Monday, February 11, 2008

Visions Of The Surge

Like everything else in life, how you see the Surge depends on where you stand.

Thomas Lifson, editor and publisher of the euphemistically named "American Thinker", encapsulates the "conservative" view at the equally euphemistic "Real Clear Politics", in a piece called "The Winter of Conservative Discontent", where Lifson writes:
Iraq was a horrendous disaster, and then it just vanished from consideration as the Surge turned things around.
Lifson's analysis suffers from one weakness only. It doesn't take into account the possibility that the government may be lying.

The "good news" from Iraq certainly seems fabricated to me, and whether it's legitimate or not, it's still insultingly trivial.

Iraq vanished from the headlines because the "liberal" media failed to carry all the good news in banner type, but also because the "liberal" media failed to pursue the obvious story lines, including but not limited to: What are we doing to Iraq? and Why? and What is the depleted uranium doing to our soldiers? and What is it doing to the Iraqi people? and What will it do to life on Earth?

But all these questions are always omitted from the "conservative" "frame" of Iraq, so Thomas Lifson might almost seem to make a little bit of sense -- if you're as dumb as a stick.

The "Good News" From Iraq

What good news is there from Iraq? Sectarian violence is down?

Down from what? Horrendous levels, of course. And how far down? Not all that far, actually. Can other factors account for the downward trends? Sure, they can. Let's start with the redefinition of sectarian violence: Do we have a problem with car bombs? Just stop counting them. Do we want to decrease sectarian violence? No trouble. We can just change the way we classify different types of "injuries".

What other good news is there from Iraq? Casualty rates are down?

Let's talk about how an occupying force can reduce its casualties by changing tactics: If you keep your patrolling to a minimum and bomb the smithereens out of residential areas in the middle of the night, you can cut your losses drastically. And that's what the Americans seem to have done.

But all of this is way outside the frame at "Real Clear Politics", just as it is at "American Thinker", and at every other place where dunderheads gather to slurp Kool-Aid.

The situation elsewhere is a different.

Over at the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman remembers when the surge was about something more than short-term reduction in mortality rates. In "Security Gains From 'Surge' Backsliding: New Iraq Security Statistics Show Uptick in Explosions", he writes:
It was the crescendo of an otherwise flat State of the Union address. "Ladies and Gentlemen," President George W. Bush declared Monday night, "some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), The Hill reported, rose in applause.

Bush’s speech was one of the more restrained descriptions of the surge—last year’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq. In recent weeks, politicians and commentators have moved beyond saying the surge is working to the blunter declaration that the surge "worked," full-stop. Bill Kristol, declaring Gen. David Petraeus his Man of the Year, wrote in a Weekly Standard editorial, "We are now winning the war. " In his New York Times column, Kristol challenged the Democratic candidates to "say the surge worked." On Jan. 10, the first anniversary of the surge, the GOP presidential front-runner, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), co-wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined, flatly, "The Surge Worked."

It used to be that surge enthusiasts would at least hint at the unachieved strategic objective of the surge. As Bush himself put it, the surge was meant to provide the Iraqi government "the breathing space it needs to make progress" on sectarian reconciliation. But reconciliation hasn’t happened, and, in important respects, sectarianism has deepened over the past year. So surgeniks are now simply declaring victory by the sheer fact of reduced violence itself, unmoored to any strategic goal.
Ackerman goes on to note rising casualty rates and concludes that the surge has failed on two counts: the "reconciliation" hasn't happened, and the violence is getting worse again. Ackerman therefore concludes that the Surge has failed.

Who's right? Neither of them, in my view.

The Flaw In The Analyses

Ackerman's analysis suffers from the same flaw that clobbered Lifson's: gullibility. Lifson buys every bit of propaganda ever produced, apparently; and Ackerman doesn't fare quite so poorly. But Ackerman judges the Surge by the standards set for it by its proponents, who may possibly have been pulling wool over somebody's eyes.

By any sane and rational analysis, the "justification" Bush advanced for the Surge was -- if not a flat-out lie -- extremely disingenuous.

Whenever somebody says "I'm going to make this unpopular move in order to allow other people to do what I want them to do," red flags should go up everywhere. This is a "booby-trapped test", so to speak, akin to the old "Heads I win, Tails you lose" con-game.

If Iraq had made progress toward the so-called "reconciliation", Bush could have taken the credit. But now no progress has been made, so Bush and his bootlickers can blame the Iraqis -- and they do!

Why is this so hard to see?

Over at Kiko's House, Shaun Mullen makes the same kind of mistakes as Spencer Ackerman, but he rides the train of thought even further:

An Iraq War Roundup: The Surge ‘Window’ Begins to Close & Other Forever War News
You don’t have to be a bloody genius to know that sooner or later the window of opportunity for Iraqi national reconciliation and a lasting reduction in sectarian violence as a result of the successes of the Surge would begin to close unless there was progress on the part of the Baghdad government.

Well, boys and girls, it would appear that the window is indeed beginning to close since there has been no progress whatsoever except for a totally bogus un-de-Baathification law passed earlier this month.[...]

[Y]ou’d hardly know that nearly two thirds of Americans want the U.S. to get the hell out of Iraq, according to one recent poll.

But alas, that’s not going to happen because the Al-Maliki government has no incentive to take advantage of the opening the Surge has given it because President Bush has given something far more important to [him] and his Shiite cronies — coup insurance in the form of a long-term troop presence. This is the status quo for the foreseeable future. There is no post-Surge strategy, let alone an endgame, because in the Bush Universe politics yet again trump policy.
Is this clear or am I hallucinating? As I read it, Mullen believes the US won't be leaving Iraq "because the Al-Maliki government has no incentive" to proceed with the "reconciliation". And that Bush has no strategy for anything approximating a withdrawal because "politics trump policy".


It's nonsense, of course. There can be no reconciliation in the midst of a civil war, least of all in a country occupied by foreign troops. That's doubly true when the people screaming loudest for reconciliation are the occupying foreigners, and you can redouble if the same people started the civil war.

Unless I'm confusing a bundle of very clear signals, the US won't be leaving for Iraq for the same reason the US invaded Iraq in the first place: the oil. And there is no post-Surge strategy for the same reason there was never any exit strategy of any kind: we never intended to leave -- and we still don't!

None of this ever seems to dawn on Cernig, who picks up the ball from Mullen and runs even farther with it, at Larisa Alexandrovna's blog, At-Largely:

Beware Of Closing Doors
Think-tank types - and not just those on the Left - are beginning to write that the window of opportunity the Surge was intended to force open is now closing. But if the window for the Iraqi government to firmly grasp reconciliation is closing then so is the US' chance to head for the exit while on a Surge of favorable news. [...]

It doesn't matter how many military battles the US wins - it will lose in the long run if AQ [al Qaeda] can simply help keep Iraq unstable. The political dynamic in Iraq means AQ can claim victory just by surviving but the Bush administration (and [its] supporters) are deliberately myopic about Iraq's [internecine] mess simply because it holds little hope of good news, let alone victory. [...]

So the US finds itself in a no-win situation. To withdraw now would seem to invite either a civil war or the ascendancy of nationalists from both Sunni and Shiite sides who would be no use at all in forming a bastion of pro-American power in the Middle East. Yet to remain to try prevent this [occurring] will only put off the inevitable while bloodying American hands [...] Bush has punted the whole issue, leaving it for the next president -- or perhaps even the one after that -- to tell the US public the bad news. That the US should have gotten out while the getting was comparatively good.
It's almost pointless to comment on this; we lost touch with reality several spins back.

Lost: The Essential Point

The essential point, it seems to me, is lost in virtually all the war coverage, on both sides of "the debate", which increasingly seems to bear no relationship to reality whatsoever.

Scott Ritter gets close to this point in his recent essay for TruthDig, "Iraq’s Tragic Future":
The continued ambivalence of the American population as a whole toward the war in Iraq, perhaps best manifested by the superficiality of the slogan “Support the Troops,” all the while remaining ignorant of what the troops are actually doing...
But Ritter himself gives no hint of the ingredient that is always missing from the story.

What The Troops Are Actually Doing

The Pentagon has clamped down so severely on news from occupied Iraq that we're forced to rely on very unofficial sources. And the news we receive in this way may have traveled through informal channels. But it's all we've got.

Late last month, Layla Anwar, author of Arab Woman Blues, spoke at length with her Uncle Abu Nabil, who had "just arrived from Baghdad, via Erbil" and who "had much to tell".

A summary of that conversation served as the centerpiece of a post called "Bits & Pieces from the Iraqi Coffin", from which I quote extensively here. (I have added space, corrected typos, and snipped a great deal. I've also added to the headings.)
Abu Nabil is not a Baathist, but is a retired judge and has very good contacts and inside information. He is half Sunni/half Shia. He has family in Basra, Baghdad and Erbil.

We talked for hours and he had a lot to tell me. [...] I would like you to read it CAREFULLY, SLOWLY and THINK! [...]

Basra (Southern Iraq) -- "Pictures Of Turbaned Snakes Everywhere"

- Most official and non-official buildings have inscriptions in Farsi/Persian. They have been renamed in Persian.

- Farsi is spoken in Basra, alongside Arabic.

- Monetary dealings can be done in either Tooman (Iranian currency) or Iraqi dinars. That means when you buy something you can pay in both currencies.

- The pictures of Khomeini, Ahmadinejad, Al Hakeem, Muqtada Al-Sadr [photo] are everywhere. When you think that critiques of President Saddam Hussein accused him of imposing the personality cult and you see these pictures of turbaned snakes everywhere... Makes you wonder, does it not?

- The Iranian and sectarian militias have infiltrated the highest echelons of police, army, government officials. Any criticism means death.

- ALL women are forced to veil. And the number of women murdered by those militias is much higher than the official figure given (153).

- People FEAR speaking out against all the human rights abuses that are taking place in Basra, for they run the risk of disappearing in no time.

- Corruption is endemic.

- Kuwaitis are often seen in Basra and have numerous business deals with the Iranians there.

- Drugs and arms are the main bread and butter of the sectarian militias.

- Basra is now unofficially considered a state of its own.

Erbil (Northern Iraq) -- "Iraqis Have Been Imprisoned For Waving The Iraqi Flag"

- Masoud Barazani, the Kurdish, Mossad/CIA agent, crook, embezzler, thug, arm dealer, insists on changing the Iraqi flag.

- Several Iraqis have been imprisoned for waving the Iraqi flag in “Kurdistan.”

- [Masoud Barazani] and his family have monopoly over all businesses and contracts to the annoyance of the Kurdish population.[...]

- Many Kurds do not approve of what is happening but are AFRAID to voice their discontent.

- The statues of Masoud Barazani and his father are found on every street corner. So are his pictures and that of his father. And the Kurds, along with sectarian Shias, criticized President Saddam Hussein for having portraits.

- The majority of the Kurdish population is impoverished and does not have access to decent medical care.

- Honor killings against women in the Kurdish villages are very common.

- Both Masood Barazani and Jalal Talabani (the so-called current president of Iraq) are dealing in Iraqi oil through dubious contracts, exporting it and cashing in the profits - just like their corrupt Shia counterparts.

Baghdad (Central Iraq) -- "Concrete Blocks, Checkpoints, Barbed Wires, Walls EVERYWHERE"

- Baghdad in the past 6 months has changed even more. The road from the Airport to central Baghdad is unrecognizable.

- There are concrete blocks, checkpoints, barbed wires, walls EVERYWHERE. Authorizations from BOTH the militias and the American forces are demanded to move from one neighborhood to another.

- The streets have become garbage containers. The garbage has reached the sky.

- There is a terrible shortage of electricity, water, and fuel.

- Inflation is over 110%.

- The health system is in shambles. Doctors cannot be found. Some have sought refuge in Erbil and most have escaped outside the country.

- It is common knowledge in Baghdad that those who murdered the scientists, academics and doctors were the IRANIAN Quds brigades and paid AMERICAN death contractors including the MOSSAD.

"Al-Qaeda Is Financed By BOTH America And Iran"

- It is common knowledge in Baghdad, that Al-Qaeda is financed by BOTH America and Iran.

- Rape is common. Many women are raped by militias, police and armed forces but they DARE NOT report it.

- Women are forced to take up the veil, including the few left Christian Baghdadis, even young school girls are veiled out of FEAR.

- Orphaned children live in the streets. American troops throw a few candies their way, high above, from their humvees, as if feeding animals. [...]

- One finds so many drug addicts and drugs dealers in Baghdad (something unheard of during our “dictatorship”)

- Many people DARE NOT send their children to school for security reasons. Also schools are frequent targets for both the sectarian militias and the American occupation forces.

"What Were Mixed Neighborhoods Are Totally Ethnically Cleansed"

- What were mixed neighborhoods are totally ethnically cleansed [and] are now Shia only neighborhoods.

- A lot of the true Iraqi Shias are AFRAID to speak out against the sectarian militias.

- In Sunni neighborhoods, you find on a regular basis, the IRANIAN Quds Brigades harassing the people, burning down Sunnis mosques, insulting and slandering. In one Sunni neighborhood, one week ago, they caught 4 Iranians cursing and slandering the Sunnis and the Americans were there and did nothing.

- You will see in most neighborhoods, including Sunni ones, pictures and portraits of Muqtada al Sadr, Abdel Azeez Al-Hakeem and other turbaned mullahs, with black or green flags waving. The Badr Brigades posters include the following remarks: “District no. 1, 2, 3… Islamic Revolutionary Council of Iraq/Iranian Quds Brigades.” They control every district.

- Hadi Al-Amiri, military head of the armed Badr Brigades is known to be a notorious killer. Even Bremer said so in his memoirs. He [...] arrived on American tanks from Iran.

- Muqtada Al-Sadr so-called freeze on all “activities” are due to a fall out with Al-Hakeem head of SCII and Badr Brigades. This latter promised him and his Jaysh Al-Mahdi chunks of the bounty, if he agreed to ethnically cleanse Sunnis.

The SCII and Badr Brigades did not deliver, that is why Muqtada Al-Sadr and his Jaysh Al-Mahdi s decided to supposedly stop their sectarian cleansing until further notice.

- The Sawha or Awakening Councils are another American ploy to contain the Resistance. After being massacred by both the Iranian sectarian shias and Al-Qaeda, Sunnis and the Resistance have realized that both Al-Qaeda and the Shia sectarian militias were working for the Americans and the Iranians.

- People are AFRAID to speak out, they can easily be abducted, disappear, get imprisoned, or get killed by the militias, the police or the armed forces both American and Iraqi.

"Everyone Hates The Americans." ... "We Are Prisoners In Our homes."

- Everyone hates the Americans. They shoot anyone standing in their way, physically eliminate them. When they drive around, if you don’t stop and stand aside, they shoot you. As simple as that.

- The Americans are aware of what Iran and its militias are doing in Baghdad. They are also aware of the sectarian nature of the Government, but they don’t seem to mind. As long as their presence is secured, that is all they care about.

- We are prisoners in our homes. No one dares go out, no one dares do anything. It is unbearable. You never know when a bullet or a mortar will fall on your head.

- Iraq is in bits and pieces. I don’t when and who will be put together again.

The above is what Uncle Abu Nabil said word for word. I knew all of that anyway but he just confirmed it to me. But what he was trying to tell me is that the situation is getting worse. And that Iraq and Baghdad in particular have dramatically changed.

We ended our conversation with a question he posed and I hope you will take time to ponder and answer it yourselves.

He said “I really don’t understand why people are defending Iran against an American attack. Iran is in the heart of occupied Baghdad. The Americans we will eventually drive away, but Iran is a neighbor, It will be more difficult to get rid of that one. Why did the Americans hand Iraq to the Iranians? This I don’t understand. Must have been an agreement between both.”
Thomas Lifson was right, of course. And so was John McCain. The Surge Worked.

It drove another dagger into the heart of Iraq. It shut down media criticism of the war. It put us one step closer to all that oil. And it made sure everybody in Iraq will hate us -- forever.

So now we can never leave.

It's astonishing how ungrateful the Iraqis are after all we have done for them. We've even inspired their children to create innovative art.