Posted by Lex, on August 1, 2009
US Army Colonel Timothy Reese penned an internal assessment that somehow broke through the firewall and landed in the New York Times. His thrust: We’ve done all that we can do in Iraq, they’re as ready as they’re going to get with us propping them up and the continued presence of our tactical forces there may actually be throttling the strategic gains we’ve achieved so far.
As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed.
The row back from the top was more or less immediate:
Those conclusions are not shared by the senior American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and his recommendation for an accelerated troop withdrawal is at odds with the timetable approved by President Obama.
A spokeswoman for General Odierno said that the memo did not reflect the official stance of the United States military and was not intended for a broad audience, and that some of the problems the memo referred to had been solved since its writing in early July.
It’s possible to take this in one of two ways (and perhaps both of them). First, much of what the colonel writes smacks of the truth. Arab armies are notoriously resistant to the kind of NCO and junior officer driven initiatives that make our fighting forces so effective. Nouri al Maliki has relished playing the Salah al Din role in the run-ups to his national election campaign over the negotiated “victory” that led coalition troops largely out of the population centers and into the deserts. Whether or not the government of Iraq and Iraqi army are ready and able to put down the power challenges hiding behind the corner we shall soon learn, but eventually that turtle needs to learn how to fly, if fly it ever will.
But another take – and the timing is interesting here, as a war-weary US news machine consumes itself with health care reform and beery White House conversations about racial profiling – is that Col. Reese has fired an authorized salvo in an information operation meant to wake the GOI up to the fact that, 1) our troops will not long stand having the precepts of the 2008 security agreement flouted, and 2) that the GOI should be careful what they wish for.
The undoubtedly sincere desire of the Iraqi people to be rid of coalition troop cannot be any more profound than the desire of those same troops to leave.
Besides: There are other fights than these.