Petraeus Defiant in Senate Testimony
Blackfive’s Uncle Jimbo has what purports to be an advanced text of the “opening statement Gen. Petraeus will make tomorrow to Congress.” [UPDATE: It turns out that I’ve been had and this is just a wishful thinking piece on the part of Jimbo.]
As to the progress report itself, he is naturally touting the success of the strategy that he helped author and has been tasked with executing. In addition to the security gains that almost all acknowledge, he gets to the main criticism:
The question raised by many during my last testimony was whether the gains we have been making would lead to the political reconciliations necessary to allow a free Iraq to flourish as a stable democracy. There were benchmarks established by this Congress, and while it would be fair to question the efficacy of standards arbitrarily invented by an outside group, lets look at what the Iraqis have done. The recent $50 B budget they passed included sharing oil revenues, which now exceed Saddam era quantities, with all the provinces a major step toward gaining the trust of the people for the national government. They set provincial elections to ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in their government. Elections were boycotted by most major Sunni groups the first time and this new round will allow them to directly affect their own prosperity. They passed re-Baathification rules that allow members of the Baathist party to re-enter public society and to regain access to pensions they earned serving the previous government. These three steps alone illuminate the difference our change in strategy and the attendant increases in security have allowed to happen.
We’ll see how these work out in the longer run. For right now, they’re pretty thin beer. More oil revenue than when they were under UN boycott, undoing the stunning idiocy of de-Baathification that we instituted, and another election that will likely be a census is not exactly where we hoped we’d be five years into this mess. On the other hand, it’s progress over six months ago.
This allowed local Iraqis and the national security forces to begin to act against al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shia militias who were the causes of the death and destruction that had plagued Iraq. Our troops stood back to back with the Concerned citizens and Sons of Iraq who said Enough! to the horrific violence that plagued the country. They have now taken the lead in many operations and will continue to do so, but they still need our help and support and in some cases our direct combat power. The reason that the insurgent groups no longer sow chaos is that they cannot hide among a populace that doesn’t support them or fear them. The Iraqi public and members of insurgent groups who saw the light have provided tremendous intelligence allowing the Iraqis, with our assistance, to kill or capture thousands of the killers who made Iraq a living Hell for several years.
Another way of looking at this is, as Mir Rosen put it last week at the Center for American Progress, is that Iraq has become Somalia. That is, local warlords run their fiefdoms and the central government is ineffectual. My sense is that this is too dramatic by half. But “our militias can beat up your militias” is a perilous strategy.
Petraeus takes aim at those, like me, who have argued Maliki’s recent raid in Basra was a debacle.
A fair look would note that the Shia-dominated Iraqi Army marched on the Iranian-backed, illegal Shia militias in ways many said could not happen. They killed hundreds of the killers who previously had reigned in terror using power drills to rend the skulls of any who opposed them. Now the Kurds, Sunnis and moderate Shia in the Parliament are banding together to pass a law forbidding any group that has illegal militias from sitting in Parliament, which would effectively eliminate al Sadr’s power base unless he disbands his militias.
If one is going to append “Iranian-backed” to the Mahdi Army, it’s only fair to do so to the Iraqi Army as well. Be that as it may, it’s true that Sadr’s band of thugs has to be dealt with if the central government is going to assert control; I’m just dubious that this has happened. And, frankly, it’s not as if Maliki doesn’t have his own private militia; its legality is merely a function of his now being in charge.
This, too, was entirely predictable:
Pulling our troops out of this front in the long war on Islamic Extremism would jeopardize all of this and simply cede a victory to al Qaeda and Iran. That would leave us to fight them later in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East as they would know the US is the weaker horse as bin Laden has called us. Just this week al Qaeda’s #2 Ayman Zawahiri answered a question posed to him by stating that the primary battle ground against the infidels was in Iraq. I am forced to agree with him and fortunately for us we are beating them soundly there. But to change strategy now would eliminate the progress we and the Iraqis have made and leave an opening al Qaeda would be sure to exploit.
The emphasis on al Qaeda is dubious. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive of how leaving a vacuum would simultaneously benefit Iran and al Qaeda, given their antipathy for one another. Still, it’s hard to see how Iraq would be more stable in the near term without American troops on the ground.
UPDATE: My guess is that Petraeus’ will be less defiant than this version. The upshot, however, that we’ve made tremendous progress and can’t afford to leave now, is almost certain to be the same. Let’s hope Petraeus’ case is more convincing than this one. Given the facts he has to work with, though, that’s unlikely.