TCS Daily

The Real Patreaus-Crocker Story

By Robert Haddick - September 12, 2007 12:00 AM

On Monday, September 10, 2007, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker delivered their long-awaited testimonies to a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. General Petraeus made the headlines when he announced that the U.S. force level in Iraq would begin to shrink, starting this month.

But Ambassador Crocker delivered the day's real news with his description of Iraq's slowly simmering political development. In his testimony, Ambassador Crocker revealed that federalism, or decentralized governance, is a concept now beginning to find favor with Iraq's Sunni-Arabs. In spite of passing a constitution by referendum in 2005, Iraqi society still has not achieved a consensus on how to govern itself. But a growing acceptance of a decentralized Iraq by the Sunni-Arabs, a previously unimaginable thought, offers a glimmer of hope for a political settlement to the war.

Listen to General Petraeus, then set him aside

For the past several weeks all attention has been focused on General Petraeus and his recommendations. In the event, his testimony revealed no surprises. General Petraeus reviewed the well-known reduction in insurgent attacks, the decline in civilian casualties, and the new-found cooperation the American military is receiving from Sunni-Arab tribes in western al-Anbar province. He also noted the steady improvement in the performance of Iraq's security forces.

Based on these positive developments, and extrapolating greater Iraqi capability, General Petraeus recommended a significant reduction in the U.S. force in Iraq. A battalion-sized Marine Expeditionary Unit will depart Iraq later in September. In December General Petraeus will send home one of his twenty brigade combat teams, apparently before that unit's full tour in Iraq is complete. Four more "surge" brigades, along with two surging Marine battalions, will depart during the first half of 2008, leaving 15 U.S. brigades in Iraq in July 2008, the pre-surge U.S. force level.

There is less to this announcement than meets the eye. The only way for the U.S. to maintain 20 brigades in Iraq through 2008 would have been to further extend Army tours in Iraq beyond 15 months, or further shorten pre-deployment training periods. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the White House staff had previously rejected these measures, for both military and political reasons. Thus, as a technical matter, this decision ended the surge.

Of more interest is General Petraeus's next decision point, March 2008. It is then that he, the Joint Chiefs, and the Bush administration will have to decide whether to reduce the U.S. force below 15 brigades starting in the second half of 2008. Political conditions in Iraq, something General Petraeus and U.S. policymakers have little or no control over, will determine this decision. And it is on Iraq's political development that Ambassador Crocker made real news.

Grasping for success, stumbling onto a solution

President Bush's surprise visit last week to Anbar province was an attempt to show off to the American electorate the most significant success in Iraq in almost two years. The switch by the Anbar tribes to the American side began before President Bush announced the surge strategy and was to some extent an "accidental victory." Al Qaeda's ruthless incompetence combined with American persistence to produce something positive for President Bush to tout last week.

But the "Anbar Awakening" tribal movement has created a new concept for Iraq's Sunni-Arabs to consider, namely the advantages of federalism and political decentralization. The violent Sunni-Arab insurgency against U.S. military forces in Iraq was motivated by a desire to re-conquer and rule Iraq, as the Sunni-Arabs had for most of the 20thcentury. But acceptance of Shi'ite and Kurdish power, combined with a positive working relationship with the Americans, has revealed to the Sunni-Arabs an alternative strategy, as Ambassador Crocker explained in his testimony:

"Some of the more promising political developments at the national level are neither measured in benchmarks nor visible to those far from Baghdad. For instance, there is a budding debate about federalism among Iraq's leaders and, importantly, within the Sunni community. Those living in places like al-Anbar and Salahaddin are beginning to realize how localities having more of a say in daily decision making will empower their communities. No longer is an all-powerful Baghdad seen as the panacea to Iraq's problems. This thinking is nascent, but it is ultimately critical to the evolution of a common vision among all Iraqi leaders."

Iraq's Kurds have enjoyed regional autonomy since 1991. An autonomous region is a goal of many (but not all) of Iraq's Shi'ites, and is a principal objective of Iraq's largest Shi'ite political party. Perhaps Iraq's Sunni-Arabs, frustrated by the government in Baghdad, but supported by the American forces in Anbar, and inspired by their success against al Qaeda, something they achieved without much if any assistance from the central government, are now coming over to this same point of view.

Improvisation leads to incoherence

American military commanders in the field have recently improved security in Iraq by improvising a "bottom-up" approach. Working with local tribal, village, and provincial leaders, the Americans have helped the Iraqis improve local security.

On the other hand, a unified Iraq with a strong central government remains a key American objective. The Iraqi army is supposed to be a national institution. And as Ambassador Crocker pointed out in his testimony, Iraq's provinces have almost no capacity to generate their own revenue, a sharp contrast to the states in America. Iraq's provincial authorities can fashion budgets and capital development plans, but these plans will only achieve something if the central government in Baghdad (dominated by the Shi'ite-Kurdish coalition), deigns to send funding to the provinces.

Adjusting to decentralization

Decentralized governance offers a way for a political settlement in Iraq. But in order for this hopeful solution to work, both the Americans and Iraqis will have to make some significant changes to their current policies. The Bush administration (and its successor) will have to de-emphasize the goal of a unified Iraq under a strong central government. It would also have to avert its eyes as some population transfers (a.k.a. "ethnic cleansing") around the Baghdad area occurred.

For their part, the Iraqis would have to redesign their method of government finance. And they would have to accept an army recruited, trained, and commanded on a regional basis.

Such a solution obviously carries many risks. Decentralized governance may lead to a way for Iraqis to live in something like harmony. Or it may instead provide a basis to more effectively organize for renewed warfare.

Iraq's "political seminar"

In the meantime, the American army in Iraq will continue to patrol Iraq's streets, train Iraq's men, and suffer the ongoing drain of blood and treasure. This goes on while Iraqis hold a collective seminar of sorts on basic political theory, as they try to sort out how they will govern themselves.

Whether General Petraeus will be able to recommend in March 2008 a reduction from 15 U.S. brigades to 12 or 10 or fewer will depend on how much progress Iraq makes reaching an agreement on its basic political structure. The media will focus its attention on General Petraeus and the actions of his soldiers. But Ambassador Crocker will have the answers to the questions that really matter.

The author was a U.S. Marine Corps infantry company commander and staff officer. He was the global research director for a large private investment firm and is now a private investor. His blog is Westhawk. He is a TCS contributing writer.



Give me Defeat or Give me Death
The Democrats cannot allow any type of victory in Iraq at this point. They have so embraced defeat they require it, even relish it, for political gain.

The Democrats place political power and the acquisition of it above all else. The end always justifies the means.

Unfortunately, I doubt any victory will be a sudden event like the end of WW2 and thus I cannot bask in the glow of watching the Democrats and's eat crow.

Crow is best served cold.

Thoughtful, interesting article. Mainly, I think, there has been a resistance to defining "victory" in reasonable terms by those who supported the invasion. We may only know there is some kind of victory years after we leave Iraq (or retreat to our bases) and the country has not dissolved into disorder. The original benchmarks for "victory", namely a united peaceful Iraq with orderly transition of power and no anti-Americanism, seem unlikely now. After all, Iran has no civil war, has regular elections, but is anti-American mostly, so we don't want that kind of outcome. And free elections may result in a Gaza type result, bringing in anti-American theocrats. Free elections are funny that way. On the other hand, a divided Iraq might result, ending up with a supreme Iran in the region, also not in our interest. If only there were some kind of dictator... Hmm.
The bellicose right, looking for a Mission Accomplished moment (but for real, this time), and the bellicose left, looking for humiliation for Bush, will both be disappointed. Good thing, as far as I'm concerned. Bellicosity is antithetical to ordered thought. (yes, that's the kind of statement that got me beat up in summer camp by the bellicose).

separate states
He says: "Iraq's provinces have almost no capacity to generate their own revenue". This is not adequate reason to exclude the possibility of making a separate country. Here's a historical example which is more analogous to Iraq than are the crappy examples of vietnam, etc. When the British conquered India, it was ruled by a minority of muslim Moguls who had previously conquered and occupied it. So the Muslims there were also moping about it, like the sunnis now do in Iraq, because they lost power. But the Hindoos who were freed from muslim oppression were really happy about it, even though they also complained at being ruled by British' like the shias in Iraq. So then after realizing that there was no chance for the muslims to beat the British, because in those days the brits still had balls enough to really fight(just see what they did during and after the mutiny around 1848 or so). So what the muslims then did was to try to get their own country where their elites could still have power to oppressive their long suffering masses; so Pakistan was created. Now Pakistan also has no resources, no nothing, but are able to maintain being a country for the same reason other dysfunctional countries are able to do; because they get lots of foreign aid from western countries,esp. the US. So this would also be possible in Iraq. Many suunis would also be happy to 'rule in hell, than serve in heaven', in their own crappy like place, as long as they get a free meal ticket form stupid western countries. Egypt is also kinda like that. So we could see separation in Iraq, like happened in India.

Good Article
Some interesting points and solutions were made in this article. I am glad that we did not prematurely pull out of Iraq, as some suggested. This is why the military should fight the wars and leave legislative issues to congress.
The grilling of Patreaus was so "for the cameras" by the Democrats that it was hard to watch. This man and others who have served and are serving have more honor than these carear politicians.
My sons have served in both theaters of this war on numerous occasions, and feel that what we are doing is the right thing. They have seen the results of these terrorists up close and personal along with the other horrors of war. Their opinion is much more valuable to me than a pundit, politician, or news anchor.
Patreaus has skin in the game, His son is being deployed in Iraq and will live and fight with the realities on the ground. What Democrat that was calling him a liar can say the same?

"The military should fight the wars and leave legislative issues to congress.The grilling of Patreaus was so 'for the cameras' by the Democrats that it was hard to watch. This man and others who have served and are serving have more honor than these carear politicians."

Yes, indeed. Magnificent quote.

states or tribes?
Would they really end up with states (with some sort of rule-of-law), or would they end up with tribalism/feudalism?

doesn't matter re states or tribes
They can still be assured of a free meal ticket from stupid western courtries. We can see many examples of dysfunctional crappy places all over the world being propped up and subsidized by the west. It doesn't even matter if there's any agriculture in the place because when we give them food for free, it's hard for local farmers to compete with free, thus they won't grow anything and we're stuck with another welfare case depancy relationship.

Well put...
In fact, which Republican can say the same? If a politician opposes the war or the conduct of the war, I certainly don't expect them or their families to participate in it. But if a legislator is air-punching and shouting Hoo-Aah then I expect them and their families to be in their with, as you put it, their skin in the game. And not in the Green Zone either, but out there finding Bad Guys.

As Gen. J.T. Ripper said...
"Clausewitz once said 'War is too important to be left to the generals.' Mandrake, that may have been true in his time, but now, war is too important to be left to politicians."
I paraphrase, of course, Terry Southern's script for Dr. Strangelove. Odd to hear what was once written as the rantings of a maniac said in full seriousness.

The War As We Saw It
The problem is that we have not occupied Iraq with the purpose of incorporating it into an actual, working empire. We have only planted the flag there for essentially frivolous, political reasons. Thus we've allowed ourselves the luxury of doing a sloppy job.

Read the words of some who've paid for this with their lives:

"Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day."


sloppy job
I liked the first part of your comment. But really all this talk of insurgency, 'the people don't want us there' etc. is really nonsense. When some country goes out and conquers and occupies a country it means that: only some don't want you there, some actually do,(maybe minorities like kurds and shiites in iraq) that means you have to subtract some number from the total population. Then, even of those who don't want you there, you subtract the ones that don't do anything(because of fear, capabilities etc) So you're only fighting some faction of those that actually fight against you, the rest don't count. Then if you really fight in the manner that's most effective, you can concentrate on those guys. This is what the germans did all over, in the war. It wasn't much trouble to occupy all those places. Of course they lost the war, but for other reasons, not because some insurgents were winning. When I was there fighing partisans, nobody ever thought that those rag-tag guys in the hills could ever win, you just went out and systematically wiped them out; the only problem was the larger war, not occupation, and the impossibility of fighting the whole world at the same time.

The failure to establish order
What I was pointing toward was the informed opinion of a number of troops now working in Iraq-- not just two cents from some armchair analyst. And they're telling us that we've failed to bring any degree of order or control to the country. And that THAT is the least any nation should expect from its occupier: that in time there be a new order, and that peace should return.

If the Americans could only get the country back to the shape it was in when Saddam was in charge, that would be a tremendous improvement, and people would get behind the occupation. But that's not only a very long way off, the authors don't think we'll ever get there, the way we're going.

failure to
It sounds like you're then saying, the failure to fight in the manner that it takes to establish order. Remember Sadam maintained order in a different manner than US and brit forces; and different than all the other peoples who occupied iraq in the past; the romans, the mongols, the greeks, even the british before sadam. If so, maybe we would be better to make the case that if a country, such as the states is no longer prepared to really fight in a successful manner, then they should get out of the business of occupying countries. The States doesn't have the stomach to fight anymore, so maybe they should really just stay home and let the others just kill themselves off.

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