Tuesday, August 28, 2007

# Posted 7:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN ANYONE "RATIONAL" BELIEVE THE SURGE IS GOING TO WORK? Mark Shields is pretty sure that the answer is 'no'. In his weekly spot on PBS NewsHour, he told Jim Lehrer that:
We don't have the troops to stay there, so we're going to withdraw...

This is a fight and a debate, and it's going to be for the next three months between the two parties, over who lost Iraq. That's what the debate is. And the predicate being laid down by the president and his supporters is, "We were just on the cusp of victory. We were just there."

And nobody I know in a rational condition believes the United States is going to have any kind of a military victory in Iraq. There's not going to be any surrender, capitulation by the other side saying, "You were right, we were wrong. You were strong, we were weak." That's not going to happen.

And so the idea is going to be, "We were on the cusp of victory and the rug was pulled out from under us by these willy-nilly, weak-kneed, nervous Nellies back home, namely Democrats, who let down our troops."
Shields is hacking away at strawmen. Insurgencies don't end with an official surrender on the deck of a battleship. They end with a whimper, when the government wins the allegiance of the population and the insurgents gradually fade into the background. Victory looks like what is happening right now in Al Anbar. The question is whether it can be extended to the rest of Iraq. Responding to Shields, Rich Lowry explained that:
...the surge has achieved military success on the ground, and I would also argue an important element of political success, because we haven't seen this turnaround in Anbar province that even Hillary Clinton and others are acknowledging because we killed all our enemies. A significant element of the insurgency came our way. That is a political development.

And you've seen in Anbar and other parts of Iraq the political and military elements interacting. It's not purely a military solution; it's not purely a political solution. It has to be both.
And why, when we're seeing progress -- I can understand a counsel of despair if we sent 30,000 more troops there for a new strategy and nothing happened. Well, the fact that we have seen progress, even the NIE says we've seen progress, and if we went to the Democrats' strategy of pulling down, all of that military progress would go away...

We're talking about these benchmarks that President Bush endorsed in January, legislation to be passed at the federal level on Iraq.

And why was that legislation so important? It was oil laws and other things. Because we care so much about the distribution of oil revenues in Iraq? No. Because the theory was, if you pass that kind of legislation, it would promote reconciliation between the sects, and you would pull the Sunnis away from the insurgency. That was the ultimate political effect you were hoping to have.

Against all expectations and predictions, you didn't pass legislation, but you've had the Sunnis pull away from the insurgency anyway. That is a major development and that Democrats are having to acknowledge it is a big change in this debate.
In contrast to Shields, Lowry is actually talking about facts on the ground. And Lowry's reference to Hillary Clinton suggests that Democratic candidates may not have Shield's luxury of hacking at strawmen. Strangely, one important test of the surge is whether its results are so obvious that even Democratic pols have to acknowledge them. But will they acknowledge that this success is political, or will they attempt to brand it as "just military"?

For the reasons that Lowry elaborated so well, I think that our progress is clearly political as well as military. To dissent slightly from Lowry's formulation, I would suggest that we can only bypass national reconciliation in the short run. But the short-run might last several years. If we discover local political solutions that provide security and stability, we can establish the foundation on which to build a national settlement.

No question, a lot of this is still a long shot. Just as we've turned things around in the past six months, so can Al Qaeda or the Shi'ite militias. But my blood pressure rises when I see Democrats working so hard to insist that we aren't making meaningful progress.

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(23) opinions -- Add your opinion

But my blood pressure rises when I see Democrats working so hard to insist that we aren't making meaningful progress.

As does mine when I see Republicans trying to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear.
Everyone acknowledges that the surge cannot last beyond 2008. Simple troop rotation numbers dictate this.


Anbar province is not evidence of political reconciliation. Anbar is evidence of a significant bloc of the insurgency turning against another bloc - that is, the Sunni tribal elements and some former Ba'athists turning on the hardcore jihadis and their allies. Anbar has no large Shi'i population and no real sectarian tension - it is a poor example of "political reconciliation".

Note that the progress in Anbar began before the surge and would have occurred without it. It was an entirely Iraqi-driven phenomenon, as is the current violence in the south of Iraq between Shia factions.

There has been no marked progress on sectarian (Sunni-Shia) reconciliation. There is no real evidence of a genuine decline in civilian deaths beyond mil briefings which contain no hard figures. Ethnic cleansing continues unabated. Economic and reconstruction issues are worse than ever, as are availability of fuels and electricity.

Also, what to make of this?


"Simcock said he watched how many Sunnis paid close attention to the U.S. mid-term elections in 2006, which led them to determine that Republican losses meant the U.S. wouldn’t be a permanent fixture in Iraq.

“Iraqis came to the conclusion that we weren’t making the 51st state of Iraq,” he said.

Simcock said he had noticed a distinct difference in the way tribal leaders had stopped referring to coalition forces as an occupation force since those elections."

Sounds like continued progress in Anbar depends on the Sunnis seeing the U.S. as a distinctly temporary force.
What military success on the ground?

Iraqis are being killed at twice the number this year than they were last year. More Iraqis have died so far this year than they did in the entirety of 2006.

The amount of Iraqi refugees have doubled since the beginning of '07.

The rate of Coalition troop fatalaties has increased. The insurgency has increased 250 percent.

Read these:



Excuse me if that doesn't look like success to me.
david, you're so wrong. whatever though

The GAO is reporting that the Iraqi Govt. has failed to meet 15 of the 18 benchmarks established by Congress to measure progress after the surge.

What comprises "meaningful progress" for you?
Randy, this yahoo report, I think, makes the administration's position on the GAO report pretty convincing.


Iraq has failed on 13 of 18. Which means they have succeeded on 5. But its "all or nothing" standard renders it practically useless as a measure of progress.

I've been following the oil law a bit and, despite nearing passage, it counts as a failure simply because it has not yet been passed.


To draw no distinction between "not quite done" and "not done at all" is silly. And yet that is exactly what the GAO report is going to do.
Good thing nobody in Washington ever pays a penalty for being, I dunno, 100% wrong about issues like war and peace. Ignorance, apparently, can be lucrative.

What kind of analyst are you? I hope it's some insignificant field like finance.

Actually, given the July report, it certainly seems like the administration set the bar too low.

As for the oil law, well if it hasn't been passed yet, would you call it a success? No it's a failure, unless one follows the same sort of logic that Francis Townsend makes when when she said that the failure to capture bin Laden is not a failure, but "a success that hasn't happened yet."

By that same logic, my being the filling in a Salma Hayek/Penelope Cruz sandwich, scoring the goal that gives the USA its first World Cup Championship and solving world hunger are successes that hasn't happened yet.
Make that "haven't happened yet."

My grammar is not that bad.
Don't you think it matters whether there is reason to believe that it will happen soon?

So it missed an arbitrary deadline, so what? Do you have good expectations that you will soon be in a Salma Hayek/Penelope Cruz sandwich? If so, I envy you.

This sort of thinking, that the goals are homework assignments that have to be completed by classtime or they don't count is counterproductive. Better a bad job on time than a good job a little late, I suppose. Iraqi people be damned.

For something as important as this, it is irresponsible to have such an inflexible standard of success.
Randy, I wish you all the best with Ms. Hayek and Ms. Cruz and hope that your wife is equally supportive of your ambitions. ;)

Btw, have you seen Salma Hayek's magazine ads for Campari? They are AMAZING.

That said, I've read the WaPo summary of the GAO report but would prefer to read the report itself. It's hard for me to say whether the benchmarks preferred by Congress are the right ones. For example, how does our rather remarkable progress in Anbar figure into the report? I didn't see it mentioned in the Post.

As for a broad definition of success, I would rely on a traditional definition of progress in counterinsurgency. We are shifting the allegiance of the population and providing them with security. That is what's happening in Anbar. The question is whether it can spread.

Also, let me address a couple of the points made by Anon 8:44 who cited statistics that suggest the failure of the surge. One deeply problematic number, taken from the Washington Monthly, is the expansion of insurgent personnel by 250%, from 20k to 70k.

That statistic is taken from the Brookings Index, available here, specifically page 26. You will notice that the estimate was consistently 15-20k up until Oct 2006. Then there is a break in the data until March 2007, which reports the 70,000 number. You will also see a note in the March 2007 entry that says "includes non-operational supporters". In other words, this number is entirely incomparable to the previous ones.

Brookings was up front about this difference. The WashMonthly seems to have missed it, and Anon 8:44 repeated that error.

Also, Anon 8:44 failed to notice (or mention) that his figure for Iraqi fatalities is taken from the AP report he cites, but that this figure is completely at odds with the one provided by the Brookings Index. I won't go into all of the nuances of the data here, but suffice it to say that the data may actually indicate the opposite of what Anon 8:44 says.

In addition, page 4 of the Brookings Index states that:

"In short, civilian fatality levels in Iraq now seem to
have declined substantially more than previous Pentagon reports or data had indicated. In particular, the monthly civilian fatality rate from sectarian violence appears about one-third lower than in the pre-surge months. That is still
far too high, and remains comparable to violence levels of the 2004-2005 period, but it nonetheless reflects progress."

There is both good and bad news in the data. But the good is getting better and the bad less bad.

And just this morning, Sadr declared a six-month ceasefire that will end attacks on both is rivals and US forces. If the ceasefire holds, that is big.
David, you seem desperate for this to turn out well. You're all over this report.

But, I suppose, if you've waited long enough for something positive, it's fair to cradle it...

(sorry for anon)
You are deliberately misreading events in a desperate effort to ratchet up something, anything as a success.

"We are shifting the allegiance of the population and providing them with security. That is what's happening in Anbar."

The Sunni tribal population never had an allegiance to el Qaeda. They tolerated el Qaeda’s sympathizers, sometimes working with them when their interests and goals overlapped. The subsequent decision by some of the tribes to stop tolerating el Qaeda a year ago has nothing to do with the 'surge’. It has everything to do with their perception of interest.

What is happening in Anbar province can count as a positive trend only in so far as it leads to some sort of reconciliation between the disparate Sunni tribes and groups and the national, Shia-led government in Baghdad. Right now such reconciliation doesn’t seem totally outlandish, at least on the Sunni end. Contacts now exist between Sunni fighters and the US military – a good thing.

But what chance is there any of the main Shia parties will accommodate Sunni concerns? The Sunnis have all the power in this equation. The oil is in their territory. What incentive is there for the different Shia parties to compromise with any of the Sunni elements? Looking into the future, the biggest concern for the different Shia political blocks and militias are the other competing Shia groupings, not the Sunnis.
"As for a broad definition of success, I would rely on a traditional definition of progress in counterinsurgency. We are shifting the allegiance of the population and providing them with security. That is what's happening in Anbar. The question is whether it can spread."

"We" are not shifting the loyalty of the population and providing security in Anbar. What has happened is that AQI lost the loyalty or willingness of the tribal insurgents to tolerate its activities. The tribal insurgents ceased to attack us and attacked AQI instead in cooperation with us. Previously AQI was not engaged in large-scale killing of civilians in Anbar --- more accurately, they and the tribes were attempting to kill us. THe larger part of the insurgency has stopped doing so in that region, thus bringing security. Our presence has enabled the tribal elements to secure Anbar more quickly than it would have done so without us on their side, but that's all.

The tribes have never switched loyalties. They have always been loyal to one side since 2003 - their own. They still are.

W/regards to civilian casualties. O'Hanlon is not providing figures to prove his assertions. We'll have to wait and see what his source is and if they are accurate at all.

The AP report acknowledges that its civilian death toll for '06 is very much lower than other estimates for '06. Yet its count for '07 is already higher than '06. Assuming its methodology hasn't changed, that means there are a lot more dead in '07 than in '06.

I would make the argument that AP is likely undercounting civilian dead by a larger figure than before. Violence in Baghdad may have gone down, but violence in the north has gone up. The north is more rural and has fewer Western reporters available to chronicle civilian deaths. Thus the AP is far less likely to note civilians killed in Diyala, Salahuddin, etc than in reasonably well-covered Baghdad.

Also this McClatchy story:

"And while top U.S. officials insist that 50 percent of the capital is now under effective U.S. or government control, compared with 8 percent in February, statistics indicate that the improvement in violence is at best mixed.

U.S. officials say the number of civilian casualties in the Iraqi capital is down 50 percent. But U.S. officials declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim.

The number of car bombings in July actually was 5 percent higher than the number recorded last December, according to the McClatchy statistics, and the number of civilians killed in explosions is about the same.


The military has been trying to stanch that violence by building walls between neighborhoods and around potential bombing targets. But bombings and sectarian violence still take place.

The number of Iraqis killed in attacks changed only marginally in July when compared with December — down seven, from 361 to 354, according to McClatchy statistics.

No pattern of improvement is discernible for violence during the five months of the surge. In January, the last full month before the surge began, 438 people were killed in the capital in bombings. In February, that number jumped to 520. It declined in March to 323, but jumped again in April, to 414.

Violence remained virtually unchanged in May, when 404 were killed. The lowest total came in June, the first month U.S. officials said all the new American troops were in place, with just 190 dead, but then swung back up in July, with 354 dead.

One bright spot has been the reduction in the number of bodies found on the streets, considered a sign of sectarian violence. That number was 44 percent lower in July, compared to December. In July, the average body count per day was 18.6, compared with 33.2 in December, two months before the surge.

But the reason for that decline isn't clear. Some military officers believe that it may be an indication that ethnic cleansing has been completed in many neighborhoods and that there aren’t as many people to kill.

One officer noted that U.S. officials believe Baghdad once had a population that was 65 percent Sunni. The current U.S. estimate is that Shiites now make up 75 percent to 80 percent of the city.
Randy, I wish you all the best with Ms. Hayek and Ms. Cruz and hope that your wife is equally supportive of your ambitions. ;)


She has her Italian Soccer Team fantasies, I have my Latina actresses fantasies.

The problem here, David is that no one knows exactly what success will look like. At wehat point can the US leave and not have Iraq fall apart? How will we know that if we stay there indefinitely?

I would urge you to listen to Brian Lehrer's show on WNYC yesterday (wnyc.org) and the Q & A with Jamie Tarabay, NPR's Baghdad correspondent.


The deadlines are hardly arbitrary. It speaks to the issue of accountability and, frankly, with the nation in such bad shape, it is mind-numbing to see the parliament simply walk away for a month with so much needing to be done.

I have little doubt that the Iraqi government is immune to Parkinson's Law. Standards are expected to be met. If the Iraqi government cannot motivate itself to address its own needs and the needs of its citizens, then they should be held accountable for it. Being soft on standards will surely led to mediocre results. We've already seen that in Iraq.

How long do you expect the blood of young American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to be expended?
Sadly, Randy, the blood of Iraqi civilians will continue to be expended longer after the last American soldier has left Iraq.

I have yet to see any Surge advocate seriously confront the fact that the Surge will absolutely end in early 2008.
Very well, David. I will concede your point about the 250% insurgency increase, which was something I didn't catch. Just so long as people on the pro-insurgency side do their share of acknowledging to cherry-picking the numbers in order to strengthen their position. (One case in point is using the drop in Coalition troop deaths for the month of July as evidence that the surge is working, when casualties have always dropped in July, it being the hottest month in Iraq and all.)

And saying "There is both good and bad news in the data. But the good is getting better and the bad less bad" is hardly a satisfactory answer, as it dismisses all the other bad news with a sweep of the hand. The implication is that most of the news is good, but I have yet to see any convincing data on that.

And that includes the commentary you highlighted on page 4, simply because it's just that: commentary. The Brooking Institute is a pro-Iraq war organization. I accept that their numbers are at least approximate if not accurate. That doesn't mean their opinion should be read objectively as if it were fact. I'll be happy to see your statistics if you have any.

As for Anbar, I'll counter that with Kirkuk, where the violence has INCREASED. It's just a game of musical chairs. Insurgents move out of an area where there is troop presence and open shop in a new area, and the cycle resets itself. I'm sure you can make a fine case that the surge is working in the Anbar province. I'm more interested in the surge working in Iraq as a whole. I think it's an honest question, and not one that should make anyone's blood pressure rise.

If we have made progress, then it has been very incremental, and that's after spending several years and billions of dollars, and stretching our military nearly to the breaking point. So, after all that expended effort, how are we supposed to get things to 100 percent functional?
Not to mention that right now there is a cholera epidemic in Kirkuk.
Note also this Spencer Ackerman piece that finds the DoD's Iraqi civ casualty figures are, to put it mildly, somewhat confused.

Oh goody, the surge is working. Bush is declaring victory (again). Notice how happy Bush and Condi look. David, you were so right all along. How could we ever have doubted you?
How do you win a war when the defeatism of the war's critics, encompassing an entire political party and a predominate portion of the nation's media, is so comprehensive that the mere fact that someone shoots back after two weeks is a sign of defeat? Then by all means tell me how we can win any war under such conditions. When you telegraph such an attitude to your enemies it doesn't take long for them to figure it all out; keep up an undercurrent of violence, a mediagenic bombing here, maybe if you're lucky kill a US soldier with the attendant headlines, and you can "win" by sheer default no matter what progress is objectively made and no matter how pathetically you perform on the battlefield. If you lose such a war then you lose solely by choice. If that's a choice your comfortable with, consequences be damned, so be it. However allowing for the success of such a strategy, one totally dependent on our own weaknesses, is not very wise and will not produce any favorable result. Yet far too many people seem to yearn for that result, and have written the story of defeat as often as it takes in in the hope that it comes true.
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