Petraeus

The political wrangling over the Petraeus report has been pretty predictable. The problem for both sides is that the reality on the ground is difficult and ambiguous – the outcome uncertain and neither victory nor defeat inevitable. As John McCain said in reacting to the Iraq hearings: “Americans don’t want us to fail. They don’t want us to lose.” That is certainly the way I feel. At the risk of annoying my more conservative readers I will repeat, yet again, something both Bill and Hilary have said that I think is the unvarnished truth for both this president and the next one – ‘we have to deal with the Iraq we have, not the Iraq we wish we had’.

So I thought it was a good moment to check out what the left’s Daily Kos was saying. There are two articles there. The first, by Jeff Huber, entitled A Petraeus by Any Other Name tries to discredit the report by discrediting Petraeus personally. I don’t believe shooting the messenger begins to work in this case because we all already know that some things have changed and some haven’t in Iraq. I think he betrays his awareness that Moveon.org went too far with the General Betrayus ad when he tries to palm off the least incendiary definition of ‘betray’ he can find.

One of the definitions of “betray” in my Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary is “to deceive; mislead.” So was MoveOn.org org unjustified in asking “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”

I’d just say that if you look at General Petraeus and see Benedict Arnold, you need glasses and to study history.

The second article The Iraqi security forces: Why we cannot succeed in Iraq
by Dday does not cross the line that Mr. Huber and Moveon do. It takes the material General Petraeus presented to Congress, finds the most negative piece of data and attacks him on his own ground. I don’t necessarily agree with the headline that the war cannot be won, but I respect the intelligence of a critic who goes right to the weakest spot and makes his case. Here is the general’s graph:

petraeuschart.jpg

And here is Dday’s interpretation:

We are simply not getting the Iraqi security forces in a position where they can provide for their own security. And really, we never will. The chart shows minor progress and even backsliding over the last several years, particularly in creating independent security teams. It’s the bottom two pieces of the chart that matter, because those are the only two that discuss Iraqi security forces that can stand up so we can stand down.

Good argument and correct too. If we can’t get the Iraq Security Forces to secure their own country we will fail. Because I read independent journalists like Michael Yon and Michael J Totten who interact with ISF all the time I have read first hand accounts that give rise to both hope and despair. Here is an extract from a report last month by Michael J Totten:

“We aren’t being attacked because the Mahdi Army is in the next building,” he said. “They don’t want to hit their own people.”

American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division shared the small outpost with Iraqi Army soldiers who lived, worked, and slept in the building next door.

“You mean the Iraqi Army unit here has been infiltrated?” I said.

He nodded grimly and took a pull from his cigarette.

“That’s a bad reason for us not to be mortared,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said and laughed. It was obvious, though, that he did not think it was funny.

“How do you know this?” I said.

“Heard it from intel,” he said. “Getting information out of them is like pulling teeth, but sometimes they say stuff.”

Then there is a report like this one from Michael Yon:

at the Falahat station, I counted 24 armed Iraqis at one time, but there may have been as many as twice that. So it was just SSG Lee, me, and dozens of armed Iraqis. Some clearly had been insurgents just months ago. Nobody was denying it. Not us, not them. SSG Lee and I could have been killed or kidnapped at any time, yet I felt not a twinge of danger other than maybe watching for an enemy car bomb or sniper, or starting when someone accidentally fired a burst from an AK, which they occasionally do.

And a bit further on this:

Iraqis in every province I have traveled all respond to strong leadership. It’s a cultural touchstone. A man like SSG Rakene Lee is not someone they would overlook. Physically, the man is amazingly strong. But what is most amazing is the strength of his moral fiber. Whatever the man talked, he walked. After all of al Qaeda’s false promises, the people here have learned a hard lesson about the true value of character.

You can get the same mixed picture at a higher level from left leaning Brookings Institution scholars O’Hanon and Pollack in A War We Might Just Win or from right leaning historian Kimberly Kagan at The Institute for the Study of War. The former are brutally frank about the shortcomings of the police and the Maliki government, the latter more focused on the strategic and operational detail of the ‘surge’. For anyone who has read all this material an attack on one aspect of the report is not grounds for a conclusion, but to give Dday his due he puts he finger on one of the ongoing and potentially fatal problems of the war.

What I think is true right now is that things hang in the balance, but something significant has happened. This drawing by a child from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, was photographed by Michael J Totten and appears toward the end of his excellent article entitled Anbar Awakens Part I: The Battle of Ramadi. This child’s drawing sums up all I have heard and read in a single image. Whatever happens eventually in Iraq, this is the image I will always carry inside myself when I think of this time of the General’s report.

stabbing-the-hydra-ramadi.jpg

This drawing by an Iraqi child depicts the American-Iraqi alliance against Al Qaeda. Notice the sword is Iraqi and the muscle is American.
(caption and photo in original article by Michael J Totten)

Here is an extract from the Couterinsurgency Manual quoted by Michael Yon:

The Host Nation Doing Something Tolerably Is Normally Better than Us Doing It Well
1-154. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant U.S. support. The longer that process takes, the more U.S. public support will wane and the more the local populace will question the legitimacy of their own forces and government. . . . T.E. Lawrence made a similar observation while leading the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1917: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.” However, a key word in Lawrence’s advice is “tolerably.” If the host nation cannot perform tolerably, counterinsurgents supporting it may have to act. Experience, knowledge of the AO, and cultural sensitivity are essential to deciding when such action is necessary.

From “Counterinsurgency/FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5″

The problem Dday points out is right there in the picture – America providing the muscle. It can’t do that indefinitely. But the progress General David Petraeus claims is there too in that child’s heart and mind. We don’t know how typical such an attitudes is but we can be pretty sure that it wouldn’t have been there a year ago. The Anbar awakening is not an illusion or a military propaganda invention. It is an awakening to evil, nothing less. It is a real accomplishment that many Iraqis and many of our soldiers have died for. Take a look at Michael J Totten’s other photos of Ramadi to see how hard the battle has been and to get a sense of what that child and many others have lived through. I also want to say that I recognize that black beast at the bottom of the child’s picture as will anyone who has encountered it. For as long as humans remember it has been a common image evoked in stories and found in dreams and the inner lives of both children and adults compelled to deal with the presence of evil in thier lives.

250px-hercules_slaying_the_hydra.jpg

Hans Sebald Beham: Hercules slaying the Hydra, 1545 print

I do not want to see that child betrayed because he or she already understands more than tolerably well, and a lot better than many, how that beast needs to be dealt with. I think General Petraeus understands too. Those of us who like history recall that President Lincoln prayed to God to send him a general who would fight. And, as we all know, God sent him General Grant. Although I am not aware of President Bush making a similar request of the Deity, it is clear that God, with the unanimous consent of Congress, sent us General Petraeus. Sometimes you don’t get the general you wish for, you get the general God sends you.


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