Col. Timothy Reese: ‘It’s Time for the US to Declare Victory and Go Home’

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Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 12:13 pm

It’s Time for the US to Declare Victory and Go Home

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed.

Equally important to realize is that we aren’t making the GOI and the ISF better in any significant ways with our current approach. Remaining in Iraq through the end of December 2011 will yield little in the way of improving the abilities of the ISF or the functioning of the GOI. Furthermore, in light of the GOI’s current interpretation of the limitations imposed by the 30 June milestones of the 2008 Security Agreement, the security of US forces are at risk. Iraq is not a country with a history of treating even its welcomed guests well. This is not to say we can be defeated, only that the danger of a violent incident that will rupture the current partnership has greatly increased since 30 June. Such a rupture would force an unplanned early departure that would harm our long term interests in Iraq and potentially unraveling the great good that has been done since 2003. The use of the military instrument of national power in its current form has accomplished all that can be expected. In the next section I will present and admittedly one sided view of the evidence in support of this view. This information is drawn solely from the MND-B area of operations in Baghdad Province. My reading of reports from the other provinces suggests the same situation exists there.

The general lack of progress in essential services and good governance is now so broad that it ought to be clear that we no longer are moving the Iraqis “forward.” Below is an outline of the information on which I base this assessment:

1. The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.

2. The anti-corruption drive is little more than a campaign tool for Maliki

3. The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.

4. There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.

5. Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.

6. Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.

7. The Kurdish situation continues to fester.

8. Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.

9. The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US’s business.

The rate of improvement of the ISF is far slower than it should be given the amount of effort and resources being provided by the US. The US has made tremendous progress in building the ISF. Our initial efforts in 2003 to mid-2004 were only marginally successful. From 2004 to 2006 the US built the ISF into a fighting force. Since the start of the surge in 2007 we have again expanded and improved the ISF. They are now at the point where they have defeated the organized insurgency against the GOI and are marginally self-sustaining. This is a remarkable tale for which many can be justifiably proud. We have reached the point of diminishing returns, however, and need to find a new set of tools. The massive partnering efforts of US combat forces with ISF isn’t yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. Again, some touch points for this assessment are:

1. If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. US combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it.

2. The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the ISF is incapable of change in the current environment.

a) Corruption among officers is widespread

b) Neglect and mistreatment of enlisted men is the norm

c) The unwillingness to accept a role for the NCO corps continues

d) Cronyism and nepotism are rampant in the assignment and promotion system

e) Laziness is endemic

f) Extreme centralization of C2 is the norm

g) Lack of initiative is legion

h) Unwillingness to change, do anything new blocks progress

i) Near total ineffectiveness of the Iraq Army and National Police institutional organizations and systems prevents the ISF from becoming self-sustaining

j) For every positive story about a good ISF junior officer with initiative, or an ISF commander who conducts a rehearsal or an after action review or some individual MOS training event, there are ten examples of the most basic lack of military understanding despite the massive partnership efforts by our combat forces and advisory efforts by MiTT and NPTT teams.

3. For all the fawning praise we bestow on the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) and Ministry of Defense (MoD) leadership for their effectiveness since the start of the surge, they are flawed in serious ways. Below are some salient examples:

a) They are unable to plan ahead, unable to secure the PM’s approval for their actions

b) They are unable to stand up to Shiite political parties

c) They were and are unable to conduct an public relations effort in support of the SA and now they are afraid of the ignorant masses as a result

d) They unable to instill discipline among their officers and units for the most basic military standards

e) They are unable to stop the nepotism and cronyism

f) They are unable to take basic steps to manage the force development process

g) They are unable to stick to their deals with US leaders

It is clear that the 30 Jun milestone does not represent one small step in a long series of gradual steps on the path the US withdrawal, but as Maliki has termed it, a “great victory” over the Americans and fundamental change in our relationship. The recent impact of this mentality on military operations is evident:

1. Iraqi Ground Forces Command (IGFC) unilateral restrictions on US forces that violate the most basic aspects of the SA

2. BOC unilateral restrictions that violate the most basic aspects of the SA

3. International Zone incidents in the last week where ISF forces have resorted to shows of force to get their way at Entry Control Points (ECP) including the forcible takeover of ECP 1 on 4 July

4. Sudden coolness to advisors and CDRs, lack of invitations to meetings,

5. Widespread partnership problems reported in other areas such as ISF confronting US forces at TCPs in the city of Baghdad and other major cities in Iraq.

6. ISF units are far less likely to want to conduct combined combat operations with US forces, to go after targets the US considers high value, etc.

7. The Iraqi legal system in the Rusafa side of Baghdad has demonstrated a recent willingness to release individuals originally detained by the US for attacks on the US.

Yet despite all their grievous shortcomings noted above, ISF military capability is sufficient to handle the current level of threats from Sunni and Shiite violent groups. Our combat forces’ presence here on the streets and in the rural areas adds only marginally to their capability while exposing us to attacks to which we cannot effectively respond.

The GOI and the ISF will not be toppled by the violence as they might have been between 2006 and 2008. Though two weeks does not make a trend, the near cessation of attacks since 30 June speaks volumes about how easily Shiite violence can be controlled and speaks to the utter weakness of AQI. The extent of AQ influence in Iraq is so limited as to be insignificant, only when they get lucky with a mass casualty attack are they relevant. Shiite groups are working with the PM and his political allies, or plotting to work against him in the upcoming elections. We are merely convenient targets for delivering a message against Maliki by certain groups, and perhaps by Maliki when he wants us to be targeted. Extremist violence from all groups is directed towards affecting their political standing within the existing power structures of Iraq. There is no longer any coherent insurgency or serious threat to the stability of the GOI posed by violent groups.

Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the GOI. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations. Furthermore, their attacks on us are no longer an organized campaign to defeat our will to stay; the attacks which kill and maim US combat troops are signals or messages sent by various groups as part of the political struggle for power in Iraq. The exception to this is AQI which continues is globalist terror campaign. Our operations are in support of an Iraqi government that no longer relishes our help while at the same time our operations generate the extremist opposition to us as various groups jockey for power in post-occupation Iraq.

The GOI and ISF will continue to squeeze the US for all the “goodies” that we can provide between now and December 2011, while eliminating our role in providing security and resisting our efforts to change the institutional problems prevent the ISF from getting better. They will tolerate us as long as they can suckle at Uncle Sam’s bounteous mammary glands. Meanwhile the level of resistance to US freedom of movement and operations will grow. The potential for Iraqi on US violence is high now and will grow by the day. Resentment on both sides will build and reinforce itself until a violent incident break outs into the open. If that were to happen the violence will remain tactically isolated, but it will wreck our strategic relationships and force our withdrawal under very unfavorable circumstances.

For a long time the preferred US approach has been to “work it at the lowest level of partnership” as a means to stay out of the political fray and with the hope that good work at the tactical level will compensate for and slowly improve the strategic picture. From platoon to brigade, US Soldiers and Marines continue to work incredibly hard and in almost all cases they achieve positive results. This approach has achieved impressive results in the past, but today it is failing. The strategic dysfunctions of the GOI and ISF have now reached down to the tactical level degrading good work there and sundering hitherto strong partnerships. As one astute political observer has stated “We have lost all strategic influence with the GoI and trying to influence events and people from the tactical/operational level is courting disaster, wasting lives, and merely postponing the inevitable.”

The reality of Iraq in July 2009 has rendered the assumptions underlying the 2008 Security Agreement (SA) overcome by events – mostly good events actually. The SA outlines a series of gradual steps towards military withdrawal, analogous to a father teaching his kid to ride a bike without training wheels. If the GOI at the time the SA was signed thought it needed a long, gradual period of weaning. But the GOI now has left the nest (while continuing to breast feed as noted above). The strategic and tactical realities have changed far quicker than the provisions and timeline of the SA can accommodate. We now have an Iraqi government that has gained its balance and thinks it knows how to ride the bike in the race. And in fact they probably do know how to ride, at least well enough for the road they are on against their current competitors. Our hand on the back of the seat is holding them back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground.

Therefore, we should declare our intentions to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing US plans by some 15 months. We should end our combat operations now, save those for our own force protection, narrowly defined, as we withdraw. We should revise the force flow into Iraq accordingly. The emphasis should shift towards advising only and advising the ISF to prepare for our withdrawal. Advisors should probably be limited to Iraqi division level a higher. Our train and equip functions should begin the transition to Foreign Military Sales and related training programs. During the withdrawal period the USG and GOI should develop a new strategic framework agreement that would include some lasting military presence at 1-3 large training bases, airbases, or key headquarters locations. But it should not include the presence of any combat forces save those for force protection needs or the occasional exercise. These changes would not only align our actions with the reality of Iraq in 2009, it will remove the causes of increasing friction and reduce the cost of OIF in blood and treasure. Finally, it will set the conditions for a new relationship between the US and Iraq without the complications of the residual effects of the US invasion and occupation.

Comments

24 Comments

Col. Timothy Reese: ‘It’s Time for the US to Declare Victory and Go Home’
Pingback posted July 30, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

[...] Read more from the example source:  Col. Timothy Reese: ‘It’s Time for the US to Declare Victory and Go Home’ [...]


agorabum
Comment posted July 30, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

Corruption is eternal, be it here at home or in Iraq (although it's much bigger over there). But you can't cure corruption with a foreign army of occupation.
Iraq's safe from its neighbors; who would want it? And if Iran actually invaded, it would be just the excuse the US needed to attack them on foreign soil (although there is no way that they would).
AQI is defeated.
Any practical reason not to go home next year?


Warren Platts
Comment posted July 30, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

“Our hand on the back of the seat is holding them back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground.”

A self-conscious reference to the old Donald Rumsfeld paradigm. But heck, why not? Besides, things have been getting hot in Afghanistan. As long as the force levels are committed until 2012, the troops will be of more use over there.


It’s time
Pingback posted July 31, 2009 @ 1:59 am

[...] goes the beginning of a recently released memo by a senior colonel in the US military serving in Iraq. It’s stirring [...]


verging_on_random » Failure in Iraq
Pingback posted July 31, 2009 @ 2:39 am

[...] There’s plenty more clinical dissection of the state of Iraq in the memo which can be found here.For example: The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains [...]


cherokeerose
Comment posted July 31, 2009 @ 4:20 am

What an intelligent, thoughtful and thought-provoking article. Thank you, Colonel, for being both truthful and succinct in your assessment of the wrteched situation that we created in Iraq.

CSM W. H. Bennett, , Marine Corps, Ret.


jalemn
Comment posted July 31, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

The American people need to get on their phones and on the internet, or write letters to their congressman or editors–whatever–we have years of history to show that special political interests, monetary involvement in the defense contracting industryies and the closed cadre of special interests that consistently cause these “little police actions” to string out forever, as long as their is a profit “buck” somewhere. Never mind the cost in taxpayer dollars (or how about LIVES?) Somehow, it is perpetually made clear, some way, that all this if way beyond the intellectual ken of the ordinary citizen. Whether you are 21 or 71, you've never experienced a time when our country (and our prime young people) were not engaged in some sort of real or trumped up “blood-letting”, somewhere in the world, for some good cause, to rescue some entity of lesser capabilities. That is because, since Korea, it has been a significant industry in the US. Do some research–check it out!!


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Quote: Col. Timothy Reese on Americans In Iraq | CNReviews
Pingback posted July 31, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

[...] Reese, a senior United States military officer in Iraq, in an internal memorandum titled “It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home” (hat tip: James Fallows). In it, he explains that the risks and costs of continued U.S. [...]


LuckyDen
Comment posted August 1, 2009 @ 3:19 am

I was an advisor a few months ago (COL Reese originally took over same Iraqi Division I advised). I was able to brief COL Reese in areas that we improved over the course of the year and areas that would never improve. I agree that the SA has made it impossible for Advisors and our combat troops to be effective. It was a battle every day to get them to do the basic military tasks that U.S. privates take for granted.

I witnessed several corrupt Officers withhold money from their Iraqi soldiers (or attempt to) The junior leaders in the Iraqi Army (and most younger soldiers) are easily molded by their superiors but many of them impressed me with their ability to apply appropriate leadership to accomplish the mission. They are capable, if equipped, but the ISF are insufficiently supplied to the most basic levels. Food & Water are major hurdles let alone the equipment needed to defeat IEDs and collect intelligence on AQI or insurgent activity.

We have given them the opportunity to be successful and have pushed them into some success but our arms are tired. It is time to significantly readjust our strategy let them feel the pain of going alone. We don’t need to go far but we do need to go!

CPT Dennis


Where’s the Outrage? » What’s up with NYT
Pingback posted August 1, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

[...] was pulled from the TownHall site, it was reposted at several other sites, including the invaluable Washington Independent. Reese’s analysis is pretty interesting; it reflects far more serious thought than his recent [...]


John Weiss
Comment posted August 1, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

Colonel Reese is right. In addition, all we have done is make Iran stronger and tied ourselves to defending a backward Shiite government that will attack the Sunni and the Kurds and end up with the rule of a strong man, as always since the Brits created it in 1919. We also ought to stop thinking that we can resructure Afganistan into a modern western like democracy. We know from what we have tried in Iraq that you cannot go against history and hope to succeed. Why waste money on a collection of tribal entities that is not a nation and where what we call corruption is simply the way things are done. As for stopping the poppy growing, we cannot even stop drugs from coming accross our borders from Central and Latin America. Go after Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan and forget about building an American Empire. We need our money here.


Barbara Hart
Comment posted August 1, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

Congratulations to Colonel Reese! Only one caveat. We cannot declare victory because we did not defeat the insurgents. They will attack the Shiite government, as will the Kurds and even moderate Sunni, and the Shiite will find another strong man to hold Iraq together, as they always have. Even now they are moving toward Iran. We put the Shiites in power and they have always seen in Iraq the kind of theocratic dictatorship they want. Iran will help them get it, and we will suffer for it. We will not get the freindly dictator the Pentagon wanted, nor the military bases nor the control of the oil so important to the neoconservatives. Iraq will never be friendly to the west. Bush, Rumsfeld, Feith, Perle, Bremer and their American Enterprise ideologue buddies should be tried by the International Court for war crimes. They destroyed a nation and contributed to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, all in the name of expanding the American Empire.


Barbara Hart
Comment posted August 1, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

Colonel Reese is correct, we should pull out now. We cannot declare victory, however, because the insurgents will always be strong among the Sunni and even the Kurds. They will never submit to an Iran inspired Shiite theocracy. The Kurds want autonomy, and the Sunnis want their old powers and priveleges back. The Shiites will have to have a strong man to rule over them and control them. Sound familiar? That is what they had with Saddam plus a better life. Bush, Cheney, Perle, Feith, Bremer, Wolfowitz and all their neoconservative think tank buddies ought to be treid as war criminals for helping to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of our brave young men in the name of oil, bases and an extension of the American Empire. They failed the U.S. and seriously harmed our interests and those of our allies, the Israelis. Iran now rules the Gulf, and Hezbollah is therefore stronger.


He’s Just Not Into You § Unqualified Offerings
Pingback posted August 2, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

[...] paper, the US military still has a large role in Iraq. On the ground, according to a(n originally) confidential analysis by Col. Timothy Reese, that’s just not true any more. When half measures like the SOFA come [...]


Steve Breyman: Declare Victory in Afghanistan (too) and Go Home | America at War
Pingback posted August 4, 2009 @ 8:26 am

[...] caused a stir this past week when a memo prepared for the staff of Gen. Ray Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq, made its way to the public [...]


Guests, Like Fish, Begin to Smell after Three Days « American Footprints
Pingback posted August 10, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

[...] command, Col. Timothy R. Reese, wrote a rather blunt memo that has recently found the light of day (copy here). In the memo, Reese argues that the U.S. should accelerate its withdrawal from Iraq based on the [...]


leonives
Comment posted August 16, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

Yes, we can declare victory. And, so can the Iraqis. Everyone here in Iraq can see that despite the Democrats and media lies along with the Brits whining. The Iraqis now have a democratic government and a Constitution. They now have a fair judicial system they are going to have to learn. They are no longer ruled by a murderous dictator and now have a voice through elections and their own media. Get over the Bush and Cheney accusations. Over ninety percent of Congress voted for the invasion along with more than 30 other countries. Bill Clinton and all the Democrats publically denounced Saddam as a U.S. and regional threat, as well as having WMD, before Bush was even elected. In fact, the Clinton Administration planned the invasion of Iraq in the form of an Executive Order. The questionable CIA information was provided by CIA Director George Tenet, Clinton’s very own Director who Bush kept on board. These are undisputable facts the Democrats continue to ignore and lie about.


Leon Ives
Comment posted August 16, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

Yes, we can declare victory. And, so can the Iraqis. Everyone here in Iraq can see that despite the Democrats and media lies along with the Brits whining. The Iraqis now have a democratic government and a Constitution. They now have a fair judicial system they are going to have to learn. They are no longer ruled by a murderous dictator and now have a voice through elections and their own media. Get over the Bush and Cheney accusations. Over ninety percent of Congress voted for the invasion along with more than 30 other countries. Bill Clinton and all the Democrats publically denounced Saddam as a U.S. and regional threat, as well as having WMD, before Bush was even elected. In fact, the Clinton Administration planned the invasion of Iraq in the form of an Executive Order. The questionable CIA information was provided by CIA Director George Tenet, Clinton’s very own Director who Bush kept on board. These are undisputable facts the Democrats continue to ignore and lie about.


leonives
Comment posted August 16, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

Yes, we did defeat the insurgents. Take a look at all the reports based on seized evidence and intercepted communications. The described in detail how we defeated them. It is all public information and facts.


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