Monday, September 10, 2007

Read "Comments From Left Field"

I do most of my blogging these days at Comments From Left Field.

I hope you will pop in over there and read not only my posts, but those from a great group of intelligent progressives.

Anab Assesses Hunt for the White Whale

No surprise from the early reports of Petraeus' expected testimony to Congress. He wants to continue the hunt for the white whale indefinitely.

Here's the first report from the New York Times:

The top American commander in Iraq Gen. David H. Petraeus, has recommended that decisions on the contentious issue of reducing the main body of the American troops in Iraq be put off for six months, American officials said Sunday.

General Petraeus, whose long-awaited testimony before Congress is to begin today at about 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, has informed President Bush that troop cuts may begin in mid-December, with the withdrawal of one of the 20 American combat brigades in Iraq, about 4,000 troops. By August 2008, the American force in Iraq would be down to 15 combat brigades, the force level before Mr. Bush’s troop reinforcement plan.

The precise timing of such reductions, which would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq, could vary, depending on conditions in the country. But the general has also said that it is too soon to present recommendations on reducing American forces below that level because the situation in Iraq is in flux. He has suggested that he wait until March to outline proposals on that question.

Given the troop drawdown that will happen next Spring as a necessary result of troop rotations, Petraeus is basically asking he be given everything the military has ... well, except for that one brigade that he hopes will fool the American public into thinking he and Bush really want to get troops out of Iraq.

I haven't been able to assess all the press reports yet, but one word I bet you won't be hearing ... Afghanistan. Neither Petraeus nor Bush really seem to care about the critical importance Afghanistan plays in our long-term foreign policy interests. Their white whale is Iraq, plain and simple.

What's clear is that Petraeus and Bush cannot stop themselves and change course for what's in America's best interest. People (especially the media elites) need to stop kidding themselves that these guys are truly analyzing what is the "best of all the worst choices" in the disaster which is Iraq.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Everything You Need to Know About the Next Two Weeks

From Tom Tomorrow.

Losing the Forgotten War

The New York Times has this excellent analysis on how the war in Afghanistan is worsening.

Insurgency related deaths and attacks are continuing to increase. With the American and NATO troops we have, we continue to hold the cities but cannot hold the countryside.

I believe we can still win in Afghanistan, but we need to redeploy troops and resources there as soon as possible. Every day we allow the insurgency to gain a new toe hold, we make the work of saving Afghanistan much more difficult.

Petraeus' Numbers Game

Mikey fired me up with his post below analyzing the recent U.S. fatality numbers. Undoubtedly, the right will try and spin this as a success of the surge.

Is it? Or is it as I suspect part of a spin-plan orchestrated by Petraeus to appear successful while failing to accomplish any political success in Iraq or any greater security success for the Iraqi people.

Let's take a look.

Here are some of the things that helped, in my opinion, to reduce U.S. combat fatalities:

(1) we decreased our presence in Anbar and parts of Northern Iraq. Of course, the Yazidi suffered the loss of more than 500 from a horrific bombing.

(2) We steered clear of of Karbala during a large Shiite pilgrimage knowing such an event was likely to draw extremists. The result was a violent bloodbath between Shiite sects. But hey, no Americans were being killed and if its Shia on Shia, it's not sectarian. If they're preoccupied killing each other, they can't be as effective at killing us. Another Petraeus victory. You also must wonder how many of the Shia fighters are turning to the coming fight in the South with the Brits pulling up their stakes.

(3) In Baghdad, Newsweek has a must-read on the success - not of the surge - but of ethnic cleansing since the start of the surge.
When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won.

And in failing to have stopped the Shiite cleansing of Sunni's in Baghdad, we have unfortunately left the appearance of having aided the Shia. We are trading short-term neighborhood-by-neighborhood security for long-term animosity and an ever deeper sectarian divide. We are allowing massive internal displacement for the sake of troop security.

So, in my mind, Petraeus has made a number of strategic decisions that help reduce US troop fatalities in the short run, but which have further damned the prospects of political reconciliation. In fact, I believe Petraeus' actions will ultimately be counterproductive in leading to even longer term violent sectarianism and intra-Shiite hostilities.

Now, Petraeus is a smart guy. He knows he cannot manipulate the number of American fatalities. He has to get those numbers lower to sell the surge in September (after all, does anybody believe a General who created a plan is not going to claim it works? Has that happened? Ever?)

But to get those numbers lower, you need less confrontation, fewer hotspots, etc. But the downside of avoiding a number of fights is that more Iraqis are going to die.

Here's the rub. Petraeus also knows the Iraqi government completely controls the reports of Iraqi civilian deaths. They do not provide breakdowns of those numbers so they are not verifiable.

The American military was busted twice gaming these numbers - post-Golden Mosque bombing and in August '06 during Surge I - because the UN could independently double-check the numbers from all the various morgues and other reporters. That was cut off in October 2006.

So in July, Nouri Al Maliki's government reported 1,753 civilian deaths. Just have to beat that number, right? Except, oops, there were some big high profile civilian death events. The bombing of the Yazidi was yielding independent counts of 500 deaths and the Kerfuffle in Karbala was landing daily body counts in the news. Well, don't oversell,go with a number that looks like an increase but we can claim is a decrease but for some exceptional events.

1,773 is the number the government gave us. And the Righties cheered without any qualifications as to the number's lack of verification.

Until ...

The New York Times received a leak of the real numbers. The figures show a drop in deaths in Baghdad, from 896 in July to 656 in August. But overall, the numbers reveal 2,318 civilians died violently in the country in August, compared with 1,980 in July.

That's right. Civilian deaths didn't just increase by 20, but by 338 or 16%; and that is based only on counts that don't include the many who never pass through a morgue because of the Muslim tradition of burial within 24 hours.

Here's a quote from the NYT piece that let's us in on the obvious:
Colonel Garver acknowledged that as a result of the operations in Baghdad, militias and insurgent groups had been trying to establish networks north of the capital. “You see attacks up north in part because it’s harder to move around Baghdad if you’re a terrorist,” he said. “It’s harder to bring car bombs in.”

Damn, who would've thought the Iraqis could figure out the Wee Willie Killer strategy.

At 160,000 plus troops, I have no doubt we can flood a zone with marginal gains in that zone. We can also manipulate US fatalities downward depending upon when and where we want to take the fight. But please, don't pretend that this is succeeding in making Iraq more secure. Without 600,000 plus troops, the battles will rage largely wherever US troops cannot be.