Monday, August 06, 2007
Michael Yon's morning dispatch from Iraq is the must-read post of the day. Among other things, Yon disposes of the debate over the relationship, if any, between al Qaeda "in Iraq" and al Qaeda in-a-cave.
When it comes to Iraq, being there matters because of the massive disconnect between what most Americans think they know about Iraq, and what is actually going on there.
The current controversy about the extent to which Al Qaeda is a threat to peace in Iraq is a case in point. Questions about which group calling itself an offshoot of Al Qaeda is really an offshoot of Al Qaeda is a distraction masquerading as a debate.
Well, we certainly agree on that. We also agree that al Qaeda's decision to apply indiscriminate violence against the civilian population was an error of the first order that we would be foolish not to exploit.
I differ with Mr. Yon and most other observers in only one respect: I believe that al Qaeda's error was forced, rather than unforced. Wittingly or not, the Coalition's invasion of Iraq presented al Qaeda with an opportunity that it could not ignore -- an opportunity to drive infidels from the heart of Islam. Unfortunately for the jihadis, however, the decadent Western armies backed by George W. Bush's rank stubborness proved to be a much harder target in reality than in al Qaeda's mythology. In desperation they refocused their war on the Iraqis themselves. They staged "false flag" terror attacks to exploit the region's "honor" culture, hoping thereby to pit tribe against tribe, confession against confession. Al Qaeda's caprice ultimately polarized the vast center, the ordinary people who just want to go to work and school and build better lives. Nowhere has the Sunni jihad inspired so many Muslims to pick up a gun and wage war against it. Yon, again:
I, like everyone else, will have to wait for September's report from Gen. Petraeus before making more definitive judgments. But I know for certain that three things are different in Iraq now from any other time I've seen it.
1. Iraqis are uniting across sectarian lines to drive Al Qaeda in all its disguises out of Iraq, and they are empowered by the success they are having, each one creating a ripple effect of active citizenship.
2. The Iraqi Army is much more capable now than it was in 2005. It is not ready to go it alone, but if we keep working, that day will come.
3. Gen. Petraeus is running the show. Petraeus may well prove to be to counterinsurgency warfare what Patton was to tank battles with Rommel, or what Churchill was to the Nazis.
Or, perhaps, what Ramon Magsaysay was to the Huks, which would be even better.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
I'm willing to take his word for point 1. Point 3 is a little weird - I mean, commentators seem to worship this Petraeus guy before he's even accomplished anything definitive. I'm a bit disturbed by how deferential the president (who is his superior, after all) is to him; it seems to me like the tail wagging the dog.
Point 2, though, is the hundred-million-dollar-a-day question on which everything hinges, in my opinion. I'd like to see more evidence than just say-so that there's any long-term hope for the Iraqi security forces, especially the police. Without a reasonably competent and honest police force, I don't see how a stable society would ever be able to form in Iraq.
Sure, I've read about incidents of bravery and competence by Iraqi soldiers, but anecdotal evidence won't cut it either. How about some numbers on Iraqi domestic law enforcement activity, crime statistics, and so forth, like we use to gauge police performance here. If I were opposed to continuing the occupation, and you wanted to convince me that we were not just throwing good money after bad at this point, I'd want to see trends indicating that the police are improving and becoming less corrupt.
General Petraeus literally wrote the US Army book on counterinsurgency warfare.
Besides, Presidents ought, unless they have credentials like, say, Washington and Eisenhower, to defer to their commanders regarding the execution of plans. The President may be the boss, (a couple of echelons up) but unless he's a military expert (and he isn't) then he should let his troops do whatever they need to do to get the desired results. The last war a president tried to micromanage was Vietnam.
Honest police do not a stable society make. There are plenty of corrupt cops here and in other civilized nations, and life goes on despite it all. We should be less concerned with statistics (which we all ought to know by know are terribly prone to manipulation) and instead watch and hope as Iraqis start to view themselves as Iraqis and not as Sunni Arabs or Tribe X. That's what'll make or break the country, in the end.
Phrizz11 wants to see stats on assaults and robberies in a country where suicide bombings are a near daily occurance?
Those many give pundits ammunition but won't help Iraqis. So, the broader point that the IP needs to improve is true.
More importantly, I'm struck by Yon's account of the efforts of American officers to guide events in the city of Baquba. They remind me of some of the details of William Eaton's insurgency in Tripoli.
Very interesting. And a definite positive.
Robert Burns, AP military writer, reports on Baghdad on Aug. 6:
"The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.
"In two weeks of observing the U.S. military on the ground and interviewing commanders, strategists and intelligence officers, it's apparent that the war has entered a new phase in its fifth year.
"It is a phase with fresh promise yet the same old worry: Iraq may be too fractured to make whole."
Yep, even the AP is saying it.
DF82: Sorry, but I just can't get on board with that line of thinking. I support continuing the occupation, because I happen to believe (based on surmise and not much else) that leaving would make the situation worse. Call me a heinous defeatocrat if you must, but I just can't simply take your word for it that everything is peaches and we should just "watch and hope as Iraqis start to view themselves as Iraqis and not as Sunni Arabs or Tribe X."
Just because statistics are "terribly prone to manipulation" does not in any way mean that they don't have value in this situation. That's just as bad as the argument that we should ban guns because they can be used to commit crimes. It's not unreasonable to want to be able to point to substantive gains that we are making (such as statistics pointing out how much safer Iraqis are becoming thanks to our training of their police and military), rather than just admiring their "any day now" incipient nationhood to the tune of $100M per day. Sure we can afford it, but I'm sure there has to be a better way to demonstrate the return we're getting on our money.
Now where did I say that 'everything is peaches?'
You don't normally put words in my mouth so I won't harp on you or call you Screwie Hoolie. This time...
What I said was, in essence, that the general in charge is eminently qualified for his current task (in response to your comment about deference) and we should let him do his job. And in response to your request for statistics I skipped the point that DEC made (though I thought of it too) and said that statistics are prone to manipulation and shouldn't be relied upon.
Now if you're still opposed to those two statements, then you've got deeper opposition to this 'occupation' than you think.
P.S. I say 'occupation' because we are there at the invitation of the reigning government. It's no more an 'occupation' than our bases in Korea or Germany or Italy.