Now while President Bush does a good job in selling his "amnesty" bill to the Senate and Americans (who don't bother to read further on the details of the bill), he seems to have a heck of a time conveying the importance and overall game-plan of the current counter-insurgency policy that General Petraeus is pursuing in Baghdad and the surrounding areas. Luckily, the US is chock full of military historian/tacticians like Fred Kagan who break down what we're doing in a far better job than the communication experts within the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. Here's a look at Kagan's explanation in the Weekly Standard on the dangers and trying times that await of soldiers in the surge:
One wonders why the Bush administration can't do this good at explaining the surge. I just hope the GOP picks someone in 2008 who has a commanding presence and determination to explain the surge much like Kagan.
The causes of Iraqi civilian casualties, on the other hand, are the same as they have been for more than a year--al Qaeda attacks and attacks by rogue elements of the Jaysh al Mahdi. But overall sectarian violence remains at about half of the December level--a marked change considering that violence had been rising continuously since early 2006. Even with the increased al Qaeda violence added in, the level of violence remains stable--again, a positive change from a situation in which violence appeared to be rising uncontrollably.
And it matters a great deal that the last U.S. units have just begun to arrive. We should note--as General Odierno did in a recent press conference--that it takes time for a unit newly arrived in theater to begin to operate effectively. It must develop an understanding of the neighborhood, an intelligence picture of the enemy, and build relationships with key local figures before it can even begin to start effective clear-and-hold operations. All that takes time--anywhere from 30 to 60 days, depending on the unit and the neighborhood. In the interim, violence increases as sectarian actors try to achieve their goals before the new unit can become effective, and as entrenched enemies make strenuous efforts to keep coalition forces out of areas that they control. After all, there are no coalition casualties in areas where there are no coalition forces--even areas that the enemy holds. Then U.S. forces must clear the enemy from these areas by engaging in major combat operations that often last for several weeks. And holding an area after it has been cleared takes even more time.
This New York Times article and many people who favor shutting down the current strategy fail to understand or acknowledge how long large-scale counter-insurgency operations take or what they look like in their decisive stages. They also refuse to recognize that the current strategy is a departure from--and not a continuation of--the approach that had failed to control violence from 2004 to the end of 2006. Some opponents of the plan now propose returning to General Casey's failed strategy by focusing exclusively on the training of Iraqi security forces and using them instead of U.S. forces--the very strategy that had allowed violence to spiral out of control in the first place.
There will be many difficult months to come, as our enemies attempt not only to make the strategy fail, but to convince Americans and Iraqis that it will fail. There is no guarantee that any military strategy will succeed, of course, which is why commanders should evaluate the progress of their strategy. But our new military commanders have understood the problems mentioned in the Times article for months, and they are actively working to solve them. The New York Times wrongly judges the current commanders by their predecessors' expectations. And it wrongly presents their efforts to solve legacy problems as evidence that the current effort has failed. It may be emotionally easier for some simply to convince themselves that the U.S. has already failed in Iraq. But success remains possible if we have the will to try to achieve it.