Monday, July 30, 2007

General (President Someday?) Nonsense

Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, said last month that the Iraq war, which he views as a counter-insurgency operation, could last as long as ten years (a nested, linked story notes that Petraeus also said that we would need to maintain a presence in Iraq such as that we have maintained for over 50 years in South Korea…I don’t recall any counter-insurgency activity between North and South Korea over that time – I always thought that the purpose of our presence was to stop encroachment along the 38th parallel).

And here, Petraeus said that a recent wave of suicide bombings in Iraq was intended to create a “mini-Tet.”

After hearing all of this, am I the only one who thinks Petraeus doesn’t know what he’s talking about any more concerning the war?

And another thing; I think it’s high time for myself and anyone else to get over the impulse not to respectfully question a member of our military concerning the conduct of the war (a proper impulse to be sure, under ordinary circumstances, but one that doesn’t apply in the ever-more horrific cauldron of Iraq).

I was reminded of all of this when I read Frank Rich’s fine column in the New York Times yesterday, particularly this excerpt…

Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam," he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline "Can This Man Save Iraq?" The magazine noted that the general's pacification of Mosul was "a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way." Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon's own June report.

By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. "Training is on track and increasing in capacity," he wrote in The Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no "surge" would have been needed more than two years later. We would not be learning at this late date, as we did only when Gen. Peter Pace was pressed in a Pentagon briefing this month, that the number of Iraqi battalions operating independently is in fact falling - now standing at a mere six, down from 10 in March.

But even more revealing is what was happening at the time that General Petraeus disseminated his sunny 2004 prognosis. The best account is to be found in "The Occupation of Iraq," the authoritative chronicle by Ali Allawi published this year by Yale University Press. Mr. Allawi is not some anti-American crank. He was the first civilian defense minister of postwar Iraq and has been an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; his book was praised by none other than the Iraq war cheerleader Fouad Ajami as "magnificent."
Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer actually had a good post on this a few weeks ago (ending with Petraeus’ sickening echoing of Deadeye Dick Cheney’s remark about our forces being “greeted as liberators”). Polman recalled the following from Allawi’s book…

In April 2004, Allawi writes, the U.S. decided to launch a program to train and expand the Iraqi army. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense was designated as the agency that would run the show, line up the weapons contractors, and disburse the money (primarily American money, naturally). Gen. Petraeus was brought in to supervise.

But here’s what was happening while Petraeus was (in Allawi’s words) “waxing lyrical” about the training program in the American press: The money earmarked for weapons procurement was disappearing. Or, as Allawi puts it, “the Ministry of Defense was being systematically looted.”

As a 2005 Iraqi investigation later discovered, the top Ministry of Defense officials – none of whom had any experience in procurement – awarded no-bid contracts to con men who never intended to provide quality equipment. Allawi writes that “in a series of astounding and brazen decisions that broke every contracting and procurement rule, the ministry started to award huge contracts without any bidding and with minimal documentation.”

Most of the American money for the program, as much as $2.3 billion, wound up in the foreign bank accounts of “unknown people,” writes Allawi. And, not surprisingly, the equipment supplied to Petraeus’ training program “was of poor quality, (worth) a fraction of the money that was paid out by the Ministry of Defense.”

Allawi writes about the helicopters, for instance. They were 30 years old, originally owned and operated by a nation that has ceased to exist, the Soviet Union. All told, “the litany of disastrous and outrageously overpriced equipment covered the entire spectrum of armaments, from machine guns that were copies of the ones actually contracted for, to armored vehicles that were so poorly armored that machine-gun bullets would easily pierce them.” Moreover, “the Iraqi army was saddled with vehicles equipped with right-hand drive steering,” which was a problem, because “Iraqis drove with left-hand steering.” Most of the culprits ultimately fled the country.

You might wonder, “Where was Petraeus while all this was happening?”

Allawi replies that Petraeus basically let it happen: “Petraeus was a firm believer in giving the new Iraqi government as wide a latitude as possible to make its own decisions, without intrusive involvement” from the Americans.
That may have arisen from a sense of letting the Iraqis manage their own country, but considering that the money came from us, it definitely showed poor judgment.

And as far as who exactly it is that we are fighting over there so we supposedly don’t have to fight them over here, A.J. Rossmiller at AmericaBlog tells us here that Petraeus is wrong in his estimation of the composition of the enemy as well as his over-estimation of the seeming success in Anbar as something that could, in all probability, be replicated…

Just as worrisome from an analytical standpoint is the unrelenting -- and wholly misplaced -- focus on the so-called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Priority of the surge? "To disrupt al-Qaeda . . ." Timeframe of the surge? "Al-Qaeda is keenly aware of the Washington clock." Political progress? "[T]ribes changed from being on the fence or tacit support for al-Qaeda to active opposition."

The vast, vast majority of the insurgency in Iraq is driven by native Iraqis, primarily Ba'athist party members and/or sympathizers. AQI activities are almost exclusively limited to suicide bombings, which get attention because they are high-profile, mass-casualty events, but these attacks are in fact a relatively small part of the overall picture. AQI is regularly estimated at 3-5% of the overall insurgency, and its members will be quickly expelled or killed following a U.S. withdrawal. Current cooperation between AQI and the Iraqi-based insurgency is a matter of temporary convenience, not long-term ideological confluence.

Even political progress is framed by Petraeus as AQI-focused, as he cites conflict between AQI and Sunni tribes in Anbar province as an important development. That shift would happen much more quickly if our presence wasn't driving cooperation between all anti-U.S. parties. In fact, Petraeus' only nod to the national government's efforts is to cite an oil revenue distribution law that he claims (without any supporting evidence) is "very, very close."
Actually, to be fair to Petraeus, a draft oil deal was approved by Iraq’s government (as noted here, before they left for vacation while our people continue to face death, no doubt).

It’s not the fault of Petraeus that Bushco operates on blind hero worship, propaganda, deceit, and cronyism. But the fact that he has risen to the “inner circle” within this bunch by holding out hopes of a “magical September” while also playing our typically-compliant corporate media like the proverbial fiddle is sickening given the risk to the military personnel under his command.

And one more thing; lest we not forget...

Update 7/31: Arianna Huffington has more.

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