May 24, 2013
It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home
Posted on Jul 30, 2009
By Col. Timothy R. Reese
Editor’s note: Col. Timothy R. Reese is a senior U.S. military adviser to the Iraqis in Baghdad, at the flash point of the transition of power. Reese penned the memo below, which challenges the timetable championed by President Obama and Gen. Ray Odierno, the senior American commander in Iraq. Leaked text by way of the New York Times.
As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed.
Equally important to realize is that we aren’t making the GOI and the ISF better in any significant ways with our current approach. Remaining in Iraq through the end of December 2011 will yield little in the way of improving the abilities of the ISF or the functioning of the GOI. Furthermore, in light of the GOI’s current interpretation of the limitations imposed by the 30 June milestones of the 2008 Security Agreement, the security of US forces are at risk. Iraq is not a country with a history of treating even its welcomed guests well. This is not to say we can be defeated, only that the danger of a violent incident that will rupture the current partnership has greatly increased since 30 June. Such a rupture would force an unplanned early departure that would harm our long term interests in Iraq and potentially unraveling the great good that has been done since 2003. The use of the military instrument of national power in its current form has accomplished all that can be expected. In the next section I will present an admittedly one sided view of the evidence in support of this view. This information is drawn solely from the MND-B area of operations in Baghdad Province. My reading of reports from the other provinces suggests the same situation exists there.
The general lack of progress in essential services and good governance is now so broad that it ought to be clear that we no longer are moving the Iraqis “forward.” Below is an outline of the information on which I base this assessment:
1. The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.
3. The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.
4. There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.
5. Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.
6. Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.
7. The Kurdish situation continues to fester.
8. Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.
9. The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US’s business.
The rate of improvement of the ISF is far slower than it should be given the amount of effort and resources being provided by the US. The US has made tremendous progress in building the ISF. Our initial efforts in 2003 to mid-2004 were only marginally successful. From 2004 to 2006 the US built the ISF into a fighting force. Since the start of the surge in 2007 we have again expanded and improved the ISF. They are now at the point where they have defeated the organized insurgency against the GOI and are marginally self-sustaining. This is a remarkable tale for which many can be justifiably proud. We have reached the point of diminishing returns, however, and need to find a new set of tools. The massive partnering efforts of US combat forces with ISF isn’t yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. Again, some touch points for this assessment are:
1. If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. US combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it.
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