“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Money, patience and time


By William E. Odom, LT General, USA, Ret.
2 April 2008

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It is an honor to appear before you again. The last occasion was in January 2007, when the topic was the troop surge. Today you are asking if it has worked. Last year I rejected the claim that it was a new strategy. Rather, I said, it is a new tactic used to achieve the same old strategic aim, political stability. And I foresaw no serious prospects for success. I see no reason to change my judgment now. The surge is prolonging instability, not creating the conditions for unity as the president claims.

Last year, General Petraeus wisely declined to promise a military solution to this political problem, saying that he could lower the level of violence, allowing a limited time for the Iraqi leaders to strike a political deal. Violence has been temporarily reduced but today there is credible evidence that the political situation is far more fragmented. And currently we see violence surge in Baghdad and Basra. In fact, it has also remained sporadic and significant in several other parts of Iraq over the past year, notwithstanding the notable drop in Baghdad and Anbar Province. More disturbing, Prime Minister Maliki has initiated military action and then dragged in US forces to help his own troops destroy his Shiite competitors. This is a political setback, not a political solution. Such is the result of the surge tactic. No less disturbing has been the steady violence in the Mosul area, and the tensions in Kirkuk between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen. A showdown over control of the oil fields there surely awaits us. And the idea that some kind of a federal solution can cut this Gordian knot strikes me as a wild fantasy, wholly out of touch with Kurdish realities. Also disturbing is Turkey’s military incursion to destroy Kurdish PKK groups in the border region. That confronted the US government with a choice: either to support its NATO ally, or to make good on its commitment to Kurdish leaders to insure their security. It chose the former, and that makes it clear to the Kurds that the United States will sacrifice their security to its larger interests in Turkey.

Turning to the apparent success in Anbar province and a few other Sunni areas, this is not the positive situation it is purported to be. Certainly violence has declined as local Sunni shieks have begun to cooperate with US forces. But the surge tactic cannot be given full credit. The decline started earlier on Sunni initiative. What are their motives? First, anger at al Qaeda operatives and second, their financial plight. Their break with al Qaeda should give us little comfort. The Sunnis welcomed anyone who would help them kill Americans, including al Qaeda. The concern we hear the president and his aides express about a residual base left for al Qaeda if we withdraw is utter nonsense. The Sunnis will soon destroy al Qaeda if we leave Iraq. The Kurds do not allow them in their region, and the Shiites, like the Iranians, detest al Qaeda. To understand why, one need only take note of the al Qaeda public diplomacy campaign over the past year or so on internet blogs. They implore the United States to bomb and invade Iran and destroy this apostate Shiite regime. As an aside, it gives me pause to learn that our vice president and some members of the Senate are aligned with al Qaeda on spreading the war to Iran.

Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. I have heard, for example, a rough estimate that the cost in one area of about 100 square kilometers is $250,000 per day. And periodically they threaten to defect unless their fees are increased. You might want to find out the total costs for these deals forecasted for the next several years, because they are not small and they do not promise to end. Remember, we do not own these people. We merely rent them. And they can break the lease at any moment. At the same time, this deal protects them to some degree from the government’s troops and police, hardly a sign of political reconciliation. Now let us consider the implications of the proliferating deals with the Sunni strongmen. They are far from unified among themselves. Some remain with al Qaeda. Many who break and join our forces are beholden to no one. Thus the decline in violence reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strong men who distrust the government and occasionally fight among themselves. Thus the basic military situation is far worse because of the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political bosses.

This can hardly be called greater military stability, much less progress toward political consolidation, and to call it fragility that needs more time to become success is to ignore its implications. At the same time, Prime Minister Maliki’s military actions in Basra and Baghdad, indicate even wider political and military fragmentation. We are witnessing is more accurately described as the road to the Balkanization of Iraq, that is, political fragmentation. We are being asked by the president to believe that this shift of so much power and finance to so many local chieftains is the road to political centralization. He describes the process as building the state from the bottom up.

I challenge you to press the administration’s witnesses this week to explain this absurdity. Ask them to name a single historical case where power has been aggregated successfully from local strong men to a central government except through bloody violence leading to a single winner, most often a dictator. That is the history of feudal Europe’s transformation to the age of absolute monarchy. It is the story of the American colonization of the west and our Civil War. It took England 800 years to subdue clan rule on what is now the English-Scottish border. And it is the source of violence in Bosnia and Kosovo. How can our leaders celebrate this diffusion of power as effective state building? More accurately described, it has placed the United States astride several civil wars. And it allows all sides to consolidate, rearm, and refill their financial coffers at the US expense. To sum up, we face a deteriorating political situation with an over extended army. When the administration’s witnesses appear before you, you should make them clarify how long the army and marines can sustain this band-aid strategy.

The only sensible strategy is to withdraw rapidly but in good order. Only that step can break the paralysis now gripping US strategy in the region. The next step is to choose a new aim, regional stability, not a meaningless victory in Iraq. And progress toward that goal requires revising our policy toward Iran. If the president merely renounced his threat of regime change by force, that could prompt Iran to lessen its support to Taliban groups in Afghanistan. Iran detests the Taliban and supports them only because they will kill more Americans in Afghanistan as retaliation in event of a US attack on Iran. Iran’s policy toward Iraq would also have to change radically as we withdraw. It cannot want instability there. Iraqi Shiites are Arabs, and they know that Persians look down on them. Cooperation between them has its limits. No quick reconciliation between the US and Iran is likely, but US steps to make Iran feel more secure make it far more conceivable than a policy calculated to increase its insecurity. The president’s policy has reinforced Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons, the very thing he purports to be trying to prevent. Withdrawal from Iraq does not mean withdrawal from the region. It must include a realignment and reassertion of US forces and diplomacy that give us a better chance to achieve our aim. A number of reasons are given for not withdrawing soon and completely. I have refuted them repeatedly before but they have more lives than a cat. Let try again me explain why they don’t make sense.

First, it is insisted that we must leave behind military training element with no combat forces to secure them. This makes no sense at all. The idea that US military trainers left alone in Iraq can be safe and effective is flatly rejected by several NCOs and junior officers I have heard describe their personal experiences. Moreover, training foreign forces before they have a consolidated political authority to command their loyalty is a windmill tilt. Finally, Iraq is not short on military skills. Second, it is insisted that chaos will follow our withdrawal. We heard that argument as the “domino theory” in Vietnam. Even so, the path to political stability will be bloody regardless of whether we withdraw or not. The idea that the United States has a moral responsibility to prevent this ignores that reality. We are certainly to blame for it, but we do not have the physical means to prevent it. American leaders who insist that it is in our power to do so are misleading both the public and themselves if they believe it. The real moral question is whether to risk the lives of more Americans. Unlike preventing chaos, we have the physical means to stop sending more troops where many will be killed or wounded. That is the moral responsibility to our country which no American leaders seems willing to assume.

Third, nay sayers insist that our withdrawal will create regional instability. This confuses cause with effect. Our forces in Iraq and our threat to change Iran’s regime are making the region unstable. Those who link instability with a US withdrawal have it exactly backwards. Our ostrich strategy of keeping our heads buried in the sands of Iraq has done nothing but advance our enemies’ interest. I implore you to reject these fallacious excuses for prolonging the commitment of US forces to war in Iraq. Thanks for this opportunity to testify today.

ht: Cutler. In Iraq, we have done what we set out to do and much more. Saddam is gone and we would have been justified in leaving when we pulled his lifeless body from that spider hole. Instead, per Colin Powell's admonition, we took it upon ourselves to pay for what we had broken. We tried and it's doubtful if we'll ever be able to put humpty dumpty together again.

A dysfunctional Islam is at war with modernity and embroiled in a brewing civil war between sects. With the end of a bipolar world, the restraints on militant Islam have been eased while at the same time, an increasingly secular and nihilistic west has wanted only to enjoy the "peace dividend." The US military has done an admirable job in Iraq but as has been pointed out here at the EB, other aspects of the interagency effort have been dismal. It is obvious to all but the blind that the world has little interest in battling jihadism in any way other than police work.

Even though the total US expenditures in Iraq amount to only one month of GDP (out of the sixty since the invasion) the cost in money and blood is seen as too high. Our allies have been of little or no help in Iraq and are unwilling to commit enough fighting troops in Afghanistan which may be "a bridge too far anyway." It's ironic that the picture is improving in Iraq while the stars are aligning against a long term US military presence in the Muslim world. The Iraqi Sunni are awakening but will the nation reconcile before it implodes? No one knows.

Money, patience and time are running out for the US expediton in the heart of the caliphate. .


  1. Sounds like this general would have a place in the Obama administration. Everything we do is wrong, and it's all our fault.

  2. I agree, bob. I just wanted to present the other side.

  3. Bobal: Sounds like this general would have a place in the Obama administration. Everything we do is wrong, and it's all our fault.

    No, but the wrong things we do are wrong and our fault. At the hearing Joe Biden asked Crocker to choose the one country he could eliminate al-Qaeda from, if he could only eliminate them from one. He chose Afghanistan over Iraq. In other words, Ambassador Crocker said that Iraq is not the central front on the Global War on Terror. Obama's position is to do what Patton did in the Battle of the Bulge, pull his forces off the right wing of the Allied thrust, pivot 90 degrees, and strike north. In this case back into Afghanistan.

  4. Rice has mused about returning to the faculty at Stanford and perhaps writing a sober political science book that only policy wonks would want to read. But would the very ambitious secretary really be able to resist a history-making bid for the vice presidency if McCain came knocking on her door?

    That's unclear. But first McCain would have to ask.

    The presumptive Republican nominee professed surprise on Sunday about the reports that Rice was seeking the job. "I missed those signals," he told reporters, though he called Rice a "great American."

    Not Running for VP

  5. Well written piece Whit. I cannot believe that there are many who knowing what we know today, would repeat what has happened in Iraq. We cannot go back in time, but we have to look at the facts. There is no sense of proportionality to what we have paid and what we have gained. We continue to double down on a bad deal.

    I do not give a damn about the intrigue amongst Muslims. It means nothing to me if they have democracy or not.

    I care about American security, which is based on a strong economy and a sense of union and purpose. We had 19 psychopaths hijack 4 planes and murdered their way into oblivion thinking they were on the fast track to paradise. Dumb asses all.

    We should have brutally punished the network that supported them. A few tactical nukes at Tora Bora and the message and payback would have been complete. We could have assassinated Saddam and taken out a brace or two of Saudis as well.

    I understand and support vengeance and brutal disproportionate reprisal. I firmly believe in taking a street sweeper to a knife fight. I detest pious bullshit like Islam being a religion of peace and celebrating Ramadan in the White House.

    I knew it would be a cluster fuck (thanks PK) when I saw that asshole L. Paul Bremer walking in a suit and tie and work boots. Anyone who ever had to use work boots never used an initial for a first name.

    It was over when they fired the Iraqi army and the shiites marched through Baghdad hitting themselves with bike chains. What the hell did GWB and L. Paul Bremer know about Iraq? Every Arab leader in the area begged them not to do it and accurately told them why it would not work.

    Nothing predicted by team 43 was accurate. Nothing, not time, not results, not costs, not outcome, nothing. What on earth will change over the next five years? Nothing.

  6. "The extent of Iran's malign influence was dramatically demonstrated when militia elements armed and trained by Iran clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basra and Baghdad,'' Crocker said.

    In his testimony, Petraeus said the U.S. military, with more than 150,000 soldiers, required at least 140,000 troops in Iraq over the next six months. He warned that the security situation was fragile and could undergo a sudden decline.

    "This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable,'' Petraeus said. "However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so far and sacrifice so much to achieve.''

    Iraq Violence

  7. New York Times Trashes Sheriff Joe
    Hey, 'Rat, how 'bout some on the scene updates/links?

    Go Sheriff Joe!

  8. 100's of our Warriors, and thousands of Iraqis have died as a direct result of Iran's dirty deeds, now causing more problems than any one source.
    Like Liebermann says, we know where those 3 training camps are, why the Hell did Bush not give them a love tap long ago. with everything else he's kicked down the road, it's become more problematic.
    ...but as with Iraq,
    IT'S ALL ABOUT (nonexistent) WMD's.

  9. But the reception for Petraeus only worsened in the afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) taunted the general with a variation on a World War I song.

    "We're there because we're there because we're there because we're there, and it never ends," the congressman said. "I'd liken your job to that of Sisyphus."

    With polls showing that two-thirds of Americans regard the war as a mistake, even such a stalwart as Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) had to acknowledge that "right now, the war is very unpopular."

    Unfriendly Fire

  10. 2164th: Nothing predicted by team 43 was accurate. Nothing, not time, not results, not costs, not outcome, nothing. What on earth will change over the next five years? Nothing.

    Then why should we accept their prediction of disaster if we start to draw down the forces below 140,000 troops?

  11. 2164th: A few tactical nukes at Tora Bora and the message and payback would have been complete.

    Bush never contemplated first-strike nuclear airbursts, strategic or tactical. Those are reserved for real wars, the kind that are actually declared by Congress. Funding was allocated for research into a "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator" which would avoid intractable world criticism, but the weapons were never (officially) developed and no super underground complexes were found at Tora Bora to use them against at any rate.

  12. In 2000-2007, Russia decommissioned 440 missiles and about 2,500 warheads, while only 27 new missiles were supplied to the armed forces, the report said. Given the current negative trends, the Russian Missile Forces may have only 100-200 intercontinental missiles by 2018, it said.

    In response, Russian military officials insisted the country's nuclear deterrent was adequately funded. Since 2004, Russia has raised funding of strategic missile forces by four times, Russian Missile Forces Commander, General Nikolai Solovtsov announced on 17 March.

    Russia's renewed talk of its nuclear deterrent comes against the background of the upcoming end of Putin's term as president. And it is still far from certain whether the country's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, will pursue his perceived role of a "liberal" or opt for continued reliance on bellicose pronouncements as a foreign policy instrument.

    Strategic Deterrent

  13. We have a ten year burden to restore our industry and savings and domestic capital. External and internal deficits are a far greater threat to US security than muslim tribes.

    How did we get scammed into thinking that steel mills in Guanchow are preferable to them being in Bethlehem or Pittsburgh Pennsylvania? Industry and trade mercantilism has given China a trillion and a half dollar reserve and they are using it to their military advantage.

    We exchanged steel workers from the banks of our great rivers for financial geniuses who have de-capitalized the banks with a river of bad loans.

    It took us thirty years to repair our great military from the damage done in the late sixties and seventies and now look at it. It is being propped up with unwed mothers, high school drop outs and recruits with criminal records.

    Hell, when the air force crashes two or three planes, the first thing they do is have a general stand-down and do a double wide WTF. The point is to find out why the damn things are crashing, not to have someone say, "but they look and sound good when they take off."

  14. In his testimony, Petraeus said the U.S. military, with more than 150,000 soldiers, required at least 140,000 troops in Iraq over the next six months.

    Deja vu all over again. On Nov 12, 2006, John McCain claimed this was a “critical time” in Iraq and that “we’re either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months.” Reminds me of George Jetson on the treadmill, "Jane, stop this crazy thing!"

  15. The U.S. property and casualty insurance industry's profits took a 5.8% hit in 2007, slipping to US$61.9 billion last year from US$65.8 billion in 2006.
    By contrast, the Canadian property and casualty industry saw its net income fall 3.6% in 2007, down to Cdn$4.008 billion, according to statistics published by MSA Research Inc.

    The U.S. property and casualty insurance industry's overall profitability (as measured by its rate of return on average policyholders' surplus) dipped to 12.3% in 2007 from 14.4% in 2006, according to The Insurance Services Office [ISO], the Insurance Information Institute [III] and the Property and Casualty Insurers Association of America [PCI]. The three groups issued a joint press release announcing the U.S. results.

    "Driving the erosion in net income and overall profitability, the [U.S.] property/casualty insurance industry's net gains on underwriting fell 38.9% to [US]$19 billion in 2007 from [US]$31.1 billion the year before," the press release notes.
    "The combined ratio — a key measure of losses and other underwriting expenses per dollar of premium — edged up to 95.6% in 2007 from 92.4% in 2006," according to ISO and the PCI.

    5.8% Hit in '07

  16. 2164th: It took us thirty years to repair our great military from the damage done in the late sixties and seventies and now look at it. It is being propped up with unwed mothers, high school drop outs and recruits with criminal records.

    There's a whole lot a lesbians who don't get pregnant, finished high school, and have exemplary records who would love to serve but Dubya says no way.

  17. Here, doug
    Patrols going down into "little Mexico", Guadalupe, AZ, just south of Tempe.

    Feds defend Sheriff Joe in the political fight with the Mayor of Phoenix.

  18. She was 13 before she knew she was Jewish. She even attended Catholic school.

    “Both my parents came from a place where you palmed yourself off as a shiksa or shegetz,” says playwright Zsa Zsa Gershick. “My mother’s mother told her, ‘Don’t ever mention that you’re a Jew.

    Pretend you’re Catholic, or you won’t get a house or a job.’”

    In the Closet

  19. Thanks, 'Rat!
    (ain't read em yet.)

  20. "How did we get scammed into thinking that steel mills in Guanchow are preferable to them being in Bethlehem or Pittsburgh Pennsylvania? Industry and trade mercantilism has given China a trillion and a half dollar reserve and they are using it to their military advantage.

    We exchanged steel workers from the banks of our great rivers for financial geniuses who have de-capitalized the banks with a river of bad loans.
    Hewitt had a guy on to ask about the Heparin disaster. (60 more discovered yesterday)
    The actual numbers killed will never be known, as the word is still getting out to some doctors that there is a problem.

    How many of the killed and injured would have opted for the Chinese peasant pig farm product, even if a safe source would have cost twice as much?
    Tip of the iceberg, as the globies just ACT as tho Chi-coms are most favored in every way, just like Bubba declared them to be.

  21. "Given our need to fill deputy vacancies, firing someone who is just hours away from graduating and otherwise ready for duty, is a disappointment," Arpaio says. "We had a big investment in this cadet.

    But, we have an infinitely larger investment in the community we serve. While terminating this cadet may seem regrettable, it is this type of behavior that increases the risks of racial insensitivity and racial bias.

    Law enforcement is a serious job with serious consequences and there is no room for racism and bigotry."

    Racist Remarks

  22. whiskey_199 said...
    Right Habu. GWB will suddenly act decisively after 8 years of acting passively. Like the Iranian people will rise up get rid of the mullahs. That's been predicted every year since 1979. Nearly thirty years of failure.

    Unlike you Habu I judge people by their actions. GWB has shown political cowardice at every turn in confronting his domestic enemies and so has become President Buchanon. The record is not encouraging.
    The political leadership is disastrous. It is focused on ignoring the obvious.
    (refering to Israel, I think, works for me for Bush)
    I will make a prediction: Habu will be shown to be the master of wishful thinking when GWB leaves office and nothing happens to Iran. I predict nothing will. No bombing. Nothing.

  23. Out of the Closet:

    "He was 21 before it ever occurred to him that he was white as he was raised by a family of black sharecroppers."

    - The Jerk

  24. And considering how long it took Mbeki to convince his Southern African Development Community (SADC) counterparts that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is a legitimate political entity, the possibility of sending in a SADC peace- keeping force will simply not fly.

    Moreover, the Zimbabwean army – however weakened and divided it may be – is not the Lesotho Defence Force. The conditions in Zimbabwe are very different, and sending in troops could well lead to an escalation of the crises.

    Interestingly, the MDC has also put out feelers to sections of the military, which explains in part why there have not been more overt efforts to orchestrate a coup from the side of the armed forces in Zimbabwe.

    Zimbabwe's Crisis

  25. Our secretary of state, meanwhile, is inexplicably buried on page 134 in the May issue of Fitness - without even a tease on the cover. She’s treated with more respect on the mag’s Web site, sharing equal prominence with supermodel Niki Taylor (ellipticals, free weights), singer LeAnn Rimes (jump rope) and actress Jessica Biel (yoga).

    If Condi keeps playing hard to get, maybe we’ll soon see a McCain-Rimes or a McCain-Biel dream ticket.

    Of course, if the Republicans truly want a cellulite-fighting VP, there’s always Mitt Romney.

    My SOS can Beat up your FM

  26. Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said: "We will continue to push for deportations for people who pose a risk to security and take all steps to protect the public."

    Human Rights Watch said: "The Government should stop trying to deport people to countries whose justice systems are deeply tainted by abuses."

    Al-QAEDA planner Abu al Masri - a suspect in the 2005 London transport bombings and a foiled 2006 plot to blow up passenger planes - is believed to have died in Pakistan from hepatitis.

    Osama #2

  27. So Powell's actually contemplating voting Dem? What kind of shit is that?

  28. Jet maker Boeing (nyse: BA - news - people ) has announced yet another delay to its 787 Dreamliner, confirming expectations of industry analysts, along with Boeing's customers. Boeing's shares rose 2.8%, or $2.07, to $77.09, on Wednesday morning.

    Still, it only further diminishes the company's credibility and places it at a further disadvantage to European Aeronautic Defense and Space (other-otc: EADSF - news - people ) unit Airbus, in the battle for control of the commercial jet market.

    Boeing says the plane's first flight will not take place until the fourth quarter of this year. The company's said that slow progress in assembly and continuing problems with suppliers were putting the program about 15 months behind schedule.

    Snooze Button Again

  29. The entertainment factor of Belmont has increased considerably since Marine Corps commander and Company man habu resurfaced.

    How long til nahncee figures it out?

  30. Sam: So Powell's actually contemplating voting Dem? What kind of shit is that?

    The same kind of shit as this:

    Jonathan Singer: There's a story in The Hill, I think on Tuesday, by Bob Cusack on the front page of the paper talking about how John McCain's people -- John Weaver -- had approached Tom Daschle and a New York Congressman, I don't remember his name, about switching parties. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what your discussions were with him in 2004, how far it went, who approached whom... if there was any "there" there.

    John Kerry: I don't know all the details of it. I know that Tom, from a conversation with him, was in conversation with a number of Republicans back then. It doesn't surprise me completely because his people similarly approached me to engage in a discussion about his potentially being on the ticket as Vice President. So his people were active -- let's put it that way.

    Singer: Okay. And just to confirm, you said it, but this is something they approached you rather than...

    Kerry: Absolutely correct.

  31. Trish, Whiskey and Habu are one and the same.

  32. Doug: Alleged Al Qaeda chief dead

    It is not the first time that al-Masri has been reported dead. In January 2006, Pakistani officials said he and three other senior Al Qaeda officials perished in a missile attack by a Predator drone near the Afghan border. U.S. and Pakistani security officials later determined that none of the Al Qaeda leaders was in the village at the time of the strike.

    Basically, every time Bush needs a bump in the polls, he flashes a picture of Abu Ubaida al Masri and says, "We got him!"

  33. Given that whiskey has been the least insightful, goofiest BC commenter in recent memory, I'd say he's gone and one-upped himself.

  34. And that was a nicely written little piece, whit.

  35. 2164th: Trish, Whiskey and Habu are one and the same.

    Sort of like 3-in-1 Oil, huh?

  36. Looks like the basra war was an a fully Iranian thing rather than an al sadr operation