Col. Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster on progress in Iraq

If you don’t recognize the name, that’s not wholly your fault. He’s probably the most celebrated example in the entire military of a deserving commander being passed over for promotion — twice — for what appears to be political reasons. By way of an intro you can do worse than the pithy summary at the Bush-hating Third Way site: “Now you may be thinking, wasn’t it H.R. McMaster that led the pacification of Tal Afar, an operation so successful that Bush devoted an entire speech to it just last year? Didn’t I read about McMaster’s brilliant strategy in a long New Yorker piece about him? Wasn’t it McMaster who won a Silver Star in the Gulf War, leading troops so bravely and well that Tom Clancy wrote it up? And surely it was McMaster who’s PhD dissertation became a hugely influential book, Dereliction of Duty, that the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made required reading for senior military types?” Indeed it was, and yet he remains a colonel instead of a general despite his mastery of counterinsurgency and advisory role to Petraeus because, in all likelihood, “Dereliction of Duty” succeeds too well in challenging the complacency that characterizes some of the brass in charge of promotions.

All of which is a long way of saying that this is a guy who very much knows what he’s talking about and is respected as such on both sides of the aisle, which should be all the lead-in you need to the transcript of his observations two weeks ago at an AEI seminar about progress in Iraq. It’s sufficiently long that I don’t want to discourage you from diving in by prattling on here; you can safely skip the last 40% or so, if that’s any inducement, but at least read his list of the 10 things that have changed in Iraq over the last year, which you’ll find near the beginning, and his account of what Iran’s up to, which comes shortly after the halfway point. Quote:

[T]his sometimes happens in the media when you see the word “alleged” in front of when you know in line of Iranian activity, I was just want to say, come on, man. Because you know if I was, as an Army Colonel to say something, to make a statement about that, there would always be some sort of effort to confirm what I’m saying.

In the case of what Iran is doing in Iraq, it is so damn obvious to anybody who wants to look into it, I think, that is drop the word “alleged” and say what they’re doing, which is, we know for a fact organizing and directing operations against the government of Iraq and against our forces.

Pay particular attention in his ten-point list to his explanation of the cascade effect between Al Qaeda, the Shiite militias, and popular support among Iraqis. The left has always strained to minimize AQI’s role in Iraq in order to delegitimize the war: Sometimes that takes the form of arguing that they’re not “real” Al Qaeda like Osama’s gang in Pakistan, other times it means emphasizing that they’re only a small part of the wider Sunni insurgency. McMaster’s point is that, small or not, their attacks on Shiites are what created the need for militias to protect Shiite neighborhoods, which in turn boosted the militias’ popularity, which in turn gave Iran an opportunity to cultivate the militias to its own end. Take away Al Qaeda and you take away the security pretext, which leaves the militias with nothing to do but prey on the Shiite locals, which destroys their popularity, which leaves Iran hamstrung. Exit quotation: “When I traveled through the south on a last couple of visits, what I heard — and this is again on the point of militias being increasingly discredited, and this is from Iraqi Shiite leaders who were saying things like Iran is the true occupier of Iraq.” Go read.

Update: Aha. I missed the news somehow, but as of two weeks ago, Col. McMaster is now Brig. Gen. McMaster. That’s a very good sign of the Army getting its strategic priorities in order.

Update: Please note that audio and video are available in the sidebar at the AEI site in case you want to settle in with this.