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Tilting at Windmills

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January 10, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW STRATEGY....From the president's speech tonight:

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

....In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods. And Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

Am I reading this right? I assume the primary "neighborhood" in question is Sadr City -- which is actually about half of Baghdad -- and that the plan is to send American troops into Sadr City with new rules of engagement that place fewer "restrictions" on what they can do. In other words, conduct a full-on war against Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army.

Color me profoundly skeptical. If that's the plan, it sure doesn't sound like a renewed commitment to counterinsurgency to me. Nor does it sound to me like something Maliki can even begin to genuinely support. In fact, I imagine that the life of his government can be measured in hours from the moment there's any significant troop surge into Sadr City.

But maybe I'm reading this wrong. Comments?

UPDATE: Noah Shachtman suggests my reading might be 180 degrees backwards.

Kevin Drum 9:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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Comments

All I got from the speech is that Iran and Syria are on notice.

Count on the fool expanding the war.

Posted by: xyz on January 10, 2007 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

My profound hope is that Bush is giving himself an excuse to pull out. So, my fantastical narrative goes, we start the Second Battle of Baghdad and somewhere around day three we start itching to move into Sadr city. Makiki stalls and hems and haws but somewhere around day ten says, "no way." About a week later, Bush gives a speech announcing that we're bringing the troops home, because the Iraqis aren't willing to take the next step. Then, I get a pony.

Posted by: dr on January 10, 2007 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

No, you're reading it right. "Restrictions" hit my ears heavy. Complete domestic dog whistle politics. A despicable speech. who knows what the plan actually is.

Posted by: DI on January 10, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

God! I am so tired of the lack of coherent thought and practical strategy for either the deadly dalliance in Iraq or the war on terror.

This man is the most dangerous idiot.

He has no vision.

Posted by: notthere on January 10, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Their were elements in the speech that made more sense than anything Bush has ever said before. It was at least necessary to put Moktada on notice. If Bush had given this speech two years ago I would have cheered.

It's almost certainly too little and too late, but I don't think that Democrats can afford the kind of cavalier dismissals we saw from Durbin and Obama.

Hearing need to be held and the details examined.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on January 10, 2007 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus God I hope this doesn't work...

Posted by: dnc on January 10, 2007 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

White House fact sheets and reviews

Transcript of speech on Drudge.

Posted by: Ein on January 10, 2007 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

One nation under big oil with ponies and freedom for all.

Posted by: Zelph on January 10, 2007 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Full-scale Shiite uprising, here we come. Our troops will be coming home sooner than that nitwit thinks.

Posted by: Red on January 10, 2007 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

See Larry Johnson's swift and cogent comments via TPM on why attacking Sadr is exactly the WRONG thing to do if we think Iran is a major bad guy in solving this problem.

http://www.tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2007/jan/10/enough_of_the_terrorism_canard

Johnson's point: Sadr is strongly ANTI-Iranian and attacking him will strengthen Iranian interests.

The more I have thought about all of this mess in Iraq is how much of it rests on a totally and profoundly inept president who hasn't the first clue about the realities of life and politics in Iraq or the Middle East and who, like his eminence gris mr. cheney, thinks that the solution to all problems in any situation is might and force, shock and awe. It has failed totally and their only response is to order up more of it.

Posted by: dweb on January 10, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

There were parts of the speech I found bizarre, like the commitment the Parliament had made to pass legislation Bush wants passed, despite there having been no quorum in a month.

But what I found Bat Shit Crazy was just what Kevin is talking about. If you take the president at his word, he's planning to send Iraqi/US teams house to house in Sadr City. Reports that these Iraqi soldiers will be members of the Peshmerga indicate that this is a jawdropping crazy plan.

Now, Petraeus is no idiot, so what Bush says may not have anything to do with what is planned. But, jeez. If you take him at his word, this is utterly insane. Gates firing Cambone and Boykin is also a promising sign.

Too little, too late IMO. And it's getting really messed up when your best take on the situation is that the president is not really engaged in what is going on.

But that's where we are.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 10, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

Way back about three years ago, this whole insurgency was triggered when Muqtada al Sadr was publishing a newspaper critical of the US and the tactics of the occupying forces. The CPA issued a warrant for his arrest and sent the Army after him. The Mahdi Army came into being and swung into motion to protect their boy. Now here we are, full circle, with the US Army going back into Sadr City with orders to seek and destroy.

Those who do not remember history...

Posted by: AC on January 10, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

the drug tests have come back positive...

Posted by: noone on January 10, 2007 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

If Iraq was a healthier society, there'd be nothing wrong with going after Muqtada al-Sadr. But in Arab Iraq, there are three main factions: the Sunnis, Muqtada's supporters, and Hakim's supporters.

We've been fighting the Sunni insurgency for nearly 4 years now, and have alienated the Sunni population in general. So if we choose to ally with either Sadr or Hakim and attack the other, we've got the majority of Arab Iraq mad at us.

We've been able to hang on this long only because the Shi'ite majority in Iraq has tolerated us. For half of that majority, that's about to end.

Bush is crazy. And our troops there are so screwed.

Posted by: RT on January 10, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

A renewed committment to the west bank of the Volga, winter of '42, more like.

What's the Arabic for 'Stalingrad'?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 10, 2007 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

You libs are just too consumed with irrational Bush hatred to understand the brilliance of our President's speech. He's saving you from the terrorists.

Posted by: Al on January 10, 2007 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

According to today's news, we have been busy hammering a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad that has been putting up strong resistance. Bush is talking about going after everybody, but our actions say we're going after the Sunnis--at least for now.

My guess is that the Iraqis have their own understanding of how this is going to play out--an undertanding that may be based on better information than any of us (including His Imperial Presidency) has. This is especially discouraging after Bush has, once again, removed the top layer of knowledge and experience from his military team.

Just because he can function after a lobotomy doesn't mean that we should want to.

Posted by: cobblestoned on January 10, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

I thought the President gave a bravura performance tonight. Al Qaeda is headquartered in Anbar, and the Generals believe 4000 more troops will finish them off.

As for Baghdad, we are going to surge in waves, and target the neighborhoods. Before, we were fighting with too many restrictions. Now the gloves come off. This was a lesson we did not learn in Vietnam. Today, we will not make this mistake again twice.

Posted by: egbert on January 10, 2007 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Mitch McConnell is on CNN right now, insisting over and over again that we're-fightin'-'em-there- so-we-don't-have-to-fight-'em-here. I'm not sure if the schmuck actually believes that nonsense, but somehow, I doubt the people of London and Madrid would agree.

Posted by: Otto Man on January 10, 2007 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

This whole debacle has been, and continues to be, a mulligan on Viet Nam. Now we get the same bs about the troops not being "allowed" to do what is necessary, and the same nonsense about not having enough troops to "hold" the "strategic villages" we would take. We're in the middle of a civil war that we ignited, and it will only get worse, thanks to our wondrous leader who was bestowed on us by god himself in his infinite wisdom and majesty to hasten the onset of the end times. I, myself, am anxiously awaiting the rapture, because it will ethnically cleanse us of all the religious kooks that have gotten us into this mess.

Posted by: Irrational Bush Hatred on January 10, 2007 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

Bush to get nastier to the people of Iraq, democracy was NEVER an issue. Exxon/Mobil coming to steal and there is nothing Bush will not do to try and get Iraqis inline.

--too many restrictions??? There is all the torture and now there is nothing but bloody murder. Bush just declared cleansing war in Iraq.\

BUT Senator Durbin comes out and says "there very little we can do about Bush's surge?

It clear the Dems will do NOTHING.

Bush admits mistakes - so what?

Who cares?

Bush always makes mistakes, admits that he never listens, DUH! Nothing changes. That is a meaningless thing, and then Bush talks about those terrorist, still misleading, Iraq was not about TERRORIST. Bush still lying, he can't do anything else.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 10, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Russert and Williams, esteemed NBC empty suits, were rewarded with a personal White House briefing. They came out stating that Bush told them of secret classified information warranting escalation. "If you know what I know," was his tired old claim of Presidential infallibility. In Bush's case, it more accurate to say "you don't know what we know" because he buys into Cheney's insane neo-con claims. The implication was that Bush is working a hair trigger response to Iran and Syria and put a second carrier fleet with nuclear subs in the Straits of Hormuz for supposed interdiction purposes although no intervention on the part of those countries has been established.

Syria has taken in hundreds of thousands Iraqi refugees and is under severe stress. Iran sees the American failure in Iraq and is not afraid of Bush bullying. Saudi oil fields and refineries are within easy strike distance for them as are ships in the Straits. So, instead of talking with them in order to cool things down and help with the refugee problem, Bush is actively threatening them which will only increase their hostility to us. This is not the act of a rational human being, but then, neither was the invasion of Iraq.

Posted by: Mike on January 10, 2007 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

One thing I do know for sure is that Bush's speech didn't go over well.

It was a horrble speech.

Most Americans will be very pissed, as I'am very pissed right now. There is going to be a big back lash, Americans are fed up with speechs like that, It's getting very ugly. Bush is so full of shit.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 10, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

The Americans will be going into Sadr City accompanied by Iraqi units.

So my question is what will the make-up of those Iraqi units be? Will they be predominantly Sunni?In which case the "strategy" will be official fomenting of further sectarian fighting. Or will they be Shia? In which case, whay are the chances that Shia units of the Iraqi Army will actually help the U.S. fight the predominant Shia militia?

Yeah, that's a "strategy" that just can't miss.

Posted by: Robert Earle on January 10, 2007 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like we have told the "democratically elected government of Iraq" that we will protect it but we must first insist it cease to be the governing authority within the country that elected it. Why not just declare that the provisional authority is back in charge, and send Bremer back. This is totally back to square one, no movement forward at all.

Posted by: George Hogenson on January 10, 2007 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK
and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

That is SO frustrating. Talk about Viet Nam, we're fighting with one hand tied behind our backs again!

Posted by: Bozo the Klutz on January 10, 2007 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if I heard the same speech you all seem to have. I thought there were several good ideas, which, if implemented, might conceivably help: a reconstruction and jobs plan, local population protection, fair distribution of oil revenues, and amendment of the constitution. If the Iraqis have indeed signed up for all this, it could be useful.

In any case Congress must choose: bring the troops home now, or let the President carry out his plan. If they merely allow the present losing stalemate to continue, they will get, and deserve, the blame for the inevitable defeat and all the carnage from now on until it.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on January 10, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

I interpreted the speech the same way Kevin did. But I just can't believe Sadr is actually going to be confronted.

And actually, either can National Review's Rich Lowry. This is what Lowry wrote yesterday about the plan for a surge: "Sadr City and its environs, and therefore about 3 million people, are off the table at the moment."

Posted by: Jim E. on January 10, 2007 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, No! is reporting that even Hindrocket at Powerline thought the speech bombed.

Et tu, Buttus?

Posted by: Otto Man on January 10, 2007 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

We're fighting them in the real world so we don't have to fight them over here in our bizarro world.

Posted by: Mitch & Dubya Show on January 10, 2007 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

Von more putch and we vill take Schtalingratt! Victory iss in our grasp!!!

Posted by: Mr. Hilter on January 10, 2007 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

Maliki MUST do what Bush tell him to do, Iraqis are irrelevant.

Bush talked about those terrorist, but not a single word about democracy.

Bush only convinced most Americans tonight that it’s time to end the war in earnest, much sooner rather the later.

Jeebus, that was a horrible speech.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 10, 2007 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

All I got from the speech is that Iran and Syria are on notice.

Count on the fool expanding the war.

xyz nailed it. This speech wasn't so much about escalation, it was about expansion of the war into the broader Middle East.

Posted by: Pennypacker on January 10, 2007 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

We have been tangling with Iran virtually since we invaded the neighbors. And for the first time in nearly half a century all seven Carrier Strike Groups are at sea - and none are in the Atlantic.

Posted by: Global Citizen on January 10, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

The thing I take away from this is the following: I think that the Bush Administration's actual plan B is to set up the return of an Iraqi dictator in the form of the Iraqi general in charge of the military operation in Baghdad. Since it is obvious that the Maliki government will fall once there is a major incursion into Sadr City, and since the administration has concluded that it is unwilling to take the risk of just leaving the Sunnis and Shiites to duke it out, I think they have concluded that this is the only way to prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for jihadis. Sure there will be some trappings of a 'democracy' left behind, like the situation in Pakistan which has political parties and a prime minister, but the real power will lie with the strongman.

Posted by: reader on January 10, 2007 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

Can't wait to experience this year's State of the Union speech, especially since W has been working on tonight's performance for weeks and will have little time to prepare, as well as sparse material to spin. We may find out what the sound of one Independent Senator clapping is.

Posted by: GOboy on January 11, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, have you seen Sadr city?

Population 2.5 million.

It's a warren of buildings, crammed together on narrow streets and alleyways. Watchers on every block, snipers, nothing moves 2 feet in any direction without 5 square blocks learning of it almost instantly. These are organized people.

Posted by: Maeven on January 11, 2007 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

And for the first time in nearly half a century all seven Carrier Strike Groups are at sea - and none are in the Atlantic.

I'm guessing that this "surge" of 23,000 is really going to be a massive new *shock and awe* bombing.

655,000 dead Iraqis, and counting. All in our names.

Posted by: Maeven on January 11, 2007 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

He's got a lovely plan, that could really work. Only one question: where is this Iraq he's talking about? It doesn't seem to be in the same universe as the one the rest of us are familiar with.

If only OUR Iraq had only one enemy with a simple motivation, instead of a number of competing factions vying against each other and us in a civil war with nationalist, tribal and religious overtones. Maybe, if we could import the alternate-universe Bush from the place we heard about tonight, he'd have an absurd plan that would FIT our situation.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 11, 2007 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's quite possible that the surge will work for a month or two. Insurgents will be killed, and violence will tamper down a bit. But it's hard to see any reason why in a couple of months, everything will revert back to the way it was. It's not the best comparison, but even the Battle of the Bulge worked for a few weeks.

Posted by: Andy on January 11, 2007 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

Am I reading this right? I assume the primary "neighborhood" in question is Sadr City -- which is actually about half of Baghdad -- and that the plan is to send American troops into Sadr City with new rules of engagement that place fewer "restrictions" on what they can do. In other words, conduct a full-on war against Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army.

Maybe. Reports from last week suggested that any action against al-Sadr would be controlled by Iraqi's, not the US, unlike other actions; that difference in handling was specifically noted in the articles. Unfortunately, those stories seem to have disappeared. E.g., see here which Kevin posted about last week here.

Subsequent reporting (e.g., see here) suggest something different:

''The government has told the Sadrists: 'If we want to build a state we have no other choice but to attack armed groups,''' said the legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.

... An Iraqi general, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the plan, said a mainly Kurdish force would be sent into the Sadr City slum in northeast Baghdad, which serves as headquarters of the Mahdi Army.

The general said Kurds, who are Sunni but not Arab, were being used against the Shiite militia because soldiers from other Iraqi units were likely to refuse to fight fellow Shiites. An estimated 80 percent of Iraq's army is Shiite.

Under the new security plan, the general said, U.S. and Iraqi troops will sweep Baghdad neighborhoods in an effort to dislodge the Mahdi Army, as well as Sunni extremists -- including al-Qaida in Iraq and two of its allied groups, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army and the Omar Brigade.

Posted by: has407 on January 11, 2007 at 3:12 AM | PERMALINK

Rhetorically, this was a pretty weak speech also. It was no "we will fight them in the skies...." It was more corporate plan than Churchillian. Bush never was a good orator, but it almost seems like his speechwriters were trying to produce something nonmemorable.

Posted by: mcdruid on January 11, 2007 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

UPDATE: Noah Shachtman suggests my reading might be 180 degrees backwards.

If anything, al-Sadir has likely been bought off with Sunni lives. Note that the initial focus of Maliki's security plan (from last week), is Sunni areas; (see here).

Posted by: has407 on January 11, 2007 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

Whether this new strategy will be successful or not against the insurgents, will depend that a "full-on war" is waged against them. American commanders on the ground, must deploy their troops and means of war ruthlessly against this implacable and deadly foe.

Throughout history, in all critical military engagements, morality is being always superseded, by what Edward Gibbon called "the laws of necessity", and the reality of war. Statesmen and great commanders are neither accountable to man or God for their remorseless necessary actions, but only to history.

Posted by: kotzabasis on January 11, 2007 at 4:00 AM | PERMALINK

CapitalistImperialistPig: If the Iraqis have indeed signed up for all this, it could be useful.

Some of them surely have; whether enough have is questionable (e.g., see here):

Senior officials in radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's group said they will not comment on the speech until their political council meets later Thursday to discuss Bush's statements.

Posted by: has407 on January 11, 2007 at 4:04 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin;
C'mon, this equation is very simple. Attack Sadr, provoke Shiites into full scale war, claim that Iran is supporting them, then attack Iran. Bush has started the war against Iran. Pre-emptive and never-ending war is his answer to everything.

Posted by: nman_nyc on January 11, 2007 at 7:37 AM | PERMALINK

>"He [Bush] has no vision."

Evidence indicates he has plenty of vision.
He brings death and ruin to whatever he touches.

Posted by: Buford on January 11, 2007 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

"too many restrictions on the troops"?

What were these inappropriate restrictions? What Rules of Engagement will work better?

Who is responsible for these restrictions? Bush? Rumsfeld?

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on January 11, 2007 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

So let me get this straight: Bush is now defying the Baker Report, Congress, the military, and the American public by escalating the war...Forgive me for not brimming over with optimism...
www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com

Posted by: MinorRipper on January 11, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Great, now instead of fighting just Sunni insurgents, we'll fight Shiites too and then the whole country outside of the Kurds will be against us, over 80 percent surrounding 153,000 troops.

Lovely.

I wonder what "new" old plan the President will come up with next year?

Posted by: Sean Scallon on January 11, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK
Great, now instead of fighting just Sunni insurgents, we'll fight Shiites too and then the whole country outside of the Kurds will be against us, over 80 percent surrounding 153,000 troops.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has issued a pretty harsh condemnation of our raid on an Iranian consulate in Kurdistan; we seem to be on track to making sure everyone in Iraq is against us.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 11, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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