Megan McArdle thinks that liberal bloggers need to acknowledge the good news coming out of Iraq:
"Lately, however, the anti-war side is beginning to sound a lot like the boosters they were so angry at. This is the particular example that caught my eye, but there is an increasingly rich body of blog posts and other writing that are the collective equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting "La la la la la la la I can't HEAR you!""
Since I have only begun to catch up on the blog reading I missed while I was playing dead, I have no idea whether McArdle is right about the liberal blogosphere (though I can't see what she thinks is wrong with Thoreau's piece.) However, speaking only for myself: consider the good news acknowledged. As Charles noted, casualties, both coalition and civilian, are down. Moreover, things like electricity are up:
"For the week ending December 8, availability of electrical current rose in all but one of nine sites where Slogger's sources estimate average daily power supply from the grid each week.
While no Baghdad area reports a full and uninterrupted power supply, the increase is remarkable in some areas when compared to the data from previous weeks."
Obviously, this is good news. Even one fewer casualty would be a blessing; drops of a thousand a month are really wonderful. That said, it would be nice if more conservative bloggers acknowledged some of the following:
First, it should not surprise us that casualties are down. We have an excellent army. Our soldiers are good at what they do. It is predictable that putting more of them in places where armed groups are fighting one another might cause an initial rise in casualties, as more of those combatants are engaged, but would ultimately cause those combatants to at least defer their conflict until we leave. That would bring civilian casualties down.
Second, that is not a good enough reason for us to deploy our troops somewhere, especially if the result of deploying them is simply to postpone conflict, rather than bringing it to an end.
Third, for this reason, reducing casualties was never the point of the surge. The point was to provide the breathing space needed for political reconciliation. This hasn't happened:
"The U.S. troop buildup in Iraq was meant to freeze the country's civil war so political leaders could rebuild their fractured nation. Ten months later, the country's bloodshed has dropped, but the military strategy has failed to reverse Iraq's disintegration into areas dominated by militias, tribes and parties, with a weak central government struggling to assert its influence.
In the south, Shiite Muslim militias are at war over the lucrative oil resources in the Basra region. To the west, in Anbar province, Sunni Arab tribes that once fought U.S. forces now help police the streets and control the highways to Jordan and Syria. In the north, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens are locked in a battle for the regions around Kirkuk and Mosul. In Baghdad, blast walls partition neighborhoods policed by Sunni paramilitary groups and Shiite militias.
"Iraq is moving in the direction of a failed state, a highly decentralized situation -- totally unplanned, of course -- with competing centers of power run by warlords and militias," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. "The central government has no political control whatsoever beyond Baghdad, maybe not even beyond the Green Zone."
The capital's Green Zone mirrors the chaos outside. Once the base of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime, it is now the seat of Iraq's fractured and dysfunctional representative government. The U.S. troop buildup was intended to help Iraq's national leaders overcome differences and give them space to pass compromise measures to end the country's sectarian war, but lawmakers remain divided and continue to harbor suspicions about each other's motives.
In the summer, the country's Sunni Arab minority quit the coalition government, leaving Shiites and Kurds with a razor-thin majority in parliament. They appear unable to push forward any solution to the country's problems, whether a national oil law, a review of Iraq's new constitution or legislation defining the powers of provincial councils. All efforts to define relations between Baghdad and outlying regions are stalled."
Fourth, noting that political reconciliation has not happened is not the "equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting "La la la la la la la I can't HEAR you!"" It's more like this: suppose I had a friend who insisted that he couldn't kick his crack habit because he was under too much financial pressure, so I agreed to pay his bills for a few months, on condition that he use that time to actually try to quit. Liberal bloggers thought this was a bad idea: my friend had no apparent interest in kicking his crack habit, and thus it seemed pretty likely that I was just throwing my money away. No, I assured them: I have made it clear that my commitment is not open-ended. I've said: it's time for you to perform, and I will judge you now less on your words and more on your performance. I'm not just giving this money blindly; my friend has adopted benchmarks for success, and I plan to hold him to them, though I won't say how.
Now suppose that while I paid my friend's bills, to no one's surprise, his financial problems got better, but he made no effort to stop smoking crack. Liberal bloggers said: well, of course it's good that your friend isn't feeling as much financial pressure, but the fact remains that the whole point of this was to let him kick his crack habit, and not only has he not done that, he hasn't even tried. That would not constitute sticking their fingers in their ears and chanting "La la la la la la la I can't HEAR you!", or refusing to take yes for an answer. It would just be basic common sense.
Finally, one major difference between the example I just made up and the actual surge is that the surge doesn't just involve spending a lot of money. It involves sending people off to fight and die. If we are going to ask our soldiers to risk their lives, the very least we can do is make sure that we are doing so for a good reason. In the case at hand, that means asking not just whether our troops can reduce casualties in Baghdad -- which, of course, they can -- but what strategic goal that reduction is supposed to serve. Are we planning on keeping our troops in Iraq forever, at their present levels? Of course not: we don't have that many troops, and this administration has shown no interest in taking the steps it would have to take to change that basic fact. Is there any reason to think that once we reduce the levels of troops, and even more so once we leave altogether, the violence we have damped down won't just resume? Not really: that was what political reconciliation was supposed to achieve, and it hasn't happened. Moreover, as best I can tell, one reason why casualties have dropped is simply that various parties have decided to wait us out, and to spend the surge retooling their militias, jockeying for position, and preparing for the coming civil war.
Megan McArdle may think that liberal bloggers who point out that while the surge has reduced casualties, it has not achieved its stated goals, are just refusing to acknowledge good news. As I've said, I disagree. But conservative (or other) bloggers who point to the reductions in casualties as though they made the surge worthwhile, without asking whether the surge is likely to achieve any lasting improvements in Iraq, look to me as though they were more interested in being able to point to something that looks like success for their side than in the actual outcome in Iraq. But those who go further and belittle people who ask what strategic goals the surge was meant to serve, and whether it is achieving them, are doing something worse.
As I've said, we owe it to those we ask to fight and die for us to make sure that we never ask them to do so without a very good reason. Anyone who tries to paint the question what strategic goals an undoubted tactical success actually serves as a sign of a politically motivated inability to acknowledge good news makes it more difficult for the rest of us to try to live up to that responsibility. Given a choice between "sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting "La la la la la la la I can't HEAR you!"" and undermining our ability to ask the questions we need to ask if we are to do right by our troops, I know what I would choose.