wrence J. Korb Korb interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, November 12, 2003
November 25, 2003 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, Reserve Affairs, Installations and Logistics in the Reagan administration Lawrence J. Korb is visiting Iraq on a trip that is a part of the Bush administration’s effort to inform the American people of the progress the U.S. is making in Iraq since the end of major combat and is reporting back every day with his findings on the ground. His interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, November 12, 2003 - Did you have a chance to walk the streets in Baghdad? No. They wouldn't let us do that. I guess they worried about our security. It was interesting. You couldn't walk anyplace. When we flew into Baghdad the first day, we landed at the airport and were going over to the palace where Bremer has his headquarters. They put us on an Apache helicopter from Baghdad International Airport and flew us to within 100 yards of Bremer's headquarters, and made us get on a bus. Even when we were in safe areas and were driving to see a Shiite cleric, they made us wear flak jackets, and they had Humvees and armored personnel carriers escorting us with guns pointed at the population. This is in the so-called safe Shiite area. Here is his Day Three In Iraq from November 7th.
posted by y2karl (29 comments total)
Let's just get this out of the way:

"You're wrong!"
"No, you're wrong!"

Okay. Carry on.
posted by keswick at 3:53 PM on November 25, 2003

Here comes the pain.
posted by dazed_one at 3:59 PM on November 25, 2003

It is an insurgency. If somebody takes a surface-to-air missile and shoots down a helicopter, I don't call that a terrorist act. You are not at war with terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic that is used. You are basically at war with people who have one common interest, and that is to get rid of us. They have different backgrounds. You have some of the old Baathists; you have some Sunnis who don't want to live in a country controlled by Shiites; you have a lot of criminals who Saddam let out of jail; and you have people coming from other countries for the jihad. The military calls this asymmetric. They're taking advantage of our weaknesses, and they are not playing to our strengths.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:04 PM on November 25, 2003

draft jenna
posted by specialk420 at 4:16 PM on November 25, 2003

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera (careful, the link's gonna die in a few hours because the content won't be free anymore) ran an excellent interview today with Bruno Stano, commander of the Italian soldiers in Iraq (who by the way just buried 19 of his men killed by a truck bomb):
link here, in Italian (sorry but my browser went nuts so I can't direct link it):

I'll translate the most important quote:

A: "Frankly, I am a target. My boys gurading the local hospitals are targets. What should we do then? Never leaving the base is not an option -- we're here to improve the Iraqi people's security and make sure that humanitarian aid reaches the people who need them and to make sure that reconstruction goes on as scheduled. And we, the military people, are the only ones who can do that job. Local police are scared after all these attacks, and they don't guard the local hospital anymore. What am I supposed to do, let thieves rob the hospital? Of course not, I have some of my boys patrol the hospital. My boys are under fire and they know it, but their job is to protect doctors and patients. Police stations will probably be attacked here in Nassiryah, too -- like it happened in Baghdad. But it's my duty to keep somebody there. My men know it's risky, but it's their job anyway.
"In February 2004 training for 800 new Iraqi policemen will be completed. Then new Iraqi soldiers will come, as well. Iraqis will have to do the job we're doing now. I don't know yet if they'll get along with each other, but we must try. In June the transfer of power into Iraqi hands will be a reality. Let's hope for the best".

and anyway karl, I just loved how Gwertzman calls Bremer "Jerry" -- most commoners thought he was Paul, but the sheer familiarity with it makes one crave this kind of access -- you know, like the scene in Quiz Show when the Richard Goodwin character calls Edmund Wilson "Bunny" and his wife (played by Mira Sorvino) just glares at him

oh, and thanks for the good, well-informed contribution to the thread, keswick

posted by matteo at 4:18 PM on November 25, 2003

Anytime, Matteo.

Seriously, though, what's the point of this post or 99% of Iraq posts? We know we're bogged down in a mess, soldiers are dying daily, Bush & cronies lie, etc. etc. There is nothing new or noteworthy about this information.

Matt has said we don't do news well here, and I agree. Personally, I'd like to see Matt set up a filter that sends any FPPs with the word "Iraq" straight to the trash. (I'd be willing to make an except for when (ha!) we find those pesky WMDs or Saddam.
posted by keswick at 4:30 PM on November 25, 2003

oh, and for the record, i predict we will just happen to find some permutation of osama, saddam, and the WMDs in late october of '04. maybe even all three. wouldn't that be nice?
posted by keswick at 4:37 PM on November 25, 2003

Keswick, I found this post interesting.. and really, I'm not a strong liberal or conservative, hungering for this type of info...

Yeah, I already know things are not going well in Iraq.. but that doesn't make this post uninteresting...
posted by twiggy at 4:50 PM on November 25, 2003

ok keswick. no bad news ... just good news for you.

ill up ya - no saddam, no osama, no zawahiri, no wmds, and mullah omar - but plenty more chaos in iraq and afganistan, more US dead soldiers and probably some dead civilians thanks to the blowback from "bring 'em on"'s little war games.

thanks for the post Y2. an informative yet grim interview.
posted by specialk420 at 4:59 PM on November 25, 2003

Matt has said we don't do news well here, and I agree.

Wow, talk about a bold stand for what you think right.

Seriously though. I actually agree - but I take that to mean nothing I can see on CNN or BBC or FOX or what have you. I appreciate a link to interesting analysis or perspective that I wouldn't have found on my own, and I think this fits that description.

As long as we can keep away from too many comments about dead civilians and election tricks and ... oh. Damn.
posted by freebird at 5:43 PM on November 25, 2003

Iraq: Too Uncertain to Call ← Google Html of this PDF

Even under the best case scenario, however, the US will have to leave an Iraq that is far from stable in political and economic terms, and where massive internal forces will still be at work that will lead to at least some crises after the US departs. No other society with anything like the challenges Iraq will face has moved smoothly and easily towards progress and success. In fact, it seems almost certain that the leadership Iraq has on the day the US transfers sovereignty will not survive for more than few years at most unless a new strong man emerges.

Put differently, the US cannot hope to achieve victory in the form of creating some shining example that will fully transform Iraq, much less transform the Middle East. This was at best a noble neoconservative fantasy. More practically, it has always been a rather silly one. Iraq will be driven by many of the forces that shape its present uncertainties for years and probably decades to come.

posted by y2karl at 7:24 PM on November 25, 2003

Oh, that's by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic International Studies. Over the course of his November 1-12 visit, Anthony Cordesman traveled to Baghdad, Babel, Tikrit, and Kirkuk, among other areas, meeting with combat commanders and staff in high-threat areas. One report, “Iraq: Too Uncertain to Call,” focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches taken by the Bush administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraq Governing Council. The other report analyzes current combat activity and unit-by-unit developments. Cordesman traveled at the invitation of the U.S. government.
posted by y2karl at 7:30 PM on November 25, 2003

Excellent post, Karl - I never would have found these reports and I am most interested in unfiltered first person reports from on the ground in Iraq. Thanks.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:56 PM on November 25, 2003

They put us on an Apache helicopter from Baghdad International Airport and flew us to within 100 yards of Bremer's headquarters.

No, they didn't. An Apache is an attack helicopter that only holds two people, a pilot and a gunner. You most likely took a ride in a Blackhawk. I will, however, reserve comment on your credentials as a "defense expert" until I have a chance to get past this ridiculous mistake and read your interview thoroughly.
posted by Cyrano at 9:32 PM on November 25, 2003

It's worth noting that the Korb piece is one of the first major products under the auspices of the Center for American Progress, the new liberal think tank founded by John Podesta (the other was a previously-scheduled speech by Wesley Clark that got a lot of airplay because of his entry to the presidential race).

It's fascinating to read Korb's entire piece, beginning with Day One -- where he details how hard it was for the administration to recruit people to go on this junket. The Day Two interview with the Iraqi religious leader was priceless. Day Three, of course, includes the analysis of the mixed messages coming from GIs to Iraqis as well as from Pentagon briefers to supposedly friendly foreign policy experts.

Given the failure to find the WMD evidence, the administration is risking a real credibility gap, and that won't be good for our progress there either. At the least, we'll be solving the wrong problems (probably at the wrong time, with the wrong people).

What's fascinating, though, is that this message is coming from recruited people, in this case a former assistant defense secretary under Reagan. It's being fed directly into the foreign policy apparatus via the CAP think tank and the CFR, which is by itself going to be ten times as effective as any partisan sloganeering. The administration clearly miscalculated if they thought that body-armored, bottled-up VIPs would return with glowing reports, but it may end up being the better thing in the long run that they did.

The UN peacekeeping efforts, ultimately, have the same basic problem: the end goal is a political football. I wish that the UN could be the pro-democracy organization it is in some idealists' minds, with (for example) a civil-society boot disk program including a model constitution and a model interim constitution. (Even our founding fathers had to start over.) And clearly as the occupying power we needed to have a better peacekeeping plan (actually, there was one, but it was foolishly discarded) and a better sense of the range of outcomes -- because they didn't expect this, and the failure to face up to being in an unexpected situation is costing us lives, treasure, and perhaps success.

I still think we're better off being there, compared to what might have happened in a Hussein succession (and the almost inevitable civil war) -- at least this way we have a chance to avert some outcomes and guide others. But we need to learn from this, because WMDs, misrepresentations, and motivations aside, we're likely to be in this situation again eventually. We screwed up a lot of puppet-mastering during the Cold War, even if we did alright by Germany and Japan, and we ought to be able to do better than that by now.

Cyrano, good catch. Oddly enough, the Apache was first deployed during Korb's service. He's also a retired Navy flyer with the rank of Captain, 23 years of service, and prior stints at the Naval War College and Coast Guard Academy. Ultimately, though, you have to note that Korb isn't a self-appointed critic -- the Bush administration asked him to go.
posted by dhartung at 9:53 PM on November 25, 2003

No, they didn't. An Apache is an attack helicopter that only holds two people, a pilot and a gunner. You most likely took a ride in a Blackhawk. I will, however, reserve comment on your credentials as a "defense expert" until I have a chance to get past this ridiculous mistake and read your interview thoroughly.

I noticed that too, and only because I built alot of models when I was young.
posted by drezdn at 10:23 PM on November 25, 2003

dhartung, the thing is, even if my brother didn't fly one of those Apache things, I would have still considered the difference the kind of basic military knowledge that a few hundred hours of watching the History Channel would impart. But after reading the article, I'm willing to grant that even the best of us misspeak at times. To the best of my knowledge, the Navy has never used Apaches, and given the intra("inter?"...my English degree never taught me how to get that right)-service rivalries here in the U.S., it wouldn't shock me for a high-ranking naval officer to be a bit confused about Army hardware.

Good to see you back, by the way. I hope it isn't a temporary thing.
posted by Cyrano at 10:51 PM on November 25, 2003

'inter' - between sets: think interface, interstice, interfere, internet, international.

'intra' - within sets: think intramural, intramural, intranet.

Sorry. I just think it's a useful construction that very few people make use of. Hopefully you're one of those people that likes such things, not a faux-populist who think using anything not found in USA Today or beer ads is elitist and cock-a-hoop. And, yes, good eye on the hardware.
posted by freebird at 12:11 AM on November 26, 2003

Danke, freebird.
posted by Cyrano at 12:14 AM on November 26, 2003

Cock-a-hoop? Some might think that "cock-a-hoop" is cock-a-hoop.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:27 AM on November 26, 2003

Has anyone yet seen a countrywide analysis of Iraq? Not just a "guesstimation", but a long checklist from macro down to micro, "what's working and what isn't."

The reason I ask is because I think it's the only way to know for sure *what* the situation is in that country.

Almost everyone here could help in compiling such a list, (and with a little courtesy to avoid knee-jerking in *either* direction), reasonable people can figure out the big picture. "Actuals" should be weighed more heavily than "Possibles." Anecdotes less than statistics.

Here are some starter points:

1) Oil is flowing. It is harder to overthrow a government that has money. Disruptions are occurring, but sporadically.

2) Several local foreign powers would prefer that Iraq was not a stable, moderate democracy.

3) Many Iraqis are being trained for local security roles from military to police. They are of dubious quality, but are Iraqi targets, not American ones.

4) The timetable acceleration *may* be due to problems, or *may* be the result of early successes. Indeterminate.

5) The US is still not asking the UN to intervene, except on the US's terms.

6) Food availability and distribution are (mysteriously) inefficient. The oil for food program is being discontinued. The vote for government *may* be based on the food ration cards.

7) Electricity has become widely available and more reliable.

8) Little is being said about the creation of large and small business in Iraq.

9) Unemployment is still unacceptably high.

10) The southern Shiites have not (yet) revolted.

What can you (all) add to the list, in non-inflammatory terms?
posted by kablam at 6:38 AM on November 26, 2003

and with a little courtesy to avoid knee-jerking in *either* direction

unlike your *list*?
posted by y2karl at 6:44 AM on November 26, 2003

1) Oil is flowing. It is harder to overthrow a government that has money. Disruptions are occurring, but sporadically.

Oil pipeline on fire north of Baghdad
posted by y2karl at 6:48 AM on November 26, 2003

7) Electricity has become widely available and more reliable.

Iraq: Electricity Cuts An Ongoing Headache For Baghdad Residents

Several times a day, residents of the Iraqi capital Baghdad experience electricity cuts. Blackouts have been a fact of life in Baghdad since the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein. But officials say the current power cuts are tied to efforts to overhaul the entire energy grid and that a full-time supply of electricity is soon to be restored. For the time being, however, Baghdadis rely on gasoline-powered generators during the frequent blackouts. But even that can be a problem: Most gas stations will service cars, but not people looking to fill individual gas canisters.
posted by y2karl at 6:54 AM on November 26, 2003

9The southern Shiites have not (yet) revolted.

Iraq's top Shi'ite criticises U.S. plans

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's top Shi'ite religious authority has criticised U.S. plans for transferring sovereignty to Iraqis as incomplete and insufficiently Islamic, a leading Shi'ite politician has said.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) which is represented on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, widely revered as Iraq's most influential Islamic leader, had expressed misgivings about the plan.

Sistani rarely makes public pronouncements on politics but his status means any criticism of the timetable for the transfer of power could mean many Shi'ites reject the plan.

See also

How Cleric Trumped U.S. Plan for Iraq

BAGHDAD, Nov. 25 -- The unraveling of the Bush administration's script for political transition in Iraq began with a fatwa.

The religious edict, handed down in June by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite Muslim cleric, called for general elections to select the drafters of a new constitution. He dismissed U.S. plans to appoint the authors as "fundamentally unacceptable."

His pronouncement, underestimated at first by the Bush administration, doomed an elaborate transition plan crafted by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer that would have kept Iraq under occupation until a constitution was written, according to American and Iraqi officials involved in the process. While Bremer feared that electing a constitutional assembly would take too long and be too disruptive, there was a strong desire on his own handpicked Governing Council to obey Sistani's order.

posted by y2karl at 7:10 AM on November 26, 2003

The timetable acceleration *may* be due to problems, or *may* be the result of early successes. Indeterminate.

U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq grow in number day after day

There are thousands of them, and a new generation of disabled veterans promises to be among the painful, expensive legacies of the Iraq war, one that hasn't received much attention yet...

According to the Pentagon, 2,076 American soldiers had been wounded by hostile acts in Iraq as of Monday, including more than 1,200 who were hurt after major combat operations were declared over May 1.

Although that number is small compared, say, with Vietnam, it's growing at roughly 10 a day, meaning thousands more could be injured before the U.S. occupation of Iraq ends. While the Pentagon regularly announces soldiers' deaths, it rarely identifies the injured, who often arrive in the United States at night and deplane out of sight of news cameras.

posted by y2karl at 7:15 AM on November 26, 2003

Iraq’s Model City Starts to Get Ugly

Even before the latest deaths, a sharp rise in attacks had rocked this city of 1.7 million and forced U.S. troops back into a war footing after months of focusing on economic and political development.
posted by y2karl at 7:39 AM on November 26, 2003

[sourced from cnn tv blips] Sean Penn to live in Iraq also reporting back about it. Wondered, if he would blog it too.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:33 AM on November 26, 2003

y2karl: More information is better than less, but much of what you said can be qualified. For example, yes there was an attack on an oil pipeline; but there are lots of pipelines still working. 3.5-5 million barrels of oil every day getting through is a LOT of money.

Also, electricity is there, but the grid is being upgraded; again, sporadic blackouts are common--but will this be a factor by next summer? An "intermediate" factor, not particularly good or bad, but certainly not catastrophic.

The southern Shiites might be opposed to the US, but they haven't yet done anything compared to what they might do, sometime. (I mentioned "actuals" vs. "possibles" mostly for this reason.) Yes, if they actually *did* something, it would be bad. But that's not yet the case.

As far as "casualties" go, what are acceptable casualties should take into account the "normal" casualties that 150,000 soldiers would experience doing about *anything*, even stateside. Is it worse if someone is in a traffic accident in Iraq instead of the US? Granted soldiers are generally healthier then the population at large, there are statistically lots of things that can make a soldier a casualty that are not "combat related." Just being in a combat theater will guaranteed, result in stress casualties, for example.
It is not a definitive factor in determining success or failure by itself.

Iraqi model city: seriously, now. Is it reasonable to assume that *any* city in Iraq, no matter how civil, is going to be *totally* or even *moderately* pro-American? And granted, Mosul is an oddity, peaceful for a while, but all the time known as a "Baathist stronghold."
One or two violent acts does NOT mean an entire city is going down the tubes, any more than the statistic that "one police officer is shot somewhere in the US every single day" means that the US is in chaos.

So relax, take a few deep breaths, add up those negative factors you have found, but also consider the positive ones. Remember that even if the situation is terrible, there *will* be good things happening, and vice versa. It is the SUM TOTAL of what is going on that will eventually give us the truth.

Remember also that spin doctors are at worth on both sides, trying to create illusions, distortions, and most importantly unfair expectations.

What will be success in Iraq, if it ever comes to pass?
posted by kablam at 11:13 AM on November 26, 2003

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