Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bush, McCain and the Surge

A very important piece out by Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard. It is a very accurate bit, from my POV, of how the Surge was born. It is good that much of this is now coming out. There were small public hints we could share early, but so much more waits to be discussed that you just have to wait to become public record to comment on.

Though only mentioned in one paragraph, I put McCain in the title of this post because you have to give credit where credit is due. In the area of victory in Iraq, few if any have been more right than Sen. McCain (R-AZ). Full stop. End the discussion. Fact. Everything else is mindless politics.

I have no problem saying that as a lapsed Romney guy, Rudy voter, anti-Huckabee Evangelical, (l)ibertarian Dennis Miller Conservative (mostly I guess), but one that tries to keep a VDH sense about things. I am not a McCain guy, that is for sure ... but ..... this steadfastness alone would ensure that if in the end it is him against Obama or Clinton - he will get my money and vote in '08.

Anyway, let's get back to Fred's bit. I want you to read it all, but here are the meaty bits that got attention from my highlighter.
Inside his own administration, Bush had few allies on a surge in Iraq aside from the vice president and a coterie of National Security Council (NSC) staffers. The Joint Chiefs were disinclined to send more troops to Iraq or adopt a new strategy. So were General George Casey, the American commander in Iraq, and Centcom commander John Abizaid. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice favored a troop pullback. A week earlier, the Iraq Study Group, better known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, had recommended a graceful exit from Iraq.
He did have some support from the rank and file though.
"If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly."
Almost the title of this post, but a good concept to use in this line of work - or any for that matter.
"One of the most important jobs of a commander in chief, and particularly in a time of war, is to be thoughtful and sensitive about the U.S. military," he said. Bush believes in persuading the military to embrace his policies rather than simply imposing them. In fact, a senior Pentagon official said Bush hoped the military would use the interagency review to push for a surge on its own. That didn't happen. The chiefs preferred the status quo, which meant sticking to a strategy of training the Iraqi army and leaving it with the job of defeating the insurgency.
Not a shocker. Very few bold ideas will come out of the JCS. Any idea goes through too many filters to get there, and except for the rare bird, no one in this still peacetime military make it that far by being anything but status quo cautious.

Want to know why LTC John Nagl (USA A) is punching out at 20? Simple. Unlike WWII where you could make Col. before your 35th birthday (no JPME req'd); the conveyor belt mentality of peacetime promotion still rules. Sad, but he can fight better in suit and tie in 2008.
Bush agreed that strain was a problem. Then he delivered a sharp rejoinder, touching on a theme he returned to in nearly every meeting on Iraq. "The biggest strain on the force would be a defeat in Iraq," he said. Winning trumped strain. To alleviate the strain, the president committed to enlarging the Army by two divisions and increasing the size of the Marine Corps. The chiefs had two more complaints. The military, practically alone, was carrying the load in Iraq. Where were the civilians from the State Department and other agencies? Again, Bush agreed with their point. He promised to assign more civilians to Iraq. (The number of provincial reconstruction teams was soon doubled.)
Same question many of us have been asking for years. Still a great untold story.
After the bombing, NSC officials were increasingly dubious. They weren't alone. General Keane kept in contact with retired and active Army officers, including Petraeus, who believed the war could be won with more troops and a population protection, or counterinsurgency, strategy--but not with a small footprint. At the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, a former West Point professor (and a current WEEKLY STANDARD contributing editor), Frederick Kagan, was putting together a detailed plan to secure Baghdad. But the loudest voice for a change in Iraq was Senator John McCain of Arizona. He and his sidekick, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, traveled repeatedly to Iraq. McCain badgered Bush and Hadley with phone calls urging more troops and a different strategy. Together, McCain, Keane, Petraeus, the network of Army officers, and Kagan provided a supportive backdrop for adopting a new strategy.
This is the McCain paragraph. Read it again. He has been a lion here. Give him all the credit he deserves.
The four-man panel wasn't stacked. Kagan spoke in favor of additional troops and outlined his plan for pacifying Baghdad with a "clear, hold, and build" strategy. American soldiers, along with Iraqi troops, would do the holding, living in Baghdad and guarding its citizens, Sunni and Shia alike. Robert Kaplan, the foreign correspondent and military writer now teaching at the Naval Academy, talked about successful counterinsurgency campaigns in the past. (Kaplan's books are among Bush's favorites.) Kaplan neither advocated a troop buildup nor opposed it.

Countering Kagan, Michael Vickers, a former Green Beret and CIA operations officer, explained how Iraq could actually be won with fewer troops, not more. Vickers is now an assistant secretary of defense. The fourth panelist was Eliot Cohen, now a State Department adviser. Bush had read his book on wartime leadership, Supreme Command. Cohen reemphasized its theme: Leaders should hold their generals accountable if a war is being lost or won.
A good example of solid leadership. Listen with an open mind to both sides. Not quite the GWB you read about, is it?
In Washington, the president got little satisfaction from the interagency review of Iraq policy. Instead of a surge, the State Department favored a strategy of pulling troops out of Baghdad and allowing the Sunnis and Shia to finish their bloody struggle. When Bush heard about this idea, he rejected it out of hand. "I don't believe you can have political reconciliation if your capital city is burning," he said.
State. Again.
That afternoon, Keane and Frederick Kagan gave Cheney a full briefing, including a slide show, on their surge plan. It had been developed at AEI with help from Keane's network of officers. Cheney didn't need much encouraging. Bush told Cheney biographer (and WEEKLY STANDARD senior writer) Stephen F. Hayes last year that the vice president had always been a "more troops guy." The surge neatly fit Cheney's specifications. Keane and Kagan became a sought-after pair in Washington, a gravelly voiced general and a young professor with a plan to win in Iraq. They gave briefings to Hadley and Pentagon officials, among others.
A little something for those with Cheney Derangement Syndrome.

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