Monday, July 30, 2007

They've Got To Admit, It's Getting Better

From Captains Quarters:
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

Friday, July 20, 2007

From Captains Quarters:
If it appears rather backwards to have Congress ignore the advice of the military commander on the ground in a war, along with the ambassador and the commander's #2, now we know why the founders made sure that the prosecution of war remained the responsibility of the executive. Congress insisted on benchmarks as their own standard of progress, and the truth is that they did a poor job of selecting them. Confronted with that truth, they have chosen to ignore the men closest to the situation and best able to analyze it in favor of their own flawed presumptions.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Initial Benchmark Assessment Report

From the White House

Over 2007 and into 2008, we are focusing on the following core objectives:

  • Defeat al-Qaida and its supporters and ensure that no terrorist safe haven exists in Iraq.
  • Support Iraqi efforts to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and regain control over the capital.
  • Ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq and counter/limit destructive Iranian and Syrian activity in Iraq.
  • Help safeguard democracy in Iraq by encouraging strong democratic institutions impartially serving all Iraqis and preventing the return of the forces of tyranny.
  • Foster the conditions for Iraqi national reconciliation but with the Iraqi Government clearly in the lead.
  • Continue to strengthen Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and accelerate the transition of security responsibility to the Iraqi Government.
  • Encourage an expanding Iraqi economy, including by helping Iraq maintain and expand its export of oil to support Iraqi development.
  • Promote support for Iraq from its neighbors, the region, and the international community.

The Bloggers set things right.

From Desert Fliers Blog:

  1. We are here. I won't get into why we initially came, but the fact is irrefutable: here we are with a significant presence in Iraq and the Middle East. We have a foothold in by far the world's most unstable region.

  2. Many brave men and women have lost their lives for this tenuous foothold. After all they and many others have sacrificed, to leave now would be a disservice to them, their families, and all that we want to accomplish: a stable and prosperous Iraqi government free of terrorism.

  3. It sure doesn't seem like it now, but a permanent, or at least long-term, Western presence in the Middle East may lead to significant stabilization of a historically unstable region.

  4. We are heavily investing in Iraq's economy and infrastructure and making progress every week.

  5. Finally, after years of indifference and outright hostility, regional tribes, clans, and sheiks are aligned with us. There were mistakes along the way. The road we initially took was littered with misunderstandings. But week by week, the potholes are disappearing. Like a recently paved interstate, the clans and councils from Baghdad to Anbar are rapidly taking over their own security and governmental processes. Are they self-sufficient and self-reliant. Nope. Not even close. However, if it wasn't for our resources, infrastructure, and corporate knowledge they wouldn't stand a chance to succeed. Pulling out now is a poor option indeed.

  6. Baghdad, and the main government currently in place, is not meeting our benchmarks. However, we also did not meet our own benchmarks: Baghdad and parts of Anbar Province are still wickedly dangerous places. We have a plan to correct that problem, but it's only been in place for a month. The surge needs more than a few weeks before politicians deem it a failure. From where I'm standing, that borders on the ridiculous. Time may prove me wrong, but at least I won't mark my opinions before giving it a chance. The Iraqi government will continue to miss deadlines and benchmarks so long as Baghdad and the surrounding provinces remain unstable.

  7. I finish with a question: we have maintained a presence in Europe for over 50 years. Does the U.S. have a permanent place in Iraq, too?

Progress is slow, I admit. However, who gets to set the timetable for success? Who defines success, and what is it? Right now, there are still many more questions than answers. That is exactly why setting timetables for withdrawl would, in my humble opinion, be a grave mistake. I fear it would spell a total failure and complete negation of my and many others' sacrifice. Our options:

  1. Set a timetable and start phasing troops out of Iraq. This Country is guaranteed to fall into anarchy. Iran will more than likely move in from the East, while Syria moves in from the West. The sectarian squabbling between Shiite and Sunni we see now will pale in comparison to how badly this region would spin out of control. Iraq goes down in history as my generation's Vietnam: an abject failure.
  2. We stay permanently in a few key areas around Iraq. Worst case scenario: Iraq becomes my generation's Cuba. We maintain a presence despite occasional open hostility.
  3. We stay permanently, and Iraq becomes my generation's Europe. We maintain a presence and work hand in hand with the Iraqi government. We patiently wait until they are organized and stable enough to take the lead, and we give them full autonomy while maintaining open-ended leases on a few key military bases

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Top commander expects big Iraq strikes

An interesting article from the
Last year's wave of sectarian killings, which escalated after the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra "really tore the fabric" of Iraqi society, Petraeus said.

"At the national level, progress to foster true reconciliation is still a work in progress," Petraeus said. "In some respects we should recognize that these issues are fundamental, that they are doing it in an environment shaped by very bad sectarian violence" last year.

Friday, July 06, 2007

After Losses, UBS Ousts Its Chief

From the NYTimes. A lot more information then what you get from the Swiss Media.

Meanwhile, in May, UBS shut down its hedge fund group, Dillon Read, which had started in 2005 amid much fanfare. To quickly build up a presence in the hedge fund industry, UBS transferred many top traders from the investment bank to the hedge fund unit and seeded it with hundreds of millions of dollars of UBS capital. But this year, bad bets in subprime mortgage investments led to losses of $124 million.

UBS was the first Wall Street firm to announce heavy losses in the subprime sector, although it was not the only brokerage firm to do so. Last month, Bear Stearns said that it would provide up to $1.6 billion in secured financing to bail out one of two hedge funds run by its asset management division that had sustained substantial losses in complex loans and securities backed by subprime mortgages.

In the case of UBS, however, what shocked some analysts and investors was the $300 million it cost to close Dillon Read. Of that amount, $200 million went to severance payments and other costs for the hedge fund manager and his team.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

G.I.’s Forge Sunni Tie in Bid to Squeeze Militants

A highly insightful piece of work by Michael R. Gordon from the NYTimes.

Initially, the Americans stood on the sidelines, concerned that they might be witnessing a turf fight among insurgents and militias. “We were not sure what was going on,” Captain Richards recalled. “We were not sure we could trust the people not to turn on us afterwards.”

But after the militants gained the upper hand and more than 1,000 residents began to flee on foot, the Americans moved to prevent the militants from establishing their control throughout the neighborhood. The soldiers called in an airstrike, which demolished a local militant headquarters.

The meeting between the residents and the Americans was Abu Ali’s initiative. The locals wanted ammunition to carry on their fight. Captain Richards had another proposal: the residents should tip off the Americans on which Iraqis belonged to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and where they had buried their bombs.