Fredrick Kagan: Notes that the strategy in Iraq has changed dramatically

Historians in the News

In response to recent media stories about the Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNF-I), AEI resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan offers the following notes:

This is the first full-scale strategic review undertaken within the U.S. command since General David Petraeus took over as MNF-I commander. Such a review is a normal part of the transition process when a new commander takes charge, and it is generally designed to ensure that the commander and his staff fully understand the realities in the war and that they develop concrete plans on the basis of those realities. Such a review does not aim to produce a "plan B" or a plan for "after the surge," but to develop detailed military and political plans to support the current strategy.

The "strategy" that the president enunciated on January 10, 2007 was not a military campaign plan. It was a general description of how he wanted American forces, both military and civilian, to go about their tasks in Iraq and about what he thought those tasks were. Developing a detailed campaign plan to support such a strategic concept is the task of military and political staffs in theater, and that is what, according to media reports, MNF-I and the embassy in Baghdad have undertaken to do.

The differences in focus between the current strategy, both as enunciated by the president and as described by the media, and the previous approach are stark. The emphases on protecting the population, identifying and removing sectarian actors from within the government and the security forces, and finding pragmatic ways to achieve some form of reconciliation are appropriate reflections of current reality in Iraq. Put together, they form a dramatic departure from the previous strategy that focused heavily on training Iraqi security forces and developing capacity in the Iraqi government without directly providing security to the population or making a priority of identifying and removing sectarian actors.

The fact that a new ambassador has just taken the reins in Baghdad, that General Petraeus has only been in command since mid-February, and that both are just completing their strategic reviews and finalizing their campaign plan emphasizes the need for patience in evaluating progress in Iraq. It is unrealistic to imagine that such a dramatic change in strategy will lead to complete success by September, although initial indicators of progress--including drops in sectarian violence, the movement of Sunni Arabs away from al Qaeda, and increasing efforts at reconciliation--remain strong and positive. But we are fighting multiple enemies, including an al Qaeda enemy that has been surging its efforts against us. The last additional American units will not be arriving until June, and it takes some considerable time for a new unit to begin to make its presence felt on the ground. Violence may well increase before it starts to drop dramatically as we clear areas in which the enemy has hitherto been able to concentrate.

Military and political operations of this scale and complexity cannot be planned or executed overnight. We must be willing to suspend judgment on whether or not it is working until enough evidence is in for a meaningful evaluation, and we must be willing to remain committed to trying to succeed as long as the possibility of success remains.

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Randll Reese Besch - 5/30/2007

The myth still exists about "success"in Iraq.The fact that this success that has been posited under a slippery list changing as the situation requires.The USA policy was successful in toppling a stable country and ripped it down producing an open wound now festering with the continueing infection of occupation. Only fools and insane men tread the same ground expecting the same circumstances to produce a very different outcome.