There are about a thousand reasons why I'm psyched that Phil Carter is finally home from Iraq. Near the top of the list: he can finally start writing about the war in public, again. First was his killer op-ed in the Sunday Times. Now, he's got an even better piece in Slate.
During the last two years, the U.S. presence in Iraq has consolidated in massive superfortresses like LSA Anaconda and shut down dozens of smaller bases and outposts across the country...This [strategy] presumes that U.S. forces are able to respond at a moment's notice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The American battalion responsible for Balad is stretched over hundreds of square miles... A medium-sized city like Balad, with 100,000 residents, might be patrolled only by a company 100 to 150 men at any given time.This violent weekend proves that America needs to radically change its course in Iraq, while some form of victory still lies within our grasp. First, the U.S. military must reverse its trend of consolidation and redeploy its forces into Iraq's cities. Efficiency and force protection cannot define our military footprint in Iraq; if those are our goals, we may as well bring our troops home today. Instead, we must assume risk by pushing U.S. forces out into small patrol bases in the middle of Iraq's cities where they are able to work closely with Iraqi leaders and own the streets.Counterinsurgency requires engagement. The most effective U.S. efforts thus far in Iraq have been those that followed this maxim, like the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar, which established numerous bases within the city and attacked the insurgency from within with a mix of political, economic, and military action.Damn right. Welcome home, Phil.UPDATE 1:20 PM: "Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman for the American military in Iraq, said that... the American-led crackdown in Baghdad has not succeeded in quelling violence across the capital and a new approach is needed."UPDATE 10/20/06 2:19 PM: "WTF?" says Phil. "I see it as very significant that these comments from MG Caldwell came out in his prepared text, not in response to Q&A. I deduce from that fact that these comments were deliberated and approved at the highest levels in Iraq, and possibly in Washington. I'm still trying to figure out why, after so many statements that we were succeeding, the U.S. would decide to say that we needed a course correction. Here are a few guesses:"
1) The senior U.S. leadership in Iraq is helping the White House diminish and manage expectations in advance of the 2006 midterm elections. By lowering the bar for performance, the military provides factual support for Republican candidates who say we're doing as best we can in Iraq.2) Amb. Khalilzad and Gen. Casey desperately want to reframe the debate from "stay the course vs. cut and run" to something more realistic. But to do that, they first need to give everyone a sharp reality check about what's going in Iraq. This goes hand-in-hand with the upcoming release of the Baker Study Group report.3) The senior leadership in Iraq is simply tired of spinning. They did not clear these statements with Washington, and are way out in front of where the White House and Pentagon want to be.4) Amb. Khalilzad and Gen. Casey want to push the Maliki government to do more, so they are indicating with this statement that U.S. forces have reached the limit of their capability to provide security for Iraq. If so, they're playing a very high stakes game of poker.5) Least probably, Gen. Casey and Amb. Khalilzad are simply at their wit's end, and they have decided to be as blunt as possible.