Winning in Iraq (in the NYT!)(update)

This is an op-ed written by Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack Brookings Institution, published in today’s New York Times. Both are left-leaning folks, who have been critical of the war. I think Pollack was Clinton’s National Security Advisor. I’ve posted some snippets below but (as usual) suggest reading the entire op-ed as it includes some cautionary notes on other improvements that need to be made in the future. Excerpts follow:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few “jundis” (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless — something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008. [emphasis added]

Another thing worth noting about Petraeus is that he firmly believes in second chances (big time – check the link). It would be nice if Reid and Congress would bother giving him a first chance.

UPDATE: Plucked this from a HotAir post (the post also has links to an interview with the NYT’s John Burns – a worthy read):

6 thoughts on “Winning in Iraq (in the NYT!)(update)

  1. Kenneth Pollack was on CNN this morning claiming to be an Iraq critic who changed his mind after his latest visit. Pollack has been a cheerleader all along.

    TPM points out that Michael O’Hanlon’s happy talk is contradicted by the Brookings Institution’s own Iraq War Index.

    In no way whatsoever can Pollack and O’Hanlon be described as “left-leaning.”

  2. Both are left-leaning, just not as left-leaning as yourself.

    We’ve been through this over and over and over. You are totally pessimistic on the war, while I am optimistic. That’s fine (we agree to disagree).

    Obviously, you don’t like some of the information here and want to refute every bit of good news or stuff that doesn’t adhere to your view. You clearly appear to be invested in defeat (again, that is your right). While it has provided some entertainment, it is also becoming incredibly predictable (I count on some disparaging comment from you on any story about good news in Iraq I put up – as evidenced today).

    In any case, O’Hanlon ‘runs’ the Iraq War Index. He has also returned from a “ground truth” trip to Iraq and came back optimistic about the situation. Statistics can be helpful and interesting, but ultimately are not the end all (especially when trying to gauge human efforts). He knows the statistics of his own index but came back positive with several cautions. That sounds good to me.

  3. I’m sure I can also count on you to trumpet the report from General Petraeus in September when he says the glass is half full (and ignores the hole in the bottom). It has become standard to accuse members of the reality-based community of being “pessimistic,” “invested in defeat.”

    Spin and PR won’t turn the Iraq occupation around. Pretty soon we’ll have to start withdrawing those five extra combat brigades Bush deployed to create the appearance of success.

    Most Americans have acknowledged that the occupation is an exercise in futility. It can end early next year or it can end after President Bush leaves office. Obviously Bush is aiming for the latter, so Democrats will have to take responsibility for this fiasco.

  4. It is unfortunate that you continue to denigrate a General with a stellar record and personality such as Petraeus.

    Further, Petraeus is ultimately reality based – he’s on the ground, we are not. And yes you are pessimistic. Look at your own post – you chide Petraeus and I for seeing a glass as half full (including a quip about a hole) even before Petraeus has reported (neither of us has any idea on his final report’s specifics). Obviously, you see the glass has half empty prior to any report being released.

    So far, things look good with the surge, but as the above editorial (as well as Yon’s blog) notes, there are several other cautions that we need to be weary of and address.

    I also disagree with your assessment of most Americans. I think most do want to win and see the Iraqi people and their children have peace and control their destiny. You also ignore the question of what will happen if we withdraw. I suppose you would be willing to live with the bloodbath and loss of innocent life that would ensue if we left now (not to mention the state and regional turmoil that would follow).

    Finally, if you consider it a weakness to note progress and see the cup as half full, then it’s a weakness I’m proud of. I’m an optimistic, ‘can-do’ person, and that’s it.

  5. We have the best fighting force in Iraq. They can go anywhere and enjoy tactical success, creating the impression of “winning” the war. Pollack, O’Hanlon and others choose to focus on this military activity and the appearance of progress it creates.

    General Petraeus is no exception. I am sure he realizes Iraq is a lost cause because there is no possible outcome the USA could call “victory.” Will he say so? Don’t bet on it. He doesn’t speak truth to power, that’s why Bush picked him.

    Don’t forget, Petraeus was in charge of the failed effort to train Iraqi forces, which was sold as a success back in 2004. Paul Krugman wrote, “General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner.”

    I’m not denigrating one of our best generals, I’m just saying he’s not going to tell the truth in his report next month. He won’t lie, exactly, but he’ll produce spin just like O’Hanlon and Pollack.

    I’ve lived in the Middle East, I’ve studied the history and politics of the region. Invading Iraq was a boneheaded idea of the first order, and the consequences are unfolding just as predicted by experts such as General Anthony Zinni. Iraq has joined the list of failed states. I don’t ignore that, it’s a fact. Nothing further we can do at this point– except withdraw our forces before it’s too late and bring a couple of million Iraqi refugees to America ASAP. Optimism won;t fix this.

  6. LOL! You know exactly what Petraeus thinks, means, an believes before he says it. Ok.

    The Krugman quote (he’s an NYT columnist/economist/Bush hater who, in 2003 stated the Bush economy was untenable, to put it mildly), coupled with and the linked statement I put up when you called Petraeus a “tool” is also priceless when you say you’re not denigrating Petraeus.

    No one said optimism would fix this. Progress and Iraqis will and that’s occurring. As O’Hanlon noted, those trained Iraqi forces from 2004 you balk at, are performing. Also, since you avoided the bloodbath and subsequent issues I noted, I guess you are ok with them.

    I’m also surprised you bring up Zinni who is on the opposite side of this issue (hence, you side doesn’t cite him much right now): Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say (NYT article).

    I was wrong for stating you are invested in defeat, your constant assertions using the past tense indicate that you own defeat and are defeated. Fortunately, the country is not nor are the Iraqis.

    As CSM Ciotolo said: “We are going to win this son of a [censored].”

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