Saturday, December 27, 2008

Iraq War: warnings against complacency

David Petraeus of The Surge: "Progressive" hero?

British Middle East expert Toby Dodge writes that Despite the optimism, Iraq is close to the edge by Toby Dodge The Observer12/21/08:

I have been travelling back and forth to Iraq for the last seven years. I witnessed the violent aftermath of the invasion in the spring of 2003 when looting and lawlessness descended into an all out insurgency. I returned in 2007 to see a country in the midst of civil war. On my last trip to Iraq this year, the population was holding its breath, waiting to see if the internecine strife had finished or simply stalled while all sides rearm. ...

With an end to the occupation in sight, both Bush and [British Prime Minister Gordon] Brown are attempting to put the best possible gloss on a military adventure that has seen 178 British and 4,209 Americans troops killed and anything between 90,000 and 650,000 Iraqi deaths.

Anglo-American declarations of progress and stability need to be treated with caution. Even today, Iraq is far from peaceful; an average of 500 people are murdered each month, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Baghdad at the end of 2008 is a deeply divided city. Neighbourhoods that were religiously and ethnically cleansed by the wave of violence that engulfed the city before 2007 are now fortified by row upon row of concrete blast walls. ...

Bush and Brown are loathe to use the term "civil war" to describe what took place in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 but this is exactly what happened. [my emphasis]
An escalation in violence or a return to civil war is not a reason to delay US or British withdrawal. Virtually all parties, with some exceptions among the Kurds, are demanding that the US leave.

Both the specific conditions in Iraq and past experiences in places like Algeria when the French left strongly suggest that there will be some increase in conflict when US forces are withdrawn, if not before. There will be lots of debts to settle among hostile parties. And the approach that became part of The Surge that involved arming Sunni militias to fight "Al Qa'ida" has already made long-term sectarian reconciliation even more problematic than it was before. But the United States needs to get itself out of this disaster, sooner rather than later.

Paul Flieder reports in German for Die Zeit about his experiences in Iraq in Ein Monat in der Hölle (A Month in Hell) 17.12.2008. His grim description of Baghdad outside the Green Zone, as well as other parts of the country, are consistent with Dodge's warnings.

These are good reminders, when liberal Web publications are producing stuff like this article from Rachel Kleinfeld, Petraeus the Progressive: The surge in Iraq is a success, and we must claim it as our own Democracy Journal Winter 2008. Yes, you read that title right. And the "we" refers to Democrats. And it isn't an Onion-style joke. Kleinfeld is ignoring the solid reporting on this situation and trying to put a pro-Democratic spin on a Republican faith-based version of The Surge. She writes of the period of The Surge, when Petraeus the Magnificent arrived on the scene:

During that time, Iraq metamorphosed from killing fields to a functioning society. Robinson makes a strong case that these changes would not have taken place without the shift to counterinsurgency strategy, and that the strategy would not have worked without the extra manpower of the surge.

It may sound counterintuitive, but for progressives, Petraeus’s victory is our victory. His strategy bucked traditional ideas, lauded by many conservatives, that we could win by outgunning and outmanning the enemy. Instead, Petraeus incorporated insights, such as the importance of legitimacy and privileging civilian life in order to gain hearts and minds, that progressives have been promoting for years. However progressives feel about the decision to enter the Iraq War, we should own its success.
That's just sad.

Her version of The Surge could have been written by a Pentagon PR office. Something like that had to have been a major source for this stuff. I won't belabor a silly article too much. But her treatment of the Sunni Awakening is typical. She portrays it as a brilliant triumph of "progressive" counterinsurgency masterminded by Petraeus the Great. She seems completely oblivious to the fact that by arming and backing Sunni militias against the Salafi extremists that Petraeus the Awesome likes to call "Al Qa'ida", her "progressive" hero Petraeus was trading short-term gains in reducing violence against long-term intransigence in national reconciliation.

And while she rattles off peppy boilerplate, she doesn't seem to have noticed that a huge part of the reduction in violence was due to the fact that the Shi'a won that round of the civil war, in particular by successful sectarian cleansing of Baghdad, along with the creation (over years, not just in The Surge) of millions of refugees. When you run out of handy enemies to kill because they are either dead or gone, it tends to reduce violence, at least in the short run.

Declaring it as successful counterinsurgency is not even premature. It's just plain foolishness, based on dishonest claims by apologists for the Cheney-Bush administration like Petraeus the Conqueror.

And when she writes neocon-style slimebag polemics like this: "Unwilling to grant Bush a political victory, many progressives rationalized away their belief in principles such as preventing genocide" - you have to wonder why a journal pretending to be liberal and/or Democratic is printing her crap at all. Praising the alleged success of The Surge, a success based on the Shi'a Arabs winning that round of their civil war against the Sunni Arabs, and then accusing the "many progressives" (unnamed of course!) of being indifferent to genocide really is Cheney-level cynicism.

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