Wednesday, December 06, 2006

First observations of Baker-Hamilton

I figured the easiest way to do this was to comment as I went along. So I’m going to read sections and then comment on them. Here’s my take on the first part of the report. Those parts of the report I’m reproducing will be block quote text.

However, the ability of the United States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing.

The problem as I see it is that it already may be too late to influence anything on the ground. The word is Bush will read this report and one being prepared by the Joint Chiefs and another I think by the State Department. Bush will then make some decisions and make a speech to the country before Christmas. Do we have a couple of weeks to take to decide on what to do. I think literally every second counts especially if we have an event in Iraq like we did on Thanksgiving.

Because events in Iraq have been set in motion by American decisions and actions, the United States has both a national and a moral interest in doing what it can to give Iraqis an opportunity to avert anarchy.

As much as I would like to see us out of Iraq as soon as possible, there are people there who believed that we would make their country better. They have helped the Americans out and the new government and have put their lives and the lives of their friends and family at risk. It is simple not right to just plain leave. The American government said we would make life for Iraqis better and we sure as hell have to do our best to make sure that happens. I reminded of one interview where I guy said he picked his route to work based on where car bombs had not gone off.

Some 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed every month.

The sentence speaks for itself.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is now largely Iraqi-run and composed of Sunni Arabs. Foreign fighters—numbering an estimated 1,300—play a supporting role or carry out suicide operations. Al Qaeda’s goals include instigating a wider sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia, and driving the United States out of Iraq.

This was made possible by the inability of the US to restore order in Iraq. It was made possible by not having enough troops after “Mission Accomplished” to make sure we could secure the peace. It was made possible by a total lack of historical knowledge of the history of Iraq.

Some criminal gangs cooperate with, finance, or purport to be part of the Sunni insurgency or a Shiite militia in order to gain legitimacy. As one knowledgeable American official put it, "If there were foreign forces in New Jersey, Tony Soprano would be an insurgent leader."

Once again this was made possible by not having enough forces to restore and maintain order after Saddam fell. Instead we get the attitude from the Secretary of Defense that stuff happens and you have to expect a little looting. Yes, you can expect a little looting but it should never have been tolerated. By turning a blind eye to it, American encouraged it.

Currently, the U.S. military rarely engages in large-scale combat operations. Instead, counterinsurgency efforts focus on a strategy of “clear, hold, and build"—"clearing" areas of insurgents and death squads, "holding" those areas with Iraqi security forces, and "building" areas with quick-impact reconstruction projects.

This policy clearly is not working or at least not working well. The problem again was the decision to go lean on the number of forces sent to Iraq. One does have to wonder if there had been 50,000 more American troops in Iraq what that would have stopped. They could have been used to protect the infrastructure. Also one has to wonder if the incredibly stupid idea of disbanding the Iraqi army (thank you Ambassador Bremer) had not been done. The rational was that they all were Sunnis. Well maybe you wouldn’t have hired them all back at the same time. Maybe you could have called up 5,000 or so a month. This would have greatly increased the ability to secure the nation. It would have also made those who came back have an active stake in the success of the government. And most importantly they would be employed. Getting a paycheck makes one more likely to support the place where the money is coming from.

Nearly every U.S. Army and Marine combat unit, and several National Guard and Reserve units, have been to Iraq at least once.

Many military units are under significant strain. Because the harsh conditions in Iraq are wearing out equipment more quickly than anticipated, many units do not have fully functional equipment for training when they redeploy to the United States.

In many cases units are going back to Iraq for the third time. How may times does one tempt fate. There have been numerous articles on the vast toll the war is taking on the equipment and how the Department of Defense can not keep up with what has to be replaced.

On to the Iraqi army:

Although the Army is one of the more professional Iraqi institutions, its performance has been uneven. The training numbers are impressive, but they represent only part of the story.

Units lack equipment. They cannot carry out their missions without adequate equipment. Congress has been generous in funding requests for U.S. troops, but it has resisted fully funding Iraqi forces. The entire appropriation for Iraqi defense forces for FY 2006 ($3 billion) is less than the United States currently spends in Iraq every two weeks.

On the ABC news tonight they were talking to US troops about the Iraqi troops. When they had missions to go on, the Americans would tell the Iraqis where to show up but not what the mission was about. A soldier was asked point blank if he trusted the Iraqi troops and he said no. How does one train and equip and have any confidence in the Iraqi army if you don't trust them. I have to believe that this is not the only US soldier to feel this way.

In a major effort to quell the violence in Iraq, U.S. military forces joined with Iraqi forces to establish security in Baghdad with an operation called "Operation Together Forward II," which began in August 2006.

The results of Operation Together Forward II are disheartening. Violence in Baghdad—already at high levels—jumped more than 43 percent between the summer and October 2006.

The reason for the failure is answered in the report itself.

U.S. forces can "clear" any neighborhood, but there are neither enough U.S. troops present nor enough support from Iraqi security forces to “hold” neighbor-hoods so cleared.

Not enough boots on the ground. Something that the arrogant Bush administration would never and even now barely admits to.

Moqtada al-sadr: Sadr has a large following among impoverished Shia, particularly in Baghdad. He has joined Maliki's governing coalition, but his Mahdi Army has clashed with the Badr Brigades, as well as with Iraqi, U.S.,and U.K. forces. Sadr claims to be an Iraqi nationalist.Several observers remarked to us that Sadr was following the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon: building a political party that controls basic services within the government and an armed militia outside of the government.

I know it is wrong to go around and kill people but I do have to say why the hell isn’t this guy dead. Why didn't the US take him out a couple of years ago instead of playing footsie with the guy. Newsweek had a great picture of Sadr on the cover where he looked like the devil incarnate. Does anyone think that if he was not on the scene things would not be better. He has an army that’s almost as big as the current Iraqi one. Where's some extra polonium 210 when you need it. Maybe we can ask Mr. Putin for some help on this one.

National reconciliation. There is a whole section dedicated to this in the book and the problems with it. One of the reasons:

Because Iraq's energy resources are in the Kurdish and Shia regions, there is no economically feasible "Sunni region." Particularly contentious is a provision in the constitution that shares revenues nationally from current oil re-serves, while allowing revenues from reserves discovered in the future to go to the regions.

One of the solutions put forth is to divide the country into three parts. I don’t see how this works. The Kurds would have oil. The Shiites would have oil. The Sunnis would have none. The state would collapse.

Iraq's leaders often claim that they do not want a division of the country, but we found that key Shia and Kurdish leaders have little commitment to national reconciliation.

Yet many of Iraq’s most powerful and well-positioned leaders are not working toward a united Iraq.

A main problem going in to Iraq was the idea that there was a sense of an Iraqi nation. Well there really isn’t one. Iraq came into being after World War I from some of the Ottoman territories. European diplomats spread maps on the floor and got down on their hands and knees and decided the boundaries of countries. They took in little or no consideration for what groups of people were where. This is still a very tribal area. You stick with your tribe or your religious sect. The country you happen to be in gets your allegiance last. We need to think of Iraq as a feudal state and then the divisions make much more sense.

On to the militias:

Though Prime Minister Maliki has said he will address the problem of militias, he has taken little meaningful action to curb their influence. He owes his office in large part to Sadr and has shown little willingness to take on him or his Mahdi Army.

Sunni politicians told us that the U.S. military has to take on the militias; Shia politicians told us that the U.S. military has to help them take out the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda. Each side watches the other. Sunni insurgents will not lay down arms unless the Shia militias are disarmed. Shia militias will not disarm until the Sunni insurgency is destroyed. To put it simply: there are many armed groups within Iraq, and very little will to lay down arms.

Again don't think of this in the sense of a modern state think of it as a feudal society. Lip service is paid to the central government and then the lords go off and do what they want. Henry II of England paid homage for his lands in France to the king of France but Henry was much more powerful. The situation is very similar in Iraq. There is talk of support for the central government but when push comes to shove.

There is also very much the chicken or egg scenario. The Sunnis won't disarm until the Shia do. And it’s the same thing from the Shia perspective. I’m not sure how you get over that. The way to have prevented this was to have had enough troops in Iraq in the first place.

Despite the positive signs, many leading economic indicators are negative. Instead of meeting a target of 10 percent, growth in Iraq is at roughly 4 percent this year. Inflation is above 50 percent. Unemployment estimates range widely from 20 to 60 percent. The investment climate is bleak, with foreign direct investment under 1 percent of GDP. Too many Iraqis do not see tangible improvements in their daily economic situation.

Does anyone think with the Iraqi economy in this situation that a democracy is going to take hold? This is the type of an economy that breeds a dictator.

There is then a section on Iraq’s neighbors. I particularly like this section on our "great good friend and ally" Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. These countries for the most part have been passive and disengaged. They have de-clined to provide debt relief or substantial economic assistance to the Iraqi government. Several Iraqi Sunni Arab politicians complained that Saudi Arabia has not provided political sup-port for their fellow Sunnis within Iraq.

Gee with friends like that . . .

The conclusion to this section (which is where I’m going to stop for tonight) I’m just going to reprint. The words speak for themselves. I sure hope when the President of the United States reads them he actually gets what they mean.

The United States has made a massive commitment to the future of Iraq in both blood and treasure. As of December 2006, nearly 2,900 Americans have lost their lives serving in Iraq. An-other 21,000 Americans have been wounded, many severely. To date, the United States has spent roughly $400 billion on the Iraq War, and costs are running about $8 billion per month. In addition, the United States must expect significant “tail costs” to come. Caring for veterans and replacing lost equipment will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Es-timates run as high as $2 trillion for the final cost of the U.S. in-volvement in Iraq. Despite a massive effort, stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating. The Iraqi government cannot now govern, sustain, and defend itself without the support of the United States. Iraqis have not been convinced that they must take responsibility for their own future. Iraq’s neighbors and much of the international community have not been per-suaded to play an active and constructive role in supporting Iraq. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is di-minishing. Time is running out.

1 comment:

Arthur Schenck said...

Great post! It's great to see some analysis and not just reporting--I can read it for myself, but I want to make sense of it and commentary is important for that.

I think that we do have a responsibility to the Iraqi people--since we caused the situation, we have to fix it. But I just don't see how that can happen unless the US engages ALL the regional players, including Iran and Syria.

As for Saudi Arabia, the US ought to put some muscle on them. They're hardly a friend of the US, but their feudal kings are so frightened of the masses that any distancing the US does might shock them into finally doing something.

Looking forward to the next part.