Anthony Cordesman: U.S. is Frog Quickly Boiling in Iraq Pot


cordesman1.jpgCSIS Strategic Analyst Anthony Cordesman didn’t use that metaphor exactly. Here is what he wrote in an email he sent me this morning along with his new report, “Still Losing? The June 2007 Edition of “Measuring Stability in Iraq“:

The latest Department of Defense report on “Measuring Stability in Iraq” attempts to put a bad situation in a favorable light. It does not disguise many of the problems involved, but it does attempt to defend the strategy presented by President Bush in January 2007 in ways that sometimes present serious problems. More broadly, it reveals that the President’s strategy is not working in any critical dimension.
The are enough indicators in the June 2007 report, however, to make it all too clear that the US is not making anything like the overall progress it needs to implement the President’s strategy. Moreover, it is all too clear that the most import issue is not the “Plan A” of the Bush Administration, or any “Plan B” from Congress, but the sheer lack of any meaningful Iraqi political development of a “Plan I” for political conciliation.
As in Vietnam, the US can win virtually every tactical encounter. As in Vietnam, this is irrelevant without political unity, effective governance, and a nationalist ideology with more real world impact than its extremist, sectarian, and ethnic competition.
Part of the problem is that the US is trying to fight the wrong “war.” The US does need to fight a serious counterinsurgency campaign, but this seems to be focused far too narrowly on both Al Qa’ida, which is only one Sunni Islamist extremist movement, and on the most radical elements of the Sadr militia. The US does not have an effective strategy or the operational capability to deal with the broader problem of armed nation- building, or with a widening pattern of civil conflicts.
The attached report analyzes both the strengths and weaknesses of the June 2007 report. It also provides a summary of the key trends in conciliation and governance, security, the development of Iraqi forces, economic development and aid.

Cordesman’s sober, lucid, unsentimental analysis just lays out the picture in Iraq as it is — not like he or any of us hope it might be. This kind of truth-telling needs much more air time.
— Steve Clemons


23 comments on “Anthony Cordesman: U.S. is Frog Quickly Boiling in Iraq Pot

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  3. Sandy says:

    Thank you, POA. I am glad to have Ron Paul’s comments.
    Who is more SANE than he is?
    It will be a miracle if Bush/Cheney do not nuke Iran before they leave office — though last May 9 they issued NSPD-51 and HSPD-20, so they may not be leaving at all.
    A nuclear attack on Iran and the subsequent declaration of “national emergency” to suspend the 2008 election — is our Number One concern in this country.
    All the rest are side stories.


  4. RonK, Seattle says:

    For convenience, the DoD report to which Cordesmann refers is available as pdf here:


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    When the Iraqi oil assets are privatized, hardened, and protected by Blackwater and similiar mercenary armies, then “victory” will have been achieved by this lying treasonous bunch of excrement in the White House.
    June 21, 2007
    Have We Forgotten 2003 Already?
    Statement on H Con Res 21
    by Rep. Ron Paul
    This resolution is an exercise in propaganda that serves one purpose: to move us closer to initiating a war against Iran. Citing various controversial statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this legislation demands that the United Nations Security Council charge Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
    Having already initiated a disastrous war against Iraq citing UN resolutions as justification, this resolution is like déja-vu. Have we forgotten 2003 already? Do we really want to go to war again for UN resolutions? That is where this resolution, and the many others we have passed over the last several years on Iran, is leading us. I hope my colleagues understand that a vote for this bill is a vote to move us closer to war with Iran.
    Clearly, language threatening to wipe a nation or a group of people off the map is to be condemned by all civilized people. And I do condemn any such language. But why does threatening Iran with a pre-emptive nuclear strike, as many here have done, not also deserve the same kind of condemnation? Does anyone believe that dropping nuclear weapons on Iran will not wipe a people off the map? When it is said that nothing, including a nuclear strike, is off the table on Iran, are those who say it not also threatening genocide? And we wonder why the rest of the world accuses us of behaving hypocritically, of telling the rest of the world “do as we say, not as we do.”
    I strongly urge my colleagues to consider a different approach to Iran, and to foreign policy in general. General William Odom, President Reagan’s director of the National Security Agency, outlined a much more sensible approach in a recent article titled “Exit From Iraq Should Be Through Iran.” General Odom wrote: “Increasingly bogged down in the sands of Iraq, the U.S. thrashes about looking for an honorable exit. Restoring cooperation between Washington and Tehran is the single most important step that could be taken to rescue the U.S. from its predicament in Iraq.” General Odom makes good sense. We need to engage the rest of the world, including Iran and Syria, through diplomacy, trade, and travel rather than pass threatening legislation like this that paves the way to war. We have seen the limitations of force as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. It is time to try a more traditional and conservative approach. I urge a “no” vote on this resolution.


  6. David N says:

    What strikes me is that Cordesmann has been issuing the same, exact statements for the past six years, because the U.S. authorities have been making the same, exact mistakes since the start of the planning for the invasion of Iraq on January 21, 2001.
    Just look at Faisco, and Imperial City and other books about the CPA, and you can understand what the thousand people in the Embassy are doing, issuing orders by phone to Iraqi politicians and administrators that they never meet because that would mean leaving the Green Zone. And no one, ever, ever, ever, listening to what other people have to say, or learning from their mistakes or those of anyone else.
    The reason the money hasn’t gone out to New Orleans is because the Bush people have disbursed it the same way they disbursed the money to the military contractors in Iraq (read Halliburton). That is, by no-bid contracts to political favorites who take the money and don’t do the work, because they know there are no controls, no oversight, no penalties paid for stealing taxpayer money. Corruption is not just a way of life for these people, it’s a reflex.
    The key statement in your post, Steve, was the last one. Truth will never penetrate the corporate-owned media. I will be surprised if Cordesmann even gets on Olbermann, despite the fact they rhyme.
    Finally, the key point. There is no war in Iraq. There is no way to win it, because there is nothing to win. It has been a losing proposition from day one, and we have lost it long ago. Our soldiers are dying every day for nothing other than the pride and ego of Bush, and the profits of the corporate masters.
    But this has also been said, by me and others, over and over again.
    So what.


  7. jonst says:

    So, lets say Cordsman has it right. And I think he does. Given the recent ‘good news’, albeit with a caveat,tossed to us by that Great White Hope, Gen Petraus,; is he ‘out of touch’, as Reid noted, or ‘incompetent’, as Reid also noted? Or is he simply lying for his own reasons? Or is it all three?


  8. Jeffery Haas says:

    What’s holding up reconstruction in New Orleans?
    Simple…no Louisiana Hydrocarbon Law!
    If the Governor started insisting on their fair share of oil revenues you’d see New Orleans rise from the ashes faster than a Wal-Mart in the Indiana suburbs.
    Let us also remember that Iraq is an artificial country, bounded internally by three separate factions which should naturally be allowed to function as autonomous city-states.
    But of course then we’d have to negotiate THREE hydrocarbon laws with THREE governments.


  9. erichwwk says:

    “So what’s the hold up?”
    Easy. As Barbara Bush said, “throw the bums a few crumbs, and they’ll be thankful. They’ve never had it so good. Ha Ha”
    On the Cordesman paper, GREAT stuff! But let’s not kid ourself that we are still a democracy, and that Congress plays any more role in political decision making than the public plays in so called “public hearings.” The concept that we must fight a nuclear war, and can win it, when the time is right, has been a consistent tenet of US foreign policy ever since 1945.
    Others have pointed out the the distribution of oil revenue has already been covered in the Iraqi Constitution, and the fight now is to privatize the hydrocarbon resources, under IMF threat of no withholding debt reduction, the favorite IMF technique for continuing soft slavery over the rest of the world.
    Throw in four military bases, control over Str of Hormuz, and maybe the Bush Palace (aka as the American Embassy in Iraq) and the real decision makers have what they want. Does anyone here really believe the decision makers give a flying fuck about the general population or the puppet regime?
    In Germany and Japan, we had the moral high ground. In the ME we are moral scum. But the grand strategy does not just involve the ME, it involves USA nuclear, political, and economic primacy over as much of the earth as possible.
    That’s pretty much how its always been, a few lust after power and glory, and manipulate the peons to give their life to the ruler. As long a sufficiently high price induces enough to sell their soul, slavery is alive and well.


  10. Carroll says:

    So what’s the hold up?
    Posted by MP at June 20, 2007 06:11 PM
    Good question. No one could answer that..except the usual “red tape”. If I guess I would say that congressional pets and “private” interest appreciate the delay as that gives them an advantage in investing/owning and building back NO to their particular taste and perhaps profit. But that would make me a cynic.
    But one funny thing I didn’t mention was that when the girl in Senator Dole’s office answered the phone and I told her I had a question and wanted to speak to one of the Senator’s aides she blurted out…”She’s against the immigration bill!!”..LOL…I hadn’t said anything about the immigration bill, hadn’t even mentioned what my question was about.
    Parnoid in La La land…but still headed right for the cliff.


  11. MP says:

    Carroll writes: “…our failure to fund the rebuilding or dispurse the aid allocated to an American city, New Orleans, who is now in the position of asking for foreign aid for a US city from foreign countries.”
    I don’t know the details of the reconstruction project, but it seems odd that it is stuck in the mud. Especially as rebuilding NO would seem to be a political no-brainer. It’s not like immigration, where if you say one thing, you get in trouble with another group(s). EVERYONE is, or should be, in favor of a speedy reconstruction. And the money, at least as cited, is small. So what’s the hold up?


  12. Carroll says:

    What an interesting afternoon. Since it was pouring down rain I decided to play telephone to get an answer as to whether anyone in Washington saw any clues to their 23 % approval rating in our 9 trillion dollar national debt, our foreign aid packages to other countries and Iraq war expenses as compared to our failure to fund the rebuilding or dispurse the aid allocated to an American city, New Orleans, who is now in the position of asking for foreign aid for a US city from foreign countries.
    First my repub congressman’s office, then Pelosi’s office, Reid’s office, the Dem cacus office, the Dem foreign affairs office, the NDC office, back to my repub senator’s office.
    What did I hear?
    Outright agreement from one, stuttering, embrassment, hesitation, aides put on the hot seat, avoidence, attempts to brush it off on some other office, most twisting themselves into prezels to covertly indicate they agree something is wrong without pleading their congressional bosses actually guilty as charged, fear,…as in oh my God, people are noticing…and the last one in Senator Dole’s office whispering sort of pathetically that they had had a lot of calls like mine.
    Running scared and unable to change.
    I await the revolution whatever form it comes in.


  13. jon says:

    All good. But is Cordesman making a dent with anyone who issues orders or can craft policy? This analysis could have been issued (and was by many who are outside the halls of power), multiple times over the past several years. But perhaps Cordesman has the weight and influence that can help a consensus to coalesce.
    I would disagree with the description of al Qaeda in Iraq, which seems to have little connection with the Afghan/Pakistan based group. At most, this is a sideshow, and the current tribal push against it is mainly so the tribes can consolidate power on their own turf. Don’t expect the tribal-US alliance to persist.
    If the ‘Surge’ is successful tamping down violence sufficiently so that Iraqi civil institutions can take hold, there is a slender ray of hope. So far there does not seem to be much evidence of progress. Military actions seem to be creating deeper grievances, and insurgents are relocating to other areas or laying low to wait out the buildup. Eventually, the US military will have to withdraw many of its forces or keep them confined to bases, simply because they lack the personnel to maintain the current tempo indefinitely.
    There needs to be a genuine Iraqi political solution to the war, but US actions don’t seem to be focused on helping that to emerge. The US insistence on the oil law is not helpful, and strengthens those who assert that the invasion was to secure access to the oil.
    Fragmentation of Iraq in various regional, social, religious and other power blocs will not be beneficial to the long term interests of Iraq, or to regional stability. The only parties poised to reap significant gains are the Iranians, and various religious Iraqi shia organizations.
    You would think that the 1,000 US diplomatic personnel in Baghdad would be straining to help this unity to emerge and to establish the functioning organs of the Iraqi state. We see all too little evidence that any of that is happening. At least we’re not hearing Chalabi being floated and a ‘uniter’ any more!
    State in DC seems to be more focused on fighting a steady stream of brush fires erupting, rather than pursuing the larger, long term vision. They just don’t seem to be fully engaged, and there is no policy or initiative that has seen steady and persistent efforts towards implementation. It seems as if they try a little of one thing for a little while, then do the opposite, then wander off somewhere else.
    This is childlike and unserious behavior in what is the largest, boldest and most profound military and diplomatic initiative in a generation. I don’t believe that there was any justification for the invasion. But having made the bet, risking lives, treasure and prestige, the administration has at least the obligation to try to succeed in the undertaking. We are now at a point where the best options before us only include trying to manage the magnitude of the loss. And even that seems headed for disaster.


  14. mullah cimoc says:

    mullah cimoc say blog man him not so stupid like most ameriki.
    maybe him following mullah cimoc advise and reading him three volume treatise on guerilla warfare from famous mao tse tung guerilla fighter chinese man.
    please remember genral schwartzkopf, him saying if go to baghdad in 1991 this like dinosaur get stuck in giant tar pit. this general not so stupid. because right now him ameriki stuck in giant tar pit.
    if reading mao tse tung ameriki learning at least this:
    when faced with superior military force, the guerilla must disperse. the guerilla fighter must strike only when he can strike and retreat with no risk.
    right now him guerilla fighter in iraq him disperse swimming into ocean and then coming back like the barracuda later.
    only true: usa now slave of masters in tel aviv, controllng all aspect of ameriki life even public school curriculum.
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  15. JohnH says:

    LessThanExpert: you state the government’s talking points well. Bush says that “we’ll step down when they step up.” However the US military isn’t handing over command, control, communications and logistics to Iraqi forces, so that it’s impossible for them to stand up, except as lackies. So you’re right: the Iraqi right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing–by design.
    A similar dynamic apparently exists on the political side. The “surge” was touted as an effort to create “political space.” Yet the US government is determined to maintain command and control over that space. And yes, the hydrocarbon law is being foisted onto the parliament, which apparently saw a draft only after US oil interests had passed on it. The sticking point is that the Iraqi parliament must pass that law before oil interests can “legally” loot Iraqi assets. Naturally there is push back, not just from al Sadr, but from oil unions as well.
    Real political space for the Iraqi parliament will emerge only when the US reduces its heavy handed political pressure or withdraws its forces. Only then will we be able to tell if Iraqis are ready to step up.


  16. LessThanExpert says:

    I don’t know that a fundamental problem is that we are “foisting” legislation on the Iraqi National Assembly. There has been precious little legislation getting done anyway, it’s not like there have been hundreds of potentially progressive legislation that the U.S. government has pressure the Iraqi Assembly into backing off of.
    More problematic is that the legislature is seen as an arena for sectarian jockeying and not for legislating. It might not be a bad idea to establish some kind of non-elected Council of National Reconciliation among the leaders of the various armed groups to try a create space for the Legislature to create laws that impact everyday life.
    The two biggest problems, though, are an inability to link political inititiatives to military ones and the fact that the Iraqis are banking on a U.S. withdrawal by 2009.
    The Administration has come up with four decent military operations: Phantom Fury against Fallujah, Tal Afar, the Marines in Anbar Province and arguably the Surge/Arrowhead Ripper operation. They have also developed a couple of decent political initiatives: incentivizing Sunni entry into the political process, paving the way for Moqtada to join the government and pressuring the government on the Hydrocarbon Law and cracking down on sectarian militias. Yet these efforts have been poorly coordinated.
    The goal of a military operation should be to provide political space. But the right and left hands don’t know what the other is doing and the administration has drastically cut back on political and economic assistance funding for Iraq. As a result, successfully mounted military operations don’t contribute to political momentum and well-intentioned political initiatives sputter because of opposition from armed groups.


  17. MP says:

    Carroll writes: “My news alerts contained two revealing items yesterday. News that the 2.4 billion aid for Israel was approved and news that New Orleans mayor was contacting the foreign countries that had offered aid after Katrina to see if any was still available because only half of the 132 million allocated by the US government had actually been dispursed to New Orleans.”
    This is unbelievably sad. A mere $132 million. Sad, sad, sad.


  18. David says:

    Very, very well put, Jeffery. I would simply add homicidal to fiasco.


  19. Jeffery Haas says:

    Come on folks, let’s all be realistic.
    The ONLY definition of “victory” in Iraq IS the “much coveted hydrocarbon law”.
    If AL-QAEDA were to suddenly advance political objectives that hastened the acceptance and passing of this piece of legislation, tomorrow we would see the largest and most ambitious image rehab campaign the world has ever known. Even O.J. Simpson and Charles Manson would be jealous, as “Osama, World’s Most Misunderstood Freedom Fighter?” was splashed across our screens.
    Cordesman’s truth-telling might need more airtime but that will only happen in a real world situation. In case anyone still misses the point, perhaps we should look to the future, when students will come to Washington to study the our involvement in the Iraq War. It would be helpful and instructive if a monument to the war was erected near the Vietnam memorial. Carve the following in stone:
    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”
    The students will be from the reality-based community because that is the only community which will survive this fiasco.


  20. Carroll says:

    “The US can influence, but not control, events in Iraq and the region. It must develop contingency plans to reposition itself in Iraq to deal with a variety of contingencies. It must have similar plans to reposition itself in the region, to rebuild trust with its regional friends, and contain the threat from potentially hostile states.”
    Been said before. But on we go, every expert, military and otherwise continues to beat the square peg in the round hole. Every expert has their own view and solution to Iraq based on their own field of expertise, tunnel vision I think it is called. And in their spy glass all revolves around “our interest” and potentially hostile threats”. Ah yes, gin it up and then make a century of careers out of it. American Empire marches on…why bother to call “our interest” ot the “threats to it” anything else?
    Meanwhile congress has spent the past two days on a resolution to send the Iranian President to the UN SC for incitement of genocide and on a bill to send 90 million US to unidentified Cuban freedom fighters against Castro in Cuba.
    My news alerts contained two revealing items yesterday. News that the 2.4 billion aid for Israel was approved and news that New Orleans mayor was contacting the foreign countries that had offered aid after Katrina to see if any was still available because only half of the 132 million allocated by the US government had actually been dispursed to New Orleans.
    Unlike your basic monkey, politicans never learn. Evidently neither do we or we would have closed down the DC zoo long ago.


  21. LInda says:

    Obviously, we are losing this war and will lose it because of the total incompetence of both DOD and State Department. No spin or excuses will change that, and we can do more than just comment here.
    Today is World Refugee Day. I’m not sure that it will do much good to contact members of Congress or State Department to allow more Iraqi refugees asylum and entry into the USA. We all can make a contribution to International Medical Corps, Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Operation USA, or UNHCR.
    There is one thing that each of us can do today, World Refugee Day


  22. JohnH says:

    Last week I met with a knowledgeable insider, who addressed Iraq’s political problem head on: the Iraqi parliament is not interested in drafting legislation foisted upon it by the occupiers. It seems that every time they tried to draft legislation, they were told that they got it wrong (i.e. it didn’t satisfy US objectives). Now they have decided to simply drag their feet. So the much coveted Hydrocarbon Law, along with other benchmarks, is not getting done.
    The Iraqis shouldn’t feel too bad, however. The Bush administration apparently treats everyone with equal doses of disdain and contempt, including the US Congress.
    Petraeus has made it clear that there is no military solution, only a political one. But it appears that there will be no political solution as long as the administration treats its Iraqi counterparts simply as lackies.


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