Moving the Goalposts on Iraq

After spending months telling Congress to wait until a September “milestones” report before making rash decisions on Iraq, the administration is now saying it will need at least until November to have meaningful results.

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday that he needs at least until November to accurately assess results of the current increase in troop strength and operations, even as senators from both parties warned U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker that time is running out.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said he will participate in a much-anticipated report due to Congress in mid-September, but “to do a good assessment,” he said, he would need 45 more days. Odierno cited “significant success” over the past four weeks in military operations against al-Qaeda in Iraq and in the training of Iraqi security forces, and said there has been movement toward political reconciliation.

[…]

Crocker, speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Iraqi political reconciliation “has a considerable ways to go.” At this stage, he said, his focus is less on ensuring that the Iraqi government reaches the specific legislative and security benchmarks set by Congress, and more on developing a process for government factions to work together.

[…]

“I will not present the Iraqi government as a model of smoothly functioning efficiency,” Crocker said. “Because it’s not. . . . The stresses and strains and tensions throughout society are reflected in the government.” If he had to choose one word to sum up the atmosphere at every level in Iraq, he said, “that word would be ‘fear.’ ” Replacing fear with “trust and confidence [is] what the process is all about.”

Now, I have no reason to doubt Odierno and Crocker are telling the truth. There are indeed signs of progress in Iraq on the security front; the question is whether it will be long-term or merely amounts to reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. And, certainly, Crocker is right: there is no reason at all for hope on the political front in the near term.

The problem, though, is a political one: “We’ll know in another six months,” derisively termed a “Friedman” in light of NYT columnist Thomas Friedman’s repeated assertions along those lines, only works so many times before people begin to think there’s no end in sight.

Many of us have repeatedly noting that imposing timetables in war is not only militarily stupid but actually counterproductive to the mission. The administration successfully managed to avoid falling into that trap for quite some time but, as the public and Congress tired of the war, they finally gave in. Now, like it or not, September is the date they’re stuck with. If the September milestones report gives reason to think staying another few months will do any good, another extension may be forthcoming. Conversely, if the report shows that the Iraqi government is not getting a handle on its political problems — and that seems the much more likely outcome — then momentum for Congressionally imposed phased withdrawal will be unstoppable.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. markm says:

    “The problem, though, is a political one”…i’d say the problem AND solution is a political one but you can’t have a political solution until you have moderate peace and you probably can’t have that without military force. Quite a quandry.

    Old school wars were so much easier. We killed their guys until they surrendered. Hmmph.

  2. Michael says:

    The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday that he needs at least until November to accurately assess results of the current increase in troop strength and operations

    Wow, who could have see than coming? I mean, I was sure that they really meant it this time.

    Well, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure come November Lucy will finally let Charlie Brown kick the football, we just have to trust her one more time…

  3. Michael says:

    If the September milestones report gives reason to think staying another few months will do any good, another extension may be forthcoming.

    Come on James, do you really expect it to say otherwise? I mean, reality may be otherwise, but do you really expect the report to say withdraw is the best option? No, it’ll say that progress has been hampered by 6 months of insurgent activity, but in another 6 months we’ll know if it’s going to work out or not. Just like the last report said, and the report before that.

  4. M1EK says:

    Now, I have no reason to doubt Odierno and Crocker are telling the truth.

    I’m sure if somebody from the Bush administration asserted that we only need another six months for the Iraqis will be so stable that we could start construction on Disney Baghdad, you’d believe them too, or at least claim to here.

    Is there anything the Bush administration can do that you won’t excuse? How can you live with yourself?

    How’s this for a reason to doubt spokesmen of the Bush administration: being awake and conscious for the last four years of this war?

  5. ken says:

    …. imposing timetables in war is not only militarily stupid but actually counterproductive to the mission.

    Not true. And this idea that in a war you have an unlimited amount of time to achieve objectives is dangerous.

    A reality based observer would note that you actually have only as much time to complete your objectives as your war resources last. After that you are out of time.

    The single most important war resource in a democracy is the support of the population and its willingness to make sacrifice for the war effort.

    In the war on Iraq the support was gained by the administration lying to the public about WMD and the danger of Iraq to America. Support, although based upon false pretense, lasted about a year or so. When the public slowly came to realize that it was lied to the support for the war on Iraq naturally evaporated. There was never a legitimate reason to fight it in the first place.

    I’ve pointed out before and I’ll say it again that this war was lost the day it was started. It was lost because the American people will never support a war based upon lies. The only people who did not know this were those conservatives who were willing to put their own narrow political agenda above the good of the country.

  6. Monica says:

    M1EK –

    You must not read this blog very often if you think that James is a Bush apologist. It’s either that or you do read it a lot and you’re just being disingenuous.

  7. M1EK says:

    Monica,

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Thanks.

  8. Monica says:

    M1EK –

    Sure – glad I could help you further enjoy your delusions.

  9. C.Wagener says:

    Folks that say that Bush lied about WMD certainly aren’t reality based. It is bizarre that anyone can be sufficiently delusional to make such a statement. You have to ignore Iraq’s actual use of WMD, evidence immediately after the Gulf War, statements by numerous intelligence services and statements by numerous politicians, including Bush’s presidential opponents. None of these other people were lying, they were just misinformed, only Bush knew the truth.

    How do people incapable of such basic critical thinking function in life?