August 25, 2007

Weekend Quote

Michael Yon sums up General David Petraeus, Iraq, and the surge in one sentence:

It took enormous guts to take the job at this stage of the war, when it’s like an airplane with one of the wings blown off, and there is this pilot in the back of the airplane who easily could have parachuted out the back—where some of the others already have gone—but instead he says, “I can still fly this thing!
You should read the whole thing, though, not just the one sentence.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 25, 2007 12:27 AM


Too bad for General Petraeus that forces outside his control are making the plane crash. It doesn't matter how intelligent, how skilled, and how smart he is. It's too bad that he is letting his reputation be forever marred by tying himself to the Bush administration. I hope he realizes that they are using him, and when they are through with him, they will discard him like a rag. Poor guy.

Posted by: Dan at August 25, 2007 06:49 AM


Hello first thing introducing my self as official spokes man for my friends my name welley so we will put our case in your hands .
We are as group of interpreters how work BRITISH ARMY in southern Iraq we work between 2004 to 2006 it was the more important time for both Iraqi G.O.V and B.A.
Because in this time we establish build anew Iraqi army& police& National Guard
We shear the 2 elections and vote operation handles general matters of interpreter Translate posts with deployed British units. Maintaining a secure environment and assisted in defeating terrorism in southern Iraq & Arabic official cases documents for Iraqi police and national guards and Iraqi army & as interpreter i have been performed my duties to complete satisfaction and we have been an invaluable asset at a number of important meeting. And this is the words what we have in our certification form the B.A .
This job makes us facing the killing & assassinating kidnapping from the militia’s anther Islamic parties.
After we lose more than 20 interpreters by killing (we have there names) so we have no more options to safe our family’s just leave Iraq. Now we are in Syria with our families.
We live in dark future waiting for any hand help us with our family’s like what the Danish forces do for there interpreters.
In Syria we have been registered in the U.N.H.C.R wait for a hope that maybe there is country accept us as a refugees but From the dates that the U.N.H.C.R they had been give us I thing we will wait not less than 5 years .
So most of us now at the edge of bankruptcy…………………...
We ask your humanitarian to help us with our family, s.
Or send this massage for the responsible about our case.
Our best regards to you thanks.

Posted by: welley at August 25, 2007 07:46 AM

We will see just how short a leash Petraeus in on when we hear the report in Sept. I admire his
skills and perspective, but am doubtful he can
unscrew what has been screwed by this WH.

As for the Vietnam analogies.............

The VC were a native insurgency fighting a proxy war for the Soviets and Chinese. We pulled out because instead of 50,000, dead we would have seen 150,000
extinguished with the same result. The North
saw that they lost their charisma with their Allies, and subsequently, financial support.

They soon discovered just as their modern counterparts "The sheiks of Anbar turned against al Qaeda because the sheiks are businessmen, and al Qaeda is bad for business." that pure communism was bad for business.

The Soviet Bloc imploded from multiple economic diseases and China got "most favored trading status" and we saved 100,000 troops from needless death.

We will suffer a little damage to our National Pride for awhile, but we will recover. Begin
Redeployment ASAP!

Posted by: Semanticleo at August 25, 2007 08:08 AM

From the Yon link...The sheiks of Anbar turned against al Qaeda because the sheiks are businessmen, and al Qaeda is bad for business. But they didn’t suddenly trust Americans just because they no longer trusted al Qaeda. They are not suddenly blood allies. This is business, and that’s fine, because if there is one thing America is good at, it’s business...

Therein lies another problem Petraeus has to deal with. And that is the US govt is not business oriented. It's politics around the clock. Business is the host for the govt's required blood supply (tax revenues, fees, etc.), or a victim of its politically motivated edicts on healthcare and retirement funding. The US govt would do well to revert to a business model. But that would be utter fantasy thinking. Politics have ruined many a businessman after he entered the gates.

Witness the last Gulf war when the Kurds and southern Shias were abandoned for essentially political purposes. The lesson learned there by the abandoned? Business with the US is fraught with uncertainty. I fully realize what the quote above meant, but it's just as vital to understand that there aren't all that many 'businessmen' in decision making positions for the US. Instead, we seem to be lead by believers, disbelievers, and political expediencies. And if you realize the dearth of 'business' in the dealings of the biggest capitalistic nation, just imagine the vacuum elsewhere, eg., the UN.

Posted by: allan at August 25, 2007 10:29 AM

Dan, say rather that Gen. Petraeus is the pilot who, although he could parachute out himself, feels enough obligation to the passengers without parachutes to try to get the plane down in one piece. It may be a doomed effort, and it may have the side-effect of making the idiot who blew off the wing look less bad. But anything he can do improves the chances of those passengers surviving.

His efforts may tarnish his reputation with those who care only about the impact on Bush's reputation. But for those who care about the US troops, or about the Iraqi population, his reputation is not being damaged. Quite the contrary.

Posted by: wj at August 25, 2007 12:30 PM

It's too bad that he is letting his reputation be forever marred by tying himself to the Bush administration.

Bush derangement syndrome. Note how Petraeus's reputation is marred-- not by negative results in Iraq-- but merely by "tying himself to the Bush administration." To such people Iraq's only implication is Bush. Obsession brought to you courtesy of the "reality-based community."

Posted by: Carlos at August 25, 2007 02:53 PM

This discussion reminds me what Damien Cave in Iraq just said.

I talked to a commander the other day who said that the political debate at home is bizarro-land and something that he doesn't connect with at all. . . . it's funny, one of the things that comes up a lot here among commanders and among the press corps is the way that the debate at home seems to be mainly focused on the impact on Washington or among constituents.

Truly, it's hard to take the political bullshit in Washington seriously when you're in a war zone. The Washington circus is but a faint whisper from another world. This is true of the reporters I met as well as the soldiers, as Cave notes.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 25, 2007 03:03 PM

This war will decide how effective terrorism will be against democracy.

Some people see that...

Posted by: Freedom Now at August 25, 2007 04:06 PM

"His efforts may tarnish his reputation with those who care only about the impact on Bush's reputation. But for those who care about the US troops, or about the Iraqi population, his reputation is not being damaged. Quite the contrary."

I think it goes far beyond a strong case of BDS. Just the other day, I was witness to one of my coworkers proudly proclaiming his lack of patriotism. Hearing this was no surprise, first because I live in San Francisco, and second, because even before I moved to California, it was not uncommon for me to hear this sort of talk among my peers.
My point? There's an entire generation today that has been brought up above all to view their government with suspicion and contempt, and to believe that they, the people of the future, know better. They've been brought up to take pride in themselves, and condemn any sense of national pride.
Bush and the Iraq war only seem to offer a tempting venue for expressing this belief. A failure in Iraq would vindicate their beliefs. Patraeus could have distanced himself for Bush, and would likely still be referred to as "Betrayus" purely for his commitment to fighting our war in Iraq, which threatens their position.
Nothing short of a great war placing self-preservation at the forefront could cause these people to wake up from their crazy, self-defeating ideologies.
Petraeus will some day be seen with the respect he deserves, but sadly, maybe not among our generation.

Michael Totten:
Love your dispatches. I'm, understably, having a difficult time getting anyone around me to read any of them (as well as any reporting from Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, or Jeff Emaneull), but I'm at least one person in SF that appreciates what you're doing.
Keep 'em coming!

Posted by: Stephen at August 25, 2007 04:59 PM


I suspect you feel the VN analogy by Bush was a

Posted by: Semanticleo at August 26, 2007 08:20 AM

just wondering,
Have you read the text or viewed that speech in its entirety?

Posted by: John at August 26, 2007 09:57 AM

Not only is the Vietnam analogy true, but you can also look at the Peace Democrats of the Civil War to see how bitter politics can corrupt a political party during a time of war so that it can justify the sabatoge of our country's war effort.

The main difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that when the South fell to the invading NVA, the victors were able to establish order. While that order came at a price of 1 to 2 million boat refugees who suffered untold brutality, 100s of thousands imprisoned and 10s of thousands murdered by the invaders - in Iraq there will be no peace.

There isnt a single party; Shiite, Sunni, Al Qaeda, Kurdish, Turkmen or otherwise that is capable of dominating the others.

Without the U.S. to stand between them the civil war will escalate into violence unseen until now.

Posted by: Freedom Now at August 26, 2007 01:03 PM

Freedom Now:

Explain why endless killing of an Iraqi civil war is a BAD thing?

Posted by: Manco at August 26, 2007 02:58 PM

Manco, you're banned. Post that crap somewhere else.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 26, 2007 03:04 PM

Hey Michael, a little slow on the draw, aren't you? Took you 6 whole minutes to ban Manco.

How can he read your dispatches, or Yon's, and feel that way?

Posted by: Tom at August 26, 2007 05:51 PM

This was a great article by Yon. But just for the record, everyone's favorite pro-war pundit - Christopher Hitchens - wrote an entire column a year or two ago blasting those idiots that insisted on calling the Iraqi killers an "insurgency." At what point do we get to stop taking him seriously?

Posted by: Joseph Angier at August 26, 2007 06:26 PM


I don't like the word "insurgency" either to describe the likes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, but everyone including the military uses the term now, so I have surrendered to it.

I don't know what Hitchens thinks on the subject right now. You are obviously welcome to ignore him if you think a disagreeable column from years ago invalidates his work on a range of subjects today.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 26, 2007 06:37 PM

Sorry to go off on a Hitchens tangent, but Yon's excellent analysis brought all the gall back. I understood one of the main points he was making was that huge mistakes were made, and many lives were lost, because there was an insistence on proclaiming that it was offensive to call what was happening in Iraq an "insurgency." So if Yon is correct, what Hitchens was contributing to was not something merely "disagreeable," but an argument that has had led to the unneeded deaths of countless numbers of our fellow Americans. And of course, when Hitchens writes an article like that, there's always that lovely hauteur that imagines that anyone who disagrees with him is some kind of immature fool who's off somewhere putting Hitler mustaches on pictures of George Bush.

Posted by: Joseph Angier at August 26, 2007 07:08 PM

I enjoy reading your articles along with Yon’s and other similar writers that bring us real ground truth without the ever present and blatant political attacks we have come to expect in the more traditional media outlets.

This article that you have referred to and yours titled How to Spy in Iraq from last week illustrate how recent strategy changes have resulted in improvements is some parts of Iraq. As a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, I have used these techniques successfully in Afghanistan and the Philippines and have long argued that Iraq did not need more troops but more of the right troops and less of the wrong ones.

Men like Lt. Pitts are definitely the exception, in conventional units like the 82nd, and not the rule. Most of my experience with these conventional units has been watching them build large fortified compounds to hide in and only rarely send out patrols to “show the flag.” Finally, under the command of Gen. Petraeus, we are pushing elements out into the streets to live with the locals; something Special Forces soldiers have been doing for decades.

Posted by: Francis Marion at August 27, 2007 03:43 AM

Petreaus, even if he is a superman cannot possibly defeat the forces arrayed against him, i.e. the political powers that be in Washington.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait to the exit of this administration before people like Petraeus will have a chance to be effective.

Posted by: TOC at August 27, 2007 09:35 AM

Michael Totten,

I have been very impressed by your blog, your willingness to engage with readers in comments, and your frequent kind comments and references to other reporters and bloggers.

You are a real class act.

Your article on the Yezidis, for whom I have a soft spot, was also very good. Your article on the IA 3-1-11 was informative. Spying was a pleasure to read.

I hope you are enjoying your well earned break in Oregon. When do you get to travel again?

Posted by: anand at August 27, 2007 09:40 AM

Thanks, Anand.

My travel schedule partly depends on the travel schedule of a colleague of mine. He and I are going to Afghanistan together at some point. If he won't be available for a while I'll go by myself to Fallujah and to Afghanistan with him later.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 27, 2007 09:57 AM

Michael Totten,

I look forward to your reporting from Afghanistan. There is a dearth of good reporting of your caliber from inside Afghanistan. Large pockets of Afghanistan aren’t as safe as Falluja (especially for ransom kidnapping), so please take care of yourself.

As you might know, Bill Roggio embedded with the Canadians in Afghanistan last year (he was full of praise for the brave and capable Canadian troops, Go Canada!). He mentioned that the ANA, although highly motivated was “VERY” lightly armed and equipped. Their training was also very limited. The ANA only got significant funding when president Bush requested Congress for approx $10 billion in grants for Afghanistan late last year, after firing Secretary Rumsfeld (he opposed foreign aid for Afghanistan).

I and I am sure your many other fans would be very interested in your perspectives on the Afghan Security forces, other institutions in the Afghan government (federal, provincial and local), the local Afghan economy, as well as the situation there more broadly.

If you go back to Falluja, you will be able to cover phase 4 and phase 5 (post conflict) three dimensional ops (civil affairs, governance, reconstruction, business development). You might also be able to cover the relationship between Al Anbaris and the GoI, as well as between Falluja and the 1st IAD (the main way the GoI influences Falluja). These are also important stories.

Posted by: anand at August 27, 2007 10:52 AM

Well, I think the plane analogy seems about right. We may have planned to land in the Bahamas (A sterling jewel of Democracy in an otherwise Dictatorial world)... but at this point, if he can land us on a small chunk of land anywhere I'll be happy.

Maybe it won't be a democracy... maybe it won't be our best friend in the ME... but if it stops the killing and boots out Al Queda... well I could deal with that more easily than just abandoning these people to a hell we unintentionally brought about.

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at August 27, 2007 01:37 PM

Petraeus has always had the right stuff. Ian Wood of Astonished Head said this about him back in 2003:

When I was a lad, living in a suburban New Jersey townhouse, we had a succession of neighbors live in the unit next to us, which was a rental. One such neighbor was David Petraeus, who lived there for a short while with his wife and their daughter. I say a "short while" because David was an officer serving in the Army, and--like everywhere he lived--Lawrenceville, New Jersey was just another stopover until the next duty assignment. This particular "duty assignment" involved getting a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University.

David was what my mom called a "real go-getter," which meant that he really went and got on planes for the express purpose of jumping out of them. My mom kept in touch with his wife, and every so often I'd hear a story: David's in the hospital because his chute failed, but he'll be OK. Some idiot accidentally shot him, but he'll be OK. To call him a resilient guy is entirely inadequate.

I remember one snowy winter, when he tried to get me off my bookish lazy ass and out into the street to shovel driveways. "Every snowflake should look like a little dollar sign," he told me. "That's your motivation."

I knew that he had been moving up in the Army during the past two decades, and last night I was talking about him after the President's speech. I wondered what rank he was now, and where he might be on the command structure charts with the little pictures that they were showing on ABC...

...Godspeed, sir.

I never made a dime shovelling driveways.


Posted by: mary at August 27, 2007 07:00 PM

Francis Marion, would you tell us something about your experience doing counterinsurgency in the philippines? This is a story that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 27, 2007 08:27 PM

J Thomas,

I have written about my experiences there. This is Michael's place so I'll just forward you to my site (click my name below) and and review my history. Nov-Feb should be your emphasis with Feb or Mar detailing some signs of success.

Posted by: Francis Marion at August 27, 2007 09:07 PM

"...abandoning these people to a hell we unintentionally brought about."

It seems I keep having to remind people that Iraq already was hell under Saddam. Maybe the war was a big mistake. Maybe we should have done everything completely differently. Maybe Iraq is now a bloody hellhole. But let's remember that prior to our invasion it already was an abominable human rights hellhole, where genocide had been committed with "weapons of mass destruction" (Saddam's gassing of the Kurds).

Posted by: Gary Rosen at August 28, 2007 12:54 AM

Thank you Mr. Totten.

I am new to your site. I am impressed by what you are doing and what you are writing.

I know that our guys bitch about the IQ Police. They have a tough job. I think that police always get a bad rap. I know that not many people think to highly of the police in our country either.

As to the rest of the viewers: I just read FM 3-24, I recommend it highly. I shouldn't be to difficult of a read for those non-military folks (as many FMs are). In my opinion, Gen P. is a very smart guy and what he says is at least worth listening to.

Posted by: Grumpy at August 28, 2007 06:18 PM

Your reporting is just excellent, Michael. I can't begin to tell you how impressed I am.

Posted by: seduction at August 29, 2007 05:29 AM

As usual great reporting MJT ;-)

Posted by: seduction at August 29, 2007 05:29 AM

I think too much burden and faith is put on Patreus' shoulders. He is not he second coming of Jesus Christ. Also, I think the fact that some progress is shown after 5 months of the surge will not be a long term indicator of anything for Iraq. Any progress shown will very likely be artificial (as in not permanent and not sustainable without a continued troop increase). So unfortunately, Patreus will likely be used by the White House as a reason to extend the surge even longer.

It is very unfortunate, It seems that 90% of the effort is on military solutions and 10% on diplomatic. It really pisses me off that the Iraqi parliament took off the month of August while US troops continued to die for their country.

Posted by: Graham at September 1, 2007 01:03 AM
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