Lessons of Petraeus’ Iraq for Petraeus’ Afghanistan

President Obama’s appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of US forces in Afghanistan signaled a continued commitment by the White House to a large-scale counter-insurgency campaign involving taking large swathes of territory, clearing it of insurgents, holding it in the medium term, and building up local government and social services.

It is frequently asserted that Gen. Petraeus “succeeded” in Iraq via a troop escalation or “surge” of 30,000 extra US troops that he dedicated to counter-insurgency purposes in al-Anbar and Baghdad Provinces.

But it would be a huge mistake to see Iraq either as a success story or as stable. It is the scene of an ongoing civil war between Sunnis and Shiites that is killing roughly 300 civilians a month. It can’t form a government months after the March 7 elections, even though the outcomes are known, having a permanently hung parliament, wherein the four major parties find it difficult to agree on a prime minister. The political vacuum has proved an opening for Sunni Arab insurgents, who have mounted effective bombing campaigns and more recently are targeting the banks. And now the caretaker government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is being shaken by a wave of violent mass protests even in Shiite cities that voted for him, against his government’s failure to provide key services, especially electricity in the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave. On Saturday, a big protest rally denouncing the lack of electricity turned violent, and police shot dead two protesters. In some parts of Iraq temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and few places have electricity more than 6 or 7 hours a day. The minister of electricity has been forced to resign. On Thursday, the headline in al-Zaman, the Times of Baghdad, read “Electricity Uprisings Break out in Hilla and Diyala under the Banner of Ousting al-Maliki.” If the caretaker government falls in the face of this popular pressure before parliament can agree on a new prime minister, there would be a dreadful security vacuum and a constitutional crisis.

Going back 3 1/2 years, Gen. Petraeus did what he could to end the Sunni-Shiite Civil War of 2006-2007, which helped produce the nearly 4 million Iraqi displaced (most of whom are still homeless) and likely killed tens of thousands. He put blast walls up to separate Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods; he put in checkpoints to keep out car and truck bombs; he made some markets pedestrian-only to stop them being blown up; he established Sunni Arab pro-American militias, the “Sons of Iraq,” to fight the fundamentalist vigilantes, both Sunni and Shiite; and he systematically tracked down and had killed the leadership of the insurgent cells.

I mean to take nothing away from the significant and important efforts of the US military in 2007 when I say that they did not all by themselves end the Sunni-Shiite civil war. In some ways, they inadvertently hastened a Shiite victory. Gen. Casey had been convinced to begin his plan of disarming the Iraqis in Baghdad with the Sunni Arabs by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The US military stuck to this bargain. But it turns out that if you disarmed the Sunni Arabs, then the Shiite militias came at night to chase them away. As I argued a couple of summers ago, working in part from the intrepid journalism of Karen DeYoung at WaPo, the main reason for decrease in the virulence of the Civil War (it is not over) was that the Shiites succeeded in ethnically cleansing the Sunnis from Baghdad. Based on US military and NGO statistics, on patterns of ambient light from West Baghdad visible by satellite, on the on-the-ground investigations of journalists like AP’s Hamza Hendawi, and on subsequent voting patterns, I don’t think Baghdad is now more than 10-15% Sunni, whereas it was probably about half and half Sunni and Shiite at the time of Bush’s invasion in 2003.

Obviously, when formerly mixed neighborhoods gradually no longer had Sunnis living in them, the ethnic violence declined (militant Shiites would have had to drive for an hour to find a Sunni to ethnically cleanse). My own field research among Iraqi refugees in Jordan in August of 2008 revealed to me the mechanisms by which the Sunnis were chased out. Many had been explicitly threatened by name, receiving death threats in their mail boxes. In addition, one fourth of Iraqi families who formally registered as refugees in Jordan had had a child kidnapped. Many had seen family members or close friends killed before their eyes. Some continued to receive threats in East Amman apartments, as the militias tracked them down to their new, squalid residences.

It was in part this Shiite wave of militia power and the usurping of Sunni property (most displaced families in Iraq have lost possession of their homes) that convinced many Sunni clans to go over to the Americans and to fight the Sunni fundamentalists in their midst, since it was the latter whose constant bombings and attacks on Shiite neighborhoods that had provoked the Civil War. Sunni Arabs in Iraq were initially absolutely convinced that they were a majority and that the Sunni Arab world would help them get back their country from the Americans, the Shiites and the Kurds. By early 2007 it had become clear that the Shiites were overwhelming them and that, indeed, their only plausible savior was the Americans, who might be persuaded to act as a moderating influence on the Shiites.

The Shiite victory in the Civil War was thus absolutely crucial as an Iraqi social-history background for what success Petraeus’s policies had.

No such major social-historical change has occurred in Afghanistan or is likely to. The Taliban and other insurgents primarily spring from the Pashtun ethnic group that predominates in the east and southwest of the country. Pashtuns probably make up about 42 percent of Afghanistan’s some 34 million people. Pashtun clans provided the top political leadership to Afghanistan from the 18th century, through the Durrani monarchy, and they look down on the northern Tajik and Hazarah ethnic groups (who speak dialects of Persian). Although probably only 20-30 percent of Afghan Pashtuns view the Taliban favorably, more may admire the Taliban as a group that stands up for Afghanistan’s independence from the Western nations now occupying it.

The Pashtuns do not believe that they have been conquered by anyone, and the vast majority of them wants US and NATO troops out of their country. They would fall down laughing at the idea of being afraid of the Tajiks and Hazarahs. So they will not be as easy to turn as the terrified and traumatized Sunnis of Iraq were in 2007.

What governmental and military framework the government of Nuri al-Maliki has been able to provide depends deeply on Iraq’s human capital. It was an industrializing society with an educated work force, a majority urban sector, and a respectable literacy rate, and its army could be rebuilt in part because literate soldiers are easier to train (not to mention that a stock of experienced soldiers and officers familiar with conventional military tactics could be drawn on). Iraq is an oil state with an income of $60 billion a year from petroleum alone. Afghanistan’s entire nominal GDP is $12 bn. a year. Afghanistan is 28% literate and its army is 10% literate. It is largely rural, poorly educated, and decades of civil war have destroyed or chased abroad its small managerial classes. Afghanistan is far more dependent on kinship ties (clans and tribes) in politics than Iraq (only 1/3 of Iraqis in polling say that tribal identity is important to them). Clan politics is notoriously insular and difficult for foreigners to enter into.

Moreover, Gen. Petreaus’s policies in 2007 in Iraq had many drawbacks. As noted, starting with the disarming of one ethno-religious group, the Sunni Arabs, left them vulnerable to ethnic cleansing by the still-armed Shiite militias. The creation of 100,000 Sons of Iraq fighters among the Sunni Arabs was viewed as a security problem by the Shiite government of al-Maliki, which brought only 17,000 of them into the police or other security forces. Many of the others were gradually dropped from the payroll by the Iraqi government, and, deprived of support by the withdrawing American troops, began being targeted by vengeful fundamentalists as traitors. The blast walls erected around neighborhoods cut them off economically from the city and produced 80% unemployment within, and so that tactic was not sustainable. There were also joint Sunni-Shiite demonstrations against Gen. Petraeus on the grounds that he was imposing and artificial sectarian separation on Iraqis. (I know.) The heavy US dependence on Blackwater and other private security contractors went badly awry when they kept going cowboy and committed a massacre at Nissour Square in 2007. ( The same firm, now renamed, is being brought into Afghanistan.)

Above all, Gen Petreaus was unable to attain in Iraq that pot of gold at the bottom of the counter-insurgency rainbow, increased government capacity and political reconciliation. Even his ultimate crackdown on the Mahdi Army and attempt to marginalize the Sadrists who follow Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr largely failed. The Sadrists did well in the March elections and may well end up being king-makers in the negotiations over a new prime minister and the speed of the American withdrawal. Nor has the Arab-Kurdish conflict been resolved (and that one is a tinderbox).

The Shiite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, deeply dislikes the ex-Baathists (whom he sees as supported by neighboring Syria), and which he codes as predominantly Sunni Arabs. He has not reached out to them in any significant way, and some 80% of the Sunni Arabs are estimated to have voted for Maliki’s rival, Iyad Allawi (an ex-Baathist himself). Although the list they voted for, the Iraqiya, gained the largest single number of seats, it is not being recognized as the biggest bloc in parliament and will almost certainly not be allowed to form a government. Instead, the two big Shiite blocs made a post-election alliance and are insisting that they will form the government, and the courts have backed them.

The message to Sunnis? Even if you put down your arms and participate in the electoral process, you will likely be marginalized by the Shiite majority.

And now al-Maliki faces the Great Electricity Uprising of 2010. Iraq cannot be a model for victory in Afghanistan, and it isn’t even clear that there has been any meaningful ‘victory’ in Iraq. The best that could be said is that in summer of 2006, 2500 civilians were showing up dead every month, and now it is a tenth of that (still a lot).

The counter-insurgency push in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan could go either way. It could tamp down the Taliban and other insurgents and produce a population grateful for increased security, even at the cost of increased foreign control. Or it could involve Fallujah-like leveling of towns and large numbers of killed and displaced clansmen, pushing Pashtuns now favorable to Karzai into insurgency. I would give the former a 10% chance of happening.

30 Responses

  1. The person who really called the Iraq conflict/surge correctly, early on, was Prof. James D. Fearon, Dept. of Political Science, Stanford University, who testified before the House of Representatives in Sept. ’06, for a committee called by Rep. Shays.

    His testimony is here:
    link to stanford.edu

    Fearon, who does statistical study of conflict, basically outlined that Iraq was, for various reasons, not a conflict which was likely to be resolved through power-sharing agreements, or be resolved at all until there was a clear winner and a clear loser, and that violence would only decrease as a result of ethnic sorting leading to more secure, defensible borders within Iraq and its cities. Specifically, he said “ramping up or staying the course amount to delay tactics, not plausible recipes for success.”

    The question, I guess, is whether the same thing applies to Afghanistan, and how you define success. I think that despite our likely agreement that a ground intervention in Afghanistan was incredibly unwise strategically and ultimately corrosive to our nation, the question really becomes not one of whether the US can bring about “democracy” for Afghanistan, as much as leave behind a strong “Northern Alliance”-like government, capable of enforcing its will against the Taliban.

    A recent Marine Times article cited that the new Afghani troops are pretty damn useless…
    link to marinecorpstimes.com

    …however, recruitment goals are being exceeded, and attacks into Taliban territory have forced the Taliban onto the defensive, thereby reducing attacks against newly trained recruits. Meanwhile, the ANA is gaining experience alongside the Marines, who are overseeing joint missions.

    It seems to me that there are two schools of thought… those who believe that diplomacy is the only way that this conflict will be resolved, and those who believe that it will be resolved through military dominance, predicated upon a large, fully-trained and equipped Afghan army. I suspect Prof. Fearon would argue that statistically, the odds are likely that only military dominance will bring about the basis for reaching a power-sharing agreement.

    For this reason, I suspect that a lot of this talk of reconciliation from those in the administration and military is likely window dressing, when the real goal is dominance and denial of drug wealth, population access from the Taliban.

    Obviously, the Taliban are fighting pretty aggressively right now. Is it because of growth and success though… or growing desperation?

  2. In effect, I do think that the US military, as Fearon suggested with Iraq, are engaging in “delay tactics”.

    The thing is, I suspect that they also feel that time is on their side.

  3. [...] Informed Comment blog by Professor Cole paint a picture of today’s Iraq (where less American’s are dying) as a failed state with @ 4 million refugee’s, a hung government,(elections were last winter) and an ongoing Shia/Sunni civil war killing at least 300 people per month. [...]

  4. This is what I come here for. In support, I’d offer Derrick Crowe’s 2009 Huffington Post article about the Pashtun, which includes a couple of good maps that back up your point. Is it possible that failure of the COIN strategy in the South will lead to a de facto partition of Afghanistan with the U.S. and allies controlling the North and launching Bidenesque attacks against the al Qaeda and Taliban fish swimming in the Pashtun sea to the South?

    • That would not be the worst outcome I could imagine, but in Afghanistan we always give up chances to avoid the worst outcome.

      What we know about Afghanistan is that the Pakistani Army is committed to keeping it as a satellite, apparently beyond all reason, poverty, or bribery. A couple of years ago they hated Karzai’s guts because of his ties to India. Then things started to change.

      If it matters more to them to have a puppet in Kabul than who that puppet is, Karzai may be sending his application for the position by bad-mouthing the US and stealing elections from the formerly India-backed Northern Alliance.

      That would indeed lead to a divided country. It would be horrible to let the Pakistani Army continue to pursue its murderous obsession. But if it’s stupid enough to be happy with Karzai, we could wash our hands of him. We just want the Pakistani Army to promise it will never let the Taliban appear to have won. Now what leverage do we have to accomplish that given that Army’s nuclear arsenal? Mostly, we have that Army’s blowback problem – the Pakistani Taliban created because it couldn’t control its proxies. That’s why they don’t stop us from these damned drone strikes on their territory.

      If the Pakistani Army is satisfied with real control over southern Afghanistan, and Kurdish-style pretend control over the north, it doesn’t need the Taliban on either side of the border. If it wants the whole rancid ball of wax, then the Northern Alliance takes up arms and we have to decide whether to back it or let it have its old sponsors back. I’d take the latter, because I’m sick of our attempts to override Russia’s sphere of influence. But a permanent proxy war between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on one side and Pakistan on the other will be even crueler than what we’re doing.

      It means that pulling out is really only partly about what internal factions will rule what part of Afghanistan, and much more about getting their sponsors to accept an invisible ceasefire line once we’re gone.

      There is only one bribe left to offer the parties, and we won’t enjoy it. The SCO has had Afghanistan and Pakistan as observers at its summits. I bet the US is blocking those countries from joining the SCO – I can’t imagine Gates standing for it, or even Hillary. If they join, it puts Russia and Pakistan on the same side. They get the damned Afghan pipeline route that Benazhir Bhutto planned and the ‘Stans flood Europe with crude and the US loses more and more of its superpower mojo.

      But better an SCO that can improve living conditions and prevent further regional chaos than a NATO that threatens Russia on its southern flank for no good reason but Washington’s fear of EU petro-Finlandization. One day a US president must tell the citizens that our days as a superpower are over, that we are only the foremost among Great Powers and cannot dictate everything in every corner of the Earth to our advantage.

  5. It would be comforting to imagine that the failure (in terms of Mc Crystal’s strategy) of the Marja campaign would kindle a notion in Obama’s head that we are chasing our tail in Afghanistan. More comforting, but somewhat conspiratorial in construct, would be the notion that the clever and shrewd Obama was providing the military all the kings horses and all the kings men to determine once and for all if there was something to all the clever weaponry, theories, and strategies.

    So far Obama, by his post McCrystal statements, still has his eye on the tail. Gen Petreaus, an expert at the fog of war, will work to make sure that doesn’t change.

    In my view, we are confronted with a military – industrial – political complex that will do everything in its power to keep from returning to the barracks. A return to the barracks would mean a drastic reduction in defense spending, and loss of front page visibility. The perpetual enemy is the key (and nine years in Afghanistan, if not perpetual, is is in the ballpark).

  6. The god Petraeus is expected to work the same “magic” he supposedly worked in Iraq but, as in Iraq, he will only succeed in creating the impression of success so as to allow the U.S. to begin withdrawing “with honor.” Petraeus knows that the appearance of success is more important than real success, which is impossible in these ill-conceived “wars.” He is a political general who knows how to work the system.

  7. We must leave Afghanistan and Pakistan immediately, and I could not be more saddened that we will not be doing so. President Obama is simply continuing Bush policy but far, far more so in Afghanistan and spreading Afghanistan to Pakistan.

  8. General McChrystal – Good Riddance, Now it is time to bring in a new Defense Secretary

    General McChrystal’s insubordination and inappropriate comments about his superiors and especially the Commander-in-Chief earned him a well deserved sack. Anything less would have been perceived as a weakness on President Obama’s part.

    Letting McChrystal off the hook would have opened doors to insubordination from other military officers. What is surprising however, is the rumor that Defense Secretary Robert Gates pleaded for a lesser punishment. If this is true, then it is a matter of great concern. How can the Defense Secretary not ask for full and proper punishment. In fact, it is President Obama’s open mindedness to invite the General to the Oval office to explain his conduct, otherwise he could have just asked the Defense Secretary to relieve him of his command.

    Robert Gates has served many a President, but he may have too much baggage from the past. In these changed times, President Obama needs to appoint a new Defense Secretary to implement his policies, someone whose thinking is completely aligned with the President.

    The war in Iraq may be winding down, though the after effects of a total withdrawal are yet to emerge. However, things are not going well in Afghanistan. McChrystal may have befriended the Afghans, but his surge is not working. Taliban are a different breed altogether, each time NATO forces launch a major attack, they simply melt away and regroup to start the fight elsewhere another day. Instead of reducing, their numbers are increasing.

    It is time to rethink the Afghan strategy entirely. No foreign force has ever defeated the Afghan people, and this war IS against the Afghan people, be they under the garb of Taliban. It is time to wind down the war and implement an exit strategy based on a political settlement. For that, the President needs to put on his thinking cap and he also needs new leadership at Pentagon.

  9. Prof. Cole, do you support an immediate withdrawal from both occupations? I’ve read that you generally support the Bush/Obama SOFA for Iraq and believe that the re-deployment is “track”. Is a force level of 50,000 US “non-combat” forces and 100,000+ contractors in Iraq till 2012 (or likely beyond) acceptable to you? What about there being no consequences or even mention of the extreme illegality of the war, either by our own government, the UN, or the people of Iraq?

    With Afghanistan, you seem focused on strategy for continuing the occupation. Do you support (an immediate withdrawal)? Or do you favor staying to prop up Karzai’s government? For how long?

    I think it’s clear that Obama/Bush concealed the reality of the afghan mission from the public, telling them we were chasing the al Qaeda boogieman when we were in some cases doing the exact opposite (Sen. Kerry’s report on Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora, or recent reports that we are paying the Taliban not to attack our convoys, for instance). If you wish to stay in Afghanistan (as I suspect you might since you supported the initial invasion right here on your blog) how would you define the current mission?

  10. brief highlight:

    Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.

    In addition, Afghan officials say, the Pakistanis are pushing various other proxies, with General Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with the Taliban leadership.

    Washington has watched with some nervousness as General Kayani and Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, shuttle between Islamabad and Kabul, telling Mr. Karzai that they agree with his assessment that the United States cannot win in Afghanistan, and that a postwar Afghanistan should incorporate the Haqqani network, a longtime Pakistani asset.

    Pakistan Is Said to Pursue a Foothold in Afghanistan

    link to nytimes.com

  11. The most optimistic way to put it is that the United States as Turkey was and is now somewhat less – a military regime with a civilian constitutional facade. The Turks have been wriggling out of that problem into becoming a real civilian democracy for the past 10 years, for most of that time under European pressure to do so. Erdogan must be given a great deal of credit.

    Unlike the American imperial regime, the Turks since Mustafa Kemal have at least been competent and on the whole fiscally responsible. A Turkish style recovery of American government would be a marvelous thing, but I’m sure it will never happen.

    • Remember South Korea and Spain too. It can take several successful elected governments to get the Army to return to the barracks for good. Pakistan will never have several successful presidencies in a row.

      However, we must consider that the US military does not have the troops to carry out an actual coup – the essence of the power of the South Korean, Spanish, Turkish and Pakistani armies as a gray eminence. That’s because while those other armies all were the dominant partner with civilian elites in ruling, our military is simply a front for the military-industrial complex. The corporations are the dominant partner, and the place from which a coup would originate. See the DuPont plot of 1934 against FDR – the US Army was so weak that the plotters figured to create a fascist militia that could give it a run for its money, especially since the plotters also had media power on their side. What changed in the capitalists’ need for the military was the vast overseas expansion of both after 1945, but that has created a military literally intended to waste money on nonexistent threats and avoid mediapathic casualties while punishing rebellious colonies.

      No, those other countries were dominated by the actual power of the Army in their streets. We are dominated by addiction to the empire in our minds, like other declining empires that collapsed without a coup.

  12. I supported the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan because I was still enraged about the Twin Towers and wanted to see everyone involved in that despicable act killed. As time went by I realized the Bush/Republicans were just using the Twin Towers tragedy to further their own political ends. That’s when I began to oppose the war in Afghanistan and was violently opposed to an invasion of Iraq.

    I now realize that the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq are both exercises in stupidity…as are most wars and occupations. They are both no win situations and we need to get the hell out of there and let those people sort out their own problems.

    I also realized, after watching the ugly spectacle of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, that the Iraqi people are not worth my worrying about.

    • So you bought the narrative. The day after 9/11, I wrote an e-mail to some friends of mine about this being our Sepoy Rebellion moment – the time when we had to decide whether we would simply continue as a capitalist trading state with a varying sphere of influence, or we would become crazed, racist crusaders as the Victorian Britons did when outraged Indians tried to throw the East India Company out of their sovereign kingdoms. The point being – Britain thought it conquered India, but it set in motion a bloody era of imperialism and militarism and ended up losing India after only 90 years – to what benefit for ordinary Britons?.

      Or as I put it to an ex-military friend of mine, “You can be Sean Connery, and I’ll be Michael Caine.” “The Man Who Would Be King” would have told you everything you needed to know about the madness of ordinary men handed imperial power in a place where they don’t belong.

      We’re lucky that the Chinese are phasing our empire out slowly for reasons of their own, but we won’t even get the 90 years. You have the choice of cheering on the end of these wars and then going back to uninformed sleep, or taking an active role in shaping the public discourse about why we should be a superpower with troops in 130 countries, and what can we replace this with.

      • I’m opposed to the United States having troops in 130 + countries. I have never bought the Republicans lies about their reasons for invading Iraq and I am convinced that Bush let Osama Bin Laden escape from the Bora Bora Mountains because the Bush family is old and dear friends of the Bin Laden family.

        I have been actively protesting against the Bush/Republicans for years (about twenty) and have had to pay a considerable price for that. As have my family.

        I have never received a dime for the work I’ve done or the damage to myself or my family.

        I believe the American people are, for the most part, stupid, uninformed and uncaring people. That’s our countries major problem.

        • You have definitely done more to stop the wars than I have. The challenge is defining exactly what is to be America’s role if we will genuinely foreswear these generational exercises in nation-destroying. In other words, a specific goal instead of an absence of current butchery. The peace movement has nothing to fill the vacuum of idle American minds once the troops are home.

          But the bigger problem, which soured George Kennan on Americans and maybe democracy, is that there is such a narrow range of views that Americans will accept about the outside world. It takes a certain amount of experience with policymaking and conflict outcomes to see that you have to be cynical and have a bit of a tough hide to have a rational discourse over a moral and efficacious foreign policy. That’s why I made the Sean Connery joke back in 2001; most Americans can’t seem to stomach that kind of black humor about their precious boys in uniform and their tax dollars at work.

          This leaves them in three camps: isolationists, crusaders, and social workers. The 3rd group being progressives who want to shut down the empire but still would like to have US power on their side in pushing sovereign states to stop doing nasty things in Darfur, etc. These groups represent minimum thought and maximum self-absorption.

          Meanwhile, in reality land, America is a declining empire that has to decide the terms of its decline. These 3 camps make it impossible to have a hard-headed discourse on shutting the thing down. In the absence of such discourse, every time some dictator or militia does something halfway around the world, one of those camps will demand that the President “do something” depending on the ideology of the perpetrator, and another country gets added to that list of 130, if not something far worse, and we blow another billion on deployments.

          We’re not ready yet. If the President all Clausewitzian and say that we must rationally plan our demotion from a superpower to a Great Power state, and draw a defense perimeter over which our forces will not cross, but within which we still reserve the right to violence, then you can imagine the public hell that would break loose. Centrists should be the ones propounding this, but their moderation simply consists in trying to defend US power everywhere without looking too hard for new wars. Worst of all the peace movement will be just as mad because they refuse to even accept the US as a Great Power state, which is why the brainwashed mainstream thinks they’re traitors.

          So the matter gets punted to the next Administration when we will be even deeper in debt.

          Cutting our defense budget in half ought to be the most obvious goal in our current crisis, and a great achievement, yet you could not find 10% of the politically vocal population to even touch the idea because their absolute, moral and unimpeachable positions are so far removed from the messy reality of being a declining empire.

          Watch what happens when Obama tries to get a missile reduction treaty through Congress. The streets will fill with deranged theocratic and fascist protestors, and the Left will stay home because they’re not satisfied with cuts that are still far too deep for Congress. So the uninformed masses will only see the far-right maniacs and the TV Swiftboating ads and conclude that they must be right that Obama is a secret Moslem terrorist.

          Design the ad that can turn that around, and you will have done the greatest practical service to peace worldwide.

  13. [...] Lessons of Petraeus’ Iraq for Petraeus’ Afghanistan — It is frequently asserted that Gen. Petraeus “succeeded” in Iraq via a troop escalation or “surge” of 30,000 extra US troops that he dedicated to counter-insurgency purposes in al-Anbar and Baghdad Provinces. [...] But it would be a huge mistake to see Iraq either as a success story or as stable. See also Daniel Larison’s remarks, which I think I largely agree with. [...]

  14. What ever happened to Riverbend? Riverbend was worth worrying about. She had courage.

      • The last I heard she was in Jordan with her family living in one of those squalid apartment buildings that Iraqi exiles live in. That was over a year ago. I don’t know where they are now.

        I hope Riverbend and her family are OK.

        It is probably best not to disclose her whereabouts as the Shiites are still tracking down and killing Sunnis.

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