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May 30, 2008

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I haven't posted here for a few months, so I thought I'd pop in and say "hi". I won't be able to answer any comments 'til tomorrow.

You can't go to Iraq and not have a dog and pony show.

I mean, what are they going to do? Ask to go around Fallujah and Sadr City unguarded? With only a small coterie of guards?

Silly. This is really a risible argument.

And the strategy is not working.

Just for the record, there was a piece in the Washington Post on MARCH 8TH where Obama advisers said he would do a trip to Iraq as soon as he had the nomination secured.
Of course that lasted much longer than expected but what McCain did here is to box Obama in by making it sound as if he "forced" him into an Iraq trip Obama himself had planned months ago.
And the spin works as shown in this entry.

Welcome back, Charles. I see that during your absence you've been sharpening the "stabbed in the back" smear in anticipation of an Obama victory in November.

Just so we’re clear, a "political stunt" would be letting McCain cow him into a joint trip to Iraq. Letting McCain cow him into a solo trip? Not a stunt.

heads we win. tails you lose.

how convenient.

considering that there are strong indicators that the strategy is working*.

has there been a point in the last 5 years when you couldn't find someone willing to speak those words ?

Perhaps you can wait more than a few months for your next post here.

What's up with the asterisks? Did you forget to include whatever footnote they're supposed to refer to or did I miss something in the text?

And the spin works as shown in this entry.

Charles doesn't get spun. He's a self-professed soldier in the Information War(s).

Neither candidate has any business going to Iraq, because the law prohibits using the US military as props in a political campaign. This may seem unnatural to our friends on the right, but it's true.

OK, let's be clear about this.

First, there is no way -- no way at all -- that Obama (or McCain, or Bush) can go to Iraq and "just look around". They will have to have heavy security. Random people will have to be kept away. They will only be able to go to places that have been completely secured, and they will be surrounded by serious numbers of troops.

This is as it should be. When McCain did his stroll through the market, the problem wasn't that he was surrounded by security; it was that for some reason he took what he saw as indicative of normal life.

But it does mean that saying that a Presidential candidate can't know about Iraq without going there is silly. Just ask John McCain, who has been any number of times, but is still clueless.

Second, the stated purpose of the surge was to enable political progress to occur. This is not happening. When it does, I will say that the surge is "working". Not before. (I hope it does.)

Third, whether or not the surge works has nothing to do with whether or not we are "bleeding". We could have kept our casualties down in any number of ways -- not letting soldiers off base, for instance. The surge works if the breathing space we give the Iraqis enables them to arrive at a political accommodation.

Fourth, whether or not the surge was a good idea has to do with more than whether it works. If it works, there are benefits. Whether it works or not, there are also costs -- lives, money, and more. You have to weigh both.

What Hilzoy said. And how she said it.

Man, I could have that on my permanent clipboard to just paste in most ObWi comment threads.

But it does mean that saying that a Presidential candidate can't know about Iraq without going there is silly

Look, nobody knows anything about Iraq unless they go there for themselves to find out. Except for right-wing bloggers sitting at home who believe everything John McCain says--they don't have to go. Also, people who do go to Iraq and still come back unconvinced don't count either.

um, Powers didn't call Clinton a monster on British television. She said it off the record to a reporter, and I am really tired of hearing that out of context. She said she was campaigning like a monster in Ohio, which she was. Get your facts straight.

This post was absurd.

Any Senator who goes to Iraq is going to be presented with hand-picked individuals who will present the administration line.

Ergo, it really is not the best way to find out what's really going on there.

How many McCain Points for spreading today's message have been earned this day?

Is John allowed to use the picture of General Petraeus like that?

Of course he wants Obama to go to Iraq where he will be fragged

The start of the post (above the fold) I could accept as reasonable. But he lost me finally for good when he used the words "his 16-month-cut-and-run-strategy" and I began to look out for "cowardly" and other unbiased epithets because those are natural companions.

The only strategy that's working is the one that involves (a) betraying the Kurds, again, and (b) moving Iraq solidly into Iran's sphere of influence.

This is victory?

he's too politically invested to change it because such a change would anger and inflame the very base that propelled him to the nomination. There would be hell to pay from the Hard Partisan Left.

I find it hard to credit the notion that a center-rightist like Obama cares one wit about the opinions of the hard left. Oh, wait: the hard PARTISAN left. That would be what, the hard left of those who enthusiastically self-identify with the Democratic party? So, um, center-leftists? Of the sort who will likely be willing to wait post-election for a few more Friedmans to effect any noticeable change on the ground in Iraq as long as it's spun well? You can't mean the hard left of those who vote Democrat, as they aren't the bulk (or, I'd say, even a meaningful core) of the base that got him nominated. And the actual hard left is, as ever, beyond the realm of polite conversation.

The surge thing is silly, as for the last time, the Iraqi death toll (as measured by IBC, which admits that it undercounts) is almost perfectly correlated, rise and fall, with the level of commitment Sadarites have to the truce, which happened to have been announced at the very point (several months after the beginning of the truce) that deaths declined dramatically, even though Charles consistently and wrongfully attributed that decline to the surge.

But it does mean that saying that a Presidential candidate can't know about Iraq without going there is silly. Just ask John McCain, who has been any number of times, but is still clueless.

Just to nitpick here, this passage contains a logical fallacy, Hilzoy.

To disprove "(For all x)(If x knows about Iraq, then x has been to Iraq)", we need a counter-example of the form "S has not been to Iraq, but S knows about Iraq."

Your purported counter-example is "McCain has been to Iraq, but McCain does not know about Iraq", which is not logically equivalent. (I think it's the inverse, if I'm recalling the terminology correctly.)

When it comes to Americans in Iraq, the math we need is subtraction and not addition. The question is not when Obama will go to Iraq. It is when our troops will come home.

It seems that, after five years, the empirical evidence is clear as to what our presence will produce--a multi-factional, internecine war that smolders and flames into varying degrees of violence. True, it is questionable whether Iraqi political leaders can resolve this conflict, and it sadly cannot be ruled out that our leaving will unleash more violence. But as long as we are the true power and referee, none of the fighting factions has incentive to stop violently jockeying for power, or at least to position themselves to fight for power after we're gone. Which someday we will be.

So our choice is do we 1) make it clear we'll leave soon and incent the factions to peacibly resolve their conflict by offering post-peace rebuilding, risking that this might not work and that a bloodbath will ensue after we go that will empower a faction hostile to us or 2) stay indefinitely, in which case Iraq will most likely continue indefinitely as it has since we invaded, until our inevitable departure, after which there will be the same risk of a bloody ascension to power of a hostile faction.

As an Iraqi I met four years ago told me, "America has only two problems in Iraq. First, you can't leave. Second, you can't stay."

Maybe all this means we shouldn't have gone in the first place.

Whoever thought of that must be pretty smart, smart enough maybe to figure out what to do now and keep us out of tragedies like this going forward.

By contrast, those who have been wrong all along should not be listened to. At least about wars.

Charles,

Taking the closest historical parallel I can think of, how many on the ground visits did Richard Nixon (the future candidate of the party not occupying the WH) pay to Vietnam in the lead up to the 1968 election? How accurate a picture did they provide of what was going on and what dividends did they yield from a policy standpoint?

hilzoy comments:
Second, the stated purpose of the surge was to enable political progress to occur. This is not happening. When it does, I will say that the surge is "working". Not before. (I hope it does.)

[the bolding is my emphasis]

The best way IMHO to gauge this is by detailed discussions with authoritative spokesmen for each of the major political factions (e.g., the parties, militias, and other figures such as Sistani) in Iraq. This has to happen quietly and behind closed doors, or else the realities of the situation will dissolve into smoke and spin for public consumption on the part of various publics both American and Iraqi.

A very public high level visit will never be able to accomplish this, most likely it would produce the opposite. If anything constructive is to come from this, Obama should send surrogates, and do so as quietly as possible. Given the way this micro-issue of visting schedules has now been politicized for the purposes of the US general election, I do not expect that will happen until after the election is over.

Welcome back Charles.

Kitty - Does this mean his name needs to be put back up on the sidebar?

Any trip by a presidential candidate to Iraq is a stunt. Visiting a country to see what it's like isn't like visiting a prison to see how prisoners are being treated (and of course we haven't had much luck even with that more limited task). The visitor isn't seeing all of (or a random sample of) the territory and the population, and the visitor's presence of course affects what's happening in those areas that are visited and what's said by those people that are spoken to. It's meaningless.

If it were possible to visit anywhere in Iraq without massive preparations and security measures, then perhaps that would mean there'd been progress. But of course that's far from true.

I laugh every time somebody argues that Obama has a unique need to serve the irrational needs of his base with respect to war. If McCain advocated anything other than permanent occupation and military belligerence as a foreign policy, his base would run away faster than if he'd performed an abortion with his teeth.

It happens that McCain's personal sentiments align with the what his base demands. So do Obama's. Framing Obama's situation as unique or sinister just makes you look silly.

"It would also be interesting to see if Obama does change his 16-month cut-and-run policy after a visit to Iraq, considering that there are strong indicators that the strategy is working*."

There's an asterisk there, but it's not clear why.

In your linked Redstate post, Charles, you write that:

About that surge strategy
it's still working

[...]

There's more on the success of the Basra offensive and other stuff below the fold.

[...]


Even the New York Times is acknowledging the turnaround in Basra

[...]

On the al Qaeda front, U.S. Ambassador Crocker said yesterday that the terrorist group has "never been closer to defeat than they are now." A little over a year ago, this is what a certain defeatist Democratic Senator from Nevada said.

[...]

Thirteen months ago, Harry Reid was ready and willing to surrender because of al Qaeda's evil acts.

You go on to list a bunch more "positive" developments. Your entire post is a condemnation of Obama (his "16-month cut-and-run policy"), the NY Times, Harry Reid, and unspoken others, for being "defeatists" and "willing to surrender," etc.

Then you throw in a couple of completely contradictory CYA statements about how "Also, none of this means that I believed we've turned the corner or that we're winning in Iraq."

Except that both your posts say otherwise; it's their entire point.

Trying to CYA by contradicting the entire point of your posts doesn't fly. You can't logically write a post all about how all these nasty people aren't perceiving how great things are going, and how turned around it all is, and then try to CYA by tossing in a CYA statement that you don't believe everything you just wrote. Sorry, but down the road, when you try to claim that this post showed how you weren't claiming things had been turned around, and that we're on the road to success, no honest reader will let you get away with that claim.

As always, you completely refuse to discuss the only issues that matter in Iraq: how close is Iraq to achieving a popularly legitimate government, accepted as fairly representing both Sunni and Shi'a, Arab, Kurd, Turkmen, and all ethnicities and factions, and claiming and maintaining a reasonable monopoly of force?

As always, you never ever ever even acknowledge that this is even relevant, or even worth mentioning, let alone that it's the only thing that matters, but instead go on about other matters you want to point to.

How about that post on how Iraq's government is doing, Charles? Any reason you're having problems getting to it, given that I've been asking you if you might want to address the topic for, what, how many years now?

"Iraqi Airways just signed a multi-billion dollar order with Boeing for a fleet of new passenger jets"

Woo-hoo; have there been no schools painted lately?

Obama should announce that he is ready to visit Iraq with John McCain the minute George Bush and Dick Cheney agree to come along. Silly? Yes. Sillier than McCain's schoolboy taunt? Not by a long shot.

I can't believe people are taking this "go to Iraq" crap seriously. If McCain wants to run for President of Iraq, by all means let him spend all the campaign time he wants there. I want (to coin a phrase) an American President focused on AMERICAN issues. Contrary to those not-yet-disgruntled (still-gruntled?) Bush-McCain supporters for whom Iraq is practically the 51st state, I say it's high time for Americans to stop acting as if "winning in Iraq" is strategically equivalent to defending Baltimore from the British.

-- TP

"Neither candidate has any business going to Iraq, because the law prohibits using the US military as props in a political campaign. This may seem unnatural to our friends on the right, but it's true."

Quite.

A few points about your post:

Firstly, The statistics regarding media coverage of the Iraq war alone are not valid proof that there has been progress in Iraq.

The media has spent the last 5-7 months covering in detail the hotly contested campaign for the next president. It is possible that other types of coverage have been reduced similarly to make way for an "all presidential campaign coverage all the time" network strategy. (As was noted in the article at the PEJ) Coverage of the Iraq war dropped dramatically as the coverage of the campaigns increased.

This is not proof that there has been less violence in Iraq. What actually may be is the drop in number of casualties since the beginning of the year.

Secondly, I do not recall any statement by the Obama campaign repdudiating Smantha Power's remarks about Obama's Iraq policy. Can you produce such comments? The article you link to provides no such quote. And my understanding is that Power resigned exclusively over the "Hillary is a Monster" comment that she made. I have not been able to find any source that indicates otherwise, and the article you link provides no proof of that.

And finally, I feel that your analysis leaves out a very important part of Barak Obama's rational for reducing our presence in Iraq. Namely the strain on our military, and the strain on US financial resources. Not to mention the cost in American Casualties. You may belief that this str

Charles, hopefully you'll figure this out eventually, but we've already lost this war. We lost the minute we invaded. The premeditated invasion and occupation of Iraq was itself a defeat for our country.

Pimping the 'surge' as some sort of vindication for your war is not going to absolve your faction of responsibility for this criminal catastrophe, nor will it give your opinions any credibility. I'm afraid you've lost that too.

Eric and Hilzoy: You’ve both stated emphatically here that it “is not working”. The criteria you use to gauge it by (as stated here and repeatedly for a long time) is political progress. “political progress” is a very relative term, very slippery I think. Have you considered this?

World leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Thursday hailed Baghdad's progress in combatting violence and stabilising Iraq.

A declaration adopted by 100 delegations at a Stockholm conference said the participants "recognised the important efforts made by the (Iraqi) government to improve security and public order and combat terrorism and sectarian violence across Iraq."

It also acknowledged political and economic progress made, and said that "given the difficult context, these successes are all the more remarkable."


So – world leaders including Ban Ki-moon say that political progress has been made, and that the successes are remarkable given the context. Do you totally discount that?

I have not changed my position (against the surge, withdraw now) but I’m always on the lookout for signs of hope. I’m not arguing any position here (don’t intend to follow up on this) – I’m just curious if a) you were aware of this and b) if you maintain that no progress has been made given that world leaders and the head of the UN explicitly state that (remarkable given the context) political progress has been made.

If you disagree with the UN (and frankly I have more respect for both of you than I do for that "august body") then I’m curious to see if you are willing to refine your criteria and specify what exactly will qualify as political progress in your opinion. Alternatively - who, if not the head of the UN, will you believe when they say that progress has been made?

Gary: just because I saw your comment on preview – ditto. I don’t know the answer to your question ("how close is Iraq to achieving a popularly legitimate government…"), but do you accept that some progress has been made?

Again, I’m not arguing any position here. I’m just curious as to what people will accept as some progress, because the meme seems to be no progress at all has been made therefore the surge is not working.

Steve,

They were making those statements in the context of trying to drum up aid dollars, forgiveness of debt and foreign investment.

That's like pointing to a salesman's pitch and submitting it as evidence of the underlying claims.

Let's put it this way:

What political progress?

"Kitty - Does this mean his name needs to be put back up on the sidebar?"

I'd still suggest that having the names of all current possible posters, on sabbatical or not, as well as the names of all those who have definitively done a Sherman in declaring they will never, ever, post here again, ever ever ever, listed as "emeritus," or equivalent, would be respectful. I mean, it's not as if there's a space shortage, or a shortage of letters of the alphabet available to do that. It seems to me that Moe, Edward, Slarti, and von, deserve that minimal respect and acknowledgement, rather than being rendered non-persons who never posted here. (I'd even go so far as put "Founding poster" after Moe, Edward, and von's name, but hey, let's not go crazy.)

But that's just me.

To join Brock in picking nits (thus evincing that, yes, I really have better things I should be doing, and no, I'm not doing them):

P: One has gone to Iraq
Q: One understands the situation in Iraq

McCain: (Ax)~P(x)->~Q(x)
Hilzoy: (x=McCain)P(x)^~Q(x)
<-> ~(~P|Q)
<-> ~(P->Q)

Which would disprove "Everyone who has gone to Iraq understands Iraq", not McCain's "Everyone who hasn't gone to Iraq doesn't understand Iraq", which, yes, is the inverse.

The McCainian proposition is disproven by showing that it is not necessary to go to Iraq to understand it. Hilzoy relatedly but not identically points out that it is not sufficient to go there to understand it.

"So – world leaders including Ban Ki-moon say that political progress has been made, and that the successes are remarkable given the context. Do you totally discount that?"

Without a metric, of course. It's boilerplate.

Put up a metric, and we'll talk. Statements of policicans ain't no metric.

OCSteve, can I perhaps suggest you read up on how this all worked in the Vietnam War? Five o'clock follies? Just read a good book on the war. Try Stanley Karnow, say.

"but do you accept that some progress has been made?"

If you can point to an objective metric by which political progress in Iraq has measurably improved, I certainly will.

Otherwise, Gary says: No objective metric, no objective measure of progress.

I'm all about the metrics, OCSteve. You should know that.

How about you get back to us when we have the leaders of the "Awakenings" testifying to how they've had local elections, and have been fully integrated with the national government, and we see a national government being accepted as largely legitimate by most Sunnis, Shia, Kurds, Turkmen, and so on? How about you get back to us when there aren't any armed militias running around? How about you get back to us when most Iraqis say they feel safe, and that they largely feel that the government is legitimate?

But I'm open-minded about considering any objective metric of political success you'd like to suggest. Or I'll suggest more specific ones, but I'm trying to be as open as possible to anything remotely reasonably legitimate.

And statements by politicians as metrics? Are you kidding?

Why not just ask Don Rumsfeld what he thinks, and say that settles it?

OCSteve -- I was also going to say what Eric Martin said in reply to yours of 2:49, but probably less well than he.

Specifically to this, though: Alternatively - who, if not the head of the UN, will you believe when they say that progress has been made? Personally, I don't care who says "progress has been made," up to and including the baby Jesus. Unless they can point to, um, actual political events that demonstrate that progress. (And on preview I seen that Gary has beaten me to this point also.)

I believe the Iraqis are making significant political progress as a result of the surge.

Argh! The preview, it LIES! There was supposed to be a at the end of my post. But Preview rendered the escape characters as ASCII in the text box. Evil, tricksy Preview...

Yep: definitely, logically unsound. (Me, I mean. I was. In that comment.)

OCSteve: I'm waiting for things like a functioning government from which the Sunnis are not forever on the verge of withdrawing, some sense that corruption has dropped to a minimally tolerable level, etc. I don't see that this has happened.

To be clear: I am thrilled about the drop in violence. I am not at all clear that it has been anything like worth the cost, nor that some parts wouldn't have happened anyways (e.g., the Anbar stuff, which seemed to have been underway before the surge), but I think it's wonderful.

On the other hand, people are dying, it's costing us enormous amounts of money, our international standing is through the floor, large chunks of the Muslim world think we're fighting a war against Islam as a whole, and we cannot pay enough attention to anything else as long as we're here.

Plus, I remain deeply worried about having our troops pinned down so near Iran. One of my maxims in thinking about foreign policy is: preserve your freedom of action; minimize your vulnerabilities. One of the things I think hasn't been the object of nearly enough attention is the ways in which we have just thrown our freedom of action away over the past seven years -- from miring our army in this hopeless mess, to giving the Chinese the power to tank our economy if they see fit, to not doing much of anything to remove our dependence on oil-producing dictatorships, to not doing anything like a decent job of enhancing homeland security.

The number of things that, if they went wrong, could do us serious damage is much, much higher than it ought to be.

Were you not *listening* to what I said, Teenage Jesus? (Kids these days...)

Double argh! It wasn't just Preview that hated my < /pedanticnitpick>, escape characters or no. Cunning, underhanded Typepad...

I believe the Iraqis are making significant political progress as a result of the surge.

And who decided to saddle us with the term "homeland security" anyway? It just doesn't strike me as a very American phrase (unlike, say, Germany or Russia, with which one associates "fatherland" or "motherland"). (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Any takers that a Democratic administration might do a little roll-back on some of the restructuring that created this unwieldy behemoth?

I'm still trying to figure out why the Obama campaign should care what Charles Bird, any member of the Republican Party, or any member of the die-hard 27% Brigade thinks about what they should or should not do regarding Iraq at this point in time. Or anything else, for that matter.

Gosh farmgirl's got high standards. ;-)

That's like pointing to a salesman's pitch and submitting it as evidence of the underlying claims.

And statements by politicians as metrics? Are you kidding?

Personally, I don't care who says "progress has been made,"

I’m not in Iraq. I don’t communicate with any Iraqis who live in Iraq. So anything I consider is something someone else claimed – someone with an agenda. Metrics are great. But if someone lays out the metrics saying attacks are down, that can’t be due to improved security – it’s just because Sadr is taking it easy this month. The Awakenings had nothing to do with the surge… In fact any metric that is pointed to is dismissed as having an alternate explanation unrelated to the surge. That may very well be true. I certainly don’t know.

I don’t know if the surge is working or not. I’m just curious what criteria those who are certain it is not will accept as some political progress (therefore the surge is working maybe just a little).

(Gary, I think you laid out a good list so thanks. Hilzoy, I think yours are a bit slippery, very tough to say when a condition has been met. Eric?)

some sense that corruption has dropped to a minimally tolerable level

Heck our government doesn’t meet that criterion. ;)

Metrics:

Farber set out a solid list. Iraqi political progress requires a few things:

1. Elections that bring in truly representative groups (currently, ISCI/Dawa and the Sunni bloc are overrepresented locally and, in the case of the latter, nationally). Large swathes of the Sunni population boycotted local and national elections. Many Sadrists boycotted local elections. These are a must.

2. If those elections are held, a willingness on the part of the various groups and individuals to put faith in the legitimacy of the governing institutions and share power, integrate rival armed forces, come to acceptable agreements on oil revenue distribution/development, etc.

3. There has to be buy-in with respect to #2 to the extent that the violence drops to very manageable levels (recent gains are great, but if deaths from bombings on that scale were occurring in the US, we'd be starting wars with everyone - related and not).

Like Gary, I'm also open to alternative metrics if you have any to suggest. Do you have any "progress" in mind that you would like to discuss?

And Steve, I don't mean to pile on or sound snarky. Your perspective is much appreciated, and these questions you are asking are invaluable to the discussion.

Oh hey, has it been six months already? The time flies.....

The interesting thing about the phrase "homeland security" is that it is a back-formation. If the only important security concern is the homeland, as was true for most of American history, you don't need to use an adjective. "Security" is enough. At most, depending on context, you may want the phrase "national security," to avoid confusion with, say, stocks and bonds, or emotional comfort.

It is only when you have extended the definition of "national security" to include sizable holdings abroad, such as Iraq, that you need to distinguish between national security generally and security for the home country. In short, it is a phrase only an empire needs.

Heh. Hadn't thought of it that way trilo.

Phil: That's actually a good question. We know what they'd say if, for instance, the stalwart Democrats started insisting what McCain had to do to earn our respect and votes. It applies in reverse. As far as I'm concerned, folks like Charles are welcome to see the light and join the pro-American, pro-prosperity, pro-justice, pro-truth party at ay time. But I'm not holding my breath waiting, and insofar as Obama should feel the need to tilt his message in any direction, I'd prefer that he continue his successful habit of reaching out to involve more of the uninvolved who are receptive to a pitch based on American fundamental values.

Voters who need someone to reassure them that it's okay, America can continue to be the world's leading immoral and incompetent and insolvent bully, have a candidate only too glad to tell them that, and websites ready to back them up. I prefer that Obama focus on those open to the message that acting another way is more in keeping with America's own better self as well as pragmatically desirable.

Trilobite: Right on. Goes nicely with Nell's excellent observation that if we have to fight an insurgency, we're somewhere we shouldn't be.

The interesting thing about the phrase "homeland security" is that it is a back-formation. If the only important security concern is the homeland, as was true for most of American history, you don't need to use an adjective.

Cf. Department of Defense vs. Department of War. If we weren't an empire, the former would suffice. Since we are, we should go back to the latter (and it would remind everyone what they do!).

Your proposal is nonsense, as demonstrated by this remark:

I'm pretty sure McCain won't pull out a 'Mission Accomplished' banner on a joint trip...

The whole point of McCain's recent visits has been to pretend that everything is going just fine, and the whole point of proposing a joint visit is to engage in "Mission Accomplished" rhetoric and photo-ops for the whole trip.

And "no preconditions"? -- code speak that Obama must emasculate himself while there and not use the visit to demonstrate how pointless the Iraq War is.

We already have enough phony photo-op trips in favor of the war, and Obama does not have to participate in additional war propangada. There is no way that McCain, Petraeus or the Bush administration would not grossly politicize a trip by Obama and do everything in their power to use the trip for political purposes.

2. If those elections are held, a willingness on the part of the various groups and individuals to put faith in the legitimacy of the governing institutions and share power, integrate rival armed forces, come to acceptable agreements on oil revenue distribution/development, etc.

A precondition for this would be the purging from the police/military/etc forces of partisan militias, or the genuine integration of those personnel into their respective governmental roles.
OC, this is one of things I use as one rough barometer- the number of times I heard about folks from the Interior ministry etc using their power to terrorize political/sectarian opponents. At this point I've no indication whatsoever that this is being fixed (if anything, the opposite, based on the recent provoked pre-election conflict with the Sadrists), but there's no way for real national unity without a 'national' police/army that isn't just the militia of one faction.

I feel I must congratulate Charles; he has somehow managed to maintain at least one Friedman unit of optimism through this entire fiasco. No matter how dark the actual news, he was able to find some useless pyrite nugget upon which to build his castle of hopes.
Now (as pointed out above) he is preparing for the shift from 'inevitable victory' to 'the stab in the back', thus achieving his personal goal: never having to admit that he was disastrously, fatally wrong. Over and over again.

I must point out a quote from the RedState link: The Basra offensive improved al Maliki's political standing, which has enabled him to take on al Sadr's home base in Sadr City and the last urban al Qaeda stronghold in Mosul. Not sure when it became a sign of progress that the governing faction is using the US-trained army to go after another faction (al Sadr). But *everything* is progress if you look at it right! al Sadr calls a cease-fire = less violence = progress! al Maliki uses the military to attack his political opposition = crushing the insurgents = progress! Presumably al Sadr surviving these attacks and carrying on into the elections = multi-party democracy = progress! Rogue asteroid destroys the entire country = political stability = progress!

Me on "Homeland Security": " (I still can't write those two words without thinking when did we become German?)".

Me, June 15, 2002:

"HOMELAND" IS A CREEPY, GERMAN, UNAMERICAN WORD
Geez, I actually quoted Mickey Kaus. For the last time.

But surely everyone is aware that the reason the DHS exists is to funnel pork, right?

By thew way, nothing measures political progress better than regular elections conducted freely and with minimal violence.

When are the Iraqis going to vote again, and will it be possible to hold a vote? Regional elections are currently set for October, or over three years since the last local elections (which were Jan 2005). The last election concerning the Parliament was in Dec. 2005, and none are scheduled for this year. The Kirkuk referendum is now 7 months overdue with no date set for that election.

How can anyone pretend that there is any meaningful political progress when the country is unable to hold elections. Any bets on whether the civil war violence will escalate if elections do occur again?

Actually, the asteroid example makes me think of a relevant point- of course, it's possible to produce similar patterns of thinking slanted pessimistically...
But fundamentally, I don't think it's right to suggest that just because civil order is necessary for a political resolution that *any* reduction in violence means that we're closer to a political resolution.
For example, Anbar Awakening may have reduced violence and tension between the US and the Sunnis, but it did so with a serious risk to national unity (the Shi'a are still very unhappy with the Sunni militias, insisting that they have no permanent HQs, that they eventually be disbanded, etc). I think it clearly moves us further towards sectarianism, militia-ism, and away from national governance.

It's easy to cheer for reductions in violence- but cheering events like this explains a great deal of why we've had more than half-a-decade of successes without apparently moving closer to the goal. Today, I dont see us being any closer to national unity than we were in 2004.

You can't go to Iraq and not have a dog and pony show.

Then your argument isn't just with me, Eric, it's with Obama. In his own words:

"I think that if I’m going to Iraq, then I’m there to talk to troops and talk to commanders, I’m not there to try to score political points or perform," Mr. Obama said. "The work they’re doing there is too important."

And the strategy is not working.

Why?

Folks, let's get to the bottom line: what is OUR interest in Iraq? How desperately do we care whether the Shia or the Sunni end up running the place?

On "metrics", nobody here has come close to the true metric of a legitimate government: taxation. No Bushie or McCainiac would dare say so, but the power to tax its people, and the people's consent to being taxed, is the ultimate (and arguably the only) measure of any government's legitimacy.

As best I can tell, the practical (as opposed to nominal) situation in Iraq is basically a reverse-taxation arrangement: the national government DISTRIBUTES, rather than collects, money. If true, this makes a "legitimate representative government" in Iraq a near-impossibility. So anybody who thinks prolonging America's involvement in the internal Iraqui fight serves any sort of idealistic purpose is smoking something.

-- TP

I guess the important question "is our Charles learning?" has been answered in the negative.

And the strategy is not working.

Why?

Because it hasn't done what the President said it was intended to do, Charles.

January, 2007:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks. In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen the moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance. And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.

"To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis."

Did this happen, Charles?

"To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs."

Did this happen, Charles?

"To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year."

Did this happen, Charles?

"And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws,"

Give us some cites on the success of that, please, Charles.

"and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution."

How has that gone, Charles?

"We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams."

How about a cite on the success of this, Charles?

"So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced."

Did this happen, Charles?

Tell us about the benchmarks, Charles. The benchmarks. The benchmarks.

Tell us about the elections, the way the "Awakening" groups have been integrated into the national government, the way most citizens of Iraq believe that the Iraqi government is generally a representative, non-sectarian, government, that is at least vaguely non-corrupt, vaguely effective, and possesses at least a vague monopoly of force, Charles.

Tell us about how the militias have been eliminated, Charles, rather than just those that the U.S. government doesn't like.

Tell us about how SCII and Dawa and Maliki are subject to Iranian influence than Sadr, Charles.

Use your vast expertise to tell us about all these things.

I for one, could be convinced, if you'd finally get around to telling us about this stuff, as you've been asked to for years, rather than posting about meaningless statistics and press releases.

It's in your court, Charles.

Tell us.

And the strategy is not working.

Why?

Because it hasn't done what the President said it was intended to do, Charles.

January, 2007:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks. In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. We will give our commanders and civilians greater flexibility to spend funds for economic assistance. We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams. These teams bring together military and civilian experts to help local Iraqi communities pursue reconciliation, strengthen the moderates, and speed the transition to Iraqi self-reliance. And Secretary Rice will soon appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.

"To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis."

Did this happen, Charles?

"To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs."

Did this happen, Charles?

"To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year."

Did this happen, Charles?

"And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws,"

Give us some cites on the success of that, please, Charles.

"and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution."

How has that gone, Charles?

"We will double the number of provincial reconstruction teams."

How about a cite on the success of this, Charles?

"So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced."

Did this happen, Charles?

Tell us about the benchmarks, Charles. The benchmarks. The benchmarks.

Tell us about the elections, the way the "Awakening" groups have been integrated into the national government, the way most citizens of Iraq believe that the Iraqi government is generally a representative, non-sectarian, government, that is at least vaguely non-corrupt, vaguely effective, and possesses at least a vague monopoly of force, Charles.

Tell us about how the militias have been eliminated, Charles, rather than just those that the U.S. government doesn't like.

Tell us about how SCII and Dawa and Maliki are subject to Iranian influence than Sadr, Charles.

Use your vast expertise to tell us about all these things.

I for one, could be convinced, if you'd finally get around to telling us about this stuff, as you've been asked to for years, rather than posting about meaningless statistics and press releases.

It's in your court, Charles.

Tell us.

Gary's May 30, 2008 at 7:56pm comment is my favorite Gary Farber comment of all time. Even upon a second read.

And not because it's aimed at you Charles.

"Tell us about how SCII and Dawa and Maliki are subject to Iranian influence than Sadr, Charles."

Should be "Tell us about how SCII and Dawa and Maliki are subject to less Iranian influence than Sadr, Charles."

Then your argument isn't just with me, Eric, it's with Obama.

That would be a devastating critique *if* Eric functioned solely as a spinner for the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party.
Aside from that, it's easy to see that Eric can both disagree with Obama on this particular issue (ie trip to Iraq, useful data gathering or political theater?) while simultaneously disagreeing with McCain and your talking points a great deal more, and on more substantial grounds.

Really, though, this is transparent. Rather than engaging *anyone* about *any* substance, your embarrassingly tendentious history on Iraq, etc, you pick some side point and pretend that it's something other than what it is. Eric is so far left he even disagrees with Obama sometimes, on fairly trivial matters (can Obama talk with Petraeus via videoconference, or is a face-to-face the only way to look into his soul?)! Forget about discussing the use of the Interior Ministry to suppress rival political factions, this is the really important stuff!

Seconding Ugh- that post by Gary is going to leave a mark.

Gary,
In all fairness to Charles, we did give the Iraqi government some money to spend on our airplanes. If that's not progress, then I don't know what progress is.

Seconding Ugh- that post by Gary is going to leave a mark.

Is going to leave a benchmark, methinks.

BENCH

mark

I love the smell of that word in the morning, it smells like victory.

Tony P -
but the power to tax its people, and the people's consent to being taxed, is the ultimate (and arguably the only) measure of any government's legitimacy.

As alluded to upstream, I would rate the people's consenting to giving the government a monopoly on the use of violence as a more important measure. But perhaps I'm mis-reading your use of the word "ultimate".

Back to the thread - I'd be perfectly happy if Obama announced serious plans to study the situation there, including trips, after he wins the election. Before the election it is, as many have said here, a political stunt (fraught with danger, given the players) and wasteful of the military's time.

Here's another indicator that the COIN strategy is working. News coverage is way down

This suggests a quick and easy way to end the war: Convince the MSM not to publish / air ANY news coverage abouit Iraq. When the coverage goes to zero, WE WIN!!!eleventy!! Ponies for everyone!

"In addition to Mosul and Basra, perhaps he could even go to Diyala province now that it's been pacified."

Why don't you get on a plane, and spend a week strolling around Diyala, unescorted, Charles?

I bet we can get up a fund to pay for your trip.

I'm serious. Think of what great blogging you could do.

Just promise you'll go walk around Mosul on your own, with no American troops or Iraqi troops to guard you whatever, for, say, five days, and come home and blog about it: I'll raise funds to pay for your plane ticket. You can probably find a lovely hotel in Mosul on your own, but we can raise, say, another $500 to pay for that.

It's pacified! Why not go?

I'm serious: why not?

I would contribute $5, as long as Shorja Market is on the itinerary, which Charles also feels is safe.

"In all fairness to Charles, we did give the Iraqi government some money to spend on our airplanes. If that's not progress, then I don't know what progress is."

Charles cited Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times; here's the comedy quote:

Iraqi Airways, nearly grounded by decades of mismanagement and economic sanctions under the regime of Saddam Hussein, is back on the runway with a multibillion-dollar order for a fleet of new Boeing passenger planes to service domestic routes and reclaim a share of the increasingly lucrative Middle East market.

Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Samir Sumaida'ie says Iraqi Airways' $5.5 billion order for Boeing airplanes is a clear sign that Iraq is taking on some of the costs of its reconstruction.

Iraqi officials hail the deal as a symbol of the country's slow but steady economic rebirth, and also as a sign that they are finally translating the country's vast oil wealth into tangible gains for ordinary Iraqis.

Because at the top of the concerns of ordinary Iraqis is flying on an Iraqi-owned jet.
[...] Under terms of the contract, Iraq will buy 30 Boeing 737 commercial airplanes and 10 of the Chicago-based manufacturer's new 787 "Dreamliners," with options to purchase at least 15 more planes. The Dreamliner, which can seat up to 330 passengers, is the first new Boeing passenger model since the 777 was introduced in 1990.

[...]

The first new 737s are not scheduled to be delivered until 2013, Iraqi officials said, and the last of the planes will not arrive until 2019.

I can't wait for the video of Iraqi citizens dancing in the street. Be sure to post a link to that here, Charles!

I just hope they'll still offer free peanuts to Iraqis who fly Iraqi Airlines. That's even better than painted schools, and purple thumbs!

Perhaps Gary should read a book about Iraq. Here's a suggestion.

I'll pledge another $5 for DaveC to join the expedition.

Perhaps Gary should read a book about Iraq.

Perhaps you'd be so good as to address Gary's points and explain how and where he's misguided.

I would gladly donate $25 to help make it possible for Charles to see Iraq and report on it, in the way that Gary suggests.

Speaking as someone who works in the airline industry, I can't imagine a crummier investment right now than purchasing tons of new shiny incredibly expensive aircraft. Airlines are businesses that have become highly evolved at losing money; this basic fact is unlikely to change in the next decade or two. Plus, leasing aircraft is surprisingly cost effective. Many carriers opt to do that rather than purchase metal outright.

If Charles or DaveC would seriously consider visiting Iraq, I'd be willing to put a non-trivial number of dollars to support that.

It's all good.

I've read some 50+ books on Iraq alone, incidentally, and something on the order of 800+ on the history and politics of the Middle East, and something on the order of another 1000+ that dealt significantly with the history and politics and cultures of the Middle East.

I've also read most of what Michael Yon has written for the past 5 years.

In case anyone was wondering. I'm sure, though, that people who are chipper about how well things are going in Iraq must be far more knowledgeable than I.

Just like they care ever so much more about Israel, and antisemitism, and threats to the Jews, than I do.

I am but an egg.

Indeed, Gary, indeed. You may know these things, but you don't know them. And you may care about them, but you don't care about them with right intent.

For shame; oh, woe is thee!

(And as an aside I concur, 07:30 stung mightily just to read as an observer. Aïaïaïaïaï...)

To The Iraqis: I wish you the best for your country. I can't imagine what it's like to have a genocidal dictator like Saddam followed by 5 years of chaos and confusion in post-invasion Iraq. Please know that those in the coalition only want to help you, but some egregious decisions were made in 2003 (de-ba'athification, disbanding the Army, etc.). I hope our current mission has helped kick out the Takfiris and weakened the militia thugs. While my words may ring hallow, please know that I hope your country becomes prosperous and you have a better life.

To The Troops: You guys are by far the best our generation has to offer. We count on you to do America's most dangerous work. Please keep your experience in your heart, and consider entering a profession that will influence society after you transition from military service. I see a lot of problems with what America has become, and you may be our last hope to fix that. For the fallen and injured, we will never forget you.

To The Lefty Pundits: While I understand that you may not like BushCo and his war, please consider that your frequent highlighting of the failures in Iraq may have a devastating psychological effect on those trying to make Iraq better. I am a huge cynic, but I think the current plan is on the right track (at least for Iraq).

To The Right-winger Pundits: While Iran is certainly a troublemaker, you have to ask yourself if an all-out military conflict is really the solution to Hezbollah, EFPs, and a possible nuke. If it is, then you have to take into consideration the huge amount of life that will be lost as well as the fact that we will need a no-joke draft. Are you ready to make that sacrifice?

Pretty much agreed.
Read this again:
While I understand that you may not like BushCo and his war, please consider that your frequent highlighting of the failures in Iraq may have a devastating psychological effect on those trying to make Iraq better.

Is it so important to you for Bush to be defeated that you want Al Qaeda In Iraq, or Mogtada Al-Sadr to run the country? Was Basra better when religious police could kill musicians or bartenders? That was the way it was under the control of Al Sadr.

If you want Iraq to be like Iran then you are ok here; if you think that Gaza would be a paradise were it not for the existence of Israel, if you think that Hugo Chavez and FARC are the good guys, that waving a Chomsky book and ranting against the USA at the United Nations is somehow virtuous because it is against the hated President Bush, well, then that is what you are.

I am not going to change your mind, because I don't think you really care if Iraq succeeds in making itself a normal country. You want Basra to be run by the Mahdi Army thugs again. You wish that Mosul was dominated by Al Qaeda. You deny or ignore the fact that the Kurdish part of Iraq is any better than under Saddam Hussein.

But then what happens after Bush leaves office as a failure? Do we let Al Qaeda, Al-Sadr, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. just have their way? I think that is crazy, but I may just be stupid.

By the way, I have sent Gary a few Jacksons and he still hate me. You as sholes that are taking up a collection for me are at least giving me a bit more love.

please consider that your frequent highlighting of the failures in Iraq may have a devastating psychological effect on those trying to make Iraq better

Yeah, the defining characteristic of the soldiers of the US Army is that they burst into tears whenever anyone hurts their feelings. You'd think that might pose a real problem for combat effectiveness, but Sadr hasn't yet figured out how to have his men scream "you're ass looks big in those BDUs!" over a megaphone during a firefight.

In any event, most of the criticism I've seen about Iraq has focused on the Whitehouse, the Pentagon, and the senior brass, groups that in my experience come in for plenty of criticism from military folk. But since you refuse to specify what on earth you're talking about, its hard to argue with your points.

By the way, you might do Lt Nixon the courtesy of linking to his blog post when you copy a big chunk of it.

By the way, I have sent Gary a few Jacksons and he still hate me. You as sholes that are taking up a collection for me are at least giving me a bit more love.

Actually, I was only willing to donate money to pay for your trip to Iraq; I won't donate anything for the return trip.

I can't speak for Gary, but I get the sense that he may not respect you enough to hate you.

Here's a special message from this as shole: keep it classy DaveC, keep it classy.

On the al Qaeda front, U.S. Ambassador Crocker said yesterday that the terrorist group has "never been closer to defeat than they are now."

Funniest. Quote. Ever.

"And 'no preconditions'? -- code speak that Obama must emasculate himself while there and not use the visit to demonstrate how pointless the Iraq War is."

I think he was just being snarky about Obama's stance on meeting with other countries without preconditions. In other words, "He's willing to meet with Ahmadinejad, but he won't even meet with Petraeus".

Ah, Charles, you're reduced to trolling your own blog. How the mighty have fallen.

I see that during your absence you've been sharpening the "stabbed in the back" smear in anticipation of an Obama victory in November.

What smear, mattt? What are you talking about?

has there been a point in the last 5 years when you couldn't find someone willing to speak those words ?

Did I miss something, cleek? I thought the surge strategy started around 14 months ago.

This is as it should be. When McCain did his stroll through the market, the problem wasn't that he was surrounded by security; it was that for some reason he took what he saw as indicative of normal life.

Hil,
I agree that, for security reasons, the two main presidential nominees shouldn't be together in Iraq. For that matter, as a rule, they shouldn't be in the same place at the same time, 'cept for debates. But I disagree with your view that the Baghdad market that McCain wasn't a part of normal life. Normal had actually resumed in that market. Here's what Petraeus said on NPR about the day in Baghdad with McCain last year:

JIM LEHRER: Senator McCain was with you last weekend in Baghdad. And he was talking about how he was able to walk around on the streets of Baghdad, particularly in a market. But today Iraqi tradesmen in Baghdad called that whole thing a propaganda move.

What can you tell us about that? Was it just simply a propaganda move, a photo-op?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: No, I mean, he spent an hour in the market. I was actually with him. He was in a baseball cap. He did wear body armor, because we advised that he ought to do that. Certainly, there was security around him. I mean, nobody ever wants to lose, you know, senior senator or the multinational force Iraq commander in their area of operations.

But having said that, there were tens of thousands of Iraqis in that market. It's the largest or second-largest market in Baghdad. It is one of those that has been hardened by the placement of concrete barriers literally all around it.

And it may be as much as a kilometer, almost a mile long, so this is an enormous market, as I said, tens of thousands of Iraqis in it. He was not protected by a cocoon of security. Yep, there was security there, but he was out -- actually he helped the Iraqi economy quite a bit, bought a number of carpets, in fact. And he haggled with the merchants himself, with an interpreter, and was moving all around very freely.

So, I mean, he asked to be allowed to drive down the airport road, to be able to go out and actually see some parts of Baghdad that congressional delegations do not normally see. We go down to these markets fairly frequently, several times a week, to see how it's going, and the revival of the markets is one of those indicators, in fact, that we watch.

And it was good to be able to let him see one of these very vibrant markets, which, by the way, eight weeks ago, was hit by a car bomb, before right around the start of the Baghdad security operation, with devastating effects, with dozens and dozens of Iraqis killed, before vehicles were excluded from traveling into the market during its operation.

JIM LEHRER: But as you know, the reports describe that situation slightly differently. They say there were armed helicopters overhead. There were armed Humvees all around. There were more than 100 armed U.S. troops around, protecting Senator McCain and the congressional delegation, that this was hardly a routine visit to a market. So which is it?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, there was considerable security, as I said, Jim, around it. Actually, there's security when I go down there, as well.

But having said that, I mean, a suicide vest bomber could have walked up to him just as easily as they could have walked up to me. We were not, you know, surrounding him, again, with some kind of cocoon of soldiers. He moved around freely.

We have helicopters usually flying when I'm actually out in the markets, as well, I mean, sometimes whether you know it or not, because, as I mentioned, no one wants to lose, you know, some high-ranking guy on their watch.

Again, having said that, there are snipers that are always possible. There are others who are possible in these marketplaces. You cannot control that kind of activity. And, again, I thought, you know, it was a fairly routine stop out there, in terms of just sort of strolling through a market, albeit with, you know, squads of guys out there in that marketplace.

But they are fairly heavily patrolled markets anyway, with Iraqi -- these markets are always controlled during the time that they're in operation to prevent vehicles, in fact, from moving through the access barriers when those markets are open. They're only allowed to move vehicles in and out, when the markets are shut, to deliver goods. And then they're excluded.


Second, the stated purpose of the surge was to enable political progress to occur. This is not happening.

I would agree that not enough political progress has occurred, Hil, but a blanket statement that political progress "is not happening" is in direct contradiction with what Ambassador Crocker reported to Congress last month.

We could have kept our casualties down in any number of ways -- not letting soldiers off base, for instance. The surge works if the breathing space we give the Iraqis enables them to arrive at a political accommodation.

This truly makes no sense to me, Hil. American soldiers have been taken out of the large FOBs and onto Iraqi streets, and since last August, military casualties have plummeted. The way we are giving them breathing space is by providing security to the populace, which is being achieved by having a visible joint Iraqi-American military presence.

Fourth, whether or not the surge was a good idea has to do with more than whether it works. If it works, there are benefits. Whether it works or not, there are also costs -- lives, money, and more. You have to weigh both.

I agree that the current strategy is expensive, but I submit to you that the price of the present strategy was made this expensive by the huge and many mistakes and bad decisions in the pre-Petraeus era. In effect, I suggest that we're still paying for blunders made in prior years. It still boils down to this: we are where we are. If it's your position that some fair measure of success can be achieved in Iraq, then to me, a proper COIN strategy is the best vehicle for achieving it. If it's your take that our venture in Iraq is irretrievably lost, then you would go with the Obama plan of removing all combat brigades in 16 months. I think it's pretty clear that I'm in the former and you're in the latter. I respect your opinion about it, but I don't share it.

um, Powers didn't call Clinton a monster on British television. She said it off the record to a reporter, and I am really tired of hearing that out of context. She said she was campaigning like a monster in Ohio, which she was.

mathew, you're right that she said it to a UK newspaper and not British television, so I corrected the post. But the words she said are damning:

"We f***** up in Ohio," she admitted. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win.

"She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power said, hastily trying to withdraw her remark.

She said "she is a monster", then tried to soften it by saying that Hillary was "stooping to anything" to win. The results speak for themselves. Power resigned shortly after the comment. As for the comment being off the record, the reporter answers here. The tape was on, and the British have different rules when it comes to on-record and off-record comments. It's really too bad for Power. Her only real offense was that spoke with too much candor.

The only strategy that's working is the one that involves (a) betraying the Kurds, again, and (b) moving Iraq solidly into Iran's sphere of influence.

Francis, in what way are we betraying the Kurds? As for Iran, the removal of Saddam and the implementation of a Shiite-majority government did increase Iran's influence in Iraq. To the extent that that influence spreads their fundamnetalist doctrine and sows unrest, that is indeed a problem.

I find it hard to credit the notion that a center-rightist like Obama cares one wit about the opinions of the hard left.

NV, Obama's a center-rightist? National Journal had Obama as the most liberal Senator in 2007, and the Americans for Democratic Action gave him a 75% rating (100% is supreme ultimate liberal). I haven't seen evidence to suggest that he is anything but a solid left liberal.

Thanks to all who responded. All together I think you’ve proposed reasonable benchmarks for “political progress”. Reasonable from the perspective that you would acknowledge progress at those points, not that I believe they are attainable any time soon.

Charles I admire your continued optimism, your persistence, and your willingness to come into the lion’s den here with a large steak tied around your neck. ;) I wish I could share your optimism, but I can’t.

I think it's a mistake to conflate political progress with reducing violence. In the long run, the two should converge, but most stable polities have been achieved by force of arms. In particular, most democracies seem to have been made possible by eradicating one of two irreconcilable sides in civil war, the USA included.

For me, political progress in Iraq would be indicated by a shift in political identifications from ethno-religious terms to economic or philosophical ones. In this sense, I think buying a quiet life in the Sunni regions is merely delaying problems that may ultimately be worse for it. On the other hand, the contest between the Maliki regime and the Sadrist tendency at least has an element of class conflict, the powerful vs. the poor. Ten years from now the southern region will be probably be in better shape for this conflict, while the Sunni and Kurdish regions will be one-horse towns run by the local kingpins getting bought off by the Americans right now.

I am not going to change your mind, because I don't think you really care if Iraq succeeds in making itself a normal country. You want Basra to be run by the Mahdi Army thugs again.

If you understood that there's a difference between wanting something and being able to make it happen, you might understand why people want to withdraw troops from Iraq.
But I do have a question: why do you want America to have a budget deficit? Why do you want gasoline price to be so high? Why do you want Americans to go without cheap healthcare?
Why are your 'plans' that involve just wanting something limited to Iraq? Why do you hate America?

In particular, most democracies seem to have been made possible by eradicating one of two irreconcilable sides in civil war, the USA included.

I think your example actually illustrates the opposite. After the end of the armies-fighting-armies part of the struggle, North actually made huge concessions to the former Confederacy- and a long-term resistance was avoided. An analogy here would be if, after defeating Saddam, we had immediately be able to impose a government that satisfied all of the big factions, at least enough to keep them from going gun.
Im not sure if that was possible under the circumstances (I think not, but who can tell?), but it certainly didnt happen.

Once the genie is out of the bottle, I think it's much more difficult. It might have been possible for the French to create a democratic, West-oriented Vietnam sometime after WWII, but once the guerrilla war had set in it became somewhere between difficult and impossible.

I see that during your absence you've been sharpening the "stabbed in the back" smear in anticipation of an Obama victory in November.

What smear, mattt? What are you talking about?

Let's play 'Let's Pretend' everyone! Today, Charles is pretending he doesn't even understand what matt is talking about. Not that he thinks he isn't doing that, but that he just plain has no idea what is being discussed.
What's next, "no hablo ingles"?'

What's next, "no hablo ingles"?'

Or perhaps a suggestion the parrot is just sleeping?

Sayth The Charles: But I disagree with your view that the Baghdad market that McCain wasn't a part of normal life. Normal had actually resumed in that market.

Normal =
At least 61 people were killed and many more wounded in a three-pronged attack there on Feb. 12 involving two vehicle bombs and a roadside bomb....In recent weeks [before McCain's visit], snipers hidden in Shorja’s bazaar have killed several people, merchants and the police say, and gunfights have erupted between militants and the Iraqi security forces in the area. cite

The latest massacre of Iraqi children came as 21 Shia market workers were ambushed, bound and shot dead north of the capital. The victims came from the Baghdad market visited the previous day by John McCain, the US presidential candidate, who said that an American security plan in the capital was starting to show signs of progress. cite

Today, CNN reported that they tried to visit the Shorja market, but it was too unsafe and they were unable to go:
We got close to that marketplace today [Mar 16, 2008], Jim, but our own security advisers here in Iraq did not want us to go there. They didn’t believe it was safe for an American to be in that area. We were in a thriving marketplace nearby.
cite

You live in East St.Louis? Compton? Im curious.

The surge thing is silly, as for the last time, the Iraqi death toll (as measured by IBC, which admits that it undercounts) is almost perfectly correlated, rise and fall, with the level of commitment Sadarites have to the truce, which happened to have been announced at the very point (several months after the beginning of the truce) that deaths declined dramatically, even though Charles consistently and wrongfully attributed that decline to the surge.

Justin, I give the surge strategy at least partial credit for the reduction in casualties. It's not just because al Sadr called a ceasefire last August. Al Qaeda attacks have also dropped precipitously, due in part because Sunni tribal leaders chose to join forces with us. I agree with you that IBC and ICCC casualties undercount, but it seems reasonable that they would undercount consistently, which means that the trends are valid. Also, IBC and ICCC are the best sources available, so those are the numbers I use.

Framing Obama's situation as unique or sinister just makes you look silly.

Wha? Tim, I commended Obama for considering going. I really don't get what you're saying. Could you explain?

Except that both your posts say otherwise; it's their entire point.

'Fraid not, Gary. I don't think it's contradictory whatsoever to say that a strategy is working and at the same time say that we haven't turned the corner. Because the country is on an improving trend strategywise, does not mean that those improvements are enough to make a permanent imprint on the situaton. This is why I agree with Gen. Petraeus that the situation remains fragile. I also don't think it's unfair to criticize (condemnation is a pretty strong word) Obama and Reid and others on their policies.

Sorry, but down the road, when you try to claim that this post showed how you weren't claiming things had been turned around, and that we're on the road to success, no honest reader will let you get away with that claim.

Suit yourself, Gary.

As always, you completely refuse to discuss the only issues that matter in Iraq: how close is Iraq to achieving a popularly legitimate government, accepted as fairly representing both Sunni and Shi'a, Arab, Kurd, Turkmen, and all ethnicities and factions, and claiming and maintaining a reasonable monopoly of force?

I linked to Crocker's testimony. I agree that "only issues that matter" is political settlement as a long term objective, and a proper COIN strategy is a long-term strategy. I don't know what the end result will be, only that I think this process is the best vehicle for achieving the best results. I hear that Democrats are highly in favor of process, but hasn't been the case with Iraq. It's more like "are we there yet?" Given the trends since last August, I think the present strategy is worth pursuing. As usual, I'm afraid that my response will leave you disappointed.

OC Steve: Charles I admire your continued optimism, your persistence, and your willingness to come into the lion’s den here with a large steak tied around your neck.

Concur.

I agree with you that IBC and ICCC casualties undercount, but it seems reasonable that they would undercount consistently, which means that the trends are valid. Also, IBC and ICCC are the best sources available, so those are the numbers I use.

There's no reason to believe that IBC numbers undercount the true civilian death toll consistently. IBC's methodology depends entirely on having multiple english-language media reports document civilian casualties. But the ability and willingness of english-language journalists to travel freely about Iraq has changed drastically over time. Many of these changes are completely uncorrelated with casualty trends: for example, when American media organizations decide to move resources away from Iraq reporting towards campaign coverage or when they decide that Iraq outside the green zone is simply too dangerous for any reporting. As a result, these media accounts increasingly depend on government reports, but the government is an interested party and appears to have manipulated such information in the past to achieve its own political ends. Insofar as ICCC numbers largely consist of Iraqi casualties, the exact same argument holds true.

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Whatnot


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