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Author Topic: An Iraqi Compromise
potemkyn
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*--------------------------*
NOTE TO ALL!!
*--------------------------*

I DON'T WANT AN ARBITRARY NUMBER (everyone please read this, potemkyn does not want some random number or arbitrary date set, I want a well researched and unparistan series of dates which would demonstrate how the US can measure success).

*--------------------------*
END OF NOTE TO ALL!!
*--------------------------*

(edited out note to javelin because it might cause confusion)

[ December 02, 2005, 07:36 PM: Message edited by: potemkyn ]

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potemkyn
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jav,

"Funny, that's the question I asked you! His critics are still asking for a timeline, and according to me (and apparently you), he's given one. But it's not what they want. They want "On December 1st, 2006, we will have withdrawn all of our troops from Iraq." That's stupid, and it isn't going to happen. "
Look, I think its foolish to use arbitrary dates for this timeline, but that doesn't change the fact tha ta researched deadline wouldn't yield positive results.

But let me ask you this, you thought that a Bush timeline would lead to danger overseas and at home, but now he has one? How is this a non-dangerous timeline and mine wouldn't be?

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Richard Dey
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Potemkyn reminded: "... Which is what happened in Vietnam. ..."

That is EXACTLY what was discussed for half a decade -- and 25,000 deaths -- regarding Vietnam.

We didn't learn our own history. Our foreign-policy wonks need to take some ballet classes or something.

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javelin
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quote:
But let me ask you this, you thought that a Bush timeline would lead to danger overseas and at home, but now he has one? How is this a non-dangerous timeline and mine wouldn't be?
It's about what the timeline consists of. If the message is clear that we will scrap the thing if we haven't meet the goals, then good. If we say "March 23rd, we withdraw 100,000 troops, then bad." Does that make sense?
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WarrsawPact
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potemkyn -
quote:
Perhaps you can correct me because this seems to be your strategy for Iraq. Keep going until something goes remarkably wrong, then figure out what it was and then change course.
No; we have goals and we have a strong interest in accomplishing those goals. I do not want the US to fight this entire counter-insurgency until all the bad elements have been destroyed in Iraq.

My strategy is:
Keep moving toward the ultimate goals, so long as they appear attainable, and as you go along you learn lessons about how best to achieve those ends. If something goes right, figure out what went right and make sure to repeat. When something goes wrong, be as honest with ourselves as possible and learn from the mistake and change behavior accordingly, but keep heading toward the end-goals. Failing -- even failing spectacularly as we did many times in World War II -- does not mean the entire campaign is lost.

If, however, the ends are indeed unattainable, try to salvage the best possible end you can.

quote:
Let's consider that this whole big mess has been the result of groupthink in the White House.
Let's not. That's one hell of a poisoned word there, "consider." You're asserting that the whole problem is groupthink, and you're asserting that this is a whole big mess in the first place. I know of many people who are inclined to disagree, not the least of whom are many of our troops and commanders in Iraq.

There are many opinions on what is currently going on in Iraq. I give due consideration to our enemies and their capabilities, and their relative strengths and weaknesses in this conflict. I think they are losing and will continue to lose this war unless the unimaginable happens and domestic political pressure "rescues" us from the jaws of victory.

quote:
Those 'intangibles' that no one saw coming is bull**** in it's most obvious form.
You've misread me. I think that things like legitimacy are intangible, but not entirely unpredictable. You can't set a watch by it, but we need the Iraqi government to have it to succeed.

It's not bullsh**. It's the very cornerstone of a counter-insurgency, which differs in many aspects from more conventional wars.

quote:
Plenty of people forsaw a lot of the greater problems the US had in Iraq. The Bush administration gladly did not listen to them. What benefit would public accountability have on the administration? It would have to be honest about its conduct and it would have to do a better job. That's what accountability does, it forces you to respond to problems in a realistic and timely manner. I don't giving a crap about whether it's Bush or some Democrat in office because both of them will obviously be equally obnoxious and equally capable; but I would like to know the progress they are making.
Sounds like you already have information at your fingertips, enough for you to be making statements like you know what's going on anyway; so why do you need a timetable?

You've already come to a conclusion as to whether things are happening fast enough. A set calendar date isn't going to change anything.

quote:
No plan survives first contact with the enemy. You have to take into account the fact that there are many factors you don't know about that are going to change how you have to fight. You have to be flexible enough, especially in an insurgency where your opponents aren't terribly obvious about how strong they are in a particular place and time, to change on the fly. All timetables are off -- you just get the job done.

If they stood up and fought us reguarly; if we had some way of knowing what their strength was in a given time and place; if we
knew where all the arms caches and hideouts were likely to be and how to cut off the flow of arms, men, and meteriel; if they had territory and identifiable conventional military goals... then we could start setting timelines of expectations. And even then they'd be terribly flawed because of how many unknown factors remained. How motivated are our allies? How strong are the institutions and security measures for our allies' state? Whose hearts and minds are we winning? Heck, we don't know if today's insurgent will lay down his guns and join the political process tomorrow, not until we have a chance to reach out to him through various avenues of communication and try to get him to see his interests as aligned with those of the state. These things are intangibles, things you can't set a watch by.

I have no doubt that creating a timeline that is accurate would be difficult, but WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? Why aren't you concerned that the US has no clue to these questions above? These are vital elements to defeat the insurgency as you've said, but they haven't been researched fully? Why not? Why aren't there answers?

I just know from reading quite a bit about war and counter-insurgency that while you can make judgments about the situation that you can use to prosecute a war more effectively, you can't possibly develop a top-down assessment of when the counter-insurgency will be manageable by Iraqi forces. There are too many variables, none of which remain constant for any reliably long period of time. You have to keep making adjustments as you go along, fighting the enemy and building up your allies as best you can. This is not conducive to setting dates by which we can promise results.

You can, however, say with a certain degree of certainty whether you are doing well or doing poorly in different areas. You can say with some confidence that Iraqi units, by receieving better training and better arms, and by cooperating better, are theoretically becoming more capable. But until you test them against the enemy, you just cannot be certain that you're doing a better job than the enemy is. The enemy is also recruiting, and they're not terribly public with their recruitment or training figures. They're not informing us about how many people are trained to make improvized explosives. They're not telling us just how harassed their leadership is.

We can infer these things by looking at results in the field: does the enemy seem more or less coordinated than they were three months ago? How many roadside bomb attacks are there, how effective are they, and are they developing their weapons faster than we're developing counter-measures?

But that is -- and this is very important -- a conditions-based inference of how well the war is going. You can't just look at how many men with guns you have on your side -- though our administration has released their expectations on those figures. You have to look at results as they happen and make adjustments as you go along. That's just the reality of modern warfare.

That's what the hell is wrong with me.

quote:
But what really matters in this war, the thing that's going to make or break our strategic success, is whether they are strong enough vis a vis the insurgency to maintain and aggressively prosecute a war against them. If they are strong, but the insurgency is stronger, our measurements have been a big fat waste of time.

If the Iraqis are taking over for us, I thought it would be understood that they would be capable of defending itself. Why do you think it is impossible to create such a timeline? It's not impossible, it's only difficult right now because the administration refuses to do the research necessary to produce those results.

That's just the thing. We need to know that they will only take over for us when they're able to do so. That's why we are increasingly putting Iraqi forces front-and-center and seeing how well they can do with less and less US support. That's the best kind of research, in a way. In some recent operations, they have even outnumbered US forces.

We need to know how well they are doing qualitatively, in real-world circumstances. I mean, on paper, we should have blown away the Vietcong. In the real world, we didn't. There were many variables, some of which we couldn't pigeonhole into timelines -- like the political situation, which was an absolute disaster pretty much from start to finish. We failed then to find the proper people on the political end, and we couldn't provide them with time or space to establish legitimacy.

Iraq, I believe, is different.

quote:
I disagree. Many of the most important developments in this war have been surprises, things we didn't plan ahead of time but which we nevertheless were trying to generally accomplish. Sunni political parties deciding to join the political process at particular times, political compromises working out, intelligence reports that lead to the seizure of important insurgent leaders. You want a timeline, go set up a predictions market.

That changes nothing. Why do you always assume that a timeline would have to be created by some dumbass? What if, e-gad, YOU designed the timeline? Can you imagine someone of your intellect with the resources at your disposal creating a timeline? Any good timeline of this nature would have room for error which would be posted immediately. It doesn't have to say, 'on Dec. 17 the 101st leaves.' But that the 101st will leave some time between date x and y. If you don't have standards, nothing gets done or at best they get done at a slower pace.

I am not so inflated by vainglory that I think I'm intelligent enough to pull off anything of the sort. I wouldn't give the smartest man in the world, given all the information our administration has at its disposal, a snowball's chance in hell to determine a timeline we should set our watches by. The nature of the problem is that it has to be tackled with doctrinal similarity but not with command-and-control. In other words, this is a war with a network, best accomplished by many parties with different capabilities -- a network of our own. You need thousands of people, operating real-time, to solve problems as they appear (or hopefully, before they happen). That requires a backbone and a good strategy, but it can't guarantee success within a "reasonable" timeframe.

I wish I could tell you with that kind of certainty what time in the next couple years we'll be able to pull back certain numbers of troops. But all I have to offer are educated guesses.

quote:
Again, it sounds like you need a predicitins market, not a plan from on high. Many different players are involved in every different aspect of this campaign, and trying to pigeonhole their expected success into a calendar won't help them accomplish anything or really even hold them accountable. Instead, look to parts of the process and see whether they're coming off well enough to justify our continued progress along this path. Then you tweak what needs to be changed, on an ad hoc basis.

Look, this is totally unacceptable because it doesn't solve future problems until after they've occured. This is exactly how this war has been run to date and it's led to a series of messes. The best plans point out potential pitfalls prior to their actually occuring, and with a timeline you'll have done the research necessary to generate a decent sized list of potential problems for the military to look for.

Ideally, you try to stop problems before they occur. Thankfully, we've avoided a series of logistical and strategic pitfalls that could have crippled us, and we've managed to keep our troops' morale high because of this. They're being well cared-for and they know it. But the nature of a war is that each side adapts to the other in a kind of race.

So far, I am not impressed with the insurgency's ability to outrace our forces. They can keep ahead of some of our technological counter-measures, but tactically I think we've held the edge consistently. Strategically, I think we are maintaining the initiative far better than we would against a worthier foe like the Vietcong (who did impress hte hell out of us). We are learning about what makes the enemy tick at an alarmingly fast rate, and we've been adapting to them faster than they can adapt to us.

We have made some glaring mistakes. The torture scandal is, as far as I'm concerned, unforgivable and some key elements can be traced back to administration figures who should know better.

I maintain that a timeline would not have prevented any of the errors that have happened so far. Some things can't be rushed, especially in diplomacy. And we are conducting widespread diplomacy even among individual political groups in Iraq, trying to bring them within the fold. Can't set a watch by that, even though it's very important to the war effort.

quote:
It's better not to change Iraq into a command-and-control situation like LBJ picking the bombing targets personally. You give basic goals and their respective urgencies to your personnel and they do their best to produce the best results they can as soon as they can. This is much more effective in an increasingly network-centric, low-intensity style of warfare.

I wonder how you'd react if the US changed its wellfare policy to this. You know, you should get a job, as a goal, and the US'll support you until you do, but we leave you with the final decision because there will be things we couldn't predict that will doubtlessly affect you and your decision making process. Some how I don't see you liking this idea, and I think it applies to this situation as well. When you don't hold people accountable in the fashion you suggest, you get a lot of people who switch to low gear. When there are deadlines to meet, people meet them, or they lose their jobs.

If you have a good idea of what you want to get done -- say, you want the people on welfare to develop a solution to a problem -- this would be a grand way to accomplish that. It's not quite as effective at achieving each node's personal goals, since the whole idea is to accomplish something as a group. Give a quick read to Arquila and Ronfeldt on the subject of netwar... it's not quite applicable to welfare.

With welfare, I think we should have more of a trampoline than a safety net. Welfare is not oriented toward group goals for those who are unemployed. Therefore, it's a different kind of accountability we expect, one that doesn't encourage individual welfare recipients to communicate with one another to accomplish a task.

quote:
We can have ordered withdrawal without alerting the whole world to where and when it will be taking place, particularly since these campaigns don't involve the gradual taking of territory by yards and miles like in WW2. You simply send the Marines on a helicopter to the airport instead of to Haditha one day, have the Americans salute the Iraqis, and send them home. We do it cyclically as it is, to move troops in and out for their tours of duty, but we don't announce large withdrawals.
If we do, they will take advantage. They understand the media, especially Middle Eastern media, and they'll milk any announced withdrawal for all it's worth. Mark my words, I'll stand by this.


Please explain to me how sneaking out of the country at the dead of night is less like getting your ass kicked than announcing that you are confident that the Iraqis will be able to manage the insurgents and that you will begin withdrawal on these days.

Because two or three well-timed bombings can make an announced withdrawal look like a panicked retreat, while phasing out troops based on conditions of victory looks like heading home after a job well done.

It's just too easy to take advantage of announced withdrawals for media purposes, and this is very much a media campaign for the jihadis. They need to make our withdrawal look like urgent "running away just like Beirut, Somalia, and Vietnam looked like running away. They have to create the impression that we have a specific (and fairly low) tolerance for blood and that we'll leave without taking into account whether or not the job is done. This undermines other peoples' confidence in American intervention and makes them trust us less. We can't afford that again.

But if we keep the current line intact -- that we will only pull out as specific conditions are met -- then they'll know that we've made good on JFK's promise:
quote:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
That's not simply a statement of moral belief. The extent to which our allies and enemies believe that statement is absolutely crucial to our ability to project power around the globe.

quote:
The cliche "We'll have the boys home in time for Christmas"? Hitler's top-down predictions of when his enemies would be defeated? And god-knows-how-many timelines and related false expectations were set up in Vietnam?

Look, just because timelines were done poorly in the past doesn't mean that they are inherently flawed. And as you should know, most of those were slogns, not researched timelines. As for Vietnam, I'd think it would definently show you why this administration needs to be held accountable. Groupthink is a nasty thing.

Thinking you'll "get it right this time" just sets us up for failure. If you know of a method of research that can tell us with some degree of certainty how fast we will win a war, I'm sure the administration would love to hear you. It's not that long ago that they thought they were going to be welcomed into Iraq as liberators (well, some people thought so, but not enough people and not for long enough a time) and they were talking about how long until they could "do Syria."

It's not just about research. War isn't that easy; the laboratory is huge and there are too many variables to pretend we have a control.

And while groupthink is a nasty thing, it wasn't the major problem in Vietnam. LBJ prided himself on being a pragmatist who listened to anyone who disagreed, and he kept several figures who criticized him close to him throughout his terms. He encouraged dissent, to some degree. But there were, again, a great number of variables we didn't understand. I can't blame some of the members of his cabinet, honestly, for thinking that Vietnam had to be handled the way they thought it did. But that's an object lesson in trying to predict the response of an enemy to your own buildup of power. We tried game theory and the whole shebang -- but there are way too many variables for a counter-insurgency to be prosecuted in a command-and-control style, and frankly that kind of 3rd-generation warfare is on the way out.

LBJ bragged that nobody could bomb a garden shed without his express approval; he was naive enough about war to think this was a good thing. Beware anyone who thinks brilliant men can do everything from the top down.

quote:
The problem is that even if you say the words "room for error," you have a devastating effect on morale -- of the troops and of the country -- every time you fail to meet top-down predictions. And since there are so many unknowns in warfare, especially in insurgencies, it's a bad gamble to make the prediction in the first place.

No it's not. You don't not makea prediction just because it's hard. You do your homework so that you can reduce your chance for error. If you say that there's a three month room for error to begin with then there will be an understanding that things don't always go as planned, and if things get behind schedule early on, then there will need to be a revision, but giving a good predicition has just as good a chance of raising morale as it has of 'devestating' it, which I might point out is reason to meet the deadline. If people are not succeeding in meeting their goals and those goals have been well thought out, then should be consequences.

I just can't go along with you here. I can't. These predictions couldn't be made even if we had twice as much intelligence and information as we already do. We couldn't even predict the margin of error, because the enemy is adapting to new circumstances and so, in turn, are we. The race of evolution is one in which you have to keep running just to stay alive, and sometimes wierd mutations happen that you didn't take into account. With the number of variables we're dealing with, many of them human variables like the subtle games of diplomacy, the chances are very high that we won't even know what the margin of error is.

You don't gamble on a prediction like that. Not even if you can guarantee secrecy within a group of politicians.

quote:
That said, I also predicted that 2006 would be the bloodiest year of this counter-insurgency -- and the turning point. An armed insurgency that gets desperate can get very very messy, and will not go down without a fight. I also think that Iraqi security forces will enter some of their bloodiest engagements over the coming year, but will continue to advance rapidly enough to overtake the insurgency. They're already winning the hearts and minds, especially against the jihadists.

And if the President issued a timeline, these predictions would be blown to hell? The jihadis would realize, 'my god, the US is leaving in place a fully trained and equiped Iraqi force capable of renewing and bettering itself, victory is ours!'

Much worse could happen. The jihadis could realize, "Hey, they're going to leave an all-Iraqi force, whether it has proven itself in battle or not, here without any Coalition support by December 31, 2006. All we have to do is play the waiting game, keep our heads low for a while and collect intelligence. On January 1, 2007, it'll be like Saigon 1975! And no one from Morocco to Indonesia is ever going to trust Americans to get the job done before leaving, ever again. Oh sure, they'll tell everyone it was an orderly and pre-planned withdrawal and that they're perfectly confident in the new Iraqi state, but the international media will tell a different story! They can't guard everywhere -- the newspapers on January 2 are going to tell the story of all the bomb blasts that chased out the sound of American cargo jets. Every act of random terror will look like the breakdown of order; the new Iraqi state will be viewed as illegitimate, like they were using the Americans as a crutch the whole time. And if it they do survive, and it takes them another four years to really chase out Al Qaeda, nobody will notice or care when they finally achieve it, just like they don't report on Afghanistan. Hell, the international news media will relegate Iraq to page 20 within a few weeks of the Americans leaving. America will have a brand new wound to lick. They certainly won't come back to the Middle East anytime soon, anyway."

Tell me that sounds implausible.

quote:
Because no top-down prediction has a chance in hell against a force it doesn't fully understand.

Man, I don't get you. Why can't you understand that the timeline doesn't need to factor into things the US army can't control or substantially effect?

Because we shouldn't pull out troops before those unpredictable enemies can be managed by Iraqis operating alone... and I'm assuming that we actually want our side to win. We'll know that the Iraqis can do it alone when they've demonstrated they can do it alone.

quote:
the Iraqis government does better or worse vis a vie appealing to the Sunnis will have little to do with the abilities of the Iraqi army to fight the insurgents.
Logically, the incentive to use politics rather than violence to achieve one's means depends heavily on whether violence is effective at achieving those ends. If the path of power-by-violence runs into a fully competent Iraqi security force that promptly kills any challengers, they have a great incentive to give up that path and join the political process.

quote:
. The US Army's goal should be to secure Iraq and transition the Iraqis into a position where they can do that without the US Army.
I agree.

quote:
. It is certainly possible to set a timeline which shows when Iraqis should achieve a certain percentage of the combatants versus the insurgents.
I disagree that this is a solution. Iraqi units are qualitatively inferior to American units (at offensive operations, mind you), and the degree to which this is true can only be reflected by their relative success in battle. That, and we don't have a solid number on how many insrgents we're up against.

quote:
But we can sure tell, after the fact, when success has come to us, and we can take lessons from the failures we do see.

The problem with that is that you won't be able to see failure until its passed you by. Which is what happened in Vietnam.

And if we could see all potential problems coming, we'd be omniscient and flawless.

quote:
You set a standard which needs to be met for success to be declared, and you miss it, then you get the hell out of there. Failure is a possibility.
The enemy has thus far not proven it can win by force of arms. All indications are, from where I'm standing, that they can't win unless we surrender. The Iraqis have resisted the outbreak of civil war despite so many people predicting it; they've resisted most of the political mistakes the South Vietnamese made (keeping certain important groups out of the political process, for various reasons; choosing leadership by coup; deferring to the Americans or alternately, coercing us to act as their crutch). All they need is time and space to set up a loose federation that takes into account the current political reality of Iraq. They're an ally worth protecting, and they seem to geuinely care about getting their sh*t together. They have remarkably realistic expectations.

We've set the standards for success. They are not based on a timeline, but on real conditions.

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potemkyn
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WP,

I think whenever we get into a discussion, it always spirals way out of control in terms of post lengths. So, I'm going to try and stablize things with a shorter post.

Two things:
1 Vietnmization worked:
http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20051101faessay84604/melvin-r-laird/iraq-learning-the-lessons-of-vietnam.html[/URL]
It's long, but it's informative. If the US could get it to work against a much more formidable opponent, then I have no doubts that they could get it to work against the Iraqi insurgents.

2 It is possible to measure how well a unit can handle combat missions, without having them be battle tested. The US Army has several measures which can be used to see how ready a unit is for 'combat' that are reasonable ways to measure a unit and predict success in the field. It's totally impractical to say that the Iraqis aren't ready until they've all had baptism by fire. The US doesn't need the Iraqis to have force parity with the US Army when the US leaves. What the Iraqis need is a) a corp of vets to draw experience from, b) the ability to learn and adapt on its own, and c) the continued support of the US in the form of weapons and money. Vietnamization failed because the US failed to continue funding it not because the Vietnamese were left too poorly trained to live.

If Iraq can maintain its own military structure and can produce acceptablely trained units, both of which can be measured and can be predicted as to when certain things will be accomplished, then the US should head out.

Potemkyn

If you really wanted me to address something specific in your post, I'll do it upon request, but it just isn't worth going over everything like we've been doing. The posts are becoming way too long.

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WarrsawPact
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First, to get it out of the way -- yes, the posts are getting too long here. But I think a lot of that volume helps communicate the ideas more effectively.

I have great faith in Iraqization (which I thought I was making clear, sorry), but again, I don't think you can set a watch by it. I think setting such a timeline, even based on "research," would be a liability rather than a tool for accountability. I wouldn't foist a timeline demand on a Democrat in the same position.

If all you want is a slightly flexible timeline of how fast we can train up Iraqi forces, great. I'm all for it. If you want a timeline for when that training can allow us to pull out our troops, I have great reservations about that. War -- especially counter-insurgency -- just isn't that predictable.

Every time we try to get a bead on an insurgency, it surprises us. LBJ asked every question you can imagine about the various costs and risks and benefits of many different plans, but top-down research won't do you much good there. Lord knows that we documented Vietnam better than any previous war in history, but you can't jam all of that into a single equation that tells you when your job is done and it's time to pull out. You have to play it by ear, using your accumulated wisdom and intelligence to make decisions. Will mistakes be made? Inevitably. This is the real world, and each side is desperately trying to force the other to make errors. But it's still the only way to wage war, especially against an insurgency.

You can measure whether a unit has the techincal capacity to operate alone in the field, and test its combat power insofar as you know their weapons and level of training, but I don't think you can predict success nearly so easily. I believe trials by fire are necessary to understand the ability of the Iraqis to provide their own security.

They are still developing officers. There are varying levels of morale. Different types of people operating with slight differences in training and leadership often have very different responses to battle.

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flydye45
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So...what's our timetable for Bosnia?
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RickyB
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We're not hemorrhaging in Bosnia. The government(s) in Bosnia don't have to cower behind fortified walls. Makes everything different, that little detail. It's the same reason as why the "we still have troops in Germany and Okinawa" argument is false. There's a huge difference between being stationed somewhere that's utterly peaceful, and being worn down by a guerrila war of attrition.
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A. Alzabo
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David:
quote:
have to say that a timeline to withdraw American troops is foolish and would probably lead to disaster in Iraq and the Middle East
I would like a general timeline(there should be some idea of how long operations should take), but count me as one of those who would rather see a publicly revealed (for non-sensitive info) milestone-based plan for victory than an arbitrary timeline. Certain things need to happen, whether or not they are "on time".
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potemkyn
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hmmm

I missed that you responded to my post. I'll get back to you on this when I can.

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potemkyn
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WP,

I still cannot agree that keeping the troops there indefinently will be in the best interests of Iraqis and Americans, but this is in a world where that's all there is to consider. With Iran's threatening posture, I can certainly see why it would be necessary to delay pulling out US forces. But complicating the formula is only going to make it worse for Iraqis and American troops there.

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WarrsawPact
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The situation is already complicated. Simplifying our formula more than we already have, and setting everything to time limits instead of objectives, will complicate matters even more for us in the intermediate and long term.

Multilayered problems often have complex solutions.

If you're trying to leave a stable regional ally in place, they're going to need political stability and a friendly political structure; they're going to need a robust economy; and they're going to need to be secure against all threats, foreign and domestic.

Trying to jam that onto a timetable is an exercise in wishful thinking. Wishful not because it can't be done in a reasonable amount of time (it can), but because we don't understand the variables nearly well enough.

Just in the security situation alone, you have multiple problems. You have conventional threats and border problems with the neighboring countries, including with a shaky Syria and a ticking time bomb Iran. You have local insurgents, some of whom can be courted diplomatically, some of whom will become more peaceful after pullout by virtue of selectively choosing Coalition targets, and some of whom can only be destroyed. You have international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. And then you have your down-home criminal groups.

All of the above threats pose a danger to Iraq's government, and all have distinct characteristics that make them hard to set a clock by. Some of them can best be engaged diplomatically, politically, and even economically. Others patently require lethal force to kill and deter.

Oversimplifying the formula is a much worse threat to Iraqi and American troops than recognizing the need for a comprehensive solution to a multilayered threat. Refusing a timeline is not "complicating the formula." It's recognizing the complicated facts of Iraqi security.

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flydye45
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I had some thoughts about the problems that Iraq will have forming a cohesive society. America is a bad model, because most of the initial population came from England, which was somewhat homogenized.

But England, with Wales and Scotland (not to mention the Irish) dealt with ethnically similar peoples who were culturally very different. It took them a LONG time to get it together.

I am so far impressed with how far the Iraqis SEEM to have come. There may be some question as to how deep the changes are. We'll see.

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potemkyn
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WP,

Answer me this, why is the US Army doing the job of building the Iraqi economy and political structure? They should be there to provide security so the Iraqis can do that. And once the Iraqis can create a self-sufficient and reproductive security force, the Iraqis can do that. If creating an Iraq for Iraqis was the main concern of the US, then the US would deal seriously with the idea of letting Iraq know when it will leave. But as I said, I understand that the need for the US to project power into neighboring countries seriously challenges that. I just don't think the Iraqis will like that very much and will resent the US for not doing what they want and what they think is best for them.

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can respond to terrorist threats based on intel and can protect those threatened and retaliate effectively,

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can assault terrorist held buildings and kill terrorists

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can pull off border exercises and generate varied and intelligent plans regarding border penetration by neighbors

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can maintain their current level of training and maintain their numerical levels

THEN the US Army should be able to leave with the exception of some advisors and any sort of equipment specialists. Of course this requires the US government continue to fund the Iraqi government and supply the Iraqi military until the Iraqis are capable of sustaining themselves without US money.

Those if statements can be measured and are being measured and can be predicted with enough certainty to say:

US Forces in Iraq

- pull out N number of troops by X date (where X date is 3 months after the projected time where some level of competence will be achieved)

- pull out N more troops by X+whatever date

"You can measure whether a unit has the techincal capacity to operate alone in the field, and test its combat power insofar as you know their weapons and level of training, but I don't think you can predict success nearly so easily. I believe trials by fire are necessary to understand the ability of the Iraqis to provide their own security."
I got news for you WP, the US Army doesn't even always follow this. How many units in the Army actually recieve trial by fire before being considered a combat-ready unit? It doesn't happen that way because it's a waste of time because you CAN predict these things. The US Army has been doing it for decades. You do it through maneuvers and exercises which demonstrate certain required abilities to survive in combat. To hold the Iraqis to a higher standard than the US Army seems a bit much.

Potemkyn

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WarrsawPact
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Just got back from vacation.

quote:
Answer me this, why is the US Army doing the job of building the Iraqi economy and political structure? They should be there to provide security so the Iraqis can do that.
Well, the US Army isn't rebuilding the Iraqi political structure. The US Army, Marines, and other armed forces are supplying security so that the political process -- by now almost entirely the business of Iraqis themselves -- has the time and space necessary to develop.

The US Army, to some extent, is indeed involved in infrastructure projects. I don't honestly know how much of their work could be done by Iraqis, but most of the Iraqi economy is the business of Iraqis. American assets like the Army Corps of Engineers are more involved in infrastructure.

quote:
And once the Iraqis can create a self-sufficient and reproductive security force, the Iraqis can do that.
Yep. I've been agreeing with this point all along.

quote:
If creating an Iraq for Iraqis was the main concern of the US, then the US would deal seriously with the idea of letting Iraq know when it will leave.
While a stable and free Iraq is indeed one of our primary national security concerns at the moment, that in no way makes it true that we are not dealing seriously with withdrawal. We just aren't developing a timeline, because timelines for defeating an insurgency are monuments to overconfidence. I will repeat: we can't even give them a margin of error on when they will be able to lick the insurgency alone. Only experience and time itself will tell.

quote:
But as I said, I understand that the need for the US to project power into neighboring countries seriously challenges that. I just don't think the Iraqis will like that very much and will resent the US for not doing what they want and what they think is best for them.
What you think and what the reality of the situation is are not necessarily the same. Here's why I think you're wrong: the words and actions of Iraqis are, as with the rest of the world, contradictory. If a substantial percentage of Iraq really wants American forces out ASAP, their opposition is pretty damned benign. They recognize on some level that the consequences of kicking us out before the job is done will be much worse than allowing us to stay just a little bit longer, so long as we're showing progress. Otherwise they would be in active opposition to the Coalition occupiers, and considering the rapidly increasing levels of cooperation with Coalition forces, I say it's safe to conclude that this is less true now than it has been in a long time.

They are recognizing, far more quickly than I anticipated, that the service provided by Coalition security forces is at least partially responsible for the improving security and economic situation in their country.

Do they have serious disagreements with us, and criticize the reported actions of some of our troops? Do they criticize some of our policies for running the war, notably our hazy policy on torture? Yes and yes. So do many Americans who support the war.
Do they want us out as soon as we can conceivably do so without Iraq collapsing? Yes. So do many Americans who support the war.

quote:
IF Iraqi Armed Forces can respond to terrorist threats based on intel and can protect those threatened and retaliate effectively,

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can assault terrorist held buildings and kill terrorists

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can pull off border exercises and generate varied and intelligent plans regarding border penetration by neighbors

IF Iraqi Armed Forces can maintain their current level of training and maintain their numerical levels

THEN the US Army should be able to leave with the exception of some advisors and any sort of equipment specialists. Of course this requires the US government continue to fund the Iraqi government and supply the Iraqi military until the Iraqis are capable of sustaining themselves without US money.

I think you've made one critical error.

Our objective is a free, stable, friendly democratic Iraqi state. Your "IF" statements are only proper to the "THEN" ending if they are sufficient to secure that objective. In other words, the only proper "IF" statement is:

IF the Iraqi security forces prove they can secure a free, stable, friendly democratic Iraqi state

Merely responding to terrorist threats, assaulting terrorist held buildings, pulling off border exercises, and maintaining their level of training may not be sufficient to get that job done, and we cannot afford for them to fail.
For one glaring example of why this is the case, Iraqi security forces may not by virtue of maintaining current levels of training be prepared to handle the many other security threats to the state of Iraq. Terrorists are but one relatively small and influential group that threatens a free and stable Iraqi state. There are also criminal NGOs, domestic insurgents, foreign isurgents who are already in Iraq, and so on. And having an intelligent plan for dealing with border penetration by neighbors does not guarantee the success of those plans.

Not only that, but Iraqi security forces alone cannot keep Iraq friendly and democratic and stable. There are very important economic, diplomatic and political aspects to this conflict. Packing our things and leaving just because Iraq has X number of men with guns is not a prudent way to guarantee the intermediate or long term success of a free Iraq.

As the US was extricating itself from Vietnam, we brokered a deal that gave the Saigon regime the fourth largest air force in the world. Yet when it came time to fight the enemy, defending their country from a high-intensity attack, they had incredible difficulty using those air assets, and succumbed to a clever, determined enemy that always endeavored to maintain the element of surprise. On paper, the South Vietnamese air force should have been able to grind up the invaders like so much beef (like we had done to them during previous invasions, causing appalling casualty figures). Instead, Saigon fell.

quote:
Those if statements can be measured and are being measured and can be predicted with enough certainty to say:

US Forces in Iraq

- pull out N number of troops by X date (where X date is 3 months after the projected time where some level of competence will be achieved)

- pull out N more troops by X+whatever date

No, even your limited objectives cannot be measured or predicted enough to set timetables. How will they know whether they can respond effectively to such stealthy opponents as terrorists by looking at some (presumably objective) measurement of their troops?

The real measure of their security forces will be success or failure in the field. Like I've said, this wouldn't be the first time that armies have relied on faulty measurements of their combat worthiness before testing them in battle. Not nearly the first time.

quote:
"You can measure whether a unit has the techincal capacity to operate alone in the field, and test its combat power insofar as you know their weapons and level of training, but I don't think you can predict success nearly so easily. I believe trials by fire are necessary to understand the ability of the Iraqis to provide their own security."

I got news for you WP, the US Army doesn't even always follow this. How many units in the Army actually recieve trial by fire before being considered a combat-ready unit? It doesn't happen that way because it's a waste of time because you CAN predict these things. The US Army has been doing it for decades. You do it through maneuvers and exercises which demonstrate certain required abilities to survive in combat. To hold the Iraqis to a higher standard than the US Army seems a bit much.

The US Army invests a far greater deal of time, money, and training by an experienced officer corps than the Iraqi military could possibly be expected to. We know our troops are among the qualitatively best in the world, and we know from a great deal of experience with our military how well we can respond to challenges and adapt and overcome various kinds of enemies. We have generations of trained soldiers with combat experience to tell us how well our training regime works, and we expend a great deal of money and intellectual effort fine-tuning that program. We also have the advantage of starting off with one of the best-educated civilian volunteers in the world, as well as several incredible institutions of military learning.

Even then, we initially predicted a much greater level of success against Iraq (2003) and Vietnam and Italy and many other foes in our military history, and on paper it looked good. Or worse yet, we had a gloomy outlook and shipped in about 29,622 unnecessary body bags to Kuwait when we were about to trounce the hell out of the fourth largest army in the world (Desert Storm). Better safe than sorry, I suppose, but it illustrates our ignorance when trying to predict with any degree of precision the capabilities of battle-green troops against an enemy you don't fully understand, in future circumstances you can't anticipate.

I hold the US Army and the Iraqi security forces to the same standard I hold any fighting force: I can make a few educated guesses about expected performance, but I'll only believe what I see. When the stakes are as high as they are right now, we need to be absolutely certain. Certainty is a luxury of hindsight, and rarely an asset in foresight.
Hell, Vietnam should have taught all of us that by now.

[ December 19, 2005, 11:19 PM: Message edited by: WarrsawPact ]

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