Michael Hirsch seems to think he’s on to something:
The Petraeus plan will have U.S. forces deployed in Iraq for years to come. Does anybody running for president realize that?
I’m not sure about the folks running for president. But I’m pretty sure just about everyone who’s serious about a meaningful victory in Iraq realizes it and has realized it for a long, long time. Mr. Hirsch just seems to have found out.
The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying–and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge”? plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.
First of all, this isn’t news. Long before the “Petraeus plan”, officials were acknowledging that we’d be in Iraq for “years to come”. In fact, the “Perhaps 10 years. At least five.” bit even makes headlines every once in a while.
Remember the “demon eyes Condoleezza Rice” photo in the USA Today? That was in October of 2005. Any idea what the title of the article was? Well, it was Rice won’t rule out U.S. troops in Iraq in 10 years. If this was discussed a year and a half ago (and it wasn’t the first or last time that it was) why does Hirsch think he’s scooping everyone all of a sudden? It couldn’t have anything to do with presenting things in a certain way so that the audience thinks a certain way, could it?
Petraeus is engaged in a giant “do-over.” It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus’s predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant –superbases”, where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus’s plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of –mini-forts” all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action.
So let me get this straight. The position of war critics is that what we were doing wasn’t working and, to an extent, I can agree with some of the criticism. So now that we’re changing tactics it’s another mistake? Seems to me that the only option left is to give up.
Oh. That’s how it’s supposed to seem.
Actually, of course, the new plan isn’t so much a new plan but a return to the old plan. Recognizing that the security situation hadn’t progressed as far as it should have for us to be doing the things we were doing, we’re slowing down the pace of the transition.
The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis–who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own–are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”
Hirsch seems to be presenting this as bad news. But it’s only bad news if the only acceptable outcome is a withdrawal of US troops regardless of the situation. It’s good news if we’ve stopped “letting the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy”, no? Good news for anyone who wants the mission to succeed, anyway.
As a result of all the lost time, the anonymous irregular warfare expert worries about “whether we have the support of the American people for the multiyear commitment it will take,” adding: “This is how great powers lose small wars.”
Actually, I’d like to point out a paragraph a bit further down in the article:
Yet like two planets spinning away from each other in different orbits, the Petraeus plan developing on the ground and the Iraq debate generating headlines back home seem to be disconnected, increasingly so. On Wednesday, most of the Democratic candidates for president gathered in Carson City, Nev., and pitched their various schemes for capping funds for the war and thus forcing at least a partial U.S. withdrawal. Back on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind a proposed bill by Rep. John Murtha that would reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq by requiring troops to spend one year at home between deployments, among other provisions for readiness. [emphasis Murdoc’s]
That, my friends, is “how great powers lose small wars.”
Well, that and pretending that you’ve suddenly discovered some nefarious secret plot which means that the troops won’t be home soon after all.
In November we could have easily, based upon all the evidence freely available at the time, had headlines about like this:
U.S. forces will be deployed in Iraq for years to come. Does anybody running for Congress realize that?
But then someone might have had to acknowledge that bringing the troops home immediately could only be accomplished by giving up.
It’s a lot easier to get elected by saying “I will work to get the troops home” than it is by saying “I will work to assure our defeat so that the troops have to come home“.