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April 28, 2007

Comments

I can't agree that our new strategy is the best way to move forward. It relies much too heavily on the Iraqi government, which can't bear the burden of both our expectations and those of its constituent elements, and doesn't take into account the extent to which AQ "civilian" support, such as it is, is motivated by anti-occupation Sunnis.

IMO, AQ would be in a much weaker strategic position facing only indigenous Iraqi factions.

Interesting post, Charles.

One head-scratcher: ".... but I do believe they are turning their backs on those American soldiers who believe in their mission."

How is it supposed to work?

My meager military experience (military academy as a kid, if you can believe it) gave me the impression that no one particularly cared about my opinions one way or the other. There were orders to proceed or to stand down and that was about it, soldier.

Are things so bollixed up now that we may need to sing the "kumbaya" lullaby to our warriors with the hurt feelings.

I have no comment on the strength of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

I can't help but notice the symmetry between my observation of NPR and Hil's critique of AP concerning the bomb that was "left" at the Austin clinic.

And while criticizing the military leadership has its merits, we should not forget the civilian leadership above it. Do not forget that the current administration has a habit of firing everyone who comes up with either criticism or ideas that do not fit into the preconceived 'reality' model.
Apart from that, I do not trust by now any official announcement (military or civilian) without confirmation from an independent source, especially if the 'facts' rhyme too conveniently with an official agenda.
This does not mean that I automatically accuse Petraeus of lying but that "trust is good, control is better" (Lenin, though authenticity in dispute).

So even though every step in Iraq has been ultimately a failure, and even though the same people remain in charge and remain unrepetant, you want to give them another three-quarters of a year to throw American lives and resources (and Iraqi lives and resources in much greater number) into the blender. That's very generous of you, and I hope that you will be generous when the time comes in apologizing to the victims who wouldn't have died if we'd followed the counsel you're now just barely admitting might be wise, months or years ago.

I also swipe a point from Jim Henley: Counter-insurgency is the domain of an occupying army fighting to suppress self-determination. Whenever we are called upon to engage in it, the odds are very good we're on the wrong side.

I'm still agnostic on the "stay or go" question - mainly for humanitarian reasons.

But for god's sake all these questions and criticisms you mention should have been raised in 2002 and indeed many of them were but brushed aside as defeatist or whatnot. It is indicative of the unseriousness with which this adventure in Iraq was undertaken, that they didn't give a second thought to these things before going to war. Consequently I have huge doubts that they are serious now - and the abandonment of Afghanistan is a good indicator they are not.

I also agree with Hartmut about information. We know by now, thanks to the statements of high- and low-ranking officials alike, that this administration sees precisely nothing wrong with omitting, distorting, or fabricating claims. They feel neither a moral nor a legal obligation to tell us the truth, ever. Precisely because Yngling is correct about the willingness of senior offices to aid and abet the administration in what they know are bad ends and means, we should insist - always, at every point - on independent verification.

If people like Charles had done that as a matter of habit all along, we wouldn't now be having some of this current tragedy, because they'd have seen the lies that much sooner.

"Bombs Assemble Themselves, Distribute Shrapnel To Eager Collectors"

"Dresden Attracts Bomb-Shaped Objects, Responds with Firestorm"

"World Trade Center Construction Crews Build Towers Directly In Path of Oncoming Airliners"

"Fetus Detonates Bomb In Womb In Bid To Avoid Abortion"

"Saddam Relinquishes Leadership Position In Desperate Attempt by Former Ally to Invite Al Qaeda Into Iraq"

So even though every step in Iraq has been ultimately a failure, and even though the same people remain in charge and remain unrepetant, you want to give them another three-quarters of a year to throw American lives and resources...

There are two major differences between now and pre-2007, Bruce: (1) we've finally adopted a strategy that can be successful, (2) there is a U.S. commander in the theater who wrote the book on the subject. The one person in charge (Bush) is still there, I grant you, but the command structure and strategy has changed dramatically. If there is discernible progess, then those lives and resources will not have been "thrown". I've been advocating that a proper COIN strategy be implemented for awhile, and I think it's worth a fair shot, and I realize that I'm in the minority here.

I would also suggest flipping through the COIN manual. It's not how Henley describes it, whatsoever.

To answer Hartmut, Bush is clearly at fault for the Iraq mess, by leaving Rumsfeld in place for at least two years too long, and for approving a goddawful and practically non-existent post-war plan. My party paid for Bush's incompetence last November.

Charles, you've been assuring us for years that the new strategy would work. Then it doesn't. Nor do we have the slightest reason to believe that the White House will refrain from its constant practice of meddling that would sabotage any strategy, no matter how good. Nor do we have any good reasons to believe, so nearly as I know, that the government's committed the resources that effective counter-insurgency fighting might call for, and we know for sure that a large fraction of forces are demoralized, tired, injured, and ill-equipped. I don't see that General Petraeus has addressed the problem of counter-insurgency operations with such heavy initial damage.

I have read the COIN manual, actually; I'm talking about the political context of counter-insurgency efforts. I prefer America when it isn't fielding armies of occupation. (Of course I also prefer it when it isn't making unprovoked attacks on unrelated countries while letting the people who actually do attack us get away, but one thing at a time.)

Charles, let's face it -- you've been assuring us that "this time it's different" about every six months for the last three or four years.

You're like an abused spouses, tearfully assuring the police that things have changed this time.

Here's what's going to happen -- three or four months from now, reeling from a new set of bruises and broken bones Iraq has given you, you'll be tearfully explaining that this new approach will work and that things have changed.

And you know what? We're all tired of that game, no matter how much you believe it.

Nothing has changed -- if anything, it's gotten worse and it's going to continue to get worse. I realize you've got a lot of self-esteem tied up in Iraq for some reason, but it's time to admit the pooch-screwing is total and complete, and no superhero/general is going to unscrew it.

Afterthoughts from pressing Post too hastily:

We know there isn't the linguistic support, for instance. We know that the intelligence support isn't there, or at least we have no reason to believe it's suddenly appeared now. We know that the planning process remains led by the same broken people, and we know that the civilian practice has actually been getting more politicized. We know that there's no civilian force capable of the tasks Petraeus has (soundly, it seems to me) identified as best not handled by the military engaged in counter-insurgency activity, and we know that every benchmark to date in that regard has failed, and that some independent reporting suggests that it may actually be worse now than 2-3 years ago. We know that the Bush administration is decisively committed to allowing no end date or termination of the occupation.

Just going through the table of contents for the manual again, it seems like it predicts failure for this effort. What, exactly, offsets these and all the other factors the manual identifies as important but which aren't avaiable to Petraeus because of Bush's leadership?

Well, at least we now have a term for a 9 month period. We should give Bush one more Bird.

John Thullen: It is only my deep respect for the institution of holy matrimony, plus the fact that I think I'd like whoever decided to marry you first, that prevents me from proposing.

Counter-insurgency is the domain of an occupying army fighting to suppress self-determination.

Jim Henley is a smarter guy than I will ever be, but he's dead from in this case. Insurgencies do not arise only in response to occupation, and counterinsurgency does not necessarily equate to the prevention of self-determination. The situation in Iraq is a bit more complicated than simple maxims can easily assess, and the idea that because there is (among other things) an insurgency in Iraq that it can safely be assumed that the U.S. is 'in the wrong' is tenditious at best.

I am agnostic as to whether or not the U.S. can help Iraq's government defeat the insurgency, although I do hope that they can. Much of that will depend on how badly the Iraqi Army and police forces want to win, and that is a difficult question to answer. I would feel a lot better about it if the U.S. were committing significantly more forces to the fight, since COIN is a manpower-intensive operation, but I don't believe that it is beyond the realm of possibility for the U.S. to defeat AQI because AQI is no less an outside group in the eyes of most Iraqis than the U.S., and therefore people who feel safe are likely to help the U.S. and the Iraqi government to root out AQI elements. That will still leave the question of sectarian issues, and that will depend to an even greater extent on what the Iraqis want; the U.S. has done about all that it can in that respect. But the COIN fight isn't over yet, and the idea the U.S. is on the wrong side is, in my opinion, wholly specious.

G'Kar: but I don't believe that it is beyond the realm of possibility for the U.S. to defeat AQI because AQI is no less an outside group in the eyes of most Iraqis than the U.S., and therefore people who feel safe are likely to help the U.S. and the Iraqi government to root out AQI elements.

The notion that the foreign occupation in Iraq (US, UK, and whoever else is still there) is capable of distinguishing al-Qaeda from native insurgents is certainly deceptively attractive, but has no ring of truth or plausibility to it. I can't therefore even dignify it with the description "wholly specious". Half specious?

That will still leave the question of sectarian issues, and that will depend to an even greater extent on what the Iraqis want; the U.S. has done about all that it can in that respect.

No, it hasn't. What the US can do now is leave, having first made certain that all Iraqis who have worked for the US occupation who want to leave have done so.

Interesting post, Charles.

Re : AQ in Iraq... A point has been made that I want to reiterate. You assume that keeping a heavy US presence in Iraq is going to stamp down AQ attacks. I propose the opposite. We invite their attacks by being prominent. An alternate strategy would be to provide support for a stable Iraqi government with the help of surrounding nations and the Iraqi people. Economic prosperity and stability are the best ways to drive AQ and all foreign fighters from Iraq. This won't happen soon but I don't think it will happen at all with a large and prominent US force.

Re : the General's complicity in the Iraq failure. What about Rumsfeld? He dreamed up the idea that a small force can invade and successfully occupy Iraq. He also pushed hard for transforming the military into what he thought would be the perfect force for these missions. The Generals who disagreed and spoke up have been canned or were not given positions. The active and retired ones who spoke to the media have been roundly criticized by the pro-war ppl. Why do we blame the Generals who kept their head down and did the best job with the tools they were given? Why not blame Rumsfeld and the guy who appointed him? Rumsfeld was very aware of the disagreement among his Generals but he is a stubborn and vain fool.

Another thing to consider : there is an alternate reading of the "surge". It was never designed to succeed. I skimmed the COIN manual and think that Petraeus has not been given the manpower or support needed to carry out this mission.

Why might that be? I think Bush knows it is impossible and has decided to run out the clock on Iraq in order to pass it off to a Dem President. There has been very little evidence that the Bush administration is willing or able to do the right thing in Iraq. Instead, every effort and measure has been designed for domestic political gain. Why would he stop now? What evidence is of a change of heart?

I disagree with the Colonel in that I think the error lies not in the military but in the political realm. The fundamental goal in each case was flawed. Let's start with the most basic statement about war:

"War is the extension of policy to other means."

In other words, war is an act of policy. You expend some blood, some treasure, and some munitions, and you get some policy result. The idea is to make sure that the policy result is is worth the expenditure. It's a straightforward business proposition, but with a lot of uncertainty and human lives at stake.

So, what was the policy goal in Iraq? Well, we're now told that the policy goal was the establishment of a stable pro-western government in Iraq. And right there is the failure: that goal is unachievable. In the first place, you can't get a democracy in Iraq; the culture there is not yet suffused with a respect for the rule of law, and so democracy just can't happen. The only government that can survive in Iraq is a dictatorship of some sort. Now, we could install our own dictator, but dictatorships are inherently unstable and often lead to gigantic reversals -- the Shah of Iran being the perfect example of a nice pro-Western dictator who got dumped for a very anti-Western government.

The best the military can do is stabilize the country so that it can peaceful when the Americans pull out. But shortly afterward there would have been a revolution, civil war, coup d'etat, or something similar and we would have been back to Son of Saddam or some other such disaster.

Thus, the invasion of Iraq was a strategic disaster from the time of its conception. And the only solution now is to recognize our strategic error and pull out before there's more bloodshed. Yes, there will be a bloodbath -- even if we stabilize the country, there will be a bloodbath after our departure. The bloodbath is inevitable. The only thing we control is its timing and the number of people who die in the interim.

There's quite a lot to both disagree and agree with here, both in Charles' initial post (which certainly doesn't suffer the flaw of being insubstantial), and with a few comments.

Charles:

[...] The mainstream media is spinning suicide attacks as "sectarian violence", trying to fold it it all into one big civil war.
On this claim, you provide only a single random anecdote as visible support; needless to say, a single NPR story, assuming arguendo that you've relayed it accurately and fully, proves nothing whatever about the entire "media."

So, to be clear: you've made a claim here that you utterly fail to support.

And given the sweeping nature of the claim, which requires only a reasonable number of mainstream articles that have clearly stated otherwise, I'd suggest that this claim simply can't be accurately supported.

On the other hand, if you merely modified it to "some media reports," you'd be making a fairly inarguable case; perhaps something to consider.

Then there's:

[...] When al Qaeda hits, it's an enemy attack, not a sectarian attack.
There is absolutely no necessary or inherent contradiction between the two, and your whole argument here seems to be reasonably classifiable as propaganda your POV, supporting no change in the military approach to Iraq. This is, to be sure, arguable, but your distinction being an arguably relatively meaningless one, on the facts, you shouldn't be surprised that everyone doesn't accept it.
"The central front in the War Against Militant Islamism is Iraq.
You continue -- and points for consistency, at any rate -- to accept and perpetuate the paradigm that there is One Single Homogenous Global War Against Militant Islamism (isn't the modifier "militant" redundant, by the way?; either "Islamism" itself defines the threatening distinction from mainstream Islam, or it doesn't; pick one?); I, and many, would contend that this is completely wrong, and self-defeating. Do you disagree with Kilcullen on global counter-insurgency?

Oh, great:

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I'll try splitting the comment.

Nope. Second try.

Nope. Third try.

Hurrah. Let's see if I have to split the next part, too.

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

(Unfortunately, George Packer's New Yorker profile of Kilcullen is not currently available on their site; here is a brief summary; here is another.

Single sentence essence: treating the wide variety of local militant Islamists around the world as a Single Monolithic Threat makes the same mistake we largely made in the Cold War, and it elevates these locals to a vastly greater prominence than they deserve, which is counter-productive, as well as making it almost impossible to effectively reduce their threat, as described completely wrong">here.

Put another way, the effective paradigm is to look at each situation locally, and deal with it that way, rather than agglomerating them as if they were monolithic and homogenous.

[...] Yes, there is sectarian violence and plenty of it, but I submit that al Qaeda is conducting terrorist and guerilla violence, not sectarian violence per se. They're trying to foment sectarian responses, trying to push Iraqi militias into civil war (or hotter civil war).
The partial incoherency of this line of argument is clear here: asserting that someone, anyone, is "trying to foment sectarian responses" with violence, but that that's not sectarian violence is a silly claim on its face. At least as worded. It's a distinction that, as put, makes no sense.

And in the specific, violence fomented by one of the most radically Sunni-sectarian, anti-Shi'ite, organizations in the world (specifically, "Al Qaeda In Iraq"), against fanatically hated Shi'a, for purposes of inflaming sectarian hatred, can't be described as somehow "not sectarian violence" is just nonsensical.

As you go on to say: "They're trying to foment sectarian responses, trying to push Iraqi militias into civil war (or hotter civil war)."

And that's called "sectarian violence" in English.

So far as I can tell, the remaining 'graphs of your argument go on to make an entirely non-explicit, implicit-only, argument, or at least rest on the assumption -- which I have the odd impression you feel you've demonstrated the truth of with your previous graphs, though I could certainly be misreading you, in which case, corrections welcome -- that therefore Making Iraq Better rests on defeating al Qaeda In Iraq militarily, and that the entire political inadequacy of the Iraqi government, its structure, its domination by the Shia, and the parties of Sadr and SCIRI, and their more-than-lack-of-interest in compromise with Sunnis, is unimportant.

Interestingly, the parallel to this is precisely what made the U.S. effort in Vietnam futile, futile, futile: the inadequate nature, in structure, in situation, and in specific, of all South Vietnamese governments in having little claim, at any time, on popular nationalistic legitimacy, as well as being entirely corrupt, and overwhelmingly incompent. Emphasis on: all structurally; it didn't matter how many coups were held, and bodies moved around, either at the top, middle, or bottom, of the South Vietnamese governemtn and Army.

South Vietnam could never be won militarily, because of this utterly basic inadequacy. Period. (And I'll give you as many quotes by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on this fact, as you like.)

This Iraqi governmental structure and situation look to be, in different ways, similarly inherently beyond inadequate, though as long as it continues, that fact will be pointable to by any who take a different view.

Bottom line: Petraeus (who isn't in charge, but follows the orders of Admiral Fallon, and SecDef Gates, and -- most importantly -- the overall stunningly wise policies of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush) doesn't believe the war in Iraq can be won militarily. Why do you seem to?

I'll leave further argument for additional comments, if I feel like engaging further, which I don't entirely at present (but likely will, at least a bit more, anyway).

Crap. Various corrections and changes disappeared.

Let's try this one again:

Single sentence essence: treating the wide variety of local militant Islamists around the world as a Single Monolithic Threat makes the same mistake we largely made in the Cold War, and it elevates these locals to a vastly greater prominence than they deserve, which is counter-productive, as well as making it almost impossible to effectively reduce their threat, as described here.

The best way to fight al Qaeda is the new strategy we're putting into place, in my opinion. Why? Because the clear-hold-build doctrine allows U.S. forces to embed with Iraqis, it allows better contacts and better relations with neighborhood residents, thus building trust.

We need to stay in Iraq for another four years for this doctrine to work. Not only that, but to continue fighting a two-front war we must reinstate the draft. No draft, no "assured victory".

I've always wondered why "visionary" goons in the White House appointing men like General Petraeus never concede this point. Then again, at least one general who disagreed with Rumsfeld about the number of soldiers necessary to secure Iraq was "retired".

Bear into us anti-war people with all the logic you like, Charles. The Bush administration disagrees with you. Iraq is not the central front against the war on Islamofacism (or as you prefer, militant Islam). If it was we would be fighting this like WWII. The public notices the disparity between the White House's rhetoric and its military retention policy and reacts appropriately by pulling the plug on this nonsense. In my opinion this is the public confrontation the White House avoided for four years by not seizing the opportunity Rep. Rangel provided them, but they can't avoid the confrontation any longer, no matter how many people support them.

Continuing:

Switching gears again, a Lieutenant Colonel in Armed Forces Journal makes the case that our failure in Vietnam and failings in Iraq are the result of the generals in charge.
No, that's not what he said. He outlined failures of the generals; he didn't at all make the case that absent them, we wouldn't fail in either place; you're, well, making that up (charitably, reading into what he wrote something that isn't there).

Oddly, you acknowledge the facts, though not the contradiction with what you wrote, here:

[...] The problem in Vietnam wasn't just poor strategy. There were plenty more factors that led to our loss.
Which is perfectly true (though extremely understated), but in no way supports either that Yingling's much-blogged piece "makes the case that our failure in Vietnam and failings in Iraq are the result of the generals in charge" or that this claim is remotely true back on planet Earth.
[...] If I get an hour of sit-down time this weekend (I have a Camp Fire dad-daughter overnighter), then I'll be watching the PBS series Gangs of Iraq.
At which time you may notice that it isn't a series, but a single documentary.
[...] In Vietnam, we never mounted a serious counterinsurgency strategy, even though the situation desperately called for it.
This is utterly untrue. Do you need cites? Please, Charles, read some good books on Vietnam; I've recommended a bunch here before.
[...] In both wars, the main military problem came down to its inability to plan and implement proper counterinsurgency doctrine.
In both wars, the main military problems were and are irrelevant; it's the political problem that is the problem, and it appears insoluable, at least if one wants to maintain any sort of claim of "democracy."
[...] His detailed explanation of how U.S. forces pacified Tall Afar is illuminating.
And if you don't look at the ratio of soldiers-to-population involved there, or in any successful counter-insurgency, and then notice that it would require orders of magnitude more troops than we have, you've learned nothing.
[...] Disclaimers: I don't believe we're at the point of no return in Iraq. Yet.
Not a surprise.
[...] I strongly oppose Reid, Pelosi & Co. in their portrayal of Iraq and in their legislative proposals. This doesn't mean that I believe they are traitors or are betraying their country, but I do believe they are turning their backs on those American soldiers in Iraq who believe in their mission.
What does "turning their backs," metaphorically, mean in reality? They're not literally doing this, but what you mean by it isn't remotely clear, to me, at least.

In any case, all Reid said was what Petraeus has said: the war has to be won politically, not just militarily.

The admirable Bruce Baugh: "I also swipe a point from Jim Henley: Counter-insurgency is the domain of an occupying army fighting to suppress self-determination."

I have to quibble that this, too, is over-sweeping. "Self-determination" often means a bunch of murderous thugs; see Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Pol Pot, Zaire, Nigeria, Uganda, and just a huge bunch of places, in the past fifty years, for almost innumerable examples.

While it's hardly always right, or would be -- or at least sensible, effective, and practical -- for the U.S. to get militarily involved, that doesn't at all mean that any and all insurgents are admirable or morally wrong to be fought against. (I don't imagine you actually disagree on this point, but it's easy to accidently over-state.)

Back to Charles: "There are two major differences between now and pre-2007, Bruce: (1) we've finally adopted a strategy that can be successful,"

Charles, when do you see the Iraqi government becoming minimally sufficiently competent, and interested in reconciling sectarian hatred and violence, for the strategy to be successful?

This is the point I absolutely don't get. Do you think the Iraqi government's effectiveness, and popular support, and competence, are irrelevant or unimportant to "sucess" in Iraq? Or what? Why do you think the Americans can magically fix their political/structural/government problem, and how will that work? Or is the Iraqi government just irrelevant to Iraq? Or what?

I tend (perhaps wrongly) to assume that the NY Times lead article today, Rebuilt Iraq Projects Found Crumbling won't be seen as particularly relevant or accurate, let alone typical, of our endeavors in Iraq, but I'll mention it anyway, in case someone has missed it.

This is also to second Bruce's sound 04:23 PM comment.

I also agree with G'Kar's first paragraph of 04:47 PM, as my previous comment should make clear.

Heet:

[...] Re : the General's complicity in the Iraq failure. What about Rumsfeld? He dreamed up the idea that a small force can invade and successfully occupy Iraq. He also pushed hard for transforming the military into what he thought would be the perfect force for these missions.
I'm afraid I have to say that two assertions here are factually incorrect. Rumsfeld never, to my knowledge, pushed, or even suggested, the notion that the U.S. should engage in a lengthy occupation, let alone that his forces were right for let, let alone "perfect." His idea was that a smaller force can successfully invade and topple Saddam Hussein (he was perfectly correct), and then he didn't care about what happened next: somebody else's problem, and in specific, he favored the Iraqi exiles forming a swift government, which was briefly sort-of the plan, sort-of, before being kiboshed.

One can condemn this as idiotic and irresponsible and perhaps a war crime, and many other things, but the claim about Rumsfeld and the occupation is just wrong in at least four different and separate ways.

Similarly, the claim that "He also pushed hard for transforming the military into what he thought would be the perfect force for these missions" has no basis in fact. Transformation was/is about transforming the military in various hi-tech ways, but had nothing whatever to do with occupying forces; I dunno where you get this from, but it's simply wrong. It was about fighting battles more effectively, which has no connection whatever with occupations. Bazillions of words have been spilled on "transformation," and this is not a subtle or little-known point.

There are so many things to accurately blame Rumsfeld for, it's a little strange to see him inaccurately blamed for something; really, pick about a thousand other possible important and on-target critiques....

who farted?

Don't believe me? Then believe the U.S. commander in Iraq:

Uh . . . No. And No.

I wonder if, during the Vietnam War, Charles would have been earnestly pointing us to the Five O'clock Follies in Saigon, and explaining how we should respect what's said there, and by General Westmoreland (although I'd have to say that I do think vastly better of Petraeus), and that those liberal reporters, the Sheehans, and Halberstams and Stanley Karnow, Joe Galloway, Peter Arnett, Wallace Terry, and so on, were all misreporting, not reporting the "successes," and shouldn't be paid attention to in comparison to the Saigon briefings, and Westmoreland's statements.

I don't know; Charles?

What's curious -- inexplicable to me, so far, in fact -- is that Charles, and most of the people urging us to Continue To Support The Wise Bush Plan (it's work so well so far!), is and are supposed to be "conservatives," who are said to be suspicious of the efficacy of government, and of Big Social Engineering.

Well, there's no social engineering that's Bigger than trying to remake an entire country, and form of government and society. If you believe that's an achievable task, what principle do you have left as a basis to criticize the New Deal, national health insurance, and other liberal notions of positive government? That they're insufficiently ambitious?

Where I wrote "Al Qaeda in Iraq," pleez substitute "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia." Thank yew.

First of all, welcome back Charles.

I know you are sincere about all you are writing and really believe everything you have put down in this post. I also appreciate that there was virtually none of the normal name-calling.

However, I disagree with just about every conclusion you have drawn. Unfortunately I will probably make a few overgeneralizations and Gary will catch me on them, but I can accept that.

Let us start with the whole "central front in the war on (use your own term) is Iraq" theme. This, along with "we have to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" and "if we leave they will follow us home" constitutes the three biggest (and false) statements made by this administration and the majority of those few folks who are still supporting this war (or occupation) effort.
The only reason it has an centrality at all is because we are there. Al Qaeda wasn't there before us, and it is higly possible that they won't be there once we leave. The Kurdsw don't like them, the Shiites don't like them and a high majority of the Sunnis (including some who are cooperating with them at the moment) don't like them.

For al Qaeda this is a central front, mainly because they are relying on it to help recruit, train and then send terrorists off into the world. Take that away from them and they run into trouble. Particularly if we use our resources correctly.

We can never totally defeat terrorism. That is totally an impossibility. We can however reduce its i,mpact and avoid letting it govern us, which is the exact opposite of what is happening unfer our current policies, including our invasion and occupation of a country that had nothing to do with the global terrorism movement.

I also, at times, really question if there really is an insurgency, in a technical sense. I think you need a viable government for there to be an insurgency, and there isn't one. I don't think sectarian violence counts as an insurgency. And I don't think that terrorist groups are an insurgency. So I think that language needs to be looked at here.

And in regards to the NPR piece, I can say that I heard from several different news sources, including all the networks and published reports that an al Qaeda group claimed responsibility. And that is where the comparison ends with hilzoy's post, because the only way I heard about that was here.

In tomorrow's paper, examples of insurgencies whose fights are not particularly for "self-determination" (save for the ability to thrive and grow richer), and which are thoroughly unadmirable, and which if we did support the fight against them, to various degrees, wouldn't necessarily put us on the wrong side, though it must be emphasized that it's not uncommon for there to be no right side in many conflicts.

But certainly the Lord’s Resistance Army, say, isn't one. For those unfamiliar:

[...] That group was mustered in the late 1990s in the name of the oppressed Acholi minority, but it soon degenerated into a drugged-out street gang living in the jungle with military-grade weaponry and 13-year-old brides. Its ranks are filled with boys who have been brainwashed to burn down huts and pound newborn babies to death in wooden mortars, as if they were grinding grain.
Not so much for the "self-determination," though.

"...I think you need a viable government for there to be an insurgency...."

There's the point I don't think is historically justified (not an over-generalization, though!), actually, John. Really, one can point to endless insurgencies against ineffective, not seriously viable, governments, and no one has ever said that this meant that the insurgencies were not insurgencies.

"I don't think sectarian violence counts as an insurgency."

If it isn't primarily directed against the government, it isn't.

"And I don't think that terrorist groups are an insurgency."

If they seriously threaten the government's ability to govern, even if only in particular regions, and even if the government's ability to govern is already extremely limited, yeah, that's the definition of an insurgency.

This is an accurate description of usage:

An insurgency, or insurrection, is an armed uprising, or revolt against an established civil or political authority.
You do have a point in distinguishing the level of threat, which is what I think I see behind what you're saying about this: a terrorist group operating with relatively little popular support isn't an uprising or revolt -- the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, or the Weathermen, or the abortion-clinic bombers, for instance.

But that doesn't mean that serious insurgencies ("serious" enough in scale to significantly interfere with government in a region) can't or don't use terrorism as a major weapon, so people can be both insurgents and terrorists. It just depends.

Thank you for that clarification, and yes, that really was my point, just not clearly stated. Additonally, my point would be that even if insurgency is, at some level, a correct term, there is much, much more than just an insurgency going on here and that is what is not necessarily addressed by the current strategy.

McCain and Petraeus:

Q General Petraeus, who is in charge of that surge, has made it clear that this war cannot be won militarily, only politically.

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know anyone else who -- I don't know anyone who disagrees with that.

I look forward to the post from Charles denouncing Senator McCain and General Petraeus as "defeatists."

Don't forget Henry Kissinger:

AP Exclusive: Kissinger says military victory not possible in Iraq.
Back to Petraeus:
"There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq," Petraeus told a news conference last month. "Military action is necessary to help improve security ... but it is not sufficient. There needs to be a political aspect."
Damn defeatists.

I'm sure Redstate will be denouncing this rampant defeatism any moment.

I am, just to clarify, quite willing to take a situation that suggests to us that it'd be good to engage in counter-insurgency as a warning sign rather than proof that it's bad. I do think it makes sense to look for a very strong justification for the effort, but then I think that about going to war, too.

My party paid for Bush's incompetence last November.

Kind of. I'd say your party paid about two year's worth of interest on it.

If there's any justice the GOP won't finish paying for Bush's incompetence until about 30 years after we finish paying off the last 6 years worth of the national debt, plus interest.

A few additional notes.

An insurgency is a tactic, no less than terrorism. Insurgents are people attempting to take control of a state but who do not have the ability to do so directly via either political or military means. An insurgency is a means of setting up those necessary conditions by undermining the current government and/or its backers while developing the political and/or military strength necessary to take control.

AQI, the FRE, and JAM (among others) are all using classic insurgent tactics to try and advance their agendas. Terrorism is a tactic of insurgency in many cases because it undermines the central government by demonstrating their inability to protect their citizens. Terrorism does not necessarily equate to insurgency, but where there is insurgency there will often be terrorism and that appears to be the case in Iraq, as the aforementioned groups and others are all seeking to either replace or reshape the Iraqi government to be more favorable to their interests.

A viable government is not a prerequisite for an insurgency, if the dysfunctional government still retains the ability to prevent the insurgents from taking power. In Iraq, the Iraqi government in concert with the U.S. is quite capable of preventing any insurgent group from seizing power militarily, and therefore is sufficiently strong to require the tactics of insurgency. What would happen if the U.S. were to leave is open to question.

"That significance of al Qaeda in the conduct of the sensational attacks, the huge car bomb attacks against which we have been hardening markets, hardening neighborhoods, trying to limit movement and so forth -- those attacks, again, are of extraordinary significance because they can literally drown out anything else that might be happening.

"As I mentioned, we generally in many areas -- not all, but in many areas -- have a sense of sort of incremental progress. Again, that is not transmitted at all. Of course it will never break through the noise and the understandable coverage given to it in the press of a sensational attack that kills many Iraqis."

So here is Petraeus himself explaining that AQ is vitally important because it has so much influence on the war of spin. AQ makes it look to the media and to the US public like we'r losing the war, it overshadows our subtle progress.

While it's true that the war on the homefront is the most important one -- lose that and we'll pull out win-or-lose -- the fact that Petraeus is taking that majorly into account means we can't particularly believe anything he says.

Bruce: "I do think it makes sense to look for a very strong justification for the effort, but then I think that about going to war, too."

Sure. And, of course, not just strong justification, but it must be coupled with an accomplishable mission, and as well, in a democracy, such as the U.S., both wars and counter-insurgencies have to have and maintain domestic U.S. popular support; there's simply no other option other than in the short-term.

My doubts over major U.S. military intervention in Sudan, which I've argued unsuccessfully (so far) with OCSteve here before, isn't over the justification for such a mission, for instance -- preventing genocide is the second-highest justification, more or less, after up-or-down national survival, for intevention and war -- it's over whether that's a practically accomplishable mission with a visible end-point, withdrawal strategy, and whether the counter-productive aspects (U.S. effectively invades another Muslim-ruled country) might in combination outweigh the great moral good that the idea would seek to obtain.

Put another way, good intentions and motives aren't sufficient, by themselves, to justify war and intevention.

Even if one stipulates arguendo that that's all that was ever involved in invading and occupying Iraq, one might think that this should have been a lesson well-learned by now.

This is, of course, the old Weinberger Doctrine, which was successfully renamed the Powell Doctrine. A shame the Republicans decided to throw it in the garbage as too wimpy in the days of the Single Super-Power, and not at all conservative of them, either.

G'Kar: "In Iraq, the Iraqi government in concert with the U.S. is quite capable of preventing any insurgent group from seizing power militarily, and therefore is sufficiently strong to require the tactics of insurgency. What would happen if the U.S. were to leave is open to question."

True, and I agree with everything else in your comment, but I'll add to your comment the note that a scenario in which either Al Qaeda In Mesopotamia, or a Sunni or Baathist insurgent group, is actually able to seize and hold power in Iraq seems fairly improbable to me.

It seems to me that such groups can make trouble for an Iraqi government for an unknown amount of time, but I have trouble seeing how any of them could actually seize national power militarily. Which you say, as well. It's the open-ended nature of "what would happen if the U.S. were to leave is open to question" that I'm attempting to narrow/clarify a bit.

On the other hand, the government more or less collapsing, or restructuring, or changing in any number of manners, seems quite possible to me -- not inevitable, but possible -- so long as Shi'ites basically remain in charge.

Naturally, the best outcome would be either an entirely non-sectarian government, or a fair coalition of some point; however, there seems no particular signs of such a beast on the horizon, so far as I can tell, other than in dreams and fantasies.

Again, not arguing with you here, G'Kar; just trying to make an additional small point.

What do you think?

You guys are arguing about what an insurgency is. I'd say, look at it operationally.

Say there's somebody who's shoving his weight around, saying that things are going to go his way. And he doesn't take your opinions sufficiently into account, to the point that you're ready to fight. And you don't feel like marching off to some battlefield to fight his artillery and airstrikes etc. Then you're an insurgent.

Most people think that negotiated settlements are better, most of the time. Most people don't like the idea of permanent insurgency. But right at the moment the negotiations have gone so badly that you think armed resistance is your best alternative, your BATNA. Better than just knuckling under and accepting whatever the guys dish out who're throwing their weight around.

I tend to disagree with Erasmussimo that iraqis aren't ready for democracy. See, all it takes is that no one militia is strong enough to beat the others, and they do better to negotiate. And they might as well balance the negotiations on the basis of how many armed followers each negotiator has. That isn't a certain indicator of who'd win if it came to a fight, but it's a good rough indicator. And then if you let everybody vote whether they have weapons and training or not, it isn't as good an indicator but it's still in the right ballpark. Representative democracy gives you roughly the same result as civil war, but without the bloodshed. If permanent minorities aren't oppressed so much that they prefer their BATNA then it works. And everybody can understand it easily. "If you lose the vote you'd probably lose the war too." So don't fight unless accepting the vote is bad enough to justify the likelihood of losing the war too.

So why fight? Because the iraqi government isn't allowed to negotiate adequately with the insurgents. Because they have to do what we say and not what they think best. Because we're in control and we don't want to negotiate.

How bad is the ethnic violence? I dunno. We did polling that showed the majority of polled iraqis wanted us out within a year. A majority of polled iraqis thought we started more violence than we prevented. And our polling methods tended to choose iraqis who looked prosperous and nonthreatening. If we were going to stay in iraq in spite of that, what did we need? How about -- a civil war! Get a lot of ethnic violence and we had a solid excuse to stay, to prevent ethnic cleansing etc. And how come the iraqi army that was supposed to take the casualties for us wasn't fighting nearly as well as the insurgents? Not because they wanted us gone almost as much as the insurgents did and they liked our money but hated taking our orders. No, it's because it's a civil war and they have divided loyalties.

Al qaeda didn't claim they blew up the Golden Dome. Somebody we claimed was in al qaeda said that under torture.

I don't know who started it and I don't know how bad it is.

The majority of polled iraqis say they're justified to shoot at us. But we have to stay and protect them from each other.

A lot of iraqis are fighting us because it looks like their best alternative. If they had the alternative available of participating in a truly representative government, they might likely take it. But if they had a truly representative government, that government would have told us to go away at least a year ago.

"I think Bush knows it is impossible and has decided to run out the clock on Iraq in order to pass it off to a Dem President. "

When the Dem President pulls the troops out, if he has a Dem Congress, measures to pull the troops out should also establish the George W. Bush Center For The Study Of Military Failure.

Thanks, Gary, for reminding me that I wanted to take issue with the remark about AQM's goals. When AQM sends a car bomb to a Shia market, it's engaging in sectarian violence. Just because sectarian isn't the only flavor of violence that serves AQM's needs, doesn't mean they're not fully invested in the sectarianness of it. The AQM view of both Shia in the government, and the Sadrists has certainly been made clear enough.

Did folks see the http://arablinks.blogspot.com/2007/04/showdown-in-basra.html>thing about Fadhila v. SCIRI in Basra? What we've got here are multiple wars, with ever changing dynamics. We can't "win" someone else's war.

G'Kar writes: "In Iraq, the Iraqi government in concert with the U.S. is quite capable of preventing any insurgent group from seizing power militarily, and therefore is sufficiently strong to require the tactics of insurgency"

Why should the Shiite insurgents bother trying to 'seize power militarily' when they've easily coopted the Iraqi government agencies, police, and military?

"Why should the Shiite insurgents bother trying to 'seize power militarily'"

Whom are you referring to, exactly?

J. Thomas: "See, all it takes is that no one militia is strong enough to beat the others, and they do better to negotiate."

This may be true in theory, but hardly always applies in practice; the Lebanese civil war, for instance, lasted fifteen years before they got back to serious negotiating again. Somalia still hasn't really gotten around to it. There are countless other examples. People are oftimes moved to keep at violence for very long times.

"So why fight? Because the iraqi government isn't allowed to negotiate adequately with the insurgents."

Do you have some cites on that? Because I've read lots about such negotiations over the past couple of years, and including this week. This, from the Sunday paper (which also has lots of nice positive news for Charles to tout, while downgrading the negatives mentioned) is all about the result of negotiations.

"Because they have to do what we say and not what they think best. Because we're in control and we don't want to negotiate."

Furthermore, some American officials readily acknowledge that they have entered an uncertain marriage of convenience with the tribes, some of whom were themselves involved in the insurgency, to one extent or another. American officials are also negotiating with elements of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, a leading insurgent group in Anbar, to join their fight against Al Qaeda.

These sudden changes have raised questions about the ultimate loyalties of the United States’ new allies. “One day they’re laying I.E.D.’s, the next they’re police collecting a pay check,” said Lt. Thomas R. Mackesy, an adviser to an Iraqi Army unit in Juwayba, east of Ramadi, referring to improvised explosive devices.

How do you explain this?

"We did polling that showed the majority of polled iraqis wanted us out within a year."

I'm not clear which "we" you are referring to, but the most recent PIPA poll of Iraq says a bit differently:

A large majority favors setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US forces, though this majority divides over whether the timeline should be over a period of six months or two years.

[...]

Asked what they would like the newly elected Iraqi government to ask the US-led forces to do, 70% of Iraqis favor setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US forces. This number divides evenly between 35% who favor a short time frame of “within six months” and 35% who favor a gradual reduction over two years. Just 29% say it should “only reduce US-led forces as the security situation improves in Iraq.”

There are, however, variations along ethnic lines. Sunnis are the most unified, with 83% wanting US forces to leave within 6 months. Seventy percent of Shia agree on having a timeline, but divide between 22% who favor withdrawal in six months and 49% who favor two years. Among the Kurds, on the other hand, a majority of 57% favor reducing US-led forces only when the situation improves.

Even larger majorities, including a majority of Kurds, indicate a readiness to follow the government’s lead should it choose to pursue a timetable. Asked if it was a good idea for Iraqi leaders to have agreed at the Arab League conference that there should be a timetable for the withdrawal of US-led forces from Iraq, 87% say that it was, including 64% of Kurds, 94% of Sunnis and 90% of Shia.

What poll are you, in turn, referring to?

"The majority of polled iraqis say they're justified to shoot at us."

Back to PIPA:

Overall, 47% say they approve of “attacks on US-led forces” (23% strongly). There are huge differences between ethnic groups. An extraordinary 88% of Sunnis approve, with 77% approving strongly. Forty-one percent of Shia approve as well, but just 9% strongly. Even 16% of Kurds approve (8% strongly).
47% not being a majority, I'm wondering again which poll you are citing.

"But if they had a truly representative government, that government would have told us to go away at least a year ago."

Moktada al-Sadr controls the largest bloc in the government, and he disagrees with you. So does the PIPA poll of Iraqis: how do you explain their contradicting your assertion?

CharleyCarp: "Did folks see the thing about Fadhila v. SCIRI in Basra?"

Hadn't seen that blog post, or Azzaman quote, but have read various other articles in the American press about it.

Mr. Thomas, your optimism about the prospects for democracy in Iraq is, I fear, misplaced. We've got a lot of history to bring to bear on the problem of governments, peoples, and the rule of law. You posit that, once the various factions realize that no single faction has the power to overwhelm the others, they'll all decide to sit down and negotiate. That would work if each faction believed that the other factions would honor the terms of any settlement. But why should any faction believe that? Why wouldn't each assume that the other was using negotiations merely to maneuver for enough power to take complete control?

The central issue here is the trust that the other guy will honor the rule of law -- that once a law has been established, everybody will honor it. But in fact that idea has already been demolished by the Iraqi response to the new constitution. Nobody's really paying much attention to it. Yes, the government people act as if it were important, but you can clearly see from the behavior of the factions that nobody really expects the government to solve the serious problems.

This should not surprise anybody. Never in history has there been a single case of any society making the jump from a pure patronage-based system to an actual democracy in a single generation. Perhaps the fastest leap was made by the French. They started in 1789 and didn't really get anything like a functioning democracy until 1830 -- and even then you have to be pretty generous with the term "democracy". Remember that Napoleon III was running the show in 1870 -- and not very democratically.

The Germans show the same pattern. Even though they had a solid middle class, widespread literacy, a long history of concern for rights ("Stadt Luft macht frei"), and a highly decentralized system for centuries, they still had a slow transformation. There was a shred of democracy even under Kaiser Wilhelm and Bismarck. After World War I, the Weimar Republic actually did an impressive job of hanging on, but the Depression gave it the coup de grace and ushered in the Nazis. After WWII, the new Bundesrepublik was quickly functioning as a genuine democracy. But look how long it took, even with all the positive factors in favor of democracy!

The Japanese had experimented with democratic institutions as early as 1890, but the democracy that was imposed upon them by the Americans was a bit of a farce for the first decade or two. It has slowly developed and is certainly a pretty good democracy now, but the evolution from play-democracy to real democracy was a very slow and smooth process -- and there are still lots of institutionalized behaviors that don't strike us as very democratic. In any case, the Japanese started the game with a very strong respect for the rule of authority, which transferred to a respect for the rule of law rather smoothly. The Iraqis have never had any respect for any rule. Their is absolutely nothing in their long history other than absolutism plus patronage.

Let's abandon the projection of American world-views onto other nations. They really are different, and what works in the USA won't necessarily work in Iraq.

My party paid for Bush's incompetence last November.

Charles,

I don't think you understand. We opened the gates of hell and 600,000 human lives have been snuffed out. Your party lost a few seats in an election. By my count, your party hasn't paid for sh*t.


Run your hand over the back of your head. Go ahead, I'll wait. Do you feel any drill holes? Have you noticed any missing limbs, or the local river filled with the corpses of your family members lately? Because until 600,000 republicans die horrible violent deaths, your party will not have paid anything.


This is not a game. I hope you and your party never have to pay for what you've done, in this world or the next, because the price in blood is beyond reckoning.


Please, bear that thought in mind the next time you want to comment about "the terrible price my party has paid."

They covered the who, what, when and where, but not the why and not all of the who. Because of this, their report was misleading.

This is an NPR news update, not an in-depth analysis. These are usually a few paragraphs long at most. Must *everything* contain the proper administration spin for your panties to remain unbunched?

The best way to fight al Qaeda is the new strategy we're putting into place, in my opinion. Why?

Because you change your mind as the wind blows. How long ago was it that you told us to get out in six months? Declare victory under the Wise and Benevolent Leader and get the ^%&$ out of Dodge? About a year-and-a-half ago.
What will you think is a great new strategy six months from now?
I mean, you've bought into the Petraeus plan- but only after Bush decided to go that way. Prior to that (when it looked like the admin would use the Iraqi Study Group as cover to get out) you were all about getting out. Now you say that the Petraeus plan "should have been in effect over two years ago". But a year before that post, you were calling for victory-then-retreat, not counterinsurgency...

There are two major differences between now and pre-2007, Bruce: (1) we've finally adopted a strategy that can be successful

So, why were you for all of those strategies that couldn't be successful back in the day? I don't mean Bush- you've made it clear that you think Bush made mistakes- if these other plans were so obviously flawed, why didn't you say so? In realtime?
In reality, you've thought that *everything* was a good idea- until it was implemented, and turned into a disaster. Then, you move to the next administration strategy and proclaim *that* the new good idea.

I've been advocating that a proper COIN strategy be implemented for awhile...

The earliest I can see you advocating this is the beginning of 2007. But you might have posted elsewhere- maybe you could link to someplace you were advocating this prior to the admin considering Petraeus?
Or is "awhile" = "since the administration started publicly moving in that direction"?

Switching gears again, a Lieutenant Colonel in Armed Forces Journal makes the case that our failure in Vietnam and failings in Iraq are the result of the generals in charge...

That's right, it's better to crap on our soldiers than to admit that the war was a mistake. Focus on that.
That's not to say we shouldn't be examining different strategies or ways of imporving our military. But to shift the blame like this onto the people fighting the fight rather than the incompetents who started the war with no rational purpose is- well, sad.

"However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public."

OMFG. The likes of Charles Bird would've excoriated these folks (verbally, of course) for questioning the Leader.
But let's blame the underlings for not questioning their CIC publicly or with enough vigor. That makes so much more sense than Truman's "the buck stops here".

"The military never explained to the president the magnitude of the challenges inherent in stabilizing postwar Iraq."

The mind boggles. What does this guy think the President's job is? Or is he claiming that the President asked about this stuff & Pentagon blew him off & Bush couldn't force them to answer? Bush was forced to *guess* how many troops would be required to pacify the country because the bad Generals wouldn't tell him.
The CEO is in charge of the corporation. If his staff don't do a good job it's a reflection of his leadership and choice of staff. If his staff doesn't plan ahead & he doesn't care, this is his fault. Yet these sad apologists want so badly to deflect blame that they paint a picture of a president *powerless* to stop the incompetence in his own subordinates.

I use the term defeatist purposely, by the very definition of the word.

We. Won. The. War. Sooner or later, troops have to come home. Admittedly the war will never turn into anything other than an albatross for the GOP, but that's no reason to continue it into the indefinite future at the cost of American and Iraqi lives- in the hopes that it will turn into a pony in six months.

I do believe they are turning their backs on those American soldiers in Iraq who believe in their mission...

And people who advocate for continuing the occupation are turning their backs on those American soldiers who think their mission is BS & want to come home in one piece to take care of their families.
Or, maybe you could construct an argument that doesn't depend on hiding behind the troops & their sacrifice? When you're not blaming them, that is.

"Never in history has there been a single case of any society making the jump from a pure patronage-based system to an actual democracy in a single generation."

Could you perhaps clarify what you mean by "pure patronage-based system"? Perhaps it's clear to everyone else, but it's not quite so to me, and I'm idly curious as to whether I agree or disagree with your statement. :-)

"That's right, it's better to crap on our soldiers than to admit that the war was a mistake."

I agree with almost everything you say to Charles, Carleton (and your point about Charles thinking "that *everything* was a good idea- until it was implemented, and turned into a disaster. Then, you move to the next administration strategy and proclaim *that* the new good idea" is particularly spot-on) but on this one little point, I think you're off: criticizing the commanding generals is not remotely the same as "crap[ping] on our soldiers"; they're two entirely separate sets of people (easily distinguishable by having two, three, or four, stars on their shoulders, actually).

I have mostly stayed out of this thread, since I don't think I have all that much to add to my previous disagreements with Charles on the subject of Iraq. However:

"The central front in the War Against Militant Islamism is Iraq." -- If so, it's a pity we decided to make it one. Things were going a lot better back when the CFitWoMI was Afghanistan.

Supposing this is true, the next question to ask, way before drawing any conclusions about staying there, is: so what would be the most productive thing to do about Iraq? I took, as you may recall, a pretty long time coming to this conclusion, but I think the answer is: leave.

You can have all the new strategies you want. I think we passed the point of no return a long time ago. If you don't want to turn your back on the soldiers, it is essential that you explain why you don't think this. Throwing good lives away in pursuit of a failed policy is not my idea of supporting the troops. Neither is throwing good lives away because you've concluded that Iraq is the CFitWoMI, but failed to ask the question: what, if anything, can we do about that?

This particular strategy was premised on the idea that our troops would bring the violence down in the short term, during which time the Iraqis could make political progress on things like revising de-Ba'athification policy, passing a hydrocarbon law, Sunni-Shi'a reconciliation, and generally transforming themselves into a functioning government. This was always its central flaw. The Iraqi government is not capable of doing any such thing. And it is certainly not doing it now.

If the Iraqi government doesn't take advantage of the breathing spell that we are buying for them with our soldiers' lives, then the surge will fail. Moqtada al-Sadr will come out of hiding, and he will start the killing up again. The people who are trying to wait us out will stop. We'll be back where we were before, only with more dead people.

Charles: tell me why this isn't what's going to happen. And tell me why trying our best to stop it constitutes "turning our backs on the troops".

Carlton, that was excellent. Thank you.

Why I think we should leave: the shorter, funnier version.

The cynical part of me wonders if Yingling himself isn't vying for a generalship, but he's had two tours in Iraq and some time to think through the situation, so I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

How very generous of you. Interesting that you don't feel the need to say anything similar about Petraeus' comments.

Is that the sound of *Crickets* coming from the Bird Camp?

“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”

Disclaimers: I don't believe we're at the point of no return in Iraq. Yet. I believe the Petraeus plan should be given a fair chance to work. If there is no discernible progress by year end, I may just join the defeatist camp.

I seem to recall that, back when the Petraeus plan was first announced, you said you'd give it until summer to work before joining the [[rolls eyes]] "defeatist camp," but I can't find the post. Am I misremembering?

Never mind, I found it, and you originally said "November." I look forward to moving New Year's Eve up a month.


I have a question about military jargon in the linked Yingling interview (which is way cool, I've never read anything more specific than Michael Yon). He refers to some people as Major Robert McGee (ph) and Staff Sergeant Colburn (ph). What's (ph)?

I don't think it is military jargon, I think it indicates a name or term that may not be spelled correctly so they are going with what is assumed to be the correct spelling. I suspect that it stands for 'phonetic', but it is not a phonetic spelling. Here is a google search with cnn transcripts, they tend to pop up with names.

Oh, it's transcriber jargon. Different frame. I also never thought of Googling two letters and two punctuation marks -- they're really getting good. Thank you.

Gary,

I concur that it is highly unlikely that either AQI or the FRE could successfully seize and hold power (although obviously not impossible), but that is true of most insurgencies. Even if the U.S. were to pull out, I suspect that AQI and the FRE would find themselves on the losing end of any conflict to hold power.

Jon H,

One, the Shiites are not some monolithic bloc of people who all think identically. JAM in particular is (or at least began) as Moktada al-Sadr's military wing for the purpose of bringing him to power. Two, not all insurgencies seek to come to power militarily, as I noted in my earlier post. Particularly with a republican form of government such as in Iraq an insurgency can help to set the conditions for one group to take power politically rather than militarily.

hilzoy,

Speaking strictly for myself, while part of me would like nothing more than to simply see the U.S. pull out of Iraq, that is counterbalanced by the degree of responsibility I feel for the U.S. having removed the structures that were holding these problems at bay until 2003. It is therefore very difficult for me to advocate simply leaving when I fear that the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal will be devastating for the people we leave behind. It is a frustrating conundrum.

G'Kar: I agree completely -- that was the sole reason why I didn't support withdrawal until, what, six months ago.

I now think it's incumbent on us to work as hard as we can to leave behind the best situation we can. I don't think we can do this by staying in there indefinitely; I think we should instead be working on the best possible version of withdrawal. Since, of course, there are a whole lot of ways to withdraw, and some are a whole lot better than others.

That said, I don't see this administration doing a decent job of that even if they were trying, and I certainly don't see Bush deciding that's something he should even be planning for, let alone undertaking. I very much hope that the army is working on Plan B, even if the admin. won't hear of it.

And the Congress, of course, has less control than that. There are a whole lot of things that I favor them doing now not because I think they're good ideas in general, but because they're the best the Congress can do under the circumstances. Timelines are the most obvious example: in general, I think it's a dreadful idea to announce to your enemy when you're planning to withdraw. But I think putting a mandatory timeline in place is the only way to get this President to withdraw at all, so the much better option of an unannounced withdrawal is unavailable.

Mr. Farber asks me to clarify my obscure term "patronage-based system". I really should have explained it in my earlier post; I apologize.

Patronage-based systems are the earliest form of large-scale social organization. They are a simple, direct extrapolation of chieftainship systems. In the chieftanship system, the group is controlled by a chieftain who knows each member of the tribe personally. The social contract that keeps the tribe together is an exchange of loyalty for economic reward. The chieftain distributes wealth in return for loyalty, usually conferring wealth in proportion to perceived loyalty and social position.

The patronage-based system is an extension of this system to a large society, with distinct levels of leadership and a tyrant at the top of the pyramid. The tyrant distributes wealth among a group of demi-tyrants, who in turn distribute it among their loyalists, and on down to the chieftain level. The Western feudal system was a variation on patronage-based systems (it was more formal in structure).

The patronage-based system is stable even though the holders of its offices are not stable in their positions. At any moment the head of one grouping can oust any of his subordinates. But the overall system is stable and is usually sufficiently fair that society is able to function. We have a good example of a patronage-based system in Zimbabwe, where Mr. Mugabe has engaged in extremely uneven patronage, favoring a small group over the great majority. While this gains him intense loyalty from the small group, the majority's displeasure is reaching irresistible levels. That's what happens when a leader mishandles patronage -- eventually he's ousted.

Saudi Arabia has a fairly stable patronage system. It helps, of course, that there's so MUCH patronage to hand out. But the Sauds have done a pretty good job of handing out the goodies evenly and so enjoy broad support. Sure, it's tyrannical, but it's a fairly beneficent tyranny (in economic terms) and so most people are willing to live with it.

The Iraqi patronage system was nowhere near as even-handed as the Saudi system. Mr. Hussein strongly favored the Sunnis and kept the Shiites and Kurds in line with a modicum of goodies and an iron fist. The basis of his power was the solid support of the Sunnis, who recognized that Mr. Hussein was the only one protecting them from Shiite dominance. But even though they were a minority, they were a large enough minority to provide Mr. Hussein with solid power.

The average Iraqi does not look to the government for protection. He looks to his village headman, who in turn looks to his tribal leadership, who in turn look to their sectarian leadership (if there is any). The government can't deliver anything of significance to the individual, but the village headman can. That's why the Iraqi has no loyalty to the government. And that's why Iraq cannot become a democracy anytime soon.

I now think it's incumbent on us to work as hard as we can to leave behind the best situation we can. I don't think we can do this by staying in there indefinitely; I think we should instead be working on the best possible version of withdrawal.

The question is whether it's better to do something now or start working on the best possible version of withdrawal in 2009.

That said, I don't see this administration doing a decent job of that even if they were trying, and I certainly don't see Bush deciding that's something he should even be planning for, let alone undertaking. I very much hope that the army is working on Plan B, even if the admin. won't hear of it.

The administration had better not hear of it. They'd put a stop to it pretty damn quick.

I really think our only chance other than waiting until 2009 to start planning how to withdraw, is to impeach Bush/Cheney. Maybe if enough republicans see them as loose cannon that have to be ejected from the ship....

"We did polling that showed the majority of polled iraqis wanted us out within a year."

I'm not clear which "we" you are referring to, but the most recent PIPA poll of Iraq says a bit differently:

I guess I was a little bit misleading there. I was referring first to a 2004 poll.

http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2004/WORLD/meast/04/28/iraq.poll/iraq.poll.4.28.pdf

In April 2004 57% of polled iraqis wanted us out within months.

A few other interesting things from that poll -- 52% said that "the attacks against iraqi police" were an effort by US forces to persuade others that they need to remain in iraq, while 44% said the attacks were meant to deter iraqi police from collaborating with coalition forces. 69% said their lives or their families' lives would be in danger if they were seen to be cooperating with the CPA. (Note that roughly 13% of the sample were kurds.)

Something that would probably be very interesting that I didn't understand from that survey came at the end. They asked each person whether they lost someone killed, captured, or wounded in the iraq/iran war. 20% said yes and 80% refused to answer. Asked the same questions about the Gulf war, 8% said yes and 91% refused to answer. Asked that question about the period since the invasion, 4% said yes and 96% gave no answer. Why wouldn't anybody admit to anonymous pollsters that their family hadn't lost men?

Compare to a 2005 poll.
http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/1000a1IraqWhereThingsStand.pdf

This one was taken at the height of the enthusiasm for the elections. 26% said we should leave immediately, 19% said after the iraqi government was in place, 16% said when iraqi security forces could work alone, and 31% said until security is restored. (Remember that the 31% is less than the 44% that the year before who thought it was insurgents attacking the iraqi police instead of US-supported forces doing so.)

In this poll Kurds were fully represented but 6% of other iraqis (far south, shia) were excluded and anbar province was "slightly" overrepresented to get their part more accurate.

"The majority of polled iraqis say they're justified to shoot at us."

....

47% not being a majority, I'm wondering again which poll you are citing.

2004 poll, it was 52% then. That poll included only 13% kurds, and if your poll included 20% kurds that would be more than enough to account for 5% difference.


"But if they had a truly representative government, that government would have told us to go away at least a year ago."

Moktada al-Sadr controls the largest bloc in the government, and he disagrees with you.

Perhaps Sadr and other iraqis have learned to be more realistic in the last few years. A majority of americans say they want us out of iraq but somehow when it comes down to legislation the argument is whether to announce a nonbinding withdrawal schedule as a goal. Sadr isn't just concerned about losing influence, he's gambling his life. It makes a kind of sense politically never to ask for more than you can reasonably hope to get.

Charles:

Yingling's analysis is off base in one very serious aspect. He is wrongly blaming the military for failures that stemmed primarily from bad political decisions made by their civilian masters.

The primary failing in Viet Nam was not so much poor military doctrine in response to unconventional warfare, though the army clearly struggled with it (understandably so given the newness of the problem). A bigger failing was a poor political response to the demands of such warfare. The primary cause for failure in Viet Nam was the lack of popular support by the Vietnamese of the government in South Viet Nam -- not an inadequate military response to guerrilla warfare. Addressing that issue is not something tasked primarily to the military (though their efforts should clearly be coordinated with it), and the military cannot be expected to criticize publicly its civilian masters if they are bungling the political war.

He repeats the same mistake in talking about the Iraq war:

The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq's population.

Military voices expressed their opinion on this subject, and were told to shut up by their civilian masters in the Bush administration. Shutting up is what they were supposed to do, even if the civilian masters were wrong.

The primary failing in the Iraq war has been a political one -- by the Republicans who fashioned war policy and by Republican Party supporters who continue to stand by its incompetent and corrupt policy makers. This point cannot be stressed strongly enough. It is why there is no good reason to expect efforts in this fifth year of war (the surge or whatever) to reverse the past four years of failure.

Bush has followed a sort of reverse Lincoln policy -- firing competent generals in favor of those yes-men who will continue to implement a flawed vision of what should be done. Petreaus is sort of an exception in that he has openly said that the ongoing military effort has a low probability of success and that it will depend more on political efforts than military ones. But he still is willing to serve a losing strategy because his civilian boss has told him to. Petraeus is powerless to implement the political strategy as an adjunct to his military activity, and it is the key aspect of the plan that is clearly failing, which makes the military action pointless.

It is worth noting that what Yingling cites as the "most fundamental military miscalculation" was something publicly known and openly discussed in 2003 (including on blogs in which you were a participant -- what was your position?). At that time, Republicans stood by the political decision of the Bush administration to underman this war, with full knowledge that military voices had spoken up about the error of this decision.

As a footnote to this point, I would point out that Andrew Olmstead was specifically told by military superiors to cease blogging once he became assigned to the war effort. The military is very strict about not allowing its personnel to express opinions in political forums for purposes of influencing the political debate about what should be done.

Got back from the overnighter late yesterday, and I only have a little time for comment.

Charles, you've been assuring us for years that the new strategy would work. Then it doesn't.

Bruce, it only started in early February. It hasn't been given a chance to work, and manpower won't be at full strength until June. I do share some of your concerns from your 4:23 post, especially our lack of linguistics training.

Charles, let's face it -- you've been assuring us that "this time it's different" about every six months for the last three or four years.

You really don't know what you're talking about, Morat.

Re : the General's complicity in the Iraq failure. What about Rumsfeld?

I've taken plenty of shots at Rumsfeld in past posts, heet, and decided to keep my powder dry on this one. I found the Vanity Fair article re the six generals highly disturbing. I agree with Yingling that we would've been better off had they put their careers on the line and confronted the SecDef when they were still on active duty.

Rumsfeld's transformation strategy might work in general, but it was a complete failure when it came to Iraq, and part of that failure was the small footprint tactic of putting large numbers of troops in FOBs, that and his poor strategizing and low-balling our troop strength. Fallujah (finally) is an example of how putting more troops on the ground could work. We went in, cleared it out and created MiTTs (military transition teams) to hold and build the city and train up local forces. There are still dangers there, but our presence in Fallujah is small (embeds and advisors), the environment is much safer and more stable.

On this claim, you provide only a single random anecdote as visible support; needless to say, a single NPR story, assuming arguendo that you've relayed it accurately and fully, proves nothing whatever about the entire "media."

I think there's been a consistent storyline in the MSM about the violence in Iraq, Gary, and it's my opinion that the storyline is outdated. Over at RS, haystack got an interesting e-mail from a soldier in Ramadi. I know it may be just another anecdote, but I believe there's a pattern. Engram at Back Talk has been covering this trend much more fully.

As for the use of "militant Islamism", I'm trying to differentiate between the religion (Islam) and the ideology that breeds terrorists (Islamism). I added the term "militant" because if Islamists sought advancement of their agenda through peaceful means, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Hizb ut-Tahrir is about as Islamist as they come, but their philosophy is to advance their cause peacefully and by using the democratic process to bring society to a sharia state. We may repulsed by their points of view, but they not the people we should be focusing on.

As for the idea of global insurgency, I'm a fan of Kilcullen and the folks at SWJ.

You have to ask why al-Qaeda has assumed a higher profile of late, claiming responsibility for more attacks, even making the (preposterous in my eyes) claim that bin Laden was personally involved in the Afghanistan attack during Cheney's visit.

Al-Qaeda surely knows that momentum is building for a U.S. withdrawal. If they really wanted us out of Iraq, all they have to do is lay low, but instead they're going out of their way to remind us of their presence.

It seems likely to me that al-Qaeda does not want us to leave Iraq. They want American soldiers there as targets, they want us to keep bleeding billions of dollars into this war, the same way they made the Soviets bleed in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda will surely try to spin our withdrawal as a win for themselves, but the fact is that if they really considered that their objective, they'd be keeping a much lower profile right now.

Steve, I agree: It seems obvious to me that Al Qaeda's interests are served best by our continuing presence. When we go, they will be the leading source of disruptive outsiders.

As for sectarian violence, Gary, al Qaeda is just as ready to kill fellow Sunnis who go against them as Shiites. You may disagree, but in either case, the nature of what al Qaeda is doing differs from the acts of the hardline paramilitant Sunni and Shiite groups. I think it's important that the people know these distinctions and are aware of the different facets.

Petraeus doesn't believe the war in Iraq can be won militarily. Why do you seem to?

I agree that we can't win using military means alone. Vietnam could not have been won unless it had a government the people thought would be worth fighting for, and even then...

Sadly, the government was sh*tty and corrupt from beginning to end.

I know that the Iraqi government is pretty shaky (and Petraeus acknowledges that). You believe fatally so, but I'm not there. It may be true that the fledgling government won't move fast enough or effectively enough to turn the situation around, and that is one reason why I go from mildly pessimistic to mildly optimistic. Al Maliki is in a sticky situation, to put it mildly. The problem from the get-go has been the lack of security in Iraq. But I don't see how you can even start to make significant political strides until you can get to an environment that is reasonably secure. The U.S.-Iraqi forces can make some progress in that department, but ultimately it depends on political solutions and getting most of the warring parties to some kind of agreement.

He outlined failures of the generals; he didn't at all make the case that absent them, we wouldn't fail in either place...

Hmm. Perhaps I could have it phrased it that it was the failed choices of which generals to lead the respective conflicts.

In any case, all Reid said was what Petraeus has said...

Reid went far beyond that, Gary. He said the war was already lost. Petraeus made no such assertion.

Because you change your mind as the wind blows. How long ago was it that you told us to get out in six months?

Sheesh. Carlton, I was talking about Fallujah, not Iraq. The only U.S. forces in Fallujah right now are MiTTs.

I mean, you've bought into the Petraeus plan- but only after Bush decided to go that way.

Pure bullsh*t. You're just flat wrong. Ignorantly wrong. I've supported the use of a proper COIN strategy since April 2004.

That's right, it's better to crap on our soldiers than to admit that the war was a mistake.

No, it's better to take task the generals, the ones who put our soldiers in harm's way.

And with that, I'm done with you. Please. Go point your bile at someone else.

Charles: tell me why this isn't what's going to happen. And tell me why trying our best to stop it constitutes "turning our backs on the troops".

It could happen, Hil. Like I've said before, the current plan is our last chance. I think it's worth a try because we've stumbled onto the right plan, and I think Petraeus has earned enough stripes to deserve a shot at it. Plan B, to me, is an orderly phased withdrawal, with Special Forces and advisors (perhaps) to remain.

I was specific about my "turning their backs" comment. For those soldiers on the ground who believe in their mission and its eventual success, Reid, Pelosi & Co. have turned their backs on them, in effect expressing no confidence that their efforts will succeed.

...including on blogs in which you were a participant -- what was your position?).

In 2003, dm, I didn't know if we were undermanned or not. By 2004, I was coming around to the idea that we were undermanned. By 2005, I was convinced. It took awhile, but I got there.

I was specific about my "turning their backs" comment. For those soldiers on the ground who believe in their mission and its eventual success, Reid, Pelosi & Co. have turned their backs on them, in effect expressing no confidence that their efforts will succeed.

And what's wrong with that? If their efforts are completely misguided, then it is ethically correct to "turn our backs on the troops". A responsible government should have no qualms whatsoever about hurting the troops' feelings by pulling them out. There are much bigger things at stake.

"Charles: tell me why this isn't what's going to happen. And tell me why trying our best to stop it constitutes "turning our backs on the troops".

It could happen, Hil. Like I've said before, the current plan is our last chance. I think it's worth a try because we've stumbled onto the right plan, and I think Petraeus has earned enough stripes to deserve a shot at it. Plan B, to me, is an orderly phased withdrawal, with Special Forces and advisors (perhaps) to remain.

I was specific about my "turning their backs" comment. For those soldiers on the ground who believe in their mission and its eventual success, Reid, Pelosi & Co. have turned their backs on them, in effect expressing no confidence that their efforts will succeed."

And when you come to the conclusion that the current plan has failed, and you go to your Plan B described above, and a different plan is proposed which some feel has a shot of working, and the proponents of such plan call you a defeatist who turns your back on the soldiers in the field for advocating withdrawal, you may get a sense of why such rhetoric generates far more heat than light.

Charles:

I have to jump into the criticism of your obnoxious use of the phrase "turning our backs on the troops" even as redefined by you in response to hilzoy.

Why obnoxious? Well, expand your mind to consider this -- for those troops who do not believe in the mission and are therefore dying needlessly, does that mean that George Bush and Charles Bird are "treating them like cannon fodder?"

If such perjorative rhetoric is appropriate, then I expect that you will not just join the "defeatist" position when you finally realize that the surge is a failure (just don't take 2+ years in realizing it as you did with the troop strength issue) -- you will admit that you treated the troops like cannon fodder.

I think it's worth a try because we've stumbled onto the right plan, and I think Petraeus has earned enough stripes to deserve a shot at it.

The sheer hubris, not to mention inhumanity, of this sentence leaves me breathless.

You really don't know what you're talking about, Morat.

It's not very flattering to you, but yes -- I do.

Six months from now, you'll be supporting the next plan as the "Best hope", calling everyone else loser-defeatists, and stating that'll you give this plan six months because they're "finally serious" and "this actually has a chance of working".

I fondly recall your "Will to Victory" sloganeering, and of course your use of the term loser-defeatist is a true work of art. You're an excellent example of someone with no ability to seperately analyze events, just repeat propaganda.

It's over. It's been over for a number of years now. All you're doing, Charles, is spending American blood and money to avoid facing reality.

I have no sympathy for your position. None at all. Too many people are paying the price so that you can wallow in the mistaken -- although ego-gratifying, I'm sure -- position that somehow, magically, it can still work.

I have a point to add on the notion that defeatism constitutes some sort of betrayal of the troops.

In early 1943, Field Marshal von Paulus leading the Sixth Army in Stalingrad surrendered. His position was hopeless and he felt it his duty to the troops to surrender so that they might live.

In early 1945, Field Marshal Model surrendered his Army in the Ruhr pocket to the Allied armies. He had concluded that further resistance could achieve nothing militarily useful, and therefore felt it his duty to surrender his troops to save further bloodshed.

In December 1944, the American Army commanders leading several regiments of an Army division surrounded southeast of St. Vith surrendered to the German Army. It was the largest mass surrender of American troops in history. The Army commanders had suffered light casualties but they concluded that they could offer no militarily useful resistance and so considered it their duty to save the lives of their troops by surrendering.

It is considered to be a leader's duty to surrender when it is no longer possible to accomplish anything useful with his troops. Hanging on until the bitter end when there is no hope of success is considered dishonorable.

I submit that there is no hope of achieving our political goals in Iraq, and therefore surrender is the only honorable course of action.

Mr. Morat, could you document your reference to Mr. Bird's use of the term "Will to Victory" and his use of the term "loser-defeatist"?

Because you change your mind as the wind blows. How long ago was it that you told us to get out in six months?

Sheesh. Carlton, I was talking about Fallujah, not Iraq. The only U.S. forces in Fallujah right now are MiTTs.

Re-read your post.
1)There, you said A valid reason for troop reductions is that there are enough Iraqi forces sufficiently trained to do the job in the stead of coalition forces. There will be troop reductions in 2006, and why not. By August of next year, there will be 270,000 trained Iraqis to do it. There are/were 270,000 trained Iraqis to police *Fallujah*? Or are you talking about *Iraq*?
2)AFAICT every single commenter makes the same assumption, some defending the position, some attacking it.
3)Presumably we'd react to the situation in Fallujah as it developed, not make plans six months in the future. I don't see how it would make sense to suggest such a future course of action. It might make sense to say 'we should leave Fallujah when it's completely pacified'- but IMO talking that far in the future is talking about grand strategy, not tactics. Which is typically done at a scale of theaters.
One plans six months ahead to remove troops from a theater bc it takes a lot of planning. It doesn't take nearly as much planning to withdraw from a city, so there's no reason to get so far ahead of events.
4)You speak of of troops "withdraw[ing]". You speak of "troop reductions". This clearly isn't referencing a tactical maneuver either.
Ok, maybe you phrased your post very badly, mixed discussion of what to do in Iraq and what to do in Fallujah without any delineation, and made a proposal that frankly doesn't make any sense (ie to fix a withdrawal date from Fallujah half-a-year ahead of time). And didn't bother to correct the widespread impression that you were discussing a withdrawal from Iraq, not Fallujah.

I mean, you've bought into the Petraeus plan- but only after Bush decided to go that way.

Pure bullsh*t. You're just flat wrong. Ignorantly wrong. I've supported the use of a proper COIN strategy since April 2004.

Yeah. COIN= counterinsurgency ops. I guess everyone who's been advocating for the war has been advocating *some kind* of counterinsurgency plan to, you know, *counter* the *insurgency*. Congrats on having the foresight of cheez whiz.

Back in reality-land, you spent 2005 praising elections, and 2006 talking up details of how Iraqi soldiers were being trained and would be ready to take over soon enough. You did *not* spend those years saying that the current plan had no hope of success. *Now* you tell us that things are different because, prior to this year, our strategy was doomed to failure.
If you weren't a tool (ie you arrived at your own conclusions) you would've been emphasizing this *necessary* component prior to the administration shifting positions. I mean, whatever happened to your post after post about the readiness of the Iraqi soldier?

Six months from now you'll be praising the virtues of Carpet Bombing To Peace, or Declare Victory and Withdraw, or Attack Iran to Save Iraq. Or the Stab In The Back (presaged by all of the discussion of the Will to Victory lacked by Democrats). *You* don't even know what position you'll be taking.

I think there's been a consistent storyline in the MSM about the violence in Iraq, Gary, and it's my opinion that the storyline is outdated. Over at RS, haystack got an interesting e-mail from a soldier in Ramadi. I know it may be just another anecdote, but I believe there's a [pony].

'nuff said.

Erasmussino,

Try here and here for a start.

Mr. Morat, could you document your reference to Mr. Bird's use of the term "Will to Victory" and his use of the term "loser-defeatist"?

Here's a classic, where CB calls out a decorated Marine & Vietnam vet for 'betraying American soldiers' (while simultaneously claiming not to question his patriotism).
It's also a good example of his "will to victory" rhetoric.

If you're looking for more, try google on
"Charles Bird" defeatist site:obsidianwings.blogs.com

And specifically, Charles comment here almost by itself refutes everything he is saying above about the evolution of his views.

Wow. Thanks for the links, fellows. You're quite right. Mr. Bird strikes me as a thoughtful but uncompromising supporter of the war who frequently shifts his analysis to conform to the latest developments. He seems never to have analyzed the situation from the highest level. And while I am uncomfortable with the venomous wordings you use, I must admit that Mr. Bird has used pejorative language himself in reference to prominent opponents of the war.

Nevertheless, I think it important that we continue to engage supporters of the war so that, at the very least, we can understand the thinking going on. I therefore request that we refrain from the personal attacks. Remember how nasty right-wing blogs are to those who disagree with the majority. Do we really want to look like that?

Do we really want to look like that?

No.....but it always feels like you're bringing a copy of Emily Post's Etiquette to a knife fight.

Do we really want to look like that?

Hmm. Let's see -- thousands of dead Americans, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, billions of wasted dollars that could probably have been used on something slightly more useful....

I think arguing if we're being properly civil is immaterial. Sometimes things are simply bad enough that screaming about it at the top of your lungs is the proper thing to do. The responsible thing to do.

Charles' constant repitition of propaganda, in the face of all available evidence -- up to and including his own words not six months ago -- warrants a bit more of an extreme response. Politely pointing out contradiction doesn't seem to work. Calm, logical reasoning doesn't seem to work. Perhaps rough, uncivil and horribly brutal honesty might.

People build shells around their world view, shells that are occasionally impervious to facts, reason, logic, or a civil tone of voice. We can either leave them to rot in their shells -- as I would be content to with Charles, if he wasn't a front-pager, or we can start chucking metaphorical rocks in the fond hopes we'll crack it enough to let reality in.

We're at the rock throwing stage with Charles here -- we have been ever since his "Will to Victory" shenanigans. Frankly, I don't think anyone here can throw a rock hard enough to crack his shell -- but the rocks we throw here will always be fairly tame.

I mean, we get sarcastic and use quotes to demonstrate things. We rarely actually call you nasty names, threaten you with death, or call you a traitor -- or a loser-defeatist.

(See how I did that? I turned Charles' own words there against the whole thing, implying that Charles there is far more likely to whip out the proverbially can of uncivility. That's a huge rock for Obsidian Wings.....)

Six months from now you'll be praising the virtues of Carpet Bombing To Peace

How about CB's latest at Bizarro World, "About those Gated Ghettoes in Baghdad", a post that points to another blog post by one David Kilcullen - Senior Counter-Insurgency Advisor, Multi-National Force -- Iraq - who informs us the security walls enjoy "great support" from the local populace. He knows this because "several locals thanked him". We are also informed that all public protests against the walls were organized by al-Qaida through public flyers and text messages, and he provides a copious amount of evidence to back that claim up, if by "copious" you mean "nothing".

Of note, there is a disclaimer at the bottom of Kilcullen's post: "These are his personal opinions, have not been vetted or screened, and do not represent the views of any government or organization." Which means his blog may not be subject to the same rules and laws that govern the conduct of official military spokesmen. Compare with the comment above that mentioned Andrew Olmsted being told not to blog any longer.

That RS post is just weird- it's almost like a radical feminist "false consciousness" position. The Iraqis are protesting the 'ghettos', but they actually like them. They were all fooled by that crafty Snowball- uh- Al Qaeda.
Likewise al Maliki, who despite being a Shi'a is apparently vulnerable to pressure from the virulently Sunni AQ (or is easily fooled by text messages and fliers, like all Iraqis).

Shi'a #1: So Habib, what do you think of the wall?
Shi'a #2: Well, I was quite in favor of it because of the security it provides our people. But then I saw this flier distributed by people who want to torture me with electric drills. It's quite compelling! (hands flier to Shi'a #1)
Shi'a #1: Let's see here, 'Americans to use security wall to kill babies, profane Allah'. Wait, I am receiving a text message from Mohammad R.
Shi'a #1: Who's he?
Shi'a #2: You know, the guy who beheaded your cousin last month.
Shi'a #1: Oh, *him*. What's he got to say?
Shi'a #2: He says that the new wall, it will be constructed of asbestos, dioxin, and pork!
Shi'a #1: You are right effendi, this wall must go!

And what's wrong with that? If their efforts are completely misguided, then it is ethically correct to "turn our backs on the troops".

Then your argument isn't with me, Ari. I used the phrase accurately, and Hil objected.

Or are you talking about *Iraq*?

Again, Carlton, the reference to six months pertained to Fallujuah, not the country as a whole. My November 2005 post was three months before a sectarian war erupted, so obviously the security situation degraded precipitously. Worse, the Bush administration failed to respond quickly enough or adequately enough to the changed situation, which has been par for the course for the leadership.

You did *not* spend those years saying that the current plan had no hope of success. *Now* you tell us that things are different because, prior to this year, our strategy was doomed to failure.

Way to move the goalposts, Wu. I wrote about the strategy here. Had Bush actually followed up and made the systematic employment of the plan happen, the situation today would likely have looked different. But it didn't happen. I also wrote about it here. The Road to Haditha post also touched on the issue. If I'm advocating major changes to a strategy, then it stands to reason there's a good rationale for it, and the logical inference is that the current strategy isn't working. If it's not working and major changes aren't made, then the current plan could very well fail. Apparently, that went right past you.

Anyway, it's clear to me from this thread and the Chavez that you're more interested in vilification of the poster for it's own sake than any sort of civil discussion, so have a nice life, fella.

Six months from now, you'll be supporting the next plan as the "Best hope".

Great, Morat, I hope you can make a few sheckels with your future-telling. Anyway, done with you, too.

Erasmussimo,
A couple of points of clarification. I did use the term "betrayed the troops who are there" as it pertained to Murtha. In retrospect, that was too harsh, so I've since softened my language to "turned their backs".

Re "loser-defeatist", Gary convinced me that "loser" was too redundant and too polarizing. I'm sticking with defeatist, for the reasons stated.

I'm not positive, but I don't believe that Andrew was told he couldn't blog, it was his own decision. In fact, I think he said he was going to write a column for a local newspaper, which was one of the reasons why he was going to not blog, because blogging is far more time consuming.

btw, if he has written a column and someone on the list had a link to it, it would be nice to put it up in the comments.

LJ,

This is from the Feb 21 entry on Andrew's blog: As I noted yesterday, it turns out that I have been blogging in violation of a Department of Defense directive that restricts how much political activity soldiers may be involved with. The same entry mentions writing an article for the Rocky Mountain News. I suppose it depends on what the subject of the article was to be. I couldn't find one on the RMN website.

I found the Vanity Fair article re the six generals highly disturbing. I agree with Yingling that we would've been better off had they put their careers on the line and confronted the SecDef when they were still on active duty.

Yeah, challenging the White House has worked out pretty well for everyone else who ever wants to have a career.

LJ & spartikus: Based on this, I don't think the RMN column/blog will be happening, either (if I'm interpreting Andrew's comments correctly).

Mr. Morat, I realize that I am re-hashing ancient material that you have likely seen all too many times before, but I'll take a slightly different tack in the hope that my words might not be overly boring.

Sometimes things are simply bad enough that screaming about it at the top of your lungs is the proper thing to do. The responsible thing to do.

"thing to do"? that's ambiguous, don't you think? I'll happily concede that it is the proper emotional reaction for many people. But is it the most responsible way to convince somebody else to change their mind? Your emotional response to a situation and your attempt to alter it are two very different things.

Politely pointing out contradiction doesn't seem to work. Calm, logical reasoning doesn't seem to work. Perhaps rough, uncivil and horribly brutal honesty might.

Has it worked? Mr. Bird, would you advise us on the efficacy of Mr. Morat's approach? Does his anger dispose you to reconsider your position?

Let's consider the psychology of this. How often have you seen violence justified with the old saw, "We have to talk to them in a language they understand"? In fact, Mr. Morat, cannot your justification of verbal violence be used just as appropriately to justify the exercise of physical violence?

People build shells around their world view, shells that are occasionally impervious to facts, reason, logic, or a civil tone of voice. ...we can start chucking metaphorical rocks in the fond hopes we'll crack it enough to let reality in.

You "hope" that you'll succeed? You don't really know that you'll succeed, but you hope that you'll succeed? What evidence have you to lead you to believe that you have a chance of succeeding? Has it been your experience that people change their minds when you scream at them? That certainly hasn't been my experience.

I suggest that you are allowing your anger to overcome your reason. This is the same mistake that America made in response to 9/11. Instead of calmly assessing the situation and taking careful countermeasures, we ran off half-cocked and passed the Patriot Act, invaded Afghanistan, tortured people, and invaded Iraq -- all because we were angry. Not because we had determined that any of these actions would accomplish anything useful. It felt good for a while. But now look where it got us.

if I'm interpreting Andrew's comments correctly

It fits with my understanding on the restrictions on uniformed military blogging.

David Kilcullen is a contractor. He's under no legal obligation to tell the truth, or some form of it. In fact it's not beyond the realm of possibilities that the "Small Wars Journal" is component of the Information Warfare CB is a fan of.

Or are you talking about *Iraq*?

Again, Carlton, the reference to six months pertained to Fallujuah, not the country as a whole.

The points against:
1)Everyone commenting on the thread thought you meant withdrawal from the country. I dont see any examples to the contrary. So either everyone else (including noble hilzoy) is rock-stupid, or your post was very poorly phrased, or you're not honest.
2)you don't need to plan ahead six months to withdraw from a city
3)"Troop reductions" is not the phrase one would use to describe troops moving from Fallujah to, say, Baghdad.
4)The "270,000 Iraqi troops" who were going to "do it" clearly weren't all going to take care of Fallujah. You were talking about all of Iraq, at least at that point in the post. When(if) you transitioned from talking about Fallujah to talking about all of Iraq is completely unclear.
The point for:
You claim you were misunderstood a long time ago, and having let it stand for years would now like to straighten out the record.

You did *not* spend those years saying that the current plan had no hope of success. *Now* you tell us that things are different because, prior to this year, our strategy was doomed to failure.

Way to move the goalposts, Wu.

Simple words: For years you've talked about Iraq. You've proclaimed victory after victory, milestone after milestone. You've lauded plan after plan. Painted school after painted school. Anecdote after anecdote.
And yet, things there are clearly bad. Now, you tell us of another plan- this plan is so good we must back it, give it a chance.
"But", we ask "what of all those other plans? What happened to They Stand Up We Stand Down? What happened to the Purple Finger Revolution?"
And you tell us that previous plans were doomed to failure. No plan prior to this plan could've worked. You know this, somehow. (Honestly, Im still astounded to re-read that line of yours, it's like a tiny case study in cognative disonance).

Well, bless me, but either
1)You knew that the earlier plans were doomed at the time, and ought to have said something OR
2)You thought those other plans were also great at the time, and ought to start displaying *some* of the doubt towards your own judgement that so many of us here have in spades.

And yet, despite #2 (let's face it, you didn't know in advance), your certainty remains. A certainty that would say a decorated combat veteran is 'betraying our troops' for disagreeing with it.
How can you be so certain? I *wish* I knew what to do about Iraq; my guess now is leaving is better than staying, but I have no certainty whatsoever about that. I certainly don't have the kind of certainty that would let me call someone else a traitor for disagreeing with it.
But you do. Despite the milestones you've celebrated that led us nowhere, despite the obvious failures to this point, you somehow maintain your certainty that you are always correct.

I wrote about the strategy here.

Uh, that's you writing about Them Standing Up while We Stand Down. That is sooooo 2006.
Nothing there about counterinsurgency, except insofar as the Iraqis were going to be the ones to fight it.
Like I said (search for "cheez whiz"), everyone knows that fighting in Iraq involves counterinsurgency. If you're citing that to point out that you understood that years ago, well- gold star for you young man.

If it's not working and major changes aren't made, then the current plan could very well fail. Apparently, that went right past you.

Yes, that's the administration spin, which you've suddenly decided is the Truth. My point isn't that any particular position of yours was stupid (nb not saying they weren't), just that they've been in lockstep with the administration's BS. When they touted the elections, you touted the elections. When they touted the new Iraqi security forces, you did too. When they point the finger at AQ for sectarian problems you're right there with them.
And when they go with a "new" plan and a "surge", you're right there as well.
You could save time just cutting and pasting press releases.
But the ugliest part is watching you turn on everyone else (eg more generals should've tossed away their careers in futile calls for more troops, so it's not your fault for not criticizing troops levels until too late).

Anyway, it's clear to me from this thread and the Chavez that you're more interested in vilification of the poster for it's own sake than any sort of civil discussion, so have a nice life, fella.

So far, so good.
Im not actually here to have a civil discussion with you in that sense. This is a public forum. Public fora benefit from having nonsense debunked. Im not trying to convince you; IMO that would be completely futile. Im demonstrating to others that your opinions are expressed as truths, but they change with the political wind. Your 'certainty' of the way forward is an illusion, and when it collapses you will blame others and acquire a new certainty.

It would appear I need to set the record straight.

1) I was never told not to blog on my personal site. A PAO took a look at the site and advised me that it could potentially get me in trouble and so it would be wise for me to reduce my risk. I made the decision to simply shut down the blog rather than get myself in trouble. If I chose to do so, I could begin blogging again.

2) Unless my chain of command changes their minds, there will be no RMN blogging.

3) It's Olmsted.

Erasmussimo: Carleton and I have argued before (and will again!), but when it comes to Charles' history and responses to it, I'm right with him. Charles shows very little interest in correcting mistakes. Actually, I'll qualify that. He will fix mistakes like someone's name, or the population of a city, or something like that; he'll tend to talk around any larger or structural problem in his data and analysis, and if someone prepares a long response addressing many failures, he'll cherrypick one or a few points (usually minutiae), deal with those, and completely ignore the rest. His posts convey a very great sense of certainty almost all the time, and very little sense of hesitancy or regret about changed perspecties ever.

(I originally wrote "He" in that last sentence but changed it to "His posts", because after all, I don't know him, and posts ought not be taken as the pure last word in anyone's thinking. I've got the texts, and can deal with them; I don't have his soul, and am not qualified to speak to its condition.)

And some of us have been trying to deal with this ever since the war began. So you're coming in on cumulative frustrations as well as the posts of the day.

Thanks Andrew, and hope you are doing well.

Sorry for misspelling your name and if I misrepresented your situation. Both were unintentional.

lj,

Thanks. Things are as well as can be expected. ;)

spartikus,

I don't think anyone intentionally misrepresented anything; I was only concerned that I hadn't been clear enough in explaining the situation, so I wanted to try to be clearer. Absolutely no offense was taken and no apologies were or are necessary.

Andrew, continued best wishes for your well-being, safety, and accomplishment of mission, and the same for all the men and women who'll be around you. A couple elections back, there was some fringe group outside both major parties' conventions with signs saying MORE GOOD! LESS EVIL! Here's hoping.

Most of the substantive points I'd care to make have been made, better than I'd make them. So, just a couple of things.

First, I think the idea of blaming our manifest failure in Iraq on "the generals" is unfair to the point of being weasely. As far as I can tell, Bush and Rumsfeld got pretty good advice, they simply ignored the stuff they didn't want to hear.

Second, if I hear the word "defeatist" one more time, I'm going to puke. Nobody wants, advocates, or welcomes defeat or failure, in Iraq or elsewhere. People who talk about the failure of our adventure in Iraq are doing nothing more or less than discussing the facts on the ground.

The blame for that, in turn, in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, belongs to George W Bush and those of his advisors who made the decision to invade, and who set the policies that have governed our actions there. Noone else.

Bush is a stubborn, vainly proud, willfully ignorant man, lacking the strength of character or capacity for insight that would let him hear or reflect on sound counsel. The responsibility for our problems in Iraq belongs to him.

I'm quite sure that if things were going well, folks would not be rushing to give all the credit to the generals.

Maybe Petraeus will pull a rabbit out of his hat. That would be great. Good luck.

My party paid for Bush's incompetence last November.

You got off cheap. Compared to what others have paid, and will pay, immeasurably so.

Thanks -

Mr. Bird, would you advise us on the efficacy of Mr. Morat's approach?

You could look at the thread, Erasmussimo, and gauge for yourself the efficacy of the approaches. Civility always works best for me, if someone wants to persuade me to another point of view. Those who think bashing or vilifying as the best approach are mistaken. Anyway, I appreciate your levelheadedness and I'm glad you're here. The blog could use more commenters with your temperament.

Andrew,
I'm glad you're safe and it's great to hear from you. I wish we could read about your experiences somewhere somehow, but alas. Be well.

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