Thursday, November 16, 2006

General Abizaid's Testimony

While scrounging around trying to find a transcript of Abizaid's testimony I find Juan Cole has already made the primary point I wanted to make:

Here's how I interpret the contretemps Wednesday between Gen. John Abizaid and Republican Senator John McCain.. McCain wants to send another division, about 20,000 US troops, to Iraq. Abizaid told him: 1) that would produce only a temporary improvement since the US doesn't have a spare division to send to Iraq for the long term and 2) Increased US troop levels are counterproductive because they remove the incentive for the Iraqi government and army to get their acts together and fight the guerrillas and militias effectively and 3) If Iraq is going to come back to better days, it will have to be primarily with Iraqi troops and 4) Iraqi troops are not now doing the job, so if more US troops are sent to Iraq it should be as trainers and units available for joint patrols, not as independent combat troops. I'd just like to point out that most of Abizaid's arguments could also be deployed for a phased withdrawal, which he opposed. My senator, Carl Levin supports the phased withdrawal idea, and so do I. What if it isn't just an increased US presence that would remove the incentive for Iraqi leaders to compromise and/or fight effectively? What if *present* troop levels do that? I say, let's take out a division ASAP (20,000 men) and make it clear that we're never putting a division back in to replace it. Then let the Iraqis try to fill the resulting vacuum themselves. Give them armored vehicles, tanks, helicopter gunships, and a nice wood-panelled room where they can negotiate with one another. And then after a couple of months I would pull out another US division. Such a phased withdrawal is not guaranteed to succeed. It has a better chance of succeeding than the current policy.

This is very important: the arguments Cole cites Abizaid as making support a phased withdrawal. 1) Abizaid says we haven't got the extra troops and they would only be a temporary aid. 2) Abizaid says more troops would remove Iraqi incentive to do it themselves. If this principle is accepted then why doesn't it increase Iraqi incentive to begin a phased withdrawal?? Obviously we must be concerned about maximizing Iraqi incentive to protect themselves, make compromises with one another, disarm militias, etc. Beginning a phased withdrawal or at least serious negotiations to begin such a withdrawal increases such incentive. 3) Ditto re Iraqi troops too. 4) If we can increase U.S. trainers without them being in combat then this may be a good idea.

My impression is that these "Hearings" are pretty sterile affairs because Congresspeople don't ask very tough questions or follow up on important issues. Abazaid said the next 4-6 months are crucial. Will anyone hold him to this or will he be back in six months again saying 'Trust me,success is just around the corner'? (This is 'deja vu all over again' if you're old enough to remember Vietnam.) Abizaid said a withdrawal timetable would limit the military leadership's flexibility (and this was the headline for a million news accounts so it got immense publicity). Did anyone ask "flexibility to do what?" "How would it limit your flexibility?" "What benchmarks of progress can we look at in six months to see if your 'flexibility' led to desired results?" Instead of just accepting these platitudes is anyone asking any tough questions?

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