Monday, March 26, 2007

The audacity of hoping for defeat in Iraq

"I don't think there are any good options left in Iraq,'' said Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running for president. "There are bad options and worse options.''

Hope does not apply to Iraq, if you listen to some. Hope is contingent on a series of cherry-picked domestic policies that will appear to a very specific constituency.

However, hope can be found. CBS/AP reported that Civilian Deaths In Iraq Drop Overnight.

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in Baghdad's sectarian violence fell drastically overnight, an Iraqi military official said Friday, crediting the joint U.S.-Iraqi security operation that began in force just days ago.

More hope from The Philadelphia Inquirer, One Last Thing 'Surge' cuts killings in Baghdad:

The Baghdad Security Plan went into effect Feb. 14, as Gen. David Petraeus assumed command over coalition forces in Iraq. The idea was to push five additional U.S. brigades and nine Iraqi battalions into neighborhoods in and around Baghdad, establishing secure points and radiating security outward.

Some results were seen almost immediately. In the first two weeks of the plan, bomb attacks decreased 20 percent and insurgents were being rolled up by the dozen. The number of bodies of apparently murdered people in Baghdad dropped from 1,222 in December to 954 in January and 494 in February. The Iraqi government stepped up its training of troops to the point at which it was minting 7,500 new soldiers every five weeks, most of whom were being used to spell Iraq army units already in Baghdad.

That's not all:

The impact is striking: According to Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta al-Mussawi, in the first month of the Baghdad Security Plan, while the number of car-bomb incidents was at an all-time high, murders were down 75 percent, the number of terrorists killed was up 80 percent, and the number of terrorists arrested was up 1,000 percent. (U.S. military deaths were down 20 percent.)
Bush made a change, namely, removing Rumsfeld:

But the Baghdad Security Plan does provide clarity on one point: former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was a principal objectors to the large-scale use of troops from the beginning of the Iraq conflict. He insisted on a small invasion force and was adamant that troop levels during the reconstruction phase be kept to a "small footprint" ideal, even as the security situation deteriorated and threatened to doom the mission. Rumsfeld was opposed to any surge in troop levels.

Meanwhile, as columnist Andrew Cockburn recently revealed, back at the Pentagon this petty tyrant was busy sending around "snowflakes" - informal personal notes - dictating a host of micromanagerial issues, including the proper size of the lemon wedge to accompany his iced tea.

Wait, there's more hope... Iraq's Sunni sheiks join Americans to fight insurgency

RAMADI, Iraq – Not long ago it would have been unthinkable: a Sunni sheik allying himself publicly with American forces in a xenophobic city at the epicenter of Iraq's Sunni insurgency.

Today, there is no mistaking whose side Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi is on. Outside his walled home, a U.S. tank is on permanent guard beside a clutch of towering date palms and a protective dirt berm.

Thomas P.M. Barnett, the preeminent military strategist and renowned Pentagon expert, adds to this positive thinking in a post on his blog titled, History will say on postwar Iraq...

Cool blog post on traveling to Kurdistan today versus year ago. Our most
successful nation-building effort since German and Japan--a huge success, in fact.
Oh the audacity!

Armed with such positive news, throw in a little hope, mix it around, add a little will to win, and we arrive at Bill Kristol & Fred Kagan's Wrong on Timetables:

Democrats in Congress have made three superficially plausible claims: (1) Benchmarks and timetables will "incentivize" the Maliki government to take necessary steps it would prefer to avoid. (2) We can gradually withdraw over the next year so as to step out of sectarian conflict in Iraq while still remaining to fight al Qaeda. (3) Defeat in Iraq is inevitable, so our primary goal really has to be to get out of there. But the situation in Iraq is moving rapidly away from the assumptions underlying these propositions, and their falseness is easier to show with each passing day.


(1) The Iraqi government will not act responsibly unless the imminent departure of American forces compels it to do so. In fact, since January 11, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has permitted U.S. forces to sweep the major Shiite strongholds in Baghdad, including Sadr City, which he had ordered American troops away from during operations in 2006. He has allowed U.S. forces to capture and kill senior leaders of Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army--terrifying Sadr into fleeing to Iran. He fired the deputy health minister--one of Sadr's close allies--and turned a deaf ear to Sadr's complaints. He oversaw a clearing-out of the Interior Ministry, a Sadrist stronghold that was corrupting the Iraqi police. He has worked with coalition leaders to deploy all of the Iraqi Army units required by the Baghdad Security Plan. In perhaps the most dramatic move of all, Maliki visited Sunni sheikhs in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and formerly the base of al Qaeda fighters and other Sunni Arab insurgents against his government.

(2) American forces would be able to fight al Qaeda at least as well, if not better, if they were not also engaged in a sectarian civil war in Iraq. The idea of separating the fight against al Qaeda from the sectarian fighting in Iraq is a delusion.

(3) Isn't it too late? Even if we now have the right strategy and the right general, can we prevail? If there were no hope left, if the Iraqis were determined to wage full-scale civil war, if the Maliki government were weak or dominated by violent extremists, if Iran really controlled the Shiites in Iraq--if these things were true, then the new strategy would have borne no fruit at all.

Hope is not victory, of course. The surge has just begun, our enemies are adapting, and fighting is likely to intensify as U.S. and Iraqi forces begin the main clear-and-hold phase. The Maliki government could falter. But it need not, if we do not.

The most drastic sign of hope does not come from Iraq, but from the pages of the Washington Post. When the Washington Post calls out the Democrats, a watershed moment has arrived: Retreat and Butter

The Democrats claim to have a mandate from voters to reverse the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. Yet the leadership is ready to piece together the votes necessary to force a fateful turn in the war by using tactics usually dedicated to highway bills or the Army Corps of Engineers budget. The legislation pays more heed to a handful of peanut farmers than to the 24 million Iraqis who are living through a maelstrom initiated by the United States, the outcome of which could shape the future of the Middle East for decades.

Congress can and should play a major role in determining how and when the war ends. Political benchmarks for the Iraqi government are important, provided they are not unrealistic or inflexible. Even dates for troop withdrawals might be helpful, if they are cast as goals rather than requirements -- and if the timing derives from the needs of Iraq, not the U.S. election cycle. The Senate's version of the supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan contains nonbinding benchmarks and a withdrawal date that is a goal; that approach is more likely to win broad support and avoid a White House veto.

Kevin McCullough also asks: Why do Democrats crave defeat?

In their own echo-chamber vanity Murtha, Pelosi and company believe themselves to be smarter than the commanders of the operations in the war on terror. And they believe that we will sit mesmerized, like sheep, while they single-handedly attempt to give the terrorists a date for victory - August 31, 2008.


However, let's be Prudent, as the Economist cautions in Counting the Cost:

FEW will celebrate the fourth anniversary of America's invasion of Iraq on Tuesday March 20th. It was supposed to serve as an example of how to build democracy in the Middle East, but turned into a model for how to wreck a country. It was meant to give warning to rogue regimes and instead strengthened radical states such as Syria and Iran. It was intended to confront Islamist extremism at its source, but intensified the appeal of global jihad. It was planned as a demonstration of America’s global power, but ended up sapping its military might in a debilitating insurgency.

Even the final demise of Saddam Hussein, one of the vilest dictators in the world, went wrong. He maintained a striking self-composure in the face of sectarian jeering when he went to the gallows in December. The justifications for the war have collapsed. The pre-invasion rationale was to rid Saddam of weapons of mass destruction, but none were found. The post-invasion objective was the promotion of democracy, but this has fed sectarian tensions in Iraq and led to the rise of Islamists elsewhere, such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories. All that is left is President George Bush’s argument that however grim the situation may appear now, it would be grimmer still if America withdrew and abandoned the country to jihadists.

However, victory cannot be achieved by reflecting on our mistakes and wallowing in self-pity. Similarly, it will not, I guarantee you, be achieved through the appropriation of our bombastic media-centric emotions by the likes of "celebrity" activists, such as Cindy Sheehan, a woman who has not found time to place a headstone on the grave of her fallen son.

Cindy Sheehan is full of audacity, but like Barack Obama, seems to be suffering from a dearth of hope.


Anonymous said...

"However, victory cannot be achieved by reflecting on our mistakes and wallowing in self-pity."

I agree with the wallowing in self-pity part, but reflecting on our mistakes? How else are we to learn from them if not to think about them, at least a little?

Nick Brunetti-Lihach said...

You're right in the sense that I should have qualified my statement in that victory cannot be achieved by "simply" reflecting, etc.

My central bone of contention is the obsessiveness with the bad, and the reluctance or refusal by so many to have any belief in victory.

Perhaps it relates to our spoiled impatience as Americans. I've written about this before. I myself am spoiled by modern luxuries. We're used to having our way, and getting it now. I would re-iterate the oft cited example of post-war Germany/Europe and Japan. Who would have thought the U.S. could almost singlehandedly resurrect these countries in some ten years time?

The jury is still out on nation building per se, and even pre-emption (although widely regarded experts such as Thomas P.M. Barnett, who is very nonpartisan, are in favor of pre-emption).

However, with so much proof to have cause for hope (Germany, Japan, and one would argue France, Britain, South Korea) how can anyone have such strong convictions about the inevitability of failure? It baffles me.

I would go so far as to say that even if one holds such reservations, especially a politician, he or she should consider some restraint whilst issuing public statements for fear of impinging our nation's morale, public perception, our troop's morale, and inciting glee among our enemies.

This is not to say that criticism cannot be levied - only that it be done with restraint and prudence. A volley of (what I would say often) desultory critiques aimed at discrediting an administration at the expense of our country's strategy and best interests is guaranteed not to lead us to victory in this "long war."