‘We were losing the Civil War. Lincoln kept firing generals until he found one who understood what total victory was.'
GEN. JACK KEANE TALKS TO LUIZA CH. SAVAGE ABOUT THE WISDOM OF A TROOP SURGE IN IRAQ, AND THE PARALLEL BETWEEN BUSH AND LINCOLN
Retired Gen. Jack Keane was vice chief of staff of the U.S. army from 1999 to 2003. He has been a leading advocate of a “surge” of U.S. troops into Iraq, a strategy that’s been embraced by the White House.
QYou of20,000-30,000 bat troops recommend into Iraq. a new “surge” There comare already 140,000 there. Why would more make a difference at this time?
A: What I’m really advocating is a change of mission and a change of strategy, and to accomplish that you have to increase the force levels. [U.S. forces] have never been given the mission to defeat the insurgency or secure the population. The primary mission—and this is what people, including military people who aren’t close to the situation don’t understand—the military mission has been to transition our level of responsibility to the Iraqi forces. Implicit in that mission is that we would not defeat the insurgency; they would do it because it would take too long for us to do it.
Q: And that has failed...
A: The problem with that is the enemy was able to exploit our vulnerabilities because we were not putting much pressure on them. They were able to raise the level of violence every year for the three-plus years we’ve been there, and now that violence is beyond the capacity level of Iraqi forces to handle. This operation is all about bringing the violence down to a level that is within the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.
Q: But for the troops on the ground, how will this be any different from what they already do every day?
A: They will go into the neighbourhoods and clear out the insurgents, the al-Qaeda and the Shia death squads. We have done that before. But the second part of the mission, we have not done. That is, after we have cleared them out, the Iraqi units and U.S. units will stay there 24/7 and not go back to their bases. They will support the population and protect them from the insurgents, the al-Qaeda, and the death squads who will try to come back. We only did that one time in a small city called Tal Afar. In other cases, we left after we cleared and they came back. Now we will stop them from coming back. Then the third part of the mission is to provide economic and reconstruction relief—economic packages for basic quality of life services to the population. This is as important as the military operation to our success.
Q: How long should the surge last in total? And how long do you think U.S. forces will remain in Iraq?
A: How long U.S. forces need to remain in Iraq, I don’t know. The surge itself should probably last 18 months to two years. We should do two things simultaneously: first, a mission to secure Baghdad with five more brigades. At the same time, put additional forces into al-Anbar province to conduct offensive operations against al-Qaeda and insurgents, to keep them from undermining the operation in Baghdad. After Baghdad is secured, we would move to al-Anbar for a different mission—to protect the people. In Baghdad, it will take most of the year, but we would see some success before the year was out.
Q: What do you think is the absolute minimum number of troops required for the mission?
A: I don’t want to talk about the numbers of troops, but the numbers of units because the numbers vary by unit. The bare minimum increase coming from the U.S. to the theatre would be approximately six brigades—five to Baghdad and one to al-Anbar province. It’s about 30,000. It depends on how many support troops come with them. It’s easy to be off by 5,000 or 10,000.
Q: The U.S. military is said to be straining under the weight of two wars. Where would the additional troops come from?
A who With brigade, are the these already exception are troops scheduled of one to come to Iraq; we are just bringing them sooner. In 2008, some troops would come from units not scheduled to come— five or six army national guard brigades. I think this is something the military can handle. There is a human dimension to this in terms of our soldiers and families, to be sure. But the military exists to be stressed during war, and it expects to be.
Q: What kind of casualties shoidd the American people brace for?
A: The casualties will go up initially, but over time they will go down. I cannot attach a number to it.
Q: What about a “rolling surge”—bringing in troops conditional on the progress and cooperation from the Iraqis?
A: We have to bring the level of violence down so that the Iraqis can take over. The strategies that say “Just turn it over to the Iraqis,” that’s what we were doing all along for the last three years. The problem is they are not ready to deal with this level of violence given the size and quality of their force. As much as I hate to say it, the current strategy, which was designed by my friends and the guys who used to work for me, has failed.
The current strategy, designed by my friends and guys who used to work for me, has failed'
Q: Why have there been press reports of resistance within the Pentagon to the idea of a surge?
A: Sure there are people who don’t agree with it—the military is not a monolithic organization. For two years, people have believed the current mission is wrong and would fail. But the fact of the matter is, the President is going to change the mission and the military is going to implement it. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be a soliden The joint chiefs will be behind it. The joint chiefs are concerned that the other elements of national power that are part of the strategy—the political, economic and diplomatic—should be executed just as vigorously as the military component will be. In the past, that has not been the case. Some of those efforts have been ineffective.
Q : Is that the fault of the State Department?
A: We’re talking about the National Security Council, the State Department and the Treasury Department.
Q: Donald Rumsfeld has taken a lot of the blame for mistakes in the war. Has that blame been misplaced?
A: The blame for the war is shared by national leaders like secretary Rumsfeld and
senior military leaders. There is a genuine partnership in terms of execution.
The main mistake is we had a short-war strategy and rushed to achieve a political objective—a representative democracy—that in Iraq is not achievable in the near-term. And number two, we never took on the mission to defeat the insurgency ourselves. It was a short-war strategy that over-relied on the Iraqi security forces. That’s the generals and secretary Rumsfeld primarily. And, of course, the President is ultimately responsible.
Q: When American voters decided in the November elections to give Democrats majorities in both houses of Congress, was this notan endorsement of Democratic calls to start bringing the troops home? Shouldn’t the President respect that message?
A: I think the President should do what he believes is right and not put his finger in the air to see what the political mood of the country is. We are where we were in the early years of the Civil War. We had lost the early battles. Washington was wringing its hands and legislators were reaching out to the Confederates to make accommodation because they knew there would be two countries now and we should start
making political deals to pull it off. [Abraham] Lincoln as president would have none of it. He kept firing the generals who were losing the war until he found one who understood what total victory was and how to achieve it. That general was [Ulysses S.] Grant. Lincoln had huge political opposition to what he was doing because we had been losing the war militarily and people were ready to give up—kind of like where a lot of people are now. I think it’s almost a perfect analogy.
Q: You helped write a detailed proposal for how the surge could work. It called for focusing on high-violence Sunni and mixed SunniShia neighbourhoods, primarily on the west and east sides of Baghdad. Why there?
A: That’s where most of the violence is. And it allows you to show early on an evenhandedness in securing the population of both Shia and Sunni at the same time.
What about going into Sadr City?
A: We should try to resolve that violence politically. If we are able to protect the Sunni and Shia over weeks and months, Prime Minister [Nuri] al-Maliki for the first time has leverage to persuade militia leaders, such as [Muqtada] al-Sadr and [Abdul Aziz] al-Hakim to stop offensive operations and draw back to a defensive posture because the U.S. and Iraqis are protecting their people. If they refuse, then we’d have to go in there. But let’s try not to do that. There are an additional two million people in Sadr City, and going in would unite the entire Shia militia and vigilante movement against us, which is not right now united. That would be 70,000 people.
Q: But how much credibility does al-Maliki actually have? Isn’t his government in fitrated by militias?
A: Al-Maliki is aligned with Shia militias. They are a constituency which put him in power. He would not be in office without them. The problem we have now is al-Maliki cannot stop the Shia militias from conducting offensive operations because the U.S. and the Iraqi security forces have been incapable of protecting the Shia population. The thought is that once we start protecting them, we can take that issue away.
You have to understand that the Shia militias waited 2lh years to start offensive operations—only after mosque bombings and the Sunni assassination squads. Given the patience they demonstrated for almost three years, there is something to work with. They may be completely out of patience now, and they may not want to trust us again. It’s possible. But it seems worth trying.
Q: Is there any evidence that Iraq, with all its sectarian divisions, can become a stable democracy?
A: This much I do know: I believe that we can secure Iraq and convince the insurgents that they cannot win through armed conflict. We can force the Shia militias back behind the barricades. These are militarily resolvable problems. Whether the Iraqis commit to a democracy and all that entails is an open question. Probably what we can hope for at best is a stable government that can protect its people and provide goods and services. That may not be a completely representative
democracy as we democratic countries know it. If we get a stable government in Iraq, free from the repression of Saddam Hussein, that can protect itself and not prey on its neighbours, then we are in better shape than we were under Saddam Hussein.
After the Korean War, we permitted a strong dictatorship to run South Korea for years, before capitalism started to take hold and the country eventually became the democracy we know today. The reason was their political culture was not ready for it after the Korean War. The Iraqis’ political culture is not ready either, but we forced it on them anyway. We are pulling back from obtaining the ultimate goal of a democratic country, I think, to a goal of a stable government capable of protecting its people and providing goods and services. That’s a much more realistic goal. We have had unrealistic expectations of Iraq since the beginning.
Q: How would you recommend that the Presidentdeal with Democratic leaders who wrote him a letter last week warning that a troop surge was a bad idea?
A: I think the President has to make a decision to do what’s right in Iraq. Once progress
'There is a human dimension, but the military exists to be stressed during war, and expects it1
and success will be shown in Iraq, I believe public opinion will change. I think the recent election was different than what you suggested: it was more about the frustration of the American people with the lack of progress and success. If services were returning in Iraq, and we were making progress, even if it were to take longer than anticipated, I think the American people would completely support it.
Q: What is your worst case scenario?
A: We begin to withdraw before the Iraqis can handle the level of violence in the country. That could lead to a fractured government, an all-out civil war, a failed state and the U.S. would have to withdraw completely.
Q: American attention has been riveted on Iraq, but as you know Canada is making a significa?it military effort in Afghanistan...
A: And thank God for it.
Q: How do you judge the prospects for success there?
A: The problem in Afghanistan is the central government is weak and there is a rather robust sanctuary in Pakistan on the border where the Taliban have re-formed and are seeking a return to power. We shouldn’t wring our hands here. We should just defeat their objectives and goals. We need [Pervez] Musharraf’s help and he is hedging his bets. He is concerned about U.S. and NATO resolve.
Q: Would a major recommitment of U.S. troops to Iraq weaken American resolve in Afghanistan?
A we No, can Iraq, I which think show we it will success can, help. in I think If it would encourage everyone about the operations in Afghanistan. They are different countries and cultures to be sure, but there is a common thread. There are insurgencies in both countries that want to topple duly-elected governments and there are external players.
I think ’07 is going to be difficult, but I’m optimistic. M
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