Any politician worth his salt knows that when you're debating an issue, you should always choose which question you'll answer. Even if the moderator doesn't pose it, you need to make sure you swing it back to the one you prefer.
Glenn Greenwald today notes the report issued by CSIS's Anthony Cordesman upon his return from Iraq. (Cordesman accompanied Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution on their recent trip. Greenwald reports that Cordesman differs dramatically from his Brookings colleagues -- he thinks the war has been very costly for the people of Iraq:
(1) As Greg Sargent first noted, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies accompanied Ken Pollack and Mike O'Hanlon on their storied 8-day-field-trip to Iraq and reached a much different conclusion than they did ("my perceptions of a recent trip to Iraq are different from that of two of my traveling companions and those of several other recent think tank travelers to the country")...
Cordesman's full report (.pdf) is well worth reading. It includes the following:The US intervention in Iraq has driven more than two million Iraqis out of the country, including much of its most educated and professional citizens. It has displaced over two million more Iraqis inside Iraq, many of which have lost their homes and their businesses and jobs. Estimates of the total percent of underemployment and unemployment exceed 50% in virtually all of the country.
The number of Iraqi civilian dead now total at least 100,000, and no one knows how many have been wounded. Basic services, infrastructure, and security do not exist in many areas, and sectarian and ethnic cleansing continue in much of the country, including the area around Baghdad and virtually every area with mixed Sunni and Shi'ite populations. Various estimates put the number of Iraqis that have suffered severe hardship as a result of the war and its aftermath at close to 8 million and rising -- although such estimates are really “guesstimates” at best.
Of course, sometimes you do some cherry-picking to get the conclusion you want. To respond to Greenwald, I'll cherry-pick the title of Cordesman's report:
The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq
And Cordesman's summary, which leads the document:
The US can influence this process, and can still do a great deal of good. It may be able to push the Iraqis in the right direction and at a pace where the odds of success are significantly higher than they would be without a sustained US presence and intervention. The US cannot, however, prevent the pace of Iraqi progress from having major delays and reversals. US troop levels almost certainly can be reduced sharply over time on an Iraqi capabilities-based level, but many aspects will play out over a period that may well take a decade.
US policy will also have to steadily adapt and evolve over time. It will have to react to events, rather than shape them, and do so in a climate in which the odds of success in any given area are often less than even. Like it or not, the US can only achieve even moderate success by a sustained search for the least bad option, and will have to face years in which it must operate in a climate in which it also will have to search for the least bad uncertainty.
Now I'll stop playing and actually cherry pick:
It is also important to understand that reducing troop levels does not reduce risk or casualties unless it is conducted as part of a military plan. Leaving fewer troops exposed in either forward bases or compounds that can be targeted from the outside can easily raise casualties. The idea that the US can some how simply stand aside and deal with Al Qa’ida or the Sadr militia by relying largely on air power and Special Forces is equally absurd. The US could not target, it could not cover the country, it could not secure its bases, and it would lack the force numbers to act decisively without relying on Iraqi forces. Such concepts are little more than childish in practical military terms.
The US team is far more impressive than ever before, and far more experienced from Crocker and Petraeus down to the junior officer and US civilian in the field. The current F-Troop in Washington – and the F-Troop that existed in Iraq during the key initial years of the occupation -- has been replaced by the A-team.
Greenwald advocates a prompt withdrawal from Iraq. Why does he cite as support someone who rejects that view?