Thursday, August 23, 2007

Continue the Petraeus Plan

Fire of Liberty

Colonel Ralph Peters has a fine piece in the NY Post which points how General Petraeus is not only achieving a military victories on the battlefield of Iraq with his counter-insurgency strategy but is also achieving some political victories at the local and tribal level. Here's a look:

* And post-combat operations are now Iraqi-centric, not futile attempts to turn Iraqis into Americans. "Involve the local people," the general states, laying down a non-negotiable rule. "Instead of firing, we're hiring locals" and putting them to work, he stressed. While providing dependable security is fundamental, it's not enough. Economic issues can be fundamental. And the people need the services only a central government can deliver - while the new approach empowers local government, it avoids doing so at the expense of fatally weakening the Baghdad authorities.

Instead of backing mammoth, hyper-expensive construction projects designed in Washington, our new approach prods Iraqis to fix their existing infrastructure. Iraq's utilities won't be state-of-the-art, but they're beginning to work again: Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it took a profound change of mindset for us to get there.

Nor will Iraqi democracy mimic our own. Petraeus works systematically with Iraq's time-honored social structures, exploiting the levels of trust and control already in place. Instead of trying to replace tribal leaders with out-of-towners, we now focus on developing mutually supporting relationships between respected local authority figures and the feds from Baghdad.

The general's recognition that locally recruited security forces have the immediate trust of the local population has been critical to the entire effort. Even with the surge, we lacked the forces to do it all ourselves. Petraeus recognized that, yes, all politics is local - and so is security. So he pushed hard for reconciliation programs to engage former enemies who now want to work with us to drive out al Qaeda.

Meeting rebellious Sunni Arabs halfway is yielding impressive successes. For just one example among many, 1,700 fighters who belong to a former insurgent group have been vetted and brought on board to serve their community in Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad. And no, contrary to media myths, we are not arming our former enemies. Iraqi tribes already have all the weapons they need. The issue is which way those guns are pointed - and they're now aimed at our mutual enemies.

Could things go wrong down the road? Things can always go wrong. But when your former enemies are killing your worst enemies, it sounds like a pretty good deal.

Also, instead of massing behind the walls of large bases, our troops now live and serve beside their Iraqi counterparts, giving us a deeper understanding of the Iraqi way of doing things, of the opaque-to-outsiders fault lines in the population. Petraeus acknowledges that we're doing things today that should've been done four years ago. The learning curve was steep.

And myths abound. Contrary to a common misperception, tactical commanders didn't have adequate funds they could disperse early on - and, in Iraq, money does buy loyalty. Funds to jump-start local economies and employ young men are vital to inhibiting insurgent recruitment. Multiple tours in Iraq have convinced Petraeus that "Money is a weapon." Not every project we're providing with seed money now will meet OSHA standards - but this is Iraq, not Connecticut.

From working with tribal leaders to investing time and money at street- level, it's essential to "understand the Iraqi style" of doing things. It's counterinsurgency judo: working with the weight of tradition, instead of fighting a losing battle against it.

Unlike the various senators and congressmen who sit in D.C. and wax on and on about the ouster of al Maliki, General Petraeus has gotten to the meat of the situation and understands that Iraq is a grass-roots society that and gets things done at the tribal/local level. So while the prospective candidates for the DNC nod in 2008 are saying that Iraq's problems cannot be solved by the pure application of military power just don't understand the whole counterinsurgency plan or are against operations in Iraq because George W Bush is on board with the mission. Here's hoping Petraeus keeps up the good work and Congress doesn't rip victory from the jaws of defeat.

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