With the war in Afghanistan increasingly retaking its role as the emphasis of America’s ongoing foreign policy struggles, Admiral Mullen reported yesterday to the House Armed Services Committee that he does not believe the United States is winning that war. And with the President and both major candidates to be his successor lauding the great success of the 2007 surge in Iraq, perhaps voters can be forgiven for believing that this war has finally turned the corner.
However, exactly one year after General David Petraeus proclaimed the military goals of the surge met, he has granted an interview to the BBC. In this interview, Gen. Petraeus paints a far gloomier picture of the transient nature of the war’s much ballyhooed “progress”. In fact, in the general’s opinion, the United States still faces a “long struggle” in Iraq and he doesn’t expect that he’ll ever be able to use the word victory to describe what happens there.
Gen. Petraeus is set to hand over control of forces in Iraq to Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno next Tuesday, having himself been promoted to head of CENTCOM. Lt.-Gen Odierno will inherit control of some 146,000 troops, considerably more than the approximately 130,000 troops that Gen. Petraeus took command of when he took the position in February of 2007. Earlier this week, President Bush announced that there would be no further troop cuts this year, accepting a Pentagon plan that would shift a few thousand troops to Afghanistan some time in early 2009, though likely after President Bush has left office.
And while violence has indeed declined somewhat in recent months, approaching a level that Petraeus described in July as “normal,” serious challenges yet remain. The political situation in Iraq is little changed from its tumultuous state when the surge began, and political blocs still can’t seem to agree on the terms of their provincial election law as those elections draw ever nearer.
Even more pressing from the US point of view, the mandate for its troops to remain in Iraq expires at the end of the year and the new Status of Forces Agreement remains unfinished, as well as a matter of strong internal discontent in Iraq. A more assertive Prime Minister Maliki has become increasingly unwilling to accede to some of the United States’ more controversial demands, including blanket immunity for its forces. And though a leaked version of the still unfinished agreement suggested Maliki might be able to bypass parliamentary approval, he would surely pay a serious political price in doing so.