Category Archives: Iraq

The Presentation From Our August 22nd Meeting

PowerPoint Presentation available here on

“The Inside Story of

Operation Desert Storm”

Lt. General Marty Brandtner gave a very detailed presentation on the sequence of events, planning phases, decision processes, issues, operational and logistics challenges, and the concept of operations and execution of the offensive air and ground campaign plans for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-91).

The slides were very thorough and complex—and somewhat hard to read on our AV system—so we are pleased to provide the entire PowerPoint here. For those who were unable to attend, it was a masterful overview of the complexities involved in planning and executing the campaign to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. For those who were there, here is an opportunity to look at the planning slides in more depth.

I am reminded that the VuGraphs Gen Brandtner used in the discussion were the actual ones he and GEN Colin Powell, then Chairman of the JCS, used in briefing the planning and execution to senior officers and to the National Command Authority. Of course, they were highly classified at the time!

“Desert Storm” was a combination of punishing air strikes and finally a ground invasion that drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Although I was vaguely familiar with the operation myself, I must confess that I tended to look back on it with a sense that Saddam invaded, we thought about it, and kinda moved some troops over there and the Iraqis retreated.

How erroneous that viewpoint is. GEN Brandtner laid out the full strength of the Iraqi forces—540,000 troops, including many Revolutionary Guards divisions; Iraq enjoying interior lines of communication (LOCs), possessing advanced tanks, fighter aircraft and air defense capabilities, and hardened by eight years of conflict with Iran. In contrast, the US—and its allies—had to form an effective multi-national coalition, transport enormous numbers of troops and supplies to the war zone, provide replenishment on a daily basis for fighting forces 7,000 miles away, and maintain domestic support for the war. Not easy, as these slides will show.

I was reminded also, during the presentation, of the old military axiom, “Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics”!

For those who were there, a chance to see the slides in more depth and clarity; for those who were unable to attend, a chance to get an in depth understanding of the complexities of that operation.


  • Ty

Click here (file size 32MB):



Remembering the Invasion of Iraq


An NSF Occasional Commentary


Remembering the Invasion of Iraq

“A Colossal Strategic Error”

By Dr. Steve Hull


The tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq has been noted in many ways.  After hearing two of the war’s chief architects, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, reaffirm their infallible support for the decision to launch a pre-emptive war, I recalled my own thoughts and emotions and how they evolved as the possibility of war first appeared, and then became a chaotic and destructive reality.  I found retracing this history was necessary to challenge the arrogance and unapologetic righteousness of Perle and Wolfowitz, and more importantly, to remind me that when war is personal it has a ubiquitous, smothering presence. 

One of my children was in the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion.  She would eventually spend three tours and three years in Iraq from 2003 through 2009.  I felt none of the real fear, or anything close to it that our troops, contractors, and civilians fighting in Iraq did, but there was not one second, as a parent, that I was not afraid.   

By February, 2003, the war drums beat louder and so did demands for answers to questions about the nature and extent of the Iraqi threat. Colin Powell’s now infamous February 5th intelligence presentation to the United Nations Security Council attempted to show that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), while Saddam was simultaneously executing a comprehensive effort to deceive the world about the location, identity, and number of these weapons.   On February 7th the Department of Defense announced the deployment of the 101st Airborne Division to Kuwait.  My daughter was likely on her way to war. 

Retrospectively, it appears President Bush had already made the decision to invade.  His administration would later blame going to war on “faulty” intelligence.  This was gross negligence or a lie and one of the many myths about the war that continues to this day.  The decision to go to war was not based on “faulty” intelligence, but rather on the poor interpretation of existing intelligence, the failure to fill known intelligence gaps, and the administration’s practice of cherry picking intelligence that suited its purposes.  This modus operandi would be repeated again and again during course of the war. 

As our troops and other coalition forces poured into Kuwait in February and March 2003, public support for the war became a fait accompli.  The Dixie Chicks may have questioned the impending war and the President, but Americans were going to support the troops massed on Iraq’s border if and when Mr. Bush pulled the trigger. 

Air strikes against Baghdad the night of March 19th and the ground invasion on March 20th ended all speculation.  We had been led into a pre-emptive war with ill-defined and questionable war aims.  We were soon to learn that the invasion force was insufficient.  It was also ill prepared for the long-term occupation of a hostile country that was logarithmically more volatile, culturally and ethnically diverse, economically weak and politically complex than our leaders realized.  The price exacted in blood and treasure for these miscalculations would be enormous.

The invasion was brilliantly executed over three weeks.  Baghdad fell on April 14th.  The 101st Airborne reached the Iraqi capital after battling the 571 kilometers from Kuwait to Baghdad and destroying three Iraqi Republican Guard divisions.  The war was over.  Or was it?  My daughter had been told they would be in Iraq no more than 60 days following the conclusion of hostilities.  The hostilities never concluded.  On April 22nd the 101st was ordered 500 kilometers north to occupy Mosul, a bustling city of 1.8 million people. Internal turmoil and chaos began to grip much of the country, dumbfounding President Bush and his administration.  Nevertheless, on May 1st, the President flew out to the USS Abraham Lincoln lying off of San Diego and declared, “Mission Accomplished”, and the end of the war.

Shortly thereafter the Bush administration’s failures to adequately plan for the occupation began to emerge.  First there was the firing of Lieutenant General Jay Garner (USA, Retired), who had been charged with administering the occupation.  Even though he had a sound understanding of the region and the causes of and remedies for the growing domestic chaos in Iraq, he was never resourced properly.  Garner was quickly canned.  He became the first scapegoat for the administration’s failure to prepare for the occupation of a defeated and defiant Iraq.  The disastrous reign of Ambassador Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority followed.  Bremer is best remembered for disbanding the Iraqi Army, shaming 375,000 trained, armed, angry, and now unemployed fighters.  This instantaneously contributed to a mushrooming insurgency and sectarian conflict, and significantly compounded the challenges faced by our troops and contractors fighting to stabilize the country.  It would require nearly eight more very difficult, sacrifice-filled and costly years before we were able to disengage and leave Iraq.

In the end, what have we wrought? According to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies report, “The Cost of War”, 4,448 American servicemen and women have been killed, along with 179 known U.S. contractors, and somewhere between 169,000 and 180,000 Iraqis.  Hundreds of thousands have been wounded, injured, and permanently disabled on all sides.  In addition to the nearly $2.2 trillion dollar cost of the war, Iran’s power and influence in the region have been dramatically strengthened, we have knowingly over used and worn down our military, and Iraq has emerged as the antithesis of the stable, vibrant, democratic anchor in the Middle East President Bush dreamed of creating. 

Is the Iraq War a disturbing precedent setting example of how our Republic goes to war in the future? The decision-making apparatus for choosing and sustaining this unpopular war and the availability of a military to execute such a war have been alarmingly strengthened.  The all-voluntary nature of the armed services has made it easier than ever for the United States to go to war.  Between 2003 and 2013 less than one half of one percent of the American people were on active duty at any given time.  Fighting and dying for one’s country has become the province of the few.  The front line defense of the Republic has been separated from the vast majority of its citizens.  Few have real “skin” in the game.  This is why we were able to fight this war without hardly noticing or caring. We went to the Mall and, occasionally, remembered the troops by putting decals on our SUVs.

My thoughts about the Iraq War always gravitate back to my daughter and Captain Josh Byers, USA.  I first met Josh in the fall of 1991.  The son of Baptist missionaries, tall, blond, smart and charismatic, Josh was the Reed High School (Sparks, Nevada) student body president.  He had applied for and been accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy.  Commander Steve Schumacher and I met with Josh to try and sway him towards Annapolis.  However, Josh had West Point in his heart and he eventually became part of the Long Gray Line’s Class of 1996. On July 23, 2003, Josh was killed by an IED near Ramadi, Iraq.  He was 29 years old.  If only Steve and I had succeeded in convincing him to go Navy. 

And my daughter?  She recently left the active army after twelve years.  She and her husband collectively spent seven years in Iraq.  This is her matter of fact assessment of the war.  Regardless of the final outcomes, she recognizes what we must all acknowledge—those who were asked to fight the war did their duty. 

“I consider the Iraq War to be a colossal strategic error for us and the Iraqis, both monetarily and in human terms. I’m not sure we made things better there, and very likely we made them worse by hastening and complicating what was always going to be a difficult and violent regime change.  If there is anything positive to take away, it would be at the individual level—all of us who were there made, or think we made, a positive contribution at specific times and places with specific people.  However, none of us as individual military members, contractors, or aid workers, could control strategic decision-making and its outcomes.”

Dr. Steve Hull is a retired public educator and active participant in the NSF.  He served six years on active duty with the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer and twenty-four years in the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer. Three of his children have served on active duty.  He holds bachelor and masters degrees from the University of California Santa Barbara and a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon.

Jeff Saperstein on the 10th Anniversary of Iraq War

NSF Occasional Commentary


On the 10th Anniversary of the Iraq War

 Time to Move Forward Cautiously

By Jeff Saperstein 


“Let us do what we have to do, but no more than we have to do.” –Ariel Sharon


On the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War there appears to be a great deal of second-guessing and pronouncements about the demise of the Republican Party as the result of miscalculations and ineptness in the conduct of this war of choice. Others accuse President Obama of having an ineffectual foreign policy because we are not intervening strongly enough in conflicts such as in Syria. Rather than blame political parties and who did what when, perhaps it may make sense to realize that we are now in an era of a historic transition that no longer fits our preconceptions about the world order and America’s past leadership role. Better our leaders be pragmatic than have overarching doctrines that ignore complexity. The global economic, political, and social transformations that we are encountering should not be dumbed down into bumper sticker thinking for American intervention.

Obama is cautious in the way Republican Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and GHW Bush were: hesitant to commit US resources and prestige to civil wars and conflicts among peoples whom we do not understand. The nations in the Middle East are an artifact of the West and the divisions among Shia, Sunni, Alawite, etc., are far deeper than the national boundaries drawn for the Arab states of Iraq, Syria and other countries by Britain and France less than a hundred years ago.

More importantly, we should be careful with American lives and treasure we put at risk. If more armchair warriors understood the tragedy in war, they might not be so cavalier with the lives of someone else’s son or husband. A good comparison is the way Israel has demonstrated taking limited action when it must against those who attack its citizens, but usually showing caution when it comes to committing major combat. Eighteen years of punishing war in Lebanon from 1982-2000 was humbling; it was their equivalent of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama just returned from a historic visit to Israel where he challenged the Israeli youth to be as resilient and relentless in pursuit of peace as their country has been in pursuit of security. All Israelis are familiar with war, which is why so many yearn for peace. Israel has universal conscription; everyone who is killed or wounded in combat is considered family. In the Israeli movie “Gatekeepers”, the last surviving heads of the Israeli Shin Bet are interviewed; see how they agonize over the cruelties of war. Israeli career military and high command are the most hesitant to commit to unnecessary endangerment for their troops and country. As former field commander and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said,” Let us do what we have to do, but no more than we have to do.”

That would be a good motto for our American leadership to follow. The Middle East has had millenniums of conflict and we neither completely understand nor can control what happens there. American direct intervention and military involvement should be a last resort and only when national interest is clearly at stake or there is imminent threat to our allies or us.


Jeff Saperstein is a university lecturer, marketing consultant and author, who resides in Mill Valley, California. He lived in Israel from 1972-73 as a volunteer and witnessed the Yom Kippur War from a Kibbutz shelter on the former Syrian border. He has led missions to Israel for US marketing/media professionals and bloggers. Jeff wrote a popular blog during his trip to Israel in 2006 and was on the Gaza border when the Gaza War commenced.


(Editor’s note: We have begun a series of Occasional Commentaries by recognized experts who are also participants in the NSF)




Colleagues: We haven’t heard much about the war in Iraq lately, but key decisions will have to be made shortly regarding how fast the U.S. will withdraw and what size training/stay behind force will be needed.

Two views on this today. First, from Max Boot, a hard line proponent of the position that we need to maintain sizeable forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan for a much longer term, a stance he says supports the recommendations of the military leadership in the war zone and in the Pentagon. That is followed by a piece by Micah Zenko, who is at the Council on Foreign Relations as is Boot, who lays out the reasons why the U.S. should withdraw its forces this December. Enjoy and ponder.


Losing Iraq?

Max Boot

The Weekly Standard
September 19, 2011

President Obama did a good job of feinting to the right on national security issues during his first two years in office. Lacking much standing on military policy, he often acceded to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen—a trio of hard-headed centrists. He kept 50,000 troops in Iraq, down from more than 100,000 but still a substantial figure. He sent 64,000 troops to Afghanistan, tripling the size of the American force there. He gave up his initial hopes of high-level talks with Iran. He stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. He abandoned plans (under pressure from Congress) to close Guantánamo Bay and end military tribunals, and generally kept in place most of President Bush’s counterterrorist policies. The apogee of his unexpected tilt to the right was reached on May 1 with the (extrajudicial, unilateral) killing of Osama bin Laden in a daring special operations raid in Pakistan authorized personally by the president and carried out without the permission of the host government.

Yet Obama has lately been turning dovish—a trend that has accelerated since bin Laden’s demise.

First, in January, the White House budget office demanded $78 billion in cuts from the defense budget. Gates, who had already canceled or delayed numerous programs, reluctantly complied. Then in April, with almost no notice to Gates, Obama announced another $400 billion in cuts—a figure that was soon passed into law by Congress, which might (with the president’s support) cut far more before long. By the time Gates left office, he was complaining in public that he couldn’t “imagine being part of a nation, part of a government .  .  . that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”

Those complaints were given greater salience when, just weeks before Gates’s departure, Obama decided on a precipitous force reduction in Afghanistan, pulling all 30,000 surge troops out by September 2012 against the advice of Gates, Mullen, and General David Petraeus. Now the president appears to be determined to bug out from Iraq. At least that’s the only way we can interpret the report that the administration will ask to keep just 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq after the end of this year.

That is far below the figure recommended by U.S. Forces-Iraq under the command of General Lloyd Austin. It has been reported that Gen. Austin asked for 14,000 to 18,000 personnel—enough to allow his command to train and support Iraqi security forces, conduct intelligence gathering, carry out counterterrorism strikes, support U.S. diplomatic initiatives, prevent open bloodshed between Arabs and Kurds, and deter Iranian aggression. To perform, in other words, at least a few of the crucial tasks that U.S. troops have been carrying out in Iraq since the success of the surge in 2007 and 2008.

But keeping nearly 20,000 troops in Iraq was judged by State and Defense department officials too politically volatile in both Iraq and the United States. So they whittled down Gen. Austin’s request to 10,000 personnel. That’s still a substantial force package—amounting to two Brigade Combat Teams plus enablers—and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Admiral Mullen, and other senior leaders signed off.

When U.S. representatives presented this proposal to Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister gave his tacit support provided that other Iraqi politicos did so. Remarkably enough, despite nationalist sentiment in Iraq against “foreign occupation”—a sentiment fed by Iranian propaganda—all of the major Iraqi political factions, save the Sadrists, gave their assent on August 2 to open negotiations with the United States on precisely these terms. And even the Sadrists merely abstained instead of voting against negotiations.

Moreover, the Maliki government took to heart U.S. complaints that we could not keep a substantial number of troops in Iraq if they were going to be subject to a relentless Iranian-backed terrorist campaign. June was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since 2009—15 soldiers died, most of them in Iranian-backed strikes. But then the Iraqis cracked down, with U.S. help, on Shiite militants, and lo and behold, not a single U.S. soldier perished in August—the first time that has occurred since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

At the same time, the Iraqi government announced a belated decision to purchase 36 F-16 fighters from America. The pieces appeared to be in place for a long and fruitful strategic relationship between one of the world’s oldest democracies and one of the newest. And then, just as negotiations between the U.S. and Iraqi governments were heating up on a new status of forces agreement, the administration let on that it wanted to keep no more than 4,000 troops there. That request, which is completely at odds with the best advice of military commanders on the ground, undercuts the position of American negotiators and suggests that Iraq’s future is of little importance to the United States.

We are the last people in the world to argue that civilian policymakers should uncritically accept the views of the uniformed military. Many generals (though not all) were dead set against the surge that saved the situation in Iraq, and it was only by relieving Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior commanders on the ground that President Bush was able to implement a change in strategy. But we see no reason to distrust the best judgment of Gen. Austin, a seasoned and respected commander whose views echo those of other military experts, in uniform and out. Nor have we heard the administration offer any explanation of why 3,000 to 4,000 troops would suffice in such difficult and dangerous conditions.

In fact, with such small troop numbers, U.S. commanders would be forced to all but close shop. They could still provide some training and support to the Iraqi Security Forces, but not much more than that. It would be difficult if not impossible to continue conducting counterterrorist raids or patrolling the volatile border separating Iraq proper from the Kurdish Regional Government. And such a small number of U.S. troops could well become targets of the Iranian-backed militias.

So why would the administration decide, at least tentatively, on such a minuscule deployment? A clue can be found in an item posted August 3 on by senior editor Joshua Green. He relayed Rep. Barney Frank’s account of what Vice President Joe Biden reportedly told the Democratic caucus two days before. Here is Frank’s version (which has not been contradicted by the vice president or his aides):

Biden was at the caucus, and I said I was upset about Afghanistan and Iraq. So [budget director] Jack Lew says, “Well, we’re winding them down.” I said, “What do you mean, you’re winding them down? I read Panetta saying that he’s begging the Iraqis to ask us to stay.” At which point Biden asserted himself and said—there’s clearly been a dispute between them within the administration—“Wait a minute, I’m in charge of that negotiation, not Panetta, and we have given the Iraqis a deadline to ask us, and it is tomorrow, and they can’t possibly meet it because of all these things they would have to do. So we are definitely pulling out of Iraq at the end of the year.” That was very good news for me. That’s a big deal. I said, “Yeah, but what if they ask you for an extension?” He said, “We are getting out. Tomorrow, it’s over.”

That item might have looked preposterous in early August, when U.S.-Iraq negotiations were just beginning. But it looks prescient now, because the White House essentially has chosen to pull the plug on a large-scale U.S. deployment to Iraq, regardless of what the Iraqis think. (It is possible that the Iraqis would not approve more than 4,000 troops, but how would we know without pushing for a higher figure?) Joe Biden—who supported the decision to invade Iraq but opposed the surge and instead proposed breaking Iraq into three different parts—appears ascendant on both Iraq and Afghanistan policy. He seems to have been looking for an excuse to leave Iraq, and Iraqi foot-dragging, which is to be expected in such a rickety parliamentary system, provided it to him.

But of course Biden does not get the final vote. He can carry the day only if his boss, the president, lets him. For all of Obama’s feints toward the right, it seems that in the end he cannot get over the fact that he launched his presidential bid—and won the Democratic nomination—by opposing the war in Iraq. Whenever he talks about the achievements of his administration before a partisan audience—as he did, for example, at an August 8 Democratic National Committee event in Washington—he brags not only about rescuing the economy from the 2008 recession and implementing health care and financial regulatory reform, but also ending “the war in Iraq” and “transitioning into a posture where in Afghanistan, Afghans can take responsibility for their own security.”

Given the administration’s current ideological tilt, the best we can hope for in Iraq is an agreement that does not impose a numeric limit on U.S. forces. An open-ended agreement for the United States to help and support the democratic development of Iraq could be used by a future administration to send more U.S. troops—as long as our Iraqi partners see the need for them.

Clearly Obama envisions running for a second term as he did for his first term—as the “antiwar” candidate. The sad irony, however, is that an American drawdown in both countries makes continued war—and with it the possibility of a catastrophic American defeat—more likely by emboldening our enemies and disheartening our friends.


July 28, 2011


It’s Hard to Say Goodbye to Iraq

Why the United States Should Withdraw this December

Micah Zenko

MICAH ZENKO is a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World.

In November 2008, representatives of U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which established the operational and legal framework for U.S. soldiers and their civilian counterparts in Iraq. The key line in the agreement was contained in Article 24: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.” In a major speech a few months later, newly inaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama affirmed that he intended to uphold the deadline.

Yet Baghdad seems unable to make up its mind. Some political leaders privately lobby for U.S. troops to stay, but only in training and advising roles. Still, most Iraqis and many members the Iraqi parliament are weary of a continued American military presence, which is problematic since U.S. officials insist that an updated SOFA be approved by the parliament. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had requested that Baghdad’s fractious political blocs decide by last Saturday whether to ask for an extension of U.S. troop presence into next year. They were unable to reach a consensus and have postponed additional negotiations on the topic “until further notice.”

Still, according to anonymous U.S. officials, the White House is prepared to keep 10,000 ground troops in Iraq after the end of this year. It apparently has two reasons. The first is to prevent Iran from supplying improvised explosive devices and rockets to Shia militants in Iraq who have used such weapons to kill U.S. troops. According to U.S. officials, nine of the 15 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Iraq in June died from such attacks. The second is that somehow the mere presence of 10,000 U.S. troops will mitigate Iran’s long-term influence in Iraq, which has been a proxy battlefield between Washington and Tehran for decades.

There are a few problems with this logic. For starters, it does not make sense for the United States to keep soldiers in Iraq to prevent Iranians from providing Iraqi Shias with weapons to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. As the Pentagon noted in its “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq” report last summer, “Iran will likely continue providing Shi’a proxy groups in Iraq with funding and lethal aid, calibrating support based on several factors, including Iran’s assessment of U.S. Force posture during redeployment.” In other words, Iran will continue its behavior as long as there are U.S. soldiers in Iraq to target, which suggests that the surest and fastest way to prevent further bloodshed is to withdraw the remaining U.S. soldiers on schedule.

Further, no matter what the United States does, Iran will continue to try to influence Iraq. Tehran has a strategic interest in its neighbor’s political makeup and will use a combination of soft-power initiatives — including outreach to sympathetic political parties, such as Dawa, Maliki’s Islamic party — and providing weapons to Shia extremist groups for targeting U.S. forces and gaining the upper hand in the region. Countering those attempts should not primarily be the job of a diminished and constrained U.S. military presence; diplomats are better suited for such a mission, and the transition to a U.S. civilian-led mission in Iraq is already under way. After 2011, the U.S. civilian presence in Iraq will remain massive. The State Department will eventually deploy some 17,000 personnel at 15 sites across the country, 5,100 of whom will be security contractors.

If the 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now (and the 166,000 U.S. troops deployed there during the 2007 surge) have not been able to shut down the Iranian weapons pipeline, there is no reason to believe that the 10,000 troops the Obama administration would have stay in the country could do so. And even if Iran’s weapons continued to flow into Iraq after 2011, the U.S. military would have few appealing options for addressing the problem along the 900-mile Iran-Iraq border.

The United States could choose to target assets and operatives outside of Iraq that are connected with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. But that would not be wise, either. In 2008, U.S. special operations forces did something similar when they killed Abu Ghadiya, an al Qaeda commander, in Sukkariyah, a city near Syria’s border with Iraq. The mission did nothing to convince the Syrian government to close its borders to al Qaeda, which U.S. officials claimed Syria had been directly supporting. Such a move against Iran would be perceived as an attack on the state, and any resulting retaliation would needlessly place Americans in Iraq in immediate danger.

If the Obama administration believes that leaving troops in Iraq would prevent the impression that Iran is “driving us out,” as a senior U.S. defense official put it, it should reconsider. The United States should not indefinitely maintain 10,000 troops in Iraq for second-order psychological reasons, such as attempting to alter the thinking of Tehran’s opaque political leadership structure. Furthermore, U.S. strategy in Iraq should not be based on what Tehran might say about it.

Instead, the United States ought to base its Iraq strategy on a clear-eyed assessment of national interests, which would mean ending the U.S. military presence, reducing the operation’s financial burden on U.S. taxpayers, and providing assistance to Iraq so that it can defend its borders. Sooner or later (and probably sooner) Iraq must be able to protect its own sovereign territory. Whether it succeeds is not a matter of resources; as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently noted, the “damn country has a hell of a lot of resources.” It is primarily a matter of Baghdad’s political will, which was lacking when 166,000 U.S. troops were fighting the Sunni-led insurgency at a cost of some $12 billion a month in 2007, and remains lacking today.

In the meantime, the United States should continue to help build up Iraq’s military capacity. As in other countries, this effort should be led by the State Department in Washington and the U.S. embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation in Baghdad. Efforts should include training Iraqi Ministry of Interior police and border forces, educating Iraqi officers at U.S. war colleges and academies, conducting military-military exchanges, and sharing intelligence. The United States could also help by selling Iraq advanced conventional weaponry; Iraq is reportedly interested in buying 36 F-16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.

If the Obama administration does convince Maliki to ask U.S. troops to stay, it must explain what the operational constraints of a new SOFA would be, and provide a new timetable for withdrawal. Moreover, in a war that two-thirds of U.S. citizens oppose and that has left 4,474 U.S. soldiers dead, Obama should be pressed to provide a clear and compelling reason why leaving 10,000 troops in Iraq is in the United States’ national interest and, more specifically, how it would plausibly mitigate Iranian influence. Despite his mastery of rhetoric and eloquence, chances are that he will not be able to, which is why the United States should implement the 2008 SOFA now and finally end its military presence in Iraq

NSF: US Policy in Afghanistan and Iraq: Looking Ahead to the Next Year

Two very interesting articles today worth reading, one on Afghanistan and one on Iraq, both looking forward to the next year and critical milestones that American policy in that region faces.

First, a CSM article on the key turning points coming up in Afghanistan–the September elections there, the Congressional elections in the U.S., the December Obama policy review, and the proposed July, 2011 drawdown. Will GEN Petraeus conclude that conditions permit a phased withdrawal; if not, is the momentum “towards the exits” so strong even he will not be able to prevent the drawdown?

Second, a fine piece by Ken Pollack examining “Five Myths” about the U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. Pollack’s analysis is less a myth-buster than a fair and balanced examination of the security situation in Iraq (greatly improved), the political dynamics (still contentious but fought now in the electoral process), have American combat forces really withdrawn? (No), and will the war end “on schedule”? (highly unlikely).

Enjoy! Ty

Petraeus doesn’t seek ‘graceful exit’ from Afghanistan war. What’s the timeline?

Gen. David Petraeus last Sunday said he may recommend against any drawdown of troops next summer. Here’s what to expect in the coming year.

By Ben Arnoldy, Staff writer
posted August 16, 2010 at 9:30 am EDT

New Delhi — With the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan surpassing 2,000 this weekend, what does the road ahead in Afghanistan look like?
The tally – now at 2,002 – comes from the independent website. It includes 1,227 Americans, 331 Britons, 151 Canadians, and 45 French.

The mounting numbers have put pressure on coalition countries to wrap up their involvement in Afghanistan; the Netherlands ended its military mission Aug. 1, after four years. At the very least, such grim milestones offer a moment for taking stock and seeing what lies ahead.

September: Another Afghan election

Afghanistan is planning to hold parliamentary elections Sept. 18. More than 2,000 candidates are running for 240 seats in the lower house.

A top election official expressed serious concerns Saturday about the security preparations for the more than 6,000 polling stations. So far, two candidates have been killed, three kidnapped, and 10 threatened with death. Both candidates and voters have shifted their registration to Kabul due to insecurity in the provinces.

The election will still include suspected war criminals, even though the Electoral Complaint Commission (ECC) said it would try to disqualify candidates with ties to militias.

Early warning signs like voter registration problems and cynicism among candidates themselves suggest this election – like last year’s presidential contest – could be dogged by fraud.

October: Winter slowdown?

Traditionally, the intensity of the Afghan conflict has decreased over the winter months as some mountain passes fill with snow. That slowdown tends to start sometime in October or November.

If the trend continues this year, it could take some of the political pressure off President Obama as he enters a couple of crucial reviews. The first will be rendered by the American people, as they head to the polls in November; the second will be a strategic reassessment of the Afghan “surge.”

November: US Congressional elections

Whether the Afghan war factors much in the upcoming Congressional elections remains to be seen. On the one hand, voters tell pollsters that it’s far from top of mind. In a Gallup poll released Friday, two-thirds of Americans rate economic concerns as the nation’s top problem. Only 4 percent mentioned war.

That said, Afghanistan has dealt Obama almost nonstop negative news since he came into office on a pledge to fully resource the war. The conflict has eroded some confidence in Obama among his base, which is increasingly restive over a range of issues.

Political analysts are expecting losses for the Democrats at the polls, putting pressure on Obama for mid-term course changes. But those changes are likely to come in the domestic arena given voter concerns. Even the criticisms about the growing deficit have largely remained domestic, with the Tea Party remaining mute on the $325 billion Afghan price tag so far.

December: Obama’s policy review

Obama will reassess this December the strategic course he announced last December, namely the temporary build up of US soldiers to break the Taliban’s momentum and strengthen Afghanistan’s military and government.

In some ways, this reassessment was foreshadowed this summer when Obama chose a successor for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. In tapping Gen. David Petraeus, Obama chose both the architect of the current strategy and the general with the most political capital in Washington. That decision makes significant changes in strategy unlikely.

Indeed, in interviews given to the press over the weekend, Petraeus said he did not come to Afghanistan to engineer a “graceful exit” and may recommend against any drawdown of troops next summer.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai today set a December deadline for closure of all private security companies in the country. US military officials have said they support the goal but would not comment on whether it would be possible in four months. There are currently about 26,000 private security contractors working for the US government in Afghanistan; replacing them would constitute a major force reconfiguration.

July 2011: Drawdown?

Lost in some of the initial reporting on Obama’s July “deadline” was that he only promised to begin drawing down force levels. That could mean bringing home tens of thousands of the current 140,000 foreign forces – or just a few thousand.

With reports of Taliban expansion on the battlefield, poor performance of independent Afghan operations, and Petraeus pushing for more time, any drawdown will likely be small.


Five myths about the Iraq troop withdrawal

By Kenneth M. Pollack
Sunday, August 22, 2010; B03, Washington Post

Early Thursday, less than two weeks before the president’s Aug. 31 deadline for ending American combat operations in Iraq, the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait. With the departure of this last combat brigade, the U.S. military presence in Iraq is now down to 50,000 troops, fewer than at any time since the 2003 invasion. The shift offers a useful moment to take stock of both how much has been accomplished and how much is left to be done in what is fast becoming our forgotten war.

As of this month, the United States no longer has combat troops in Iraq.
1.Not even close. Of the roughly 50,000 American military personnel who remain in Iraq, the majority are still combat troops — they’re just named something else. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called “brigade combat teams” and instead will be called “advisory and assistance brigades.” But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and the differences in brigade structure and personnel are minimal.

American troops in Iraq will still go into harm’s way. They will still accompany Iraqi units on combat missions — even if only as “advisers.” American pilots will still fly combat missions in support of Iraqi ground forces. And American special forces will still face off against Iraqi terrorist groups in high-intensity operations. For that reason, when American troops leave their bases in Iraq, they will still, almost invariably, be in full “battle rattle” and ready for a fight.

What has changed over the past 12 to 18 months is the level of violence in Iraq. There is much less of it: The civil war and the insurgency have been suppressed and the terrorists have been marginalized, so American troops have been able to pass the majority of their remaining combat responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces. Most U.S. troops now have little expectation of seeing combat in Iraq. Instead, they are spending more time acting as peacekeepers, protecting personnel and facilities, and advising Iraqi formations. But that didn’t start this month: It’s more or less what they have been doing since the “clear and hold” operations to take back the country from militias and insurgents ended in 2008.

Thanks to the troop “surge,” Iraq is secure enough that it will not fall back into civil war as U.S. forces pull out.
2.Security in Iraq has improved enormously since the darkest days of 2005-2006, but the jury is still out on what will happen in the months and years ahead.

Extensive research on intercommunal civil wars — wars like Iraq’s, in which a breakdown in governance prompts different communities to fight one another for power — finds a dangerous propensity toward recidivism. Moreover, the fear, anger, greed and desire for revenge that helped propel Iraq into civil war in the first place remain just beneath the surface.

Academic studies of scores of civil wars from the past century show that roughly 50 percent of the time, war will recur within five years of a cease-fire. If the country has major “lootable” resources such as gold, diamonds or oil, the odds climb higher still. The important bright spot, however, is that if a great power is willing to make a long-term commitment to serving as peacekeeper and mediator (the role the United States is playing in Iraq today), the recidivism rate drops to less than one in three. This is why an ongoing American commitment to Iraq is so important.

It’s also worth pointing out that a civil war doesn’t recur because the public desires one. Most people recognize that civil war is a disaster. Instead, such wars flare up again because leaders still believe they can achieve their objectives by force. Until they are convinced otherwise — ideally, by a great power’s military forces — they will revert to fighting.

The United States is leaving behind a broken political system.
3.If some on the right want to claim (incorrectly) that the surge stabilized Iraq to the point that civil war is impossible, their counterparts on the left try to insist (equally incorrectly) that the change in U.S. tactics and strategy in 2007-2008 had no impact on Iraq’s politics whatsoever.

Partisans will debate the impact of the surge for years to come, and historians will take up the fight thereafter. However, Iraqi politics are fundamentally different today than they were in 2006. The nation’s political leaders have been forced to embrace democracy — in many cases very grudgingly, but embrace it they have. Party leaders no longer scheme to kill their rivals, but to outvote them. They can no longer intimidate voters; they have to persuade them. And the smart ones have figured out that they must deliver what their constituents want, namely, effective governance, jobs, and services such as electricity and clean water.

Yes, Iraqi politics remain deadlocked and deeply dysfunctional, and yes, long-term stability and short-term economic needs depend on further political progress. But it is now possible to imagine Iraq muddling on toward real peace, pluralism and even prosperity — if it gets the right breaks and a fair amount of continuing help from the United States, the United Nations and its neighbors.

Iraqis want U.S. troops to stay. Or they want them leave.
4. Be very, very careful with Iraqi public opinion. Polls are rarely subtle enough to capture the complexity of Iraqi views. Typically, they show a small number of Iraqis who want the Americans out immediately at any cost, a small number who want them to stay forever and a vast majority in the middle — determined that U.S. troops should leave, but only after a certain period of time. When Iraqis are asked how long they believe our troops are needed, their answers range from a few months to a few years, but are strongly linked to however long the respondent believes it will take Iraq’s forces to be able to handle security on their own.

One typically hears the same from people across Iraq and throughout its social and political strata. Iraqis are nationalistic, and they resent the American military presence. Many are also bitter over the mess that the United States made by invading and then failing to secure the country or to begin a comprehensive rebuilding process, failures that led to civil war in 2005-2006. Most Iraqis are relieved to have been rescued from that descent and are frightened that it will resume when the Americans leave. This is because their security forces are still untested and their political process has yet to show the kind of maturity that would provide Iraqis confidence that they are safe from the threat of more civil war. Consequently, a great many people are both determined to see all American troops leave — and terrified that they actually will.

The war will end “on schedule.”
5. Much as we should want the Obama administration to succeed in Iraq, this statement by the president in a speech to veterans this month should make us wary. If uttered in the first act of a Greek tragedy, it is exactly the kind of claim that would end in a Sophoclean fall.

As George W. Bush learned to his dismay, once you start a war, a lot of bad, unpredictable things can happen. No war has ever gone precisely according to schedule, not even those that have ended in the most dramatic victories, such as Israel’s Six-Day War or the Persian Gulf War. What’s more, war’s aftereffects linger for many years.

Going forward, America’s involvement in Iraq can (and hopefully will ) be much reduced, but the need for a U.S. presence will endure for many years. Iraq has demonstrated great potential, but at this point it is only potential. The country still holds great peril as well — not just for Iraqis, but for our interests in one of the world’s most strategically important regions.

For these reasons, Obama was right to also warn that the United States will need to remain deeply involved in Iraq and will probably face casualties there in the years to come, regardless of how we label our mission.

Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is “A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East.”