Tag: tom ricks

On Veterans Day, Support the Troops by Scrutinizing the Missions

Today is a federal holiday in observance of Veterans Day and we should all pause a moment to reflect on the sacrifices our veterans have made. But today is also an opportunity to reflect on the current state of civil-military relations. In today’s New York Times, Tom Ricks addresses this and notes:

[T]oday, politicians are so fearful of being accused of “criticizing our troops” that they fail to scrutinize the performance of those who lead them.

That is a serious problem.

But it goes beyond scrutiny of a military leader’s execution of a particular strategy, which does occur occasionally. More importantly, scrutiny from politicians and others should include hard questions about a given strategy’s likelihood of success, even if the execution is flawless.

Instead, whenever someone raises a point of clarification about how COIN is supposed to work in a country like Afghanistan, or even whether it worked as well as advertised in Iraq, that person risks being lumped together with reflexive critics of all things military.

An angry blogger will invoke MoveOn.org’s execrable General Betray-us ad, and – voila – the person trying to make a point about the wise deployment of strategic assets (and, yes, whether the particular mission in question is worth risking the lives of American soldiers in the first place) is portrayed as somehow hating the troops.

On the contrary, they value the troops more than those who harbor doubts but remain silent.

When politicians step out and ask serious questions, despite the certain counter-assault and character assassination, they deserve respect. It is, after all, their job. And when they duck that responsibility out of fear that a legion of angry bloggers will call them names, they deserve our scorn.

Obama’s ‘Perfectly Clear’ Iraq Policy

As someone who has his own snarky tendencies, I am really starting to have a hard time discerning when Matt Yglesias is being serious and when he is being sarcastic these days.  For example, he writes of President Obama’s Iraq speech last night that

I think Barack Obama’s Iraq policy was perfectly clear as of last week—war kinda sorta ending on August 31, 2010 and more honest-to-god ending in December 2011—so I wasn’t exactly glued to the set to watch his speech last night.

So Obama’s “perfectly clear” Iraq policy is that “the war” “kinda sorta ended” yesterday, and will have a “more honest-to-god [than kinda sorta?]” end on New Year’s Eve next year?  But when does it just plain end?

Or maybe the best way to clear this up would be if I could put Tom Ricks’ question to Matt: “How many U.S. military personnel will be in Iraq four years from today – that is, Feb. 25, 2014?” Or if we’re assuming one term, by January 2013?

Are We Really Going to Leave Iraq? (cont’d)

A follow up on yesterday’s post about my skepticism that we would be able to get out of Iraq by 2011 (and get all “combat” troops out by September 1 of this year):

One way to square these two seemingly contradictory statements is if the bipartisan consensus Rozen implies exists reflects an agreement between Democrats and Republicans that the United States should use Iraq as a new military base in the Middle East like we used to use Saudi Arabia.  Ricks’s report strongly implies that the military is trying to force Obama to stay, although it’s not clear whether Obama has any desire to take up a fight with them over leaving.  And that’s assuming he actually wants to leave.

Ricks writes cryptically that “this debate is just beginning. I expect that Obama actually is going to have to break his promises on Iraq and keep a fairly large force in Iraq, but of course that won’t be the first time he’s had to depart from his campaign rhetoric on this war.”  Finally, Ricks suggests

Let’s open the betting: How many U.S. military personnel will be in Iraq four years from today–that is, Feb. 25, 2014? The person who guesses closest gets a signed copy of any of my books. My guess: 28,895. Not “combat” troops, of course! Goodness no. Just “advisory” troops who carry M-16s and call in airstrikes and such.

I have enough humility to duck a precise guess, but I would be very, very surprised if the number is zero.  Americans don’t give up military footholds unless we’re chased out, a la Vietnam, Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia.  We’re still in Europe, for goodness’ sake.

We Can’t Lose If We Don’t Leave

On last Sunday’s Defense News TV, I suggested that although we are officially supposed to have zero troops in Iraq by the end of next year, there was a real prospect that we might have a harder time getting out than most analysts are suggesting.  This suggestion was roundly pooh-poohed, and I’m aware that it’s a minority view.  An extreme minority view.

Monday, though, Gen. Odierno remarked that the withdrawal could be slowed.  Although we’re supposed to be down under 50K troops by the end of this summer,

“I have contingency plans that I’ve briefed to the chain of command this week that we could execute if we run into problems,” Gen. Odierno said. “We’re prepared to execute those.”

The commander said he would consider slowing the withdrawal “if something happens” in Iraq over the next two to three months.

This is nothing like a knockout punch for my position, but it’s interesting.  So is Tom Ricks’ column in the New York Times today, which says, as best I can tell, that we should stay in Iraq basically forever:

All the existential questions that plagued Iraq before the surge remain unanswered. How will oil revenue be shared among the country’s major groups? What is to be the fundamental relationship between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds? Will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? And what will be the role of Iran (for my money, the biggest winner in the Iraq war thus far)?


Extending the American military presence will be even more politically controversial in Iraq, and for that reason, it would be best to let Iraqi leaders make the first public move to re-open the status of forces agreement of 2008, which calls for American troops to be out of the country by the end of next year. But I think leaders in both countries may come to recognize that the best way to deter a return to civil war is to find a way to keep 30,000 to 50,000 United States service members in Iraq for many years to come.

This, too, is far from a knockout punch for my view that we might be in Iraq well beyond 2011.  But keep an eye out for more pieces like this from analysts like Ricks, who is well-connected to the counterinsurgency gurus here in DC and to Odierno himself.