Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, September 17, 2007

Experts discuss Petraeus-Crocker report

Leading experts from the Brookings Institution and Saban Center for Middle East policy met on Thursday at the National Press Club to assess President Bush’s “surge” strategy. They also reviewed General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s report on progress in Iraq, which was presented to Congress on Monday.

Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center, visited Iraq this summer and said that he can see a change within the country – especially in Anbar province – but cautioned that “there is a great deal left and we are not close to success.” He also expressed great concern with the Iraqi government and said that the different factions within the country are not ready to cooperate. While there has been progress on a local level, Pollack said, he argued that there is no indication that this success will spread to the national level.

“In Talfar this summer there was a large car bomb and we were scared that the situation would worsen, that there would be more sectarian violence and that the U.S. troops had to go back there,” Pollack said. But, he asserted, the situation did not get worse, adding “the Iraqis are tired of fighting; they have been in civil war for 4 years”.

Phillip Gordon of the Brookings Institution began by making the point that “it is difficult to know if this is a good strategy.” He added: “We have heard of progress before; that is why it is hard to take them seriously now.” Gordon also said that he has no doubt that Petraeus and Crocker were honest in their report. On the other hand he said that “it is their job; they have to be positive and I would not like to have it any other way.” Petraeus was talking about progress three years ago, while he was involved in training operations, and he talks about progress today, Gordon said. However, he argued that the American people are now more skeptical and are less inclined to believe the general’s claims. He also questioned whether a united Iraq would be possible, arguing that the Kurds, Shias and Sunnis would be unwilling to share power.

Peter Rodman of the Brookings Institution differed from the other panelists and highlighted the various problems that he claims would be created by a rapid withdraw. “It would be threatening to pull the plug and that would not strengthen the situation,” he said.

Rodman also argued that the notion that the U.S. is close to pulling out is scaring the Iraqi people, saying that “the Iraqis are watching our domestic debate very closely.” He said that when you meet ordinary Iraqis on the streets the first thing they ask is: “How long are you staying?” and the second thing is “How can we help?”

Susan Rice of the Brookings Institution said that “we are fighting more than one war in Iraq today.” She added: “Yes, we are fighting the al Qaeda, but, we are also fighting a sectarian war.” Rice also said that while it is not clear who the ‘bad guys’ are in the civil war, we know that al Qaeda are the ‘bad guys.’

Rice maintained that the “surge” is not a strategy and argued that surge or no surge, political reconciliation is still crucial. She also noted the importance on focusing more on job creation. “Economic factors are what are essential, and that will bring success to the country,” she said.

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution agreed a good deal with Rice and noted that while it is true that violence is down in Iraq, much more must be done. “We can not talk about progress until the numbers are down more,” O’Hanlon said. “People do not feel secure and a lot of effort has to be put in to get the extremists out.” He added that “we have only put the cork in the bottle and saved some time.” One of the major things he called for during his statement was a greater emphasis on funneling resources into the regions and combating the underlying sectarian tensions at play within local communities.

Bruce Riedel of the Saban Center said that while most experts agree that reconciliation would be the best thing for Iraq and it is indeed necessary, it is also not likely to happen soon. He also said that he agreed with Petraeus and Crocker on the importance of keeping a close eye on Iraq’s neighbors, adding that it would be impossible to guard the boarders to Iran. “Not even Saddam Hussein could do that,” Riedel said.

Riedel also called attention to the fact that 75 percent of Iraqis polled in a recent study said that they believe the U.S. will stay in the country forever.

Riedel concluded by referring to a question raised in Monday’s congressional hearing with Petraeus and Crocker: “Will this policy make the United States safer?” The general’s response was: “I do not know.”


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