Retired LTG McCaffrey, now on the academic staff at West Point, has been making ongoing assessments of the situation in Iraq for several years. He has been portrayed by some as overly critical and, indeed, labeled a "Bush basher." I think that a simplistic characterization, though admittedly he is one who tends to see the glass half empty and he has long displayed a visceral dislike for former Sec. of Defense Don Rumsfeld.
McCaffrey has never made an attempt to sugar coat his assessments, though he obviously wants to see our efforts in Iraq succeed. His is a very rare and honest perspective that, combined with his military background, you cannot find elsewhere in the MSM. In this light, it is worthwhile to compare his earlier assessment of Iraq released during the dark days of March 2007, just as our new counterinsurgency statregy was being implemented (here), with his current report (here), as well as to look at these assessments of the Iraq War within the larger context of the "war on terror."
McCaffrey, in March, perceived Iraq to be caught up in a low level civil war that showed every promise of getting worse. He wrote: "[T]his whole Iraq operation is on the edge of unraveling as the poor Iraqis batter each other to death with our forces caught in the middle." He now sees the situation changed dramatically, and is obviously frustrated by those who, for political reasons, want to see Iraq fail:
The struggle for stability in the Iraqi Civil War has entered a new phase with dramatically reduced levels of civilian sectarian violence, political assassinations, abductions, and small arms/ indirect fire and IED attacks on US and Iraqi Police and Army Forces.
This is the unmistakable new reality ---and must be taken into account as the US debates its options going forward. The national security debate must move on to an analysis of why this new political and security situation exists---not whether it exists.
McCaffrey may as well as have been addressing his statements directly to Harry Reid, who only yesterday boldly claimed that al Qaeda in Iraq was resurgent and that America was once again losing.
McCaffrey assesses that the Iraqi central government is broken and the Iraqi Constitution unworkable, though unfortunately he does not expound upon those observations. That said, McCaffrey perceives that Iraq is developing effective governance at the grass roots level and that it is "is entirely credible that a functioning Iraqi state will slowly emerge from the bottom up." That proposition is of particular importance to the current debate on Iraq. Harry Reid aside, those Democrats who still seek to legislate withdrawal from Iraq do so on the justification that the Iraqi government has failed to enact the "benchmarks" that would allow for an effective government. If McCaffrey is accurate in his assessment, yes, the government is broken, and yes, top down imposition of the "bench marks" is unlikely to occur, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. This needs to inform the debate on how to go forward in Iraq.
It is curious that McCaffrey still characterizes what is occurring in Iraq as a "civil war," a defined term in the military lexicon based on specific conditions that do not seem to exist in Iraq today. Certainly there is the possibility that such could occur, but given the huge decrease in violence and the role of Iran in fomenting violence, this label, standing alone, seems arguably wrong and pretty clearly simplistic. Unfortunately, while he applies this label, he does not provide justification.
McCaffrey sees the development of professional Iraqi security forces and police as the lynchpin of creating a stable Iraq. In March, what he observed seemed hopeless:
The police force is feared as a Shia militia in uniform which is responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings. There is no effective nation-wide court system. There are in general almost no acceptable Iraqi penal institutions. The population is terrorized by rampant criminal gangs involved in kidnapping, extortion, robbery, rape, massive stealing of public property ---such as electrical lines, oil production material, government transportation, etc. (Saddam released 80,000 criminal prisoners.)
The Iraqi Army is too small, very badly equipped. . . The Iraqi Army is also unduly dominated by the Shia, and in many battalions lacks discipline. There is no legal authority to punish Iraqi soldiers or police who desert their comrades. (The desertion/AWOL numbers frequently leave Iraqi Army battalions at 50% strength or less.)
Today, McCaffrey sees the situation significantly changed:
The Iraqi Security Forces are now beginning to take a major and independent successful role in the war. Under the determined leadership of LTG Jim Dubik ---both the equipment and force levels of the Iraqi Security Forces are now for the first time in the war at a realistic level of resource planning.
The previously grossly ineffective and corrupt Iraqi Police have been forcefully re-trained and re-equipped. The majority of their formerly sectarian police leadership has been replaced. The police are now a mixed bag--- but many local units are now effectively providing security and intelligence penetration of their neighborhoods. . . .
If all else were to remain unchanged, it would seem that Iraq is on a forward trajectory to a peaceful, functional society in the foreseeable future. There are two major wildcards. One is the influence of Iran that McCaffrey only touches upon briefly in his report. The other is one that has been just below the surface for years. That is the problem of the Kurdish north.
Under our umbrella of protection after the first Gulf War, the Kurds became a separate country and, after the fall of Saddam, made clear that they had no desire to reintegrate into a larger Iraq. They have tried to stay out of the ambit of national laws, attempted to exercise control over oil assets in the north - including the passage of their own hydrocarbon laws in August in direct opposition to the Iraq central government - and manuevered to take control of Kirkuk and Mosul. They have played against our efforts over the past several years to create a united Iraq, and, as McCaffrey notes, the Kurdish north could easily become the next major battleground:
The Kurds are a successful separate autonomous state – with a functioning and rapidly growing economy, a strong military (Both existing Pesh Merga Forces and nominally Iraqi-Kurdish Army divisions), a free press, relative security, significant foreign investment, and a growing tourist industry which serves as a neutral and safe meeting place for separated and terrified Sunni and Shia Arab families from the south.
There are Five Star hotels, airline connections to Europe, a functioning telephone system, strong trade relations with Syria, enormous mutually beneficial trade relations with Turkey, religious tolerance, a functional justice system, and an apparently enduring cease-fire between the traditional Kurdish warring factions.
Kurdish adventurism and appetite to confront both their external neighbors and the Iraqi central state may have been tempered in a healthy way by the prospect of invasion from the powerful Turkish Armed Forces to avenge the continued cross-border KKP terrorism.
The war-after-next will be the war of the Iraqi Arabs against the Kurds ---when Mosul as well as Kirkuk and its giant oil basin (and an even greater Kurdish claimed buffer zone to the south) is finally and inevitably absorbed (IAW the existing Constitution) by the nascent Kurdish state. The only real solution to this dread inevitability is patient US diplomacy to continually defer the fateful Kurdish decision ad infinitum.
David Ignatius has a good column on this issue in the Washington Post.
There can be little doubt that what has occurred over the past 48 hours goes to the heart of this issue. Approximately two days ago, the U.S. provided actionable intelligence to Turkey as to PKK locations. Turkey subsequently engaged those PKK elements by air and with cross border raids. If the Kurds harbored any illusions that we might remain neutral while they brought Iraq back into open warfare in order to satisfy their separatist aspirations, they should be disabused of those beliefs now. This is a major problem that will not go away soon, but it is one that we absolutely must contain.
McCaffrey sees a need for a long term U.S. presence in Iraq as is currently being negotiatiated between Bush and Maliki. He sees this necessary both to stabilize the nascent Iraqi government and to "hold at bay Iraq’s neighbors from the desperate mischief they might cause that could lead to all out Civil War with regional involvement." Its hard to underestimate the importance of maintaining bases in Iraq. After the recent NIE removed the justification for using force against Iran as to its nuclear program, maintaining forces in Iraq may be our only option to provide some check on Iran's regional aspirations towards its neighbor. Yet this is another area that our far left - including our Democratic Presidential candidates - are contesting.
McCaffrey’s report contains numerous other observations, some promising, some highly troubling - all well worth your read. As to a final note here, in March, McCaffrey wrote of al Qaeda in Iraq and the Shia insurgency:
Iraq is ripped by a low grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels with as many as 3000 citizens murdered per month. The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate. A handful of foreign fighters (500+) --- and a couple of thousand Al Qaeda operatives incite open factional struggle through suicide bombings which target Shia holy places and innocent civilians. Thousands of attacks target US Military Forces (2900 IED’s) a month---primarily stand off attacks with IED’s, rockets, mortars, snipers, and mines from both Shia (EFP attacks are a primary casualty producer) ---and Sunni (85% of all attacks---80% of US deaths—16% of Iraqi population.)
In his current assessment, McCaffrey states that al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated "tactically and operationally" - that's military speak for 'wiped out as a functioning force.' Further, McCaffrey observes that "[t]he senior leaders of AQI have become walking dead men because of the enormous number of civilian intelligence tips coming directly to US Forces." (Update: See this post at Gateway Pundit discussing our recent successes against al Qaeda's leadership) McCaffrey explains that al Qaeda was broken by a mix of exceptional soldiering and diplomacy by our combat forces wearing two hats and the fact that al Qaeda was far too fanatical and insufficiently nationalistic for the vast majority of Iraq's Sunnis. All that said, McCaffrey observes that al Qaeda is attempting to "reconstitute along the Syrian border."
McCaffrey does not address what possibility there exists for a reconstituted al Qaeda to regain a foothold in Iraq as U.S. forces inevitably stand down. It would seem small indeed given that al Qaeda has lost virtually all support among Iraq's Sunni population and given that Iraqi security forces are beginning to become efficient and capable.
That said, while Iraq has been a great defeat for al Qaeda, al Qaeda is hardly defeated. Because al Qaeda is an amorphous threat centered upon the Salafi / Wahhabi religious ideal, it will forever replicate until the idea is itself altered or defeated. Our military in foreign lands and our national security personnel at home have been tasked with meeting the immediate threat of al Qaeda and its ideological brethern. Both our military and our national security personnel have been incredibly successful, but at a great cost in national treasure and in blood.
The problem is that defeating the immediate threat, while an absolute necessity, will not end the long term threat. Like some nightmare phoenix, al Qaeda and their ideological brethern who would act to impose Islam on the world will continue to arise from their own ashes so long as that which animates them – i.e., the "radical" religious ideals that comprise Wahhabi / Salafi Islam – go unchecked.
If we are able to build and sustain some semblance of a free and democratic society in Iraq, that will likely have some impact on this problem. But the fact still remains that we are seeing Wahhabi / Salafi ideals spread across the globe, including within our country, while the majority of our elected officials at best remain silent, and at worst, put other concerns over this potentially existential national security threat. You will find no better example of that than this story here, discussing Salafi infiltration of our education system, and here, discussing how Democrats have gutted legislation to address the issue. (Update: See also here, discussing Saudi influence at our universities, this post, discussing Saudi influence now being felt at Fox News, and this post, discussing libel tourism to silence publicity about Saudi involvment in terrorism and terrorist financing). Moreover, the fact that President Bush has yet to publicly identify Wahhabi / Salafi Islam as the source of Sunni terrorism is itself equally egregious. That said, the NYPD and certain members of our Congress have done so, but there must be much more.
I am not suggesting in the least that we should change any of our First Amendment freedoms to address the problems of othodox Wahhabi / Salafi Islam. Rather, I fully concur with the views of Zhudi Jasser as reported in the Washington Times earlier this month:
Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician and a Muslim who is chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says Islamic governments are looking for a free pass.
"Islamists such as the radical fundamentalists seen with the Saudi Wahhabis exploit American universal tolerance to provide a vehicle for the dissemination of their propaganda free of critique," he said in an e-mail. "It is important to emphasize — 'free of critique' ... it is the tolerance which permits that. But I would hope that we correct our response not by changing our tolerance but by intensely critiquing political Islam and its incompatibility with our pluralistic democracy. America"s laboratory of freedom and liberty should not change."
It is at least some of the core Wahhabi / Salafi ideals that need to be identified and addressed to defeat the long term threat of radical Islam. Our soldiers have paid with their blood and we have all paid with our national treasure to defeat the immediate threat. It is long past time to demand honesty and political courage from our legislators to identify and address the long term threat. Failure to do so only ups the ante in blood and gold that we will have to pay in the long run. Our government at the highest level has the responsibiliity to lead that charge. Ignoring the ultimate source of Sunni terrorism and hiding it behind generic names such as "Islamofacism" is both craven and a critical failing that goes to the heart of our long term national security.