July 31, 2007

Lieberman On Offense On Iran, Iraq

The Hill interviewed Senator Joe Lieberman about his unique position in the upper chamber, and how he sees the debate on Iraq and Iran. Lieberman castigated his former colleagues in the Democratic caucus as excessively partisan and unwilling to meet the threats posed by America's enemies:

Lieberman, the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential nominee, insists he is not actively considering joining the Republican Party. But he is keeping that possibility wide open as his disenchantment grows with Democratic leaders. The main sticking points are their attempts to end the war in Iraq and their hesitation to take a harder line against Iran.

“I think either [Democrats] are, in my opinion, respectfully, naïve in thinking we can somehow defeat this enemy with talk, or they’re simply hesitant to use American power, including military power,” Lieberman said in a wide-ranging interview with The Hill.

“There is a very strong group within the party that I think doesn’t take the threat of Islamist terrorism seriously enough.” ...

As Lieberman sees it, however, the Democratic Party has slipped away from its “most important and successful times” of the middle of last century, where it was tough on Communism and progressive on domestic policy.

Lieberman may see himself as the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats. He would probably find more company with the Blue Dog Democrats in the House, but for now he has to settle for the company of Republicans. He has increased his attacks on Democratic insistence on retreat and appeasement, almost defying them to cast him out of the caucus and potentially unsettle the leadership composition of the Senate.

They have started to do so, in small measures. While Lieberman opposes the caucus on Iraq and Iran, he works with the Democrats on domestic policy, and he serves as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. When Harry Reid celebrated a legislative victory on a new Homeland Security bill, Lieberman didn't get an invite to the press conference, which mystified Lieberman, given his efforts for that win.

Lieberman knows he could lose that chair if the Democrats expand their majority in the 2008 election, a good possibility given the imbalance in Republican seats at risk. He has already endorsed one Republican for re-election in defiance of Chuck Schumer's DSCC, Susan Collins. He will likely endorse the Republican candidate for President, since none of the Democrats in this cycle's crop of contenders will demonstrate any kind of strength or tenacity on Iraq or Iran. Nevertheless, he won't switch parties; he wants to remain an independent.

I think that's wise. As such, Lieberman has the most potential to assist in keeping the Senate from declaring a surrender on the Beltway beachhead. We can expect Lieberman to get even more vocal when Petraeus reports in September, especially if the surge keeps producing more success.


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Comments (13)

Posted by Corky Boyd | July 31, 2007 7:59 AM

As chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, he serves in a critical position should the house vote articles of impeachment. He could kill it. The Democrats wanted him out of that position for that reason, but they knew they risked their majority by doing so.

He still serves a useful purpose for Republicans to have him caucus with the Democrats. His leverage on legislation and his voice of reason helps the Republican cause.

Posted by FedUp | July 31, 2007 8:29 AM

Ya know... it's looking like a good ticket for the Republicans would be Newt and Joe!

Posted by swabjockey05 | July 31, 2007 8:44 AM

LTC(R) Dave Kilcullen, Ph.D., the author of the attached comment, is a leading contemporary practitioner and theorist of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. A former Australian Army officer, he left the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2005 and is now a senior civil servant, seconded to the United States State Department. He is currently serving as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser, Multi-National Force - Iraq , a civilian position on the personal staff of American General David Howell Petraeus.

“I’ve spent much of the last six weeks out on the ground, working with Iraqi and U.S. combat units, civilian reconstruction teams, Iraqi administrators and tribal and community leaders. I’ve been away from e-mail a lot, so unable to post here at SWJ: but I’d like to make up for that now by providing colleagues with a basic understanding of what’s happening, right now, in Iraq.

This post is not about whether current ops are "working" -- for us, here on the ground, time will tell, though some observers elsewhere seem to have already made up their minds (on the basis of what evidence, I’m not really sure). But for professional counterinsurgency operators such as our SWJ community, the thing to understand at this point is the intention and concept behind current ops in Iraq: if you grasp this, you can tell for yourself how the operations are going, without relying on armchair pundits. So in the interests of self-education (and cutting out the commentariat middlemen -- sorry, guys) here is a field perspective on current operations.

Ten days ago, speaking with Austin Bay, I made the following comment:

"I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the 'surge' and say 'Hey, hang on: we’ve been going since January, we haven’t seen a massive turnaround; it mustn’t be working'.

What we’ve been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven’t actually started what I would call the "surge" yet. All we’ve been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it’s already failed is "watch this space". Because you’re going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we’re operating that will make what’s been happening over the past few months look like what it is -- just a preliminary build up."

The meaning of that comment should be clear by now to anyone tracking what is happening in Iraq. On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations". I have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing.

These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they’re secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.

When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain – as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled” don’t overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.

This is not some sort of kind-hearted, soft approach, as some fire-breathing polemicists have claimed (funnily enough, those who urge us to “just kill more bad guys” usually do so from a safe distance). It is not about being “nice” to the population and hoping they will somehow see us as the “good guys” and stop supporting insurgents. On the contrary, it is based on a hard-headed recognition of certain basic facts, to wit:

(a.) The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.

(b.) The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore -- and this is the major change in our strategy this year -- protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby "hard-wire" the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That’s why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game -- they are a distraction. We played the enemy’s game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.

(c.) Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can't just "go quiet" to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That's the intent here.

(d.) The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, "destroying the haystack to find the needle", but we don't need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in over-watch.

Of course, we still go after all the terrorist and extremist leaders we can target and find, and life has become increasingly “nasty, brutish, and short” for this crowd. But we realize that this is just a shaping activity in support of the main effort, which is securing the Iraqi people from the terrorists, extremist militias, and insurgents who need them to survive.

Is there a strategic risk involved in this series of operations? Absolutely. Nothing in war is risk-free. We have chosen to accept and manage this risk, primarily because a low-risk option simply will not get us the operational effects that the strategic situation demands. We have to play the hand we have been dealt as intelligently as possible, so we're doing what has to be done. It still might not work, but "it is what it is" at this point.

So much for theory. The practice, as always, has been mixed. Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared. Every single loss is a tragedy. But so far, thank God, the loss rate has not been too terrible: casualties are up in absolute terms, but down as a proportion of troops deployed (in the fourth quarter of 2006 we had about 100,000 troops in country and casualties averaged 90 deaths a month; now we have almost 160,000 troops in country but deaths are under 120 per month, much less than a proportionate increase, which would have been around 150 a month). And last year we patrolled rarely, mainly in vehicles, and got hit almost every time we went out. Now we patrol all the time, on foot, by day and night with Iraqi units normally present as partners, and the chances of getting hit are much lower on each patrol. We are finally coming out of the "defensive crouch" with which we used to approach the environment, and it is starting to pay off.

It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential accommodation. The Embassy and MNF-I continue to work on these issues at the highest levels but fundamentally, this is something that only Iraqis can resolve: our role is to provide an environment in which it becomes possible.

All this may change. These are long-term operations: the enemy will adapt and we'll have to adjust what we're doing over time. Baq’ubah, Arab Jabour and the western operations are progressing well, and additional security measures in place in Baghdad have successfully tamped down some of the spill-over of violence from other places. The relatively muted response (so far) to the second Samarra bombing is evidence of this. Time will tell, though....

Once again, none of this is intended to tell you "what to think" or "whether it’s working". We’re all professional adults, and you can work that out for yourself. But this does, I hope, explain some of the thinking behind what we are doing, and it may therefore make it easier for people to come to their own judgment.”

Dave Kilcullen on June 26, 2007 7:11 AM

Posted by David M | July 31, 2007 12:17 PM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/31/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by crossdotcurve | July 31, 2007 12:23 PM

That's nice that Joe is holding down the fort. Of course, the Iraqi government left today for a five week trip to the beach.

I wonder how the August gold-star mothers will feel...

Posted by Bill Faith | July 31, 2007 12:55 PM

FedUp, Newt has way too much baggage to be elected but there are a bunch of us who'd love to see a Fred Thompson/Joe Lieberman ticket.

I added an excerpt and link to my 2007.07.31 Long War // Dhimm Perfidy Roundup

Posted by FedUp | July 31, 2007 1:57 PM

Bill... who in this circus for 2008 doesn't have baggage? I don't think Fred has what it takes to be president, (I didn't like him on L&O either). I think Lieberman should be on someone's ticket! The man has backbone and a brain - two things that are seriously lacking in a good number of candidates.

As far as baggage... have you looked at Hilarity lately?

Posted by exDemo | July 31, 2007 3:25 PM

It is not necessary for Senator Lieberman to become a Republican. He could as a Democrat independent, Just refuse to caucus with the Democrats.

This would remove Democrat ability to organize the Senate,,as the Party would vote 50-50. . It would revert to Republican control with VP Cheney voting to break the organizing tie, and organize the Senate under Republicans control.

All the new Democrat committee chairmen would be out. all the legislation would be under republican formulation. Judicial appointment and policy position approvals would be under Republican control.

That would prevent lots of mischief. Mr. Harry Reid would no longer be Majority Leader wasting lots of time with usual nonsense against the War.

But perhaps the GOP is just smart watching the Democrats thoroughly discredit themselves in only five months in power.

They have managed to name twenty or so Post Offices for dead politicians, establish a few "special days" like National Peanut Day , botch up the Senate calendar, and accomplish other stupidities, like expanding earmarks from some 9000 in two sessions of Congress to over 36,000 in only 4 months.

And not a single blessed thing else.

Posted by docjim505 | July 31, 2007 8:23 PM


Thanks for posting that. It's classic counterinsurgency strategy. Given time, it will work. O' course, there are lots of people who don't want to give it time...


You often chortle over "Gold Star Mothers". It's sickening. You are a fucking ghoul. I don't know what putrid filth infests your soul that makes you so happy about mothers losing their sons, but you either need to seek professional help or blow your brains out. You are a deplorable, disgusting excuse for a human being.

Posted by Joe | July 31, 2007 9:38 PM

Lets get one thing straight, Liebermann is a nut job, living in a alternate universe when it comes to Iraq. The only reason he doesn't jump ship, as the Captain hinted at, is he sees all the gop senate seats that are vulnerable. Being a total fake he stays with the Dems so after 08 he still has a powerful chairmanship in the Senate. He's a buffoon. I wish he would jump ship, maybe he and Bush could kiss on the cheek again. A traitor who is despised among liberals. Please go away Joe.

Posted by Losos | August 1, 2007 4:26 AM

What about Romney/Lieberman in 2008?

Romney is a very competent problem-solver with a great record, and has a great character. (He once closed down his company in NYC to look for, along with his fellow bankers, a colleague's 14-year old daughter who got lost in one of the nightclubs.)

Lieberman could get a lot of the rational Democratic vote.

Posted by Monkei | August 1, 2007 8:18 AM

I guess Liebermann has become something he wasn't in 2000 when all you wingnuts had a chance to elect him VP then. The only thing he has changed is his D to a I. He is a carbon copy of Rudy, a total liberal on everything, except war.

Posted by swabjockey05 | August 1, 2007 2:35 PM

For once, the Monkey is partially right on something...(but probably for the wrong reasons)

Rudy and (especially) Lieberman are both elitist Socialists at heart...some of you guys would vote for them because you are now "one issue" voters...you think that the war in Iraq is the only thing that is important right now...I disagree and I think I have more at stake on the “war” issue than any of you…