On September 11, 2006 Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post filed a story titled "Marine calls situation in Anbar province dire: U.S. military can do little to secure region in western Iraq." The intelligence report was written by Colonel Pete Devlin, who according to Ricks has the reputation of being "…one of the Marine Corps' best intelligence officers, with a tendency to be careful and straightforward." Ricks writes:
The "very pessimistic" statement, as one Marine officer called it, was dated Aug. 16 and sent to Washington shortly after that, and has been discussed across the Pentagon and elsewhere in national security circles. "I don't know if it is a shock wave, but it's made people uncomfortable," said a Defense Department official who has read the report.
According to Ricks's sources--and trust me, Ricks, a twenty plus year veteran of the Pentagon beat, has reliable sources. He doesn't cite disgruntled buck privates who don't like the chow in the mess hall--things in Anbar are grim indeed.
Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said [an] Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said it describes Anbar as beyond repair; a third said it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar.
Ricks's sources also describe the Devlin report as saying the Anbar situation is due to lack of sufficient numbers of U.S. and Iraqi troops, that military operations are facing a stalemate, local governments have collapsed, and the central government has almost no presence.
Bring on the Spin Clowns
Not surprisingly, not everybody in Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense agrees with Devlin's findings. "Lawlessness is a way of life there," one DOD official told Ricks. The official also said that the Devlin report is "one conclusion about one area. The conclusion on al Anbar doesn't translate into a perspective on the entire country."
That's a bit too much like saying that if the Symbionese Liberation Army had taken control of California, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona in the 1970s, it wouldn't have translated into a perspective on the United States.
White House mouthpiece and former Fox News on-camera personality Tony Snow told the White House press corps on September 12 that "Earlier today, General Zilmer, who outranks the Colonel, but is aware of the report, said that, 'Recent media reports fail to accurately capture the entirety and complexity of the current situation in the al Anbar province. The classified assessment which has been referred to in these reports was intended to focus on the causes of the insurgency. It was not intended to address the positive effects coalition and Iraqi forces have.'"
Positive effects of coalition and Iraqi forces? Al Qaeda has taken over a region that comprises 30 percent of Iraq's landmass, local governments in Anbar have collapsed, the situation there is lost and beyond repair, and there are positive aspects that haven't been reported?
Zilmer Meets Heller
The General Zilmer whom Snow spoke of is Marine Major General Richard C. Zilmer, the two-star U.S. commander in western Iraq. In a telephone conversation with Ricks and other reporters, Zilmer said that he agrees with Colonel Devlin's analysis of the Anbar situation. "I have seen that report and I do concur with that [intelligence] assessment." Zilmer also said that he found Devlin's report to be "frank and candid."
But then he pulled a farcical about face reminiscent of characters like General Beedle and Coronal Kathkart in Joseph Heller's immortal anti-war novel Catch-22.
"I think we're winning this war," he told reporters. "We're certainly accomplishing our mission." And he also said that he doesn't think he needs any more troops to accomplish his mission in Anbar.
But his mission, if you pull the string a little further, isn't to get Anbar province under control. His mission is to train Iraqi police forces so they can get the Anbar province under control. How on earth the U.S. trained Iraqi police--who have proven so hapless, corrupt and counterproductive in Baghdad--can do in Anbar what U.S. troops haven't been able to accomplish for three years is beyond any sane military analyst's imagination. If Zilman considers training unreliable Iraqi police forces "winning the war," I'd hate to see what his idea of "screwing the pooch in the front yard" looks like.
Zilman also told reporters that "I have never heard any discussion about the war being lost before this weekend.''
Y.G.T.B.F.S.M., General! The entire world has been talking about the possibility of America "losing" in Iraq for at least two years, and you're just now hearing about it? What sand dune have you been hiding your headquarters under all this time? How long have you had your helmet buried up your trench?
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.