General Says New Strategy In Iraq Can Work Over Time

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
January 24, 2007
By Michael R. Gordon
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 — Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush’s new choice as the top commander in Iraq, told senators on Tuesday that the new military strategy to secure Baghdad can work, and that he had asked that the additional troops the administration promised be deployed as quickly as possible.
In his first public comments about Mr. Bush’s plan to send some 21,500 troops, the general described the situation in Iraq as “dire” but not hopeless. He asserted that the “persistent presence” of American and Iraqi forces in strife-ridden Baghdad neighborhoods was a necessary step, but also cautioned that the mission would not succeed if the Iraqi government did not carry out its program of political reconciliation.
“The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy, and undoubtedly there will be tough days,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy. He will try to wait us out. In fact any such endeavor is a test of wills, and there are no guarantees.”
But much of the hearing focused not on details of the strategy about to unfold in Iraq, but rather on the political debate within the Senate over resolutions that would signal disapproval of the new strategy.
When Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has long favored sending more troops to Iraq, asked if approval of a Senate resolution assailing Mr. Bush’s new strategy could hurt the morale of American troops, the general replied, “It would not be a beneficial effect, sir.”
Asked by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who also backs the plan, if a resolution would also “give the enemy some encouragement” by suggesting that the American people are divided, General Petraeus replied, “That’s correct, sir.”
That answer sparked admonishments by critics of Mr. Bush’s strategy, who insisted that the point of the Senate resolutions is to put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq to follow through on its political program and take more responsibility for its own security.
“We know this policy is going forward,” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York. “We know the troops are moving. We know that we’re not likely to stop this escalation. But we are going to do everything we can to send a message to our government and the Iraqi government that they had better change, because the enemy we are confronting is adaptable.”
Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who is promoting a resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s troop reinforcement plan, cautioned General Petraeus to be sure that “this colloquy has not entrapped you into some responses that you might later regret.”
By the end of the hearing, General Petraeus sought to extricate himself from the political tussle by insisting that as a military man he did not want to take a position on the Senate debate. “There are a number of resolutions out there,” he said. “Learning that minefields are best avoided and gone around rather than walked through on some occasions, I’d like to leave that one there.”
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, said later that he was satisfied that the general had not intended to involve himself in the debate. The exchanges at the hearing did not appear to have any ill effect on the prospects for the confirmation of General Petraeus, and Mr. McCain said he hoped the commander would “catch the next flight” to Iraq after winning Senate confirmation.
When their questions focused on the military plan, senators elicited several new details. General Petraeus said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander of American troops in Iraq, advised that in order to carry out the new strategy, five additional brigades were needed in Baghdad and two additional battalions were needed in Anbar Province in western Iraq.
Under the current deployment schedule, it will be May before all five of the brigades are in Iraq, but General Petraeus hinted that he would like them sooner, saying that he had asked the Pentagon to dispatch them “as rapidly as possible.”
General Petraeus acknowledged that the guidelines in the military’s counterinsurgency manual implied that 120,000 troops would be needed to secure Baghdad. But he reasoned that the roughly 32,000 American troops that would be deployed in the capital under the plan would be enough, because the total number of American and Iraqi security personnel would be about 85,000, while the use of civilian contractors to guard government buildings would reduce troop requirements.
If the troops are sent according to the current schedule, General Petraeus said the United States would know by late summer if the plan to clear contested neighborhoods of insurgents and militias, hold them with American and Iraqi security forces and win public support through reconstruction was working.
He said he would raise the issue of suspending troop reinforcements with his military superiors if the Iraqi government appeared to have not lived up to its commitments. But he suggested that withholding assistance from specific Iraqi institutions that fall short would have a greater influence. The general also said that a decision to withdraw American troops within six months would lead to more sectarian attacks and increased “ethnic cleansing.”
General Petraeus acknowledged that he had concerns about the absence of a unified command structure. Under the new plan, the Iraqi Army and police units will be under direct Iraqi command. The American Army units that work with them will be under a parallel American command. To ensure proper coordination, American officers are trying to establish joint command posts.
Senator Levin said his committee had repeatedly asked the administration to make available a list of the security and political “benchmarks” the Iraqi had agreed to meet. He warned that the committee would use its subpoena power or hold up military nominations if benchmarks were not provided.
By insisting on that the benchmarks be provided, Mr. Levin seemed to be trying to position himself to argue that the “surge” of reinforcements be suspended if the Iraqis fell short of meeting commitments.