Monday, June 21, 2004

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Competence gets rewarded in Iraq

Despite the management screw-ups that have taken place in Iraq, there are a few silver linings. I linked to one of them -- dealing with Iraq's economic future -- in my last post.

Another one comes from Lieutenant General David Petraeus -- the former commander of the 101st Airborne who was in charge of Mosul for ten months. I've blogged about him before here and here -- he clearly seemed to "get it" when it came to the postwar occupation.

In a nice example of competence rewarded, Vivienne Walt reports in Time that Petraeus was asked by President Bush to "assess" the Iraqi security forces back in April. Given their perfomance, the General has taken a hands-on approach:

"The President told me I could have anything I wanted, and I took him at his word," Petraeus told TIME during an hour-long interview this week in his office. As an economist with a doctorate from Princeton, Petraeus knew what he needed: Money, lots of it, and fast. During 14 months of occupation, U.S. forces had made several attempts to kick-start Iraq's military. Many had faltered over financial issues: At one stage last year, hundreds of new military recruits went AWOL after learning that their monthly pay was well below that of regular police officers. Others quit after determining that there was barely a corner of Iraq in which they were not prime targets for assassination — and that they were a lot more poorly equipped than their foes.

The change has already been felt. Shortly after Petraeus's arrival, units of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and beleaguered police stations have suddenly received shipments of new weapons and vehicles. Last week, Petraeus dispatched thousands of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of bullet-proof jackets to the Najaf police station — whose officers recently fled in terror from the Shiite militia of the Mehdi Army. With only 287 American police advisors in Iraq, the training for the country's critical new force is still patchy. That will finally catch up, says Petraeus. Meanwhile, gleaming new weapons and ceramic-plated vests will boost the officers' morale. This time around, Petraeus is also using a cherished principle from his other alma mater, West Point: Stand by your fellow soldiers, no matter what. "They have to feel they are not going to be hung out to dry," he says of the new Iraqi forces. "Early on we are going to have to keep on enabling Iraqi forces and backing them up when necessary, even when we are building from the top."

Petraeus' effect can already be felt in this plan to scale back Iraqi Interior Ministry forces by 30,000. [Why is that number being reduced?--ed. Fewer trained personnel is better than a lot of untrained personnel.] Unlike last year's disastrous dismissal of the Iraqi military, this reduction is being accomplished through generous severance payments.

posted by Dan on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM


Actually we're still paying the old army members, albeit at their low Saddam-era salary. Criticism of the decision to disband the army should rest more on the fact that they could have been used for something, rather than the idea that they were cut loose with no money at all. And from the evidence coming out of Fallujah, attempting to use the old Iraqi army with only cosmetic changes at the top might not have futhered our goals as much as people seem to think. There'd also be almost irresistable pressure to go the "friendly dictator" rout.

posted by: rd on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

I’ve for some time contended that the Iraqi situation is increasingly improving. It seems that Dan Drezner is starting to agree. Panglossian optimism? Nope, the evidence seems rather convincing. Our host continues to blame the administration for its mistakes---and that’s fair. But which military campaign has ever been managed flawlessly? I will be somewhat content if anyone can point out even one example in world history.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

There are times I wish I was a Las Vegas bookie. How soon will the liberal consensus opinion change to “Bush is just lucky.” The major media are now so desperate that they must print ludicrous stories claiming that American military females are raping Iraqi male prisoners. Yup, the good news out of Iraq is getting harder to ignore.

posted by: David Thomson on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

“And from the evidence coming out of Fallujah, attempting to use the old Iraqi army with only cosmetic changes at the top might not have futhered our goals as much as people seem to think.”

Does any rational person believe that president Bush would be praised if he had ordered the Iraqi army not to be disbanded? Baloney! He is in a no-win situation. Many of these same people would instead argue: “Oh my God, the President is merely protecting the Baathist status quo. He is should be impeached for this outrageous action. Did we send troops to die in Iraq merely to allow things to remain the same?”

posted by: David Thomson on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

Bush would probably receive more praise if fewer positive stories about Iraq began with the preface "This time around..."

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

The biggest problem I have is that guys like Petraeus were out there on their own. Basically, if he wasnt an incredibly gifted and visionary individual, little would have gotten done. Hoping that their is a person like Petraeus in ever part of iraq is just unrealistic. Thats where leadership comes in. If Bremer was more like this guy, iraq would be a different place. When Bush says he gives his people in iraq everything they ask for, i believe him. In my opinion, he doesnt ask _them_ for enough, he hasnt set the bar high enough and held them to standards, particularly on the civilian end of things. Thats a real problem, a lack of concrete goals out of washington. Bureaucrats at the CPA just arent going to take the bull by the horns and get up to their elbows like petraeus and other individual generals have done, at least without a firm boot to their behinds from Washington now and again.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

Ah yes, the technocrat's praise for the technocrat.

No doubt Patraeus is smart, but for God's sake, he was in charge of Mosul. That is, he was in charge of a city where the US really was a liberator -- if liberation means taking sides in ethnic warfare. Heck, Wesley Clark would probably look pretty brilliant if he was in charge of Pristina, no?

Here's a prediction, those nice new weapons and flack jackets with ceremic inserts are going to start appearing on the black market, maybe even as accoutrement on some dead 'terrorist insurgents'. Give it a month.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

Actually Mosul has a very large Sunni Arab population, so Petraeus's accomplishments were impressive. I think the problem's in Baghdad have their origins in several region specific issues: the proximity to a region of Iraq that seems to be more prone to extreme Sunni fundamentalism (Fajullah), the proximity to a region with a lot of Saddam's relatives (Tikrit), heavy Ba'athist presence in the political center of the country, and the fact that media attention is centered on Baghdad.

posted by: Atm on 06.21.04 at 12:17 AM [permalink]

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