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Friday, July 13, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Charles Krauthammer has a column in today’s WaPo that seeks to argue that we have a) found a formula for success in Iraq and that, b) the reason for this fact is General David Petraeus and his counterinsurgency strategy.

The basic thesis of his piece is built primarily on the fact that Sunni tribesmen in Anbar have turned on AQI and that things similarly look better in Diyala and other Sunni areas of Baghdad. All well and good, however, it is unclear to me that the initial turning of Sunni was the result of our policies, per se, but rather the recognition by Sunni sheiks that AQI was threatening their long-term power. In classic the enemy of my enemy is my friend behavior, it would appear that Sunni leaders turned to work with the US and the Iraqi central government. This is, of course, a positive development, but the degree to which is was caused by US policy is questionable.

And, even more importantly, even if those shifts can be credited to the US, the main problem in Iraq isn’t AQI and it is very important that we recognize that fact (there’s that whole sectarian conflict issue, the state-building issue, and so forth). Further, the fight against AQI isn’t as rosy as Krauthammer paints it in this column. From the
Initial Benchmark Assessment Report :

While AQI may not account for most of the violence in Iraq, it is the organization responsible for the highest profile attacks, which serve as a primary accelerant to the underlying sectarian conflict. We presently assess that degrading AQI networks in these critical areas ‑‑ together with efforts to degrade Iranian-backed Shi’a extremist networks ‑‑ is a core U.S. national security interest and essential for Iraq’s longer-term stability. Since January of this year, AQI has proven its resiliency and ability to conduct high-profile, mass-casualty attacks, mostly targeting Shi’a population centers through suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIEDs) attacks. The number of suicide and SVBIED attacks in March and April approached all-time highs, further exacerbating sectarian tension and making political deals more difficult to close. These incidents have shown a decrease in May and June, which may be the result of aggressive Coalition and Iraqi operations into former AQI havens. The surge of additional U.S. forces into these areas allows us to better combat AQI and other terrorists. We should expect, however, that AQI will attempt to increase its tempo of attacks as September approaches ‑‑ in an effort to influence U.S. domestic opinion about sustained U.S. engagement in Iraq.

That doesn’t sound like we’ve solved the AQI problem, not by a longshot. And remember: the above-excerpted paragraph was released by the White House.

So yes, whilte there has been some progress in working with local leaders, it is rather simplistic to act as if the new policy has “worked” in the sense that we have purged the region of AQI or even that we are poised to do so.

Beyond assessing the policy, most of the piece, however, is hero worship of Petraeus. It is remarkable that Krauthammer puts so much faith in one general, as if he was some kind of uberbrain who can finally fix the situation. That is absurd-especially since Petreaus is far from the only person involved in the policy.

As Matthew Yglesias observes,

the column is just full of “Petraeus,” “Petraeus,” “Petraeus.” You would have no idea that along with General Petraeus there’s a CENTCOM commander, a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Secretary of Defense, a President of the United States, a Vice President of the United States, etc. Apparently, now, the entire evaluation of the war is supposed to be grounded on the reputation of one upper-mid level official. It’s a very strange rhetorical move. I’m not sure, for example, where the idea that Petraeus is a magician who can make the impossible work came from.

This is the same Petraeus who ran the training of Iraqi security forces from June 2004 to September 2005 and nothing came of it. I have no reason to think he did a “bad job” of organizing the training, but good training as such wasn’t capable of accomplishing anything, anymore than doing a good job of commanding the 160,000 American troops in Iraq is going to accomplish anything at this point. It’s not a reflection on the personal competence of any individual soldier or officer — or even on any giant group of soldiers and officers — to understand that some things can’t be done.

I have noticed this sort of focus on “letting Petraeus do the job” in other quarters, as if this is an argument. It is as if Petraeus has a proven track record in fixing things like this and it is a done deal that if we let him “do his thing” that it will automatically result in success. Upon what empirical facts is this notion based?

Also, what is the deal with boosters of the war and the notion that once Congress votes for something, they are bound forevermore to support it?

It is understandable that Sens. Lugar, Voinovich, Domenici, Snowe and Warner may no longer trust President Bush’s judgment when he tells them to wait until Petraeus reports in September. What is not understandable is the vote of no confidence they are passing on Petraeus. These are the same senators who sent him back to Iraq by an 81 to 0 vote to institute his new counterinsurgency strategy.

What, once the Senate votes to confirm someone it confers endorsement of their actions indefinitely? And really, Krauthammer should understand that all this is far larger than Petraeus or whomever it is that has his job.

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: Iraq, US Politics | |


  1. And, even more importantly, even if those shifts can be credited to the US, the main problem in Iraq isn’t AQI and it is very important that we recognize that fact (there’s that whole sectarian conflict issue, the state-building issue, and so forth).

    Im not sure about this. Bush had it right yesterday: “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11.”

    People forget that Al Queda in Iraq-even though it wasn’t even in existence at the time-was in a coalition of evil with Saadam, Iran, various Sunni tribes, Iraqi shiites.

    As Bush mentioned, they joined forces to attack us on 9/11. If we leave Iraq, they will re-constitute their alliance and then come to the US for a follow-up attack.

    Comment by Ratoe — Friday, July 13, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  2. […] of this in the context of the Krauthammer column I noted this morning. Sphere: Related Content Filed under: Iraq, US Politics || […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » More on the “Let Petraeus Do His Job” Meme — Friday, July 13, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  3. Petreaus Fetishism

    Charles Krauthammer makes a rather odd argument in support of continuing on the present course in Iraq. Essentially, it boils down to: Trust in Petreaus.
    It is understandable that Sens. Lugar, Voinovich, Domenici, Snowe and Warner may no longer trust…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway | OTB — Friday, July 13, 2007 @ 12:52 pm

  4. No, it does not confer an indefinite endorsement. But when you state in your confirmation hearings that it will be late summer before you can offer initial assessments of the effectiveness of your counterinsurgency strategy and the Senate confirms you 81-0, it is more than a little disingenuous for Senators to complain that you have not achieved measureable success yet.

    If Petraeus had not been explicit in his testimony, you might have a more valid point. But he was, and the Senate still, in effect, unanimously endorsed his strategy. The empirical basis for believing in Petraeus is the calm that he established in Mosul in 2004, which had been a hotbed of AQI activity. Unfortunately that was lost when MNFI left the city prematurely.

    Comment by ts — Friday, July 13, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  5. […] Earlier in the week I wrote that it seemed to me that many boosters of the war have made General David Petraeus into some sort of magic general who, if we would just stick with him, will lead us to victory in Iraq. Specifically I noted a Charles Krauthammer column and an Ed Morrissey post. James Joyner also noted what he called “Petraeus Fetishism.” […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Another Example of Petraeus Messianism — Sunday, July 15, 2007 @ 10:22 am

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