Taters on Cordesman et al

I received this from Taters and thought it worth putting up as a post by itself.  It calls our attention to Cordesman’s vision of Iraq in the time of the Pollack/O’Hanlon visit.  PL


"Anthony Cordesman was with Pollack and O’Hanlon in Iraq and his take is somewhat different, (he certainly does agree with Col. Lang’s  assessment regarding working with tribesman.)
Here is the synopsis – with the link to the full report.

Everyone sees Iraq differently. As one leading US official in Iraq put it, “the current situation is like playing three dimensional chess in the dark while someone is shooting at you.” It is scarcely surprising that my perceptions of a recent trip to Iraq are different from that of two of my traveling companions and those of several other recent think tank travelers to the country. 

From my perspective, the US now has only uncertain, high risk options in Iraq. It cannot dictate Iraq’s future, only influence it, and this presents serious problems at a time when the Iraqi political process has failed to move forward in reaching either a new consensus or some form of peaceful coexistence. It is Iraqis that will shape Iraq’s ability or inability to rise above its current sectarian and ethnic conflicts, to redefine Iraq’s politics and methods of governance, establish some level of stability and security, and move towards a path of economic recovery and development. So far, Iraq’s national government has failed to act at the rate necessary to move the country forward or give American military action political meaning.

The attached trip report does, however, show there is still a tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq, and for timing reductions in US forces and aid to Iraqi progress rather than arbitrary dates and uncertain benchmarks. It recognizes that strategic patience is a high risk strategy, but it also describes positive trends in the fighting, and hints of future political progress.

These trends are uncertain, and must be considered in the context of a long list of serious political, military, and economic risks that are described in detail. The report also discusses major delays and problems in the original surge strategy. The new US approach to counterinsurgency warfare is making a difference, but it still seems likely from a visit to the scene that the original strategy President Bush announced in January would have failed if it had not been for the Sunni tribal awakening. 

Luck, however, is not something that can be ignored, and there is a window of opportunity that could significantly improve the chances of US success in Iraq if the Iraqi government acts upon it. The US also now has a country team in Iraq that is far more capable than in the past, and which may be able to develop and implement the kind of cohesive plans for US action in Iraq that have been weak or lacking to date. If that team can come forward with solid plans for an integrated approach to a sustained US effort to deal with Iraq’s plans and risks, there would be a far stronger and more bipartisan case for strategic patience.


(This is a 25 pager)

I would also highly recommend going to the Atheneum and reading what Col. Lang has posted there on this subject. Please read the links posted after the article.

Maliki And His Friend are Unhappy With Petraeus


And certainly a must read for those that haven’t read it ( It’s also well worth a revisit if you have )on Col. Lang’s take on a political solution, entitled A Concert of the Greater Middle East, from The National Interest. 



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20 Responses to Taters on Cordesman et al

  1. Homer says:

    Taters/Cordesman: So far, Iraq’s national government has failed to act at the rate necessary to move the country forward or give American military action political meaning.
    I’d really like to know **why** one would ever suppose that Iraq’s national government would `act at the rate necessary to move the country forward or give American military action political meaning’?
    After having considered the nature and the history of each main power player in Iraq, why would one ever think that they would indeed sacrifice or set aside their decades old dream of Islamicizing Iraq in order to enact un-Islamic American directives (which probably in some manner include a recognizing of Israel’s right to exist)?

  2. b says:

    Having read the 25 pages (recommended) I come back to a part of the synopsis that catches it all.
    “there is a window of opportunity that could significantly improve the chances of US success in Iraq if the Iraqi government acts upon it”
    It is simply not in the interest of the Iraqi government to act to improve chances for US success.
    It may act for Iraqi success or Shia success but I see no reason why it should act for U.S. success.
    It doesn’t even need U.S. protection. If it needs help, Maliki can always ask his old friends in Iran.
    (He is doing this today btw.)
    The case is not even tenuous …

  3. Richard Whitman says:

    Hooray, a new term “strategic patience”. What Bullshit.(Col Lang, if you do not like the term Bullshit in your blog, please edit it to BS)

  4. taters says:

    Col. Lang,
    You were there for the coalition that was assembled for the Gulf War.
    Saudi Arabia contributed vast sums of money, bases and some troops if I recall. Qatar, the UAE, Morroco, Senegal, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Oman, Bangladesh (I may have missed some)all loaned support, either financially or with troops, or both. Do you foresee a possibility to have that kind of support from Muslim countries again? Sadly, I do not see that with this admin.
    And Babak, please feel free to comment, as a matter of fact – I would appreciate that very much.

  5. JfM says:

    Somehow we’ve lost the bubble. We’re looking at the wrong metric. Be damned the Iraqis, what is in our best interest? A state goes to war and sustains the war as long as it’s in the state’s best interest to persist in the conflict. States should always do what’s in their own best interest not what is in the other states interest. I’m little interested in the arguments that there is ‘still a tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq’, my only concern is what is this ‘bun toss’ doing to us and for us.

  6. JfM says:

    If my failing memory serves me right, Cordesman is the fellow who predicted such dire outcomes should the US takes action against the Iraqis when they went into Kuwait back in 1990. Full of doom and gloom, he forecast a probable 100k US casualties on the eve of Desert Storm. He couldn’t find his butt pack then with both hands and his issue flashlight, why should I afford him any more credence now??

  7. Just an ex grunt says:

    I feel the need to defend Cordesman a bit JfM. His
    analysis of the miltary situation was pretty far off in Kuwait, but some of
    what he has written seems pretty spot on. This is
    from his Nov 95 testimony
    about Saudi Arabia, but
    this part was about fighting Islamic extremism:
    “• The fact is that meaningful religious reform can only come from within Islam, the region, and individual states. The US and the West cannot fight Islam’s battle for the soul of Islam. This is a struggle that can only be fought and won within the region. If it is left to outsiders, or dealt with through denial, it is a struggle that will go on indefinitely and sometimes be lost. It is a struggle that every Middle Eastern intellectual, and every government, needs to face.
    • The most outsiders can do is point out the obvious: This struggle is the most important single strategic priority for virtually every Middle Eastern and Islamic state. It is necessary and unavoidable, and interacts with the broader struggle for a tolerant global society based on mutual respect and human rights.
    More broadly, the US, the Bush Administration, and the Congress need to be careful to adopt realistic time scales for evolutionary change, and to avoid focusing on “democracy” as if a simple political fix could be encouraged or imposed on every nation from the outside and at the nearly the same time.
    • At a minimum, workable “democracy” means taking the time to create government with strong checks and balances. It means priority for human rights and the rule of law over the simple act of voting. It means creating functional political parties capable of both serving the nation and looking beyond one man, one vote, one time. Pure democracy has never worked in any state. Sufficiently crude democracy is little better.
    • Both development, and regional strategic stability, will occur one nation at a time, and at different rates and in different ways. They will be driven either by local reformers and by political evolution, or will often collapse into forms of revolution that may be worse than the status quo.
    • The real world priority for reform also has to give equal balance to economic reform, employment, education, social services, and reducing population growth rates. It means finding solutions to ethnic and religious divisions, and social change. It means giving at least as much priority to the economic role of women as the political role; creating a broad and globally competitive labor force.
    • This kind of evolutionary reform can only occur at a different pace and in a different way in each state in the region. Like religious reform, it can only come from within and must be driven by local reformers. It cannot be driven by US public diplomacy, or by seeking to makeover every state in something approaching the form of the US or Europe. We are not talking about a few years; we are talking a decade and sometimes decades.
    If we are to avoid letting extremists like Bin Laden drive us into a true clash of civilizations, we need a realistic strategy for reform on both sides. Saudi Arabia, the Arab world, and other Islamic states cannot deal with their needs for reform through denial, through complaining about outside states and forces, complaining about US and other external calls for reform, or waiting for the solutions to the region’s other strategic problems. The US cannot deal with the issue by demanding mirror images, instant action, and all the other aspects of its traditional initial solution to every problem: “simple, quick, and wrong.”
    Well, I think he found his
    fanny pack. At least
    that time, anyway.

  8. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Cordesman, apparently, places himself more in the realist school than his traveling neo-sidekicks — Pollack and O’Hanlon. And contrasted to those two, he does appear to avoid “taking off from the wish”, to borrow from K. Sherman. So, in my view, Cordesman’s analysis is superior.
    However…if B. Fall and Gen. Lansdale are correct…without political action, the CI equation falls apart . And without political action, Cordesman’s phrase “strategic patience” becomes a synonym for the “Friedman Unit”, aka FU. In other words, “strategic patience” = FU.
    Here’s a quote from Cordesman’s article that signals a FU alert: “Any major Iraqi failure to move forward over the next six months, to come to grips with the realities described above, and to solidly co-opt the Sunni tribes and put a real end to JAM and other Shi’ite sectarian cleansing will make strategic patience of limited value or pointless.” (pp 23-24)
    In my opinion, Cordesman would have helped himself he had titled his work something along the lines, “Without Political Action, We’ll Lose”.

  9. JohnH says:

    Homer and b are spot on. The Iraqi government is not motivated to move forward on the US agenda. I recently attended a presentation by someone who worked on the inside in Iraq. He said that the problem is that whenever the Iraqis arrive at what they consider a reasonable solution, the Americans say “wrong answer.” The American agenda is simply incompatible with the Iraqi one. And it’s going to be a long slog before the Americans give up their dreams of taking the lion’s share of profits from the oil or for the Iraqi’s to surrender their national wealth. With profit per barrel exceeding $70, one would think there would be room for negotiation. But let’s not forget that the Bush administration simply does not negotiate.

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Excepting perhaps UK, Australia, Singapore, Israel and a few others like that I cannot think of a single state that wishes well for US in Iraq.
    In case of the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the situation was very different: the cause was Just (as much as these things go), other states did not wish to set a (new) precedent for future possible wars for control of resources and certainly not oil & gas (just imagine India deciding to take over Saudi Arabia or UAE), US had the resoures to purchase military and diplomatic support, and last but not least US was not percieved to be there to threaten other (local) states.
    None of those conditions obtain now.
    Additionally, at the present moment, US has also lost the so-called propoganda (information) war – she is percieved to be acting against Islam and thus unlikely to receive the kind of overt aid that you are envisioning from the Muslim states that you have mentioned. (And even in 1990 news papers in Mexico called that war the War of Whites against the Browns.)

  11. Edward Merkle says:

    Patience? Benchmarks? The “scholars” are out of time, and this adventure will probably end as crudely as it was conceived, if certain realities are ignored.
    Here is a guage for patience with Iraqi.
    CBS News/New York Times Poll. July 20-22, 2007
    66% of Americans think we should either remove all troops from Iraq or decrease the amount of troops in Iraq.
    ABC News/Washington Post Poll. July 18-21, 2007.
    “All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?”
    Not worth fighting 63%
    And the trend line is steep.

  12. TR Stone says:

    After watching the contorsions that our government has gone through to justify their decisions on their ME policy, I am almost ready to believe their is no such thing as free will!

  13. eaken says:

    not a single mention of china or russia in the CSIS report, particurly under “strategic realities”.
    I rarely ever see or hear China or Russia mentioned when Iraq is brought up. Is this a non-issue and am I that far off?

  14. jonst says:

    Perhaps the problem with your analysis (at least from my perspective)is your use of the word “State”. And “us”. Exactly ‘who’, and ‘what’ is the ‘State” today? I do not believe, today, that the “State” you write of, is the same thing as the “State” that existed in the US, say, in Dec 1941. But mine is a subjective and jaundice view, albeit one that I stand by.

  15. seenthismovieb4 says:

    Another way to define patience … “patience” = # of rotations x tour length.

  16. taters says:

    This layman believes poltical action is the Concert for the Greater Middle East.
    While I think oil is not the primary reason we went into Iraq, in the end I believe Iraq will sell it to whom they please – be that China, Russia, France – you name it.
    Cordesman is a
    conservative,correct?O’Hanlon and Pollak “liberals”… Which way is up?
    Babak,thank you for your response. It will take much work to undo the damage done.
    b – I get the impression that one might receive a dissertation from Mr. Cordesman for directions to cross the street, but they would be thorough with alot of footnotes.:)
    I’m not trying to be unkind.

  17. Colonel – a reminder to you and your readers. As you know the “Surge Report” due to be presented in mid-September. No doubt all the usual suspects will fall over themselves to point out that it proves everything is going swimmingly. Given the administration’s record I suspect it will somewhat resemble candyfloss. Spun like billyo, sickeningly sweet, containing the Lord only knows what colouring matter, and liable to rot your teeth.
    There’s an antidote coming out on September 1st – the GAO are also due to present their mandated progress report.
    The GAO report will be made available here:
    This page lists the most recent reports and testimonies related to the Iraq war and reconstruction issued since January 2002.
    Two weeks should give everyone time to read, digest, and prepare.
    Kind regards,

  18. Montag says:

    FLASH: Charlie Rose is going to interview Anthony Cordesman on his national PBS program this Monday, Aug. 13. The interview has already been taped and was bumped from Friday to Monday. It should be a cut above the gong show standard of cable TV.

  19. barrisj says:

    My problem with all of these “big picture” macro-analyses is that the reality on the ground is absolutely ignored.
    The very act of maintaining the occupation, in whatever guise you want to spin it, in and of itself is a stimulus to resistance of ANYTHING put forward by the US or those in Iraq considered “collaborators”.
    As long as US troops continue to raid homes – with the ensuing mayhem of smashed interiors, bullied residents, etc. – arrest, beat, shoot, and otherwise terrorise the citizenry, there can be no peace. And when one includes air-power being directed against “targets” in densely-populated urban areas, indiscriminate shootings at the myriad of “checkpoints” raised throughout Baghdad and the Sunni provinces, and just the quotidian abuses visited upon locals by the occupiers, how can anyone seriously propose a “fix” in the presence of these conditions?? Really.

  20. Homer says:

    The truth behind the Pollack-O’Hanlon trip to Iraq by Glenn Greenwald
    Last Wednesday, I interviewed Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution regarding the trip he recently took to Iraq and the highly publicized Op-Ed in the New York Times about his trip, co-written with his Brookings colleague, Ken Pollack.
    O’Hanlon’s answers, along with several other facts now known, demonstrate rather conclusively what a fraud this Op-Ed was, and even more so, the deceitfulness of the intense news coverage it generated.

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