This is a defining moment in Iraq. The next six months will be crucial. Again. And Again.

Summary:  This is from the FM archive, written in November 2006.  It’s apt today.  It’s the first in a series about the Iraq War.  Links to the other chapters appear at the end.

This essay gives 52 quotes from the members of our ruling elites, their forecasts about the Iraq War.   What conclusions can we draw from this material?

  1. The Democrats recommend we adopt (retain?) an infantile attitude, that of little children focusing on abuse by their big, bad guardians.  Blaming Bush might be justified, and is certainly entertaining, but does not help decide what to do next.  Whatever mistakes, deceptions, or outright fraud happened back in 2002, we should get over it.  Both Coalition soldiers and Iraq civilians die while we dither.
  2. The real lesson of this history seems sadder and more painful to contemplate.  We were fools for going along with this slow-motion disaster for so long.  If we refuse to change this attitude we should look for more bad news in our future.
  3. It is long past time to re-introduce ourselves to Mr. Reality.  We’ve lost, so what do we do next?  All choices are bad, but the difference between bad and worse is far more significant than that between good and better.  Harsh decisions lie ahead.

The next milestone on this road to Hell is the report of the Iraq Study Group.  I have little hope for decisive recommendations from this collection of retired politicos.  If they fail us, then we must wait for the American citizenry to wake up and protest.

Quotes from the great and good about the Iraq War

Note:  The quotes by Thomas Friedman are from “Tom Friedman’s Flexible Deadlines“, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), 16 May 2006.

Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, Speaking at a “TownHall Meeting” held at Aviano Air Base on 7 February 2003:

“And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”

Senator Pat Roberts (R – Kansas), 3 July 2003:

“I think the next few months will be crucial.”

Representative Ike Skelton (D – Missouri), speaking at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on 10 July 2003:

“Looking at what we have today in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, and looking at the whole region and how infectious it can be for positive or for widespread trouble in the world, I think we may be going through a series of weeks and months that are crucial to the future history of freedom and stability. The determination of the British people, the Royal Airforce (RAF) and the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk success, if it was a success, probably saved not just Britain, but the Western world at that time. I am convinced that there is going to have to be a determination by the American people, military, particularly American military, quality and quantity, not just presence but capability, and a confidence in the Iraqi people that they can have a stable and representative government.

Sen. John McCain (R- Arizona) speaking on CNN’s “American Morning”, 10 September 2003:

[Question:  When you speak of victory, how do you define it today in Iraq?]

MCCAIN:  Probably when the people of Iraq are governing themselves. That’s probably the best benchmark, and that probably could happen sooner rather than later, as far as being directly related to the return of the basic services — the electricity, the water, the sanitation, the law enforcement — those kinds of things. … And I’m not sure how long it would be, but I don’t think that we have time on our side. I think it’s critical that we act quickly by sending more troops there. And if not, we run the risk of the Iraqi people turning against us.

[Question:  Are you thinking 6 to 12 months? Or do you think that’s dreaming at this point?]

MCCAIN: I don’t know because I don’t know how quickly we’re going to act in the form of sending troops.  I don’t know how quickly we’re going to be able to provide them with the security.  So, it’s sort of up to us.  But I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, 30 November 2003:

“The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time.”

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) speaking on 1 December 2003, quoted in a Washington Post of 30 November 2005:

“The next six to seven months are critical.”

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking during a surprise visit to Iraq, 4 January 2004:

“The important thing is to realize we are about to enter into a very critical six months … We have got to get on top of the security situation properly and we have got to manage the transition. Both of those things are going to be difficult.”

President Bush speaking at the United States Army War College on 24 May 2004:

“Iraq now faces a critical moment.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air”, 3 June 2004:

“What I absolutely don’t understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it’s over.  I don’t get it.  It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what’s the rush?  Can we let this play out, please?”

Senator Richard G. Lugar (R– Indiana), statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 22 July 2004:

The next few months will be critical as the new government must establish security, continue to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, and prepare the Iraqi people for national elections scheduled for January 2005.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation”, 3 October 2004

“What we’re gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, 28 November 2004:

“Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won’t be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile.”

George Friedman, Stratfor, 1 March 2005:

“There are rare occasions when two distinct geopolitical processes reach a pivot point at the same time, that precise place where the evolution of a process takes a critical turn.  Last week saw three such points.  In Iraq, the security network around the guerrilla leadership appeared to be breaking wide open.”

Stratfor, 23 March 2005:

“As the political process evolves, further government victories could be in the offing. Intense negotiations on the formation of the Cabinet, involving the United Iraqi Alliance, Kurdish List, Sunnis and other factions, have already begun. With Sunnis incorporated into a new government, progress on the political front likely will lead to further success on the battlefield as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to keep pressure on the insurgents with raids, arrests and all-out offensive operations. These developments ultimately will support the U.S. strategy of turning the combat burden over to an emboldened and maturing Iraqi army.”

Stratfor, 6 April 2005:

“Washington has moved beyond the military stage of the U.S.-jihadist war and is now in the phase of negotiated settlements.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, speaking on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”, 29 June 2005

“I think the next nine months are critical.”

Stratfor, 13 July 2005:

“This attack probably will be instrumental in turning the Iraqis against the militants, especially the transnational jihadists who are not only seen as using the general insurgency in Iraq for their cause (which has very little to do with the Sunni community’s grievances or Iraqi nationalism), but now seem to have reached the point where they will not shirk from killing children as part of their attack plans.”

Barry R. McCaffrey (General, US Army, retired),  on 18 July 2005, as quoted in the Washington Post on 30 November 2005:

“I think the next 18 months are crucial.”

Ambassador John Bolton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Statement to the Security Council on 4 August 2005:

“I have long been invested with ensuring the development of a peaceful, democratic Iraq.  We are nearing the resolution of that process, and the next months will be critical.”

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), speaking on CNN’s “Situation Room” on 18 August 2005:

“But the fact is these next six months are going to be very critical in Iraq, not just the constitution writing, referendum, the election, but also within that six months’ period, we’re going to see whether the Iraqis are really going to be capable of defending themselves, governing themselves and supporting themselves.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on 25 September 2005:

“I think we’re in the end game now…. I think we’re in a six-month window here where it’s going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election—that’s my own feeling— let alone the presidential one.”

General George Casey, Commanding General of coalition forces in Iraq, testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 29 September 2005:

“The next 75 days are going to be critical for what happens”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist on 28 September 2005:

“… Maybe the cynical Europeans were right.  Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation.  That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won’t, then we are wasting our time.”

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, Former Commander, Multi-National Transition Command Iraq and NATO Training Mission Iraq, News Briefing on 5 October 2005:

“And the developments over the next several months will be critical — as General Casey and General Abizaid and the secretary made very clear over the course of last week — as the constitutional referendum in the mid part of this month, the general elections in mid-December and then the subsequent formation of a new government all take place.”

Thomas P. M. Barnett, 17 October 2005:

As always, whenever the Bush administration helps to pull off an election in Iraq, you have to hand it to them. Poor job on occupation, no doubt, but this thing keeps muddling through. … Meanwhile, a lot of Sunnis are shifting from fighting the system altogether to working within the political process. This is crucial. … Iraq is doing just fine given all poorly planned occupation (F to the neocons, C+ to the officers doing their best in a crappy situation on the ground).

Senator John Kerry  (D– Mass), speech at Georgetown University on 26 October 2005:

“We are entering a make or break six month period, and I want to talk about the steps we must take if we hope to bring our troops home within a reasonable timeframe from an Iraq that’s not permanently torn by irrepressible conflict. … “To those who suggest we should withdraw all troops immediately — I say No. A precipitous withdrawal would invite civil and regional chaos and endanger our own security. But to those who rely on the overly simplistic phrase “we will stay as long as it takes,” who pretend this is primarily a war against Al Qaeda, and who offer halting, sporadic, diplomatic engagement, I also say — No, that will only lead us into a quagmire. … “To undermine the insurgency, we must instead simultaneously pursue both a political settlement and the withdrawal of American combat forces linked to specific, responsible benchmarks. At the first benchmark, the completion of the December elections, we can start the process of reducing our forces by withdrawing 20,000 troops over the course of the holidays. …”

Steve Hadley, National Security Advisor, Comments at White House Press Briefing on 10 November, 2005:

“And we’re seeing a lot of them [officials from the Iraqi government] because this is a critical time in Iraq going into the elections, and it is very important that these elections produce an outcome, that it reflects the will of the Iraqi people, that results in a government — that is broadly based, drawing from all elements of the Iraqi society, that gets stood up quickly and is a strong government that can take the kinds of difficult, economic and security decisions that the new government is going to have.”

Senator John W. Warner (R-Virginia), on 17 November 2005, as quoted in the Washington Post on November 30, 2005:

“We’ve got, I think, six months.”

Senator Joseph Biden (D- Delaware), speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on 21 November 2005:

“Instead, we need to refocus our attention on our mission — of our mission on preserving America’s fundamental interests in Iraq.  And there are two of them, in my view.  One, we must ensure that Iraq does not become what it was not before the war — emphasize “was not before the war” — a haven for terrorists, a jihadist stronghold.  And we must do what we can to prevent a full-blown civil war that runs the risk of turning into a regional war.  To accomplish that more limited mission and to begin redeploying our troops responsibly, it seems to me we have to make significant, measurable progress toward three goals, and you only have about the next six months to demonstrate that progress.”

George Friedman of Stratfor on 21 November 2005:

“What the debate is telling us is that we have come to a defining moment in the war and in U.S. policy toward the war. … The administration’s position in Iraq is complex but not hopeless. Its greatest challenge is in Washington, where Bush’s Republican base of support is collapsing. If it collapses, then all bets will be off in Iraq. Bush’s challenge is to stabilize Washington. In fact, from his point of view, Baghdad is more stable than Washington right now. …”

Senator John W. Warner (R-Virginia), speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press”, 27 November 2005:

“I served in the last year of World War II in the Navy.  Franklin D. Roosevelt did just exactly that.  In his fireside talks, he talked with the people, he did just that.  I think it would be to Bush’s advantage.  It would bring him closer to the people, dispel some of this concern that understandably our people have about the loss of life and limb, the enormous cost of this war to the American public, and we’ve got to stay firm for the next six months.  It is a critical period, as Joe and I agree, in this Iraqi situation to restore full sovereignty in that country and that enables them to have their own armed forces to maintain their sovereignty. …

[Question:  “What happens if not enough Iraqis step forward to defend their country?”]

 “At that point then we have to come to the realization that the program has not met the target and we have to determine what we’re going to do.  I would not want to posture what that decision would be.  You’ll have to wait.  You shouldn’t speculate.  We’ll have to wait for those six months.”

Senator John W. Warner (R-Virginia), PBS “Online Newhour” on 30 November 2005:

“But it was necessary for the president to go out and reinforce to our troops and the other coalition forces and to the world that we have a resolve in these next four to six months in Iraq which are critical to bring about achievement of our goals. … We should not at this time in these critical four to six months be worrying about a timetable to withdraw or even talking about it.”

Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. (D-Delaware), speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation”, 18 December 2005:

“[The Iraq elections are] necessary, not sufficient … [the] next six months are going to tell the story.  Two important things.  What’s the government going to look like?  If it’s Mr. Mahdi who ends up representing the SCIRI Party, who’s aligned with Iran, then we got a real problem.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation”, 18 December 2005:

“We’ve teed up this situation for Iraqis, and I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it’s going to come together.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show, 20 December 2005:

“We’re at the beginning of I think the decisive I would say six months in Iraq, OK, because I feel like this election—you know, I felt from the beginning Iraq was going to be ultimately, Charlie, what Iraqis make of it.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, 21 December 2005:

“The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful.”

Stratfor, 6 January 2006:

“We have reached a crucial test in Iraq. … Whatever the explanation, this is the crucial moment. The elections were held and a political track was set. If this offensive derails the negotiations, it will be a defining moment in the war.  If the negotiations go forward anyway — for any of the reasons discussed above — then the probability of a drawdown in the war in 2006 is very real. In the end, the reasons for the offensive are less clear than its potential significance. As they say, this is it.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on the Oprah Winfrey Show, 23 January 2006:

“I think that we’re going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding.  In which case, I think the American people as a whole will want to play it out or whether it really is a fool’s errand.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on CBS; program is uncertain and not been verified, on 31 January 2006:

“I think we’re in the end game there, in the next three to six months, Bob. We’ve got for the first time an Iraqi government elected on the basis of an Iraqi constitution. Either they’re going to produce the kind of inclusive consensual government that we aspire to in the near term, in which case America will stick with it, or they’re not, in which case I think the bottom’s going to fall out.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on NBC’s “Today”, 2 March 2006:

“I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq.”

UN news release, 15 March 2006:

“Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, told the Security Council in an open briefing this morning that the next six months in Iraq are going to be critical.”

“The Beginning of the End Game”, Stratfor, 17 March 2006:

“If there is ever going to be an end game in Iraq, we are now in it. Operation Swarmer, launched Thursday, seemed designed to attack jihadists in the Sunni regions.  The key to the U.S.-Sunni conversation has been getting the Sunnis into the political process and, as a result, getting the Sunnis to help liquidate the jihadists. If Swarmer was launched on the basis of Sunni intelligence, and if that intelligence turns out to be accurate, it will be a key event in recent Iraqi history.  Those are big “ifs,” of course.  At the same time, if the Sunnis are joining the political process, then it is time for Iran to negotiate its final price on Iraq, and that appears now to be happening. Taken together, this is not the end, but the beginning of the end game, and success is not guaranteed.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on “CNN Late Edition with Wold Blitzer”, 23 April 2006:

“Can Iraqis get this government together? If they do, I think the American public will continue to want to support the effort there to try to produce a decent, stable Iraq. But if they don’t, then I think the bottom is going to fall out of public support here for the whole Iraq endeavor. So one way or another, I think we’re in the end game in the sense it’s going to be decided in the next weeks or months whether there’s an Iraq there worth investing in. And that is something only Iraqis can tell us.”

Thomas Friedman, New York Times foreign affairs columnist, speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on 11 May 2006:

“Well, I think that we’re going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months — probably sooner — whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we’re going to have to just let this play out.”

“Core Issues in Iraq”, Stratfor, 22 May 2006:

“We would say that the next six weeks, rather than months, will show us where things are.”

“Break Point”, George Friedman, Stratfor, 23 May 2006:

“The violence in Iraq will surge, but by July 4 there either will be clear signs that the Sunnis are controlling the insurgency — or there won’t. If they are controlling the insurgency, the United States will begin withdrawing troops in earnest. If they are not controlling the insurgency, the United States will begin withdrawing troops in earnest. Regardless of whether the deal holds, the U.S. war in Iraq is going to end: U.S. troops either will not be needed, or will not be useful.  Thus, we are at a break point — at least for the Americans.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to Iraq, Interviewed in Der Spiegel, 7 June 2006:

“The next six months will be critical in terms of reining in the danger of civil war.  If the government fails to achieve this, it will have lost its opportunity.”

“Iraq: The Implications of Al-Zarqawi’s Death”, Stratfor, 8 June 2006:

“Second, international oil companies have been waiting for two things before investing in the Iraqi oil complex: a domestically chosen, internationally acceptable representative government, and an end to the insurgency.  The first has happened; the second may finally be in sight.”

“Al-Zarqawi and the Tipping Point”, Stratfor, 9 June 2006:

“If we are right and this is the tipping point, then things just tipped toward a political settlement. This will become clearer over the next few days. Violence will certainly not disappear, but it should reduce itself rather rapidly if the Sunni and Shiite leadership have put out the word.  We thought this was the week for something to happen, and something has.  Now to find out if it was what we were waiting for, and to find out if it will work.”

General George Casey, Commanding General of coalition forces in Iraq, Official statement after a 39-nation meeting in Warsaw to discuss “the challenges facing Iraq and the US-led coalition”, 5 October 2006:

“This is a decisive period for everyone and everyone knows it. The next six months will determine the future of Iraq.”

Lee Hamilton, former Congressman (D– Indiana), member of the Iraq Study Group, 19 September 2006:

“Time is short, level of violence is great and the margins of error are narrow.  The government of Iraq must act.  The government of Iraq needs to show its own citizens soon and the citizens of the United States that it is deserving of continued support.   The next three months are critical.  Before the end of this year, this government needs to show progress in securing Baghdad, pursuing national reconciliation and delivering basic services.”

Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colorado), 22 June 2006:

“The next six months are likely to be critical in determining whether the situation in Iraq turns worse or whether we may yet salvage a measure of political stability that addresses our long-term security interests in the region.“

For more information about the Iraq War

Other articles in this series:

Reference pages with links to other sources

Afterword and contact info

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