Streetwise Professor

November 15, 2007

The Drawdown

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:48 am

There are news reports that the US will soon draw down its combat forces in Iraq, withdrawing one of the six “Surge” brigades (from the First Cav Division), with more to follow in due course.

I have mixed reactions to this news. It is indisputable (to the sentient, and those not blinded by partisanship–so in other words I’m not talking about Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi–but hell, even the AP has figured this out) that the Surge has had remarkable results. As I predicted back in May in “Ridgeway, Abrams, Petraeus” and in February in “Hit Hard, Hit Fast, and Hit Often” seizing the initiative, taking the offensive, and implementing the basic blocking and tackling of counterinsurgency warfare have had dramatic effects on the ground in Iraq. It’s amazing what happens when one wields the most formidable military force ever seen in the world according to basic military precepts.

But . . . I have this nagging worry, and a nagging doubt. The nagging doubt is that we may be letting up too soon, condemning ourselves to the Sisyphusian task of rolling the same rock up the hill in the near future. I would rather err on the side of overkill than underkill. I realize that there are important considerations in terms of force readiness and “breaking the Army” (and the USMC), but the best way to address that problem is to win decisively soon. The Army and Corps would be best served by finishing the effort decisively even if that requires additional months of heightened operational intensity, rather than engaging in an indecisive slog over a period of years.

Here’s one analogy. One can take antibiotics for awhile, and feel a lot better, but it is important to take the entire regimen rather than stopping taking the pills as soon as the symptoms go away. The underlying cause of the symptoms remains, and must be destroyed by continuing to take the antibiotic. Stopping the pills to early can result in a worse–and much more difficult to treat–infection later.

And my worry–that this move is not Petraeus’s, based on the military situation in Iraq, but it is political, perhaps intended to undercut the upcoming Pelosi-Reid call to withhold funding until a troop withdrawal begins. Or that it is Army Chief of Staff Casey’s decision–the same General Casey who made the fundamental operational decisions that dramatically worsened things in 2005-2006 when he was the commander in Iraq. (I am still puzzled about rewarding failure with promotion.) Petraeus’s strategy was essentially to do the exact opposite of everything Casey did, and some press reports suggest that Casey has been working from the Pentagon (and receiving a sympathetic hearing from SecDef Gates) to go back to his old ways.

If this is a political calculation, it is a bad one. I think that even someone as inarticulate as Bush could make a convincing case to continue the effort given the clear signs of progress, and the distaste that many Americans have for defeat, especially when victory appears possible. Given that the battle is being won on the ground in Baghdad and Baquba and Samara and Ramadi, it is more than possible to win the battle in Washington; the disconnect between the “Peace” Democrats’ rhetoric and Iraqi reality is becoming more apparent by the day, and this disconnect is political poison. Make them eat it, or force them to concede defeat–not America’s in the military theater of Iraq, but their’s in the political theater of Washington.

In any event, first things first. If the military campaign is waged correctly, the benefits–most importantly, to the interests of the United States, and only secondarily to the political actors–will flow accordingly. If the military campaign is aborted prematurely, allowing Iraq to spiral back into blood, chaos, and despair, any political benefits from withdrawing now will be fleeting indeed. So the right thing is to begin the drawdown only if it is militarily advisable. It just so happens that the right thing is the politically expedient thing too.

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