November 23, 2007

Podesta, Korb and Katulis: Long on complaints, short on solutions

Last week, an opinion piece by John Podesta, Larry Korb and Brian Katulis published in the Washington Post repeated the calls to declare defeat in Iraq and come home. For three people who are supposed to be pretty bright, how can they be so out of touch? They need to get out of the Washington-New York corridor and stop listening to their own counsel.

Here are some excerpts, and my comments:

Both political parties seem resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock on its Iraq strategy and bequeath this quagmire to the next president. … Conservatives continue to align themselves with Bush's Iraq strategy; some have offered muted criticisms of the implementation and handling of the war, but there has been no call to change direction.

There was a call to change direction. A year ago, responding to Congress and the American people, the President appointed General David Petraeus to command U.S forces in Iraq with the orders to make changes. He also gave the general an additional 20,000 troops to mount the “surge.” That new strategy is beginning to pay off. Al-Qaida in Iraq is on the run, having suffered huge losses at the hands of American troops and Sunni tribes, especially in al-Anbar governorate. Thousands of Iraqis who had fled Baghdad are returning, sectarian violence is down, attacks against Iraqi and American forces are down, electric power generation is higher than before the invasion, oil revenues are up – things are taking on the appearance of success. That’s a quagmire?

The many dangers of allowing our Iraq policy to drift include undermining our ability to respond effectively to other contingencies, such as the ongoing fight in Afghanistan. Not only do we no longer have a strategic ground reserve….

Ah, I get it. It’s better to declare defeat and leave Iraq so we can have an unencumbered military. We have to address these threats now or later, but we have to address them. Going home does not make them go away.

(I)n Anbar province, Sunni tribal leaders rose up against the pro-al-Qaeda Sunni elements well before the surge began. Drifting along the current path actually enhances the al-Qaeda narrative of America as an occupier of Muslim nations.

The Sunni shaykhs formed the Anbar Salvation Council in late 2006 in reaction to al-Qaida acts against some of the tribes. I am not sure that should be characterized as “well before the surge.” Even so, the surge has helped force al-Qaida out of its former strongholds in Anbar governorate and virtually forced them from Baghdad. How is that a bad thing? The surge has set the stage for the defeat of al-Qaida – not too many people are singing the “occupier of Muslim nations.”

Since the surge began, the number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said that more than 2 million Iraqis have left the country, and tens of thousands flee every day, often to squalid camps in Syria and Jordan.

Where have these guys been? Acquaintances in Damascus tell me that restaurants and shops that catered to the Iraqi refugees are now virtually empty. The Syrian government has had to step in and facilitate the flow of these displaced Iraqis back to their home country. Neighborhoods in Baghdad are coming back to life as the Iraqis return home.

Perhaps these guys should visit Syria and Jordan to see how the Iraqi expatriates live. For the most part, they have money – rents in the two cities have skyrocketed as they sought out nice housing. I am sure there are some that have ended up in camps, but to portray them packed into “squalid camps” is a bit disingenuous.

The United States must set a firm withdrawal date. … This withdrawal can be completed safely in 12 to 18 months and should be started immediately.

How many times do we have to explain the folly of setting withdrawal dates? All that does is provide a ray of hope for the insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq – try to survive until that date and Iraq is yours. There is no doubt that we can start now and execute a withdrawal safely – it’s the exact wrong thing to do.

I am surprised that of the three writers, Brian Katulis agreed to be involved in this assessment. He normally knows what he is talking about. I know Larry Korb and consider him to be a friend, but this is pure political drivel.