Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Who to believe on Iraq?

John Murtha on Hardball last night:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Congressman John Murtha has challenged the Pentagon on Iraq, saying Iraq is a civil war. Congressman Murtha, thank you for joining us.

Mr. Murtha, the latest poll we just got in, “The Washington Post” poll talks about 80 percent, four out of five people—we used to hear this from, about dental reports, four out of five dentists. Now four out of five doctors, or four out of five Americans are now saying that we‘re facing a civil war over there. Do you believe the same?

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I‘ve said this for over two or three weeks, it‘s been longer than that. I have said it‘s a civil war. Civil war is defined as having two groups from inside a country fighting with each other for supremacy. That‘s exactly what we have. And our troops are caught in between. They‘re the targets of the insurgents. We‘ve got a very small percentage of al Qaeda in the country. These are Iraqis fighting each other and it‘s time for us to redeploy.

MATTHEWS: You talked to the military men all the time, Mr. Murtha.

What are they being told to do? What is the rule of engagement over there?

MURTHA: Chris, they agree with what I‘m saying. I mean, they don‘t say this publicly. All of them realize we cannot win this militarily. They have said over a year ago, I said we couldn‘t win this militarily.

What they‘re saying to me is we‘re stretching the military too thin. The army is broken, and we couldn‘t deploy to a second front if we wanted to. Recruitments are down. The divorce rate for captains, or for officers two years ago in the army was up 70 percent.

Those are the kinds of things they‘re putting up with. They‘ve been deployed three and four times and equipment is worn out. So we‘ve got a lot of work to do, but we have an open-ended policy, that the president has just doesn‘t work.

We‘ve diverted ourselves from terrorism, this is the problem. This is not terrorism in Iraq. This is a civil war. Terrorism is in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One of the problems we have in Afghanistan, the poppies are 50 percent of the GDP and of course they‘re using that money to fuel terrorism, so we‘ve got to redivert ourselves, get our troops out of there and start fighting terrorism again.
ABC News this weekend:
"We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place, just not necessarily at the maximum level, means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest.

"It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq," added Nash, who is an ABC News consultant.

Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told ABC News, "If you talk to U.S. intelligence officers and military people privately, they'd say we've been involved in low level civil war with very slowly increasing intensity since the transfer of power in June 2004."

Since the elections last year, Cordesman says, more radical Islamist insurgents have made "a more dedicated strike at the fault lines between Shiites and Sunnis." And they have succeeded.
Kalev I. Sepp (former special forces officer and an authority on counterinsurgency wars) on Frontline a few weeks ago:
Some warn of a scenario in which the insurgency wanes but sectarian violence escalates and leads to civil war in Iraq. What are your thoughts on this scenario? What could the U.S. military do? Would it even choose to intervene in a civil war?

Many analysts and observers believe that civil war is already underway in Iraq, kept in check by the presence of coalition military forces. It is another of the contradictions of insurgencies that as much as U.S. forces are disliked by most Iraqis, the senior Iraqi political leaders -- particularly among the Sunnis -- have quietly indicated their preference for the American troops to not leave immediately. They are the guarantors of the safety of the Sunnis from violent retaliation by revengeful Shi'as, and the force restraining non-governmental militias from fighting each other for political standing.
Zalmay Khalilzad in the Los Angeles Times yesterday:
Abandoning Iraq in the way the U.S. disengaged from civil wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia could have dramatic global repercussions, he said.

"We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" Khalilzad said. "The way forward, in my view, is an effort to build bridges across [Iraq's] communities."
General Peter Pace on Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: Anything can happen. Seventy-three percent of the American people believe we are headed to a likely civil war.

GEN. PACE: Anything can happen, and I agree with George Casey, and he’s a very practical commander because he needs to be focused on the worst that could happen so he can be ready for it. Having said that, I believe that the Iraqi people having shown—shown in the last week to 10 days that they do not want a civil war. They are not attacking each other’s mosque—mask—excuse me—mosques. You know, there was reports that there were hundreds of mosques attacked, not true, the number is somewhere in the range of about 30, of which less than half a dozen actually had significant damage done. The Iraqi people want to have calm, and they’re working hard together, especially amongst their leaders, both political and religious, to maintain that calm.

MR. RUSSERT: But three-fourths of the deaths that have occurred over the last few weeks are executions largely tied to militias—the Sunni militia, the Shiite militia. Isn’t that an indication of how insecure things are on the ground that these militias have risen up and are quite powerful entities?

GEN. PACE: The militia are a problem, they are a concern. The Iraqi government has clearly stated that there is no room in Iraq for militias that are not subordinate to the Iraqi government. There are some still that are out there performing duties for leaders who are not elected leaders. That is something to be dealt with, but it is not a major long-term problem as long as the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi police continue to be loyal to the central government, as they have been.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Interior Ministry has death squads that have—going into mosques and killing Sunnis.

GEN. PACE: I don’t know that that’s true. I know that there are death squads; I do not believe that they’re responsive to leaders in the Interior Ministry. I think they’re responsive to non-elected, non-appointed leaders. Regardless of who they’re responsive to, they are a problem, they need to be dealt with. The Iraqi government is working very hard to vet all of those individuals who join their police forces, join their armed forces. They’re working hard to ensure they have a balanced force—Sunni, Shia, Kurd—and they intend to have a loyal police force and a loyal army.
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday there has always been a risk Iraq could plunge into civil war but he accused the news media of exaggerating the gravity of the current situation.

Rumsfeld, during a Pentagon briefing, also accused Iran of sending Revolutionary Guards forces into Iraq, his latest accusation of Iranian meddling in the war, adding, "I don't think we could consider them religious pilgrims."
How exactly has the gravity of the situation been exaggerated if there is a risk of a civil war?


Blogger Ezzie said...

Because the media, and people like Matthews and Murtha, are exaggerating the threat of civil war. Is it possible? Yes. Likely? No. Is the media - once again - trying to create a story where none exists? Absolutely.

And Matthews' questions were very leading and unprofessional. I expect more from an interview on a show called "Hardball", don't you?

4:12 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Matthews always asks leading and unprofessional questions. That's his "charm". He either infuriates or is enjoyable -- usually both.

I am not certain how you exaggerate the threat of a civil war. There would need to be a quantifiable probability that most would agree upon (which, based on polls would be more probable rather than less probably by about 70 - 30). Than that probability would have to be exaggerated. Murtha contends that the civil war has been joined. Arguing on the facts is difficult.

There are a few questions.

Is Iraq in a civil war now?

That is a tough to say. The salafists are responsible, at least so it seems, for most Shiite deaths. More mainstream Sunnis -- so called nationalists -- may allow the salafists to take care of this part of the conflict and receive the negative publicity, while the Shiite government blames them to minimalize the threat to the governing power. Some mainstream Sunnis dislike the salafists and have even attacked them, or been attacked by them.

The Shiite run Interior Ministry is up to something. They are killing Sunnis, but it is hard to know how many. They are torturing Sunnis, but the same problem remains. It is not certain who in the government has authorized this or even tacitly permitted it.

So, simple answer to this first question: it's not a cut and dry civil war. It is much messier than that. Maybe not as deadly. Maybe not as disruptive to the political process, though certainly disruptive to a degree.

My belief (not a fact) is that the Sunnis and Shiite are in a low scale civil war, conducted with the clear awareness that a much bigger dog is in the neighborhood -- though no one has a clue how long that will be the case -- and that television coverage makes full out civil war politically damaging to whichever person declares it. Zarqawi is a brutal savage, he does not care about that. The majority of insurgents are a little more sensible about public relations.

Now, military analysts -- with a great deal more experience than you or I and with better sources -- state that this conflict is sectarian and intensifying.

Is it not sectarian in nature?

Is it not intensifying?

Does not that mean that the trend line is toward a broad sectarian conflict in the country?

That could be reversed, and I hope that it will be. But, Khalizad has sounded a pretty clear alarm on this one. He may be the one person on earth with the best idea, or the best information at least, as to what is really happening. Compared to him, Murtha, Pace and Rumsfeld are peripheral.

4:27 PM  
Blogger zen said...

Excellent analysis CE. You drew on the pertinent voices to point out that the conditions that exsist indeed do make this a civil war, now. Rather than recognize the obvious, we have those that will bend over backwards to look for reasons why this is not.

The continuous use, by some, to blame the usual trifecta of scapegoats (media, Dems and Libs) for everything that they connot accept is treadbare and worn that it is ridiculous. There seems to be a backlash that says "if it is reported in the media, then it must be false, exaggerated and out to make Bush look bad."
It's as if those scapegoats are in power, rather than the president and the Republican majority. As if the scapegoats make the administration act, respond, and even issue the statements that they do. Where is this so-called "party of personal responsibility?"

While I do not maintain that some media has an agenda, it would be a mistake to blindly accept that the administration is more credible or believable—as they have proven time and time again, are just as prone to spin and lie to the public as the media. Yet they are elected, under oath and many ways more obligated to serve the public good, which means speaking with honesty and truth, not platitudes and flag-waving rhetoric.
But the real danger here is that rather than give us the respect of being frank with the reality of the situations, we get spin and deniability. Any criticism from the media or polls of the public is handled by discrediting the source (making scapegoats). By keeping the water muddy, the administration and those (mis)managing the war, never have to face accountability.
When will the "Absurd 30" cease to control the message?

8:31 AM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Zen, thank you.

Fine point about the credibility of the media vs. the government.

Frankly, I think they are both doing a poor job with Iraq. But one's set of errors is of course much worse than the other's set.

3:11 PM  

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