A former intelligence analyst who handled Middle Eastern issues for years and who asked not to be identified by name:
—What is your candid assessment of the chances that the Maliki-led regime can survive without Sadr's backing and having failed to convince both the U.S. and Iran that it has the capability to govern?
—What do you make of Sadr's cease-fires? And are the positive remarks you and other Americans have made whenever Sadr shows signs of cooperating truly justified?
—What does the most recent Iranian intervention—the commandant of the al-Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard intervening and getting Sadr to sign another cease-fire—say about Iran's role in Iraq and its ability to orchestrate events?
—How do you assess the military capabilities of the Iraqi forces used in the Basra campaign? Who were they, and are the stories of defections of these troops to the other side true?
Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell:
—As a military man with some strategic acumen, you must realize how badly positioned the U.S. military is to protect and secure America's fundamental strategic interests in the Middle East, interests such as the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, the security of Israel, relationships with Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council [of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates], and the real fight against Al Qaeda, which is largely in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan, not Iraq. How much concern does this malpositioning risk give you? And how swiftly do you believe the U.S. must move to correct it?
—Clearly, the U.S. destroyed the old balance of power in the Persian Gulf when it invaded Iraq, so that now the U.S. presence in Iraq sits, as it were, upon the scales, balancing Iran. Since it is inevitable that the U.S. presence in Iraq will be diminished over time, how would you reestablish the balance of power in the wake of that diminishment? —
Gordon Adams, professor of U.S. Foreign Policy at the School of International Service, American University:
—Why do you and the administration continue to plan policy as if we have any leverage in Iraq? Don't American forces have precious little to do with the "frozen" character of the conflict? Sunni peace is dependent on the sheikhs, not us; Shiite peace is in question because of the decisions of militia we have little influence over; and Baghdad has already purged its mixed neighborhoods, which has solidified the barriers between hostile neighbors. A dysfunctional government we prop up has virtually no impact on the country's security or economy outside Baghdad, and 70 percent of the people want us to leave. It seems the U.S. is completely unable to influence the fundamentals of the situation. So why should anyone assume that more or fewer U.S. troops are the key factor in Iraq's future?
Retired Colonel W. Patrick Lang Jr., former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency's human intelligence service:
—Why has Colonel H.R. McMaster not been promoted to brigadier general? McMaster is arguably the most successful officer of the war. His command of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Tal Afar was brilliant. But he was not promoted, while the usual conformist dullards rise to the top. The failure to promote McMaster shows the Army has learned little from Iraq. After all, you were president of the promotion board that should have promoted McMaster.
—Why did the Iraqis go to Qom for mediation of the recent crisis at Basra?
A former Army colonel and planner who asked not to be identified:
—In Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, you wrote that forces that learn counterinsurgency effectively have regularly challenged their assumptions, both informally and formally. What assumptions did you make in the course of planning for surge and postsurge operations and how have you challenged them?
—You wrote that long-term success in counterinsurgency depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and the government eliminating as many causes of the insurgency as feasible. So then how are the latest Iraqi government operations in Basra and Baghdad—which target Sadr's competing militia, which is associated with a political party—eliminating the causes of an insurgency, especially when you've said that Al Qaeda in Iraq is enemy No. 1? If the Baghdad government has to use force against a competing power center, isn't this evidence of a nascent civil war?
—In Rick Atkinson's account of the invasion of Iraq, In the Company of Soldiers, you are depicted as constantly asking Atkinson, "Tell me how this ends." After five years of war, do you have any better idea of how this all ends?