Monday, May 14, 2007

End Game: The face of "Victory in Iraq"

Good News / Bad News. The good news is that we have entered the "End Game" of our military involvement in Iraq. The bad news is that the man making the smart moves on the chessboard is Moqtada al-Sadr, likely future leader of Iraq, and the face of "Victory in Iraq" as defined by United States policy. To be clear, this is a prediction and not a preference. I dearly hope to be wrong about this. Few in the U.S. would be happy about a Moqtada al-Sadr led Iraq. Nevertheless, it may be the best least bad outcome that we can expect and, believe it or not, is completely consistent with the administration's continually evolving definition of “Victory.” Make no mistake, al-Sadr is a consummate politician. Like Republicans railing against "defeatocrat" Democrats, like Democrats railing against "war-mongering" Republicans, al-Sadr will rail against the "The Great Satan" America to play to his base of support. And like Republicans and Democrats, he will work with his opponents to achieve his personal ambitions for power. I'll return to why I think an al-Sadr "End State" is a likely outcome later, but first we need to talk about some words. Specifically the words "victory" and "defeat", "win" and "lose", "success" and "failure" in the context of our military involvement in Iraq.

Victory in Iraq - The DWSUWF Rant
Harry Reid says "this war is lost", but is unable to clearly explain exactly what he means. In his State of the Union speech, George W. Bush lectured Congress that "nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America … to succeed in Iraq" continuing with the admonition "whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure." More recently, he said "Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure", but while he warns about the dire consequences of failure, he has been unable to clearly explain to the American people exactly what it means to achieve victory. Bloggers on the right and left, Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls, columnists and pundits weigh in on whether the war is won or lost, how to achieve victory, how to avoid defeat, who will take the credit, or who will be blamed.

Absent the context of a specific End State description, these statements are equally meaningless and completely asinine. Their purpose is to pander to a political base, or excite and maintain a partisan response, but not to communicate anything meaningful. These statements cannot have meaning unless they are tied to a specific and explicit Iraqi End State - an easily understood, objectively ascertainable description of Iraq after we leave. To use the words victory or defeat with meaning, one must describe an End State for context. Then, and only then is it possible to have meaningful discussions about whether that particular End State can be "won" or "lost", and whether a policy will lead to “victory” or “defeat.”

The problem is not that there is a dearth of Iraq End State descriptions. The problem is that there have been too many, and there is too much ambiguity about which specific End State is the explicit goal of US policy.

The fact that we will eventually leave Iraq is a given, only the timing is in question. The president himself said as much in 2003:

"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected. Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own: we will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more." - President George W. Bush - February 26, 2003

Imprecise? Yes. But the goal of leaving is explicit. Perhaps I am grasping for straws. To the degree that Iraq is a viable country (To Be Determined), it is their country, not our country. Iraq enemies and friends alike, live there, we don't, and therefore they will outlast us in Iraq. How could it be otherwise? As President Bush said, the Iraqi’s will decide the form of their government. How long it is “necessary” for us to stay, and what Iraq will look like when we leave remains an open and legitimate question. And therein lies the honest debate: What is the end-state and how do we get there?

By contrast, the mindless sloganeering and abject nonsense about "winning" or "losing" presented in a vacuum, as illustrated by this exchange on Chris Matthews “Hardball” Friday 5/11/07 between Ron Christie and Eugene Robinson, is not an honest debate:

CHRISTIE: Let me push back and disagree with you, Chris. We‘re there now. One of the things that I find most distressing of what you hear in the media is our troops are over there. Our people are in harm‘s way. Let‘s talk about how we‘re going to win this thing, Chris.

MATTHEWS: But nothing that‘s happened over there was not predictable. Gene, what‘s the surprise? I keep waiting for somebody to tell me what‘s happening over there is surprising. It is consistent with the regional history.

ROBINSON: It is consistent with the history of, you know, this patch of Mesopatmaia that is called Iraq, but is not really a polity of a nation that holds together. What is—what—maybe this will cause people to ask the question that I‘ve been asking all along, which is, at this point, what is victory in Iraq?

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this: maybe this is race; maybe this ethnicity, but do you really think we would have dared go back into Yugoslavia after the end of the Cold War and insisted that all those countries that are now independent sovereign states rejoin each other and become Yugoslavia again. We wouldn‘t presume to do that to a European country. We would allow self-determination to be the natural order of things in Europe. So why are we doing it in the Middle East? Why are we presuming, as Westerners, that we can go into a country that doesn‘t feel like a country and dictate their political organization? Anyway, thank you Gene Robinson. Ron, you and I are getting Closer.

CHRISTIE: No, we‘re not getting closer. We've got to win this war.

I'll tell you when we are going to win it Ron - when this administration stops the mindless sloganeering and explains to the American people exactly what "Victory in Iraq" really means.

Victory in Iraq - The Objective
This post strives to analyze relevant original source material in an effort to gain a real understanding of what “victory”, “defeat” and “End State” in Iraq mean today - in mid-surge, May, 2007.

There are exactly two meaningful sources to define these terms and to explicitly understand the target End State. One source is the Commander in Chief that set the policy and specified the mission that committed our military to this action, and the other is the military commander responsible for executing that mission. In this quest, President George W. Bush and General David Petraeus are the only sources that matter.

Victory in Iraq – The Commander in Chief Definition
Part of the reason why the American people do not seem to clearly understand or agree on the meaning of those terms can be seen in a February 14, 2007 Press Conference by the President:

Q: Mr. President … you talk about victory, that you have to have victory in Iraq; it would be catastrophic if we didn't. You said again today that the enemy would come here, and yet you say it's not an open-ended commitment. How do you square those things?

THE PRESIDENT: "You know, victory in Iraq is not going to be like victory in World War II. It's one of the challenges I have to explain to the American people what Iraq will look like in a situation that will enable us to say we have accomplished our mission.

First, the -- Iraq will be a society in which there is relative peace. I say "relative peace" because if it's like zero car bombings, it never will happen that way. It's like -- the fundamental question is, can we help this government have the security force level necessary to make sure that the ethnic cleansing that was taking place in certain neighborhoods has stopped.

Look, there's criminality in Iraq, as well as the ethnic violence. And we've got to help the Iraqis have a police force that deals with criminals. There is an al Qaeda presence in Iraq, as you know. I believe some of the spectacular bombings have been caused by al Qaeda. As a matter of fact, Zarqawi -- the terrorist Zarqawi, who is not an Iraqi, made it very clear that he intended to use violence to spur sectarian -- car bombings and spectacular violence to spur sectarian violence. And he did a good job of it.

And so there -- and then there's this disaffected Sunnis, people who believe that they should still be in power in spite of the fact that the Shia are the majority of the country, and they're willing to use violence to try to create enough chaos so they get back in power.

The reason I described that is that no matter what you call it, it's a complex situation, and it needed to be dealt with inside of Iraq. We've got people who say civil war, we've got people on the ground who don't believe it's a civil war. But nevertheless, it is -- it was dangerous enough that I had to make a decision to try to stop it, so that a government that is bound by a constitution, where the country feels relatively secure as a result of a security force that is even-handed in its application of security; a place where the vast resources of the country -- this is a relatively wealthy country, in that they've got a lot of hydrocarbons -- is shared equally amongst people; that there is a federalism that evolves under the Constitution where the local provinces have got authority, as well; and where people who may have made a political decision in the past and yet weren't criminals can participate in the life of the country; and is an ally in the war on terror. In other words, that there is a bulwark for moderation, as opposed to a safe haven for extremism. And that's what I would view as successful.”

Ok. You got that? Me neither. Fortunately, the President was more articulate and succinct when he stuck to the prepared text in his November 30, 2005 address at the US Naval Academy entitled President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq:

"Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation."

That, at least, is understandable. In the same address he references a document posted on the White House website the same month, that remains to this day the apparent official definition of “Victory", the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”

It begins with the President Bush "2003 definition" of "Victory in Iraq" quoted above, then continues with an updated, wordier, more expansive, less precise, and considerably less clear definition:

As the central front in the global war on terror, success in Iraq is an essential element in the long war against the ideology that breeds international terrorism. Unlike past wars, however, victory in Iraq will not come in the form of an enemy's surrender, or be signaled by a single particular event -- there will be no Battleship Missouri, no Appomattox. The ultimate victory will be achieved in stages, and we expect:

In the short term:
  • An Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency, meeting political milestones; building democratic institutions; standing up robust security forces to gather intelligence, destroy terrorist networks, and maintain security; and tackling key economic reforms to lay the foundation for a sound economy.
In the medium term:
  • An Iraq that is in the lead defeating terrorists and insurgents and providing its own security, with a constitutional, elected government in place, providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region, and well on its way to achieving its economic potential.
In the longer term:
  • An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.
  • An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.
  • An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region."

Problematical undefined terms in this definition include: “steady progress”, “key economic reforms”, “an inspiring example to reformers”, “defeated the terrorists”, and “proving the fruits of democratic governance” among others. In reality, everything beyond the first stage “short term” definition is flowery rhetoric, and while a noble statement of hope, completely useless as benchmarks to guide our military participation.

Victory in Iraq - The Military Commander Definition
For better clarity on hard objectives, we can look to another source. General David Petraeus, co-author of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual [BTW - Does anyone else think it odd that the current counterinsurgency playbook for our military, written by the very General leading the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq is available for anyone to download? You can get yours by clicking on the image below. You might as well read it, I can assure you that Moqtada al-Sadr has a dog-eared, well read, underlined, highlighted and annotated copy.] :

Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency.” - Page 19

"In addition—and as in Iraq at present— different insurgent forces using different approaches may form loose coalitions when it serves their interests; however, these same movements may fight among themselves, even while engaging counterinsurgents. Within a single AO, there may be multiple competing entities, each seeking to maximize its survivability and influence—and this situation may be duplicated several times across a joint operations area. This reality further complicates both the mosaic that counterinsurgents must understand and the operations necessary for victory. - Page 25

” It is easier to separate an insurgency from its resources and let it die than to kill every insurgent. Clearly, killing or capturing insurgents will be necessary, especially when an insurgency is based in religious or ideological extremism. However, killing every insurgent is normally impossible. Attempting to do so can also be counterproductive in some cases; it risks generating popular resentment, creating martyrs that motivate new recruits, and producing cycles of revenge… As the HN government increases its legitimacy, the populace begins to assist it more actively. Eventually, the people marginalize and stigmatize insurgents to the point that the insurgency’s claim to legitimacy is destroyed. However, victory is gained not when this isolation is achieved, but when the victory is permanently maintained by and with the people’s active support and when insurgent forces have been defeated… In the end, victory comes, in large measure, by convincing the populace that their life will be better under the HN government than under an insurgent regime. " - Pages 37 –38.

"The long-term goal is to leave a government able to stand by itself. In the end, the host nation has to win on its own. Achieving this requires development of viable local leaders and institutions. U.S. forces and agencies can help, but HN elements must accept responsibilities to achieve real victory. While it may be easier for U.S. military units to conduct operations themselves, it is better to work to strengthen local forces and institutions and then assist them. HN governments have the final responsibility to solve their own problems. Eventually all foreign armies are seen as interlopers or occupiers; the sooner the main effort can transition to HN institutions, without unacceptable degradation, the better." - Page 39

"While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation, and restored hope." - Page 140

"Real success does not appear as a single decisive victory. To ensure long-term success, commanders clarify their desired end state for training programs early. This end state consists of a set of military characteristics common to all militaries. Those characteristics have nuances in different countries, but well-trained HN security forces should:
  • Provide reasonable levels of security from external threats while not threatening regional ecurity.
  • Provide reasonable levels of internal security without infringing upon the populace’s civil liberties or posing a coup threat.
  • Be founded upon the rule of law.
  • Be sustainable by the host nation after U.S. and multinational forces depart.
Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.” - Page 195

Victory in Iraq: End State Options
So where does this leave us? Extracting from these sources, these are all the possible end-states [In order of preference]:

1) SECULAR IDEALIZED DEMOCRATIC - FRIENDLY: An Iraq Jeffersonian Democracy possibly led by Ahmed Chalabi spontaneously springing into existence after the removal of Saddam Hussein. A free, prosperous and secular Iraq with a government by, for and of the Iraqi people who gratefully ally with the United States in the Global War on Terror after being liberated by coalition forces and serving as a “shining city on the hill” beacon of freedom and democracy for all of the Middle East. (The “Project for the New American Century” end-state.)

2) SECULAR STABLE DEMOCRATIC - FRIENDLY: A stable mostly secular democratic federalist state capable of providing security and protecting the rights of all Iraqis in a pluralistc and tolerant and unified Iraq that is strongly allied to the U.S. (The 2003-2005 Bush Administration End Etate)

3) SECULAR STRONGMAN – FRIENDLY: A secular strongman allied to/coopted by the US and capable of imposing security and creating stability in Iraq (A US supported Military Coup “keep the toothpaste in the tube” no sectarian violence/civil war end-state).

4) DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALIST LEADER – ACCOMODATIVE: A democratically elected sectarian Islamic fundamentalist leader capable of providing security and stability for Iraqis and an accommodative but arms-length relationship with the U.S. (The Moqtada al-Sadr end-state Option A).

5) SECULAR STRONGMAN - HOSTILE: A secular strongman indifferent/hostile to the US but capable of imposing security and creating stability in Iraq (The Saddam Hussein end-state. Been there. Done That ).

6) PARTITION: Iraq broken up into two or three nation-states, maybe federated, maybe not, which presumably would each independently evolve into one of these other end-states. Perhaps each winds up better, perhaps worse. This may or may not actually be a distinct option, as each partitioned state would default to one of the other choices. The only real benefit, is that at least the Kurdish Sate would make Option 1 or 2 available again for that state – if it is not over-run by Turkey.

7) HOSTILE ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALIST STRONGMAN: A sectarian Islamic fundamentalist strongman capable of imposing security and creating stability in Iraq but allied with Iran in opposition to US interests (An alternative Moqtada al-Sadr end-state - lets call it his "Option B")

8) VIOLENT COLLAPSE: The collapse of Iraq society into warring sectarian factions, war-lords, and un-controlled violence, massacres, “ethnic cleansing”, and all out civil war a/la Somalia.

Those are all the possibilities for an end-state. Take your choice, then we can talk about “winning” or “losing” that particular state. If you choose 1, then Harry Reid is correct. We lost. Choose 8, then George Bush is absolutely right when he says we cannot afford to lose.

Here is my take. One and two are eliminated as realistic possibilities, because neither the Bush administration nor David Patreaus is talking like those are objectives any more. Number 3 has been, and probably still is discussed both here and in Iraq. It might be the actual infamous "Plan B” that nobody wants to talk about. Number 8 is regularly invoked as a bogeyman to justify the current course of action in Iraq. Clearly, we cannot allow number 8 to happen, but there is no reason to assume that it is an inevitable or even probable outcome, even if we were to leave precipitously, a course that no one is advocating. The Iraqi’s would find number 7 preferable to eight, so even in a power vacuum left by an unlikely precipitous US withdrawal, number 8 is still a highly unlikely End State.

The most likely End State scenario is an “accommodated” (or if you prefer “co-opted” or “bought-out”) Moqtada al-Sadr, or someone just like him. A popular theocrat, elected into leadership in Iraq, still railing at the “Great Satan” from his bully pulpit, but behind the scenes working with the US at the precise intersection of US interest in a stable Iraq, and his lofty personal ambition for power on a world stage. Strange bedfellows indeed.

This photo from the office of Rear Admiral Fox was taken by RedState blogger Jeff Emanuel, during his recent trip to Iraq. This is a nicely distilled fusion of both documents linked above. It shows that our military does talk about Iraq in terms of victory or defeat, but in terms of End State. Note that there in nothing in this End State Mission Statement that precludes a Moqtada al-Sadr led Iraq, as long as al-Sadr chooses to play along.

TO BE CONTINUED: In the next (and concluding) post of this series, which I hope to complete early next week (operative word being "hope"). We’ll explore why it is likely to be specifically Moqtada al-Sadr that ultimately takes the reins in Iraq (assuming we don't kill him first). Net net, this is a case where it is literally true that “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” We missed opportunities to kill al-Sadr in ’03.’04, and ’05. Now the United States is likely to be both the agents of and reason for his emergence as the most powerful man in Iraq.

If you can’t wait for my analysis, you may want to check out Stormwarning’s Counterterrorism blog. While I don’t always share his perspective, he has been following, thinking, and writing about al-Sadr longer than most and my thinking was shaped by his work, examples in posts linked here, here, here and here.

If you enjoyed it, Vote for this post at Real Clear Politics.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.


Anonymous said...

MW, thanks for the links. We can't always agree, but when it comes to al-Sadr, I believe that we once again "misunderestimated" his influence. We'll end up paying for that.

mw said...

Yup. Moqtada al-Sadr may yet prove to be the Republican party's best friend. If he is able to force though a vote in the Iraq parliament calling for a US timetable for withdrawal, it will give Republicans political cover to distance themselves from GWB and align with the majority of Americans on Iraq.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of assumptions are being made here based purely on how media wants it to be perceived.

And yeah, that debate you cited, along with most of the media debates presented, are meaningless as they have no more of a reason to be cited than I. There have been a few meaningful ones, but they weren't on MSNBC. They won't allow one.

Since so many people are ceding their well-being and the possible security of planet Earth to MSNBC and Chris Matthews, what are they going to do to make things safer for us? That's the question people like Harry Reid won't answer, and MSNBC won't ask. Reid et al harp on the things that were not in Iraq, but they are much quicker to dismiss what WAS in Iraq. And, to some degree, is now coming INTO Iraq. If we just cut tail and run, what will Reid and Pelosi do about all that stuff? They knew it was there, they know it's there now. What are they going to do about all the IED's, chlorine gas bombs, heavily armored Iranis, Pakistanis, Al-Qaeda, etc. Especially in light of the that fact most of those groups want us dead? What are they going to do about it? It's easy to criticize, it's a hell of a lot harder to answer the specific questions.

Especially if you know your answer is wrong. The end game IMO, is when we feel Iraq is no longer a threat to us. If we leave before that end game is realized, we'll have to go back again.

That's the only political scenario Harry Reid is offering us. That is the only scenario "most Americans" are insisting on. We declared WWI was over before it actually was, it led to WWII. We declared WWII over before it actually was, that led to Korea and Vietnam. Which lesson are people referring to when they want to just cut and run that assures we won't be drug right back into it?

Anonymous said...

To use the word "articulate" with reference to anything issuing from this g.w. shrub's maw constitutes the grossest misuse of the English language. He cannot even read the simplest of speeches written for him at a sixth grade level.

The only reason we have someone to blame for the fiasco of Iraq is because dubya told us god told him to do it ... ergo, it's god's fault ... we can probably blame the same source for dubya, since neither george 1 or barbara are likely to claim responsibility

mw said...

If you read my statement, you will see that I am making a relative comparison, and I am comparing one GWB speech to another. In that context it is perfectly correct to say that "the President was more articulate and succinct" in one example vs. himself in the other.

Beyond that, you are simply wrong. In fact, the President can very effectively "read the simplest of speeches written for him at a sixth grade level."

mw said...

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the comment. Let us deconstruct:

"I think a lot of assumptions are being made here based purely on how media wants it to be perceived." - moon

Well, yes there are "assumptions" here - In the third sentence of the post I said this was a "prediciton" which, almost by definition, means I am making assumptions, or extrapolations based on a variety of sources. My primary sources for definition of "victory" is 1) the official document and speeches of The civilian Commander in Chief, and 2) The Counterinsurgency manual written by the Military Commander on the ground in Iraq.

I don't think you have to invoke a media conspiracy to recognize what Moqtada al-Sadr is. Your co-blogger Sormwarning recognizes it, and his analysis informs my extrapolations. Moqtada al-Sadr is a garden variety, very ambitious, power hungry politician. Perhaps smarter and craftier than most. He wears a religuous fundamentalist cloak to secure the support of his political base, not unlike Republican Presidential candidates will change their views on abortion or deny evolution to secure the support of religous fundamentalist constituency. Or like Democrats will kow-tow to Unions and pro-life groups to secure the support of their constituencies.

"...what are they going to do to make things safer for us? That's the question people like Harry Reid won't answer, and MSNBC won't ask." - moon

It is not clear to me that anything that has happened in Iraq is making things safer for us. Al Queada was not there before our incompetent occupation, but they are there now, and continue to grow in influence in Iraq under our security watch. It is not at all clear whether our presence there creates terrorists and enemies faster than we can kill them.

"If we just cut tail and run, what will Reid and Pelosi do about all that stuff?"-

Strawman. About the same percentage on the left advocates a preciptous "cut and run" as the percentage on the right that advocates turning Iraq into a nuclear parking lot. Neither is a realistic probability so there is no point in arguing against something that has no real political support and no liklihood of happening.

"What are they going to do about all the IED's, chlorine gas bombs, heavily armored Iranis, Pakistanis, Al-Qaeda, etc. Especially in light of the that fact most of those groups want us dead? What are they going to do about it? It's easy to criticize, it's a hell of a lot harder to answer the specific questions." -moon

I can ask the exact same question of this administration. What are they going to do about it? Because every single thing you mentioned did not exist as a problem in Iraq until we took over the Security of the country. And every year that we have been handling the security of the country, all of the problems you mention have gotten worse. Every single year. Under our watch.

What are we going to do about it? I have outlined in this post every possible end-state that I can think of, and through the process of eliminating those that are no longer viable (mostly due to the incompetence of the occupation), I arrive at a conclusion of what we are going to do about it. That is the prediction/extrapolation I outline in this post. An elected Moqtada al-Sadr sufficiently supported by the US to quell the insurgents in his country looks the the best of the bad choices remaining to us.

We are going to find a way to leave, becasue the president said we were going to find a way to leave back in 2003, and the American people are going to hold him to that.

"The end game IMO, is when we feel Iraq is no longer a threat to us." - moon

Pretty general statement. In fact, almost useless as a benchmark. Both Bush and Petraeus have said we can never get the car bombings to zero, and we can never kill all the insurgents. So I am not sure what benchmark you use to decide that Iraq is no longer a threat. Perhaps what you are advocating is a premanent presence and continuous war in Iraq.

"If we leave before that end game is realized, we'll have to go back again."

Right. Sort of. It is certainly a possibility we would have to go back. But given the mushy nature of your criteria for leaving, it will always be a calculated risk of how much of threat Iraq represents for anything short of the nuclear parking lot endstate. Of course, we won't know if it will work, unless we do leave and find out. Again I don't understand what you are advocating, unless it is a permanent military occupation of Iraq. Thats one way of making sure we never make the mistake of leaving too early and having to go back. Just never leave. No problem.

"That's the only political scenario Harry Reid is offering us."

And EXACTLY what political scenario is George Bush offering us?

"Which lesson are people referring to when they want to just cut and run that assures we won't be drug right back into it?"- moon

As i said before, that assurance is impossible under all scenarios short of killing everyone in the country. It is a bad criteria. Leaving will always be a calculated risk. It is a criteria that requires us to never leave.