Petraeus Brain Trust Puts Six Month Limit on Winning

The Guardian‘s Simon Tisdall reports, “An elite team of officers advising US commander General David Petraeus in Baghdad has concluded the US has six months to win the war in Iraq – or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.”

We’re already at incredibly low levels of public and political support for the war, so six months may be optimistic. On the other hand, I’m not sure that “winning” (however that is defined) the war in that time is required. The natural inclination of the public is to support an ongoing war effort once troops are committed and lives are lost. If there is a substantial turnaround in the perception of futility–a massive reduction in violence, signs that the Iraqi government and security forces are getting their act together, and the elimination of some major terrorist cells–the public will rally and support a sustained effort.

If we’re still where we are today even three or four months from now, however, the pressure to bring the troops home will increase to the point where Congress could cut off funding. So, it’s quite probable that we’ll be at a decisive point six months from now.

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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.


  1. Edgardo says:

    Why should we trust The Guardian (or NYT, or WP) on their rumors about the war? Most likely they are now trying to set some artificial deadline for a war they have always been against.

  2. Anderson says:

    Why should we trust The Guardian (or NYT, or WP) on their rumors about the war? Most likely they are now trying to set some artificial deadline for a war they have always been against.

    Exactly right. Would you please tell us where we should get our news about the war, sir?

  3. legion says:

    So, is Bush going to give this team of sages the same level of respect he gave the ISG? Or will Cheney lead the charge in another rousing chorus of “stay the course, lads”?

  4. laura says:

    You are probably right abut public feeling–it is illogical and possibly immoral to fight a battle that has already been lost in a war that didn’t need to be fought–but, if there is a chance of redeeming the mess by winning, then, sure, lots of folks, including me, would like to do that.

    However, you and just about everyone else, are leaving out Afghanistan. Which matters a lot.

    Afghanistan is the war we have a valid reason for fighting. Afghanistan is where Al Quaida still is and where they are expanding their base. Afghanistan is where we are quietly losing because the Bush administration had no commitment to fight there. Afghanistan is the war we should be fighting, but can’t, because we are stuck in Iraq, the war we shouldn’t be fighting.

    It is amazing to me how conservatives and “war supporters” and “soldier supporters” are silent about Afghanistan. BTW, that last sentence is not a shot at you, just the knee jerks who go straight to “Those mean old Democrats want to steal my victory” people.

    In six months, if nothing significant has changed Iraq, we will have to get out because of lack of soldiers, lack of money and lack of leadership from the Adminnistration to provide those elements. Bush and the Republicans will do what they always do: abdicate responsibility and blame game. The I-want-to-win-but-don’t-want-make-any-sacrifices-myself types will cry like two year olds who lost their favorite toy. Will anyone mention Afghanistan?

    Fareed (the guy with the unspellable last name that starts with Z) from the Time magazine had a constructive suggestion. His idea is that, since one of the biggest sources of violence in Iraq is unemployment, we pull back and stop our share of the fighting and have a “surge ” of economic support instead. He listed a significant number of major business ventures that are only a few million dollars from reality. Since the fighting costs BILLIONS, a shift to economic support would be cheaper and might be more effective.

    Then maybe we would have the wherewithal to win in Afghanistan.

  5. iaintbacchus says:

    I think you’re missing the distinction between politically unpopular and militarily untenable.
    Patraeus is a three star general. That means that those elite advisers are most likely full colonels and brigadiers. At that level they don’t spend much time talking to congress. And public opinion in the US, as opposed to Baghdad, isn’t a consideration. They’re concerned with the situation on the ground. And soldiers are not trained to lose gracefully. If those officers are projecting a “hasty retreat” in 6 months then the situation must be very close to unwinnable now.
    So this isn’t about winning or losing anymore. It’s about conserving military assets. In other words, keeping the army alive to fight another day in a war we still can win, and that we needed to win in the first place, like Afghanistan/Pakistan.
    (And bless you for having a spellchecker for the comments box.)

  6. Philadelphia Steve says:

    So, we have one more “friedman” (six-month period) that will be “crucial” so we can “turn the corner” in Iraq. At the end of this time either the insurgents will “be on their last legs” or Bush will “cut and run”.

    How many times have we heard this before?

    In six months, we will hear from the Bush team, “We are reviewing the results (or lack thereof) in Iraq and will recommend a Surge to Victory that should achieve results in another six months….”

    The real motive, of course, is to run out the clock so George W. Bush can “get out of Dodge” before the roof caves in by January 2009.

  7. gil says:

    The end game for Bush is to continue with the war one way or another until his term ends. A coward to the end, this man will try his best to pass the buck to some unfortunate future President that will have to finally confront reality head on.

    It is sad so many more Americans soldiers will have to die so that a discredited politician, at the end of his career can “retire” with a sense of dignity…. Or as some other people would put it “with a fig leaf to protect his private parts”.

    So much for the “macho man Cowboy” in the White House…. In the end he was no macho, he was no Cowboy, and he was no leader.

  8. Randy says:

    You’re joking when you say the NY Times has always been against the war, right? Remember Judith Miller and her alarming, but wholly unsubstantiated articles in the lead up to the war? She pretty much copied down whatever the administration and Chalabi spoon fed her. The NY Times is a weird beast. It’s editorial page is moderately left of center, but it’s news reporting before to the war was scarily propagandistic. The Times made it OK for the entire mainstream media to wear Bush colored glasses. We must hold our journalists to higher standards.

  9. Jonathan says:

    General Petraeus’ nickname amongst some of the troops who served with him is General Betrayus due to his love of the limelight and his talent for self promotion.