The Ghost of Gen. Shinseki

Dismal new details on the training of Iraq’s security forces emerged during congressional hearings last week, including news that the top U.S. general in charge of training Iraqi forces says there aren’t enough U.S. troops on the ground. One warning, though: don’t get caught in the weeds. This is about more than training Iraqis. The Bush administration has made the creation of a stable Iraqi military a linchpin of America’s exit strategy. Simply put, the sooner we train Iraqi forces, the sooner ours come home.

Four bombshells from congressional hearings last week:

1) Gen. Petraeus, who oversees the training of Iraq’s forces, disagrees with current U.S. troops levels in Iraq: Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) told Sec. Rumfeld of a recent conversation she had with Gen. Patraeus, during which she asked whether additional troops would have prevented many of the initial failures of Iraq’s security forces. Petraeus responded, “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Sec. Rumsfeld seemed to blow off the disagreement: “It appears that General Petraeus doesn’t agree with [the force levels in Iraq], and that’s fine. I’m sure other people don’t agree with General Casey or General Abizaid.”2) Up to half of the 136,000 Iraqi forces cited by Sec. Rumsfeld are regularly absent from duty:

SEN. McCAIN [referring to Rumsfeld’s figure of 136,000 forces]: Isn’t it…true that any of these units, at any given time, there’s 30, 40 or even as high as 50 percent of these units absent? […]

RUMSFELD: It is. It varies across the lot.

3) Pentagon documents show 89 of the 90 battalions of Iraq’s Army and National Guard are “lightly equipped and armed and have very limited mobility and sustainment activities”: Confronted with these numbers by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), a ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, Sec. Rumfeld called them “substantially correct.”

4) European leaders have been offering to train Iraqi forces for months: Here’s Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE):

A lot of senators in Davos last month, a lot of us heard the same thing. A lot of us have been in and out of Europe and the Middle East in December and January. I’ve made a couple trips — a total of three trips. And we’ve been told repeatedly, not just me, but many of my Republican colleagues, repeatedly by many foreign leaders and their governments, that they’ve made offers to train. Chirac, when we met with him in, I guess, I don’t know, two weeks ago, he was very — you know how he’s very regal, and he’s very diplomatic, and he talked about how he wanted to show me — I didn’t demand a show; I would never demand of a president anything — wanted to show me the proposal he had to train 1,500 Iraqi officers, and it had been made six months ago, and mon Dieu, he does not understand why no one has responded, et cetera.