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The Iraq War...are we winning?
Tom Ricks is a veteran reporter who has covered the Iraq war extensively and has just written his second book on the topic, “The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006 through 2008.” [The first book was “Fiasco”.] Ricks appeared on “Meet the Press,” Feb. 8, and following are some of his thoughts, as told to moderator David Gregory.
“I think a lot of people back here [Washington, D.C.] incorrectly think the war is over….Ambassador Crocker, a very thoughtful diplomat, says that the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered have not yet happened….
“This year, ’09, is going to be a surprisingly tough year. You have a series of elections in Iraq (and) you’ve got American troop levels declining. General Odierno says that the really dangerous withdrawals come at the end of the year. We’re doing the easy troop withdrawals now, but down the road you start taking them out of areas that aren’t so secure…So they’re going to be holding national elections in Iraq just when we have fewer troops there….
“Basically the surge succeeded militarily, failed politically. And that was its purpose; not just to improve security, but to create a political breathing space in which national reconciliation (could take place)….What Gen. Odierno says, though, is that the Iraqis used the breathing space we created to step backwards, to become more sectarian. They’ve become more divided….
“American voters think we’re going to be out of Iraq in 16 months…What Gen. Odierno says in the book is he would like to see 35,000 American troops there in 2015….which means that Obama’s war in Iraq may be longer than Bush’s war in Iraq….
“This is an opinion you find the closer you get to Baghdad, but nobody there really expects this place to be a stable democracy.”
On addressing the question “Is the Middle East better off without Saddam?”
“(My worry is) we have a bunch of Iraqi generals out there who are not in any way people who subscribe to our values. The fewer American troops we have there, the more they can behave the way they want to. And what you’re going to see is a lot of new, little Saddams….You’re going to see situations, probably, where Iraqi forces don’t like a village, and so they just shoot artillery into it. These are not things the American military does. But if you don’t have American military around to stop it, that’s going to happen. You’re going to have Iraqi generals try to use American airpower to call in airstrikes on people they don’t like. You’re going to see politics waged violently, but we’re going to have less control of the situation. So my worry is that at the end of all this you have a bunch of new strong men. The difference is we trained and armed them.”
“Iran is probably the biggest winner. You’re seeing an extension of Iranian influence into Iraq that you haven’t had in the past. Iran has become a much greater power since the American invasion of Iraq. Iran has its fingers throughout the Iraqi government. This is something Gen. Odierno mentioned several months ago and got in some trouble for talking about so publicly. Iran really does worry me in this situation.”
On Afghanistan and Pakistan….
“It’s a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a friend of mine said, it’s hard to win a war in Afghanistan when the enemy wants to fight it in the next country over, Pakistan….
“We could lose in Afghanistan. It would be unhappy, but not terrible for us. If you lose Pakistan, you end up having the mujahideen, Islamic extremists, with nuclear weapons. And that is a major al-Qaeda goal that we really do not want to see happen. I don’t think that Newsweek got it quite right the other day when they referred to Afghanistan as potentially Obama’s Vietnam. I think potentially Obama’s Vietnam is Pakistan….
“(Pakistan) is the problem from hell. It is a nightmare, and I have no idea how you actually solve it….
“You’ve got to wind up using the Pakistani military in some way to solve this problem. But the Pakistani military, in many cases, is the problem. You have a lot of al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers wearing Pakistani military uniforms.”