Sunday, August 05, 2007

Running Out the Clock

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

The current New Republic has an article by Andrew J. Bacevich entitled "Army of One: The Overhyping of David Petraeus." (Hat tip to Ethan Rafuse) It sounds like a swipe at Petraeus; it's really about how the de facto U.S. strategy -- propounded by Petraeus but accepted by all "but the doughty warriors at the American Enterprise Institute" -- has become one of "buying time for Iraqis to reconcile." But, he notes, the Washington clock is running out faster than the Iraqi clock. The pace of Iraqi reconciliation is running at about the same rate as that of my extended family, while the pace in Washington, governed chiefly by the 2008 election campaign but also by a sense that the Bush administration has blown it beyond redemption, is running a lot faster. An excerpt:

The most fundamental question that should be asked about the strategy is: Exactly how much time does Petraeus need to buy? The answer: a lot. With his frequent references to "the Washington clock" and "the Baghdad clock," Petraeus himself has recognized that "buying time" is by no means a simple proposition. The problem with the two clocks -- one driven by domestic politics and the other connected to events in Iraq itself -- is that they are wildly out of synch. As Petraeus himself has acknowledged, "The Washington clock is ticking faster than the Baghdad clock." Indeed, the steady erosion of popular and congressional support for the war, lately even among Republicans, suggests that time on the Washington clock has all but expired.

To correct this situation, Petraeus speaks of "trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit to produce some progress on the ground that can, perhaps ... put a little more time on the Washington clock." Yet Petraeus himself must recognize that this qualifies at best as a long shot. He knows that any counterinsurgency is by definition a protracted project. Success requires not weeks or months of exertions but years. As he told the BBC in a recent interview, "The average counterinsurgency is somewhere around a nine- or a ten-year endeavor." For his strategy to succeed, putting "a little more time" on the Washington clock won't come close to doing the trick. Indeed, unless the Petraeus strategy gains the firm and enthusiastic support of President Bush's successor, it doesn't stand a chance of working. Yet, unless John McCain's campaign pulls off a remarkable turnaround -- an unlikely event -- the president who takes office in January 2009 won't have campaigned on a strategy of "buying time" to prolong the Iraq war.

Furthermore, Washington's typically narcissistic preoccupation with the political clock has diverted attention from the fact that the U.S. military's Baghdad clock is also quickly running down. Apart from the doughty warriors at the American Enterprise Institute, most informed observers understand that, with the ongoing surge, America's land forces have shot their wad. The current commitment of 160,000 troops to Iraq is unsustainable beyond early next year, absent draconian measures like extending yet again the combat tours of soldiers who have already seen their deployments go from twelve to 15 months in duration. If the wizards who concocted President Bush's Long War had decided back in 2002 or 2003 to increase the Army's size, options for maintaining a large force in Iraq might exist. But Petraeus will find little consolation in such might-have-beens. "Buying time" in Baghdad requires the ability to sustain a very robust U.S. troop presence for years to come, and that's simply not in the cards.

Then there is the question of whether the actions of coalition forces, now engaged in the so-called "surge," are actually conducive to putting time back on the clock. Right now, it appears the opposite is true: Instead of putting more time on the Washington clock, the surge is actually causing it to run down more quickly.

Full article



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