Gen. Petraeus: ‘The Enemy Remains Lethal, Resilient, and Very Dangerous’
General David Petraeus, the commander of the U.S. mission in Iraq, sits for an exclusive interview with PJM's Austin Bay.
August 7, 2008 - 12:00 am
MR. BAY: Gen. David Petraeus, let’s pick up on your rheostat analogy. You’re giving us a conditions-based approach to assessing victory in a very intricate, complex and long struggle. Now this is an incremental victory–one step up; a half-step back. Enemy action results in a coalition response; coalition actions result in an enemy response. That’s war among human beings. It strikes me that some of those conditions include a sovereign Iraq that is largely responsible for its own internal security, but is also a United States ally. These are some of the conditions mentioned in the Update Strategic Overwatch video at the ArenaUSA.com. That said; if you would, please comment on a sovereign Iraq emerging as a US ally.
Did you get a chance to look at that video?
GENERAL PETRAEUS: Just briefly, I’m afraid, Austin. But let me just come back to what you just said because the way you stated that is exactly right. It is incremental, and it does have fits and starts. It is this exercise of pushing the stone up a hill, a Sisyphean endeavor at times where you do make two steps up and one step back. Sometimes you get one step up and two steps back.
But, overall, over the course of the past year or so, really since the start of the surge of offenses in particular, that was the large comprehensive offensive launched in June 2007 when we had all of the surge brigades on the ground, since that time, there has been a fairly steady degree of improvement week in/week out, month in/month out. Certainly, again, there have been flare-ups at times. The militia counterattacks, when Prime Minister al-Maliki ordered Iraqi forces and the Basra, were really quite a substantial — more than a flare-up.
But, over time, those were dealt with, more than dealt with, in fact, and very severe losses inflicted on the militia.
MR. BAY: We’re dealing with conditions. We’re dealing with trying to achieve a certain state, a condition-based state. Defining victory is very, very tough. Now, approached as a historian, I think defining victory is hard under any circumstances.
Do you, General David Petraeus, have a definition of victory or an idea of what victory would be in Iraq or in the global war on terror?
GENERAL PETRAEUS: Well, what we have is a comprehensive campaign plan. It is a plan that is joint. It’s between the embassy and embassies, because not just the U.S. Embassy, Ambassador Crocker and his great team, but also the U.K., Australia and other embassies of the Coalition and the Multi-National Force – Iraq have combined in a joint campaign plan. Very, very comprehensive. It has lines of operation that include not just security but also political, economic, diplomatic. Then there are other supporting lines, rule of law, governmental capacity, informational line, and so forth.
And for each of those lines of operation, we have objectives. And we had near-term objectives which were for the summer of 2008 time frame. And, frankly, we met those in the security line of operation. Very nearly met them. If they can pass a provincial elections law, I think that it could be declared that they have met them in the political line of operation.
There’s been very good progress in the diplomatic line, and actually in the economic line as well, all certainly founded on the progress in the security line.
We have similar objectives, or another set of objectives for the summer of 2009. And then there is an end-state as well. And the shorthand for the end-state is a country that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, a government that is represented of and responsive to people, a productive member, if you will, of the region and the global economy, and so forth.
But, again, we have considerable drill-downs, if you will, that describe the objectives relative to, in the security line of operations, relative to the enemies, the bad guys, if you will, relative to Iraqi forces, the different types that are here, and so forth.
MR. BAY: Well, we understand that the enemy always gets a vote, but what you’ve described is a situation where Iraq is not only, for the most part, defending itself and making its own sovereign decisions, but it’s also an ally of the United States. Am I getting that correctly?
GENERAL PETRAEUS: That is certainly one of the objectives. Again, Iraq — obviously, what we would want to see is an Iraq that is also an ally in the global war on terror. And it certainly is taking resolute action against the Al-Qaeda in Iraq elements and other extremist elements of that type, and more recently, in the past six to eight months, quite strong stands against the militia, the Shia militia, and also the so-called special groups, these elements supported by Iran that have caused such problems for Iraq as well.
MR. BAY: General Petraeus, you’re referring to Operation Knights Charge, in part, the Iraqi operation. Regard that Operation Knights Charge action against the Shia special groups, and perhaps the Madhi Army as well, was it largely successful as a security operation?
GENERAL PETRAEUS: I think that you have to judge that as a success over time. Again, having said that, we very much are keeping our powder dry and watching to see what Iran does and what the special groups do. Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia did cause such problems and really became a mafia-like element on the streets of Basra and in Sadr City and in some other areas of Iraq — those are going to be reinvented, according to Muqtada al-Sadr, as a social services organization. Again, everyone is waiting to see how that will go, and they’re waiting to see whether Iran is going to rearm and retrain and reequip the special group leaders, many of whom went back to Iran after the cease-fire after the pounding that they took some four to six months ago.
So, again, there’s a wait-and-see attitude with respect to the militia and the special groups.