I hope SWJ colleagues will forgive this more "personal" post than usual, but as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser I have a duty to set the record straight on this.
There is a real country called Iraq, where a real war is going on, with real progress but very real challenges. We are not going to "win the war" in six months -- nor would anyone expect to. But the Guardian seems to be describing some completely different, (possibly mythical) country, and some imaginary group of harried and depressed advisers bearing no resemblance to reality. As counterinsurgency professionals, we take an evidence-based approach and we are well aware of the extremely demanding task we face. That makes us cautious realists -- but we are far from pessimists, as the Guardian's anonymous source seems to imply.
The article is littered with inaccuracies:
- The "advisers" are not bunkered down in the Green Zone, but in another location, and frequently out on the ground.
- The article (incorrectly) describes me as a serving military officer -- I'm a civilian diplomat, as any source truly familiar with the team's thinking would be well aware.
- While recognizing the severity of the challenge, the team's mood is far from pessimistic. Success will take months or years, not weeks or days, and although early signs are somewhat encouraging it's really far too early to say how things will play out. The war has been going for four years, the new strategy for less than four weeks. Give it time.
- The State department is not failing to meet its personnel targets. On the contrary, more than 90 % of civilian positions in Iraq are filled, and we will grow to 20 Provincial Reconstruction Teams soon.
- The coalition is far from disintegrating -- British redeployment from the South reflects improved security, not lack of will, and the same day the British announced their move the Australians announced a force increase in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The plan is not "unclear" or "constantly changing" -- we all know exactly what the plan is. The article seems to be mistaking the freedom and agility which have been granted to us, allowing us to respond dynamically to a dynamic situation, for vacillation.
Yes, of course, there are still car bombings. But several recent bombings have been Sunni-on-Sunni, rather than sectarian, with extremists targeting moderates to discourage them from cooperating with the government. That means sectarian violence, overall, is down, and that extremists are worried they are losing support from their base -- both good things, despite the appalling violence against innocents we have come to expect from these extremists.
And yes, there is a risk that home-front political will might collapse just as we are getting things right on the ground. Given some commentators' overall negativity, one suspects that their efforts may be directed to precisely that end. You may not like the President, you may be unhappy about the war. But whose side are you on? The Iraqis trusted us, and this is their fight. They deserve our support.
Buried in the article, though, are some references to real-world progress:
- Progress has been made on oil-wealth sharing legislation -- a major development.
- Joint operations are beginning in Baghdad, and are going well so far.
- Iraqi community leaders are reporting somewhat improved morale and public confidence among the civilian population, though this is tempered by previously unmet expectations.
- Numbers of political murders have fallen (precipitously) since the operation began, though these are still too high in absolute terms.
- Iraqi forces are turning up, and performing well, though not always at 100% strength
- In al-Anbar, tribal leaders have realized extremists have nothing to offer them -- a huge development, as influential community leaders have "flipped" from AQ's side to support the Iraqi government.
- Regional diplomatic efforts, including with Iran and Syria, are apparently underway.
Unfortunately most of these developments are buried in the last paragraph of a long article.
The Guardian is entitled to its own view of the war, and reasonable people can differ on these issues. But the Guardian's view is not ours, and the anonymous source misrepresents our views. It is really too soon to tell how things will play out, though early signs are encouraging so far, and the advisers as a group remain cautious realists, not pessimists.
(As ever, though I have "permission to post", these are my own personal views and were not screened or vetted by anyone).