Sunday, May 28, 2006

# Posted 1:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DISPATCH FROM IRAQ: Nir Rosen is one of the fastest-rising stars among the ranks of foreign correspondents. He shipped out for Baghdad as a freelancer immediately after the invasion and quickly learned to speak Iraqi Arabic. Thus, he became the only American (that I know of, at least) to report extensively from inside insurgent-occupied Fallujah in 2004.

Nir's dispatch from Fallujah was given pride of place in the July 5, 2004 issue of the New Yorker, an accomplishment that immediately established his reputation as leading observer of occupied Iraq. A book contract soon followed. Earlier this month, the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, published In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. In addition to various assignment for the The NYT Magazine and The Atlantic, Nir also has a major article on the cover of this morning's Outlook section in the WaPo.

Before getting to the substance of Nir's publications, I should warn you that I have been friends with Nir since elementary school. There is no question that I want him to succeed and I am proud to have OxBlog contribute to his success in whatever small way it can.

However, you don't need to worry at all that I will show any undeserved kindness to Nir's opinions, since I disagree with him vigorously about almost everything. He says the occupation is a manifest failure and wants to the bring the troops home now. To put it mildly, I think that's a bad idea.

But rather than rehashing that debate, let's talk about Nir's article in the WaPo. The first and last paragraphs of the articles summarize its message quite effectively:
Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device...

[The civil war] started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come.
The article doesn't mention any of Iraq's three elections or its new government, but suggests that they are irrelevant by focusing on the viciously sectarian nature of the police and armed forces:
The Mahdi militiamen were already back in force that morning, blocking off the roads and searching all who approached, wielding Iraqi police-issue Glock pistols and carrying Iraqi police-issue handcuffs. In Baghdad and most of Iraq, the police are the Mahdi Army and the Mahdi Army is the police. The same holds for the actual Iraqi army, posted throughout the country.
Although the overarching narrative here should be familiar to anyone who reads the newspapers, I think Nir is especially good at capturing details that bring the narrative to life, such as the police issue Glocks and handcuffs that found their way to the Mahdi army.

Of course, capturing such details is not the same as making a definitive case for the failure of the occupation. In that respect, I found the following passage from Nir's artilce to be quite revealing:
Even shared opposition to the Occupation couldn't unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites, and perhaps that was inevitable given their bitter history of mutual hostility. Instead, as the fighting against the Americans intensified, tensions between Sunni and Shiite began to grow, eventually setting off the vicious sectarian cleansing that is Iraq today.

During the first battle of Fallujah, in the spring of 2004, Sunni insurgents fought alongside some Shiite forces against the Americans; by that fall, the Sunnis waged their resistance alone in Fallujah, and they resented the Shiites' indifference.
If you happen to know Nir personally, you may recognize this passage as a veiled mea culpa. After returning from Fallujah in 2004, Nir was passionately persuaded that Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shi'ites would unite against the Christian, American occupation.

This was what Nir told me in Lombardi's Pizza in SoHo in the late summer of 2004. I mostly kept my disagreement to myself since Nir had the ultimate trump card to play: he was there and he saw it all for himself. I just read the newspapers, which actually supported his argument more than they supported mine.

Although there is no question that I am enjoying this little "I told you so", the real point here is that even those with unprecedented access to the facts on the ground in Iraq are profoundly influenced by their preconceived notions. Knowing Nir's politics, I couldn't help but infer that his observation of an emergent Sunni-Shi'ite alliance in 2004 reflected his desire for a united front against the American occupation.

Of course, I have made similar mistakes myself. Go through the OxBlog archives and see how long it took me to recognize just after the invasion that a full-scale insurgency was underway.

In the end, I don't think the outcome of the occupation will turn on who made more predictions that were right or wrong. It will turn on a few critical issues that are much more important than the rest: whether an elected government can hold together, whether the army can fight, and whether the police will enforce the law or function as sectarian militias and death squads.

Nir and others have made a strong case that the trend in each of these issue areas is running in the wrong direction. But I'm not throwing in the towel just yet, because even those with first-hand experience have been wrong before about the most important trends in Iraq.
(33) opinions -- Add your opinion

Thanks for the constructive criticism, Randy.
I don't have the exact date right now, but a few months back The Weekly Standard carried a scathing article on Nir, his politics, and his reporting.
ES- is it this?
Jacob - yes, it is. Thank you.
David, Randy may not be "constructive", but his criticism is still apt. Nir, by the way, is hardly to blame for "getting it wrong" on the united insurgency. There were certainly indications that such a possibility was in the works. But the US shifted its stance, in the face of the Shiite attacks during the Spring of '04. Even now, southern Iraw is increasingly dangerous, as the Brit casualties reveal. Your misreading of the insurgency is far more serious. I well recall your mockery (it was indeed that tone) of my prediction, at lunch of Christmas '04, that the Americans would be beaten. I think that "throwing in the towel" is not so far off. In any event, there is only one area of Iraq that is at all friendly to US interests-- the Kurd region.
Re "throwing in the towell", don't you think that there is a moral responsibility to stay and try not to leave Iraq worse off regardless of whether the US should have invaded or not?
David, you keep bringing up the successive elections and ignoring the lack of electricity. Is this your definition of success?

Cheney famously said that we'd be greeted as liberators. Do you still see this in some distant and expensive future?

On Memorial Day, it is a reasonable question to ask why you think we should stay.
The last refuge of rascals is to argue that we "have to stay the course" of a bad policy, because the alternative is worse. Actually, let me take that back. The really last refuge, as the present adminstration knows full well, is to argue that we have to "stay the course" in order that the dead soldiers did not sacrifice their lives in vain. Either argument is just an excuse to keep throwing lives away in a policy that won't EVER succeed.
Regardless of the separate argument of what should be done in Iraq given the situation we are in, I think it is only right that the pro-war side, mindful of the need to take similar difficult foreign policy decisions in the future, owns up to the fact that the decision to go to war was a bad error and has turned out greatly differently from what they hoped and expected.
Frankly Anon. 7:55, Things did turn out greatly differently than this war supporter thought.

I thought that it would be a much tougher slog than it's turned out to be. Both in the initial win and in the reconstruction phase.

Was that also you at 3:45 whining about electricity? Some areas have more than before, some have less (because Saddam can't redirect it to his favored areas, read Baghdad), but you're using a centrally provided total kilowatts as your straw man, the reality is satellite dishes, cell phones, stoves, air conditioners, etc. are selling like hotcakes, businesses to sell same are opening at a furious pace (with seed money from our infrastructure).

Oh, did I forget to mention the herds of Kawi and Honda et al. generators fanning out across the countryside to power all those appliances on cheap gasoline?
About those cheap gasoline prices. Unfortunately, gasoline seems to be more difficult to come by than a Bush supporter in a mess hall line:

Oil shortages hit Iraq with onset of summer.

Oh, and sorry to bust your metaphor, but the only hotcakes you'll find are in the Green Zone. You'd do better selling baqlawa.
Cheap or expensive gasoline is hardly the point, as you well know based on your continuing misdirection.

The point is that comparing centrally provided electricity under Saddam to the current centrally provided levels is pointless -- the people have their own electricity in the meantime.

Just as the residents of Long Island provided their own when LILCO took months upon months to recover from a hurricane that cut a swath across from the Atlantic to the LI sound a few decades ago. Basically the residents said, this is BS, "I'm gonna get me a generator," and generators they did buy by the thousands.

Your position isn't that the Iraqis were better off with Saddam because they got power off a pole instead of a Honda, is it?
I know I won't resolve this debate with any one post or comment, so let me just try to hit a few quick points.

With regard to electricity, much more would be better. But I very much doubt the Sunnis would fear Shi'ite majority rule less if there were more kilowatts to go around. The question is whether elections can produce a government credible to all factions.

With regard to being greeted as liberators, I don't feel much need to defend the VPs exaggerations. I never expected a warm greeting from the Sunnis, and the Shi'ites have treated us much better than the critics predicted.

And why should we stay? The very short answer is the chaos that would result from even a graduated withdrawal. It would probably be another pre-9/11 Afghanistan, plus tens of thousands dead from ethnic cleansing.

Now, Jon, I'm curious about your thoughts on this. Does your idea of the US national interest have room in it for prevening a mass slaughter, albeit at the cost of American lives? Or would you prefer to divorce such moral considerations from our foreign policy?
David-- Morality? Sounds good. The US national interest has been compromised by this immoral war. The immoral "mass slaughter" is already happening anyway. The US will also, quite correctly and morally in this case, be blamed for what is and what will happen. In that case, cutting the losses and admitting the error is in the US interest and admitting error is the moral thing to do. And the guilty parties who foisted this party on the nation and world should have to answer for it, not those of us who counseled against it. Staying the course of a mistaken policy is...a mistake that will only get worse.
David, does it bother you at all that one of your close friends spends time/helps out the current enemy? I didn't support the war, but that (opposition to a war) is not an excuse to work with the enemy. He should be shot for treason IMHO.
Actually, it isn't misdirection, it's a link to a news article. But you were close. And recall that it was *you* who said there was cheap gasoline available. Alas, this doesn't seem to be the case.

WRT "Your position isn't that the Iraqis were better off with Saddam because they got power off a pole instead of a Honda, is it?" Actually, I didn't say that. It was Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. But I think you are paraphrasing him. "I think you could make a pretty strong case that things are worse off in the Middle East today than they were three years ago, by measurement of Iraq, by Iran, by the Palestinian/Israeli issue, what’s going on in Egypt." MTP.

As to David's point about the chaos that would ensue an American pullout. First, we already have a worsening chaos. Second, chaos followed the American withdrawal from Vietnam; it is an inevitable ugly stage. And third, I can think of many ways to help the Iraqis short of having 130,000 troops there. And lastly, our presence is making things worse there and elsewhere.
David, I agree:
And why should we stay? The very short answer is the chaos that would result from even a graduated withdrawal. It would probably be another pre-9/11 Afghanistan, plus tens of thousands dead from ethnic cleansing.

Jjucovy, I brought up a moral responsibility, because I think it's even more irresponsible to leave the country in shambles, left to "ethnic cleasing" and civil war. David brings up a pre 9/11 Afghanistan, I would say, why not Algeria?. But that's just me.

With respect to the soldiers, please excuse me. I forgot that Monday was Memorial Day in the US. We Canuks have Victoria Day. My comment was not about the soldiers.

I don't understand why you say an "immoral war". Iraq is no more "illegal" or interventionist than Kosovo. Is it the false pretenses and justifications for going to war? I can't say that someone's justifications for war necessarily legitimize a war or not.
I don't understand why people think if we withdraw all our troops the violence will end.

Iraqis are being killed just as American troops. If only Americans were being killed I would say you have some form of an argument but when currently Iraqis are being slaughtered by their own people it is hard to imagine that if we left today everyone would co-exist peacfully.
1. Rosen says the situation in the army is the same as in the police. From most of what ive read thats detailed, thats not so. The army has some sunni officers, and has been far more professional than the police

2. Rosen says the Mahdi army is the police everywhere in Iraq. Im certain thats not the case in Kurdistan. An article I saw the other day from Ramadi indicated the police were all Sunni, and in fact were close to the Sunni insurgency. Thats not good new at all, but it does challenge the notion that the police everywhere in Iraq are Mahdists? Why should I beleive Rosen that every policemen everywhere in the Shiite south is a Mahdist?

3. Electricity - Ive followed the Brookings reports. Electricity isnt where it should be, but the notion that a country with a good electric system in 2002, is now one without, is just plain false. Much of the power shortage is cause theres been a big increase in the number of appliances.
Some time back, I read a piece suggesting the invasion of Iraq had, along with other motivations, a kind of judo.
It went like this: Muslims, due most likely to their famous tribalism, are monumentally uninterested in atrocities perpetrated by Muslims on non-Muslims. It would take the application of terror to Muslims to get them to figure out that terrorists are bad buys, really. Given the invariable fact that insurgents kill at least thirty times as many of their own people as of the occupying/government forces, bringing the fighting to Iraq would have the terrorists killing civilians because they got to that page in the manual, because they had the stuff and couldn't profitably attack Americans, or for the hell of it.
Lesson to Iraqis, and possibly to other Muslims.
But I thought of another judo-like result.
Those who think this is about oil, racism, interventionist foreign policy, anti-western/colonialist anger, anti-western culture, and not a clash of civilizations, are being treated to a lesson.
Recantly a couple of Iraqi tennis team players were shot because they were wearing shorts. The Miss Iraqi World had to flee for her life. Honor killings. Dozens of civilians killed with no conceivable connection to any goal the terrorists could possibly have (unless the goal is actually being addressed, in which case the goal hardly bears thinking about).
None of this stuff is reaction to western imperialism, the victims are Iraqis, or the expropriation of oil.
This society breeds a Tim McVeigh and an Eric Rudolph every half-decade or so. Iraq--and by extension Islam--breeds dozens a day--per township.
This really is a clash of civilizations, and it took the invasion of Iraq to make the point.

Now, this is not to say there are no moderate Muslims. Just that their immoderate co-religionists are entirely too numerous.
So, to summarize Aubrey, it was WMD at first, then it was to rid the good citizens of Iraq of Saddam, and now it is a clash of civilizations with evil Islam.

What will it be next?
Anon. Wrong. As usual. I don't know if you're the Anon who's always wrong, of if this is a new experience for you.

There is no "then". There is/was a complex of reasons, one being WMD.
My speculation is that there are a good many people, probably afflicted with BDS, who believe, or pretend to believe, this conflict has nothing to do with aggressive, violent Islamist actions, and is merely a matter of the outrised, upraged peasantry tired of being oppressed, suppressed, repressed and depressed. As in Central America, and Southeast Asia, and anywhere else the sound of the AK is heard in the land. Or, actually, that's not the speculation. That's the fact.
The speculation is that one suporting reason to go into Iraq was to get the message across to Muslims that Muslim terror isn't as much fun as it looks. This wasn't my speculation but it sparked mine, which is that the frequently reported terrorist atrocities which cannot possibly be linked to the mean ol' US may be influencing the folks who have been leaning to the America-worst view.
Some what related in terms of results but not Iraq is the rioting over the Motoons. It is conceivable that as many as one liberal was motivated to wonder if the Baptists or Catholics would do something like that. Not certain about the one liberal, but it's possible.
Running into the real world, if it can be arranged, is frequently the educational process of last resort, a resort we have reached in terms of many Muslims and US liberals.
Hmmm, I've been trying to think up a good name and Wrong sounds pretty good. As a verb. But unfortunately, it is taken.

'There is no "then".' This sounds suspiciously like Orwell's 1984, where the Party continously had to relegate its actions to the Memory Hole lest the citizens remember.

But back in the real world, if it can be arranged, we are in a war that is lasting as long as WWII and costing about 300B + 73B/yr with no national benefit, with no plan for success, run by incompetents.
The Weekly Standard hit piece from awhile back was, as usual for that magazine, quite weak. It was long on rhetoric and short on evidence. It leaps from pointing out Rosen's anti-imperialism to saying that he's fighting for the jihadists and Ba'athists. That's just ad hominem garbage. Rosen may be wrong about many things, but he isn't fighting for the other side.
Anon. Wrong again. You must be the anon who's always wrong.

There is no "then". You implied a sequence of excuses for the war, first wmd, and now....

Taurine you know what. And, you do know. Per usual, you hope some of the rest of the readers don't.

I meant, and you know it, that there was no sequence over time, no "then", but a complex of reasons, one or two could be as I describe.

Yup. And haul in 1984. Maybe the reason you're always wrong is you haven't got any new ideas.
Well, Grim Ghost, I admit this does sound very bad: "There were other disadvantages as well, such as huge pollution from noxious diesel fumes."

Fortunately, in Iraq we stopped the burning of the oil fields, so the minor pollution (although even a microbe of contribution to global warming is always a concern for you and yours) effect in comparison, from gasoline powered generators in the backyards of Iraqis is not really all that much to get ones panties in a bunch over.

It'd be interesting to compare the pollution per kilowatt from antiquated Iraqi power plants to efficient gasoline powered personal generators -- though I doubt anyone would endeavor to conduct such a study.

Those working to correct the problems just don't care about minutia like that, and those decrying every effort hand over fist would be afraid of a result that debunked their whining...
Did anybody say the generators are a good substitute?

Or was the point that not counting generators in considering available power misrepresented the situation?
Or was the point that not counting generators in considering available power misrepresented the situation?

Do the people who are using generators have power for their lights and other conveniences, or do they not?

If they do, then either that power doesn't work like electricity, exactly, or it does.

If it does, then their situation, although less congenial than if they had power off the national grid, is pretty good. Their stuff works. That's a good thing.

It could be better, but that would require several things. One is for the freedom fighters to quit blowing up generating facilities and the other is to have the freedom fighters quit threatening the fuel supplies to the generating facilities. If you have a problem with the level of power available, I'd suggest complaining to the people who are blowing it up.
Well, a failure to meet a target is a failure. But the question is what this means in the context of the war. Zilch. Eventually, the blowers-up will be stifled. Corruption perhaps should have been factored in, but that would have been racist. I have some friends in Mexico who are seriously connected, wealthy and related to big shooters. One, a kid who'd been an exchange student with us, remarked she'd prefer to be kidnapped to being arrested by the Mexico City police. Even though she and her brothers are convinced that a simple call to Vicente--some kind of a second cousin--would spring them, the problem is the call. The non-First World is full of corruption. Corruption practically defines the non-First World, and if I were in charge of plans, I'd challenge anybody who had a hot-shot idea to tell me how much fudge he'd factored in for corruption among the locals. Then I'd be fired for being a racist.
Fact is, you can't make peoples who aren't of the Western culture ( which includes some Asian countries) into the kind of people who can run a country the way we'd like to see it done.

Consider: We generated Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph and the Unabomber, whatever his name is. Triple that. Then consider that Iraq generates that many of the same type on each block every month. Three tennis players were shot for wearing shorts. The Miss Iraq -Universe is fled for her life. Nothing to do with politics here, just a whim which immediately justifies homicide.
This is the culture we're working with.
Nothing is going to be easy, and complaining about the electricity is complaining about the paint scheme when you're trying to put an emergency ward together in record time.
Consider further how the Symbiones Liberation Army kept California hopping when there were only about a dozen of them.

Anyway, the electricity problem isn't as solved as we'd like it to be. The locals have addressed it by using generators until it gets solved. More people have access to juice than before, due to spreading it out, and the sum is an improvement.
Well Grim, No one that I know of is saying that things are all peaches and cream in Iraq, hell things aren't utopian in Dallas, Boise, or Washington DC either. So what?

This notation of yours is curious though: "However, there is also (as the IEEE article pointed out), a great deal of power theft..."

I'm curious as to what you think the thieves are doing with that power (given a very large assumption that you have your ducks all in a row)?

Are they selling it to Syria? Libya? Iran? China? And how are they facilitating these sales? Or do you mean Iraqis are "stealing" their own power for their own use?

Hmm, I think the latter (if, indeed any theft is taking place) is most likely, but even if they really are exporting their "thefts" are they not spending the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains in the Iraqi economy?

Last question Grim, when did electricity generation levels become the be all and end all measurement of success or failure in war? How the hell did we determine winners before Franklin flew his kite?
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