The strong turnout for Iraq’s parliamentary elections offers hope that we are entering a new period in which Iraq begins to resolve its problems through a peaceful, democratic process. Our cover package this month examines this “tipping period” from a variety of vantage points:
AFJ Editor Tom Donnelly sets the scene, making the point that over the coming months, the decisive factors in Iraq will come through political, rather than military, means. Most important will be the political climate here in the United States as the administration seeks to shore up support for the effort from a skeptical American public.
Gordon Trowbridge, a senior staff writer with the Military Times, offers an on-scene look at the quality of the Iraqi forces expected to assume more responsibility in 2006. Trowbridge, who spent more than five months in Iraq from late 2004 through fall of 2005, most recently was embedded with Army and Marine units south of Baghdad, in Ramadi and in Qaim, near the Syrian border. His first-hand accounts show how much work is still to be done if the Iraqi Army is ever to be the key to a U.S. exit strategy. They’re “just as brave as Marines,” a Marine captain told our reporter. But the Americans’ impulse to protect, rather than brutalize the defenseless, is lacking in the Iraqi volunteers.
Also in this package, Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a military historian who has taught at West Point, argues that body counts, whether of American dead or insurgents, are a poor way to measure success or failure in Iraq, and that counting the number of trained Iraqi troops is not much better. Rather than convenient statistics, he says, we should be looking at other, more complex information sources to gauge American success or failure.
Joseph J. Collins, a retired Army colonel and lecturer at the National War College, takes this idea a step further in his open letter to President Bush, entreating the administration to work harder on presenting its Iraq strategy to the American public.
Finally, Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and Brian Katulis, director of democracy and public diplomacy on the national security team at the Center for American Progress, offer a plan for a two-step strategic redeployment, replacing U.S. troops in urban areas with Iraqi police and soldiers so that American soldiers could be distributed to other assignments.
Looking beyond Iraq, David Trachtenberg, vice president of CACI-National Security Research, wonders what happened to the Bush administration’s once-unflinching commitment to ballistic missile defense, and James Blaker and Robert Holzer reflect on the life and legacy of retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski, who died Nov. 12, and who many view as the godfather of “transformation.”
This is the third issue of AFJ as it has been reborn under Tom Donnelly’s vision and leadership. It remains a work in progress, as any good magazine should. We hope you find it compelling and thought-provoking — and that you’ll write and tell us what you think. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.