Thomas E. Ricks, the nation’s best-known defense correspondent, writes in a book out this week that many Iraq veterans believe the U.S. is likely to have “soldiers in combat in Iraq until at least 2015 – which would put us now at about the midpoint of the conflict.”
That would mean American forces would remain in danger past President Obama’s terms, into his second term if he wins reelection or the 45th presidency if he doesn’t.
Ricks, author of the bestselling “Fiasco,” offers that grim forecast in a new book being published Tuesday, “The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008” (394 pages, The Penguin Press, $27.95).
A member of two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, Ricks also predicts that President Obama and his generals “eventually will settle on what one Obama adviser calls ‘a sustainable presence’ – and that that smaller force will be in Iraq for many years.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press on Sunday, Ricks told moderator David Gregory that “a lot of people back here incorrectly think the war is over.”
“What I say in this book is that we may be only halfway through this thing,” Ricks said. “This year we're in now, '09, is going to be, I think, a, a surprisingly tough year. You've got a series of elections in Iraq. Meanwhile, you've got American troops declining. … We're doing the easy troop withdrawals now, but down the road you start taking them out of areas that aren't so secure, that aren't so safe, that you're, that you're worried about.
“So they're going to be holding national elections in Iraq just when we have fewer troops there. And finally, none of the basic problems that the surge was meant to solve have been solved. All of the basic issues facing Iraq are still there.”
The Washington Post is running two days of excerpts under the rubric “The Generals’ Insurgency.” Sunday’s first installment starred Army Gen. Roy Odierno, who in September succeeded Petraeus as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and formerly oversaw day-to-day operations under Petraeus.
The book is supposed to be under a strict sales embargo, but Politico obtained a copy at a Washington-area bookstore on Saturday night.
Here are conversation-driving excerpts that did not appear in The Post:
--“THE LONG WAR … No matter how the U.S. war in Iraq ends, it appears that today we may be only halfway through it. That is, the quiet consensus emerging among many people who have served in Iraq is that we likely will have American soldiers in combat in Iraq until at least 2015 – which would put us now at about the midpoint of the conflict. … In other words, the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered probably have not yet happened.”
--“Even as security improved in Iraq in 2008, I found myself consistently saddened by the war, not just by its obvious costs to Iraqis and Americans, but also by the incompetence and profligacy with which the Bush administration conducted it. Yet I also came to believe that we can’t leave. … [A] smaller but long-term U.S. military presence is probably the best case scenario. … Nor, at the end of many more years of struggle, is the outcome likely to be something Americans recognize as victory.”
--“A FRAYED MILITARY … The last few years have seen soldiers burning out after repeated tours of duty in the war, with high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder among combat veterans. Rates of suicide and divorce have been increasing. Officers and sergeants are leaving in greater numbers. … The quality of recruits also has been dropping … The Army could be quite unforgiving of the missteps of younger soldiers, but enormously understanding when it came to much larger mistakes by generals. Captains were subjected to rigorous after-action reviews, but generals, inexplicably, were treated with kid gloves.”
--“OBAMA’S WAR (Fall 2008) … Just before the election, Odierno said in my interview with him that one of the points he would make to the new president would be ‘the importance of us leaving with honor and justice. … For the military it’s extremely important because of all the sacrifice and time and, in fact, how we’ve all adjusted and adapted.’ … Like Clinton, Obama also would face the prospect of a de facto alliance between the military and congressional Republicans to stop him from making any major changes. My bet is that Obama and his generals eventually will settle on what one Obama adviser calls ‘a sustainable presence’ – and that that smaller force will be in Iraq for many years.”
--“[A] major destabilizing factor in Iraq in 2009 will be the smaller size of the American military presence. Counterintuitively, the effects of drawing down troops will become more pronounced with the passage of time. … As more soldiers are withdrawn and the U.S. presence falls below pre-surge levels, the pullouts will become riskier. … In sum, the first year of Obama’s war promises to be tougher for America’s leaders and military than was the last year of Bush’s war.”
--“OBAMA IN IRAQ … He arrived in late July … [I]n this meeting, according to two participants, [Obama and Petraeus] concentrated on their differences – at least when Obama was permitted to interrupt the lecture. … Obama made it clear that his job as president would be to look at the larger picture – an assertion that likely insulted Petraeus, who justly prides himself on his ability to do just that. … Obama left people in Iraq with the sense he would be flexible and consider conditions on the ground and would be able to adjust his 16-month timetable if he saw the need.”