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Tilting at Windmills

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November 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE SURGE IN BAGHDAD....This is interesting:

U.S. military officials said Saturday that overall American troop levels in Iraq would drop by about 5,000 next month when a combat brigade completed its withdrawal.

The U.S. Army's 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry, which has been operating primarily in the country's volatile eastern Diyala province, will be the first of five brigades to depart Iraq without being replaced over the next several months, officials confirmed.

....On Tuesday, troops from the Army's 4th Striker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, stationed near Baghdad, will begin to deploy to the region and continue to assist Iraqi forces and residents to secure the province, Smith said.

U.S. officials said the redeployment would not lessen troop levels in Diyala, but it would spread American forces thinner by sending some in Baghdad northeast to the region.

From the start, the surge was primarily aimed at securing Baghdad. A few extra troops were sent to other regions, but the vast majority were sent to Baghdad, where troop concentrations were roughly doubled.

And it worked. In the Sunni provinces surrounding the capital, the decline in violence seems to have been due more to the various Sunni "awakenings" than to the surge. But in Baghdad itself, the surge seems to have genuinely been, if not the only factor, certainly a major component in reducing violence. For that reason, I always figured that when the first drawdown of the surge troops began, Petraeus would do everything he could to keep troop levels high in the capital even at the risk of reducing them elsewhere. But apparently not. Although the initial reduction is technically in Diyala province, the troop levels there won't decrease because they're going to be replaced by troops from Baghdad.

What does this mean? That the success in Diyala is more tenuous than anyone thinks? That the success in Baghdad is more robust than anyone thinks? I'm not sure, but if this is really what it seems then nearly a third of the original Baghdad surge is being redeployed. Stay tuned to see how that works out.

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Our God is bigger than their God, so of course we will prevail.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on November 26, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Sadr's militia standing down and resting up while the "surge" was in effect is a factor in the rate of violence in Baghdad as well.

I'm not holding my breath that any perceived achievements will be permanent.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 26, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

I've always believed that the real factor that always gets ignored in these strategic calculations is the ability of the Iraqi insurgents to calculate on their own the effect of what they do on American efforts.

In particular, if I were an Iraqi insurgent, I might ask myself the question, should I put my effort into opposing the Americans now, or wait until they leave, or very significantly draw down their forces?

The obvious answer would be: wait until they leave or significantly draw down their forces -- why, after all, expend those resources when they appear to serve no larger purpose?

Of course, that answer isn't exactly right, because there has to be enough penalty for the Americans' remaining that the Americans want to get out. So I try to choose just that level of resistance.

At this point, it still looks like a pretty fair bet that the current reduced level of resistance would be enough to deter the Americans from staying on in great force. But I'd expect that if it looked like the Americans were instead using that reduced level as an indication that they should hunker down in Iraq, then the level quickly would become accelerated.

Somehow, American strategists never seem able to believe that Iraqi insurgents can think ahead to this degree and with this amount of discipline.

God only knows why.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 26, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

It will probably work out to the tune of about 5>7 Billion$$ a month forever.

Posted by: steve duncan on November 26, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Drum: What does this mean?

It means that we've hit the wall regarding troop deployment:

[The US military] is badly overstretched and is having great difficulty recruiting and retaining the right kind of people. The army has about 160,000 troops, or more than half of its combat brigades, deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan - 135,000, or 17 brigades, in Iraq alone. It cannot keep this number of troops in these two combat zones beyond March 2008 unless it violates its social contract with its soldiers even more egregiously...

Hence the shuffling of the troops. The US military cannot continue to operate at this level. More here.

Posted by: grape_crush on November 26, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

5000 are being withdrawn because there is no option, not because things are going swimmingly. I have been beating this drum for ages. Six months ago I wrote this.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 26, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Baghdad has been fairly effectively ethnically cleansed, so there's less opportunity/need for the kind of carnage that we saw last year. As RG/BS pointed out above, too, Sadr's militia is refraining from major insurgency activities for the time being and seems to have reverted to acts of petty gangsterism/extortion in the areas of the city it controls. I think Petraeus and his staff have been forced to draw down the surge troops in Baghdad and are just holding their breath that all hell doesn't break loose in the next couple of months. I wouldn't be surprised if things remain relatively calm in the short term, but the Kurds and Sunnis (along with some radical Shiites) are not simply going to sit back indefinitely and let Malaki's government entrench itself under a permanent US protectorate regime. Eventually those "awakened" Sunni tribes are going to turn their attention from AQI to the bum deal they're getting from the central government and it won't be pretty. That's why political reconciliation, and not simply "reducing the violence" was the key objective of the surge -- and it hasn't been met.

Posted by: jonas on November 26, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

In light of this:

http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004772.php

all other talk of troop levels appears to be useless calisthenics. It appears our commitment is now to continue propping up the current government forever and ever - amen.

We can all hope that violence continues to decrease but to think that our troop levels or deployment schedules are evenly remotely related to the violence on the ground is to engage in pleasant fantasy.

Posted by: Paul Dirks on November 26, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "What does this mean?"

It means, in large part, that Shi'ite militias have shifted the focus of their activities to the provinces south of Baghdad, where our troops are found in scarcer numbers. When we inevitably reduce our presence in the capital for logistical purposes, if nothing else, they will return.

If the level of violence continues to fall over the course of the next 12 months, and one year from now the warring political faction are negotiating their differences rather than shooting it out in the streets with our troops in the crossfire, then perhaps we can rightly claim that the military escalation worked. But for the present time, such an assertion is premature, if not preposterous.

And let's face it -- we will be there one year from now, if not indefinitely, thanks to this agreement, signed this morning, to provide perpetual cover for the al-Maliki regime.

And just for the record, the so-called "war czar", Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, has made it clear that the administration does not consider this "U.S.-Iraq Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation" to be subject to Senate ratification.

In your face, America!

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 26, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK
That the success in Diyala is more tenuous than anyone thinks? That the success in Baghdad is more robust than anyone thinks?

It means that the US Army is just as depleted as everyone paying attention (and BGRS deserves special credit here, because she's been beating the drum on this as some others have gone on following the headline of the day without remembering context) has known it is for some time.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 26, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

A critical point that continually gets forgotten here is that The Surge consists of both a bunch of extra troops and a change in tactics (get out of the fortresses). We will be losing the extra troops to rotation, but the change in tactics remains. I'd say the change in tactics was the more important factor, as results from the surge started showing after the tactics were modified but before all the troops had rolled in. Any discussion of what is going to happen as we draw down needs to include that fact.

Posted by: SJRSM on November 26, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK
We will be losing the extra troops to rotation, but the change in tactics remains.

Well, as the article Kevin linked to earlier points out, the "get of the fortresses" strategy appears likely to be on the way out, too, in favor of a "get back into fortresses" strategy for the drawdown.

Not that I'm granting the argument that any decline in violence is necessary linked to any durable success of the surge (tactics or bodies) so much as insurgents knowing we only have the capacity to "surge" for a limited time.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 26, 2007 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK
And just for the record, the so-called "war czar", Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, has made it clear that the administration does not consider this "U.S.-Iraq Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation" to be subject to Senate ratification.

If its not subject to ratification, then it isn't a treaty, and doesn't become law of the land, and it only matters as long as the occupant of the White House chooses for it to matter.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 26, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you very much, Mr. Dicely. I consider a compliment from you as high praise indeed. I'm not being snarky, I'm being sincere.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on November 26, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: "If its not subject to ratification, then it isn't a treaty, and doesn't become law of the land, and it only matters as long as the occupant of the White House chooses for it to matter."

Spot on. The question remains, however, whether the next president will have the courage to walk away from this misbegotten agreement.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 26, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

The question remains, however, whether the next president will have the courage to walk away from this misbegotten agreement.

Very likely, the next President will be a Democrat.

It is pretty inconceivable that a Democrat will not significantly draw down on the forces in Iraq. So far as I can make out, they have all already pretty much gone on record that they plan to do so. I don't see how they're going to squeeze out of such clear commitments.

Maybe the language of the agreement will allow them to claim they honor continue to honor it, but I don't see anything short of a significant drawdown.

Posted by: frankly0 on November 26, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I think the reduction in violence is due not to the surge, but to Sadr's cease fire, which is scheduled to end at the end of February. It's important to note as well that Sadr's call for a cease fire was reportedly an effort to reduce intra-Shiite violence, and was not related to anything our military has done.

Posted by: cmac on November 26, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

I still think what is going on here is a reduction in American patrols. It's widely rumored that the US has been avoiding contact with insurgents. This would mean that what we are really seeing is that removing foreign security forces from visibility reduces violence.

Has anybody seen anything to suggest that this rumor is true, or false?

Posted by: jayackroyd on November 26, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK
The question remains, however, whether the next president will have the courage to walk away from this misbegotten agreement.

Courage, and inclination. But, with or without the agreement, whether and how much the candidate will change direction in Iraq was already a central issue in the 2008 Presidental race.

Sure, the agreement can be seen as an attempt to shift the center of that debate, but I don't see that it fundamentally changes anything.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 26, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

The surge has worked! Good! We've won!

Time to bring the troops home.

Posted by: zak822 on November 26, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

The "deals" worked up between the Cheney White House and the Iraqi "government" are written on rice paper. They will dissolve with the next American president or in that acid bath known as Iraqi politics.

The US now has isolated bases far away from the population, so they may as well stay. No doubt they hope for a Guantanamo-style occupation. But the Iraqi nationalists are militarily strong and politically fierce. Once a modicum of sensible political order returns we will see ongoing demands for total withdrawal. They will make the American stay as expensive as possible. For as long as Americans stay in Iraq it will be an albatross hung around of the neck of the American government. It will be an open wound bleeding lives and money and prestige.

Posted by: bellumregio on November 26, 2007 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

A critical point that continually gets forgotten here is that The Surge consists of both a bunch of extra troops and a change in tactics (get out of the fortresses).

But what advocates of the Surge conveniently ignore is that the Surge, itself, was merely a tactic, designed to serve the interests of a strategy (political reconciliation) that was never bought into by the only people who can bring it about. One of the biggest problems with the whole endeavor has been the complete absence of any strategy, and in this case -- where one was identified -- the US had absolutely no leverage to make it happen, even if the tactics implemented might be argued to have been working. The Surge is a success only if it serves the interest of the strategy to which it's subordinate. It hasn't, and there isn't much indication that it's going to anytime soon. The only way you can see this as a success is if you look at it against the colossal failure of everything that's come before it, and that's what the wingers are asking us to do.

Posted by: junebug on November 26, 2007 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

If we are going to define the occupation in administration terms (rather than objectively dissing the effort as the greatest foreign policy fiasco of history--a multi-trillion dollar snipe hunt for WMD), then we must view the surge in its place as part of the GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR, and it seems we have no response to the al-Queda/Taliban surge in Pakistan.

Only the extremist Barack Obama has proposed an attack on Pakistan.

Posted by: Luther on November 26, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Again, grape crush & BGRS have told us why we are drawing down the number of troops in Iraq - namely, we done run out of replacements. As a result, numbers will fall month by month as units reach the end of their deployments, w/o replacements. As our troop presence falls, we will have a much clearer idea whether or not we are at least holding our own or not. If casualty numbers rise significantly in the coming months, we will know we did too little too late. But if they don't, then maybe this small success is not as tenuous as we think. Few who really know what is going on there express more than cautious optimism. Contrary to Kevin's comment, it hasn't worked yet; we won't know for a few months yet whether it has or hasn't.

As far as moving troops from Baghdad to Diyala Provence & Baquba, those will continue training & fighting alongside the Iraqi army & police forces there. Contrary to what some believe here, US soldiers are actively seeking out & engaging insurgent forces in the neighborhoods, in many cases living in unsecured buildings among the people. Perhaps if you would try reading some of the blogs of the people embedded with our forces, or reading the military blogs themselves, you would know what our forces are doing on a day to day basis. Granted, one must ignore whatever political bias these writers may have, but the actual reporting is much more accurate than that of the stringers who never leave the Green Zone.

Posted by: bob in fla on November 26, 2007 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

You folks have been pushing to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Now Bush doing just what you asked for. Yet, I see no gratitude nor even mere acknowledgement that your policy is beginning to be carried out.

Instead, I see an attitude that whatever Bush is doing must be wrong.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 26, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

You folks have been pushing to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. Now Bush doing just what you asked for. Yet, I see no gratitude nor even mere acknowledgement that your policy is beginning to be carried out.

Dizzy from the spin yet?

The withdrawal is not because that petulant fuck you worship on high is withdrawing them. it is happening because there are no replacements and the splurge was never more than a shell game.

So why the hell should anyone express gratitude to the little idiot?

And yeah, if Bush is doing it - or if you support it - the probability approaches one that it is, indeed, absolutely wrong.

Posted by: Airman Rowland's Aunt on November 26, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

... I see no gratitude nor even mere acknowledgement that your policy is beginning to be carried out.

You're struggling, ex-lib. The false equanimity shtick you use in your lame attempt at masking rabid partisanship is beginning to slip. Yesterday you were telling us to apologize, and today we're supposed to be grateful. It would appear that four years of failed attempts at rationalizing unmitigated disaster is catching up with you. What's next? Are you going to tell us we should be ashamed of ourselves for expecting honesty & competence from the Executive Office?

Posted by: junebug on November 26, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: "Instead, I see an attitude that whatever Bush is doing must be wrong."

That's because when people show a marked propensity to lie to us, repeatedly, we tend not to have much faith in whatever they say or do anymore. We're not gullible dumbshits like you.

If you don't like that, clown, you can go blow it out your right-wing ass.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 26, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

The surge didn't work. Moqtada al Sadr declared a cease-fire, remember?

Posted by: bob on November 26, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

The surge didn't work. Moqtada al Sadr declared a cease-fire, remember?

Where do you think all that cash in Iraq that was supposedly "lost" and "unaccounted for" went?

Posted by: Econobuzz on November 26, 2007 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

Off topic a little but I wonder why Red State Manson decided to keep the Swaggering Jingoistic, but drop the Goon? It isn't as if anyone remembers that he got the moniker for his callus disregard for the tragedy of a woman murdered by dropping a bomb on her head killing her, some guy who wasn't convicted of a crime* and a child.

More to the point though, in the end it matters little what happens now. There were no WMDs, there was no threat to the national security of the United States, and no amount of improvement will bring back the hundreds of thousands of dead, the hundreds of billions spent or the world's belief in the fundamental goodness of the American people. All of that was inevitable when mindless drones used terrorist tactics to plant bombs all over the city of Baghdad in a failed attempt to assassinate the leader of a small oil-rich state. The bed is full of shit and the Republicans did it. No credit goes to them for wiping it off the bed - they still haven't cleaned the sheets or steam cleaned the mattress.

*To be fair, probably a very bad guy - on the other hand, RSManson really never told us how many victims he slaughtered from the relative safety of his seat high above the action, never really got around to saying how many of them were known bad guys and how many of them were just poor schmucks who happened to be somewhere he was dealing out death and destruction. And really, how many innocent deaths does it take to make one a bad guy? Is there some equation where we are supposed to account for the innocent deaths? After all, our friend Manson has indicated that a two to one ratio of innocents to bad guys is not just perfectly acceptable, it is downright commendable.

Posted by: heavy on November 26, 2007 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Today 50 people were killed by a suicide car bomb at a pet market in Baghdad. One of the tactics of the surge has been to disallow vehicles from driving through market areas. Now that security has improved, the driving bans are beginning to be lifted. It didn't take long for someone to notice. I think this probably answers any questions one might have about whether the situation in Baghdad will remain calm. See juancole.com for more info.

Kevin, supposedly AQI went to Diyala after the surge began in Baghdad. Diyala, from what I read, is a mess for a lot of different reasons, not the least of which is an almost equal ratio of Sunni, Shia and Turkoman (?) in that province.

Posted by: nepeta on November 26, 2007 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

I believe Diyala is a little tricky. It's where they thought JAM went to from Anbar. It contains Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. And a number of tribal chiefs (both Sunni and Shia) were recently kidnapped for cooperating with the US. Also borders on Iran.

So, yeah, US forces will get stretched again trying to cover all problems and, unless the Iraqis can step up themselves (I'm trying not to laugh), at some point the US troop density will not allow them to sit out in their tactical stations without undue risk.

I hope this doesn't happen, but I could see the improvements in violence we've seen implode at some point.

And what of the politics? Who's got any answers there?

And, yes, the US military is degrading continuously. Not only in the field but at the recruiting, training and retraining level, within the officer corps, and, crucially, at the NCO level.

Posted by: notthere on November 27, 2007 at 2:57 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Manson, he murders people, brags about it, tells us all how much he wishes he could have been the one to murder an innocent woman and her child and all he can say is "don't hate." I guess murder isn't hate for our favorite sociopathic killer (provided, of course, that it isn't all just a sick fantasy from some internet clown hiding in his mom's basement pretending to be a big bad killer and not realizing just how much such fantasies disgrace the uniform he wishes he wore).

So Manson, ever figure out why we needed hundreds of bombs in the capitol city of a state that wasn't a threat to our national security? Or perhaps you'd like to answer the question of how many innocents you are allowed to kill in order to get the bad guy before you become just another head-chopper? But no, self-reflection is beyond you. All you can do is cheer on the massive death and destruction and demonstrate your disconnect from the human race. What a goon.

Posted by: heavy on November 27, 2007 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Other than stopping the slaughter of Iraqis caused by the American invasion in the first place, the surge has accomplished nothing remotely related to the reasons America invaded, much less Bush's previously revised-revised-revised goal of political reconciliation.

Apparently we invaded Iraq to pacify Baghdad, which at the time was not in need of pacification.

The failure in Iraq is still a failure.

What a boob of a president we have.

ex-liberal, current mentiroso: Instead, I see an attitude that whatever Bush is doing must be wrong.

Well, when you've been wrong every step of the way, and whether you believe Bush lied or was merely mistaken being wrong is the very least that he's been, why would you think he would suddenly turn out to be right?

Just playing the percentages?

Some of us don't like Vegas odds, cause they are stacked in favor of the house, just like the odds conservatives give us on Bush being right or wrong are in favor of the White House, not the betting public or the Iraqis.

Posted by: anonymous on November 27, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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