What Impressed Me This Week: Iraq Week
A couple of the things I ran across this week at least reminded me of the real people in harm's way. First, a few weeks ago I linked to a New York Times op-ed written by seven soldiers in Iraq. It was called "The War as We Saw It" and it gave a profoundly less optimistic view than General Petraeus. Well, two of those guys are dead. Their unit was close to finishing its 15-month rotation, but they didn't make it.
Second, for years a young woman from Baghdad has written a blog called Baghdad Burning under the pseudonym Riverbend. She is a wonderful writer and observer. A lot of us in the blogosphere feel like we know her, even though we wouldn't recognize her in person. In some ways it's been as good (and as bad) as having a friend right there on the ground in Baghdad telling us how things look from the civilian point of view. Whenever there was a long gap between posts, the Internet would buzz with worry: Was Riverbend OK? If she died, how would we know?
Well, recently we got the good/bad news that Riverbend and her family have escaped to Syria. They're Sunnis, and they had been living in one of those walled-up neighborhoods that are either fortresses or gulags, depending on your point of view. They're safe now, but Riverbend has no idea whether she'll ever see her relatives and friends again, or if Baghdad will ever be safe to visit. The story of her escape is emotional and well worth reading. If you've never heard of Riverbend before, read a few pieces from the Baghdad Burning archives to get acquainted. Try this one or go back to 2003. (The earlier you go, the less bitter she sounds.)
Her story puts a personal face on the statistic that something like 4 million Iraqis are now refugees -- about half in Syria or Jordan or Iran and the other half somewhere inside Iraq. (I imagine that a lot of Baghdad Sunnis and Shia are now living with relatives in their tribal homelands.) That's from a pre-war population of about 27 million. Do the math; it's horrifying. It puts a different slant on Petraeus' testimony that some previously violent Baghdad neighborhoods are now "quiet". It also gives the strongest possible rebuke to the administration's frequently repeated claim that 50 million Iraqis and Afghanis "are free now" -- and to the rhetoric about bringing "freedom" to Iran. The Iraqis are so free now that hundreds of thousands of them -- not wild-eyed Islamist extremists, but educated westernized young women like Riverbend -- would rather leave everything they've ever known and live under dictatorship in Syria. Think hard about that.
And if you want a young woman's view of life in Iran, pick up the book Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni. My favorite Afghan book is a little out of date now, but Come Back to Afghanistan is a good read. Both books succeed in making their countries more three-dimensional to us distant Americans.
And if you'd rather just be distracted, watch this video of what a bench-clearing brawl looks like on the baseball fields of South Korea. But don't ask me to explain what they're doing.
Let's be clear one more time about this claim: The surge of five extra combat brigades (bringing the total from 15 to 20) started in January. Their 15-month tours of duty will begin to expire next April. The Army and Marines have no combat units ready to replace them. The service chiefs refuse to extend the tours any further. The president refuses to mobilize the reserves any further. And so, the surge will be over by next July. This has been understood from the outset. It is the result of simple arithmetic, not of anyone's decision, much less some putative success.Philip Carter (an Iraq war veteran who writes the blog Intel Dump ) called the speech "an effort to put lipstick, mascara, and a pound or two of pancake makeup on a really ugly pig."
James Fallows of The Atlantic, who has been in Asia for some while now, wrote a column giving what he calls the man from Mars view of Bush's speech and the responses to it. About John Edwards, who bought TV time to answer Bush with this statement, Fallows comments: "How long has John Edwards been sounding like this? Wow!"
Glenn Greenwald was already compiling a list of dishonest ship-jumpers back in June. Add Alan to the list. Can no one on the Right just say: "I was wrong"?
In retrospect, Mr. Greenspan’s moral collapse in 2001 was a portent. It foreshadowed the way many people in the foreign policy community would put their critical faculties on hold and support the invasion of Iraq, despite ample evidence that it was a really bad idea. And like enthusiastic war supporters who have started describing themselves as war critics now that the Iraq venture has gone wrong, Mr. Greenspan has started portraying himself as a critic of administration fiscal irresponsibility now that President Bush has become deeply unpopular and Democrats control Congress.