Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 10, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

QUESTIONS FOR GEN. PETRAEUS....Apparently Petraeus is counting "IED hoaxes" in the PowerPoint slide that shows a sharp decrease in IED attacks. That seems odd, doesn't it? John Cole would like to see that chart replotted with just the actual IED attacks themselves. Me too.

Josh Marshall, meanwhile, notes that Petraeus told Congress that two intelligence agencies signed off on his methodology for calculating civilian death rates. That's only two out of 18, which isn't so hot, but he'd still like to know which ones they were. Me too.

For myself, I'll just note the same thing I noted over the weekend: all the charts for civilian fatalities show basically the same trend: a big pre-surge drop between December and March, no progress from March through July, and then a modest drop in August. So Petraeus is hanging nearly his entire case on a single month.

BONUS POWERPOINT NOTE: Slide #12 shows the readiness of the Iraqi army. Level 1 means "fully independent." Level 2 means "Iraqi lead with coalition support."

So four years into this thing, how are we doing in getting Iraqi army units up to speed? Answer: at the beginning of the year we had 15 Level 1 units. Today we have 12. Level 2 units have gone from 78 to 83. Some progress.

Kevin Drum 7:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Who knew that strategic military thinking is like day trading. The last tic tells you everything.

Awesome. Or as some would say, teh awesome.

Posted by: gregor on September 10, 2007 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the General could read a few press quotes about his brilliance and do a few push-ups for Congress.

Shouldn't take much more than that to get them to roll over.

Posted by: Max Power on September 10, 2007 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Atrios nails it:
This has been said a million times in a million different ways, but the whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Bush's war continues until it's time for him to cut brush permanently. The surge can't have worked because then it could start ending, and the surge can't be not working because then it would a tragic waste of lives and money, so the surge is working just a little bit.. but might work a little bit more soon!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on September 10, 2007 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Josh Marshall, meanwhile, notes that Petraeus told Congress that two intelligence agencies signed off on his methodology for calculating civilian death rates."

The Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President.

Posted by: Ross Best on September 10, 2007 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

all the charts for civilian fatalities show basically the same trend: a big pre-surge drop between December and March, no progress from March through July, and then a modest drop in August.

Nonsense Kevin. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Insitute reports that in his "Iraq Index" for the liberal foreign policy think tank, he has observed there has been a 20 to 50-percent drop in civilian fatalities which is hardly a modest drop.

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZGIzMjMzZDEwOGNkM2VhYzEyMTZhOWM3MGY0N2VmMDk=

"based on virtually any primary-source data I have seen (in my capacity as co-author of Brookingss "Iraq Index"). Depending on which category of violence one emphasizes, and which starting and end points one uses for the comparison, most categories of killings are down 20 to 50-percent since the surge began. This is true for overall civilian fatalities from all causes, including victims of extrajudicial killings (basically reprisal assassinations), murders, and for the most part, car- and truck-bombing victims."

Posted by: Al on September 10, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Questions:

1) General, do you know what 'bullshit' means? It's not lying, as such. And of course it isn't telling the truth. It's telling what you have to say NOT CARING if it's the truth or not. That way, you can have lots of truth in what you say, which you can use to defend what you say, but it's still bullshit.

So, General: do you know your testimony is bullshit?

2) When you say that by next summer, we can start drawing down our troops: weren't we going to do that anyway? Because

3) Aren't 20-25% of our deployments up early next year? And isn't it true that...

4) We don't have troops to replace 'em? So...

5) It does NOT matter what you say about WHY and HOW we are going to withdraw the numbers you describe: werem't we were going to do that anyway?

6) So doesn't that mean your testimony is bullshit, General? Besides...

7) As you say, we cannot win the war in Iraq only IN Iraq, and you cite Iran as the principal threat. Ambassador Crocker says if we leave Iraq, Iran will win. Kindly explain how withdrawing troops as YOU say we will do, will help win the war in Iraq... either IN Iraq, or by influencing Iran. Because...

8) There are more Shi'ites than Sunni's in Iraq. How is it possible that a Shi'ite dominated coalition in Iraq's central government will NOT be a victory for Iran, the largest Shi'ite power in the world -- and right next door to Iraq, too? Which leads to...

9) You cite the success of Iraq's Sunni tribes' decision to fight against foreign Sunnis as proof that the surge is working. How does that reduce the influence of Iran on Iraq's Shi'ite majority?

Doesn't tribal success indicate that the central government will be weak, and require foreign allies, AND doesn't that mean the tribes will also be threatened by the central government - and need allies?

Isn't the surge strategy aimed precisely at a practical outcome in which Iraq's central government requires closer ties with Iran, while the tribes require the support of Saudi Arabia? And finally...

10) What is the US role in Iraq, after you've achieved this, your own best case outcome?


Posted by: theAmericanist on September 10, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

So four years into this thing, how are we doing in getting Iraqi army units up to speed? Answer: at the beginning of the year we had 15 Level 1 units. Today we have 12. Level 2 units have gone from 78 to 83. Some progress.

Wow.

Posted by: Swan on September 10, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

at the beginning of the year we had 15 Level 1 units. Today we have 12. Level 2 units have gone from 78 to 83. Some progress.

Well, if you combine the two - into a 'levels 1 and 2' category - it's increased from 93 to 95. Surely a greater than two percent (!) increase in functioning (or semi-functioning) Iraqi units was worth a few hundred American lives lost, many thousands of American lives shattered, and some dozens of billions of dollars?

Posted by: Warren Terra on September 10, 2007 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

In his testimony before the Congress on September 10 and 11, General Petraeus will make the case that, despite the fact that the Iraqi government is not meeting the benchmarks proposed by the White House a year ago, certain positive developments during the last nine months since the surge began make it clear that the U.S. should continue to maintain some 170,000 troops in Iraq for several more months. His comments will no doubt be echoed by President Bush when he addresses the nation later in the week.

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Petraeus and Bush will claim that violence in Baghdad is down, that overall sectarian deaths in Iraq have been reduced, that Iraqi security forces are standing up, and that some Sunni tribes are turning against al-Qaeda. But they will not point out that overall civilian deaths in all of Iraq are increasing; civilian deaths in August were 1809, up by 49 compared to July's 1760 deaths.

Nor will they point out that May was the deadliest month in 2007, with over 1900 civilian deaths. Nor will they note that the Pentagon's estimate of sectarian deaths does not include Shi'a on Shi'a violence, Sunni on Sunni violence, car bombings or people being shot in the head from in front.

Nor will they admit that the drop in violence in Baghdad has more to do with population displacement than the surge. Before the war, Baghdad had a 65 percent Sunni majority. It is now 75 percent Shi'a. More than half of all Baghdad's neighborhoods are now Shi'a dominated as compared to a handful just a year ago.

Nor will Petraeus and Bush tell us that, since the surge began, the number of internally displaced persons in Iraq has doubled to 1.1 million, 200,000 of whom are in Baghdad alone. And that every month in 2007 has seen more American casualties than the same month in 2006. Since the surge began more than 800 American servicemen have died.

Petraeus and Bush will not tell us that the quality of life for ordinary Iraqi's continues to deteriorate. Some 70 percent of Iraqi's lack adequate water supplies, compared to 50 percent before the invasion, nearly 30 percent of Iraqi children are malnourished, and Iraq is meeting only 50 percent of its electrical demand. It is no wonder that 2.4 million people have already left Iraq and are living as refugees throughout the Middle East and that Iraq is second on a the list of the world's most badly failing states.

The General and the President will not let us know that the Iraqi national police are so ineffective that an independent group of military officers said that they should be disbanded, and that the number of Army units capable of operating independently dropped by 40 percent over the past six months.

Finally, they will not point out that in the long run, the current Sunni tribal cooperation with American Forces will intensify sectarian divisions and undermine the Maliki government, the very government which the surge was designed to prop up, as the recent National Intelligence Estimate points out.

It is time to admit that the purpose of the surge, which was supposed to provide space for the Iraqi politicians to undertake political reconciliation, has failed. Let us not use it to provide cover for those who got us into this mess in the first place. Let's begin a phased withdrawal.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior advisor to the Center for Defense Information, handled manpower issues in the Reagan administration.

Posted by: Meanwhile back on Planet Earth on September 10, 2007 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Level One, Level Two -- who the hell would believe any of these clowns anymore?

Didn't then-Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld claim just prior to the 2004 presidential election that the U.S. had trained over 200,000 Iraqi troops, who were even then standing up as we were supposedly standing down? Whatever happened to them?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 10, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

And who was in charge of training those Iraqis? Who was responsible for creating the infrastructure to make the Iraqi police forces and security apparatus a viable entity so that we could draw down our forces?

That would be Petraeus, of course. Now he's in a position to further cook the books and make it appear that there is progress when, in fact, all he's doing is continuing the process of carrying water for the Republican Party, just as he did in 2004 when he wrote his op-ed, extolling the great strides that the Iraqis were making in creating their own force capable of securing the country.

It was a crock of shit then, it's a crock of shit now. The same Iraqis that appear on that slide are abandoning their posts, shooting at Americans, trading their weapons for cash and/or simply giving their weapons to the insurgents or are insurgents themselves.

This is what we're paying for? This is the best America's officer corps has to offer? A man who gets up and lies because they handed him that fourth star for failing to do his original job in the first place? We're paying for a war in Iraq whereby the man who failed to do his job three years ago in an honest manner now gets to dictate the strategy going forward, when all around him is the proof that the strategy itself is a failure?

You get the leaders you deserve when the leaders you choose have no honor. Sorry, General. Better men than you have worn those stars, and no one expects you to be a fucking saint. One does expect you to have a passing acquaintance with the truth and a dedication to serving the whole country, not just the 33% that still supports President Bush.

This is the most shameful performance in our nation's history by a military leader.

Posted by: Pale Rider on September 10, 2007 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

This is the global warming and the evolution "debates" writ over the bodies of real people. They have posed the argument as one of he said/she said numbers. The real argument is "is our goals and objectives reaching." (I phrased it in terms Bush might understand) By everyone's measure even Crocker's the answer is no.

But the debate is waged over what the MBA Bush knows is the squishiest of terrains - statistics. I guess Harvard wasn't wasted on him after all.

Posted by: paulo on September 10, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

Lucky guy this Petraeus. Not many people get to write their own job review.

Posted by: JS on September 10, 2007 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, can you please blog about something other than Iraq? It is a war I don't care about and which doesn't effect me one iota. Nor does it affect most Americans. America is at war -- big deal, when are we not? There are many far more important issues and they are wanting for attention. And you are ignoring them.

Posted by: Josh on September 10, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Suppose for a minute that, instead of General Patraeus today's report on the military situation in Iraq had been prepared for the White House by Karl Rove. Would there have been any substantial difference. Wouldn't the message in each be identical: Stay the Course.

Posted by: Neil McKenty on September 10, 2007 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't seen any ISF casualty figures lately, but at one point in 2006, the ISF was losing about a brigade a month (their wounded had about the same rate of return to duty as US troops)so it's likely that the drop from 15 to 12 in Level 1 was due to casualties. After all, the Level 1 units were most likely actively engaged in combat operations.

But at least the Iraqis are still signing up which explains the overall growth although that 60% unemployment rate may also have an effect. (The 60% is just as good a guess as anything in the State Dept. reports (20-40%) wit an upward adjustment for bad data.)

Posted by: TJM on September 10, 2007 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

Who says you can't compare Vietnam to Iraq? Didn't General Wastemoreland brief our "leaders" about the "light at the end of the tunnel"?

Frustration? If it were their kids lives perhaps we wouldn't have to scream at them.

But maybe they like to eat their own.

Posted by: bobbywally on September 10, 2007 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

Al, you mean the figures on pages 13 and 14? All depends on your starting and ending point, doesn't it. Reflection on the year by year and other surge variations wouldn't come in to it, right?

ESTIMATED NUMBER OF IRAQI CIVILIANS KILLED BY MONTH SINCE NOVEMBER 2006:
November 2006 3,500
December 3,000
January 2007 4,000
February 3,600
March 3,200
April 3,000
May 2,800
June 2,500
July 2,800

So, yeah, generally there's been a decline, but, of course in 2006:
January 1,800

So it's coming down from it's own pretty horrific surge.

And none of this includes Iraqi police or security forces, foreigners, coalition or US forces.

Get off your couch and join the "surge". Call us when you know something.

Posted by: notthere on September 10, 2007 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

What I can't believe is 4 years into this thing they said "We have to secure Baghdad" and we're supposed to take them seriously.

Posted by: Boronx on September 10, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

"Apparently Petraeus is counting "IED hoaxes" in the PowerPoint slide that shows a sharp decrease in IED attacks. That seems odd, doesn't it? John Cole would like to see that chart replotted with just the actual IED attacks themselves."
________________________

During WWII, a retreating Red Chinese unit significantly slowed the advance of a Japanese tank column with a bunch of dinner plates. Having only one anti-tank mine, the Chinese planted the mine in the road and covered it with a dinner plate. A Japanese tank rolled over the plate and was destroyed. Thereafter, they slowed each time they came across another dinner plate.

IED hoaxes are still indicators of enemy activity. Simply laying wire where it can be seen from the road will stop a convoy or patrol until the wire can be carefully followed to its end. A fake IED can be used as bait by snipers or grenadiers, inducing infantry to deploy from their armored vehicles. A series of fake IED wires can lead to complaisancy with the chance that a real IED will be missed. A well hidden real IED might be command-detonated while a hoax is examined.

Posted by: trashhauler on September 10, 2007 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why is there so much cheering for Ron Paul?

Andy McCarthy, National Review, Sept. 5, 2007

"The reason there is so much cheering for Ron Paul is that he is the only Republican who has staked out popular positions on the two most significant issues of the 2008 election cycle. He is anti-occupation and pro-border control. No amount of Bush administration spin is going to change the fact that the surge is strategically irrelevant, that the neocons Democratic World Revolution is a total failure and that Mexico is being allowed to invade the United States."

Posted by: Luther on September 10, 2007 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

For the Petraeus statement and slide show, MSM news coverage, comparisons of recent Iraq assessments, new public opinion polls from Iraq and the latest news, surge progress reports and other essential documents, see:
"The Iraq Documents Center."

Posted by: Furious on September 10, 2007 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK
IED hoaxes are still indicators of enemy activity. Simply laying wire where it can be seen from the road will stop a convoy or patrol until the wire can be carefully followed to its end. A fake IED can be used as bait by snipers or grenadiers, inducing infantry to deploy from their armored vehicles. A series of fake IED wires can lead to complaisancy with the chance that a real IED will be missed. A well hidden real IED might be command-detonated while a hoax is examined.

I don't deny that to be true. In fact, it sounds exceedingly reasonable. The question I have for you is why not spell that out, and let us see how many hoaxes, explosions, and found IEDs over he past however many years there have been. Why just the "total IEDs?"

Would it be too much information for us non military folks and unserious people to comprehend? I guess so, since we aren't even allowed access to the raw data.

Posted by: John Cole on September 11, 2007 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

My question for Petraeus is are tribal councils, partnerships, such as the Anbar one, more effective than INF at rooting at assymetrical warfare?

I mean, since they are not affiliated with any country, and wear no uniforms, are the locals a better and more effective intelligence/military faction in their area?

Posted by: Ya Know... on September 11, 2007 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

What are IED hoaxes?

And why does it seem like every year we have a reduction in Level 1 Iraqi units, but the beginning of the year we have more? When did we go from 3 to 15? And are divisions bigger or smaller than brigades? O-o What are they talking about?

Posted by: Crissa on September 11, 2007 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

Consider the possibility that if Bush is not the evil genius you paint him then you are an enemy of the people. Go ahead, toss it all in the pot.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis on September 11, 2007 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

The Dolchstosslegende is in full swing for ol' Wallis, I see.

Posted by: Gregory on September 11, 2007 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, Wallis: "Evil genius"?! I think what I've thought all along, and what a solid majority of Americans now realize: Bush is a mendacious, incompetent boob who lied us into a war and now is trying desperately to punt his failure into the lap of the next President.

It's interesting to see the lengths cognitive dissonance takes you to prevent you from "considering the possibilities" of your support for this incompetent fuckup.

Posted by: Gregory on September 11, 2007 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

"Josh Marshall, meanwhile, notes that Petraeus told Congress that two intelligence agencies signed off on his methodology for calculating civilian death rates"

Kevin and Josh do not have the experience for interpreting Petraeus' statement. I'm not referring to military experience. Kevin and Josh are not lawyers, and Petraeus' statement must be interpreted as a slippery lawyer's brief.

If you read carefully, Petraeus referred to data. I'm sure that the military has excellent data, and any intelligence agency would attest to it. But Petraeus' slides did not contain data; they contained the analysis of data. A different thing. Did the two intelligence agencies vet the data analysis? I doubt it.

I don't think that Petraeus is a liar. I think he is a lawyer. (In other words, a flag officer.)

Posted by: Joe S. on September 11, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin and Josh do not have the experience for interpreting Petraeus' statement. I'm not referring to military experience. Kevin and Josh are not lawyers, and Petraeus' statement must be interpreted as a slippery lawyer's brief.

I respectfully disagree. Kevin, Josh and the rest of us have enough experience with six years of Republican rule to know when a GOP water carrier is dissembling. (Yes -- their mouths are moving.)

Posted by: Gregory on September 11, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

We should also consider that now over 2.5 million Iraqis have fled the country, and at least another 2 million have fled their homes and neighborhoods due to the brutal ethnic cleansing.

When Bush invaded Iraq, some 65% of Baghdad's population was Sunni. Today, 85% of Baghdad's population is Shi'ite. The ethnic cleansing has almost run its course. There just aren't as many left to kill.

Meanwhile, in what Bush and company hail as an improvement, many see only a temporary lull while the Sunni and Shi'ite forces (and the rival sects within each denomination) are arming themselves (with America's naive assistance) and maneuvering for the post-America power struggle that is inevitable.

There's no way we can avoid this pending escalation of the Iraqi civil war, since even the Army admits that it will pretty much run out of fresh troops sometime around April of next year. They have already extended the current soldiers' 12-month tour to a 15-month tour just to be able to maintain troop strength until April and, outside of lengthening the tour again, instituting a draft, or calling back veterans who will have not had sufficient rest and recovery time after their previous tours, the military will be pretty much dysfunctional.


Posted by: Blue Sun on September 11, 2007 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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