Monday, November 07, 2005

Iraq and the blogosphere debate (part 2.)

A few weeks ago I ventured over to an anti-war blog and commented on what I thought was good news, more or less. I had arrived at the opinion that the United States will draw down our military occupation in Iraq by some thousands and this would come after the next elections in that country (December or January).

We will be in that country for the rest of the decade, which was probably the point all along. (See Skip Hunt's exceptional questions.) Violence will continue. The questionable, disenchanting political process will continue. It is going to be messy. This war has been a dark tragedy. Team Bush committed near treason but probably is saved from that dishonor only by its collective stupidity.

But, it will be slightly better when there are less G.I.s over there, right?

Apparently such an opinion leaves one in dangerous terrain in the blogosphere. Why, I thought I had become Christopher Hitchens.

You are either with us or you are with the president.

If you are not of the "cut and run" set on the Iraq war, you might as well be with the president and Consul Dick Cheney. Moreover, you are told to enlist -- because only soldiers can speak on these topics. Or you are called "chubby and pasty" -- probably another dig at the non-martial set but this is coming from bloggers who are almost all chubby and pasty. After your physique is ridculed and your arguments misconstrued your grammar is criticized.

Bravo, Left Wing Blogosphere. You have managed to carve out a niche where like minded people can appease their sensibilities and produce nothing of consequence.

There are some bloggers who will provide sources for their claims. It is not necessarily the case that a group of educated people thinking the same thoughts makes those thoughts more valid, but it is often the case. As my intelligence was mocked by the "cut and run" set, I asked for alternative sources. Give me something to read to change my mind.

One expert, esteemed for apparently speaking the truth without imperialist spin, is Robert Fisk from The Independent. I was directed by a more helpful and tolerant blogger to an article penned by Fisk in the middle of September. Fisk asserts:

There will not be a civil war in Iraq. There never has been a civil war in Iraq. In 1920, Lloyd George warned of civil war in Iraq if the British Army left. Just as the Americans now threaten the Iraqis with civil war if they leave. As early as 2003, American spokesmen warned that there would be civil war if US forces left.

Apart from one blind quote -- a man-on-the-street anecdote -- and a point about the tribal nature of Iraqi society, Fisk offers little to back up this claim. One man saying civil war is not possible is not convincing, and the tribal nature of Iraq may just lead to a tribalized style of civil war. We probably have an actualized tribal variant of a civil war today.

Produce the most good

Whether America stays in Iraq should be decided on if it will produce the most good for America and the world -- with a deference given to the Iraqi people because of the horror to which we have subjected them. There is evidence that leads one to believe the American military presence achieves some good in keeping the lid on a civil war.

Sectarian threats and protests in late October in Nineveh province, Reuters.

About 15 people were killed in late October in Shiite-Sunni clashes in Baghdad, MSNBC.

Shiite power struggle in Najaf that has turned violent at times over the past year, Christian Science Monitor.

There has since been this written by Rory Stewart -- who has a slightly more impressive C.V. than Fisk -- in Prospect:

Most people in the south tolerate the coalition only because they believe the presence of the troops in bases may deter civil war.

That is but a partial list. Robert Fisk's ideas are no longer based on reality. If the neocons were deluded in thinking we could occupy a Muslim, Arab country than Fisk and his ilk are deluded in thinking that U.S. withdrawal will mean Iraqi stability. It won't.

But, Fisk was cited as a "good" source because what he writes is exactly what the Liberal Dove Bloggers want to hear. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Mission Accomplished

It is hard to believe that a war of this importance has been so poorly understood by many of the war planners. This should not have been the case. Major James Gavrilis writes an excellent account of nation building on the fly in Foreign Policy that should have been instructive to the coalition authority and the pitiful Proconsul Paul Bremer. It is important to note these mistakes and then revisit them at the conclusion of any discussion of Iraq policy going forward.

Another piece of good news is that the general staff appears to understand the need to bolster security while reducing America's profile in the country. A current U.S.-Iraqi joint offensive is the kind of progress that we need to see more frequently.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings, recently painted a more pessimistic picture of the political situation in Iraq, but notes positive steps as well. First focus, as Major Gavrilis would have told you in 2003, is security:

There is some good news on the security front nonetheless. It is principally in the form of progress in Iraqi security forces. Some 30,000 are now considered to be trained to the first or second tier of proficiency, and that is probably a fair assessment of where things stand.

The path that should have been taken in 2003 is finally seeing the light of day. It is a sinister lesson plan but the 20th century had numerous instructive passages on the appropriation of a state's power -- generally speaking, you do not disband the fucking army.

There is now an uneasy balance possible, as Senator Carl Levin has realized. I believe Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is approaching this realization as well. A recent Associated Press story reports that Sistani may ask for a phased withdrawal of foreign troops after the December election.

Phased withdrawal after goals are achieved

The 11th hour negotiations leading up to the constitution's referendum showed that the United States can and does exert a great deal of influence on the Iraqi government. That may seem like a simple point, but it is not. Levin's idea is for the presence of U.S. troops to be used as a leverage in the peace process. If Rory Stewart's account of begrudging acceptance in the Shiite south is to be believed, America does have some chips on the bargaining table. Here is part of the Los Angeles Times' account on Levin's idea:

"I believe we should tell the Iraqis that if they fail to reach such a solution by the timeline they have set forth, we will consider a timetable for the reduction of U.S. forces," he told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "I use the word 'consider' because we must reserve the right to look at the facts as they exist at that time."

Anyone who musters the courage to try and put something positive and instructive into the Iraq debate becomes a quick target for people with a little too much free time and a habit of using their thesaurus. I found this response at Indybay:

On one level, this is an outburst of unbelievable naiveté. One can only imagine that Senator Levin has been brainwashed [3] by his various Potemkin tours of the Green Zone so as to believe that the U.S. military occupation is actually popular. It is not. On the other hand, we can assume that the minority of Iraqis who have battened on to the occupation for their own position or profit already have their visas in order should the plug ever be pulled. Prospectively, they are just one more émigré group poised to drive up rents in Arlington, Virginia. The idea that the "threat" to pull out U.S. military forces leverages anything is an exercise in delusion. This is what Democrats concoct when desperation forces them to devise an alternative Iraq policy.

At a deeper, moral level, Senator Levin's thesis is even more dispiriting. Our troops, you must understand, are "leverage." Flesh and blood Americans are dying every day, but they are leverage: counters, pawns, bargaining chips in a game of Realpolitik. If the Democrats want to prove they are "tough enough for the job," i.e., as coldly cynical as the other party, they are off to a promising start.

The second point, about the term "leverage", is easy enough to address. The Senator was speaking from realpolitik, so let's just move on. We're in the real world and the practical, rational exercise of military might is an admirable goal.

Is the withdrawal of U.S. forces a potential bad for the Iraqis? For certain segments it is, as this columnist would agree -- the reference to the emigres in Arlington is the author's. As always it comes down to security.

The presence of foreign soldiers both encourages violence and limits it.

A former Saddam intelligence officer was profiled in a fascinating story in the Washington Post. It gives us an insight into one commander's view of the insurgency. Based on this short story, this insurgent will fight as long as there is a foreign force in the country:

Abu Theeb's group kept up the attacks. "Something like fire was inside us," he said. ". . . When the infidel conquers your home, it's like seeing your women raped in front of your eyes and like your religion being insulted every day."

This is the uneasy balance in Iraq now. The presence of U.S. forces sparks rebellion, however, it also keeps powerful thugs from completely asserting undemocratic control. The practical and rational exercise of U.S. forces actually requires the reduction of the American military footprint, but not the complete removal.

Sistani's idea is a good one and needs to be engaged by both the American military and the Iraqi government. I expect that it will. But, the terms need to be agreed upon by all groups, lest the process collapse. The Los Angeles Times had analysts worrying that the political process was fueling the insurgency, not limiting it. That will continue to be the case if the government is viewed as illegitimate and anti-Sunni.

For this reason, the Iraqi government that is formed by the electoral process on December 15 must reach out to the Sunnis to help end the violence. If and when the government does this, the Americans can further encourage the Sunnis by withdrawing forces and training non-Sectarian military formations.

If you were a sensible military commander, you would analyze all of the potential tactics that could end this insurgency as quickly as possible. One would be to ask for a sea change in the current administration. Donald Rumsfeld has to go, and his resignation offered after Abu Ghraib should have been accepted. That should not be the only pink slip for the better fighting of this war, but it probably should be the first. If Bush's desire is to seem loyal to the man he meets in the mirror, he could push out many of the old hawks after the holidays under the idea of shifting to a more political process.

Imagine the state of the union with a new secretary of defense, a new chief of staff, a distant Karl Rove as just an outside consultant and 45,000 troops coming home throughout 2006.

Another thing that has to go is inflammatory rhetoric meant to bolster public opinion in the very short term. This has been Bush's golden ticket to quasi-decent poll numbers since 2004, but it misleads the American public and distorts the real insurgency. As Juan Cole said in the Whiskey Bar:

Juan Cole doesn't claim that Zarqawi and his group are complete fictions, although the "Al Qaeda in Iraq" label appears to be a flagrant violation of Bin Ladin's intellectual property rights, possibly perpetuated by some Internet wannabes who don't have any connection to either crew. But Cole does make the case that the strength and influence of "foreign fighters" in Iraq has been even more exaggerated than I assumed, and that the key underground networks sustaining the insurgency are all probably run by remnants of the old Ba'ath security services.

Plus that ticket doesn't seem to be working anymore.

What is clear now is that the neocons were very, very wrong about this war. It has not been conducted well and remains a difficult proposition. Success is not certain, but the goal of a stable Iraq must be pursued, if and only if it is to be pursued smartly. At best what I have offered here is incomplete, but I think it is better to propose something constructive than to simply call the president names and celebrate political scandals and indictments.


Blogger Bassizzzt said...

"Team Bush committed near treason but probably is saved from that dishonor only by its collective stupidity."

I wouldn't call it treason, but when it comes down to his understanding of Islam per se, he is lost; hence, collective stupidity does indeed kick in.

Regarding Fisk, I find him to be a writer that spouts off a lot of commentary without the use of facts to back him up. I am, however, not too suprised to see that the Independent keeps him employed (that says a lot of what I think of that "newspaper" and even my Labour-loving parents can't stand that liberal British rag.

11:34 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I'd include post war planning.

Fisk is a putz. His anti-civil war piece, saying it won't happen, is maybe 300 words. His points are vapid at best. People like to hear what they want to hear. That was how the neocons did such a terrible job and why the left has been so weak in response to war planning woes.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Rex Publius said...

Great post. The "with us or against us" mentality is nothing new to the left, though. It's the same principle that led McGovern to a presidential nomination.

The right-wing, nutzoid evangelical Christians understand the only way in hell they'll have a representative in power in the executive branch is if they learn not to rain down fire and brimstone when GOP candidates even appear to be centrist. It's working out for them pretty well, wouldn't you think?

It's the same for the left. Clinton was the only politician of his generation to be able to effectively pay lip-service to people who leaned a little more left than the rest of the Democratic base while still being mainstream enough to get elected. Maybe all the Dems need is a left-leaning idiot who can take orders from people smarter but more prone to heart attacks and felony indictments.

Welcome to the politics of pragmatism.

3:08 PM  

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