Monday, January 29, 2007

Sunday Yak About Iraq

Also at DKos.

The latest round of Sunday political gabfests reinforced my belief that the Iraq escalation plan is a very bad idea. The folks who support Mr. Bush's policy continue to echo the same pocketful of talking points, and those points don't make sense. In all, the essence of the pro-escalation rhetoric now boils down to five basic arguments.

1) We should give the new strategy a chance to succeed.

A parallel and perhaps more honest argument would be that we should give a bad strategy a chance to fail, and just about everybody can see the insanity of that position.

The only thing certain in war is uncertainty, or what Carl von Clausewitz referred to as "fog and friction." No plan, even a superior one, survives first contact with the enemy, and least not in total. No one, including its most ardent proponents, asserts that there's anything "sure fire" about the escalation plan, or even that it has a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding. Heck, they still can't give a cogent definition of what "success" in Iraq might be.

Figuring the odds of success or failure of any given war plan is a dicey proposition (pun intended), but the escalation strategy contains so many inherent flaws that it seems doomed to flop like a grounded trout.

To begin with, the 20 something thousand U.S. troop infusion is, by oncoming U.S. Iraq commander David Petraeus's own estimate, too small to restore order to Baghdad and the al-Anbar province. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Petraeus said that he'll make up the difference with Iraqi troops and American civilian contractor security forces. But wait a minute. Iraqi troops have a significant track record of being unreliable, and American contractor security forces have a reputation for being a battery of loose cannons.

Unity of command will be lacking. The Iraqi forces will fall under a separate chain of command, outside of Petraeus's direct control, and the contracted mercenaries seem to answer to no one. That's a sure-fire recipe for disaster. You can't have unity of effort without unity of command, and without unity of effort, any war plan is toast before it goes into the mixing bowl.

Ultimately, the escalation strategy relies on the Iraqi government meeting certain benchmarks and getting its act together, and that government has shown no ability or inclination to do either of those things.

2) We should support the Commander in Chief.

We did support the Commander in Chief, time and time and time again. He's been wrong every time, and there's no reason to think he's gained any wisdom over the years because he's still listening to the same advisers. The architects of the escalation strategy are the same group of neoconservative's who talked young Mr. Bush into his Iraq misadventure in the first place.

The Constitution makes Bush the Commander in Chief of the military, not the country. It divides war-making powers between the executive and legislative branches. In fact, it places the power to decide to go to war, as well as regulation of the military, in the hands of Congress. The Constitution makes no distinction between the Commander in Chief's "powers" in wartime or peacetime. The only "war powers" law on the books presently applicable is the War Powers Resolution of 1973, and that law was intended to limit presidential power to conduct war, not to expand it.

This Commander in Chief has led us around corners into one blind alley after the next. He's lost all claim to authority to lead us anywhere anymore.

3) Criticism of the policy emboldens the enemy.

The enemy is about as emboldened as it can get. "Shock and Awe" tactics from the mightiest nation in human history didn't defeat them, and there's no indication that it ever will.

As Jim Webb said on Face the Nation, "Who is the enemy?" The conflict in Iraq had more sides than the Pentagon, if not more. To say that open debate on policy and strategy in a supposedly free society will "embolden" a nameless, faceless enemy is to concede that that enemy--who or whatever it is--has already won.

4) Any anti-escalation resolution passed by Congress will send a negative signal to our troops.

This argument is the latest variation of the "support the troops" canard. Hopefully, you've notice that with the exception of John McCain, opponents of the escalation strategy actually served in the military and or have experienced war up close and personally, and proponents of it had "other priorities" when it was their time to serve in a bad American war.

More importantly, though, regardless of who does or doesn't support the escalation, we don't decide policy and strategy based on what the troops like or don't like.

5) If General David Petraeus supports the escalation policy, and the Senate confirmed General David Petraeus to be U.S. commander in Iraq, the Senate must support the escalation policy.

Generals give orders to the troops, not to Congress. Whether Petraeus really supports escalation or is simply marching to his boss's tune, the ultimate policy decision isn't his to make. Whatever orders he eventually receives from Mr. Bush will be the result of the contest of wills between Mr. Bush and Congress.

Last Chance

My overwhelming impression is that pro-escalation types don't really believe the escalation will accomplish anything, and what I hear between the lines is, "It's our last chance, so we have to try it."

That's not a good reason to try something you don't think will succeed, especially something that involves considerable cost and risk.

I've been on the fence about the wisdom of passing non-binding resolutions, but have come around to favoring one. That will give Mr. Bush one last chance to come to his senses before Congress has to pull the money plug.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Kagan says, dep into his text: "For the areas involved in the Sunni Arab insurgency, however, the commitment would range from 60,000 to 100,000 troops. This is the relevant estimate, since it would be unnecessary and unwise to send coalition forces into Kurdistan or most of the Shiite lands."

    This is basically an endowment of Cheneys policy of allowed ethnic cleansing. It also seriously underestimates the level of willingness of the resistance, and seems to treat the Iran situation as not convergent to the Sunni situation. This again indicates a blindness to how intertwined the clanties in Iraq go: In the recent fighting, both sunnis and shiites were on the same side.

    Irans push to help with rebuilding is by the way Very Very Smart, because all know that the Iraqi engineers built the post-91 structures from scratch on a 100th of the budget the US forces have achieved noting with.

  2. Kagan and Cheney are equally clueless allied megalomaniacs.

    We need to get rid of them. (I take it you mean Fred Kagan, by the way, although his brother and dad are as deluded as he is.)

  3. Oh dear, have read the rest of it now. "Each clear-and-hold operation must be preceded and followed by intensive efforts to rebuild infrastructure, solidify local political organizations, and restore normal life. By no means all of these efforts are on track."

    No shit, Sherlock. The US forces were given a window of approx two/one and a half year to do this. They f&%cked up, in a big bank robbery of corruption. No accountability, and invade the homes of the infidels & torture them & kill their family. Woohoo.

    Kagan doesnt understand that most Iraqis really really really hates the US, and with good reason. 200000 dead, + the victims of the embargo, + the victims of the first war. You should be happy they are not popping like popcorn all over the US, after infiltrating in little kayaks or something. I would do it, had it been Norway.

  4. No, he is the opposite of an idiot, unfortunately. He is a function ideological sociopath, and a bad risk-player as well.

    On a totally different note, I just played the game Hearts of Iron about Second World War. Its very funny, because it is impossible to win. Even on Very Easy the computer kicks the shit out of you. Sounds like a George Bush reality-snapshot...;-)

  5. Sky-Ho8:37 PM


    You cannot believe how many people I know I have taken to LAS, and of them, how few know how to walk away.

    Your last lines reminded me of the way-too-many who just wanted to play "one more time" with the last of their (and all too often), their families dollars. Or just wanted to double down one more time in futile hopes....

    To think that our "top" leadership thinks that way is frightening.

  6. ozebloke1:47 AM

    The problem is that the people making these decisions haven't been in a bar fight let alone a fire fight!

  7. Anonymous4:10 AM

    This is the first administration in my lifetime where I am convinced that my country and the world, would be much better off if the president, vice president, and secretary of state would take a leave of absence and go play the bad guys in a James Bond movie, where they would be naturals and let Pierce Brosnan and Sir Roger Moore assume their responsibilities in the interim.

  8. Thanks for the read and the discussions, everyone.

    Much appreciated.



  9. Saw Jim Miklazewski(?) on NBC this morning, dutifully reporting the Iranian threat in Iraq and "catapulting the propaganda" even further.

    I'm once again reminded of the late days of the Nixon administration, when the fear was that their desperation made them -- believe it or not -- even MORE capable of outrageous behavior.

  10. Jeff,

    I saw Mick too. Simply amazing, how many of these talking heads are willing to repeat the propoganda totally unfiltered.