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November 03, 2007

Comments

It would be interesting to see a metric of the success of ethnic cleansing, because otherwise the post can fairly be discounted via correlation-is-not-causation.

"I know that quite a few on the Left are unwilling to credit the surge strategy for the recent successes."

Well, there is zero reason to do so based on the above. I can show better correlation to the price of macadamia nuts over the same period. Furthermore, absent any sign of an effect on the irreconcilable political problems, the whole exercise is almost pure goalpost-shifting.

As much as I hate Bush and his odious war in Iraq, I am delighted to see the trends you highlight here. I hope they are not temporary lulls. I would love to bring our troops home and leave behind a (relatively) safe and stable Iraq. Too many people have already died in this terrible, misguided war.

Fewer killings, of any sort, are always better than more killings.

Infrastructure improvements are better than no infrastructure improvements.

What is our goal in Iraq?
What is the end state we're trying to achieve?
How long will it take to reach that goal?
What will it cost us, in lives and money, to get there?
Why is it our business to make it happen in the first place?

I'm happy to take you at your word on all of the stats you cite, and I'm glad things are incrementally better, rather than worse.

But, after more than five years of this, I still have no clear idea WTF this adventure is supposed to accomplish.

There are, of course, "find the pony" goals like "reform the political culture of the entire middle east", or "rid the world of terror", but to be honest when folks talk about those I want to ask them if they missed their meds today.

There are also the Thom Friedman goals like "we'll show you how hard we can kick your ass", but I think we've achieved those by now.

I'm not trying to break your chops, I just want to know why the hell it's in our interest to be attached to this particular tar baby, at this particular time.

What the hell are we doing there?
When will we be done doing it?
How will we know we're done?

Thanks -

so, the numbers are down to pre-surge levels ?

i guess that means we're back to "disaster", after flirting with "apocalypse" for a few months.

I would say something a bit stronger than the prior posts -- the surge probably has had some level of success militarily (although rilkefan's point about possibly having few reason for inter-ethnic violence because the country may have already been ethnically cleansed is my only reason for doubting it). The problem is that the surge was only a means to reduce violence to the end of political reconciliation -- a reconciliation which is no closer than ever. The local successes are no more than the local tribes on the same side of the fence joining together; it does not mean that Sunni and Shi'ite are getting along any better. When that happens, then the surge will have accomplished what it set out to. Not before.

Charles:

Excellent summary and hats off to those on the ground making the sacrifices who have executed the President’s plan. I’d argue that the problem is not with the execution, but rather with the strategy and planning. I’d also argue that a good part of the decreases are due to localized ethnic cleansing that has stabilized many neighborhoods.

Study the techniques of any successful leader in a Middle Eastern Country with a significant Islamic presence (success being defined as providing relative order for a sustained period). The names in recent memory that come to mind are Ataturk, Tito, Hussein, The House of Saud, jury’s out on Musharraf. These leaders were effective because they were able to suppress the fundamentalists within the Islamic community who, as history has shown, are incompatible with an ordered, pluralistic society. Suppression usually entailed erasing bloodlines. Bin Laden’s ideology is not ‘backward and barbaric’ as much as it is a literal reading of a set of unmodified 7th Century texts.

The President’s aspirations for a stable future in Iraq went away when the Constitution was ratified with this to lead it off:

“First: Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation:
A. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.”

Islam-lite is workable, Islam unleashed is not.

The natural religious, ethnic, and cultural fissures within Iraq, mixed with the license granted by the State religion, will make it impossible for Iraqi society to run itself in the absence of Team USA, World Police. We’ll be there either:

(a) Forever;
(b) Until our credit rating goes away and domestic socialism collapses; or
(c) Until Iran and Israel light off the next phase of world history

Yup. Note that the news item that Charles links to shows al-Sadr and al-Hakim making peace with EACH OTHER -- al-Sadr explicitly denied that it meant he was becoming reconciled to the government. Now, what do these two gents have in common? An appetite for theocracy, a hatred of the West, and a detestation of anyone willing to make any deal with the Sunnis. Granted that al-Sadr is anti-Iranian and al-Hakim pro-Iranian, but even so this looks about as promising for Iraqi peace as the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was for peace in Europe.

I’ll take any good news I can get. Let’s declare victory and bring them all home.

If a drunk driver makes it all the way home without killing anybody, that doesn’t make his having gotten behind the wheel a wise decision, never mind a NASCAR candidate, nor is it likely to keep him from doing the same dumbass thing next Friday night.

As for Rilkefan's desire to see "a metric on the success of ethnic cleansing": the closest thing I can find at the moment is Gen. Jones' very useful maps of ethnic changes in Baghdad, presented on the same day that Petraeus testified about the decline in casualties while remaining as silent as a cathedral on the extent of ethnic partitioning in the city: http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/09/a_tale_of_two_mapes.php . (Note in particular Yglesias' last sentence.)

Looks like the last few letters of that Yglesias URL got cut off, namely "es.php".

If Al Qaida in Iraq is indeed losing, that's great news. It does not, of course, have anything to do with the reasons we went to war, since AQI didn't exist until after we invaded. Partially cleaning up that small part of the colossal disaster we created would be a tiny good thing, however.

I wish I had more confidence that these statistics weren't manipulated.

Hard to know what to think of any Iraqi statistics on death tolls, since several polls and surveys suggest that casualty rates are considerably higher than the official statistics show.

Which is not to argue that the trend isn't downward in recent months, but I don't think we can be sure of that, or of the reasons. If it's because the Sunni tribes decided to fight al Qaeda and not us for the moment, and if there are fewer people to kill in Baghdad because of the successful ethnic cleansings, then it seems wrong to attribute too much to the surge. Also, Bush claimed that 1500 insurgents have been killed or captured each month since the surge started--any guesses on how many civilians were killed or harmed in that process?

Odd. My link to Bush's claim disappeared. It gives me a chance not to finish with a rhetorical question. I have no idea how many civilians were killed or harmed in the process of capturing 1500 insurgents per month, but I suspect it'd have to be quite high. And it's probably not something you can find in anyone's statistics.

Link

"Study the techniques of any successful leader in a Middle Eastern Country with a significant Islamic presence (success being defined as providing relative order for a sustained period). The names in recent memory that come to mind are Ataturk, Tito, Hussein, The House of Saud, jury’s out on Musharraf."

Yugoslavia is in Europe, not the Middle East, and Pakistan in on the Indian subcontinent, not in the Middle East.

Karachi is 1276 miles from Riyadh.

"...the House of Saud" has had "leaders [who] were effective because they were able to suppress the fundamentalists within the Islamic community who, as history has shown, are incompatible with an ordered, pluralistic society"?

That's an interesting view of Saudi Arabia.

I wish I had more confidence that these statistics weren't manipulated.

The ICCC info is based on independent media reports. If you compare ICCC and IBC data, you'll see a strong correlation, and neither has a pro-war bent. The main difference between the two groups is that unreported deaths don't get into the ICCC database. IBC is slower but they correlate the unreported deaths of those who turn up at morgues.

I'd like to offer my great appreciation to Charles for assembling all this information. I'd also like to admit to the embarrassing realization that the surge does appear to be working militarily, when I and many others dismissed it as a waste of time. Let's all be honest about this point, even if Mr. Bush has NEVER been honest. On this point, his methods worked. Whether it was dumb luck or just stubbornness or whatever, we all have to admit to ourselves that, for the moment, the evidence suggests that the strategy is working.

Of course, this in no way justifies the war or its continuation. As others have pointed out, political progress remains minimal. Although the surge has been successful militarily, it remains a strategic failure -- and this was a point that many of us made. Indeed, I stand by my fundamental point -- that we will NEVER succeed in installing a stable democratic regime in Iraq. None of the fine evidence that Charles has compiled for us in any way controverts my belief. I remain certain that the best we can hope for is a face-saving declaration of victory, a quick exit with a nominally democratic regime in place, which will quickly collapse or devolve to a tyrannical regime somewhat less ruthless than Mr. Hussein's, and probably aligned with Iran and against us.

Gary--
perhaps by "suppress" he means "funding their madrasas"?

The House of Saud is the unique beneficiary of 1400 years of righteous effort. You are correct in your critique, they are the exception.

Have no unbelieving friends. Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them.

The beauty of Islam is that, once you get to a certain point, ‘pluralism’ is no longer applicable. It’s really cool when you get to define who is a disbeliever.

Now all we have to do it get the Sunni and Shia to share oil revenues.

"The beauty of Islam is that, once you get to a certain point, ‘pluralism’ is no longer applicable. It’s really cool when you get to define who is a disbeliever."

How does it differ from Judaism and Christianity in this way?

Excellent question Gary. Begin with the texts. It is something that a person has to take the time to do. Buy a copy of the Holy Qur’an, read the Holy Hadith. It will take you weeks to read and decades to understand. You will then find peace.

Below is a link from the University of Southern California “dedicated to Muslim students”. But you can read it too. Islam is pure, and the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, will not be compromised:

Anas said, "Some people of 'Ukl or 'Uraina tribe came to Medina and its climate did not suit them. So the Prophet ordered them to go to the herd of (Milch) camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy, they killed the shepherd of the Prophet and drove away all the camels. The news reached the Prophet early in the morning and he sent (men) in their pursuit and they were captured and brought at noon. He then ordered to cut their hands and feet (and it was done), and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron, They were put in 'Al-Harra' and when they asked for water, no water was given to them." Abu Qilaba said, "Those people committed theft and murder, became infidels after embracing Islam and fought against Allah and His Apostle ."

http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/004.sbt.html#001.004.234

Now all we have to do it get the Sunni and Shia to share oil revenues.

Well, you know, Bill, the text DOES say explicitly that they committed murder and that this was a major part of their sentence. You don't need to convince me that Islam, at this point in its history, is hideously intolerant, but let's not try to make the evidence even stronger than it is. Let's also keep in mind, say, the Sufis or Saladin, who seem to have had no trouble combining Islam with ecumenical tolerance.

Let's keep in mind that -- as Mr. Bird himself says -- "the level of violence has dropped dramatically" because Iraqi Sunnis have turned against al-Qaeda (in return for being rearmed by us instead of being shot at by us), and because "Muqtada al Sadr has stood down (again) and made peace with his Shiite rivals", two developments entirely separate from the Surge itself. How much of the drop is due to our troops themselves?

As for those two separate causes: the first is encouraging -- but by its very nature it proves that Iraqis, left to themselves, won't tolerate a significant a-Q presence, which of course means that it provides no reason for us to stay there. The second, as I noted above, is anything but encouraging, given that al-Sadr still refuses to have anything to do with the Iraq government, and that he and al-Hakim are both -- to put it mildly -- hostile to the idea of friendship either with the West or with the Sunnis.

The resumption of the Sunni/Shiite civil war, and of bloody ethnic partitioning of Iraq, still seems extremely likely when logistics finally force us to start pulling out of Iraq in a major way next year; the various factions have just all sensibly decided to bide their time until then, and the decline of al-Qaeda in Iraq does absolutely nothing to make that civil war less likely. (Granted that the resumption of the Sunni/Shiite clash could also make the Sunnis willing to accept a-Q again -- but in that case the a-Q fighters will be too busy shooting at Shiites or running for their lives to make many anti-US plans, and if and when that war finally ends they will once again become personas non grata throughout Iraq.) So, yet again: what the hell are we doing there -- other than trying to keep Bush's figleaf pinned on him until the end of his term, at which point he'll be able to blame his successor for the disaster that is already inevitable?

Bill:

"The beauty of Islam is that, once you get to a certain point, ‘pluralism’ is no longer applicable. It’s really cool when you get to define who is a disbeliever."
Me:
How does it differ from Judaism and Christianity in this way?
Bill:
[...] Buy a copy of the Holy Qur’an, read the Holy Hadith. It will take you weeks to read and decades to understand. You will then find peace.
Waiting decades for me to understand the Qur'an would tend to delay our conversation a tad; perhaps you might briefly explain to me what your answer to the question is?

So here's the big question. Was the picture that you've so rosily painted there worth two trillion dollars and over three thousand dead soldiers?

Oh, and I've read the Koran. Admittedly I don't understand the Koran as much as I understand Christianity, but my pretty in-depth knowledge of Christian scriptures has given me a fairly good appreciation of how absolutely batpoop insane genocidal ramblings mixed with weird poetry can inspire religions as disparate as that practiced by St Augustus, noted Anti Semite Martin Luther, Fred Phelps, Fred Clarke, and my granddad. You've got to give me some pretty compelling evidence that the Koran is more batpoop insane or genocidal than the Bible, and even more compelling evidence that, even if it were, this would somehow mean Muslims didn't just use the bits of the book they liked as post hoc justifications and enforcement mechanisms for their particular social morality just like every other religious practitioner in history.

It's not that I'm saying Islam is a wonderful thing that we should all take twice a day in easy to swallow capsule form, it just annoys the crap out of me when people try and insist that our brand of tedious, delusional superstition is SOO MUCH BETTER than the superstitions of other cultures. If you want to play a game of "who can find the most hideous thing people did in scripture" I'm up for it, but really we're probably better off not arguing about whose religion makes them irreconcilably inhuman and rather assuming that religious intolerance and fundamentalism is a problem to be overcome, regardless of the supposed scriptural origins.

...and a million dead Iraqis, and three million Iraqis fleeing their homes, and Turkey alienated from Europe, and all the rest?

In September, civilian casualties plummeted, and the October figures are even lower.

...that is, according to measures which we know seriously undercount the number of people killed in Iraq, September casualities "plummeted" to just under a thousand a month, and October figures "plummeted" to six hundred a month.

This is not a measure of success. It is entirely possible that the "surge" has meant that, temporarily, where there were excess of American soldiers and civilian casualties were being counted, there were less civilian casualties.

We know from the Lancet reports that no recorded headcount of the dead has ever come close to recording the real numbers.

Every time I've been shown evidence of "progress" or a "reason for optimism" in this war, it's turned out to be complete BS. My credibility threshold is pretty tough to cross at this point.

Erasamussimo, I'll admit Bush's military success with the surge when I know for sure the surge had a big effect on the casualty rate. Even apart from the Lancet reports, one of the curiosities of this war is that other polls also suggest much higher casualty rates than the official ones. I don't have time to go find links or supply details, but this is true.

There's also the mystery of US-caused deaths. Except when the US supplies official statistics, we have no idea how many insurgents are being killed, though there was a recent claim that the number is over 18,000 since June 2003. How many civilians get harmed in the process and how many of these supposed insurgents were actually civilians? We don't know. To read most American discussions, you'd think the only thing military action by Americans ever does is reduce violence against civilians.

And granting that violence levels may have gone down, we don't know to what extent this is because of US military action or in spite of it. Did they really capture or kill 1500 insurgents per month and not harm a great many civilians in the process? (Aside from the fact that it's peculiar for Americans to decide which Iraqis are the good guys and which ones are bad.)

Was the picture that you've so rosily painted there worth two trillion dollars and over three thousand dead soldiers?

The pictures speak for themselves, McDuff. "Rosy" is your word, not mine. We can't go back in time and avoid the mountain of mistakes made. The best we can do employ the best strategy possible to fix the situation, and if this strategy does not fix it, then we should go to Plan B.

Have no unbelieving friends. Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them.

The beauty of Islam is that, once you get to a certain point, ‘pluralism’ is no longer applicable. It’s really cool when you get to define who is a disbeliever.

Every once in a while it's useful to do a simple gut-check on the things we carry around in our heads.

There are a billion and a half Muslims in the world. At its peak, Al Qaeda had an active membership numbering in the tens of thousands. Call it 50,000.

That puts the global population of Muslims who have an active interest in killing Americans at about 0.005% of Muslims as a whole.

As a proportion of the US population, that's about 15,000 people. That's about the number of folks in the Aryan Brotherhood. Scary, scary, scary folks. Definitely worth keeping an eye on. But, not a realistic threat to the nation or the world.

Just saying.

Most folks posting here probably know a handful of Muslim people. At work, I sit ten feet from a Muslim guy. Muslims own shops and businesses in my town. I ride the bus with Muslims.

None of them are trying to kill me or anyone else I know. I could be wrong, but you're probably not at much risk either. With few exceptions, if you're reading this, you're way, way, way more at risk of being killed by a drunk driver than by a fanatic Muslim.

If you want to read some really scary stuff, check out any of the old testament historical books. Much smiting of the infidel, down to the last man, woman, and child. In some cases, down to the last donkey, ox, and presumably kitty cat. Every living thing. Then burn the damned town to the ground.

All per the command of God.

A little context goes a long way.

There are enough things in the real world to be afraid of. Let's please leave the imaginary ones out of it.

Thanks -

Mr. Johnson, I agree that the recorded figures are likely less than the actual figures. However, we're not considering the absolute values of the casualties -- we're considering the change in those figures. The evidence from both the US military and the more objective Iraq Casualty Count show a decrease in casualties. Those numbers are still horrifically high, and totally unacceptable, but the fact is that Mr. Bush's military strategy appears to be moving in the direction that he claimed it would.

And no, we don't know of a certainty that the decrease in casualties is due to the increase in American troops -- although it does seem likely that the increment in American troop levels played some role in the decrease in casualties.

I am not arguing in favor of the surge nor am I arguing in favor of the war. I maintain that intellectual integrity demands that we acknowledge that, on this single point, Mr. Bush was correct. He got almost everything else wrong, but that doesn't mean we can with propriety condemn him on this point.

Charles: figures don't speak for themselves. Meaning is a thing we bring to them, or give them. For instance, it matters a lot how much of the reduced killing in Bagdad is due to the success of factional efforts to establish purified neighborhoods, with dissenters now dead or fled. (And to my mind, the very fact that this possibility arises is a sign of just how badly broken things are. Just imagine any American or European city where armed factions can actually divide up the city between themselves...) And "worth it" is a value judgment - the question "was this worth it?" can't be answered by pointing at data, because what's being asked is for an assessment of the data's significance.

(And to my mind, the very fact that this possibility arises is a sign of just how badly broken things are. Just imagine any American or European city where armed factions can actually divide up the city between themselves...)
Belfast?

Charles, I'm trying really hard to take the argument in good faith here, but last time I checked "Bush's Strategy" seemed to involve bombing Iran. Now, you might argue that his strategy for Iran is entirely incidental to his strategy for Iraq, but you'd almost certainly be wrong and if you were right it would be a horrifying glimpse into an entirely broken foreign policy. If "the surge" is working now, great, but if, as other commenters have noted, the metric for success is that only 600 people a month are dying in street violence and that this may in fact be down to the success of the militias' strategies rather than ours, and that the next stage in our top strategist's toolbox seems to be designed to make the entire region catch on fire so he can toast marshmallows, can you understand why we want to be out of goddamn Friedman Units already?

The Surge is not going to bring peace and unity to Iraq any more than the invasion did. If it works at all it will be, as you say, to bring a shaky stability to a few areas. This will be trumpeted as a huge victory and the do-nothing Congress will roll over and authorise Buckaroo Bush to do whatever he likes to reignite the region. We have to break the knees of the administration's credibility or else even more people will die. I'm happy for fewer casualties in Baghdad, but if such statistics are going to be used to say "Bush was right after all" with everything that entails in the current press climate, I'd rather we just bring them out now.

On the other hand, I'm just pissing into the wind here and you're actually the side which is going to win. I'm more around to point it out, like the narrator to a particularly farcical tragedy. It's a futile job but, hey, I live in hope that some day someone will say "hey, I'm lending intellectual credibility to a bunch of complete maniacs who are right so infrequently it can only be accidental when they are, and who use each scraped, blundered positive to reinforce their march towards a million new negatives!" Hope, eternal, springs etc.

"The best we can do employ the best strategy possible to fix the situation, and if this strategy does not fix it, then we should go to Plan B."

Good advice, Charles: it's just too bad that the actual "situation" in Iraq is still pretty bad; that the "strategy" to "fix it" amounts to, fundamentally, spot applications of overwhelming force (and hoping that the problems don't migrate elsewhere), and that the Adminstration which started this insane war has still never fully articulated a "Plan A" for Iraq, still less any subsequent letters.

For once, I'll heartily agree with OCSteve's receommendations: declare victory, and start pulling out.

Except, of course, this scenario imagines that the Bush cabal even ever was planning to "pull out" - or, Charles, do you not believe that a permanent US military presence in Iraq* (regardless of WTH the US, still less the Iraqi people think) was always part of their delusional "re-make the Middle East" Great-Gaming?

*with a hopefully low casualty rate

While the graphs are nice and all, I think it's relevent to point out that: 1.) car bombings are no longer counted, 2.) people that are shot in the face are not counted, 3.)there aren't as many to kill or fight because so many have been ethicnally cleansed or have fled, and there is no accounting of how many Blackwater mercenaries kill. If you don't like the numbers, you just alter them - kind of like how they don't tell you they no longer factor in gas, food, or heating costs into inflation any more - and we're just supposed to believe the rosy reports on the booming economy.

Charles, I'm trying really hard to take the argument in good faith here, but last time I checked "Bush's Strategy" seemed to involve bombing Iran.

Well, it's not Bush's strategy, McDuff, it's Petraeus' strategy. Bush glommed on to it when it became all too clear to him his current plan was in shambles. I have no confidence in Bush as president, and only support him to the extent that he supports Petraeus. I hope the administration decides to negotiate with Iran first, because if they bomb first, because they'll be compounding the problem by doing so, especially with Iraq in the shaky condition it is.

While the graphs are nice and all, I think it's relevent to point out that: 1.) car bombings are no longer counted, 2.) people that are shot in the face are not counted

Your point would have been relevant if I were using statistics from U.S. military, CW, but I'm not. Suicide bombings and civilian deaths are based on the ICCC, which is based on independent media reports. These facts are bolstered by this source, which is pretty good at documenting suicide bombings.

Charles, do you not believe that a permanent US military presence in Iraq...was always part of their delusional "re-make the Middle East" Great-Gaming?

There may come a time, Jay, when the legitimate Iraqi government asks us to leave. We had better do so. I really don't know what the "cabal" thinks about it. There are fewer and fewer of them in the administration as time passes. 'cept for Darth Cheney of course.

Erasamussimo--I'm half-inclined to agree that the troop surge might have played some role in decreasing the death rate, assuming there has been a death rate, but I'm hedging, not simply because I don't like Bush, but because for the past four years I've been a broken record on this very topic--How do we know how many civilians are dying in Iraq and how do we know how many civilians are being killed by US forces? There's a factor of ten disagreement on the first question and as for the second, for the post invasion phase (March-April 2003) the disagreement is close to two orders of magnitude. (IBC counts a few thousand US-caused deaths post April 2003 and the Lancet II paper counts about 180,000 or more). My own suspicion is that the number has to be much greater than the IBC figure, whether or not the Lancet numbers are right.

There's a tendency to think the reported numbers are good for establishing trends, but actually, we don't even know that. In other conflicts it's been shown (by Patrick Ball for Guatemala) that in periods of extreme violence the reporting of that violence can actually go down.

That said, maybe Bush's surge worked to some extent. But I think we are dealing with a shortage of reliable info on this, and have been throughout the entire war. So I feel no duty to be "fair" to Bush and his claims about the surge until that claim has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

Donald: I know I'd feel a much greater obligation to be something like fair toward the administration if they were making a sustained effort to count the costs in lives, injuries, and destruction among Iraqis, to verify the information, and to publicize it. But then I'm a big believer in auditing as a sign of good intentions in any undertaking - if you're willing to have your work checked and deal with what the check reveals, you're way up in my books as someone who cares about the outcome as well as intentions and feelings.

A brief correction to an earlier comment, I meant St Augustine, not St Augustus. There is a St Augustus and, honestly, the point stands perfectly well without the correction, but I noticed it and it's bothering me.

Anyway, carry on.

Where were these arguments for nuance and patience in March of 2003? As I recall, then it was all about hyperbole and hysteria. I'm sorry, but this particular horse has long left the barn and is now living anonymously at a dude ranch in Sonora.

Short response -- despite things allegedly getting better, they are not any better.

This post is an example why in the business world, accountants are referred to derisively as "bean-counters." At the end of the day, it is not data that itself matters (although bad data makes for bad thinking), but an understanding of what it means that matters.

Other than post hoc ergo proctor hoc, what is the basis for believing that reduction in violence is due to COIN rather than several other causes?

As Petraeus himself indicated at the outset, without political change, a reduction in violence from "horrible" to just "really bad" is still meaningless. It is clear that the political part of the plan is not working. Watching Charles wait for things to get better has taken on a Waiting for Godot quality -- surreal and disconnected from logic.

The future flash points are Kirkuk and the Kurds, upcoming elections (can they even be held?), intra-Shia bloodletting for control (i.e., like Basra), and future Shia-Sunni fighting. Violence is down, but with no political solution, the current reduced violence cannot be expected to last.

In fact, there is no Petraeus' plan to move the political front forward. Petraeus ' plan was to hope that it could occur if violence was reduced. There is no objective reason to think it is going to happen by waiting another six months.

And counting beans is no substitute for making critical judgments about political progress, which is the only measure of success that matters.

Does any one else know - I can't be bothered to count - how many times in the past five years CB has assured us that things in Iraq are, if not exactly rosy, MUCH better than we think, and that he, for one, is not willing to pull the plug until the current harebrained scheme has had time to work properly?

Just curious.

"Just curious."

Many.

It's noteworthy that this is the first time Charles has committed to a date certain: "...but I'm giving the plan 'til year end before I make a judgment on whether we should stick with the current strategy or opt for Plan B (orderly, phased withdrawal of American troops)."

But I will confidently bet a dollar that Charles will decide at the end of December that we should stick with the current strategy, which he will deem to be continuing to show signs of success.

And presumably he and his fellow travelers will do something on this front: "The goals for political advancement have not been met and probably need to be revised."

Doubtless they'll be revised, in fashion traditional to a Five Year Plan.

Unsurprisingly, Charles offers no metric for progress on this trivial front: everyone should look at his military numbers, instead!

Pay no attention to the political situation behind the curtain Charles draws. It's only worth a few sentences' gloss.

It's noteworthy that this is the first time Charles has committed to a date certain: "...but I'm giving the plan 'til year end before I make a judgment on whether we should stick with the current strategy or opt for Plan B (orderly, phased withdrawal of American troops)."

Isn't that copied verbatim from his last post on Iraq? Maybe my memory fails me.

Meanwhile, Brandon Friedman of VoteVets explains why the numbers are looking better. Friedman states that Sadr ordered his militias to stand down in late August of this year; Charles points only to an earlier period of cease-fire by Sadr's militias, a cease-fire which has long since gone by the wayside, and to a truce between Sadr and a rival militia which dates to early August. It seems to me that a unilateral six-month cease-fire declared by the most dangerous militia in Iraq might, indeed, be connected to the drop in casualties.

Absent some evidence that Sadr's latest cease-fire was the product of American military strategy, it really seems like people should stop trying to assign Bush's strategy credit for it. Events in Iraq are taking their own course quite independent of our efforts to influence them, as has been true for some time.

Steve: You should also factor in that the Iraqi Civil War's been moving along nicely for at least a year now.

Between the killings, the people fleeing (whether to other countries or other areas of Iraq) the smaller towns and provinces have become pretty much single-sect. At this point, even the bigger cities are getting that way.

As I understand it, the only reason there's still a significant Sunni presence in Baghdad is because of American troops -- even then, they've been forced out of historical neighborhoods and into heavily fortified sections of the city.

The death toll is going to go down sooner or later for the simple reason that each sect is running out of easy targets, and the American military is currently making it impossible to attack entire cities or towns.

Comment, Charles?

Incidentally, if you don't regularly read Marc Lynch, may I please strongly strongly recommend him to you?

Because he does pretty well know what he's talking about. This doesn't make him right in every particular, of course, but it does make him worth listening to.

In this case, today's news is that Maliki says that reconciliation has been so successful that there's no more left to do! Hurrah!

Let's go home now.

I have nothing but respect for Charles Bird, and hope he will continue to feel comfortable posting conservative views here, but the curve in the first graph looks like a sine wave.

Actually, IMHO, Charles may be on to something here: i.e.: an actual trendline re the ongoing slaughterhouse/clusterf**k that is Iraq today!

And almost positive!

Huzzah!

However,what does this mean in any actual relation to the realities "on the ground" ?
That is: when can the US expect to withdraw enough troops to make a diference?

ANY difference?

Charles: this would be the Petraeus who came out and gave an incoherent speech written by the White House and an hour long softball interview on Fox? General "Third Most Influential Conservative In America" Petraeus?

Seems to me that with generals resigning left, right and centre to speak out against this war, or being sidelined and fired constantly for daring to speak out against the war in private with the President, one might be inclined to look a little more suspiciously at those left in the game. Whether Bush believes in Darwin or not, an environment which poisons anyone whose strategy isn't "stay the course" is going to select pretty strongly the other way. Even assuming Petraeus is a military genius, his criteria for a new strategy could not include "leave" because that's politically untenable for the CiC, and wouldn't have included "double the forces" because they don't have the money or the troops, so we're left with a pretty narrow range of options to choose from here. He may have been a good man under pressure, picking the best strategy he could think of under severe constraints from the Washington boys, or he may have been a toady and a hack who filled a bunch of better men's shoes because he was willing to say what the CiC wanted to hear. Either way, he didn't pull the strategy out of the clear crystal blue skies.

In any event, I think you're giving Bush far too much credit by assuming he cares his strategy isn't working militarily. If he was awake he'd not be so bellicose over Iran. It's increasingly obvious that his concern with this war is political, and that's as far as it goes.

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