Does the person oppose the US/NATO presence in Afghanistan? Ditto.

Beyond that, it is hard to say. I just emailed this speculation to my brother:

"The first Dem candidate to embrace victory in Iraq will be the next President. Although the spoiling effect of a third-party, left-wing anti-war candidate could invalidate that."

9/03/2007 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Can you embrace victory in Iraq, and still advocate for killing terrorists?

Personally, I'm going to vote for a Presidential candidate who (1) promises to keep going after and killing terrorists, and (2) builds a fence along the Rio Grande. After those two major considerations, Iraq and its rebuilding can take its place along with abortion rights and gun control on the list of Important Things to Consider.

In other words, providing Iraqi's with 24/7 electricity and air conditioning is NOT my top priority as an American taxpayer.

9/03/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If I remember correctly, Bill Clinton told us the troops would be in Kosovo, etc. about 6 months: Are they still there? Are any politicians against this? Why are they still there? Should we ask that supreme fighter, the Perfumed Prince known as Wes Clark?

As to Mexico and our border: Isn't it time to invite all Mexicans to become part of the United States? Isn't it time to ask all Americans if we would like to merge with Mexico? Think of the benefits for both sides with such a solution.

In general, it is about 10% of troops who actually see combat, the rest are in support. From my perspective, while President Bush may "feel" great about setting down in Anbar province or wherever for a little chit chat, I know I left supporting him and his party over 6 months ago for a multitude of reasons.

I don't align myself with any democrats; I am now a free radical (so to speak) yet I do know that he and his party have failed in way too many areas for me to be a part of such a group.

My point is that the 90% of troops (of which we citizens also belong) who are in this game, supporting those 10%, have been so whip-sawed by our political bickering that we are tired and angry. This could have been avoided, along with the attending costs (which have yet to be calculated and exposed to all), if this administration and its party had chosen a more direct attitude and commitment in confronting all the negative energies thrown up by the naysayers and those pesky democrats who really are after power first, everything else second-including victory over these terrorists and their organizations.

I don't say the tactics in Iraq have been correct, I do say this game has not been played as well as it should have been, beginning with allowing the cheap energies of WMDs in scaring us to move to the front of those reasons why we needed to act and then allowing the Turks to stop our mechanized infantry from coming down through their lands, while the preppie Bremer put on his tie getting ready.

So now, we are expected to wait while new Iraqi leaders come from those lands secured by General Patraeus and replace the first generation politicos in Baghdad. Sounds like the same plan that it going on in Kosovo...wait'em out for another generation or two.

I can't keep my eyes closed that long. And my pocketbook isn't that deep!

Maybe it's time to have Stormin' Normin break his silence?

9/04/2007 05:08:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/04/2007 05:28:00 AM  
Blogger Lp said...

4 Sep 2007

The success ". . . seems still small and far away." I think some might agree that the kinetic efforts visible here in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia from time to time, and no doubt in other areas--while the more obvious--are only reflective of the larger ideological battle for ideas that is at the foundation of this struggle.

With regard to how we Americans "do this" I most strongly recommend for your viewing and listening a presentation given by Thomas P.M. Barnett (PhD/Harvard) at a yearly symposium called TED. His presentation was given in 2005, the video is available here:

Download the file to your desktop and then listen to it (no herky-jerky with rebuffering of the file, but perhaps that won't be a problem in the land of big bandwidth).

From where my colleagues and I sit, Barnett nails it. I've shown the video a couple dozen times to many of us who work this problem day in and day out. We need a revised structure of the DoD, as Barnett suggests, we've got a helluva good Secretary of War, what we need is a Secretary of Everything Else. MOST Strongly recommended.

All the best,

9/04/2007 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/04/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

9/04/2007 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/04/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

9/04/2007 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

As to Mexico and our border: Isn't it time to invite all Mexicans to become part of the United States? Isn't it time to ask all Americans if we would like to merge with Mexico? Think of the benefits for both sides with such a solution.
The current deal saddles the USA with unlimited liabilities in exchange for nothing.

If anyone actually wanted to serve the interests of Mexico the deal would be to send 12 million Mexicans back to Mexico with with a print on the back of their eyeballs of what a first class country looks like and some inkling of how it works.

Think Mexico would catch a great leap forward. I do.

9/04/2007 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger |3run0 said...

How many Kagans are there?! They seem like the Jango Fetts of military history scholars...

9/04/2007 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

This is the way post modernism plays out in south america

Homosexuals in Brazil using lawsuits to silence Christians

9/04/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

From Calderon's state of the nation address

MEXICO CITY -- President Felipe Calderon blasted U.S. immigration policies on Sunday and promised to fight harder to protect the rights of Mexicans in the U.S., saying "Mexico does not end at its borders."

He also reached out to the millions of Mexicans living in the United States, many illegally, saying: "Where there is a Mexican, there is Mexico."
btw there is a very complicated internationalist game at play so its always help
ful to remember that there are coalitions of winners and losers clustered around every issue. However, if you could draw an intersecting pie chart of winners and losers around a bunch of different international issues you'd find the same cluster of winners.

9/04/2007 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

It may be a Gettysburg moment, but remember General Pickett had a Gettysburg moment too.

9/04/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

It may be a Gettysburg moment, but remember General Pickett had a Gettysburg moment too.
a perfect breugel picture.

9/04/2007 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Some general questions:
1. By what observable and time-tested criteria should the war in Iraq be declared lost or won? Why is the prevailing wisdom taking the tone that we have lost? How does 4,000 fatalities rank in the historical scheme of things?
2. What were the stated goals of the invasion? Were they achieved?
3. If Iraq does not hold as an indpendent country with little or no internal violence, or if Iraqis cannot abide each other, what does it prove or disprove about the U.S. decision to remove tyrannical regimes? Does it mean we should not do so in future and should keep the status quo? Is that a cop out? Or is that realpolitik?
4. Who is financing Al Qaida in Iraq? Who is providing them with aid and comfort? do they live here in the US?
5. Who is AQI trying to outlast?
6. What can be said of the survival chances of a public that cannot show commitment to a struggle as existential as this one?

9/04/2007 07:33:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Here you go, aslam.

All the requirements of success are completed when the whereas's are fulfilled.

There is but one that may not yet be:
Whereas members of al Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq;

but General Ray Odierno told Ralph Peters that al Qaida is no longer the MNFs major concern in Iraq. He said this in a 27Aug07 interview at the NT Post.

the commanding general of the Multinational Corps-Iraq - the man who leads the day-to-day fight in support of Gen. David Petraeus - noted that, while foreign terrorists remain a threat, al Qaeda's been wounded so deeply by the Sunni Arab shift against them that he now feels other issues take priority.

The General's other concerns, while interestingm are not amongst the whereas's of the Authorization.

He has, two not quite authorized by the law concerns:

"First, I worry about Shia extremism and Iranian interference, which is increasing. In the long term, Iraqis won't allow Iranians to take over their country - but, in the short term, I'm worried about Basra and the Port of Um Qasr."

Odierno, whose limbs stretched out from a big, black-leather chair, folded his hands. "Second, I'm worried about the development of the government of Iraq. They have to solve their own problems - we can't solve them."

The only real concern of the US towards the new Iraqi Government in the Authorization is:
Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;

The emergance of which is beyond dispute, even Mr Bush agrees the Iraqi Government has emerged and is soveriegn.

As to the situation in Basra, General Odierno's Deputy Commander, General Simmons, told Hugh Hewitt that the situation there is well under control. That reports to the contrary are false, fabrications of the MSM.

HH: Now there were reports out of Basra a couple of weeks ago that after the Brits have withdrawn that the radicals had taken control of the city. Are those reports accurate?

JS: They are not accurate, and that is a fabrication at best. This was a planned turnover of the Palace and the PJCC to Iraqi control, to the Iraqi legitimate government forces. It was done to standard with, and to well-trained, well-equipped Iraqi Security Forces. There were some peaceful demonstrations that were celebratory in nature, but at no time was any Coalition forces threatened, and the local Iraqi officials under General Mohan, kept a good handle on the situation in Basra.

HH: So what is the situation then in Basra, because that Washington Post story made it sound like the Wild West without the saloons.

JS: It was a demonstration of OMS, or Shia people there that were celebrating, to the best of my knowledge, the return of an Iraqi landmark to the Iraqi government.

So it would seem, aslam, that the legal definition of success have been achieved, if we are to believe the Generals over there, those in Command of the ground troops.

Which may be why Mr Bush said it's almost time to start bringing the troops home. That and there not enough of them in the US military to stay there, at the present strength, but for four more months.

Finally Mr Bush may be a bit ahead of the curve.

9/04/2007 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

The Persuasive Power of Character (Excerpt from Michael Yon piece)

9/04/2007 09:39:00 PM  

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