December 27, 2011

Tragedy in Iraq... and don't think it will stay there

There's nothing like being personally involved in local politics to make you realize that by comparison simple blogging about far away issues is small potatoes indeed. One day maybe I'll get back to this, and then again maybe not. Until then posts will be few and far between, but you've already figured that out.

Here we go. Last month Frederick and Kimberly Kagan warned about the crisis unfolding in Iraq in the wake of President Obama's ill-considered decision to withdraw willy-nilly from Iraq. In an article posted today they tell us that the country is going, going...

With administration officials celebrating the "successful" withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, thanking antiwar groups for making that withdrawal possible, and proffering outrageous claims about Iraq's "stability," "sovereignty," and the "demilitarization" of American foreign policy even as Iraq collapses, it is hard to stay focused on America's interests and security requirements. Especially in an election year, the temptation will only grow to argue about who lost Iraq, whether it was doomed from the outset, whether the current disaster "proves" either that the success of the surge was inherently ephemeral or that the withdrawal of U.S. troops caused the collapse. The time will come for such an audit of Iraq policy over the last five years, but not yet. For the crisis in Iraq is still unfolding, and the United States continues to have a huge stake in the outcome. The question of the moment is not "Who lost Iraq?" but rather "Is Iraq definitely lost?"

It certainly seems so.

I will answer the question they avoid doing; it is impossible to know whether the venture was doomed from the outset but it was President Obama who lost it, and he did so deliberately. All to satisfy the kook left, of course.

And if you detect a bit of bitterness from team Kagan in today's piece, consider that they started out the December warning piece I mentioned with this gen

We interrupt President Obama's celebration of keeping a campaign promise to bring you news from Iraq, where a political crisis has been unfolding since just hours after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta departed on Thursday

I can't say I blame them. We've come so far, and gone though so much, only to have out idiot president throw it all away, partially for the sake of electoral expediency, partially to satisfy the Democrat party's kook left, and partially because he's part of that kook left himself.

It didn't have to be this way. As team Kagan pointed out last month

Some will say that the failure of the Iraqi political and sectarian settlement was inevitable, that the "surge"--as they predicted--produced only temporary results, and that Iraq was irretrievably lost the moment American forces invaded in 2003. Those arguments are simply wrong. The ethno-sectarian settlement endured tremendous tests from its tentative establishment in 2007 until President Obama announced the end of American presence in Iraq. Its endurance was unquestionably underwritten by the presence of American troops, who provided critical double-guarantees: they guaranteed Maliki against the Sunni coup d'├ętat he evidently fears so much, and they guaranteed the Sunni Arabs against precisely the sort of vengeful misuse of Iraq's security forces now occurring. Interestingly, they continued to be effective in that guarantor's role even after they had withdrawn from combat operations, were taking virtually no casualties, and were not even moving around the country very much. It may be that an American military presence of 10,000-15,000 troops (as General Lloyd Austin ultimately suggested) would have been required for a long time to help the settlement not only endure, but harden into something that could stand on its own. Such a presence would still have been smaller than what the U.S. has in Korea today--and has had there for 60 years. The decision to abandon Iraq entirely will stand as one of the monumental strategic follies of the 21st century, and the cost of that disastrous choice are already emerging starkly.

American options for trying to mitigate the damage are limited, but nevertheless important. The U.S. should immediately threaten to withhold assistance, including the shipment of military aircraft Iraq recently ordered, if Maliki does not back down and adhere to the commitments he made to the Sunni bloc. Washington should engage Ankara energetically to enforce a common front toward the Kurds. Kurdish parliamentarians--and security forces--remain key players in this drama, but they have been acting selfishly and fearfully, always with one eye on the door out of Iraq and into independence. Many Kurdish leaders apparently believe that even if the U.S. will not back them, Turkey will. But it is no more in Turkey's interest than in ours to see Iraq once more in flames. Now is the time for some smart power in the region.

Above all, however, now is the time to show that this administration actually cares about what happens in Iraq. It is not enough for the vice president to phone it in. The secretary of state should go to Baghdad, not to celebrate our withdrawal, but to play an active role in mediating the aftermath. Obama should invite Maliki and his Sunni and Kurdish counterparts to a summit somewhere in the West to hash this out. If not, we will no doubt be treated to yet another series of visits by Iraqi leaders to Tehran as the Iranians again demonstrate their willingness to engage where Americans withdraw.

But of course Obama didn't do any of these things because he doesn't really care.

We all knew that things would get tricky as American troops left, and violence did indeed rise, so it's not as if Obama couldn't have seen this coming. but then, he would have had to cared.

If I still have to point out the obvious then I will; our enemies are watching and laughing. All along they bet that we would not have the willpower to stick it out for the long haul and once again they may have been proven correct. They watched us leave Vietnam, pull out of Beirut, run from Mogadishu (have I missed anything?) and now we're giving up on Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who blather about "redeployment" don't realize that our enemies have discovered that they can make us leave anywhere if they keep up the pressure long enough.

Oh well, Obama may well strike Iran. If he does we will be assured by his supporters that this "proves" that he is really a tough guy yada yada. Well, we'll see if he does, and whether he's willing to sustain a weeks long bombardment (yes I said weeks long as in plural, as in many weeks of continuous fighting because that's what it will take), whether he's willing to let our navy sink blow every Iranian vessel out of the water regardless of whether it is a "threat" to our forces, and whether he is willing to tell both the striped pants set at the State Department and the moral relativist set at the United Nations to pound sand. If he does all these my hat will be off to him... but he'll still have been the president who lost Iraq.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 6, 2011

Obama Lost Iraq, And Did So Deliberately

Once again I am so busy I have no time for any of my usual analysis, but this Krauthammer column seems to sum up what I've been reading about the current situation.

Who Lost Iraq?
You know who.
National Review
November 3, 2011 8:00 P.M.
Charles Krauthammer

Barack Obama was a principled opponent of the Iraq War from its beginning. But when he became president in January 2009, he was handed a war that was won. The surge had succeeded. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had been routed, driven to humiliating defeat by an Anbar Awakening of Sunnis fighting side-by-side with the infidel Americans. Even more remarkably, the Shiite militias had been taken down, with American backing, by the forces of Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. They crushed the Sadr militias from Basra to Sadr City.

Al-Qaeda decimated. A Shiite prime minister taking a decisively nationalist line. Iraqi Sunnis ready to integrate into a new national government. U.S. casualties at their lowest ebb in the entire war. Elections approaching. Obama was left with but a single task: Negotiate a new status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to reinforce these gains and create a strategic partnership with the Arab world's only democracy.

He blew it. Negotiations, such as they were, finally collapsed last month. There is no agreement, no partnership. As of December 31, the American military presence in Iraq will be liquidated.

And it's not as if that deadline snuck up on Obama. He had three years to prepare for it. Everyone involved, Iraqi and American, knew that the 2008 SOFA calling for full U.S. withdrawal was meant to be renegotiated. And all major parties but one (the Sadr faction) had an interest in some residual stabilizing U.S. force, like the postwar deployments in Japan, Germany, and Korea.

Three years, two abject failures. The first was the administration's inability, at the height of American post-surge power, to broker a centrist nationalist coalition governed by the major blocs -- one predominantly Shiite (Maliki's), one predominantly Sunni (Ayad Allawi's), one Kurdish -- that among them won a large majority (69 percent) of seats in the 2010 election.

Vice President Joe Biden was given the job. He failed utterly. The government ended up effectively being run by a narrow sectarian coalition where the balance of power is held by the relatively small (12 percent) Iranian-client Sadr faction.

The second failure was the SOFA itself. The military recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan, and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

A deployment so risibly small would have to expend all its energies simply protecting itself -- the fate of our tragic, missionless 1982 Lebanon deployment -- with no real capability to train the Iraqis, build their U.S.-equipped air force, mediate ethnic disputes (as we have successfully done, for example, between local Arabs and Kurds), operate surveillance and special-ops bases, and establish the kind of close military-to-military relations that undergird our strongest alliances.

The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. Message received. Just this past week, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurds -- for two decades the staunchest of U.S. allies -- visited Tehran to bend a knee to both Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It didn't have to be this way. Our friends did not have to be left out in the cold to seek Iranian protection. Three years and a won war had given Obama the opportunity to establish a lasting strategic alliance with the Arab world's second most important power.

He failed, though he hardly tried very hard. The excuse is Iraqi refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces. But the Bush administration encountered the same problem, and overcame it. Obama had little desire to. Indeed, he portrays the evacuation as a success, the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

But surely the obligation to defend the security and the interests of the nation supersede personal vindication. Obama opposed the war, but when he became commander-in-chief the terrible price had already been paid in blood and treasure. His obligation was to make something of that sacrifice, to secure the strategic gains that sacrifice had already achieved.

He did not, failing at precisely what this administration so flatters itself for doing so well: diplomacy. After years of allegedly clumsy brutish force, Obama was to usher in an era of not hard power, not soft power, but smart power.

Which turns out in Iraq to be . . . no power. Years from now we will be asking not "Who lost Iraq?" -- that already is clear -- but "Why?"

Posted by Tom at 8:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 25, 2011

Max Boot Nails it on Iraq and Skewers Obama in the Process

Ok, skewing Obama isn't really very hard as he's just about the worst president we've had in over a hundred years (ok maybe 150). He's in over his head and has no idea what to do other than offer up more liberal nostrums (this from our genius Columbia and Harvard educated president). He's driving our economy into the ground, making the bad situation he inherited worse every day. Overseas his policies are encouraging our enemies and discouraging our allies. We become weaker and weaker, and the result is a more dangerous world.

The leftist idiots and Ron Paul types always get foreign policy wrong. Max Boot knows his history and nails it on Obama's terrible decision to withdraw precipitously from Iraq:

Contentions
The Iraq Withdrawal Is Nothing to Brag About
Max Boot | @MaxBoot 10.21.2011 - 2:26 PM

If there is one constant of American military history it is that the longer our troops stay in a country the better the prospects of a successful outcome. Think of Germany, Italy, Japan or South Korea. Conversely when U.S. troops rush for the exits hard-won wartime gains can quickly evaporate. Think of the post-Civil War South, post-World War I Germany, post-1933 (and post-1995) Haiti, post-1972 Vietnam, or, more recently, post-1983 Lebanon and post-1993 Somalia.

Keep that history in mind as you listen to President Obama boast: "As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over."

Far from being cause for celebration, Obama's announcement that we will keep only 150 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year-down from nearly 50,000 today-represents a shameful failure of American foreign policy that risks undoing all the gains that so many Americans, Iraqis, and other allies have sacrificed so much to achieve. The risks of a catastrophic failure in Iraq now rise appreciably. The Iranian Quds Force must be licking its chops because we are now leaving Iraq essentially defenseless against its machinations. Conversely the broad majority of Iraqis who fear Iranian influence and who want their country to become a democracy will come to rue this day, however big a victory it might appear in the short term for the cause of Iraqi nationalism.

Ostensibly this pull-out was dictated by the unwillingness of Iraqi lawmakers to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution. But Iraqi leaders of all parties, save the Sadrists, also clearly signaled their desire to have a sizable American troop contingent post-2011. The issue of immunity could have been finessed if administration lawyers from the Departments of State and Defense had not insisted that Iraq's parliament would have to vote to grant our troops protections from Iraqi laws. Surely some face-saving formula that would not have needed parliamentary approval could have been negotiated that would have assuaged Iraqi sovereignty concerns while making it unlikely in the extreme that any U.S. soldier would ever go before an Iraqi court for actions taken in the line of duty.

But for that to have happened, President Obama must have been committed to reaching a deal. He was not. Indeed the White House had already leaked word that no more than 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. troops would remain-well below the figure of 20,000 or so recommended by U.S. military commanders on the ground. This effectively undercut American negotiators and signaled to the Iraqis that we were not serious about making a long-term commitment to their future. Under those circumstances, why would Iraqi politicos stick their necks out on an issue like immunity, and run the risk that Obama would spurn them in any case?

The failure to reach a deal now does not, however, mean that no deal can ever be reached. Once U.S. forces pull out by December 31, negotiations could and should be reopened to bring back a sizable contingent-I would argue for a bare minimum of 10,000 troops-to conduct counter-terrorist operations, support the Iraqi Security Forces, and act as a peacekeeping force along the ill-defined border between Iraq proper and the Kurdish Regional Government. By showing our willingness to pull out our troops, the U.S. can show the Iraqis that we are serious about respecting their sovereignty and not bent on a long-term occupation of their country. But of course pulling out all U.S. troops and then bringing some back would be costlier than simply keeping them there.

And any such agreement would run into the same obstacle that has already scuttled the current U.S.-Iraq talks: President Obama appears more determined to gain credit for "ending the war" than for ensuring Iraq's long-term future as a democratic American ally. Like Obama's decision to downsize prematurely in Afghanistan, this is short-term thinking that could come back to haunt the United States-and its commander-in-chief, who is now taking upon himself the burden of blame should Iraq go off the rails.

Posted by Tom at 12:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 24, 2011

Obama Announces Complete Withdrawal From Iraq

The story from The Washington Times

President Obama declared Friday that he will withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, ending talks for an extended deployment with Baghdad and ruling against the earlier advice of some senior military commanders who had recommended keeping several thousand troops there into 2012. ...

The decision ends one of America's longest wars, and caps months of unsuccessful negotiations with Iraq over the issue of immunity for American troops should they stay beyond 2011. Mr. Obama made the announcement after speaking with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on a private video conference.

Currently there are nearly 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. While Mr. Obama declared that the war is over, the schedule for total withdraw of U.S. troops is in accordance with a deal struck by President George W. Bush in 2008.

In September, the administration aired plans to reduce the U.S. troop strength in Iraq to about 3,000 by year's end. Some senior military advisers were said to be "livid" about the reduction in force, arguing that more troops were needed to keep training Iraqi forces and to serve as a guard against renewed influence in the country by neighboring Iran.

And while violence is down sharply from its peak levels of five years ago, sectarian violence remains a constant feature of Iraqi life, with both Sunni and Shiite militants regularly staging bombings and other attacks. In just the latest incident, Iraqi officials said a triple bombing in the capital of Baghdad killed at least three people this week.

U.S. military officials have expressed growing alarm in recent weeks about aid they say is being given to Iraqi insurgents from Iran.
...

The U.S. and Iraq had been in talks about keeping more American troops there beyond 2011, but Iraqi leaders, facing fierce domestic political cross-currents, refused to give U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. The U.S. refused to allow its soldiers to stay without such a guarantee.

"We talked about immunity," said Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser to the president. "We feel like we got exactly what we needed to protect our interests."

The Questions

Did the president try to get a better deal from the Iraqis or did he just give up quickly?

Is this withdrawal in our national interests?

What are the probabilities for Iraq now that the president has taken this action?

Reaction

I'm only going to quote the people I trust. I also don't have much time, so for anyone who doesn't know this blog, that means neither the Daily Kos nor Ron Paul. As a committed neo-con, I buy neither the prescriptions of the far left or the far right.

Key general calls Iraq pullout plan a 'disaster'
Others echo call for strength against Iran
The Washington Times
Sunday October 23, 2011

President Obama's decision to pull all U.S. forces out of Iraq by Dec. 31 is an "absolute disaster" that puts the burgeoning Arab democracy at risk of an Iranian "strangling," said an architect of the 2007 troop surge that turned around a losing war.

Retired ArmyGen. John M. Keane was at the forefront of persuading President George W. Bush to scuttle a static counterinsurgency strategy and replace it with 30,000 reinforcements and a more activist, street-by-street counterterrorism tactic.

Today, even with that strategy producing a huge drop in daily attacks, Gen. Keane bluntly told The Washington Times that the United States again is losing.

"I think it's an absolute disaster," said Gen. Keane, who advised Gen. David H. Petraeus when he was top Iraq commander. "We won the war in Iraq, and we're now losing the peace."

U.S. troops will be vacating Iraq at a time when neither Baghdad's counterterrorism skills nor its abilities to protect against invasion are at levels needed to fully protect the country, say analysts long involved in the nearly nine-year war.

"Forty-four hundred lives lost," Gen. Keane said. "Tens of thousands of troops wounded. Over a couple hundred thousand Iraqis killed. We liberated 25 million people. There is only one Arab Muslim country that elects its own government, and that is Iraq.

"We should be staying there to strengthen that democracy, to let them get the kind of political gains they need to get and keep the Iranians away from strangling that country. That should be our objective, and we are walking away from that objective."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday warned Iran not to miscalculate the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops.

"No one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward," she said in an interview with CNN from Uzbekistan.

I have news for our secretary of state; Iran is not interested in your words. They pay attention to our actions.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney asks the relevant question to which I think we know the answer:

President Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.

Patrick Brennan points out that while Obama must share much of the blame it's not his fault entirely:

While this is hardly the most inspiring commitment to a nation which was intended to become our staunch democratic Middle Eastern ally, it should be noted that this is not the Obama administration's own decision -- and probably isn't for lack of effort, either. The Iraqi parliament refused to continue legal immunity for U.S. troops, beyond the couple hundred or so who would remain as diplomatic security. Without such a concession, the U.S. had little choice but to abide by the existing Status of Forces Agreement ratified under the Bush administration and by the Iraqi government -- mandating withdrawal by December 2011. It seems that the Obama administration's prodigious reputation for negotiation and diplomacy has failed, again, to protect the security interests of America and her allies.

Even so, the editors of National Review get the big picture and what it means right:

If the Iranians pride themselves on playing chess while we play checkers, they never could have expected us to walk away from the board.

But that's our next move in Iraq. President Obama announced on Friday that all of the roughly 40,000 U.S. troops will leave the country by the end of the year. We are thus handing the Iranians a goal they have sought for years -- to remove us from Iraq entirely so they can better influence the country for their ends.

It once seemed that Iraq could be a strategic ally and base for our influence in the Middle East; it now may become both those things for our foremost enemy in the region. The Iranians must think they either are very lucky or -- more likely very good. The announcement of our total withdrawal comes just weeks after the revelation of an Iranian plot to execute the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on our soil. It comes as Iran's key Arab ally, the Assad regime in Syria, is rocked by a revolt. Just as Tehran's dangerousness is put in stark relief and as events in Syria threaten to deal it a strategic setback, it gets this windfall.

The Obama administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth on Iraq. On the one hand, it says the total withdrawal is the blessed advent of one of President Obama's most cherished campaign promises, proof of how committed he's always been to ending the Iraq War. On the other, it says on background that this is all the Iraqis' fault, that we wanted to maintain troops on the ground after 2011 but the Iraqis wouldn't budge. It appears that the first factor played into the second -- the administration's lack of commitment to Iraq was the crucial backdrop to its poor handling of inherently difficult negotiations with the Iraqis.

To continue to maintain troops in Iraq after the expiration of the current deal for our presence at the end of the year, we needed the Iraqis to agree to give our troops immunity. This is obviously always a sensitive issue. And negotiations with the Iraqis over almost anything tend to drag out to the breaking point. None of this should have necessarily deep-sixed a deal, given how many top Iraqi leaders say privately that they want to keep American forces in the country. The Obama administration foolishly insisted that the Iraqi Council of Representatives endorse an immunity deal, a political impossibility. But it's hard to believe that if the administration truly wanted to make a deal happen it couldn't have worked something out with enough patience and ingenuity.

Instead, President Obama took to the podium on Friday for a snap announcement of the end of the war. His commanders on the ground wanted to keep more than 20,000 troops in Iraq (the administration had bid this number down to several thousand, perhaps convincing Iraqi political players that cutting a painful deal on immunity wouldn't have enough of a corresponding upside). Such a force would have enhanced our political leverage in Baghdad, checked Iran's already considerable influence, ensured against a return of al-Qaeda, and helped keep a lid on Arab-Kurdish tensions in the north. Now, we'll simply have to hope for the best. Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough said Iraq is "secure, stable, and self-reliant." It is none of these things. Its government is still inchoate and it is not capable of defending itself from Iran in the air or on the ground.

Our pullout is a bonanza for Tehran. Its militias were already active in Iraq. Now, it can use Iraq for bases for its proxy forces to spread its tentacles in the rest of the Persian Gulf. Independent ayotollahs in Iraq will have an incentive to keep their heads down. Political decisions of the Iranian-influenced Shiite bloc running the country are sure to begin to tilt more and more Iran's way. Our diplomatic leverage will diminish, even as maintain our largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. The Iranians will crow in Iraq and throughout the region that they were right that the Americans would eventually leave.

We expended a great deal of blood and treasure to topple Saddam Hussein, and then to establish enough order so that George W. Bush's successor would only have to consolidate our gains. President Obama is careless enough to risk throwing it all away, and shameless enough to call it success.

In short, Obama didn't try very hard to get a better deal because he doesn't really care and most likely made his decision based more on how it would look for his reelection prospects, and if you don't think this is a victory for Iran you're dreaming.

Update

Max Boot nails it:

If there is one constant of American military history it is that the longer our troops stay in a country the better the prospects of a successful outcome. Think of Germany, Italy, Japan or South Korea. Conversely when U.S. troops rush for the exits hard-won wartime gains can quickly evaporate. Think of the post-Civil War South, post-World War I Germany, post-1933 (and post-1995) Haiti, post-1972 Vietnam, or, more recently, post-1983 Lebanon and post-1993 Somalia.

Posted by Tom at 7:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack