Rapid Response: Deconstructing the “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”

After two-and-a-half years and 2,110 U.S. troop fatalities, the Bush administration released what it calls a “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” (NSVI). The problem is, it’s not a new strategy for success in Iraq; it’s a public relations document. The strategy describes what has transpired in Iraq to date as a resounding success and stubbornly refuses to establish any standards for accountability. It dismisses serious problems such as the dramatic increase in bombings as “metrics that the terrorists and insurgents want the world to use.” Americans understand it’s time for a new course in Iraq. Unfortunately, this document is little more than an extended justification for a President “determined to stay his course.”

NO STANDARDS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY: Two weeks ago, the Senate overwhelmingly endorsed an amendment calling on the Bush administration to provide a “schedule” for meeting U.S. objectives in Iraq, “information regarding variables that could alter that schedule, and the reasons for any subsequent changes to that schedule.” The NSVI completely rejects this call. “We will not put a date certain on when each stage of success will be reached,” the document states in bold and italicized print, “because the timing of success depends upon meeting certain conditions, not arbitrary timetables.” The only time frames proposed for achieving U.S. objectives are virtually meaningless phrases: “short term,” “medium term,” and “longer term.” The goals for these time frames are equally ambiguous; the so-called “short term” goals, for instance, are listed as “making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces.”IGNORING KEY CHALLENGES: When decorated veteran Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) presented his Iraq plan two weeks ago, he offered two primary reasons for supporting redeployment. One was the heavy burden the Iraq war has placed on the U.S. military and its recruitment and retention efforts, many of which are at historically low levels. The second was the shifting sentiments of the Iraqi population; Murtha cited a recent poll that found “over 80 percent of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, and about 45 percent of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified.” The NSVI ignores both of these fundamental facts. Virtually nothing is said about the well-being of our military, unquestionably a vital element in any strategy for success. Moreover, it disregards the latest Iraqi public opinion data, stating falsely that violence “has been discredited within and outside Iraq.”

DISMISSING INCREASED VIOLENCE: The NSVI emphasizes that U.S. officials “track numerous indicators to map the progress of our strategy,” and offers websites where some of these reports are publicly available. “Americans can read and assess these reports to get a better sense of what is being done in Iraq and the progress being made on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.” The problem is that these reports have on numerous occasions been found to be inaccurate, or to overstate progress using incomplete or misleading data. Additionally, the document states (in bold print) that these Pentagon statistics “have more strategic significance than the metrics that the terrorists and insurgents want the world to use as a measure of progress or failure: number of bombings.” Surely one needs a wide assortment of statistics to get the full picture from Iraq. But considering the No. 1 “Strategic Pillar” listed in the NSVI is to “Defeat the Terrorists and Neutralize the Insurgency,” it is simply not true to claim that the number of insurgent bombings (now at an all-time high) is irrelevant as a measure of progress.

REPLACING METRICS WITH EMPTY PHRASES: In late-September, Gen. George Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, revealed that “[t]he number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help has dropped from three to one.” That meant only 700 Iraq Security forces were rated as “Level 1” on the four point scale created by the U.S. military. Instead of addressing the problem, they’ve abandoned the ratings system. The NSVI notes that “now more than 120 Iraqi army and police battalions are in the fight.” (The term “in the fight,” used six times in the document, is not defined.) The strategy also notes: “As of November 2005, there were more than 212,000 trained and equipped Iraqi Security Forces, compared with 96,000 in September of last year.” It fails to mention that in Feburary 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed there were 210,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces and a “thousand more that are currently in training.”


THE NATIONAL PAT ON THE BACK: The NSIV is less of a strategy and more of a pat on the back. Much of the 35 pages is devoted to describing how well things are going. Oddly, the strategy declares on Page 5 that “Our Strategy Is Working.” On the economic front we are told, “Our restore, reform, build, strategy is achieving results.” On the political front: “Our Isolate, Engage, and Build strategy is working.” On the security front: “Our clear, hold, and build strategy is working.” With everything going so well, the NSVI reminds us that “change is coming to the region…From Kuwait to Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, there are stirrings of political pluralism, often for the first time in generations.”