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July 01, 2008

Comments

The surge is a Republican publicity stunt. The purpose, like so many of the decsions about Iraq, is to influence politics here, not politics there. Less bang-band on the news means we are winning and everybody loves a winner.


According to 60Minutes the Christian populatin of Iraq is reduced to one small terrified congregation mostly of women and children (the men have all been murdered) who worship in secret. The surge is working!

According to 60Minutes the Christian populatin of Iraq is reduced to one small terrified congregation mostly of women and children (the men have all been murdered) who worship in secret.

Interesting how Franklin Graham's plan to take advantage of the war to spread the Gospel hasn't quite worked. When humans try to play God with other people's lives it usually turns out like that.

Equal Opportunity Cynic,

I'm not sure I agree completely with your point. Certainly, when genuinely stupid and ignorant people try to manipulate global affairs like a chessboard, the results are often disastrous. On the other hand, smart and humble people can often bring about major positive changes in society with the caveat that the most important part about being smart is appreciating your limitations.

I have never commented before (I believe), but read the blog regularly, so let me first salute all the authors for their high quality news coverage and analysis.

Another point to make about this opinion piece however is that David Brooks celebrates something that was quite foolish. George Bush proposed something, EVERYBODY thought it was a bad idea, from his own command, to intelligent republicans, to dumb republicans, to the democrats, to international observers, to... Bush sticks through, he is sure he is right. It turns out he was (by Brooks' own narrative, not objective fact (as you have outlined above), but I choose not to focus on his deception, but rather his cognitive failings).

Anyway, Brooks seems to think this is commendable, and under some circumstances it might be, however here it is not. George Bush had no more information, less experience, no more insight than any of his advisers. Sticking to your guns for NO REASON, even if you end up being 'right', is not commendable. We should not laud our President for happening to be right, against all the odds, when he is literally gambling with lives.

Republicans love the maverick myth, the man who uses his gut instinct, fires from the hip, to bypass all those NE elite eggheads (never mind that this does not accurately encapsulate the background of most of his advisers in the military or the cabinet) with 'facts.' Of course, such a narrative around our leaders just encourages them to do stupid things without actually considering them fully. Case in point George Bush and the Tax Cuts, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, International Diplomacy, Al Qaeda (anybody catch the nyt article about AQ in the Islamic Maghreb last night?), Iran, North Korea, the Economy, etc. Need I say more?

You know, that's a good point Edwin. Even Brooks kind of sheepishly acknowledges that Bush has created more problems than good policy/solutions as a result of these attributes.

And yes, I caught that article about AQ in the Maghreb.

I agree with most of the post and comments. Two quibbles:
1) Eric, I don't think it's reasonable to complain that the surge did not lower violence by itself, but in combination with other activities conducted by U.S. forces or by the Iraqis enabled by U.S. forces. Nobody ever said or thought that the US would do absolutely nothing but put more boots on the ground with exactly the same assignments. One of the advantages of a larger force is more flexibility. It is pointless to separate out barricade building, diplomacy, and payoffs from "the Surge." Just as we tend to use "the Patriot Act" as shorthand for various civil liberty infringements vaguely related to the GWOT, "the Surge" reasonably includes all our stepped-up efforts in Iraq.

2) Edwin W B, if Bush had gotten something right, even by accident, he should get credit for it. Every President in history has had detractors who claimed he got the right result by being too stupid to know better. Nobody can ever really know if the leader missed the whole point and lucked out, or actually met a situation that his talents were just right for. There may be no real difference between those two descriptions, in fact.

Trilobite, give me your rent money; I'm going to Vegas. You can decide later whether I'm a genius or a chump.

The major domestic political goal of the escalation was to simply succeed at staying, and be able to hand off the mess to the next administration. Losing was defined as leaving (see next paragraph); since we're not even faintly leaving, Bush "wins."

The major substantive goal of the escalation -- as of the invasion itself -- was to lock in an indefinite military occupation on behalf of U.S.-govt-approved oil majors. This is/was to be accomplished by way of an executive-branch-to-executive-branch agreement for US bases, immunity of troops and contractors, ability to detain Iraqis at will, total freedom of operation for U.S. operatives, etc.

Bets are still being placed on the decorative legalities of that one. But signed pieces of paper or no, the underlying reality would be very difficult to change, even if we were to elect a president determined to do so. We are not going to elect such a president.

The bases have been built and are operating at a brisk pace to launch air assaults that maintain U.S. "dominance".

The contracts that will further cement the U.S. presence have already been let, as Walter Pincus reported recently; they include several large new prisons (see my blog, 'News from the Ministry of Love' post).

U.S. spooks and meddlers have been inserted into many corners of Iraqi governing structures. Sometimes they're succeeding brilliantly at U.S. objectives (the oil contracts, which lack only a signature). Sometimes not. Sometimes apparent success is followed by the U.S. operatives getting blowed up -- blowed up real good.

This increased penetration of U.S. intelligence and political operatives is one of the more significant "successes" of the escalation, from the point of view of occupation supporters. It might not last if non-combatant occupation operatives become targets.

But that's what those prisons under construction are all about...

Trilobite, give me your rent money; I'm going to Vegas. You can decide later whether I'm a genius or a chump.

I continue to have no response to these posts on the surge because they are largely fact-free. It's just one unsupported assertion followed by the next.

It's also wrong to suggest (as Jim Henley does, and you endorse) that coopting various Sunni and Shia goups was not part of the strategy from the start. The surge involved both an increase in the number of troops and several fundamental changes in strategy -- including this one.

The surge is having more of a positive effect than I had predicted in part because I underestimated Iraqi war fatigue and resentment to al Quada. As a result, the counterinsurgency strategy has been more effective than I thought it would be. That's not cause for rejoicing in the streets; it is worth recognizing, however, that Iraq is in a better place because of the surge. We have more options.

Also, I don't know why you seem to think that weakening the Maliki government is such a terrible thing. Maliki has not been a stabilizing influence on Iraq. He has been exclusionary and made repeated. If weakening Maliki means that Maliki is required to cut deals with his enemies, that's a good thing -- not the disaster that you predict.

I speak, by the bye, as one who claimed that the Surge was little more than a case of "feng shui-ing the deck chairs" and who opposed the surge the start.

Bush apologist!

I just wanted to be the first, von.

Eric, I don't think it's reasonable to complain that the surge did not lower violence by itself, but in combination with other activities conducted by U.S.

I disagree. And it's not just other activities conducted by the US (sectarian cleansing, Sadr's cease fire).

Brooks and his ilk are trying to argue that those that opposed the additional troops were wrong based on the fact that the additional troops have lowered violence.

But they didn't do that alone, and there were several other enormously important factors. I mean, the people Brooks is calling out (Obama) weren't opposed to probing an alliance with the Awakenings.

By criticizing those that would differentiate, you grant people like Brooks the ability to bob in and out of using The Surge to mean just the added troops (when calling out The Surge's opponents) and The Surge to mean the whole confluence of factors, US initiated and otherwise (when citing improved conditions).

Mighty generous of you.

As for the argument that The Surge enabled these events, let's see:

Sadr's cease fire? No.

Bribing and coopting the Awakenings/CLCs? No.

Baghdad walled off? No.

Baghdad already largely cleansed along sectarian lines (and to the extent it wasn't, such actions took place under The Surge)? No.

None of that was dependent on The Surge.

Yes, The Surge gave us greater flexibility and put more boots on the ground in Baghdad and Anbar, but that was just one of many influential factors.

Trilobite:

As for your first point, I think that the importance of the distinction made is that George Bush proposed putting more boots on the ground, and that is all he proposed. Petraeus provided most of the the rest of the strategy, and that this other strategy is arguably much more the cause of the aggregate surge's success (in that it addressed several points which had been outstanding from the beginning of the war more significantly than a relatively small troop increase) than George Bush's surge. In short, Brooks is claiming that the surge worked, without pointing out that an implementation of Bush's supposedly laudable strategy never ACTUALLY happened.

You say: "Nobody ever said or thought that the US would do absolutely nothing but put more boots on the ground with exactly the same assignments."

To which George Bush responds: "Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents. And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have." In the same speech ( his original proposal to the surge: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/01/20070110-7.html ) he goes on to articulate the theme that we failed because we did not have enough men, and because we could not maintain territorial integrity. He does not mention things like buying the opposition wholesale (Sunni Awakening), etc. He does mention increased training of Iraqi soldiers, somewhere he has been successful, for which I must begrudgingly give a point to the president (begrudgingly because this was so f*cking obvious, and took years to be implemented).

As for your second point Trilobite, I thing you are wrong on one claim: "Nobody can ever really know if the leader missed the whole point and lucked out, or actually met a situation that his talents were just right for." There are certainly presidents about whom this statement is accurate, but I think that we are privileged in that we CAN know more about George Bush. The exceedingly large number of former staff members who have walked out of the white house and relayed to the public Bush's leadership style and the actual decision making process at hand here, have exposed that Bush and co didn't have bad luck, quite the opposite. They created it for themselves time and time again. For the same reasons I think history will come to show that Bush made decisions for all the wrong reasons here, and that it turned out alright anyway.

I continue to have no response to these posts on the surge because they are largely fact-free. It's just one unsupported assertion followed by the next.

Von, are you really saying that it is a fact free assertion to claim that the benchmarks haven't been enacted? Is it fact free to claim that the purpose of The Surge according to Bush was to create space to allow for the passage and implementation of same?

Really? Why?

It's also wrong to suggest (as Jim Henley does, and you endorse) that coopting various Sunni and Shia goups was not part of the strategy from the start. The surge involved both an increase in the number of troops and several fundamental changes in strategy -- including this one.

Yes, but it was possible to support changes in strategy and not an increase in troops ala The Surge proper. That distinction is important. Please see my prior comment.

Also, some of these developments were not our strategy at all (Sadr's cease fire, prior cleansing of Baghdad and other areas).

Also, I don't know why you seem to think that weakening the Maliki government is such a terrible thing. Maliki has not been a stabilizing influence on Iraq. He has been exclusionary and made repeated. If weakening Maliki means that Maliki is required to cut deals with his enemies, that's a good thing -- not the disaster that you predict.

I don't think weakening Maliki is a terrible thing necessarily. We're not doing that though. His majorities are getting smaller (a sign reconciliation is moving in the wrong direction), but we're doing our best to strengthen his hand at the same time. It's bizarre. As his government becomes less legitimate and popular, we're doing more to help him crush his rivals and ignore those groups (Sons of Iraq) that he needs to reach out to.

Worst of both worlds if you ask me.


According to 60Minutes the Christian populatin of Iraq is reduced to one small terrified congregation mostly of women and children (the men have all been murdered) who worship in secret. The surge is working!

I am incredibly doubtful that this is true. Wikipedia suggests that 2/3 of the Assyrian Christians have fled the country. But they were 5% of the country before the war. That means they should still be something like 2%, which is several hundred thousand.

But teh surge is aw3sum:

New Iraq report: 15 of 18 benchmarks satisfactory

So can we bring the troops home now?

I should have written that there was only one congregation left in Bagdad--thank you for the correction. However given the treatment that bagdad Christians have received, it is unlikely that there are very many Christians left outside of Bahdad.

The source was the minister of the last congregation. Oddly, he's English. If I rememveer right he lived in Iraq prior to Saddam's fall. He was unequivocable about his assesment of the result of our intervention: the Iraqi community has been destroyed.

Spin city indeed (from Ugh's link):

Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., who requested the administration's updated assessment, scoffed at the May report, which he says uses the false standard of determining whether progress on a goal is "satisfactory" versus whether the benchmark has been met. He estimates that only a few of the 18 benchmarks have been fully achieved.

I have to go with Rep. McIntyre here. For example, one of the signs of progress is that the Iraqis have "determined that provincial elections would be held Oct. 1".
The likelihood of these elections being held in 2008 at all, much less by October 1, is small and getting smaller each day.

That abyss is drilling laser holes with its stare now, btw.

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