Wednesday, March 14, 2007

# Posted 11:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANY HOPE FOR THE SURGE? David Brooks made the case for hope last Friday on the NewsHour:

If you take a look at what's actually happening in Iraq -- and I'm not someone who is super charged up about the surge -- nonetheless, we've had the oil law recently. We've had a real cleaning-out of the interior ministry. We've had some cooperation from Anbar. We've had quieting down in Sadr City, and now our troops can go into these areas.

It seems to me the events of the last couple weeks lead you to think let's give it a chance. And we'll know, as I say, in a few months whether it works or not.

Interestingly, there was no rebuttal from Mark Shields, who represents the liberal perspective on the NewsHour's Friday broadcasts. (And Taylor, what say you? Is Brooks looking at the right metrics for success?)

Bob Kagan made a similar case for the surge in his recent column in the WaPo:
Leading journalists have been reporting for some time that the war was hopeless, a fiasco that could not be salvaged by more troops and a new counterinsurgency strategy. The conventional wisdom in December held that sending more troops was politically impossible after the antiwar tenor of the midterm elections. It was practically impossible because the extra troops didn't exist. Even if the troops did exist, they could not make a difference...

The number of security tips about insurgents that Iraqi civilians provide has jumped sharply. Stores and marketplaces are reopening in Baghdad, increasing the sense of community. People dislocated by sectarian violence are returning to their homes. As a result, "many Baghdadis feel hopeful again about the future, and the fear of civil war is slowly being replaced by optimism that peace might one day return to this city," [Iraqi bloggers Omar and Muhammad Fadhil] report. "This change in mood is something huge by itself."
Unfortunately, some of the debate about Kagan's argument has been diverted toward the question of whether he should've disclosed that his brother and sister-in-law were involved in planning and promotion the surge. According to Andrew Sullivan,
The Washington Post should have disclosed that the plan Kagan is assessing was authored by by his brother and sister-in-law, Fred and Kimberly Kagan. If that isn't a conflict of interest that requires disclosure, what is?
I'm no lawyer, but I tend to think of conflicts of interest in financial terms. For example, it is a conflict of interest for a judge to preside over a lawsuit brought against a firm owned by his brother and sister-in-law. Perhaps some of you lawyers out there can elaborate on this point.

In contrast, no one expects op-ed columnists to be neutral judges of the political situation. Regardless, I think it would've been wiser for Kagan to mention his personal connection to the surge.

When it comes to the substance of Kagan's argument, Sullivan links to Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald, who cites a very optimistic editorial from the Weekly Standard, circa March 2004, in order to demonstrate Kagan has record of premature optimism when it comes to Iraq:
A year has passed since the invasion of Iraq, and while no sensible person would claim that Iraqis are safely and irrevocably on a course to liberal democracy, the honest and rather remarkable truth is that they have made enormous strides in that direction...We may have turned a corner in terms of security.

What's more, there are hopeful signs that Iraqis of differing religious, ethnic, and political persuasions can work together. This is a far cry from the predictions made before the war by many, both here and in Europe, that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans and unleash a bloodbath.
Clearly, that isn't how things have turned out. Yet as I've said in defense of my own flawed optimistm, sectarian violence has not prevailed because it is the natural state of affairs, but because the Sunni insurgents committed atrocity after atrocity in the explicit hope of provoking a civil war that would overwhelm American efforts to promote democracy and peace. We just weren't ready for that and weren't flexible enough to respond.

But just because the optimists (myself) included have been wrong before, it is serious mistake to conclude that such analysis is dishonest. For example, Greenwald's criticism of Kagan descends into a flurry of groundless ad hominem attacks:
No rational person would believe a word Robert Kagan says about anything. He has been spewing out one falsehood after the next for the last four years in order to blind Americans about the real state of affairs concerning the invasion...

He is completely liberated from any obligation to tell the truth and is a highly destructive propagandist whose public record of commentary about Iraq ought to disqualify him from decent company, let alone some sort of pretense to expertise about this war.
Yet in his rather lengthy post, Greenwald provides no evidence of mendacity, only of errors. Thus, his writing amounts to a sad example of how vindictive partisanship results in reckless vilification and dangerous efforts to shut down rational debate. That is the kind of behavior that doesn't belong in decent company.

Now let me state for the record, as I have before, that I spent 12 months as Kagan's research assistant. Thus, I can report first hand that he demonstrated only courtesy and respect to those with whom he disagreed. In other words, he set the kind of example from which those like Mr. Greenwald have much to learn.

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(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Kagan is mendacious. Here is Brian Williams on his visit to Iraq:

Soon after arriving in Iraq, Brian Williams was listening to an Army colonel describe how much safer Ramadi had gotten when another soldier shouted that it was too dangerous to stand there and hustled them inside the military outpost.

Days later at the Baghdad airport, Williams and his team heard five explosions, saw smoke rising near the taxiway in front of them, and were relieved to board the Fokker jet that carried them out of the country.

"How is it that these guys are running around with mortars, four years into this conflict?" the NBC anchor says of the insurgents. "We need to provide safe passage into that airport, and we're still doing corkscrew landings? It's crazy."

One drawback of reporting in the bosom of the U.S. military is an abundance of military optimism, and perhaps spin, from those who are providing protection. The Williams trip was a microcosm of the journalistic dilemma in Iraq: How do you balance the constant violence with a fair assessment of whether President Bush's escalation is starting to work?

"There was a total dichotomy and disconnect between the valiant efforts of the infantry in small outposts, converting people one by one, taking out their trash, almost, and how the overall view of all that can be erased with one car bomb or one vest bomb," Williams says. "It's valid to say that tells the story of Iraq."

Last Monday, for instance, Williams reported that targeted military patrols had produced "pockets of relative peace where there had been awful ongoing violence." But other events conveyed a darker picture. Williams also reported that evening that a suicide bomber had killed at least 20 people. The next night, "despite the upbeat tone of some U.S. commanders," he said, the news was that 10 American soldiers, and at least 150 Iraqi pilgrims, had been killed in a series of separate attacks.

This is hardly the optimistic picture that Kagan says that Williams is endorsing.

Also to say that Iraq The Model is "widely respected for straight talk" stretches the truth quite a bit. They are widely despised in the Iraqi blogosphere for parroting the Bush Admin line relentlessly so much that they actually got to meet Bush in the White House.
Unfortunately, some of the debate about Kagan's argument has been diverted toward the question of whether he should've disclosed that his brother and sister-in-law were involved in planning and promotion the surge.

His father is Donald Kagan, the fine Yale classicist and the authority on the Peloponnesian War but someone who is also an original PNAC signatory. Sadly, Iraq seems to be a Kagan family industry.
I dont see any specifics in the Williams report above that contradicts what Kagan has said.

Kagan doesnt deny that there are still corkscrew landings, for ex, though the chopper killing seems to have been reduced or stopped.

and we are all aware that suicide bombings continue, although there numbers in Baghdad seem to be down dramatically.

And Iraq the model has often presented a fair amount of gloom, quite different from the admin stance on Iraq.
All this talk about surge and what have you misses the larger point: how do you win a war if a significant segment of your political and journalistic establishment are programmed to presume the inevitability of defeat? Lets look at this objectively. Saddam is gone. A gov't is in place. The insurgents control no territory, have alienated the population and are reduced to terroristic attacks. Yet these attacks, which are objectively fultile gestures from an ineffectual enemy, causes a panic among our journalists and politicians, so that the enduring lesson is that if you just keep fighting, no matter how pathetically, if you just keep up enough violence to grab a few headlines, the political and journalistic establishment of the US will surrender. Why continue bombings and other ineffectual gestures? Because they work and it is the fact that so many in this country have allowed this crude tactic to work that is the ultimate scandal. This is where 9/11 came from, from the sense that we are weak and don't have the stomach for a war. That Vietnam so traumatized us that events like Lebanon and Somalia tell the whole story of American resolve. I know people don't like to associate the tow, but that is how our enemies have framed the issue, so there is no use arguing about it. So there you have it: just keep up the fight, just place enough bombs on a roadway or in a market, and the US runs for the hills. Just wondering if things would have been different if we accepted that war is war, people die, and conveyed this sensibility to the world at large. Maybe less soldiers would have been killed. Maybe a lot of people wouldn't have been.
Hey David,
Is Brooks looking at the right metrics for success? Generally I think so.

1. Oil law - Right metric, maybe not a great deal though, and has been in development for a very long time. As an aside, here is a critical take on it:

2. Cleaning-out of the interior ministry:
A great step, but is this a result of greater troop presence, or fear of an end to US presence. ie, a timeline?

3. Cooperation from Anbar:
I am not sure what he is referring to here. If he is referring to giving real power to the Sunni alternatives to the Al Queda factions who are increasingly becoming a governing/protection force, then this is great news. My perception was that this real transfer of power to Sunni groups, many of which form elements of the insurgency, has been a very difficult process.

4. A quieting down in Sadr City:
This is the artificial one, most likely created by insurgents going silent, making it also temporary. If, however, progress is made during this pause, as Kagan suggests it is, then it may not matter if it is artificial. The question is whether the progress made is enough to convince people not to at least tacitly support the insurgents once the violence starts again. Here I have my doubts.
I'm no lawyer, but I tend to think of conflicts of interest in financial terms. For example, it is a conflict of interest for a judge to preside over a lawsuit brought against a firm owned by his brother and sister-in-law. Perhaps some of you lawyers out there can elaborate on this point.


I work at a law firm. We have one employee whose most important duty is to review new cases for conflicts of interest, many of which involve potential non-financial conflicts.
Of course, it's a conflict of interest. The question is whether it matters. Conflicts of interest can't be avoided.

As Michael Kinsley famously asked, "Is it a conflict of interest for a mother to have a second child?"
If one is up front about a potential conflict of interest, then it is not really an issue. Failing to do so makes it an issue.
You know, the administration has done best when they put forth their own metrics for success. It's not necessarily that they choose to focus on the most important things, but the simple act of stating objectives has an important psychological effect: once the administration says what they want to do, it becomes a test of wills with the insurgency to see whether the admin can do what it says, or if the insurgents can stop them. When Bush announces something will happen and it does (the elections are the best example of this), the insurgency looks weak because they have failed to stop us. If the admin does not set priorities, the insurgency gains the initiative, and can point to the admin's failure to prevent attacks near the airport or on the streets.

If Taylor is right that the insurgents maintain the capability to ramp up attacks at any time but are refraining from doing so during the surge because they sense some advantage in doing so, Bush should proclaim that the surge will reduce fatalities in Baghdad by x% in y months, and force the insurgents to choose between attacking during the surge while they apparently feel vulnerable, or staying quiet and giving Bush a PR victory.
Considering how utterly evil the atrocities have been in seeking sectarian violence and the gold-ring, "civil war", it would probably have been unlikely for somebody on our side to believe others are that bad.
And if they had said we need to plan for that, the response would probably have been to call for their racist scalps.
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