Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 16, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

"THEY WILL GET OVERRUN"....A couple of weeks ago I linked to a story about the initial troop drawdowns in Iraq and expressed surprised that they were taking place in Baghdad rather than in outlying provinces. Today, the LA Times reports that the military has had second thoughts about this too:

In a change of plans, American commanders in Iraq have decided to keep their forces concentrated in Baghdad when the buildup strategy ends next year, removing troops instead from outlying areas of the country.

....The shift in deployment strategy, described by senior U.S. military officials in Iraq and Washington, is based on concerns that despite recent improvements, the capital could again erupt into widespread violence without an imposing American military presence.

That's not especially good news. But if that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. We stay in Baghdad.

Later in the article, though, the local U.S. commanders provide a rationale for leaving the provinces that's surprising in its honesty:

The day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and his staff believe that the increasing competence of provincial security and political leaders will put pressure on the government in Baghdad that "will breed a better central government," said his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson.

...."The grass-roots level will force change at the top because if they do not act on it, they will get overrun," said another senior military officer responsible for Iraq war planning.

In other words, our "bottoms up" strategy — which, you'll recall, was adopted out of necessity as a response to the Anbar Awakening — is creating competing power centers in the provinces that are becoming ever better equipped to successfully challenge the central government. And that's deliberate. Australian Lt. Col. David Kilcullen fessed up about this months ago in a little-noticed piece on the Small Wars Journal blog, and apparently U.S. commanders are now talking about it more openly too. The message to prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is: get your act together or else the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar and Diyala are going to get it together for you.

Kilcullen called the revitalized Sunni tribes "competing armed interest groups," and expressed the hope that their existence would create a stable "intra-communal balance of power." That was a pretty strained piece of spin from the start, and now even that thin curtain is being stripped away. Today, we're all but admitting that the more likely result of "competing armed interest groups" is civil war, and if the Maliki administration doesn't get this, "they will get overrun."

In fact, I imagine the Maliki government and its allies get this perfectly well — and they're undoubtedly preparing for it. Unfortunately, that preparation probably doesn't include making concessions to their Sunni adversaries. More likely, it means making sure they're the ones who get overrun.

Kevin Drum 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Comments

Good to see that the Pentagon is finally reading your blog.

Posted by: Disputo on December 16, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

I don't they meant "they will be overrun" as in "there will be a coup." I think it means "they'll get passed by...overcome by events."

Posted by: SJRSM on December 16, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

The Maliki government is also doing a permanent basing deal with the US which includes an agreement by the US to defend that central government from all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

So the US is creating a danger of civil war and also undertaking to defend the central government from that danger - all to justify keeping troops in Iraq on a permannent basis. It's the old colonialist "divide and conquer" in fine style, where threats are kept in dynamic opposition and never quite spill over into a massive bloodbath if you get it right - and all hell breaks loose if you miscalculate - while all sides look to the occupier as their defense against those competing local threats.

Here's the question - does anyone believe the U.S. military have the finesse to pull it off?

Posted by: Cernig on December 16, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on December 16, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

This is an "improvement"?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on December 16, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

'America Slumbering' is a better description.

Posted by: gregor on December 16, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

does anyone believe the U.S. military have the finesse to pull it off?

I'm not sure. This excerpt from a recent New Yorker article that Kevin linked to probably sums it up best:

O’Brien flashed me a look. “Look, it works,” he said quietly. “That’s what I want. I want him to take charge. Some advisers want to take command, and we need them to.” He paused. “It’s like surfing, except that here we’re surfing on top of a shit tidal wave, and we’re just trying not to fall in.” O’Brien laughed. “Saddam Hussein once said that the trick of counterinsurgency is to separate the people from the insurgents. That’s what we’re trying to do here. If the people like what you do more than what the others do, then you have a chance.”

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 16, 2007 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Intra-communal balance of power" has a better ring to it than say," Tribal warlords" (pre-taliban afghanistan).
If anyone thinks the tribes are going to give up their power to a central authority better get a
clue.
Iraq is a mess with no good foreseeable outcome. We are only delaying the inevitable civil war while our soldiers continue to die for no good reason other than give cover for the Bush Administration until it gets dumped on the lap of the next Administration.
After which the blood sucking right wingers will be sure to blame the Democrat President whomever she or he may be.

Posted by: bobswire on December 16, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

On a side note: what is this business of censoring every right-wing commentator on this site who disagrees forcefully with Drum and most of the rest of us? I'm thinking of "MHR's" comment above, which, before it was removed, was stupid and offensive but no more so than a lot of left-wing comments on this site. As far as I'm concerned, the only two grounds for removing a commenter from a thread are if (1) he gets obscene, or (2) he starts spouting a whole endless string of very short "So's your mother"-type comments that tie up useful space in the thread. MHR, so far, has done neither. Is Mrs. Grundy editing this site?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on December 16, 2007 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Please. Petraeus could personally shove a cannon up Maliki's ass and it wouldn't prod him to do a damned thing.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 16, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

mhr's comments are deleted because he has history. The censors are fairly broad-minded and even allow bloodthirsty goons, who favor the wholesale slaughter in Iraq, to post unless the specific post goes over the line.

Only a few commenters have managed to earn lifetime bans. mhr is one of those lucky ones.

Posted by: heavy on December 16, 2007 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

It seems like the occupation is working. Oil production has not exceeded pre-invasion levels. Permanent bases are being constructed and not contested. The oil law is also still intact. Iraq is largely out of the news -and voters minds. All is going as planned.

Posted by: bigTom on December 16, 2007 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

If you start from the initial hypothesis that what is wanted is permanent bases, then a permanent conflict serves US interests. The last thing they want is a stable, democratically elected and representative government, because such a government would show the US the door in a New York minute.

Posted by: jayackroyd on December 16, 2007 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, we're setting up a bunch of armed groups that don't like the current government as part of our plan for unifying Iraq? Sounds like another Bush League Katrina-style "heck-of-a-job" moment is in the works.

Posted by: RepubAnon on December 16, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's analysis is simplistic. In the first place, only in a few areas outside of Anbar are the provincial security and political leaders primarily Sunni Arab; the Maliki government is under greater potential threat from Shiite factions than from the Awakening groups. Secondly, the American military has not sought to create centers of power in the predominantly Sunni Arab areas but rather to ensure that the centers that do exist are hostile to the al Qaeda in Mesopotamia types who are most hostile to us, and also most likely to spark sectarian strife by launching mass-casualty attacks on Shiite civilians and government employees. There is no way to make local Sunni Arab governmental authorities better able to stand up to al Qaeda and other extremist groups and guarantee that they will not someday stand up to someone else.

This could be the central government, but what the American military has been desperately trying to do is to induce Baghdad to at least give the Sunni Arab local authorities a stake in the existing political order by bringing them into national institutions like the police and army. Maliki would be well advised to take the Americans' advice, hardly the first time in this war that this has been true.

He probably won't, and we really need to be clear why. It isn't because he and the Shiite factions supporting his government are simply bloody-minded people who refuse to conciliate. It's because they represent people who feel very deeply a long list of wrongs done them by Sunni Arabs, first by officials of the former Baathist government and later by insurgent groups. So far, no word of apology or repentance has come from any of these, including the Sunni Arab groups now allied with us. In this environment the "let bygones be bygones" reconciliation that Americans here at home might hope to see, or even the more limited tactical accomodations the American military in Iraq is trying to promote, cannot be thought likely.

It ought to go without saying that the same reasoning used by the Shiite dominating the Baghdad government is also being used by the Kurds. The Kurds had their fill of Sunni Arabs in Saddam Hussein's time, and while the insurgency has struck Iraq's Shiites much more often over the last four years there is no desire in Iraqi Kurdistan to get any closer to Iraq's Sunni Arabs than is absolutely necessary.

Let's be frank: Iraq's Sunni Arabs have worked hard to earn the enmity felt toward them by the country's other ethnic and religious groups. This is the fundamental obstacle that needs to be cleared before any kind of reconciliation is possible. Unfortunately it is not an obstacle the American military can overcome. All it can do is play for time and try to keep things from blowing up. The army in Iraq is playing that game now, and playing it well. But how long are we going to continue to ask our military to do this? To be blunt -- what's in it for us?

Posted by: Zathras on December 16, 2007 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Only a few commenters have managed to earn lifetime bans. mhr is one of those lucky ones.
Posted by: heavy

This site is not moderated. It is policed by fellow lefties. Once you know that, it all makes sense, sort of. On their behalf, occasionally they will delete the hate-soaked rants of their more dependably lunatic lefties. Right, heavy?

Posted by: SJRSM on December 16, 2007 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

Not only is our policy creating competing centers of power but in Baghdad neighborhoods it has led to ethnic cleansing and new ghettoes with walls between neighborhoods which can be traversed only through checkpoints patrolled by armed men. Doesn't strike me as particularly prudent.

Posted by: gmoke on December 16, 2007 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

What does Zathras' analysis ignore? The brutalization of the Iraqi people that resulted from this war of aggression. Nothing is more important to this effort than to remember that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to the national security of the United States.

Stop blaming the victims of American aggression. These people are acting this way because they have been brutalized first by American aggression and then by American inaction. The bloodymindedness of the sanctions regime, the bloodymindedness of the unprovoked assault, and then the bloodymindedness of the half-assed occupation have all resulted in a brutal chaos cheered on by swaggering jingoistic goons who love death and have no concern for the well-being of either Iraq or America.

The people you condemn, Zathras, learned their lessons not just from Saddam Hussein, but also from George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George H. W. Bush. The lesson of might makes right is one America has gone to great lengths to impart to the people of Iraq.

Everything that has been done to the people of Iraq is a war crime - from the moment the first terrorizing bombs were dropped from planes onto the civilians of Baghdad this has been a crime against peace and a crime against humanity.

To which I expect some mindless goon to say "oh, the humanity." But then what can you expect from a sociopathic coward who expresses glee at the deaths of innocents?

The entire fiasco brings shame upon the citizens of The United States.

Posted by: heavy on December 16, 2007 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

I would like to second Zathras' comments, and add that the Shiite's, and especially the Islamist, have a whole series of reasons not to reconcile. Besides anger over past offenses, they are scared to death that if they let the Sunnis into the government, they will pull off a coup and resume the control over the Shiite majority that they enjoyed for centuries.

Beyond that, the Shiites have no intention of sharing the oil wealth with the Sunnis, much less governmental posts. The Islamists in addition believe that all Shiites are false Muslims.

Basically, the Shiites think they are wining against the insurgency and the Sunnis in general, and so have no motivation to reconcile.

On the other hand, I have read that al Sadr truly wants to make peace with the Sunnis. I rather doubt he could do that, but his motivation is that he is a pan-Arabist and militant anti-American, so if he should win out and unite the country, it still wouldn't be good for the US.

Posted by: bob the chimp on December 16, 2007 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK
On the other hand, I have read that al Sadr truly wants to make peace with the Sunnis. I rather doubt he could do that, but his motivation is that he is a pan-Arabist and militant anti-American, so if he should win out and unite the country, it still wouldn't be good for the US.

True in some respects, bob.
However, it's not so much that al Sadr is militantly anti-American, as he is anti-occupier. I'm sure he'd be happy to be anti-Swede, if the Swedish were the primary occupying force and had been responsible for the bulk of destruction inflicted on his homeland.
His anti-American sentiments will begin to fade when the last American (or American contractor) boots leave Iraqi soil. The damage we've done will ensure that it will be a long time before his resentment fully ebbs, but he'll like us a lot better when we've left, and moreso if the door hits us in the ass on the way out.

Why is he anti-American? I suggest you look for guidance in a poorly written, woodenly acted piece of America-Ra-Ra-Ra jingoism from the 80's: aka Red Dawn.

"... the difference is, we live here!"

Posted by: kenga on December 17, 2007 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

The day-to-day commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and his staff believe that the increasing competence of provincial security and political leaders will put pressure on the government in Baghdad that "will breed a better central government," said his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson.

I preferred the old days when we could just refer to "provincial security and political leaders" as "warlords". Rolled off the tongue so much easier.

Posted by: Stefan on December 17, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

What does Zathras' analysis ignore? The brutalization of the Iraqi people that resulted from this war of aggression. Nothing is more important to this effort than to remember that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to the national security of the United States.
Posted by: heavy

Then why did the UN have sanctions against him, if he wasn't a threat to anyone? Why was their a no-fly zone north and south? Why all the effort to contain him, knowing it meant positioning forces in Saudi Arabia thus throwing Bin Laden propaganda gold?

But I'm not surprised you would say these things, having openly agreed with Bin Laden that the US is evil, the US military are a bunch of murdering thugs, and that the plight of poor muslims everywhere can blamed solely on western imperialism. They're just victims.

Taking a break from your jihadist forum?

Posted by: SJRSM on December 17, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Sunnis to kick Shia butt -repost from 11/26/06
.
The Sunni insurgents are now literally and actually in their "last throes."
But now this statement means they have won.
A knowledgeable source basically says that it is an open secret that the Sunni insurgents will kick the Shia's butt when we leave.
And, our staying will serve no useful purpose.
Let events take their course.
Tis a shame we didn't go in with 300,000 troops or not disband the Army, but "Oh well."

(Current addition. It is interesting to note that the Sunni's are more comfortable with secular life, Christian minorities, women's rights and not aligned with Iran...the "Farside" meets Bush's Iraq victory. Also there's a quote somewhere of Cheney expressing disgust or disappointment that Shia fighters as compared to the Sunnis are wusses.)

Labels: Iraq, Shia to lose, Sunni victory

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