Can anyone explain General Petraeus’ answer?

A follow-up to my previous post about the Iraq Government.  How real is it, in terms of the usual criteria:  attributes of sovereignty, authority, and legitimacy.

Here is an excerpt from an interview of General Petraeus by Austin Bay (Colonel, US Army Reserve, retired), posted at his blog on 5 August 2008 (hat tip to Zenpundit).  Can anyone explain what the General said in reply to “please comment on a sovereign Iraq emerging as a US ally”?  It is probably the most important question of the war for America, determining if we get anything in return for our expenditure of blood and money.  Bold emphasis added.

AUSTIN BAY: Gen. David Petraeus, let’s pick up on your rheostat analogy. You’re giving us a conditions-based approach to assessing victory in a very intricate, complex and long struggle.  Now this is an incremental victory-one step up; a half-step back. Enemy action results in a coalition response; coalition actions result in an enemy response. That’s war among human beings.  It strikes me that some of those conditions include a sovereign Iraq that is largely responsible for its own internal security, but is also a United States ally.

These are some of the conditions mentioned in the Update Strategic Overwatch videoat the That said; if you would, please comment on a sovereign Iraq emerging as a US ally.

Did you get a chance to look at that video?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Just briefly, I’m afraid, Austin. But let me just come back to what you just said because the way you stated that is exactly right. It is incremental, and it does have fits and starts. It is this exercise of pushing the stone up a hill, a Sisyphean endeavor at times where you do make two steps up and one step back. Sometimes you get one step up and two steps back.

But, overall, over the course of the past year or so, really since the start of the surge of offenses in particular, that was the large comprehensive offensive launched in June 2007 when we had all of the surge brigades on the ground, since that time, there has been a fairly steady degree of improvement week in/week out, month in/month out. Certainly, again, there have been flare-ups at times. The militia counterattacks, when Prime Minister al-Maliki ordered Iraqi forces and the Basra, were really quite a substantial – more than a flare-up.

But, over time, those were dealt with, more than dealt with, in fact, and very severe losses inflicted on the militia.

 Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other posts about the fragmentation of Iraq and the end of the War

  1. Lessons Learned from the American Expedition to Iraq (29 December 2005)
  2. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace (13 March 2007)
  3. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq (27 September 2007)
  4. Iraq, after the war (20 May 2008)
  5. Iraq wonders if America will respect them in the morning  (5 June 2008)
  6. Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible  (18 July 2008)

Go here to see an archive of my posts about the Iraq War.

7 thoughts on “Can anyone explain General Petraeus’ answer?”

  1. Cautious optimism.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That describes the tone. But what he said looks to me irrelevant to the question.

  2. What Petraeus is saying is that we are not engaged in a random walk in Iraq but rather, with time, despite ups and downs, we are headed toward some good result according to some definition. ( Don’t ask me to provide that definition. Also do not ask me to provide his metric. )
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree that is what he is saying. But is talking about military progress the universal answer to all questions about Iraq? Will this success mean that the resulting strong Iraq government is an ally of the US? Or was he just changing the subject?

  3. Robert Petersen

    I can’t see that he answer the question. Which of course is interesting. General Petraeus is in many ways a general who operates on a tactical or operationel level. Not on the strategical level. The problem is of course that you can’t divide warfighting from political goals. I suspect he knows that and that is why he avoids answering the question.

    The problem is that for winning the war in Iraq the United States must actually leave Iraq and truly grant Iraq its independence. There is no other way Iraq and the United States could become friends. Unfortunately I can’t see that will happen.

  4. Could one see his answer as trying to avoid becoming a target for critic in the American presidential elections? Iraq is a divisive problem. He also can’t be sure to what extend the policies of the present administration will be continued by the next president. So best to be vague.

  5. Will this success mean that the resulting strong Iraq government is an ally of the US?

    The font of all wisdom when it comes to portraying knee-jerk, right-wing propaganda in its basic, cliche’ based, talking point form is the editorial page of the Wheeling (WV) Intelligencer.

    These sages now want us to Force Iraq to Pay For Projects, Too, arguing that Iraq is duty bound to spend its $80 billion surplus the way we want it to.

    To the extent Iraq responds to the Intelligencer by asserting that the $80 billion is “their money” and they will spend or not spend it as they see fit, we will have some metric to determine whether or not Iraq is or is not in some meaningful sense “sovereign.”

  6. This is a result of erroneously depending upon Petraeus to assess the overall Iraq situation.

    Petraeus gave his assessment of the military situation, which everyone (including Petraeus) correctly states is only a minor prtion of the Iraq situation, outweighed as it is by political, social and economic factors. So the idea that the US is propping up a new fundamentalist Islamic regime allied with Iran, not the US, entirely escapes him and he focuses on militia losses and other such military trivia.

  7. I agree with Bacon. Petraeus is addressing the methodological question of how to measure military progress, but not the strategic question of the end-result. Further, he answers the question only with a metaphor (Sysiphus) which obviously he’s never read, or he would know that the rock always rolls all the way back to the bottom of hill. In addition, he ignores the other explanations for why the surge has worked (buying off the Sunni militants; Al Sadr going to ground, possibly at Iran’s urging); and ignores the ll other provinces where the central government and US forces have no presence. Finally, many commenters now see the impasse in Kirkuk, the failure to agree to provincial elections, as a dangerous development which could spill over into the rest of country.

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