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Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Changing Dynamics of the war in Iraq and its Political Realities

Rick Moran wrote an amazing piece summarizing where we are in the war in Iraq.If you have a chance, please read it. If you don't, here is a summary. There is no doubt that there has been some success since the institution of the surge. That said, Iraq remains an unbelievably complex place with all sorts of moving parts with varying agendas, and it is impossible to predict if our current success will transfer into ultimate success with all of these parts.This is all no doubt true however I would also add that I believe that our forces have accomplished the most difficult part of the task so far, and that they have my full confidence in accomplishing the rest.

It was fascinating and peculiar that former General Rick Sanchez gave the Democratic response to Bush's weekly radio address this past weekend. After all, the Democrats railed on Rumsfeld's failed Iraq plan and Sanchez was instrumental in its implementation. In 1864, former failed Union General George McClellan ran for the Democratic ticket. While I have no doubt there are eyes rolling, there are some peculiar similarities.

There are now two concurrent and divergent realities going on vis a vis Iraq. The first is that things are improving and the second is that this is a war that the public will NEVER like. This makes Iraq a paradigm politically for both parties. The Republicans are hand cuffed to a perpetually unpopular war and the Democrats are hand cuffed to defeat in an improving situation. It appears neither side wins in this case.There is also great irony in the political framing that each party is taking vis a vis Iraq. For instance, Carl Levin represented the Democrats in the Iraq War debate on FNS. Here is some of what he said.

Well, it shows an improvement on the military side, but the president's policy very specifically had as its purpose — the surge's purpose was to give the Iraqi political leaders the breathing space to work out a political settlement, and that purpose has not been achieved.They're just as far apart as ever. And I think there's a growing frustration with the Maliki government, even among our own military leaders, for the Maliki government's failure to make political improvements. That growing frustration is reflected in a State Department bulletin that just came out which said that the greatest threat which now exists in Iraq is no longer Al Qaeda, it is not the insurgency of the Sunni insurgency, it is not the militias.The greatest threat to any success in Iraq is the failure of the Iraqi politicians to work out their political

Senator Lindsey Graham represented the Republicans and here is some of what he said.

It's working amazingly well, beyond my expectations. I think history will judge the surge as probably the most successful counterinsurgency military operation in history.Violence is down. Economic activity is up. It's not just about more troops. It's how the troops are used. So hats off to General Petraeus and all under his command. You're making military history and a phenomenal success. I was amazed, really.

Here is the irony. Both parties have maintained their overall assessments for much of the war. The Republicans are optimistic and the Democrats are pessimistic. That is true, however they have swapped their measures. Remember for years, despite all the violence Bush continued to point to political benchmarks: elections, the constitution, the formation of the government, etc. as signs that we were still succeeding, and the Democrats just pointed to the next car bomb. Now, since there are no car bombs, the Republicans are pointing to that, and the Democrats are pointing to the lack of political progress.

Now, if electoral history is any judge, the Republicans now hold the edge. The Democrats must convince the folks that we are losing when we are winning, while the Republicans must divorce themselves from Bush. More and more, the Iraq War is becoming the war of General David Petraeus. He will soon become the face of it almost entirely and the Democrats will likely counter with Generals that weren't in the theater or were there during years of failure.The Republicans have no easy task either. Tying yourself to a neverending and deeply unpopular war is no easy task. Of course, Nixon proved that this position can still be better than calling defeat. The person in best position to use Iraq is John McCain. He called failure when there was failure and success as soon as that happened as well. Furthermore, no one has more credibility on military issues among politicians.

Hillary Clinton appears to be the weakest on Iraq political, at least to me (and my opinion is certainly slanted). She has had moving positions and at this point continues to not only defend her initial vote but also propose a vague withdrawal plan that has no definite end. That frankly ultimately pleases no one. Barack Obama is a bit stronger since he merely defends a withdrawal plan that is more forceful however ultimately pretty vague as well. He is, in my opinion, a totaly foreign policy light weight and I just can't see the voting public being impressed with foreign policy experience amounting to a few years spent overseas as a youth.

The next major event that will affect the politics of Iraq, in my opinion, comes in March. That is when General David Petraeus presents his next progress report. The last one was overshadowed by the Betray Us ad. It's other main highlight was Hillary Clinton claiming that believing there was progress required a "willing suspension of disbelief". If progress was difficult to see then, it will be darn near impossible to ignore then, again in my opinion only. The last three months we have seen a reduction in coalition casualties, Iraqi military casualties, and Iraqi civilian casualties. I believe that November will be month number four and if the trajectory holds it will be seven months of decreasing violence by the time he speaks to Congress.

The genius of Petraeus is that he has developed a plethora of measurements for progress. He develops so much data that accountants would probably get lost in it: deaths, violent events, business openings, recruitments, elections, etc. There is a statistic for just about everything. Given that progress was only beginning to show in September, the numbers will be nothing short of startling in March.

The Democrats will no doubt continue to point to political progress. By political progress, I mean benchmarks. Obviously, there are all sorts of political progress seen in Iraq, however none of them are included in the benchmarks. To me at least, arguing with a General, who has made Iraq his home for the last three years, that political progress can only be defined by static benchmarks set before the start of the operation seems like a political loser. There are all sorts of reconciling between Sunni and Shia sheiks and these partnerships have lead to security agreements. Things that have worked in Sunni areas have been copied with wrinkles in Shia and mixed areas.

Finally, if a lack of political progress by the Central government is any measure success based on pre set benchmarks, they have also just condemned their own Congress. Like I said, the ever changing political dynamic in Iraq is filled with irony.

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