A Military Perspective on the Anbar Awakening

A fascinating 20-minute video from MilBlogs TV describes how American forces cooperated with and supported the early stages of the Anbar Awakening, a key factor in the turnaround in Iraq.

It’s not a completely happy tale — the American captain and the local sheik who played central roles in the cooperative effort both were ultimately killed. But near the end of the video is a helpful explanation of the reasons for success:

“The tribes represent the people of Iraq, and the populace represents the “key terrain” of the conflict. The force that supports the population by taking the moral high ground has as sure an advantage in COIN [counter-insurgency] as a maneuver commander who occupies dominant terrain in a conventional battle.”

This is why I’ve never believed the advances made in Iraq are going to be temporary, and disappear with the end of the surge. The irony is that the success of the surge will probably benefit the candidate who opposed the tactic. The better things get in Iraq, the less concerned people become about the idea of Obama as Commander in Chief.

Let’s Go Mets

The whole post-every-day thing is already running out of steam. So far the blog seems to be mostly about Obama.

Today it’s about the Mets — game starts at 1:10, I need to head for the train in less than an hour, I’m meeting my son Harry at the ballpark. Johan Santana (8-7) vs. Kyle Lohse, who is, um… 12-2. Rubber game of the series against the Cardinals, who won in 14 last night after the Mets came from behind in the 9th to force extra innings. Mets still in first place by one game.

Mr. Obama’s War?

Obama opposed the surge, and McCain was its champion. Jonah Goldberg argues that the success of the surge will therefore favor… Obama.

If it were going worse, McCain’s Churchillian rhetoric would match reality better. But with sectarian violence nearly gone, al Qaeda in Iraq almost totally routed and even Sadrist militias seemingly neutralized, the stakes of withdrawal seem low enough for Americans to feel comfortable voting for Obama. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s support for an American troop drawdown pushes the perceived stakes even lower. …

Although the economy will dominate this election, McCain can still press his advantage on foreign policy. But not with I-told-you-sos. Re-arguing the surge is almost as counterproductive as re-arguing the war itself. Elections are about the future.

McCain doesn’t need to explain why he’d be a better commander-in-chief. Voters already acknowledge his superior judgment on foreign policy by huge margins. He needs to explain why, going forward, we’ll need that judgment.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t find a way to disagree with this. Thanks for bummin’ me out, Jonah.

The irony is that while a president has a tremendous, dominant impact on issues of war and national security, he has only a tenuous impact around the margins of the short-term economy. The next president, whoever he is, will enjoy an unearned boost in popularity from the economic upturn to come. Meanwhile the issues that matter most take a back seat, and the national security candidate gets penalized for the success of the course that he advocated.

If it’s going to become Mr. Obama’s war, I can take some comfort in the fact that at least he’s showing signs of an ability to think independently of the extreme pacifist wing of his party.

Politicians in Iraq Provide Reasons for Hope

I’m talking about two politicians in particular. One, of course, is Barack Obama, who is in Iraq to lay the groundwork for throwing under the bus the people who thought he was going to bring the troops home no matter what.

The other is Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who caused me (yes, I take it personally) a few moments of dismay the other day when Der Spiegel reported that Maliki had endorsed Obama’s 16-month timetable for withdrawal. It was a relief in the next news cycle that The Prime Minister’s handlers began “clarifying” the way the PM’s remarks were being “interpreted.”

In an analysis piece, the AP’s Baghdad bureau chief opined (emphasis added):

A top al-Maliki adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, insisted the Iraqi government does not intend to be “part of the electoral campaign in the United States.” But that is precisely what the Iraqis intended to do: exploit Obama’s position on the war to force the Bush administration into accepting concessions considered unthinkable a few months ago.

To which Outside the Beltway blogger James Joyce replied:

Well, yeah. Which is precisely how governments everywhere act. Indeed, this would appear to be a sign that Maliki and company are more ready for prime time than it had appeared.

The indispensible Omar and Mohammed Fadhil of Iraq the Model, blogging at Pajamas Media, look beyond the politics:

Maliki, for example, knows very well that had Obama’s vision for Iraq been adopted two years ago, he wouldn’t be enjoying the position and power he does today, and the progress in Iraq wouldn’t have been achieved. …

Terrorism cannot be defeated by killing Bin Laden or even killing every single existing member of Al-Qaeda, especially considering the decentralized structure of terrorist organizations. Terrorism can be defeated by offering a model for a bright future that gives people who have suffered for so long hope and saves them from despair.

Iraq is now closer than ever to becoming this model, and victory in this chapter of the war is within hand…unless Obama succeeds in ending the war his way.

Or unless Obama, talented politician that he is, finds a face-saving way to put the best interests of America and Iraq ahead of the surrender-at-all-costs platform that won him the Democratic nomination.

Blogger’s Block

One barrier to my blogging has always been technical. For a non-techie, I’m reasonably web-savvy, after five years of working full-time on intranet content. But, perhaps because I don’t have a technical background, I get stuck when software doesn’t behave the way the instructions say it should behave.

That seems to happen a lot, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. My wife the Web Goddess, who taught herself HTML after years as a corporate systems developer, initially tried to set this blog up with WordPress, since that was the consensus choice when I polled my LinkedIn connections about blogging platforms. But I got lost almost immediately in the documentation (“start a blog in seconds” my ass), and even the Web Goddess eventually threw up her hands and said the system was not doing what the documentation clearly said it would do.

So here we are on Blogger, having registered the subdomain blog.kirkpetersen.net, trying to figure out why that URL still returns a 404 error (see, I know web-speak) even though the control panel at the web-hosting service indicates the DNS has propagated.

Add all that to the fact that I’m not sure what I want to write about, and I end up with four posts in the first four years of my blog. Hence, the write-something-every-day experiment, now entering Day Two.

A Blog in Search of a Purpose

Some day, when I’m a titan of the blogosphere, I’ll be able to say, “I’ve been blogging since 2003.”

Before my titanship arrives, however, I obviously need to post a little more regularly, and before I do that I need to figure out why I’m blogging in the first place. My most recent motivation has been to support my writing and consulting business — but then when it came time to actually write my first substantive post, it ended up being about politics, which is not the line of work I’m in.

So maybe my real motivation is to have A Forum for My Writing. [hurl] Despite the gag reflex, there’s something to that idea — I often find myself constructing careful sentences in my head that seem clever or useful enough that I wish I could find a way to share them. But if I’m going to continue to think red-state thoughts in a blue-state neighborhood, I’m more likely to get into arguments with friends than I am to persuade anybody to hire me as a writer. And I spent most of an afternoon writing and polishing my inaugural Obama screed — an unbloggish level of effort for a post that precisely three people have seen (including me).

So here’s the latest plan: I’m going to force myself to devote at least a little bit of time every day to posting on my blog. I’ll pick one of those careful sentences in my head and build a blog post around it, and not invest a huge amount of time in it. Then I’ll examine the results over time and see if I can figure out a purpose for my blog.

There. It’s good to have a plan. Now we’ll see if I’m any better about sticking to that plan than I am about my daily exercise regimen.

I Prefer the Chicago Politician to the Obamessiah

From the start, my take on Obama has been that he’s a talented and charismatic politician who some day could become an important senator.

For the most part I like him. I’ll be voting for the other guy, but if Obama wins, it’s not like I’m going to flee the country. Regardless of who wins, there will be things I like and things I dislike about the next president. If it’s Obama, the fact that a black man with a foreign-sounding name can rise to become president will be a powerful symbol of cultural evolution and the enduring power of the American dream. And symbols are important.

On a policy basis, my major disagreement with Obama is Iraq, the issue that in my mind trumps all others. I’m not a big fan of Hillary Clinton (although I voted for her husband twice — three times if you count the 2000 race). But as long as she was in the race I favored her over Obama. There’s barely a nickel’s worth of difference between them on most issues, but she seemed slightly less eager to surrender in Iraq, and to her credit she voted in favor of overthrowing Saddam. I also thought that as a female president, she would feel a need to demonstrate toughness (cf. Meir, Golda and Thatcher, Margaret).

From a character standpoint, my biggest concern with Obama was the very thing that endeared him to many others — the idea that he was “not a politician,” or was “a new kind of politician.” I never believed that to be the case… but enough people believed it that I had to consider the possibility. The idea of a president who is not a politician is scary. It’s like the idea of a Supreme Court justice who’s not a lawyer. There’s no law against it, and it might even work out OK. But it makes no more sense to put a non-politician in the country’s top political job than it would to put a non-lawyer in the top legal job.

But it turns out Obama is a politician. After winning the Democratic nomination by appealing to the young, the idealists, the activists and the pacifists, he’s swerved right so fast that many of his supporters have whiplash.

The anguish may be coming from the left, but conservative Charles Krauthammer has the best synopsis I’ve seen of “Obama’s brazen reversals of position and abandonment of principles — on public financing of campaigns, on NAFTA, on telecom immunity for post-9/11 wiretaps, on unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad.”

Krauthammer also makes a prediction I agree with:

“Obama’s seasonally adjusted principles are beginning to pile up… What’s left? Iraq. The reversal is coming, and soon…. He will use his upcoming Iraq trip to acknowledge the remarkable improvements on the ground and to abandon his primary-season commitment to a fixed 16-month timetable for removal of all combat troops.”

I certainly hope so. There was a political logic to being the champion of the surrender option during the primaries and before, when the war had been going so badly for so long. But now the war is going so well that the media and the public have largely lost interest — and General Petraeus still has half a year to consolidate the gains before the next president takes office. It seems likely that a broad consensus of the public will recognize how tragic it would be to abandon those hard-won gains and leave the Iraqi people to the tender ministrations of al Qaeda on the one side and the Iranian terror masters on the other.

So I still prefer McCain as commander-in-chief, but I take comfort in the overwhelming evidence that Obama is a politician. Politicians know how to maneuver around unwise campaign promises, and how to avoid being held hostage by their political base.