Monday, December 11, 2006
storm heaven, and unleash hell:
Reuel Marc Gerecht makes a couple of good points against the Iraq Study Group here. Basically, RMG gets that its military recommendations amount to a stunningly muddled acceleration of they-stand-up-we-stand-down that guarantees the worst of all possible worlds for U.S. troops. His alternative is never explicitly stated, but it amounts to a full-on U.S. conquest of Iraq, meant to buy some political space for some reconciliation to occur.
Only the U.S. military is capable of moving quickly and decisively in clearing and holding Baghdad and other centers of the Sunni insurgency. Iraqis will have critical supporting roles in both these functions (as they have had in every single successful counterinsurgency operation in Iraq). But they will be supporting us. We will not be supporting them.

Let us be clear: The Sunni insurgency and holy war against the Shiite community cannot be broken unless the cities of Baghdad and Ramadi are pacified. Unless these two towns are cleared and held, there is no way any Shiite government in Baghdad can begin the process of slowly neutralizing the murderous Shiite militias that now operate often with government complicity.
Why didn't the rest of us think of that? Ah -- pacify Baghdad and Ramadi! It's a mite rich for RMG to first chide Baker for proposing a strategy that depends on events completely unsupported by the 3-plus year war's course of events, and then turn around and put this bit of wishful thinking on the table.

What, may I ask, does "pacification" of Baghdad and Ramadi even mean at this point? We're talking, if we're talking at all, about total military domination of these cities, something the U.S. has been, um, unable to accomplish anywhere in Iraq under more permissive conditions. I suppose the counterexample is the tiny outpost of Tall Afar. But to put it mildly, Tall Afar ain't Baghdad by a long shot. Furthermore, what does RMG think will happen when a souped-up 1st Cav (bear with me here) swoops into the 2.8-million strong Sadr City? Or does he think that we should only "pacify" Sunni Baghdad? In truth, I suspect, he doesn't have any idea what he means. He's not arguing, he's posturing.

Finally, he writes,
no "national reconciliation" will be possible unless it is preceded by more physical security for all communities. Greater security for both Sunnis and Shiites will allow more flexibility in the political system.
It would be nice if RMG argued for this, rather than asserting it. And, look, it's an intuitive-enough point: you're not going to want to be flexible either when some dude has your wife and kids hog-tied in a basement somewhere and is plugging in his Black & Decker chrome-plated drill. But even if we can stop the violence, that's not going to automatically translate into sectarian reconciliation, if by that we mean the agreement by all sects to peacefully participate in the same political community. It was relatively peaceful after the January 2005 elections, but the wedge between the Shiite-Kurdish government and the Sunni minority didn't close; it deepened.

See, this is why some people -- call 'em crazy -- think the only option is extrication.
--Spencer Ackerman
Spence, Be patient. An alternate ISG report is coming soon. Lots of good stuff for you to dissect, including, unlike the ISG sermon, an examination of what has worked, what hasn't, and why. And yes, I would not choose to attack Sadr City. Sunni insurgents first; Shi'ite militias second. (The militias attack when Americans and Iraqi Army forces leave cleared Sunni neighborhoods; when Americans stay, they don't attack. They're not stupid.) And yes, the US army has the strength to clear Baghdad. We have not tried to do so since General Abizaid has not seen this as his mission. We have never tried to gain control of Ramadi.

There is a chance that the President will now diverge from Abizaid and perhaps, just perhaps, do what General Keane and Fred Kagan have recommended. If we will the means, we will clear Baghdad. If we clear Baghdad, and John Fisher Burns can walk out of his gaurded compound and not get shot and/or decapitated, then it's a different world, for Iraq and for the American viewing audience. On verra. I know your heart is in the right place. Best, Reuel
Blogger Reuel Marc Gerecht | 12:49 PM

Reuel, I owe you an apology for the tone of this post, especially considering your thoughtful reply. I hope you'll accept my apology. Looking forward to the alternate ISG report.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 12:57 PM

No problem. No apology needed. It's late here in Brussels. Beaux rĂªves, Reuel
Blogger Reuel Marc Gerecht | 1:45 PM