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November 30, 2005

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i've seen enough Bush speeches to know exactly what he's going to say, before he says it: A (freedom) Whole (stay the course) Lotta (Saddam) Nuthin (terra).

from the reviews i've read so far, my hunch was right.

Well, I've only read the Executive Summary so far, but the strategy make lots of sense, in that it sums up both the current situation, and the only realistic way forward.

The big question is whether this administration is competent to execute said strategy effectively. Me, I don't think so.

but, i do like the backdrop he used at his speech. it was very WTC.

The big question is whether this administration is competent to execute said strategy effectively. Me, I don't think so.

Like it or not, dpu, this administration is the one that's going to execute to this strategy. I really doubt that there'll be much of a chance for subsequent administrations to pick up the pieces if this one fails. At least, not in the near term.

I can't recall reading any government document with so many bullet points and action verbs. The style of this thing sets a-clanging my MBA-BS meter. But that's pretty much the only remarkable thing about this statement, as far as I can tell.

Your post reminds me that I should dig up my christmas ornaments. Maybe I can figure out a way to hang them on the geraniums.

Like it or not, dpu, this administration is the one that's going to execute to this strategy.

This administration is the one that's going to attempt to execute this strategy. In the same way that a street-sweeper could attempt brain surgery.

Apologies for the analogy, but I'm afraid that's where many of us are at now. Awareness of the difficulty of the proposed task, the liklihood of failure, the dire consequences of failure, and the competence of those proposing to execute the plan are what got many of us into the anti-Iraq-invasion camp in the first place. I'm not sure what has changed, other than the adminsitration pointing out the consequences of failure. Which we already knew before the first bombs fell.

There was nothing wrong with the speech as far as it went. The problem still lies in how those victory goals translate into reality on the ground. Is a democratically elected, stable government dominated by the Shia, with a military dominated by the Shia, acceptable to this administration? If so, then we're not very far away from declaring victory and moving on. If not, perhaps someone could explain how we are going to prevent that from happening?

"in the same way that a street-sweeper could attempt brain surgery."

Cousins of mine produced and wrote this similar true story.


"Don't wait for the back of the book to show up"

People speak funny in Florida.

the military strategy is "clear, hold and build".

we do not have enough troops to hold cleared areas.

if the executive is unwilling to commit the forces necessary to achieve its stated strategy, what does that say about the likelihood of success?

Cousins of mine produced and wrote this similar true story.

Odd...Ford Prefect playing a carpenter attempting to be a surgeon.

People speak funny in Florida.

They do, in truth, but I speak that way no matter where I am.

we do not have enough troops to hold cleared areas.

Stupid to even try, then. Let's bail!

The problem still lies in how those yvictory goals translate into reality on the ground.

Pretty much. I was cheered by several points. First, Bush publically acknowledged the idea that insurgents are NOT all terrorists, and that they are motivated by a diverse spread of ideologies and goals.

Second, he acknowledged (whether intentionally or unintentionally) that they have had to adapt to realities the did not plan for. (The fact that other people told them to plan for these realities is a side note... at least it's an acknowledgement that at some point in the past, things didn't go as they expected and it was a setback.)

Third, a strategy was articulated and put out for very clear and visible public perusal. The less talk there is of 'secret plans' the better.

That said, the actual details of the 'strategy' document are disheartening. It lays out a set of goals without explaining how they will lead to the benefits we have said were the 'payoff.' In addition, it doesn't even tell us how we can measure whether we've achieved those goals -- they're all the sort of fuzzy wiggle-room statements one expects of corporate mission statements.

In addition, the great news about Iraqi troop readiness is precisely what we were told a year ago. Now, we're informed that they weren't REALLY ready back then, but now they ARE. Until detailed metrics are laid out explaining what constitutes readiness and how it's determined, we will still be in wishy-washy-land.

Finally, a statement that went unnoticed, as best as I can tell. "We all know that free countries are peaceful countries." That's patently untrue -- if anything, the past several decades of globalization have taught us that countries without a long history of slow transformation are generally MORE violent and MORE dangerous following an abrupt transition to free market democracy.

Stupid to even try, then. Let's bail!

Well, cutting aside the sarcasm, you suggest what? More troops?

Francis:

Today's Kool-Aid is that the Iraqi army will fill in the gaps in numbers. And that is based on bogus claims of the numbers of such troops, and the "force multiplier" nonsense of air power (which is not going to be useful in fighting an insurgency).

This war will ultimately be fought by Shia militia against Sunni insurgents -- or the Shia will simply wall off hell-holes of Sunni territory controlled by the insurgency and let them rot. Our presence is not bringing the insurgency to an end, but putting off a much bloodlier level of civil war between the factions.
______________

As for competence, its worth noting that it took these clowns 3 years to produce this document (it should have existed by this time in 2002 pre-invasion if reality based folks were running the show). It doesn't say much of anything concrete.

This is not a war plan. Its a PR document that is written at this time because of sagging poll numbers. It is simply the ummpteenth time that those running the war demonstrate that they operate primarily from a concern about domestic politics, and are clueless about providing actual leadership in the war.

Stupid to even try, then. Let's bail!

Slarti, I've admired your writing in the past and I think you're above this sort of cheap retort. To create an effective plan, you ave to be brutally honest about where you're at.

If you absolutely, positively must accomplist X, and you discover that Plan A requires resources you do not have, the solution might be to work on other plans. Waving Plan A around and saying, 'But we have to!' does not make those resources magically appear.

Stupid to even try, then. Let's bail!

Well, it's either bail, or draft, or hope that some of the chickenhawks will suddenly show the courage of their convictions and enlist.

Which do you think most likely?

This is not a war plan. Its a PR document that is written at this time because of sagging poll numbers.

Maybe so, but I think credit where credit's due, it's the best PR document that we've seen so far.

slarti, have you ever heard of the fallacy of the excluded middle?

It'd be interesting to hear examples, Jeff. Not that I'm naysaying, but I'm thinking it's the transition part that's violent, not the end state. Transitions between systems that don't fall into the "free democracy" bin have been as violent as anything we've seen in centuries, I'd say.

Caveat: maybe second row of dimples on the thimble on this one.

Transitions between systems that don't fall into the "free democracy" bin have been as violent as anything we've seen in centuries, I'd say.

And this, in your opinion, means no changes in miltary personnel in Iraq to meet the stated goals in the Plan? Seriously, I'm having trouble figuring out what you're saying here.

And sympathies about your current time commitments. Me, I'm defect-fixing like crazy. Gotta learn to stop putting defects in the code shortly before release, QA always seems to find them.

To create an effective plan, you ave to be brutally honest about where you're at.

Which goes hand in hand with stating what's so about the situation, rather than some stylized notion of what's so. Perhaps when bringing up the criticism that we cannot hold cleared areas due to insufficient troops, then, one could perhaps offer examples of where we're failing to hold cleared areas due to insufficient troops. Seriously: the insurgency has taken ground back from us?

Think of this as my oblique way of asking for multiple cites.

Waving Plan A around and saying, 'But we have to!' does not make those resources magically appear

i'm pretty sure all we need for Triumph* is Will. at least that's the vibe i get from the conservatariat these days.

* - or Victory, if you dislike the connotation

i'm pretty sure all we need for Triumph* is Will

That and no sleep til Brooklyn.

Slarti, I agree. If we define our end state as 'peaceful democracy' we can always say that it's just the transition that's tough. The same logic was used to justify the moral bankruptcy of the former Soviet Union's government: 'It's just a transition.'

The problem is that 'transition' in the case of radically altering a nation is more than simply the time and effort it takes to depose an old leader and get a new one elected. The transition is not simply from 'democracy in name only' to 'real democracy.' It's to a society where everyone, more or less, is willing to work within the confines of the democratic process to effect change AND is willing to respect the minority along the way.

'World On Fire' is an interesting book on the topic, dealing specifically with the ethnic strife and violence that tends to follow national restructurings. The scenerios the author focuses on are very similar to the Sunni/Shiite/Kurd divisions that Iraq faces.

Obviously, I'm not saying this is the end-all be-all of my concerns. But Europe, Africa, and South America demonstrate clearly that a vaguely defined 'freedom' does not necessarily mean 'peace.'

And this, in your opinion, means no changes in miltary personnel in Iraq to meet the stated goals in the Plan?

Eh? Where'd I say that? I think you need to look again at the comment I was replying to; the context is quite different than you're making it out to be.

Perhaps when bringing up the criticism that we cannot hold cleared areas due to insufficient troops, then, one could perhaps offer examples of where we're failing to hold cleared areas due to insufficient troops. Seriously: the insurgency has taken ground back from us?

Haven't you been paying attention? Even US ground commanders are complaining that fighting the insurgency is like playing whack-a-mole.

They don't HAVE to take back ground from us -- we take ground from them, they pop up elsewhere. We go to the new spot, they go back to where they were. We can't hold jack.

It's funny that all the cold-eyed realists are on the left all of a sudden. What happened to you guys?

Maybe so, but I think credit where credit's due, it's the best PR document that we've seen so far.

So what.

It describes big fuzzy goals that are little different from the unfocused course of action to date, and its sunny goals cannot be achieved with the current force structure.

The "plan" seems to be to continue muddling along and hope that new Iraqi army forces can someday take over more of the fighting. What happens next depends on how the Shia Iraqis chose to fight Sunni insurgents.

Slart:

if you consider Tom Lasseter at Knight-Ridder a fair source, try this article, entitled US, Insurgents Locked in Stalemate.

A guy named Liddel Hart has defined stategy as "the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfil the ends of policy." Stategy properly fits between policy and tactics.

What exactly is the policy, then? To fight terrorism, I think. It's certainly appropriate strategy for Iraq, now - 3 years ago it wasn't. Toward the end of dealing with the world as it is, not as we'd like it to be, it now makes sense. It was US that created this terrorist viper pit, but now it is there, and it is a reasonable thing to do to attempt to clear it out.

So Victory In Iraq is the strategy. I don't guess that is new news. Without getting into tactics, just how does the President further define this strategy?

First by defining what victory will look like:

In the longer term:
• An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.
• An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.
• An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.

WOW! Now THAT is a goal! Let us count the ways that very few (if any) democracies on the planet earth can be said to meet that third standard. Just how many active partners do we have at the moment? A handful. What about all those other countries that are stable and yet not democracies? What about our good buddies, the House of Saud? hmmmmm.

I think this strategy fades a little too much toward policy. Particularly as one of the unstated by very real objectives is actually moving ahead quite rapidly. Now that there is some form of government, puppet or not, Iraq's oil resources are being bid out at favorable prices to international big oil.

Oil is mentioned 6 times in the document. It never says who will have the rights to the oil, yet that deal is almost done, and it AIN'T the Iraqi people. Read here:

http://www.carbonweb.org/documents/Crude%20Designs%20-%20Summary%20only.pdf

Anyway, I am glad something is out there. It's easier to hold the administration to something written, even something a vague as this doc truly is, than to hold them to hot air - which is all theyv'e done up to now.

Jake

As to the ability of US troops to stand down as iraqi forces step up, try this K-R story entitled Abuse of Prisoners Widespread.

Civil war's not coming, certainly not. Only a loser-defeatist believes that.

if you consider Tom Lasseter at Knight-Ridder a fair source, try this article

I missed where Mr. Lasseter concluded that more troops are the answer, or that Ramadi was ever "cleared". These may very well be valid conclusions, but you haven't yet supported them.

Only a loser-defeatist believes that.

Maybe I should open up a snarkfest thread. Is there anyone else who needs a fix?

Oh, I forgot the freedom=peaceful one. Certainly Americans believe themselves to be the most free people on the planet - yet WE started the war in Iraq.

Odd, that.

Jake

Jake,

Beyond all snarkiness about American peacefulness (or the lack thereof), I'm worried about the naive outlook the statement demonstrates. Democracies start wars, commit genocide, have ethnic strife and civil wars, and... well.. all sorts of bad stuff.

That doesn't make democracy bad, but it also means that Democracy is not the magic bullet for peace.

Maybe I should open up a snarkfest thread. Is there anyone else who needs a fix?

What, has Charles decided not to post during the holidays?

is there a difference between snark and sarcasm? i was trying for the latter, not the former.

I missed where Mr. Lasseter concluded

You asked:

Seriously: the insurgency has taken ground back from us?

Francis gave you a cite. You either dismissed it without reading it, or are having trouble comprehending the sentence "And the insurgency has come back to the area".

Eh? Where'd I say that? I think you need to look again at the comment I was replying to; the context is quite different than you're making it out to be.

The price of obliqueness, Slarti, is being misunderstood. I was attempting to interpret several scattershot statements you were making, and asking for clarification.

Slarti: Maybe I should open up a snarkfest thread. Is there anyone else who needs a fix?

Slarti earlier: Stupid to even try, then. Let's bail!

If you need an answer to your question, I've pretty much had it with snark. It's cheap, it's easy, and it does nothing to clarify the discussion at hand.

If the hundreds of sectarian militias are still formed, what makes us think the Iraqi army will be getting the best and brightest?

This Shi'ite death squad stuff is depressing the crap out of me. I haven't had a well thought out position on where to go from here in Iraq in a very long time. I prefer to focus on issues where there seems to be a solution.

I guess that was a little vague...for what I meant by "this death squad stuff" see The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

For Donald Rumsfeld's reaction, and example #101 of the uniformed military having honor and the civilian DoD leadership you know, not, see Dana Milbank.

Katherine: I haven't had a well thought out position on where to go from here in Iraq in a very long time. I prefer to focus on issues where there seems to be a solution.

I fear that comrade Katherine is displaying insufficient Will to Triumph.

And yes, comrade double-lus-ungood is displaying overmuch snarkiness. Apologies.

The price of obliqueness, Slarti, is being misunderstood

I thought the price of obliqueness was eternal virulence?

"This Shi'ite death squad stuff is depressing the crap out of me."

Yes, it is depressing. I long for the good ole days of Father Saddam.

I am not going to post a thorough dissection, having gotten up very very early in order to spend the day talking about the move to human trials of stem cell based therapies, from which I have only just returned. (For the same reason, I didn't see the speech.) But:

In reading the plan, I was struck by the way it defines the problem: it's the insurgency. I think that the insurgency is the most acute problem for the US military. But for the stability of Iraq, I think the biggest problem is the central government's lack of a monopoly on the use of force, aka the presence of large militias that the central government cannot control. The insurgency is the militia(s) that attack our troops, but all the militias are the problem.

If one takes this view, then it's not obvious that training the Iraqi army is a solution. Training the army will make it more technically proficient. But it will not make the army loyal to the central government if it is composed of, or heavily infiltrated by, militia members. Most stories I've read that have touched on this say that the army is not integrated: that there are Kurdish units from the Pesh Merga (the Kurdish militia), Shi'ite units from different Shi'a militias, etc. If so, we need to face the possibility that we are not, in fact, training an Iraq army; we are training future combatants in a civil war.

And, in general, the possibility of a civil war, and steps to avoid it do not loom large in this plan. Again, it's all about either combatting the insurgency or helping democratic institutions to take hold, without much acknowledgment of the fact that those institutions seem to be falling into the hands of participants in a civil war.

This is not a good thing at all.

Especially since the one part I completely agree with is the part about the consequences of failure. A good reason to have done a lot more planning beforehand, I think. And pointing out how bad failure would be is not the same as demonstrating the possibility of success.

An interesting and excellent point, hilzoy. My vague sense of unease has quickly coalesced around that concept. Erf.

This from emptywheel, which quotes Edward Tufte, hits the spot.

For the naive, bullet lists may create the appearance of hard-headed organized thought. But in the reality of day-to-day practice, the PP cognitive style is faux-analytical.

[snip]

By leaving out the narrative between the points, the bullet outline ignores and conceals the causal assumptions and analytic structure of the reasoning.

Sums up the whole approach, imo.

If Iraqis vote for a compromise govt, that has enough power (by virtue of being secular Shiite, but not at odds with Sistani) to begin to dismantle the private armies, that would be a good start.
Local govts and tribes should be persuaded to give up their militias with the promise of economic benefits and broader political influence.

That is a big if, and it is not in the control of the US.

The new govt must stay in place for 4 years but not have so much power that they cannot be defeated in the next elections.

The death squad issue has been on the back pages for at least 6 months. The tortured Sunni victims have been found on garbage piles since early this year.

The problem is extensive. I would ask you to read down on rightwinger Steven Vincent's blog beyond the RIP since he was killed by men in police uniforms in Basra.

http://spencepublishing.typepad.com/in_the_red_zone/

Note the British have been out of Basra proper for a while. The 200 or so killed a month (Vincent's estimate) by Shiite militias are represenative of the pacified south, if perhaps extreme.

The Badr brigades and much of the new government are increasingly open about their ties with Iran which limits our leverage against this member of the axis of evils since the militias sit on our supply lines.

In addition to the Shiite militias we need to worry about corruption, here is one commentary from an American angle:

http://amconmag.com/2005/2005_10_24/cover.html

Also an exceedingly high crime rate and according to the World Bank an economy whose growth has slowed dramatically and could possibly turn negative.

Publicly identifyimg the huge problems including the brain drain brought by the fleeing of professionals is a necessary first step. In some cases at least partially successful responses might be made.

A god beginning might be trying to answer the points of General Odom, head of NSA under Reagon:

http://niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=129

"I prefer to focus on issues where there seems to be a solution." ...Katherine

One of the many reason I admire you.

The place is flooded with money, men’s pride and weapons.

The Civil War is gonna be a “Woodstock” of Arab nationalism and Muslim fanaticism on par with Chechnya and Soviet-Afghanistan.

We really fucked up.

I meant to say "surpass" Chechnya and Soviet-Afghanistan.

Fighting Americans is gonna a be great symbol of respect....we really screwed this up.

Putnam's social capital on steroids and amphetamines.

NeoDude: posting rules.

Very much looking forward to hilzoys wrap up. First looked at it 38 pages gosh. I'll try to wade through the executive summary I think. Didn't see speech but saw a picture bite on news, was soooo gald he did not have military personel in rows behind him, it really pisses me off.I know that this too was speaking to a cherry picked audience. Quick question, what does kool-aid mean? sorry my excuse is I'm an aussie and don't understand your slang.

Debbie: my brief wrap-up is earlier in the comments (long, busy day today; very tired.)

Kool-aid is a rather revolting powdered juice mix. 'Drinking the kool-aid' is, I think, a reference to Jim Jones' followers (he was the leader of a cult), who, when ordered to, drank poison in kool-aid. In slang it means: buying into what someone says, no matter how idiotic; swallowing ludicrous falsehood hook, line and sinker.

Thanks hilzoy. Love your site. enjoy the comments. it appears that some very itelligent people both post and comment.

WRT the Iraqi army, I'll go contrarian here. It seems to me that the militias are a good thing, and that a unified army de-linked from the tribal/sectarian communities is a bad thing. The surest way back to Saddam-ism is a national army.

If you were running Kurdistan, what would it take to get you to disband the pesh murga, and allow an Iraqi army to (a) fight insurgents in Kirkuk or (b) base in Kurdistan to protect the borders with Iran/Turkey? Something more than all the tea in China.

What's a Marsh Arab got to look forward to from a national army?

These people have seen that movie, and it doesn't look good. And there's plenty of reason to think that the only way neo-Baathists get to national power in Iraq is through a national army, and a secular state.

Sure, there may come a time when the historically oppressed ethnic/sectarian groups need not fear a national army and a unified state. That day is not on the horizon. Nor should we be rushing it.

was soooo gald he did not have military personel in rows behind him

Debbie, this might amuse you. It did me.

As an aussie, what is the view of Howard and his fervent embrace of US policy?

Training the army will make it more technically proficient. But it will not make the army loyal to the central government if it is composed of, or heavily infiltrated by, militia members.

Hilzoy, I fear that you are absolutely right on this point, and your whole paragraph around it points into words my inchoate fears of the past six-twelve months. So: is there any way to improve the credibility of the central government so as to gain the loyalty of these disparate militias?

The simplistic answer is that as centralized institutions form, ethnic and clan loyalties will seem less important: that algorythm seems decades in the future to me. The middle-term answers seem to be:

1) political process. Even and especially a hotly contested one that boots people out regularly; if leaders get ousted in a parliamentary upset, then voters will associates policies, parties, and personalities with consequences. It's in the Iraqis' interest for there to be consequences for governing against people's interests, and it's in the US interest for the Iraqis to scheme toward gaining power in a centralized government rather than wage guerilla war for a total government.

2) a totally unfettered, even sensationalistic local press. We should want Iraqis to be reading ten newspapers a day, all of which argue on minute questions relating to the central power. We should want them to believe that by becoming informed about their local situation and their international situation, they are participating in their country's redevelopment. For God's sake, we should be sponsoring debating halls and newspaper rooms! (Remember our early colonial and 18th-c British history: the coffee-houses and Working-Man institutes were where the middle-classes got educated and politically organized. And yeah, it was messy and unpopular with the rulers for awhile.) We should be engaging with Al-Jazeerah, talking with Iraqis, and enabling them to talk among themselves in public forum-type debates.

3) Military stuff--I'll be the first to admit that I don't know about this dimension. I do think it might be important for the US to renounce publicly any intention to stay permanently. This idea has gotten out there (not by me, so don't say it), and since "permanent" is such an absolute word it should be easy to renounce.

3) International PR. The declared "long-term" goals here might completely derail the middle-term ones. Declaring that the creation of an Iraq that would be "a partner in the global war on terror" will be received very cynically in the region. The GWOT is, I suspect, understood by MENA-types as either a) an excuse for the US to trample sovereignity in pursuit of perceived enemies, b) a convenient extenuation of Cold-War tactics for total US hegemony, or c) a bizarre semi-crusade against bad guys that ends up targetting random Muslims. And here I'm extrapolating only from the comments of my educated Muslim expat friends (and of course from the meanderings of the arch-realist and now tubucular Collounbury); goodness knows what non-elite people in-country think. Declaring how we want countries to feel about us is a poor PR strategy, even if it weren't pie-in-the-sky thinking, and I won't even get into the bombing Al-Jazeerah rumors. For God's sakes, we've been pissed off at the French for ingratitude for over fifty years, and they've been (mostly) working with us! What do we want, a commonwealth?! (Don't answer that.)

And my points kinda drift off from there...

LJ, very funny, but did it make the national news?
What I really think of Mr Howard? I could get banned for saying. In polite terms I think he is a suck-up, a boot licker and a fawning idiot, with regard to his relationship with the US. We should be allies, please don't misunderstand. But at present he and his government are bringing in so much Americanised legislation that it is scary.

a totally unfettered, even sensationalistic local press

While not "fetters", this pretty much undercuts any reason for Iraqis to take stories in their local press seriously.

why would a newspaper accept payment to print a story? I thought journalism worked the other way around. Weren't the editors a little sceptical? So long as everyone knows the paper is owned by the US it should be ok.

This has a bit more about the Lincoln group mentioned in the article.

So long as everyone knows the paper is owned by the US it should be ok.

Good, but not as good as the last line of the article

The editor of Al Mada... said if his cash-strapped paper had known the story was from the US government he would have "charged much, much more"

The price of obliqueness, Slarti, is being misunderstood.

Hmmm...let's recap:

Jeff: That's patently untrue -- if anything, the past several decades of globalization have taught us that countries without a long history of slow transformation are generally MORE violent and MORE dangerous following an abrupt transition to free market democracy.
Slart: It'd be interesting to hear examples, Jeff. Not that I'm naysaying, but I'm thinking it's the transition part that's violent, not the end state. Transitions between systems that don't fall into the "free democracy" bin have been as violent as anything we've seen in centuries, I'd say.

Caveat: maybe second row of dimples on the thimble on this one.

I don't see too much obliqueness there, dpu, although the last comment may not have been understandable. And to think, all I had to do was scroll up and actually read the exchange in question!

i was trying for the latter, not the former.

Sarcasm isn't effective communication, Francis, as I've just demonstrated. Maybe just saying it would work better. And to be sure, I could take my own advice from time to time.

Francis gave you a cite.

Yes, he did, felix. Unfortunately it doesn't do much at all to support his point. Of course we haven't stomped down the insurgency in all of Iraq; if we had, we probably wouldn't have quite so many arguments about it.

It's cheap, it's easy, and it does nothing to clarify the discussion at hand.

Odd, then, that I'm the first guy you throw the snark flag on, dpu. But again, I'm willing to discuss this issue (as opposed to my perceived personal shortcomings) anytime you are.

I have much agreement with what hilzoy's written, but I'm not sure that we even have a good solution for welding the Iraqi military and police force to the Iraqi government. I think is just a portion of the fundamental flaw of nation-building of this kind: the idea that one can recreate the passion for democracy and elective government that we ourselves (and, to be sure, other countries) experienced without the level of commitment necessary to resort to revolution. Tree of liberty, blood of patriots...not just words. It reminds me of something I read about enlightenment; can't recall the exact words or who said it, but something to the effect that enlightenment is something one achieves for oneself; if someone else tries to give it to you it's completely worthless.

And, to be sure, I'm not saying that we are the be-all and end-all, or even better than anyone else. Just that perhaps there are some things you cannot give away. Also not saying there aren't any Iraqi patriots, just that they haven't exactly chosen to rise up and have things their way yet. I do hope for that, but I don't expect it.

Well, LJ, I'm not a big fan of propaganda, but at least the Pentagon has found someone willing to print good news about Iraq. Maybe they were the lowest bidder.

Yeah, LJ, I saw that.

Their press will be interfered with, as ours clearly is, but the region needs to build even semi-independant institutions. I'm not opposed to the US's trying to place position pieces in the MENA press; in fact, I think it would be a very smart thing for them to do. I also think they should make press liasions available to explain the US position to any MENA press willing to hear them.

However, I also think it insanity for the US to demonize any press outlet for expressing opinions that are inconvenient for our current political objectives. [Deleted: a long discussion about US enforcement of US IP laws on the rest of the world.] It is in our interests that a bizillion press outlets flourish in the MidEast, even if at least a quarter of them are crazy. Why? Because it's better that crazy activists spend more time writing than plotting, spend more effort convincing than killing.

That's why democracy is about. Get the loons out in public. Get them to state their case in front of audience that consists of abstract readers--i.e., not fifty of their friends, relatives, and neighbors. Let's get a debate going.

Yeah, okay, I have no hope of this actually happening under GW Bush. At this point, I feel like offering positive solutions amounts almost to absurdist theater, an abstract mockery of our shaared ideals. I'll shut up now.

And, to be sure, I'm not saying that we are the be-all and end-all, or even better than anyone else. Just that perhaps there are some things you cannot give away.

Slarti, I think this is the sort of point where we have the most overlap in our views on these things.

I'm not saying that a free, peaceful, democratic Iraq with a well-integrated society is not an awesome goal. I just think that:

1) This goal is not particularly tied to fighting terrorism

2) The invasion and occupation of Iraq, especially as it's been executed, was not the best way to achieve this goal

3) The resources we currently have at our disposal are not sufficient to achieve the goal

Part of the reason for #2 and #3 is the very issue you bring up -- installing the structures to support democracy to not convey the underlying philosophical principles of democracy to a culture. I don't mean to say that 'Muslims are primitive' or something silly like that. Rather, that when you put the mechanisms of democracy in place before the culture of it is there, you get the sorts of situations we try to gloss over in Africa, South America, and so on. Russia's had a heck of a time of it, and it didn't have to deal with an actual hot war going on for years.

"Rather, that when you put the mechanisms of democracy in place before the culture of it is there,"

I would like to think more about this. It appears to me that Iraqis understand quite well the "culture of democracy". And it is not as if sectarian, ethnic, geographic and other difference are not problems in the US and other countries, or that majorities never overeach or minorities feel badly served. So it seems a "simple" matter of degree, perhaps in incentives to form coalitions and placate minorities.

Why do, to the extent they do, democracies work in the West?

Yes, he did, felix. Unfortunately it doesn't do much at all to support his point.

Uh, I believe that the question under discussion was:
Seriously: the insurgency has taken ground back from us?

From the article:
During three weeks of reporting along the Euphrates River valley, home to Anbar's main population centers and the core of insurgent activity, military officials offered three primary reasons that guerrilla fighters have held and gained ground:

I can't really think of any other interpretation of this other than that the guerilla fighters have taken back ground from the occupying forces.

Tom Lasseter made regular trips to Fallujah in the summer and winter of 2003, interviewing tribal sheiks and residents there before the town fell to insurgents. He wrote extensively about the brewing unrest in the region, and the misunderstandings and conflicts between residents and the U.S. military units stationed there. During that period he was able to walk freely throughout the town with a translator.

In the case of Fallujah, U.S. military units were stationed there. The town "fell" to insurgents. And, as this paragraph states:

Even so, of the 250,000 population before the fighting, just 150,000 residents have returned [to Fallujah]. And the insurgency has come back to the area.

Ground was taken by the insurgents, taken back by the US, and the insurgents have returned.

I can't really see why you think the cite doesn't address the question. More cites would certainly be good - they always are.

As to the question of whether more troops would help, I would have thought it's not much of a logical leap to suggest that given Gen. Shinseki's pre-war estimates. He suggested 500,000 were required for the operation, 150,000 were sent, and they are having difficulty in completing the operation. While it's not proven, the most obvious reason for the difficulty is that not enough people were sent.

Well, both Slarti and Jackmormon have seen my point, but I think a few things are being missed. The first is that these stories were then cited in press conferences as signs of progress.

The second is that the obvious potential for blowback makes this a really stupid thing to do, but it's obviously been overshadowed by some of the other mistakes, so I guess we can feel grateful.

Uh, I believe that the question under discussion was: Seriously: the insurgency has taken ground back from us?

No, what was under discussion was the assertion that we do not have enough troops to hold cleared areas. Certainly the article speaks to insufficient troops in the areas in question, but that doesn't translate directly to "we don't have enough troops".

Ground was taken by the insurgents, taken back by the US, and the insurgents have returned.

"Returned" does not equal "recaptured the area.

While it's not proven, the most obvious reason for the difficulty is that not enough people were sent.

Sure, if that's what you're inclined to think. More might be better. More might be worse, on the other hand, if one considers that 500k might look a whole lot more like an army of occupation than a peacekeeping force. Maybe I've read too much into events, but isn't one reason for ramping up training of Iraqi forces the fact that having a whole lot of troops in Iraq tends to foster resentment? You've read that the objective in Ramadi isn't victory; exactly what do you think we might be up to, there?

The first is that these stories were then cited in press conferences as signs of progress.

Is it your contention that progress has not in fact been made? Are you saying that lies are being fed to Iraqi papers to make it look as if we're doing something we're not?

Slart, insurgents generally don't 'recapture ground'; they just resume operations.

As for progress in Iraq, I refer all to an article by Robin Wright (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/24/AR2005112401051_pf.html), brought to my attention by Jim Henley (http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2005/11/25/4730).

With a strategy of "clear and hold" (which is quite explicit in the freshly-minted "Strategy for Victory"), yes, the return of the insurgency does essentially mean that the area has been recaptured. Or, if the semantics are hanging you up, put it this way - where our victory conditions demand we clear and hold, when the insurgents return to an area previously cleared, that ground has been "taken back" from us.

And not to speak for LJ, but I think his (implied, to be sure) point was not about the truth or falsehood of the stories, but rather about the irony of the US buying front page access at the same time Rumsfeld brags about the "free" Iraqi press "offering a relief valve for the Iraqi public to debate the issues of the day." Bought and paid for coverage, drafted by Americans, is advertising, no matter how true it is.

This is not to say that the truth or falsehood of our progress and good works is itself irrelevant; it's great, and I wish that a free Iraqi press would care about it. But it would foolish to ignore the clear lesson - that we have so polarized the country against us that nobody there wants to hear good news about America, however true, and we have to pay to get this information published.

Slart, insurgents generally don't 'recapture ground'; they just resume operations.

This kind or renders the "not enough troops to hold ground" argument pointless, Barry. The merits of holding ground against an opponent who is mostly fixated on doing damage and escaping (or not)...well, I'm not seeing it.

As for progress in Iraq, I refer all to an article by Robin Wright

Which fails to mention the reason for security, for some reason. My guess: because a group of American journalists would be such a tempting prize that insurgents, terrorists, what have you would risk much to capture or kill them.

The merits of holding ground against an opponent who is mostly fixated on doing damage and escaping (or not)...well, I'm not seeing it.

...Whiiiiich renders that Administration's only voiced metric for success moot, as well. Bush fixated on 'combat operations' and 'securing ground' in his speech. Why didn't he talk about how many car bombs go off, and how many kidnappings there are? Consistent reduction in those numbers would seem to be a sign of success.

Good point, Jeff, although I wouldn't say it's the only metric. There's that bringing Iraqi military to the forefront of the peacekeeping (and yes, I know there are problems with that word; consider it noted) operations aspect, as well as the rebuilding aspect. I doubt we're going to make much progress against the insurgency that's not military, and for sure the Iraqis themselves will have better access to intel on networks, arms caches, plans, etc than we ever will. I think focusing too much attention on military (actually, counterinsurgency) goals for OUR forces is therefore a mistake.

"Training the army will make it more technically proficient. But it will not make the army loyal to the central government if it is composed of, or heavily infiltrated by, militia members."

Hilzoy, I fear that you are absolutely right on this point, and your whole paragraph around it points into words my inchoate fears of the past six-twelve months. So: is there any way to improve the credibility of the central government so as to gain the loyalty of these disparate militias?

I would suggest that the competition for the loyalty of government army forces starts at the very highest levels of Iraqi government. Iraqis are not going to create a non-partisan government army. No one in that country seeks to build a non-partisan military force that would allegedly counteract the power of politically aligned militias. Those that control the central government will politically control the army of that government.

Iraq is all about the scramble for political power amongst the Iraqis. In all likelihood, the winners intend to leverage control as much as possible, including political control of any armed forces of the central government.

Me: "Slart, insurgents generally don't 'recapture ground'; they just resume operations."

Slart: "This kind or renders the "not enough troops to hold ground" argument pointless, Barry. The merits of holding ground against an opponent who is mostly fixated on doing damage and escaping (or not)...well, I'm not seeing it."

'Holding ground' = making sure that the opponents have a hard time getting in and doing damage, and an even harder time escaping if they do.

Me: "As for progress in Iraq, I refer all to an article by Robin Wright"


Slart: "Which fails to mention the reason for security, for some reason. My guess: because a group of American journalists would be such a tempting prize that insurgents, terrorists, what have you would risk much to capture or kill them."

Perhaps Robin didn't explicitly mention the reason for the security because it's pretty obvious - the war. As for 'such a tempting prize...', these journalists would be an equally tempting prize in Kuwait, for example. But do they need a military escort there? That's what 'holding ground' means.

'Holding ground' = making sure that the opponents have a hard time getting in and doing damage, and an even harder time escaping if they do.

This doesn't look as if they're having all that easy of a time escaping.

Perhaps Robin didn't explicitly mention the reason for the security because it's pretty obvious - the war

News flash: the war's been on for a couple of years, now. It was going on during her last couple of visits, too.

News flash, Slart - her article points out the trend in that war.

Ever hear of those stories from WWII, about Axis propaganda announcing 'victories', and some people noticing that those 'victories' were getting closer and closer? Tactical withdrawals from Guam .... finally to the home islands?

And not to speak for LJ, but I think his (implied, to be sure) point

Thanks st, precisely right.

we have so polarized the country against us that nobody there wants to hear good news about America, however true, and we have to pay to get this information published.

The interesting thing is that the payment is not direct, but through a series of cutouts. The articles are written in English, then translated into Arabic and flogged so that the newspapers themselves are unaware. I guess they figure that astroturf works here, so we should use it everywhere.

From today's news:

Iraqi rebels attack in Ramadi, seize some streets

RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) - Masked militants attacked a U.S. base and a local government building with mortars and rockets in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Thursday, before holding ground on central streets, residents said.

Scores of heavily armed men set up roadblocks at major entrance and exit points to the city, a heartland of the insurgency in Iraq, and patrolled the main thoroughfares, residents said.

In some areas they dispersed after a few hours, but guerrillas remained in other parts.

...

After the initial attack, the situation calmed down, with groups of masked men holding ground but not firing their weapons.

In other parts of the city the rebels dispersed, and some residents said U.S. forces were starting to patrol again.

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to a request for information about the situation.

The assault on Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, began early on Thursday with a mortar and rocket attack on a U.S. base in the city and on a nearby provincial governor's building.

"They've taken control of all the main streets and other sections of Ramadi," a reporter for Reuters there said earlier. "I've seen about 400 armed men controlling streets, some of which were controlled by Americans before."

But remember, the guy said 'controlling streets', not 'taking back ground'!

Yes, things are getting worse by the day, all right.

Yes, ">http://www.needlenose.com/node/view/2371"> things are getting worse by the day, indeed.

Ah, an article by some random guy used as refutation against data: not compelling.

Toting “suicide blasts at lowest level in 7 months!!!” as a good thing is degenerate.

If that's all you got we are worse off than I thought.

Slart, how is the IED count? Suicide bombers are one weapon in the insurgency.
I guess that you also missed the recent reports of Shiite death squads.

For all - read the rest of that article; it's not as encouraging as the headline.
And it gives an account of guerrillas - oooh, not 'retaking ground', that's not PC - uh, how should I say it - ah, yes - coming back in the open where they were previously 'driven out' by US forces. Is that acceptable terminology?

It's certainly a good thing that suicide bombing was down in November, if you're an innocent Iraqi. And I don't doubt that our guys chasing folks around the western desert towns has had some impact on that. I can imagine another factor, though: whether it was real or not, that leaked letter from Dr. Zawahiri to Zarqawi -- intercepted in July, leaked this fall -- suggested that suicide bombs that kill innocent Moslems are counterproductive, as a means of rallying public support foir the jihad. I've no doubt that there are plenty of jihadis in Iraq, maybe Z himself, who thought that the latter was a fake. But surely after the reaction in Jordan to the Amman bombings, they can have had no doubt that the advice was valid enough.

This creates quite the conundrum: on a death-per-death basis, the US is much better off if our enemies continue with suicide bombings, because it delegitimizes them. On the other hand, our enemies' pursuit of a counterforce strategy is widely viewed in Iraq as legitimate. November was one of the bloodiest months for US soldiers. But a better PR month for the jihad.

I guess it's progress of a sort.

So what you're saying is that the media assessment is more accurate than, say, the assessment of those fighting the war? If so, I don't agree.

Slart, I'm not sure I'd want to conflate the press release versions of assessments of military people with their actual assessments. Nor, indeed, should we be blind to (a) a long track record of undue optimism and (b) the selection bias of people dealing with our military. Iraqis who do not want to be seen with our military don't spend a lot of time talking to them, and those who do talk to them have real incentive to be, uh, less than forthcoming.

Nor, indeed, should we be blind to (a) a long track record of undue optimism and (b) the selection bias of people dealing with our military.

Nor, to tote out various hoary Vietnam-era press releases, (c) an intermittent track record of either bullshit or outright lying.

Really, to come down to it, what were http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/international/AP-Iraq-Marines-Killed.html>these guys doing that pesh murga couldn't have been doing? If the answer is that they wouldn't be doing it, don't we have to ask what we're doing?

I thought Fallujah was secure?

Slart: "So what you're saying is that the media assessment is more accurate than, say, the assessment of those fighting the war? If so, I don't agree."


Just to pile on, Slartibartfast, don't you understand the difference between a Pentagon briefing and anything within a lightyear of the truth? Especially with this administration?

Slart, how is the IED count? Suicide bombers are one weapon in the insurgency.
I guess that you also missed the recent reports of Shiite death squads.

They're quite right in stating that incidents of suicide bombing are down. As you guessed, though, successful IED attacks are way up. End result? US fatalities are still the highest they've been since the two spikes in 2004. I pulled the latest DoD statistics and whipped up a convenient little chart in Excel.

Curiously, *injury* statistics are down -- way, way down for November. Like, 50 compared to 1000 or so for the previous month. I'm curious whether that's bad data or an indication that there are far fewer people getting hurt (though just as many getting killed).

--Jeff

Jeff, that drop in injuries is so steep that I have to think it's an artifact of a reporting delay. That is, keep your eye on the same statistics as we go into December and see if a whole clump of injuries get reported.

A Pentagon press briefing? In Baghdad? Wonder how that happened.

You don't trust the military, who's there all the time, and I don't trust the press, who in this case is there for days at a time. My position looks much more reasonable to me than yours does.

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