Mission Impossible?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
By stealing the title of an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, reflecting on Bush's speech at the Naval Academy today, I am hoping to initiate a discussion about how to interpret the news we get out of Iraq. To me, it seems that those closest to the situation (our military, the Iraqis themselves) are the most optimistic observers, while those safest at home (the mainstream media, Washington politicians, virtually everybody I know in my own North San Francisco Bay area) are by and large pessimistic, if not outright defeatist.

Mark Gongloff, the writer of the WSJ piece, quotes Army War College researchers Andrew Terrill and Conrad Crane:

[V]ictory [in Iraq] may not be in sight next year, according to a new study coming from Army War College researchers... The War College, which trains Army officers but does not reflect the views of the Pentagon, has long been pessimistic about the war. In a 2004 study, the War College called it "an unnecessary preventative war" and a "detour" from the war on terrorism. In February 2003, Messrs. Terrill and Crane warned that the invasion of Iraq would produce a growing insurgency, and that disbanding Iraq's army would only fuel the insurgency, both of which proved prescient. In their new report, they said it was "increasingly unlikely" that the insurgency will be crushed before U.S. troops leave, that it was "no longer clear" that Iraqis would be able to fully secure the entire country on their own and that the best-case scenario was an undemocratic, but stable, Iraq, ruled by factional militias. But they also joined Mr. Bush in opposing a timetable for withdrawal. "The long-term dilemma of the U.S. position in Iraq," wrote Messrs. Terrill and Crane, "can perhaps best be summarized as: 'We can't stay, we can't leave, we can't fail.'"

So, We can't stay, we can't leave, we can't fail?

I am inclined to think the third of these, we can't fail, considered both as a statement of fact, and as an imperative, is the most compelling and important.

But, being merely a very interested observer, and a strong supporter of our troops, I have no special qualifications to analyze our problems in Iraq. Your analysis and reflections are enthusiastically solicited!


Syl said...

Actually, I believe that we had to disband the Iraqi army. Yes, it caused problems but we had to start the new army from scratch to better control its membership and focus.

It's just soooo easy to assert we should have kept the old one intact. But nobody seems to think it through. I mean the consequences of having a fully equiped army many elements of which would be fighting us rather than insurgents? Please.

And what army guys would ever consider disbanding an army a good thing?

Seneca the Younger said...

I dunno, Jamie. Remember these War College guys writing these papers are not active duty, and have strong ties to the State Department. What's more, they have something of a professional interest in disagreeing with the current administration (any current administration), somewhat as a philosophy professor has an interest in making the most outrageous statements they think they can get away with: the more they say something outrageous, the more likely they are to be invited to speak, invited to contribute -- and thus the more likely they are to keep the weight of the curriculum vita increasing.

But, cf, the comparison I made below, between Joe Lieberman and Sy Hersch: Lieberman comes back from Iraq and says "Things are improving amazingly"; Sy Hersch talks to some unnamed generals and State Department Arabists, and says things have gotten worse.

Consider, also, that Sy Hersch's occasional troubles with the truth, and compare that to the fact that Joe Lieberman is putting himself way out from his party's current direction.

Which one should we believe?

My grandfather had a saying: "When the bird disagrees with the bird book, believe the bird."

Seneca the Younger said...

Every time I hear how we should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army, I flash back to "de-Nazification". Would we have left the Nazionalsozialisten in charge?

Jamie Irons said...


Your grandfather was a wise man.

Speaking as a fanatic birder!


Jamie Irons

Knucklehead said...

Just a couple comments.

First, the opinions of the researchers who wrote the WSJ piece may or may not be convential wisdom within the War College but they are clearly not universal. Unless I am mistaken, Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map is at the War College. Clearly he doesn't view the war in Iraq as either unnecessary or unwinnable.

To use his phrase it is a "system perturbation" that, once successful, will yield beneficial change in a crucial segment of "the Gap". Not that it matters what I think but I agree with him.

To Syl's point re: "disbanding" the Iraqi army. I find that notion downright silly. The Iraqi Army disbanded itself. Was there some Appomatox Courthouse like surrender of some intact Iraqi Army? I musta missed it. Also the leadership of the Iraqi Army was a part of the problem, not a potential part of the solution. The best place to start building an Iraqi army that would be useful to a new Iraq was Square 1 - it needed to be build fresh from the ground up.

Nobody contacts me for my military expertise but I don't see how we can "lose" in Iraq provided we keep on keeping on. What Iraq needs is protection from its neighbors while its own security (internally and externally focused) forces can be trained up to something like a western model. We simply need to provide both of those things and we are fully capable of doing it. We furhter assist them in getting their legs under themselves as they move toward their own form of democracy. Getting there is something they have to accomplish for themselves and I believe they will. That doesn't mean it will be easy or happen "next year", but it will happen.

Fresh Air said...


With IED attacks against US troops way down, at least one fully operational, command-controlled Iraqi batallion, and most of the US casualties now coming from offensive operations, I would say we are nearing the beginning of the end.

Why the Democrats chose this auspicious moment to start their bleating calls for withdrawal is beyond me.

Seneca the Younger said...

Fresh air, I'd suggest one reason: it's time to position themselves to take credit for the drawdown that had been planned for months.

I note that Sen. Kerry (D-heiresses) was quite pointed this afternoon that he was not in favor of "immediate withdrawal", that no one was, that the whole notion that someone was in favor of immediate withdrawal was a falsehood... and that there have been a succession of recent statements that we needed to stay in Iraq until the job was finished, from a number of Democrats, immediately following the vote on Rep. Murtha's suggestion for immediate withdrawal.

It was similarly interesting to hear Don Imus trying to give Joe Lieberman hell about saying things were better when Imnus had had a number of pundits, New Yorker writers, and retired Democrat generals saying it was getting more and more awful.

(I have to admire Leiberman — he put up with a lot more than I would have. I'd have said "Imus, I just came back: are you calling me a liar? Sy Hersch needs a spellcheck to spell Iraq.")

Rick Ballard said...

"Why the Democrats chose this auspicious moment to start their bleating calls for withdrawal is beyond me."


I don't think I'll argue with providence. What was the last smart move made by the Dems?

Take your time.

Seneca the Younger said...

Depends on what you count as "smart"? I, for one, was kind of a fan of picking Kerry for President and Dean for DNC Chair.

Putting Michael Moore up with Jimmy Carter appealed to me too.

terrye said...


I did not hear the end of the Imus interview. I wanted to hear Lieberman but that old hippie Imus was too obnoxious..

I also wonder about the whole disbanding the army thing, if I remember correctly they just vanished.

I think things are getting better in Iraq, but this is the Middle East we are talking about and given the violence of the society I don't know that it will ever be Switzerland.

And it really annoys me when all these socalled experts set up this scenario where a few thousand suicide bombers can derail a whole country...if that is true, we can not even protect this country.

Think about it, there could be 5,000 suicide bombers in the United States right now. How would the government ever find them all?

We can not even manage to deport 9 million illegals.

Fresh Air said...


To a man armed with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To the Democratic caucus of drum majors, every strategic move by George Bush is a parade they can't wait to lead.


The last smart move? Letting Hillary pick the color of the drapes in the Oval Office?

P.S. Man this site is cool! Even the nom de plumes here have nom de plumes. Or are those nom de guerres?

Rick Ballard said...


Email me - click on my name on the contributors list.

"Your grandfather was a wise man."


That was true of many of the elders in the in the Iroquois Confederation. Have you ever read Chainbreaker's War?

blert said...

Fresh Air said...


With IED attacks against US troops way down, at least one fully operational, command-controlled Iraqi batallion, and most of the US casualties now coming from offensive operations, I would say we are nearing the beginning of the end.

At this time the new Iraqi Army has approximately 90 battalions in the field at Level 2 & 3.

The single battalion that is perpetually mentioned by the misinformed media is the SWAT police battalion that operates within Baghdad.

The difference between a Level 1 and Level 2 outfit is keyed to motor vehicle repair. If you use civilians to repair your equipment then you are deemed Level 2. Level 3 means that you still need some American assistance, typically communications.

Level 2 and 3 units are in the fight and conduct their own patrols.

The Iraqi Army is expanding at about 1 Brigade per month.

Its expansion has permitted our coalition partners to go home -- remember them?

Next will come Britain who is already in pure policing mode. Finally, American forces will move into reserve. That should come in the late Spring, at the latest.