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January 01, 2008

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It's good, that after years of failure, the Bush Administration was willing to try what the generals recommended in the first place, a large enough occupation force to make a difference. Too bad that we waited so long that we can no longer be sure that the people who govern Iraq will take advantage of the lull.

Yes: now civilian casualties in Iraq are down to almost the same low, low levels as in... June 2005.

Then again, in June 2005 you were hailing the noticeable signs of progress in Iraq. I suppose if the number of civilans confirmed killed by reliable media sources has fallen to 902 in December 2007 - including 33 civilians confirmed by media reporting killed by US forces, of whom 6 were children - that is a "sign of progress". Of a sort.

For comparison's sake, the IBC count of civilians killed in the first year of the war was 6332. In the second year of the war, it was 11312. Your magic graphs never refer to those figures: for you, "progress" is always reckoned from the third year of the war. (And of course we know from the Lancet reports that the IBC body count represents about one-twelfth of the actual deaths in the Iraq war...)

I'd agree that these graphs show substantial
progress--but only away from what was exponential movement towards hell-in-a-handbasket. It would indeed be useful, and I think more honest, to make your plots start when the invasion did.

It would indeed be useful, and I think more honest, to make your plots start when the invasion did.

Statistics? Uh-oh.....

None of the combat-related statistics have any lasting significance, because the aim they were supposed to support is a complete failure. There is no viable national government in Iraq, and there won't be. The Iraqi people hate us and wish us gone - with excellent reason, because we are torturers and mass murderers, villains running an occupation that compares meaningfully with what the Nazis and Soviets did to Poland in every regard sort of calculated genocide. But they don't agree on anything else and there's no obvious reason why they should put forth effort into a government that wouldn't be allowed to govern if it tried. The strategic goal is a failure, precisely as it was obvious from the outset it would be; nothing else matters for very long in light of that failure.

Charles, thanks for your update. I think most of the folks here are aware of your basic stance (that things are getting better), and at the micro level, I think that's undeniably true. Indeed, I think that everyone here (and everyone who can be generally categorized as a 'naysayer' on the war) agrees that a dropping casualty rate is a good thing. The numbers you bring forward on a regular basis help prevent ObWi from becoming an echo chamber.

The question, though, has always been one of the final goals and the likelihood of achieving them. What you're describing is exactly what pretty much everyone -- pro and con on the subject of the surge -- agreed would happen. It remains to be seen what will happen to Iraq's cauldron of civil, ethnic, religious, and political conflicts when we're unable and unwilling to maintain an occupational force of the current size.

As recently as a few months ago, many who support the continued occupation said that the country would dissolve into hellish civil war and genocide if we pulled out. Is that still a threat? Will it continue to be a serious threat, preventing us from declaring victory and withdrawing for some time? If so, I'm not sure we can say that the surge is doing anything strategically save buying time until the US Presidential elections.

CB says things are getting better. Again.

Wow.

Yawn.

Wake me when someone intelligent comments.

The quote

Do I think we're winning? For me, it's still too early to tell. We'll need more time to see how Iraqis respond to this progress.
is a facially legitimate statement that could be, and could have been (and, in fact, has been), issued at a number of points in this now-longer-than-WWII endeavor.

How about we try the "are we losing; how would we know" question again. Can you please point me to a post of yours at any time in the past that lays down the bottom-line conditions, without which you will be unable to maintain a wait-and-see approach? What, short of the U.S. being required to evacuate embassy staff from the embassy roof via chopper, would constitute an unacceptable state of affairs for you?

I go here again not because I see us as being closer to that state of failure today than we have been in the past, but because we might be more likely to get that statement today than in times past.

This is important to get (not as much from you personally, but from serial another-Friedman-unit pundits generally), because to have productive conversations about this they need to be conversations where: that baseline and alternative baselines A and B and C are clear; the "objective reality on the ground" has been argued to a reasonably-close muddle; the "actual costs" of the policy have been argued to a reasonably-close muddle; and the conversation begins to bear just the slightest resemblance to accountability.

I am of the opinion we haven't gotten there yet, but I'm willing to listen, again. I hold out hope that your "baseline" is something I'll hear.

[If this posts twice, I apologize but blame Typepad. The first attempt has not posted at the time of this second attempt (after closing out and returning). Please feel free to delete any duplicate posts - and this paragraph.]

Aren't there genuine logistical difficulties with continuing the surge at present levels? Wasn't the whole deal here that the thing had to be temporary, and that it would be a failure if political structures weren't put in place that would continue the lowered pace of attacks? But isn't a major component of our current strategy arming/paying/working with groups that will undermine any structures set up by the national government?

Doesn't Sadr's strategy of waiting out the surge make these statistics seriously misleading?

On the other hand, can we declare victory and go home now?

The Democrats don't have the will to end the $190 billion a year Iraq porkfest before Bush leaves office...and not even Queen Hillary will end it until after Iraq's December, 2009 elections.

Well played, Halliburton, Blackwater & Co.

Yeehaw!

OT:

I'd just like to mention that Thomas H. Crown, in his farewell address to RedState, takes a moment to thank the whole crew here at this far-left wing moron factory called Obsidian Wings for sending waves of cretins over there.

That's one classy guy.

Aren't there genuine logistical difficulties with continuing the surge at present levels? Wasn't the whole deal here that the thing had to be temporary, and that it would be a failure if political structures weren't put in place that would continue the lowered pace of attacks?

Yes and yes, which means that when the surge ends, as it must, all these purported gains will likely vanish. And the Iraqis will pay the price for our hubris.

The strategic goal of the United States in Iraq remains a unified, democratic and federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself and is an ally in the war on terror.

What if the Iraqis don't want to be unified, democratic, or federal?

What if they aren't interested in being our ally in the war on terror?

We'll need more time to see how Iraqis respond to this progress.

What if the Iraqis respond to this progress by saying, "We'd like you to go home now"?

Thanks -

What if the Iraqis respond to this progress by saying, "We'd like you to go home now"?

They've been saying that for some time. Bush pays no attention.

Wake me when someone intelligent comments.

For anecdotal stuff, I'd suggest checking out LT Nixon, or even Andrew.

Excellent summary, Charles.

Aren't there genuine logistical difficulties with continuing the surge at present levels? Wasn't the whole deal here that the thing had to be temporary, and that it would be a failure if political structures weren't put in place that would continue the lowered pace of attacks? But isn't a major component of our current strategy arming/paying/working with groups that will undermine any structures set up by the national government?

Each point that you raise is valid, Charlie, which is why anyone who claims victory -- or even that the surge is "successful" -- does so prematurely. There would have been a drawdown in the next few months, regardless of how Iraq was doing. That said, I think that your third point is the key one, and I don't know that it's clear that our policy of coopting indigious armed groups (for lack of a better term -- we're talking non-al Quada, non-foreign fighter groups) will inevitably result in a revolt against a central civilian government.

A lot will depend on the next few months, including whether we see a professional, nonsectarian officer corps begin to arise in the Iraqi Army. The ideal model may be something like the Turkish experience although we are a very long way from that model at this point (and it's not clear that we'll get there).

Anyone know what - if anything - has changed since November last year, when it was made clear to Congress that public statements by the Defense Department "severely distorted the true nature of Iraqi force development in ways that grossly exaggerate Iraqi readiness and capability to assume security tasks and replace U.S. forces." cite

Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a year ago that the Pentagon's Aug. 31 status report, which was sent to Congress, lists 312,400 men "trained and equipped" among the Iraqi army and national and regular police. But it adds that "no one knows how many . . . are actually still in service." At the same time, he writes, "all unclassified reporting on unit effectiveness has been cancelled."

From Cordesman's December 2007 report:

The December report reflects real progress, but it is a level of progress in the Iraqi Army that indicates it will take at least through 2009 to achieve some of the goals set for 2008. The report’s coverage of the police and other security forces is partial at best. The report does not address the fact that it will take additional years to create Iraqi military forces capable of defending Iraq. The data on progress in creating an effective mix of National police, local police, facilities protection forces, and the security elements of “Concerned Local Citizens” seem to reflect the devolution of the police from a nationally trained and equipped force to a locally and regionally dominated mix of police and local security forces with strong sectarian, tribal, and ethnic elements. Equally important, the report continues to describe progress in creating a rule of law in broad, national terms, without describing the problems in creating effective courts, jails, and the other instruments of law and criminal justice at the local and regional level. It is unclear that real progress can be made in these areas before far more progress is made in accommodation, and it may well be three to five more years before a reasonably stable mix of police, courts, and a heavily “federalized” rule of law can emerge.

anyone who claims victory -- or even that the surge is "successful" -- does so prematurely

But that's just it, von -- maybe there's "progress" -- so what? At this stage, with this amount of lives and treasure sunk down the hole in Iraq, it's too late for claims of "progress" to have any meaning. And as other point out above, the lack of a political solution -- the goal of the surge, for which we as a nation were supposed to endure the higher casualty rates -- means that this so-called "progress" is temporary at best.

(And also as other have pointed out -- "progress" of lowering the casualty rate to the rate of 2005? Big deal.)

I don't think anyone doubted that a temporary "surge" in military forces would have some short-term effect. But the benchmarks the surge was supposed to provide the breathing room to achieve are nearly a total failure. As I predicted at the time, the surge has actually achieved its purpose vis-a-vis the Republican Party -- it didn't achieve its stated goals at all, but it did provide some "progress" General Petraeus -- and now, you -- could point to to argue for punting this failure of a war in the lap of the next, probably Democratic, President.

Then, let the dolchstosslegende begin.

Charles' graphs show clearly that the violence had peaked *before* the troop surge. We know also that the strategy of both Sunni and Shia leaders had changed earlier in the year. Thus to attribute the decline to the surge is a non-sequitur. It is especially silly to argue that declining violence is a reason to keep troop levels high - would Charles be arguing that troop levels should be reduced if violence had increased?

Charles' graphs show clearly that the violence had peaked *before* the troop surge. We know also that the strategy of both Sunni and Shia leaders had changed earlier in the year. Thus to attribute the decline to the surge is a non-sequitur. It is especially silly to argue that declining violence is a reason to keep troop levels high - would Charles be arguing that troop levels should be reduced if violence had increased?

von: A lot will depend on the next few months, including whether we see a professional, nonsectarian officer corps begin to arise in the Iraqi Army.

And whether a professional, nonsectarian officer corps can be retained in the US Army. (The Army's Other Crisis)

Maybe this time, Charles will respond to the point many people make about the surge strategy being non-operable for more than, at best, another year.

Maybe this time, Charles will explain to those who have asked him repeatedly how the surge can fix the apparently unresolvable political differences between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that are the root problem in Iraq and which the surge to date has not yet fixed.

Maybe this time, Charles will admit that his surge statistics are patently dishonest, considering that even by his own reckoning the casualty decreases begin before the surge starts, and that he uses an artificially shortened timeframe to make things appear rosier.

Maybe this time, Charles will actually address the basic point that the Iraqi civil war has by this point eliminated or segregated most of the mixed-ethnicity neighborhoods which were the flashpoints for strife in Iraq, and that the sole benefit of the surge is that it's temporarily preventing the all-out war that's the likely next step in this bloody conflict.

...nahhhhhhhh...

It would indeed be useful, and I think more honest, to make your plots start when the invasion did.

I'm copying and pasting a graph, DCA. I see no dishonesty in that. Personally, I'm more interested in how the current surge strategy is doing in comparison to the failed strategy of the pre-Petraeus era. No one is stopping you from plotting out all the prior months.

Can you please point me to a post of yours at any time in the past that lays down the bottom-line conditions, without which you will be unable to maintain a wait-and-see approach?

I already did, Charley. If there wasn't discernible progress by year-end, I would have advocated a change to Plan B, full stop. The main point here is that the administration finally worked its way to a strategy that I've urged for quite some time, as early as April 2004. I wanted the administration and Congress to give the COIN strategy a fair chance to succeed or fail. It's been given that chance (grudgingly), and based on how things are going, I think Petraeus has earned the additional time to see it continue forward. Successful counterinsurgency strategies take time, usually five to ten years. To see results this quickly is surprising.

That's one classy guy.

Thomas leaves, then Charles writes two front-page posts at RS in two days. I think I see a connection, Johnny.

Personally, I'm more interested in how the current surge strategy is doing in comparison to the failed strategy of the pre-Petraeus era.

And plainly, you're not that interested even in "how the current surge strategy" is doing, since you've been cut-and-pasting these graphs without noticing that the decline in casualties pre-dates the surge in troop levels.

The main point here is that the administration finally worked its way to a strategy that I've urged for quite some time, as early as April 2004.

The main point for most of us is that you have never once written a post about Iraq without claiming that "progress is being made". It's true that in the infamous "loser-defeatist" post of November 2005, you did urge more US troops in Iraq - but only four days later, you asserted American Forces Should Withdraw in Six Months - that is, on November 21 2005 you claimed "There will be troop reductions in 2006, and why not. By August of next year, there will be 270,000 trained Iraqis to do it."

You were wrong then. You've always, without exception, been wrong in every guess you've made about the future of Iraq, and every guess you've made has always been along the same lines: Progress is being made! Give it another six months, or another year, and you'll see! You were claiming this two years ago. You will doubtless be claiming this right up until January 2009, assuming a Democratic candidate is elected and gets to take office then, and even after, if a Republican gets into the White House again.

Backing up skeptoconomist: the surge is obviously not responsible for the drop in violence. It's pretty easy to find the real causes:

1) Petreus surrendered to the insurgents. He gave them political control of the Sunni provinces, and paid tribute in the form of weapons and money. Obviously they mostly stopped shooting at us, and now they are able to establish basic anti-criminal control to cut back on civilian violence.

2) The Brits surrendered to the Shia in Basra. They just left, no tribute, but apparently that was enough.

3) The ethnic cleansing in Baghdad is now largely complete. http://thinkprogress.org/2007/09/06/sunni-shia-baghdad/

The success of Petreus' surrender and the British departure shows we should have gone home years ago. For us, for the Iraqis, for justice, and for peace. The biggest problem for the Iraqis has been the US Army shooting at de facto governments like the Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army, resulting in anarchy and the usual attendant horrors. If the US had left or even stayed in its barracks that part would not have happened. The ethnic cleansing and civil wars between the various de facto governments were probably inevitable once the US invaded, but they got fought out anyway in spite of the US presence.

The surge was a typically sophisticated PR ploy by the administration. They knew the civil war was going to wind down by looking at the effects of ethnic cleansing on violence levels. Then they wasted a lot of money, lives, and happy families sending extra troops over to disguise their real strategy, surrender, so they could keep posing as manly men. The disgusting part is that the MSM, and consequently the general populace, seems to be falling for it. Bleah.

(No Free Lunch) It's good, that after years of failure, the Bush Administration was willing to try what the generals recommended in the first place, a large enough occupation force to make a difference.

No. The "surge" isn't even close to what was needed for that. We needed about 400,000 - well over twice what we had in the "surge". We would also have needed to be able to communicate effectively with the civilian population on a platoon level, and that's never been available either.

A large force might have been able to support the Iranian puppet regime we're supporting into complete control of the country. But the force we're providing isn't large enough for that, and the basis for the "success" we're seeing is that the US has largely stopped supporting the Badr brigades' attempt to take over the country by attacking their rivals.

Yes and yes, which means that when the surge ends, as it must, all these purported gains will likely vanish. And the Iraqis will pay the price for our hubris.

No, the gains are a result of our soldiers doing *less*, not more. This is basic Hobbes - anarchy is worse than almost any government, and our soldiers have been shooting at the governments. Things will improve further as we withdraw.

"To see results this quickly is surprising."

What results?

Seriously. Sure there has been a drop in violence to the level of 2 years ago, which was at that time unacceptable. But that is only partially due to the surge.

The only results that have meaning in a COIN strategy is assimilation into the mainstream government or at least stoppage of opposition to it.

Neither has occured here. And all the talk about meetings, etc, have turned out to be just that, talk only. There has been no positive action showing either the assimilation pointed out above or even lessening of opposition.

Without the non-surge related ativities, which were taken advantage of by Petraeus, but not initiated by him, there would have been minimal if any drop of violence.

To wit:

The so called "Anbar Awakening" was started by local sheikhs without any assistance form the US until they had already started to achieve something tangible.

Sadr's draw back was not in response to the surge, and in fact started before the surge. It was in reaction to some rogue elements in his militia going beyond what he wanted and was an attempt to regain control. In fact, there is some speculation that he was basically leaving the rogue elements out to dry and be picked off by the US.

Certain areas that were hotbeds of resistance in the past are now "safe", but others have become hot. And watch out for Kirkuk to explode.

The point is that going in was a mistake, and not because it was mishandled. It was a mistake because Iraq was never a threat to us and would never, under Hussein, have colluded with Al Qaeda, which has not even gotten involved, except through proxies, since we entered Iraq.

The central government has less control, due to the "bottom up" process you mention than it ever did. And there is nothing we can do to strengthen it.

The different factions have refused to take advantage of the lessening of violence and have not even made any serious movements toward conciliation. I refuse to use the word reconciliation as it implies that something existed in the past which really never did.

I appreciate your efforts, CB, but I really don't see the progress you are talking about.

Thank you Charles. That wasn't a trivial post. I still think it was a mistake to go in and it's still being very poorly conducted from a strategic standpoint, but ignoring signs of progress, of whatever sort, doesn't help anyone. We're supposed to be the reality based community. We should take all the information available and work with that.

"I appreciate your efforts, CB, but I really don't see the progress you are talking about."

The only meaningful "progress" in Iraq would be "progress" in developing a representive, accepted, competent, partially non-corrupt, Iraqi government.

It's not a subject Charles is willing to discuss, so far as I can tell.

I literally have been unable to get Charles to address the topic, either here or in e-mail. He simply responds to questions about the Iraqi government with answers about what the U.S. government says, does, or thinks, or says he's not interested in talking about it.

I invite him to do otherwise, and write a post about the Iraqi's "progress" in becoming a "unified, democratic and federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself and is an ally."

How's that unification coming? How's that being our "ally" coming, when Iraq was the only Arab country unwilling to come to Annapolis to talk about Israel and Palestine?

That's all that matters.

Von says: "I don't know that it's clear that our policy of coopting indigious armed groups (for lack of a better term -- we're talking non-al Quada, non-foreign fighter groups) will inevitably result in a revolt against a central civilian government."

Progress! We don't know for sure there will be an inevitable revolt. Who doesn't want to cheer?

Oh, boy! Groundhog Day came early this year. I guess some adjustment is in order with regard to the meaning of Punxsutawney Phil's reaction to his shadow. Winter can't possibly end this soon.

How can you claim Petreaus should have been Time's man of the Year and in the same post quote this.

"We should remember that Iraq's political system is still in its early stages of development. Its leaders are trying both to establish a government in the midst of what is still considerable violence and trying to resolve truly fundamental issues."

That is simply not a true statement. Iraq's "leaders" are jockying for position for the post occupation. Unless you mean Petreaus should have been man of the year for the type of reasons Putin was chosen.

I fear next year Condi will begin efforts to replace the current Iraqi leadership. A move that will only make matters worse IMO.

But there's no other choice. The administration needs a scapegoat for this mess and history shows they aren't about to take responsibility.

So while I appreciate Charles' effort to put lipstick on this pig, I won't be kissing it.

This post consists essentially of an un-analysed and uncritical reproduction at length of a DoD report to Congress which, for understandable reasons, is itself far more rosy than direct statements of commanders in the field. Charles tells us that "Successful counterinsurgency strategies take time, usually five to ten years. To see results this quickly is surprising", but I don't see any reference to the principles of counter-insurgency or the relevant precedents to back up this assertion.

The goal of counter-insurgency is to impose your preferred political solution through military means. Every day that the US has more than, let's say, 50k troops in Iraq is a day that they are losing the war. In that sense, reinforcements ('the surge') are a step backwards, a step backwards taken in the hope that it will allow two steps forward. Short-term operational successes are easily achieved when a technologically-advanced counter-insurgency possesses sufficient force and a reasonably coherent tactical plan (which the US amazingly lacked until this past year). Yet those two steps forward must occur on the strategic level, and their absence history has shown time and again that operational gains are fleeting.

The surge is a gamble, for these operational gains have been achieved at the cost of making the security situation even more dependent on US forces. Lacking an improved strategic position, when those forces are reduced in number you may find yourself in a worse situation than when you began, i.e. you've taken one step backwards without the two steps forward.

Statistical quibbling aside, the missing graph here is that showing US force strength, daily mission totals, aerial support dailies etc.. That graph has obviously risen greatly, perhaps it is at its apex now, which the opposite of where it needs to be. You win a counter-insurgency when your soldiers leave, and the political solution you desired remains in place. You cannot at all assess the success of your counter-insurgency when your military efforts are at their maximum.

The irony is, therefore, that the surges opponents like to stress that non-surge factors account for the reduction in violence, not realising that this is in fact the strongest argument available that the strategic situation is improving (not convincing to my mind, just the strongest available argument). That is why, when you parse the statements of Petreus and his commanders you will see that they walk a discursive tightrope, needing to stress that their operational efforts are effective (surely with a mind that history will testify that the army at least did its job), without being too effective, since this would mean that in fact strategic objectives are drifting further away.

So the final irony, I guess, is that the now-legendary six month timeframe is perhaps, for the first time, actually the relevant waiting period.

I would add that I agree with the statements above with regard to caving in to local authorities. If validating and abetting the authorities of regional groups was not contrary to America's original strategic goals, it could have been done 3 years ago. I suspect that strategic goals are in flux - there may be an element of Washington hedging against a future antagonistic relationship with the central government in Baghdad. Although that's probably attributing too much strategic vision to this administration.

The main point for most of us is that you have never once written a post about Iraq without claiming that "progress is being made".

Factually false, Jes, and that's just one example. You can do better than making such wrong assertions. You've done this sort of smear before, so consider this a posting rules warning.

He simply responds to questions about the Iraqi government with answers about what the U.S. government says, does, or thinks, or says he's not interested in talking about it.

Not true, Gary. This was my last comment on the subject. Perhaps you missed it.

Factually false, Jes, and that's just one example.

Gosh, Charles, I guess you forgot the third paragraph you wrote in that post you just linked to. It said, to remind you:

The surge strategy is in process but won't be at full manpower until later this month. At best, there will be three full months from the time of full troop mobilization to General Petraeus' September briefing on the status of Iraq. It is no coincidence that the next round of funding requests will also occur at that time. For me, I'm giving the surge strategy 'til the end of the year, so I'm reserving judgment on how it is working. There are small signs of progress, such as the salvation councils popping up in the provinces surrounding Baghdad. But there are plenty of signs of little-to-no progress, the most prominent being the lack of political breakthroughs on the national stage.
You can do better than making such obviously wrong assertions. Please don't try to turn a factual reference to your past posts into claims that I'm "smearing" you by pointing out what you actually said.

"Not true, Gary. This was my last comment on the subject. Perhaps you missed it."

I didn't miss it, Charles. I responded here. Perhaps you missed it.

Could we discuss the Iraqi government now?

Let's go back to this: It remains perfectly true that "the Iraqi government's belief and policy is that the 'awakenings' are arming the Sunni enemy for future civil war against the Iraqi government," does it not?

If you mention anything about America, or an opinion of an American, I swear I'll scream. I'm not asking you about America, or anything about any American, or anything any American has ever said or done, or ever will say or done. I don't want to know a freaking thing about anything related to America in this discussion. I want to ask about Iraq, Iraqis, and the Iraqi government. If could please -- given that I've literally asked you this over eight times now -- be responsive, and confine your discussion to Iraq, Iraqis, and the Iraqi discussion.

So, if you might finally answer the question?

And then maybe we might finally talk about Iraq, rather than America.

Charles, are yu in favor of a tax increae to pay for the war? Are you in favor of continuing to cut taxes for the rich during the war? If you decide to rationalize that we can afford the war without a tax increase, would you please specify want other expenditures can be cut to offset the costs of the war. Please only list expendidtures which actually can be cut, given political realities.

Or are you just going to leave it to your children to pay for this?

BTW sincepakistan has real rterrorists, some of whom are in thier military and their intelligence services, and since Pakistan has nukes, and do you favor an innvasion there?

It's a nice looking graph and seems promising for the current situation in Iraq. However, the graph is incomplete. The war started in 2003 and it only goes back to 2005. Presumably, the number of civilian deaths also decreased between 2003 and 2005. Is there any reason to think that this is anything more than the bottom of the sine wave, just before the next big explosion (whether due to al Qaeda, locals outraged at what US troops/the Iraqi government/whoever else are doing, or other reasons)? And the military deaths don't show so much a trend as a pattern of random variation. I'm skeptical that this represents any real breakthrough, though I'd be pleased to be wrong.

But that's just it, von -- maybe there's "progress" -- so what? At this stage, with this amount of lives and treasure sunk down the hole in Iraq, it's too late for claims of "progress" to have any meaning. And as other point out above, the lack of a political solution -- the goal of the surge, for which we as a nation were supposed to endure the higher casualty rates -- means that this so-called "progress" is temporary at best.

I don't know whether Charles is making the claim that, all things equal, the current progress (such as it is) justifies the invasion of Iraq. I'm not. I am not even certain that I was wrong to oppose the surge (as I did; see here: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2007/01/the_surge.html and here: http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2007/02/yugoagogo.html). But I do think that measurable progress is being made and I am certainly open to the idea that I misjudged the surge, and that it really was the best of a series of bad alternatives. Indeed, I rather hope that I was mistaken about it.

All this is well and good, but we still lack an exit strategy. The Bush 50-year plan seems right on track for implementation. Big fat embassy, dozens of little military bases and walls dotting the country, plans for troop draw-downs that never actually result in troop withdrawl, no political reconciliation a la N./S.Korea, and a Vietnam-like insistence that we have to "stay till we win" against enemies we repeatedly claim to have beaten.

If Petraeus can cut this shit sandwich in half before Jan '09, then fantastic. Good for him. But after going down a $1 trillion in the hole for this war, I don't see the benefit of sinking another $1 trillion over another four more years, because we feel like we owe somebody something.

So Charles

...are we back to pre-invasion oil production?

...are we back to pre-invasion civilian casualties?

...are we back to pre-invasion electrical production?

...are we back to pre-invasion food production?

...are we back to pre-invasion civil infrastructure.

Did we find the smoking gun..er..eh..Nukes yet?

Did we find the peace and stability we were promise.

Enough Charles, whatever happens now, will never atone for the sins of those who supported this war.

Here's a letter to the editor of the NYT of mine from Monday, June 02, 2003.

Show me what you were writing back then and compare.

----- Original Message -----
From: sb12
To: oped@nytimes.com ; letters@nytimes.com
Cc: safire@nytimes.com
Sent: Monday, June 02, 2003 12:01 PM
Subject: Strong exception to William Safire's article of 2 June 2003


Dear Editor,

I must take strong exception to William Safire's article of 2 June 2003.

Mr. Safire in a column published on 2 June 2003 tries to morph a concern of some parties, into the objections of all who opposed the war in Iraq when he says "That presumption of a bloody, last-ditch defense was also the basis for objections to the war". This is a straw man argument if there ever was one. This was certainly not the paramount argument for the vast majority of those who objected to the war. Additionally, those who were against this war were not then, nor are they now "the opponents of this genocidal maniac's removal" Just as I would suppose that Mr. Safire's not calling for timely U.S. military intervention in Rwanda, would not indicate his support for the genocide 700,000 or so souls, I would ask that he extend the same courteously to those who believe the Iraqi war unwise.

Having served in the U.S. military I was sure of our swift military victory, we are the best, how could it not be, we spend approximately 400 times more on our armed services than Iraq. Rarely, if ever, has a nation been so outgunned. No Mr. Safire, those who objected to the war had other objections.

On the off chance that the argument "last-ditch defense was also the basis for objections to the war" was advanced based on ignorance, I list the following reasons to object to the Iraqi war for Mr.Safire's edification: Distraction from our war on terror (where on earth is Osama?), There are not now, nor have there ever been any meaningful links between Osama and Sadam (there is far more evidence against Pakistan's Musharif...regime change anyone?), Budget (Mr. Safire might not have noticed the record deficits, but recent events do prove conclusively that Democrats are the fiscally conservative party), Chaos in the aftermath (conservatives suddenly want to start nation building, see Mr. Safires columns on Kosovo), Wars of Aggression (see Nuremberg), Finally, there is a moral obligation to do the least harm in obtaining our nations goals. Was war and its attendant consequences the only route or did it simply provide better photo ops and sound bites for an administration beset by economic failure and an inability find and destroy Osama's minions?

As for Mr. Safire's argument on chemical weapons (what happened to the nuclear weapons?), did Mr. Safire really mean to argue that U.S. military expended this much effort to go after a couple empty trailers? C'mon Bill, I'd rather have the CIA plant something, than to go forward with this laughable farce. Chemical weapons leave chemical traces, you don't have to spend your life in Anniston, Alabama to understand this.

Now we come to the least credible of Safire's arguments. We wanted to spare the people from the cruel rule of Sadam. This would be a noble cause were it not for the fact that there is a rather long paper trail that links the U.S. Government, and in particular, the Reagan/Bush Sr.administration to Sadam. Did not the Reagan/Bush Sr. Administration materially support Sadam in his war against Iran? Why were conservatives strangely quiet when the Sadam gassed the Kurds back in 1988, or for that matter when Sadam killed the crewman of the U.S. Navy Frigate Stark? Could it be that Republicans didn't mind the killing in Iraq as long as Sadam served our purposes? As for the killings in 1991, it was Bush Sr. who initiated that action, by publicly encouraging Shiites in the South and Kurds in the North to rise against Sadam and then denying them the material support they so desperately needed. I have yet to hear President Bush II utter a word of condemnation against his feckless father. No, it is Bush Sr. whose hands will forever bear the stains of that massive bloodbath. Those who did not support this war, have nothing to do with that massacre, let's get that straight Mr.Safire!

Americans, are said to have a short memory, as to whether that is true I am unsure, however, I am certain Mr. Safire must have thought the Nation has developed dementia to have been so caviler with his misapplied arguments.

Charles,

Though I'll happily take the mix-up as a compliment, you were responding to me here and not CharleyCarp:

Can you please point me to a post of yours at any time in the past that lays down the bottom-line conditions, without which you will be unable to maintain a wait-and-see approach?

I already did, Charley. If there wasn't discernible progress by year-end, I would have advocated a change to Plan B, full stop.


Your actual quote from January 2007:
Quite frankly, it appears to me that those advocating unilateral withdrawal must also believe that Iraq is a lost cause. It is a defeatist position. I believe it's premature to think that, but I'm closer today to thinking we've lost than a year ago. But if we go down, I'd rather go down after making every effort to make it work. The Petraeus plan looks to be one of the last and best tries. If we've made no discernible progress by this November, I may just put myself in the defeatist camp and call for a phased drawdown.
What. Ever.

I figure I have no one but myself to blame, though. Here's the intro to January's piece again:

January 26, 2007
The most important thing right now
by Charles
Had Iraq clearly been on the path of becoming a free, peace, non-theocratic representative republic, the GOP would have been in the majority today (in my opinion), missteps by Republicans in Congress notwithstanding. The fault for the embarrassing loss last November can be squarely laid at the feet of George W. Bush.

Sorry, bad post on my part.

The what-ever comes from the objective standard for success/failure being, "We've not failed until I tell you we've failed". Disdain for the "The most important thing" lead-in comes from that thing being, apparently, domestic politics.

Another entirely predictable feature of these periodic things from Charles is that there's no consideration of all of the real criteria for successful counter-insurgency work. It probably bears some repetition that according to the US Army's own manual on the subject, the US occupying force in Iraq meets none of the major criteria. Not enough people, not enough trained people, not enough attention to infrastructure, and of course not enough attention to justice - no protection from capricious arrest and capricious killing by authorities, no punishment of the authorities for such things, no system of justice open to the locals and administered by people they have any reason to trust, and so on. Indeed, on this count, just the opposite - the US is moving farther away from the most basic accountability, and no matter how much our media authorities lie about it and help cover it up, the people we're occupying know full well what they're subject to.

We've disqualified ourselves from ever winning hearts and minds, and the only alternatives are capitulation to local authorities (however good or bad they may be, whether Iraq has the next Gandhi or the next Idi Amin) and brute-force occupation in the manner of Hitler, Stalin, Tojo, and the like. All of Charles' blather about stability in the absence of attention to the basics of law and justice is implicitly an endorsement of the latter, the expression of the hope that we can be brutal enough to do the job and the belief that this is a good thing for us to be. If he were at all serious about wishing anything better, he'd have to give sustained attention to whether we occupy with anything that might be called a conscience, and that's just off the table for the War Party.

Isn't the general right-blog position now that iraq is working, they were right all along, there's nothing to discuss?

And anyway, getting out of a war when there are signs of progress is like selling a stock when it's rising. That's as bad as buying when the stock is falling, and nobody would do either one except half the people in each trade.

Mr. Bird, I don't think you understand the deepest problem with your graphs. They reflect estimates only, and thus some part of the improvements you cite may simply reflect a change in the estimation methods. Plenty of highly credible professionals, publishing in peer-reviewed journals (Lancet and John's Hopkins), have suggested that the US DOD has grossly underestimated the civilian death toll, so those curves may represent largely statistical noise. And those problems clearly exist, but you analysis has a different, more central problem.

I have family in Northern Ireland, and I have no doubt that the record of some of their experiences during the Troubles exists as numbers in a graph somewhere; indeed, some Pentagon briefer has probably plugged the numbers into a PowerPoint presentation on the prospects for counter-insurgency warfare.

But to my family, that history has meaning that numbers cannot convey. We know its significance in our own bodies, in our own blood. If you read about the hunt for the Bismarck in World War II, you can learn the tonnages, the death tolls, but when Ted Briggs, last of the "Hood" survivors, tells his story, his voice has notes in it I think only a shipwreck survivor can truly comprehend.

And since numbers cannot convey what these deaths, this nightmare have meant to the families of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, so they cannot help up predict, either optimistically or pessimistically, what will happen to the political process that you need going forward.

The signposts do not look good; the political progress has not taken place yet, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland paralyzed the political process for a full decade after the end of active combat. But we can still hope that the Iraqis, having stared into an abyss more terrible than any in the recent history of Ireland, will decide to compromise.

You can do better than making such obviously wrong assertions.

Jes, the overall tenor of the post was of no progress or reversal. That's why it was a tough month, hence the title. The signs of small progress were overwhelmed by the casualty figures and the violence, so please stop trying to cherry-pick and weasel around. Oh, and here's another post on our lack progress. Here's a hint:


However, because of the lack of progress and the continuing lousy security situation, we [the Dissatisfieds] are also increasingly concerned and increasingly frustrated about how things are going, and are looking for the Bush administration to push harder, smarter and faster.

One other thing. Because of your past lies and mischaracterizations of my writings and views, I told you that I was going to stop dialoguing with you, and you agreed that you would stop dialoguing with me. There was no expiration date on that agreement, nor should there be given your latest offering. So please do us all favor. Be a woman of your word and live up to your end of the bargain.

Gary, asked and answered. The Iraqi PM supports the arming of Sunni tribes, provided the requisite controls are in place. Al Maliki represents the Iraqi government, so that's what the Iraqi government thinks. Why would al Maliki be accepting of something if he thought that such acts would foment civil war?

They reflect estimates only, and thus some part of the improvements you cite may simply reflect a change in the estimation methods.

John, the civilian casualty figures are facts, verified by indendent press reports. I encourage you to go to the ICCC site and see for yourself. The military casualty figures are also facts, taken straight from DoD by ICCC. The studies from Lancet are estimates, not facts. I don't discount that there will continue to be sectarian tensions, and the Golden Mosque bombing sparked a considerable amount of it. But pre Feb-2006 (but less so today), there were plenty of mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities with mixed populations, living together. I suspect that most everyday people are OK with living among other types of Muslims, Christians, Turkmen, Uzidis, etc., but there is an ongoing problem with both Sunni and Shiite religious extremists.

Enough Charles, whatever happens now, will never atone for the sins of those who supported this war.

I'm not asking for atonement, Brennan. I'm most interested in finding the best approaches for turning the situation around, or at the least making the best of a poorly conceived and executed situation. To answer your non-rhetorical questions, oil production and electricity are at or exceeding Saddam-era levels. U.S. military casualties are at an all-time low. I don't know the answers to food production and civilian infrastructure. My guess is that the food supply is OK since we're not hearing MSM tales of starvation and malnutrition. The civilian infrastructure was pretty bad before we invaded, so I would think that it's likely better but not by much.

Aren't there genuine logistical difficulties with continuing the surge at present levels?

The strategy is ongoing, Charley, and Petraeus answers troop-level questions in my second update.

Wasn't the whole deal here that the thing had to be temporary, and that it would be a failure if political structures weren't put in place that would continue the lowered pace of attacks?

The troop manpower levels are temporary, but the strategy is not. Successful COINs can take up to 10 years, and a key to sustaining the plan is the training of Iraqi forces to C1/C2 levels. The Iraqis initially set a political timetable that was unrealistic. We've now had three months of relative calm, so I'm willing to give the strategy a chance to continue.

But isn't a major component of our current strategy arming/paying/working with groups that will undermine any structures set up by the national government?

I believe that's one of the issues the national government will have to decide, specifically, how much power is held by the national government and how much is accorded the provinces.

Doesn't Sadr's strategy of waiting out the surge make these statistics seriously misleading?

I believe the strategy gets partially credit for motivating Sadr to stand down. That, and the fact that he lost control of his paramilitia at Karbala last August. If he's trying to wait out the strategy, it's going to be awhile.

What if the Iraqis don't want to be unified, democratic, or federal?

Then they'll have to rewrite their constitution, Russell. I've seen no indication of their wanting to do that.

What if they aren't interested in being our ally in the war on terror?

I'd rather not speculate.

What if the Iraqis respond to this progress by saying, "We'd like you to go home now"?

Then we should go home. However, last month the government made an agreement with the U.S. to have our forces in Iraq for the time being. There's no doubt they want us to leave, but not in a manner that will degrade the situation.

Maybe this time, Charles will respond to the point many people make about the surge strategy being non-operable for more than, at best, another year.

I did respond, MGK. The strategy and troops levels are two separate issues.

Maybe this time, Charles will explain to those who have asked him repeatedly how the surge can fix the apparently unresolvable political differences between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that are the root problem in Iraq and which the surge to date has not yet fixed.

All we can do is create the best possible environment for political progress to occur. Beyond that, your question is unanswerable because none of us has a crystal ball and none of us can foresee how political events will happen. I'm not going to make any forecasts, and I don't know if enough political progress will take place that we can say Iraq is a success.

Maybe this time, Charles will admit that his surge statistics are patently dishonest, considering that even by his own reckoning the casualty decreases begin before the surge starts, and that he uses an artificially shortened timeframe to make things appear rosier.

I won't admit dishonesty because there is nothing dishonest with cutting and pasting a graph which takes its data from independent press reports. I also linked directly to that data source. Because of that, I wholly reject your smear.

Maybe this time, Charles will actually address the basic point that the Iraqi civil war has by this point eliminated or segregated most of the mixed-ethnicity neighborhoods which were the flashpoints for strife in Iraq, and that the sole benefit of the surge is that it's temporarily preventing the all-out war that's the likely next step in this bloody conflict.

The flashpoint for the sectarian strife was the Golden Mosque bombing, followed by Shiite paramilitia death squads and their going after Sunni military age males, coupled with al Qaeda suicide bombings. I'm unconvinced that "all-out war" is an inevitable endpoint.

Petreus surrendered to the insurgents.

Curt, the coalition had been talking to the Sunni tribes for quite a while about joining forces against al Qaeda, and they finally agreed in Dec-2006. That's a diplomatic and military success, not a surrender. On your second point, the Brits did surrender Basra. On your third point, Baghdad neighborhood are now more homogeneous than before, but we're starting to see a net return of the internally displaced. We'll see if that trend continues.

The surge was a typically sophisticated PR ploy by the administration.

So this manual is also part of the ploy? The general is going by the book that he wrote.

Charles Bird,

"Iraq's oil production has yet to reach levels attained before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 as the country struggles with sectarian fighting and attacks on its energy infrastructure."

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Shenk in New York at mshenk1@bloomberg.net ; Nesa Subrahmaniyan in Singapore at nesas@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: January 2, 2008 16:02 EST

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&sid=aqVlMdAxVyzM&refer=canada

...but I don't see any reference to the principles of counter-insurgency or the relevant precedents to back up this assertion.

I don't believe I'm obligated to link to the COIN every I time a post on the strategy, byrning, but here it is.

The goal of counter-insurgency is to impose your preferred political solution through military means.

I don't see that goal anywhere in the manual. Here's a relevant excerpt:

1-3. Political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate. Insurgents use all available tools—political (including diplomatic), informational (including appeals to religious, ethnic, or ideological beliefs), military, and economic—to overthrow the existing authority. This authority may be an established government or an interim governing body. Counterinsurgents, in turn, use all instruments of national power to sustain the established or emerging government and reduce the likelihood of another crisis emerging.

1-4. Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule. Achieving this condition requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as feasible. This can include eliminating those extremists whose beliefs prevent them from ever reconciling with the government. Over time, counterinsurgents aim to enable a country or regime to provide the security and rule of law that allow establishment of social services and growth of economic activity. COIN thus involves the application of national power in the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure fields and disciplines. Political and military leaders and planners
should never underestimate its scale and complexity; moreover, they should recognize that the Armed Forces cannot succeed in COIN alone.

Charles, are yu in favor of a tax increae to pay for the war?

At this time, no, Wonkie. As a percentage of GDP, our deficit is OK.

Are you in favor of continuing to cut taxes for the rich during the war?

No.

Or are you just going to leave it to your children to pay for this?

Like we've done 39 out of the last 40 years? Yes.

BTW sincepakistan has real rterrorists, some of whom are in thier military and their intelligence services, and since Pakistan has nukes, and do you favor an innvasion there?

No, because Pakistan has 60 atomic bombs and 165 million people, to name just two reasons.

Charles: "Al Maliki represents the Iraqi government, so that's what the Iraqi government thinks."

Let's discuss this further. As I said (many many many times), I'd like to discuss the Iraqi government with you, without bringing anything related to America into the discussion, as best as possible.

Is it your understanding, then, that Maliki is a dictator of sorts? Everything that Maliki says is gospel as a commitment for the Iraqi government? All Maliki has to do is speak, and whatever he says is authoratively representative of the Iraqi government?

It's not clear to me that you agree with any of those statements, so if you could clarify in fuller sentences your opinions of the above, that would be a next step.

Next I'd ask if you believe there are any other sources of power in the Iraqi government, and if so, who and what they might be? Does Maliki have to deal with any sort of contention?

"Why would al Maliki be accepting of something if he thought that such acts would foment civil war?"

That's a good question, Charles, to which I take it you genuinely have no thoughts?

Is it possible that other parties might have any ability to pressure the Iraqi government?

Is it possible any other governments might have a very large amount of leverage with the Iraqi government?

Can you perhaps think of two possible such candidates?

Might one be a neighbor of Iraq, and another a very large superpower with a very large military?

Do you think that one of those things might conceivably be related to your question?

I look forward to your getting back to me, and our proceeding from this small start to our conversation about the Iraqi government. Thanks!

"But isn't a major component of our current strategy arming/paying/working with groups that will undermine any structures set up by the national government?

I believe that's one of the issues the national government will have to decide, specifically, how much power is held by the national government and how much is accorded the provinces.

Do you believe that progress on this is proceeding: a) not very much at all; b) minimally sufficiently; c) adequately; d) well; e) terrifcally? Please feel free to write a whole few sentences, or even paragraphs, on this question, if you feel at all inclined.
What if they aren't interested in being our ally in the war on terror?

I'd rather not speculate.

Whoa, whoa! All your posts on Iraq are speculation. They're all about What We Should Do For The Future. You argue that "I think we should stick with Plan A" because you point to "trends" you believe you see, and from which you speculate that sticking to Plan A is a good idea.

Is it your argument that "What if they [the Iraqi government] aren't interested in being our ally in the war on terror?" is an unimportant question and issue?

Maybe this time, Charles will explain to those who have asked him repeatedly how the surge can fix the apparently unresolvable political differences between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that are the root problem in Iraq and which the surge to date has not yet fixed.

All we can do is create the best possible environment for political progress to occur. Beyond that, your question is unanswerable because none of us has a crystal ball and none of us can foresee how political events will happen. I'm not going to make any forecasts, and I don't know if enough political progress will take place that we can say Iraq is a success.

This won't do at all, Charles. You're doing nothing but making forecasts of "trends" and using them to justify why you "think we should stick with Plan A."

You can't write monthly posts on "trends," projecting them, and advocating policy based on them, and then claim you're "not going to make any forecasts," because, you know, that's just not true. Saying it would be stating a falsehood: you are making forecasts and advocating policy from them.

Here's the big question: if you "don't know if enough political progress will take place that we can say Iraq is a success," then why, precisely, should America proceed as if it's a likely possibility?

If you can't answer that, all the facts and figures in the world about some other issue DON'T MATTER.

Challenge, Charles: write a front page post about your views on the Iraqi government, and the future of "reconciliation." Let's talk about it from there.

The goal of counter-insurgency is to impose your preferred political solution through military means.

I don't see that goal anywhere in the manual. Here's a relevant excerpt

Um, your excerpt precisely supports the claim.

"Counterinsurgents, in turn, use all instruments of national power to sustain the established or emerging government and reduce the likelihood of another crisis emerging."

"[A]ll instruments of national power" includes "military means." "[T]o sustain the established or emerging government and reduce the likelihood of another crisis emerging" is "to impose [the Iraqi government's] preferred political solution."

I'm not clear how you thought you were disagreeing. Or why.

Or are you just going to leave it to your children to pay for this?

Like we've done 39 out of the last 40 years? Yes.

You're opposed to deficit reduction?

Thanks for your patience in dealing with so many questions!

Hope you had a fine New Year, by the way.

Challenge, Charles: write a front page post about your views on the Iraqi government, and the future of "reconciliation."

Gary's challenge is a fair one, and if accepted would be extremely worthwhile, both for you and the audience at home. I would like to second it.

Brennan,
There's a graph in this link. Iraqi oil production peaked in 1989 and again in 1999 at just over 2.5 million barrels per day. The latest State Department weekly update reported that Iraq is producing 2.5 million barrels per day, "which are back to pre-2003 levels."

Gary's challenge is a fair one, and if accepted would be extremely worthwhile, both for you and the audience at home. I would like to second it.

Since it's been seconded, I'll give it some serious thought to it, sparti.

Is it your understanding, then, that Maliki is a dictator of sorts?

No, al Maliki is a high-ranking representative of the government, so when he speaks, I think it's reasonable to say that he is speaking on behalf of the national government. As for the rest of your questions, see my response to sparti.

Whoa, whoa! All your posts on Iraq are speculation.

My posts on Iraq are about how we have been doing. There are no forecasts. I have been advocating that we stick with the COIN strategy through December so that there is enough time to gauge how it's doing, and my judgment that we stick with the strategy is based on past results.

Charles are you being had or trying to have us?

I'd take Bloomberg's reporters over Condi's Clowns. 'K? At very best your numbers are in dispute by major players.

Then there is this, please don't confuse peace with a lull.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-iraq30dec30,0,1399642,full.story?coll=la-middleeast

Spencer Ackerman says suicide bombings in Iraq, are, in fact, up:

http://toohotfortnr.blogspot.com/2008/01/its-r-e-u-p-g-n-g.html

The studies from Lancet are estimates, not facts.

The studies from the Lancet are based on a sound and well-tested methodology, used in many disaster areas, to calculate what the real death rate is as opposed to the deaths reported. The figures are based on cluster sampling, and will still undercount the real number of violent deaths, but are necessarily far more accurate than any method which counts individually reported deaths, such as the IBC data. See Pajamas Media and Media Lens interviews which clarify the main queries people might have about the Lancet report numbers.

The latest from CB at BW.

Just going to keep typing until typepad lets me postt...

Stopped by RS prompted by hilzoy's piece on Thomas Crown's resignation. Haven't been there in quite a while. Saw the same item Ugh links to.

It cites a Fox News poll to explain why not quite half of all Democrats "personally want the Iraq plan President Bush announced" to fail. It also includes this bon mot:

Democrats (and Chuck Hagel) may not like being called defeatists, but if the word fits, they should wear it.

Hey Charles, you may not like being called a war-mongering shill, but if the word fits, you should wear it.

Right?

Thanks -

The studies from Lancet are estimates, not facts.

Statistics, Charles, statistics.

I think you're dealing in areas that are well beyond your self-described expertise. And I really, really think you should desist from commenting on them until you've studied them enough to understand them (which you clearly do not at the moment).

I'm vastly less interested in debating Charles' partisan statements at Redstate -- I know that Charles is a Republican, and I don't desire him to break off communication with me because I make lots of partisan posts on my blog or here or elsewhere, so I take it as a given that we're both going to make partisan statements in opposite directions that we respectively utterly disagree with and think are nonsense -- than I am in looking forward to Charles' taking me up on his writing a post about his views on the Iraqi government, and the future of "reconciliation," as he said he was giving "serious thought" to here. (Anyone else want to second the request?)

Having said that, and still desiring to pretty much hold on further debate with Charles until he writes that post, let me say that I'd be thrilled if the "surge" "succeeded," but my problem is the premise.

If someone proposed that they were going to flip tiddly winks until they reached a goal of 100,000 winks flipped, so as to bring about a stable, democratic, representative, generally accepted by the Iraqi polity, relatively non-corrupt, Iraqi government, I really wouldn't be interested in their tiddly wink stats, since I wouldn't see how it was relevant to achieving the goal.

When Charles declares, implicitly treating it as an objective fact, that "the strategy is working," my approach is to look to how "the strategy is working" at getting Irag to the goal of a stable, democratic, representative, generally accepted by the Iraqi polity, relatively non-corrupt, Iraqi government.

I don't actually see progress there, and so I fail to see how "the strategy is working" in the slightest.

To me, it looks like tiddly-wink measurement. Which is entirely irrelevant to the goal.

But this is why my goal is to get Charles to talk about Iraqi issues, and the Iraqi government, rather than some other stuff that I don't see as relevant, which is to say, anything having to do with America at all.

Anyone want to therefore second the motion to ask Charles if he would be so kind as to write a post about his views on the Iraqi government, and the future of "reconciliation"?

To be explicit for the record, however, if it should turn out that the various elements of the Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, and many other minority communities and polities, such as they might be, in Iraq suddenly start developing in the next six months, major reconciliation with each other, politically, and otherwise, and make major progress on disarmament, and the elimination of communal violence, I'll leap to cheer, bless that development, and say I was wrong to think it was entirely unlikely to happen in that time span.

I still won't see that it would justify the cost, but I'd be nothing but glad, glad, glad.

Although I have the normal minor amount of initial reluctance to say I was wrong, I long ago got over having more problem than that, I like to (perhaps wrongly, of course!; I'm hardly objective!) delude myself. I've been wrong about endless things major and minor, and I'm wrong on a weekly basis in many things.

Examples abound.

So if we can get to a significantly better situation that saves many lives in Iraq, at the cost of my saying I was wrong about anything: great!

For whatever that's worth.

I'm vastly less interested in debating Charles' partisan statements at Redstate

Hey, fair enough. My comment was most likely out of line, if so, my apologies to CB.

Thanks -

But this is why my goal is to get Charles to talk about Iraqi issues, and the Iraqi government

I agree that that would be great. And, not just Charles.

Why should the Kurds join an Iraqi government? They've had their own de facto state at least since the US enforcement of the no-fly zone. They're reasonably good at it. There's a lot of oil in Kurdish controlled areas, why the hell do they need a federated Iraq?

Why should the Shia trust the Sunnis? They've been the victims of Sunni terror for at least the entire reign of Hussein. What do the Sunnis have that the Shia want or need?

Why should the Sunnis trust the Shia? There's been bad blood between them for generations.

The Sunni areas are not that rich in oil. What do the Sunnis bring to the table that would make either the Kurds or Shia want to deal?

What role should neighbor states play -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria?

Who owns the oil? Who has the right to develop it, and who receives the proceeds?

I'm a middle east dummy, but these are just a few of what look like the salient issues to me. A "unified, democratic and federal Iraq" may be our strategic goal, but it's not at all clear to me how that aligns with the interests of the Iraqis themselves.

I'd like to know how they will be able to sort this out. I'm not sure what help we can offer other than establishing a basic level of security on the ground, and I'm not sure how long we can afford to do that.

Thanks -

What if the Iraqis don't want to be unified, democratic, or federal?

Then they'll have to rewrite their constitution, Russell.

Uh, I don't think this is necessarily so. I can think of lots of ways to achieve the same end without rewriting the Constitution. We managed to end the concept the we are a voluntary union of states, after all, without rewriting ours. Remember how we did it?

I second Gary's interest in a post on national reconciliation and the general subject of Iraqi governance, Charles. I am well aware of gaps in my own knowledge and therefore in my ability to form good judgments about it, and am certainly open to learning both new info and different ways of thinking about it.

von: A lot will depend on the next few months

Yes, the acknowledgement of a criminal, ruinous debacle is always a Friedman unit away...

Jes: And of course we know from the Lancet reports that the IBC body count represents about one-twelfth of the actual deaths in the Iraq war...)

Or not...

The Lancet is seriously questioned in a new article by The National Journal today (h/t Insty). Not really questioned - more like shredded. This is the most comprehensive take down I’ve seen of their numbers. I’ve just given it a quick read but I think it seriously calls into question the credibility of the reports.

Steve, this article just recycles criticisms that have been, to put it mildly, exhaustively examined and responded to by real statisticians and others who work with that kind of analysis. Tim Lambert is the guy who's written the most about such things; some of the contributors to Crooked Timber have also posted about it with their statistics tag. Some of the NR criticisms are purely lacking in factual basis, some come from misunderstanding stats, and some are worth asking but have already been responded to at great length, the responses here being ignored. It is not an honest article.

Bruce: I realize some of it is recycled (and supposedly debunked). Possibly it’s more striking to me seeing the case laid out this way (more comprehensive than I’ve previously seen).

In any case I expect this to get a lot of attention – so put your debunkers on standby!

Well, I personally won't be engaging in much argument about it. I had not one but two fantastic writing-related opportunities come my way yesterday and have a lot to do to get ready for them. I'm just waving at sources. :)

It bothers me, to some degree, how much disagreement there is about the Lancet report.

Not because of methodolgy issues, nor even because of numbers.

Look at it this way. If we totally discounted the Lancet report, and others that have presented far higher numbers than the offical numbers, aren't the official numbers bad enough, and aren't they enough reason for shame?

OCSteve: I’ve just given it a quick read but I think it seriously calls into question the credibility of the reports.

Not really, if you're concerned with the accuracy of the methods and the results. It does very well as an attack on the credibility if you don't like the results and want some kind of justification for not believing them. There isn't a single credible criticism of the Lancet reports in the whole article: merely an amassing of the same tired old stuff.

(Among other things, the article claims that the numbers reported by the first Lancet report didn't correspond to the "the observations of embedded reporters, human-rights activists, and others on the ground in Iraq": this sweeping claim is straightforwardly untrue. The criticisms of the Lancet report have overwhelmingly come from people with limited to no direct experience of wartime conditions in Iraq.)

One more time through the article… I’m not a statistician so I’ll make no attempt to dispute the methodology itself. I’m not qualified. As a layman I’ll just stick to (IMO) common sense. Certainly you may disagree its common sense. ;)

These issues should not be in dispute as they are (supposedly) admitted by those involved in the reports:

-By the authors’ admission, both studies were deliberately timed to influence US elections: “In 2004, Roberts conceded that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the outset, and -- in a much more troubling admission -- said that he had e-mailed the first study to The Lancet on September 30, 2004, "under the condition that it come out before the election." Burnham admitted that he set the same condition for Lancet II. "We wanted to get the survey out before the election, if at all possible," he said.”

-“…the Lancet editor who agreed to rush their study into print, with an expedited peer-review process and without seeing the surveyors' original data, also makes no secret of his leftist politics.”

-Roberts has stated he “…fully understood the need to step beyond peer-review journals and statistical analyses if you are going to do effective public health work in times of war”.

-"I consider myself an advocate," Roberts told an interviewer in early 2007. "When you start working documenting events in war, the public health response -- the most important public health response -- is ending the war."

-“Roberts concedes that the only certain way to collect information for a study of Iraqi war casualties would be through a full census…”

-“Lafta's Falluja death estimate [using the same methodology] was so far off the chart that his colleagues dropped it from the study…”

-“…the journal's reputation has suffered from charges of politicization and a few prominent instances of scientific fraud.”

-Lancet II was commissioned with Soros's money.

-No transparency: “…the authors have declined to provide the surveyors' reports and forms…” (They’re security concerns are valid and admirable, but this renders their findings unscientific as they are not transparent, verifiable, or repeatable.)

-"The authors refuse to provide anyone with the underlying data…" More of the same, but they could easily arrange for specific critics to review the raw data and still maintain confidentiality.

-“…although he defends the methodology, Garfield took his name off Lancet II.”

-”Even Garfield, a co-author of the first Lancet article, is backing away from his previous defense of his fellow authors. In December, Garfield told National Journal that he guesses that 250,000 Iraqis had died by late 2007. That total requires an underlying casualty rate only one-quarter of that offered by Lancet II.”

-Today, the journal's editor tacitly concedes discomfort with the Iraqi death estimates. "Anything [the authors] can do to strengthen the credibility of the Lancet paper," Horton told NJ, "would be very welcome."


These issues are not about statistics or methodology. They are stated/admitted by those involved in producing and publishing these reports. Assuming these are all true (which I have no reason to doubt) I can stop here as this is plenty in and of itself to make the reports highly questionable in my mind – without being a statistician.

If you can show that any of these quotes are inaccurate I’ll reconsider. (I checked the quotes linked to other articles/interviews and they are accurate.) Otherwise I assume that they are accurate and part of the public record. That’s enough for me to question their numbers.

You can suggest that the politics of those involved have no bearing on the accuracy of the reports. To which I can only suggest flipping it around:


I ask you to believe a report showing extremely low civilian casualties in Iraq. I repeatedly cite the report as evidence of what a good job we are doing in being careful about civilian casualties. This report has gotten tons of media and been used as evidence worldwide of how careful the US has been about civilian casualties in Iraq.

Meanwhile, an organization run by Iraqis reports much higher figures based on verified media reports. Statisticians on the left dispute the report’s methodologies, but their dispute gets little media attention.

Then you find out:

-The authors are on the record as being adamantly pro-war.

-They admit to timing the reports to influence elections and bolster support for the neo-cons. In fact an author insisted on that as a condition.

-The editor who expedited the peer-review process and didn’t feel the need to see the surveyors' original data is also on the record as pro-war.

-A lead author states that he fully understood the need to step beyond peer-review journals and statistical analyses if you are going to effectively foster democracy in the ME…that he considers himself an advocate for spreading democracy, by the gun if necessary.

-Same author concedes that the only certain way to collect information for a study of Iraqi war casualties would be through a full census, but hey, this has got to be close.

-The Iraqi in charge of the survey worked with no supervision. He previously (Saddam era) was associated with the Iraqi opposition and advocated an invasion to overthrow Saddam.

-When this Iraqi did a death estimate [using the same methodology] of Falluja, it was so low that even his colleagues dropped it from the study.

-The journal publishing the report had charges of politicization and a few prominent instances of scientific fraud.

-The survey was commissioned by the Heritage Foundation.

-Citing security concerns, the authors refuse to provide anyone with their raw data.

-An author of the first report distances himself from the second, and guesses that the numbers are really much higher.

-The publisher states that anything the authors can do to strengthen the credibility of the report would be most welcome.


If I kept insisting that the report was accurate you guys would laugh me right off of this site…

OCSteve, I understand, although the things you present are more a reason to take what is said with a grain of salt and appropriate scrutiny, rather than dismissal. Which is why I added my comment above.

And, yes, by some you would be laughed off the site, or at least would have been early in your time here.

But even your misguided use of unqualified and phoney experts to dispute GW hasn't gotten you laughed off so the other probably wouldn't now.
(Said with a smile and hopefully taken the same way).

OCSteve,

Your point about dropping Falluja rankles. The Lancet folk dropped the Faluja data from the study because it made the death toll significantly higher. If they had included it, things would have looked worse, not better. Do you understand that? Because I can't imagine that you would cite that point if you knew what it meant...

Also, the Lancet authors have made the underlying data available to other scientists. They have not made the data available to everyone because even with personally identifying information stripped from the data, it is still possible to identify people (I've actually coauthored a paper on reidentification of anonymized datasets, so this isn't a theoretical point for me). If you did reidentify the survey participants, they're lives would be in danger, which is why the data will never be released to the public. I'm sure Malkin and friends would love it if they could make Jamil Husseins out of a few thousand Iraqis and publicly mark them for death, but most scientists can't accept that outcome.

If your National Journal article can't get major details like this right, I'm not sure why I should spend the time debunking the rest of it...

Well, I shouldn't. I've got a wedding to prep for.

Turbulence - I took OCSteve to mean that the Fallujah data was dropped because, had it been included, the much higher death toll that resulted would have strained public belief beyond its breaking point. It points to the authors' rhetorical awareness of the impact of these numbers.

The question then turns on what such a decision means. Does the resultant methodological underreporting indicate moderation or the need to adjust the underlying algorythm.

Given OCSteve's criticisms of global warming data, I can see where his suspicion comes from, even if I personally believe that the actual numbers are probably closer to the Lancet studies' totals than any of us would like.

What a soldier.

Seriously, I just love reading the words of an informed military man, expressing his ideas freely. His sacrifice runs deep.

Has anyone heard from Riverbend of Baghdad Burning in the last month? I know it's going to be hard for her to blog from Syria, but her latest post fills me with dread.

Let's all hope that she's safe (as safe as one can be in her environment).

Thank you Charles. I read the criticisms of your position in the comments, and find many of them contain false questions: hobbyhorses people have had ridden for so many months or years that they are unable to get off, as that would entail actual thinking. I have read very few - perhaps no - critics of the war from the left who have made a clear effort to look at both balance pans on the scale. Only those who can demonstrate that they understand that all choices, active and inactive, have both risks and rewards, positive and negative consequences, have the least hope of persuading reasonable people to their POV.

Not a lot of that here.

What a soldier.

Seriously, I just love reading the words of an informed military man, expressing his ideas freely. His sacrifice runs deep.

This comment seems to be about Andy Olmsted. For the record, this post was by Charles Bird, another blogger at this multi-blogger blog, who is not in the military. Posts are signed. "By Charles" is not by Andy/G'Kar.

A new discovery about freedom in Iraq

The Iraqi people are hungry for democratic freedom and willing to die for it. Many Americans however are voting for the opposite contrast of freedom called socialism this year. Annalists are already predicting a huge sweep of leftists coming into both the U.S. house and senate on the coat tails of the white house this fall. These leftists openly consider christian patriots the enemy of their state even above the terrorists. These people are itching to pass the fairness doctrine to put an end to conservative talk radio. They are already targeting hate legislation aimed directly against all American patriots. They plan a massive overhaul of the judicial system to impose legislation against 1st and 2nd amendment rights.

McCain will make the Iraq war the central issue of this campaign because Obama promises to withdraw our troops regardless if the terrorists declare victory. Christians may have one last chance to grandstand against another Vietnam and the establishment of an anti christian socialistic state in America. But there is now a
new hope!

A new biblical discovery has just been released into the market bringing a miraculous prophecy about Iraq. There are a large number of biblical scriptures which have passed silently under the radar until now.

Iraq is to be freed by a great eagle wings in the latter day prophecy! This is welcome news coming straight from the Bible just before the election. Most Americans still believe in Bible prophecy above political persuasions.

If the war in Iraq represents Gods will actually predicted in Bible prophecy, this may be our chance to unify christians and patriots before this critical election takes place. Obama claims to be a good christian. Could he now become exposed publically for apposing "the great eagle" freeing Iraq in Bible prophecy?
A Salem christian group published an important press release concerning this true Biblical discovery! This stunning declaration comes from one of the most reputable christian publishers in America... www.eternaltruth.net

One critic asked the author how he could possibly announce a discovery about 9/11 and Iraq in Bible prophecy?
"Aren't you exploiting thousands of American deaths within this current war and 9/11 just to sell a book?"

Author.." "That is my greatest consulation! Many people including veterans are purchasing this book witnessing biblical references which prove my research has a foundation in true prophecy. People are witnessing biblical prophecies unfold before their eyes concerning Iraq being freed by modern eagle.

Amazon.com announces on their web sight they have sold out this book and are now ordering more!"
"There are no unsatisfied customers complaining of not receiving any thing less than promised from the author." "There are steady reports of people finding far more than what they ever expected possible.

It would be unforgivable for any author to promise something like this to exploit a national tragedy for book sales." Many lives have been lost including families with children having lost their parents. This author is not letting people down who purchase this book in good faith. We are delivering a true message taken from biblical prophets directed for our time. "I have four children of my own, if my book were to become exposed as a manipulation of biblical text such would forever mark my children's name as well as my own." I actually

found this message in which I am claiming.


I have been blessed to have discovered such a wonderful message deliberately placed into the Bible which

might unite believers together before this election. I need your help because the media ignores everything concerning this discovery. It is very hard to believe this yourself until you witness it first hand.

Author of this book,
Paul Gregersen

Listen now to an educated critic and his expert opinion regarding this miraclulous book.

"Reading this particular book has made me aware of how christians have come to accept biblical spin and less than honest interpretations when reading books on Bible prophecy." When I started reading "Bible prophecies of 9 - 11" the whole idea of 9 - 11 and Iraq being in Bible prophecy admittedly was quite appealing to me.

But it seemed very far fetched and I fully expected to discover another fiction story cleverly masked behind a another "new" biblical declaration. I fully expected to see the familiar hand picking of quotes deliberately coming from the authors’ selection of unrelated texts to manipulate the meaning of Bible text. I've learned that it is a common trick to cleverly combine unrelated verses from separated biblical context in order to stretch readers’ perception beyond the original focus toward the authors’ conclusions, creating the appearance that authors conclusions are also supported by the Bible.

My first surprise while reading this book was to see this author approach things quite differently by laying a biblical foundation from Adam and Eve with the tree of life story, establishing common threads for his entire biblical claim. As the first chapters began to build solidly on biblical themes I quickly realized this particular author was either seriously attempting to link legitimate patterns of bible prophecy, or he was using an even more clever deception to mislead me. This author surprisingly understood the procedure to outline proper types and shadows and stay within one context while linking proper biblical themes. Since the author was not spinning I suspected that he would postpone taking of his liberties until he would be forced into a corner having to demonstrate 9 - 11 towers falling and eagle's wings into modern Iraq.


To my surprise the transition was smooth and never broke context or prophetic flow. Not only was 9 - 11 coming straight from the Bible but almost every highly specific detail, including the number of planes that hit each target, was referenced in the Bible with numerous exact details specifically related to 9 - 11. This book does not just stop there, but continued to unwind the scenario of America going to Iraq spelling out the exact manner of Saddam’s capture and execution. This was a highly unusual book! This book was based on what was written in the Bible and relied solely upon that premise. How do I react to this other than try to convince someone to read it and find out? I feel concerned that christians are so used to being tricked by each cry of wolf that when the real thing appears there will be a little comprehension that something amazing has occurred. I have wracked my mind as to how this could have possibly been fixed and there is no possible way other than Gods prophets deliberately sent us this intentional message about Iraq and 9 - 11. Ross David www.eternaltruth.net


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Iraq is to be freed by a great eagle wings in the latter day prophecy!"

Woo-hoo!

"Aren't you exploiting thousands of American deaths within this current war and 9/11 just to sell a book?"

Author.." "That is my greatest consulation! Many people including veterans are purchasing this book witnessing biblical references which prove my research has a foundation in true prophecy.

Hey, it's as logical as the rest of this stuff.

Of course: "It would be unforgivable for any author to promise something like this to exploit a national tragedy for book sales."

True, dat.

Incidentally, when trying to sell a book to the English-language market, it's best to write the book in English, rather than in Semi-Gibberish.

But enjoy the eagle flying.

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