"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fighting in Iraq has yet to peak, McCaffrey says

In an article in today's issue of the Washington Times, retired U.S. Army general Barry McCaffrey is quoted as saying that the violence in Iraq has yet to peak. His remarks were made after his third trip to Iraq, from which he recently returned.

McCaffrey says that the War in Iraq will not peak until this coming January, and that international and Iraqi forces will have to kill approximately 20,000 highly dedicated insurgents among the Sunni minority, "adamant fighters," in his words, along with one or two thousand foreign fighters, before the trouble dies down. McCaffrey predicts that after next January, in "the following six months we will see much of the energy start to drain out of that process," meaning the insurgency.

McCaffrey described the U.S. forces as the best the nation has ever fielded, but is quoted as saying the U.S. is reaching the end of its capacity: "[I]in Iraq the fighting forces are superb. Morale is high and the troops are courageous."

The Times story also noted that "Political negotiations with the Sunni minority have failed to stop a wave of bloody suicide bombings," and quoted new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad as saying, "Foreign terrorists and hard-line Ba'athists want Iraq to descend into civil war. Foreign terrorists are using the Iraqi people as cannon fodder," after his first meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

President Reagan argued that a nation cannot negotiate with terrorists, and that only a willingness to go to war can advance freedom. Regardless of one's opinions of the merits of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the recent events do seem to bear out Reagan's principles.

12 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"President Reagan argued that a nation cannot negotiate with terrorists, and that only a willingness to go to war can advance freedom. Regardless of one's opinions of the merits of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the recent events do seem to bear out Reagan's principles."

Bu-huh? How do you ever read that? How exactly is freedom being advanced here? We've swapped out strong men and probably started a civil war. In fact by some accounts the civil war is already started it's just small so far. We've replaced oppression of one branch of Islam in Iraq with oppression of the other. And we've handed a client state to the Iranian fundamentalists on a golden platter.

Where exactly is the freedom in that?

S. T. Karnick said...

I think that your characterization of the situation in Iraq is unfair and hyperbolic. Nobody claims that the current situation is what is ultimately desired.

You know what the Bush administration claims as their goals in Iraq. The fact that the goals have yet to be achieved does not by any means invalidate those goals or suggest that they will not eventually be achieved.

Anonymous said...

You know what the Bush administration claims as their goals in Iraq.

"Claims", being the key word.

Tlaloc said...

"Nobody claims that the current situation is what is ultimately desired."

Actually they have tried to claim that with the "better we fight them over there than here" line of argument.

But beyond that they did claim we wouldn't see this scenario. The claimed the war would be 6 months and over. That no insurgency would be an issue. That garlands would abound. Whoops.



"You know what the Bush administration claims as their goals in Iraq."

I'm not sure I do since they change week to week. In fact the whole mess seems to come about because THEY never knew what their goals were in Iraq.


To bring the subject back to Reagan, given that he did indeed negotiate with terrorists and more than that he armed terrorists, you might want to refrain from pointing out his hypocrisy. I mean since you seem to think he was somehow a decent president.

S. T. Karnick said...

Reagan was not just a decent president; he was one of the best. I understand that you disagree about him, and we will have to agree to do so.

As to Iran-Contra, I think that to characterize the rebels against the oppressive, communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a client state of the Soviet Union at the time, as terrorists would be extremely inaccurate, stretching the term beyond all meaning. And one certainly cannot refer to the legitimate government of Iran in the mid-1980s as terrorists. Hence, Reagan did not negotiate with terrorists, much less arm them, during that period, even if we accept that the worst interpretations of Iran-Contra are true. There is no hypocrisy to be revealed in regard to Reagan's supposedly negotiating with terrorists.

As to the Bush administration's claims about what the War in Iraq would be like, they certainly didn't give any guarantees as to either the process or the outcome. You are holding them to the rosiest of projections—which were largely made by journalists and other pro-war advocates, not the administration itself—and expressing horror that they did not come true. That's not fair. I have had my own concerns about it all along, but I am willing to wait until things shake out before I make a full evaluation of the Bush administration's choices. You want to beat them about the head right now, and you have every right to do that. But it's not fair to pretend that there is no sense whatever to the opposing point of view.

Tlaloc said...

"As to Iran-Contra, I think that to characterize the rebels against the oppressive, communist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a client state of the Soviet Union at the time, as terrorists would be extremely inaccurate, stretching the term beyond all meaning."

Really? Even thought they murdered peasents? Even though they created a concentrated campaign of terror in order to bring about their political goals? Isn't that precisely the meaning of terrorism?


"And one certainly cannot refer to the legitimate government of Iran in the mid-1980s as terrorists. Hence, Reagan did not negotiate with terrorists, much less arm them, during that period, even if we accept that the worst interpretations of Iran-Contra are true."

I thought we were to make no distinction between terrorists and the states that sponsor them? Isn't that our entire reason for overthrowing Afghanistan's legitimate government?



"As to the Bush administration's claims about what the War in Iraq would be like, they certainly didn't give any guarantees as to either the process or the outcome. You are holding them to the rosiest of projections—which were largely made by journalists and other pro-war advocates, not the administration itself—and expressing horror that they did not come true."

Flat out false and I think you know it.

"It's not known how long it can last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."
-Rummy

"My belief is we will in fact be greeted as liberators."
-Cheney

et cetera. The Administration themselves painted a very pretty picture even as the CIA and the brits told them they were wrong.




"That's not fair. I have had my own concerns about it all along, but I am willing to wait until things shake out before I make a full evaluation of the Bush administration's choices. You want to beat them about the head right now, and you have every right to do that. But it's not fair to pretend that there is no sense whatever to the opposing point of view."

What precisely is the opposing point of view? By what means do you justify this invasion and occupation? As I've said the administration rationale changes week by week, but it sounds like you have a personal view that you feel is consistent and reasonable. Do tell.

James Elliott said...

Here's what's fascinating about the Iraq War from a technical point of view:

The single most effective military strategy is what is called the "Movement" strategy. It is flexible and viable as a defense and offense. Rumsfeld, who, when you get past the politics, knows his military organizing very well, knew this. The U.S. military's strategy in taking Iraq was movement, and they kicked booty.

Now, insurgent/guerilla warfare is the defensive side of the movement strategy. No one has ever successfully defeated a defensive movement strategy without resorting to incredibly brutal tactics that end up undermining their long-term goals (I submit the British and the Mau Mau uprising as exhibit A).

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and, in the end, both use the same tactics. One of the reasons guerilla warfare is so successful is because it doesn't hold to traditional warfare. It requires outside-the-box tactical and strategic thinking. Unfortunately, since the U.S. military is not trained for peacekeeping and nation-building, it is not well-suited to counter-insurgent operations.

Had Congress allowed George H.W. Bush to create peacekeeping units within the U.S. military, we probably wouldn't be seeing this problem because we'd have over a decade's worth of experience and innovation to fall back on. G.H.W. Bush was thwarted in this by a bipartisan, isolationist Congress (both the Republican and Democratic parties were opposed to peacekeeping units).

Much of our current difficulties in Iraq, aside from the whole "We didn't need to be there in the first place" thing, can be traced to the fact that we have to learn nation building, peacekeeping, and counter-insurgency tactics on the fly.

S. T. Karnick said...

The activities of the "contras" were most certainly not a terror campaign against innocent peasants but instead were directed at the government, an oppressive client state of the Soviet Union. But even if it were correct to characterize them as you have done, it would still be incorrect to say that Reagan negotiated with terrorists, for the simple reason that Reagan was on their side and was not negotiating with them but in fact fully supporting them. That is clearly an entirely different thing from trying to make a deal with someone who's trying to harm you, which is what the Reagan argument referred to. There was no hypocrisy in his actions, even assuming that he fully supported the Iran-Contra plan from the beginning.

Turning to Iraq:

Certainly the Bush administration was correct in predicting that the actual war-fighting part of the Iraq effort would be concluded fairly quickly. The statements you quote referred to that part of the effort and were correct.

In referring to "the opposing point of view" on Iraq, I was not speaking of my own position but that of the Bush administration and its defenders. My point was that whereas you simply hate those people to the point that you cannot admit that they are even rational, I believe them to be sincere in wanting to shore up U.S. national security by making the Middle East a less dangerous place. I certainly believe that their strategic decisions can be questioned, but I think that your two main contentions here are dead wrong. To wit, first, I do not agree that "we've swapped out strong men and probably started a civil war." In fact, I consider that a grotesquely false characterization of the current situation in Iraq.

Second, I strongly disagree with your contention that "the administration rationale changes week by week." That is simply untrue. The rationale has always remained the same: to remove from power a regime that tormented its people and supported international terrorism, and to replace it with a somewhat more humane one. (Not a perfect government, of course, as if such a thing were possible, but a much better one. And it is absurd to pretend that the current government is not a vast improvement over the Saddam Hussein thugocracy.) And as was a major part of the administration's plan, Libya has been frightened into giving up support of terrorism and its nuclear ambitions. That is definitely a good thing and a successfully intended consequence of the Bush administration's Iraq venture. In addition, Syria has been ejected from Lebanon—another very good consequence of the changing situation in the Middle East.

It is certainly an exceedingly difficult and stupendously ambitious task that the Bush administration has chosen, and to oppose it on pragmatic grounds is certainly reasonable. However, I see the outlines of their plan as reasonable even though they may well prove to have been excessively daring. It may not work, but it's a plan that has sense to it.

Finally, in judging Bush's choice, we cannot pretend that the final answer has been given, as you wish to do. Whether the Iraq venture proves to have been bold or foolhardy is something that we will have to wait for history to tell us. Personally, I think that it is going to work, but at a very great cost in lives. Will that prove to have been a price worth paying? That will be debatable as long as this world exists, just as there are still two sides to the question of whether the United States should have used the atom bomb to end World War II.

S. T. Karnick said...

Mr. Elliott, I think that your comments here make great sense. The military principle you refer to was observed by Clausewitz, and remains true. The fact that the U.S. military has had to learn "nation building, peacekeeping, and counter-insurgency tactics on the fly" has indeed been a source of great difficulty in the current effort. Very good observation indeed.

Tlaloc said...

"The activities of the "contras" were most certainly not a terror campaign against innocent peasants but instead were directed at the government, an oppressive client state of the Soviet Union. But even if it were correct to characterize them as you have done, it would still be incorrect to say that Reagan negotiated with terrorists, for the simple reason that Reagan was on their side and was not negotiating with them but in fact fully supporting them."

Oh my bad. Negotiating with terrorists is bad but supporting them with money, training, and weapons is good. I see. And yes they did indeed terrorize the locals in addition to attacking the government. Study the history of the conflict.



"Certainly the Bush administration was correct in predicting that the actual war-fighting part of the Iraq effort would be concluded fairly quickly. The statements you quote referred to that part of the effort and were correct."

No they weren't remotely correct. We are still at war. You don't have 160,000 troops riding around in armored humvees getting killed on a daily basis during "peace."
An insurgent war is still a war no matter what euphemisms one chooses to employ (is "Police Action" still en vogue?).



"My point was that whereas you simply hate those people to the point that you cannot admit that they are even rational, I believe them to be sincere in wanting to shore up U.S. national security by making the Middle East a less dangerous place."

Then they chose an odd way to do it, don't you think? Attack an enemy who was crippled and far less dangerous than other enemies? Are you sure you can argue thsey pursued such a path rationally?



"I certainly believe that their strategic decisions can be questioned, but I think that your two main contentions here are dead wrong. To wit, first, I do not agree that "we've swapped out strong men and probably started a civil war." In fact, I consider that a grotesquely false characterization of the current situation in Iraq."

A contention you offer no proof for, but let me offer some for you:
1) people in Iraq are now starting to be disappeared in raids by the government. Sound familiar?

2) Observers have found that there is not only the sunni insurgency planting bombs but the Shia and Kurds have started terror campaigns aimed at Sunni and sometimes each other.

3) The shia and kurds have been allowed their own autonomous but state supported militias, who answer only to their ethnic leaders.

Now given all that are you sure we aren't seeing a low intensity (so far) civil war and that the new boss is just that: the new boss.



"Second, I strongly disagree with your contention that "the administration rationale changes week by week." That is simply untrue. The rationale has always remained the same: to remove from power a regime that tormented its people and supported international terrorism, and to replace it with a somewhat more humane one."

No, again you are mistaken. The rationale originally was WMD. Maybe you recall that whole period of "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud" and Powels painful presentation to the UN? Later it morphed into a shifting morass of human rights and geopolitical stability.

It's worth pointing out they accomplished none of the above.



"It is certainly an exceedingly difficult and stupendously ambitious task that the Bush administration has chosen, and to oppose it on pragmatic grounds is certainly reasonable."

Also on grounds of ethics, morals, precident, history, and law.




"Finally, in judging Bush's choice, we cannot pretend that the final answer has been given, as you wish to do."

Oh please. What the anti-war movement predicted has come true. EVERYTHING the Bush administration predicted as proved false, and yet you still want to give them the benefit of the doubt?



"Whether the Iraq venture proves to have been bold or foolhardy is something that we will have to wait for history to tell us."

No, not if you have a brain and pay attention to history. It will end badly. This isn't that hard to predict, it's a simple matter of looking at the historical parallels and understanding the psychologies of both sides.

Again the things the Bush administration failed to predict were predicted by the very people who told him not to do this. No magic, no tarot cards, just a solid understanding of the "reality based community."

S. T. Karnick said...

It is clear that we fundamentally disagree on both the facts of the situation and the conclusions to be drawn from them. I'll leave it to our readers to judge the validity and pertinence of what has been said here by both sides.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, one man's terrorist is another man's terrorist, if his ox is being gored, too.

What is new in Iraq is the Muslim-on-Muslim suicide bombing of innocents, which was more characteristic of places like Pakistan.

We hope that these tactics, if you can call mindless murder "tactics", are making even the Sunnis realize that al-Qaeda, et al., are the enemy of all humanity, not just the West.

It's they who are to blame, not Bush. Sometimes a terrorist is just a terrorist.