June 26, 2010

Vacation Suggestion To Obama: Baghdad

Senator John Kerry already intended to hold additional meetings on the war in Afghanistan next week and after July 4th.

Seven Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee left nothing to chance in a letter to the chairman, demanding hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. Having heard the Pentagon's side of the war, it's time to hear the civilians.

Perhaps Kerry’s first round of questions should zero in on Iraq.

With no compromise in sight between de facto Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi, whose Iraqi National Movement (INM) party secured two more parliamentary seats than al-Maliki in the March election, Iraq is not the post-civil war environment America had hoped to leave in peace. Sporadic but high-profile terror attacks, electricity and water shortages, and the government’s deadlock is grinding down Iraqis on the streets.

Their officials apparently aren’t happy either.

The Los Angeles Times
reports, “they had detected a lack of direction even before Obama tapped Petraeus to replace his commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal... The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy's single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here.”

At the macro level President Barack Obama has left oversight to Vice President Joe Biden. “Obama has not chaired a meeting on Iraq since last year, and according to one prominent Iraqi political figure, many Iraqis are worried that Biden does not have the clout to coordinate U.S. policy.”

“We hear about the responsible withdrawal of Obama,” says former Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak Rubaie, “but not a lot of things are happening with soft power, and that is creating a vacuum of Western presence, if you like.”

Washington’s single-mindedness is leaving America stumbling from war to war.

"Afghanistan is heating up,” admitted a senior U.S. military officer. “With such a high [profile] U.S. general, he will be sucking all resources to Afghanistan that he brought to Iraq. It does affect the balance of things in Iraq right now."

The first of many questions then:
  • How can a proper withdrawal be executed from Afghanistan, whether starting in July 2011 or four years from now, when the process is difficult enough in Iraq, a state generally presumed stable by Washington?
  • How plausible is a surge in Afghanistan when Iraq’s surge, considered the easier counterinsurgency, may leave the country unstable, divided and vulnerable to outside interference - exactly the opposite of America’s goal?
It’s safe to say that a visit to Baghdad is in order for Obama. After wisely opposing the war initially, he ended up taking Iraq for granted. He and his officials must continue managing the conflict as US troops exit, which includes a lot of political lifting. US officials are justifiably uneasy of intervening in Iraq’s politics, but Washington sounds like it checked out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.

Iraq as a whole cannot feel as though America forgot it like it does now - losing control of ground conditions and perceptions severely threatens US efforts in Afghanistan. Not only did Obama pledge a responsible exit from Iraq and victory in Afghanistan, he predicated one on the other. As the anonymous US official said, troops and equipment are being transferred all the faster with Petraeus swapping insurgencies.

Any delay in Iraq’s withdrawal could negatively impact Afghanistan’s operations.

But the far greater danger is the possibility of two failed wars. Iraq was supposed to be the easier conflict, relatively speaking, and pay dividends. If left broken little hope can be held out to Afghanistan. Obama expected victory in Iraq to propel him to victory in Afghanistan. Iraq’s reversal could all of a sudden leave him with two defeats by 2012, making re-election that much more challenging.

And of course draining America and its allies of resources while leaving gaping power vacuums in the heart of the Eastern Hemisphere.


  1. Even though Hillary and Holbrooke are joined at the hip. I have seen chatter that Holbrooke's days are numbered.

  2. It feels like his days have been numbered since he came. Unsuited for the environment as he is, replacements are scarce. If anyone appears on the out it's Afghan ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Ryan Crocker, one of Petraeus's wingmen and Iraqi ambassador until 2009, seems to have his job in the cross-hairs.

  3. Crocker would make sense with Patreus now in full charge. Eikenberry is the last stand up person in the region.

    I agree for the Patreus purge to succeed Eikenberry is on the top of his list.

  4. Which is really unfortunate. Eikenberry is one of the few civilian officials to oppose a troop build up, while Holbrooke fully supports Obama's surge. If both Eikenberry and Rahm go, that would purge Washington of surge dissenters and create a united politico/military leadership that favors ignoring the July 2011 deadline. (Barring Biden of course, who would then be isolated and even more powerless.) US policy has changed with new personnel - it's escalating.

  5. Exactly, escalating and broadening.

    Biden is not, and never was a factor. He helped get the Jewish vote on board. His mission is accomplished.