What Impressed Me This Week: the War About the War
Sunday I saw John Edwards in Manchester. I've already blogged about it here, so right now I'll just say that I was impressed and plan to vote for him in the New Hampshire primary.
My article Not My Father's Religion about the problems Unitarian Universalism has relating to the working class is on the cover of the current issue of UU World. And the latest edition of my bimonthly column is on the UUworld.org web site. It's called Drops of Water Turn a Mill and it speculates about whether the Internet will be a better medium for liberal religion than television has been.
This week I read the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, from which I draw this: Everything you really need to know about counter-insurgency is already in King Phillip's War of 1675-76. The Pilgrims eventually won not by killing Indians but by turning tribes.
The War About the War
This week the media battle leading up to General Petraeus' report in September (and the Congressional votes on Iraq that will follow) started in earnest. The best summary so far is from Bill Maher: "The phrase 'the Surge is working' is working." (His whole six-minute routine is worth hearing.)
For me the low point in the week was Tuesday, when NPR interviewed Congressman Brian Baird of Washington. Baird really is what a number of other people have only pretended to be: a Democrat who was against the war, but has changed his mind after a trip to Iraq. What I found most discouraging was not just that he now wants to delay withdrawal another "six to eight months," but that he has started using all the administration catch-phrases. We are "making progress" and withdrawal is always preceded by an adjective like precipitous or premature. And of course the progress Baird sees is not based on anything the rest of us can check. He assures us that if we could meet with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, and if we could talk to the same (hand-picked) Iraqi leaders and American troops, we'd agree with him.
Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois was on the same trip and presumably met with the same people, but was not persuaded. What struck her about General Petraeus' briefing was his assessment that it would take "another decade" to stabilize the country. (That's the thing about "making progress." Depending on where you're going and how fast you're getting there, you can make progress for a long, long time without arriving.)
Also Tuesday, Democratic Senator Carl Levin called for the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, about which I'll have more to say later. I can't figure out what Levin was doing, and at the very least he was seriously off of any useful message. Glenn Greenwald interpreted it this way:
Senate Democrats largely will not challenge, but rather will embrace and celebrate, the notion that The Surge Is Working and that we are making "military progress," whatever that might mean this month. To "oppose the war," they instead will follow the strategy Hillary Clinton has adopted this year -- namely, blaming the Iraqis for failing to take advantage of the great opportunities we are creating for them. Levin's demand that Prime Minister Maliki be replaced is designed to accomplish exactly that. Democrats are afraid to challenge the U.S. military's claims that we are Winning, and are even afraid to oppose the Surge, so instead, they will take the safest course -- heaping the blame on the Iraqi government and demanding that they improve.The previous day, Hillary Clinton didn't actually say "the Surge is working," but that's how it got reported. Anti-war forces seemed to be in full disarray and retreat.
Politics aside, what's really happening? It's hard to cut through all the spin, but I think most of the honest expert opinion is starting to say something that I don't think anybody wants to hear: Whatever progress there might be in Iraq is really slow. If we stay with the current counter-insurgency strategy and things go well, Iraq might be a peaceful country in ten years. If we leave sooner than that, a civil war might start that will make the current situation look tame. Pick your poison: Commit another trillion dollars and thousands of American deaths, or get ready to take responsibility for a bigger bloodbath.
Of course, if the experts are wrong (not an unreasonable thing to wonder about) we might be in even worse shape ten years from now.
A bunch of bogus statistics are being tossed around to try to demonstrate dramatic progress in Iraq. The best job of debunking them was done by Kevin Drum at the blog Political Animal. The short version is that violence in Iraq is seasonal. Insurgency is a career that lets you choose your own hours, so you tend to lay low in the summer when it's 120 degrees. (Bill Maher: "Al Qaeda in Iraq is currently al Qaeda in Cancun.") So violence statistics from July are down from what they were in May, but that doesn't mean the Surge is working. If you really want to know how things are going, you compare July of this year to July of last year. That's what Kevin does, and it's not pretty.
What about the Surge's big success story, al Anbar province? CNN's Michael Ware explained it like this to Anderson Cooper:
But the real success, Anderson, is coming from something totally different [than the Surge], and that is coming from America cutting deals with its former enemies, principally the Ba'athist insurgents, the Sunni insurgents. It's by cutting a deal with the Ba'ath Party on the terms that the Ba'ath Party offered America four years ago -- and had to wait for America to be battered into submission to accept -- that the tide has turned against al Qaeda. ... What the U.S. troops are doing is giving a set of numbers, a series of data, a number of lowered attack figures that may give the military the political cover it needs in Washington. But at the end of the day, by cutting these deals the seeds are being sown for a much broader, more entrenched civil war that America will leave behind.Thursday the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was released. It's depressing reading whether you support the war or not. The closing paragraph warns against withdrawal, but the rest of the report contains little optimism about what we can accomplish by staying. The good news is that things aren't worse:
The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for nowIt predicts slow improvement in the security situation, which to me sounded like support for Petraeus' view that it will take a decade to secure the country.
Sunni Arab resistance to [al Qaeda in Iraq] has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi Government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia. The Iraqi Government’s Shia leaders fear these groups will ultimately side with armed opponents of the governmentwhich sounds like the same point Michael Ware was making.
If you want to get a closer-to-the-ground view, here are some interesting links:
- Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interviews Nir Rosen about the refugee problem in Iraq and the problem of ethnic cleansing.
- The Global Policy Forum keeps track of public opinion polls in Iraq. It's a little weird that we don't hear more about these polls, because Iraq is supposed to be a democracy and we're supposedly there to help the Iraqi people. President Bush keeps talking about how we should listen to "the commanders on the ground" in Iraq. But the people who are really "on the ground" are the Iraqis. Maybe we should be listening to them. What I learned from one of the most recent polls is that Iraqis are getting increasingly pessimistic about their own futures and the future of their country.
Friday Glenn Greenwald gave us a glimpse behind the curtain into the corrupt world of lobbyists and the media. Here's the story in brief: Remember Ayad Allawi? He's the guy that we appointed to run Iraq back in the days before we started giving the Iraqis any say in the matter. He thinks he should be returned to power, so rather than stage a coup, he hires a Washington lobbying firm that is well connected to the Bush White House.
Guess what happens? Suddenly the Washington Post gives him space for an op-ed column in which he blames all of Iraq's problems on the Maliki government. And just as suddenly all sorts of people start pushing for Maliki to be removed (including Carl Levin, see above). Tuesday President Bush seems to be hinting he agrees, but then Wednesday he says "Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy."
ABC News discusses this issue on camera with an former administration official who, unknown to them, is on the payroll of the lobbying firm that Allawi hired. He gives strong hints that Maliki might be on his way out.
Since this all came out, appropriate denials have been issued by all concerned, which Glenn has dutifully published without backing off of his assertion that this is all pretty slimy.
Random Interesting Stuff
Digby has preserved an article that even the Family Security Foundation realized needed to be scrubbed from its Family Security Matters web site. Philip Atkinson's article suggested that President Bush follow the example of Julius Caesar, depopulate Iraq, and then declare himself President for Life. It seems not to have been a joke. The article identifies Atkinson as a contributing editor of Family Security Matters, but I haven't been able to verify that.
A new Fox Attacks video from Brave New Films pulls together Fox News' fear-mongering about Iran.
TPM has an amusing video suggesting that the Republicans may have lost the 2006 elections because of widespread "cognitive difficulties" among the White House staff. TPM makes this point by pulling together excerpts of staffers' Congressional testimony, in which they seem unable to remember much of anything, to understand simple questions, or to perform other basic mental functions.