Friday, May 19, 2006

The Face of Defeat

Publius Pundit links to a fascinating webcast produced by the city of London, "Mayor's Question Time", at which Mayor Ken Livingstone calls a blogger "a terrorist" and claims "leading members of the Bush of administration" want Hugo Chavez assassinated. (Minutes 16 to 19 of the video). It's hardly worth watching for the spoken word, as it is pretty much standard fare for Red Ken, but it is priceless for examining Livingstone's manner, which would have done justice to the kings of pre-revolutionary France. Livingstone is so confirmed in his moral superiority that he perceptibly peers down his nose at the miserable worms writhing in the ethical slime beneath. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon is similarly sure of her position on the subject of abortion.

Now I think the reason the idea of framing alarms people is we only notice it when the frame is being used to obscure the speaker’s true intentions. But framing to disguise the truth is a very narrow kind of framing called “doublespeak”. ... The reason I bring this up is I’ve started a review copy of a book by Steven Poole called Unspeak and right away in the intro he equates the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” as not only examples of framing but also of doublespeak/propaganda. In other words, he bought into the idea behind the doublespeak term “fair and balanced” that lulls people into thinking that in order to be fair you must pretend there are two sides to any debate and they are morally equivalent. That and he fell into the trap of thinking that framing is inherently deceptive, i.e. that all framing is doublespeak. I’m thinking the book will get better when he starts examining specific examples of using language to obscure truth, but I have to lash out at this point because dammit, equating the doublespeak term “pro-life” with the more standard framing of the side that stands for abortion rights as “pro-choice” is one of my pet peeves.

We see that arguing against abortion, at least in terms of "pro-life" phraseology, is deceptive and illegitimate. Like Ken Livingstone holding court in his own hall or a judge from his bench, Marcotte rules the contrary argument out of order. Very well. Now let's see how this moral disparity affects the debate on Iraq. "We all know" that Iraq is the worst American defeat since Vietnam but Amir Taheri's in Commentary points out that even catastrophes have their bright side.

Since my first encounter with Iraq almost 40 years ago, I have relied on several broad measures of social and economic health to assess the country's condition. Through good times and bad, these signs have proved remarkably accurate ...

The first sign is refugees. When things have been truly desperate in Iraqin 1959, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1988, and 1990 long queues of Iraqis have formed at the Turkish and Iranian frontiers, hoping to escape. In 1973, for example, when Saddam Hussein decided to expel all those whose ancestors had not been Ottoman citizens before Iraqs creation as a state, some 1.2 million Iraqis left their homes in the space of just six weeks. This was not the temporary exile of a small group of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, which is a common enough phenomenon in most Arab countries. Rather, it was a departure en masse, affecting people both in small villages and in big cities, and it was a scene regularly repeated under Saddam Hussein.

Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen on our television sets and we can be sure that we would be seeing it if it were there to be shown. To the contrary, Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.

A second dependable sign likewise concerns human movement, but of a different kind. This is the flow of religious pilgrims to the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf. Whenever things start to go badly in Iraq, this stream is reduced to a trickle and then it dries up completely. From 1991 (when Saddam Hussein massacred Shiites involved in a revolt against him) to 2003, there were scarcely any pilgrims to these cities. Since Saddams fall, they have been flooded with visitors. In 2005, the holy sites received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited spots in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.

Over 3,000 Iraqi clerics have also returned from exile, and Shiite seminaries, which just a few years ago held no more than a few dozen pupils, now boast over 15,000 from 40 different countries. This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police.

A third sign, this one of the hard economic variety, is the value of the Iraqi dinar, especially as compared with the regions other major currencies. In the final years of Saddam Husseins rule, the Iraqi dinar was in free fall; after 1995, it was no longer even traded in Iran and Kuwait. By contrast, the new dinar, introduced early in 2004, is doing well against both the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial, having risen by 17 percent against the former and by 23 percent against the latter. Although it is still impossible to fix its value against a basket of international currencies, the new Iraqi dinar has done well against the U.S. dollar, increasing in value by almost 18 percent between August 2004 and August 2005. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and millions of Iranians and Kuwaitis, now treat it as a safe and solid medium of exchange

My fourth time-tested sign is the level of activity by small and medium-sized businesses. In the past, whenever things have gone downhill in Iraq, large numbers of such enterprises have simply closed down, with the countrys most capable entrepreneurs decamping to Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe and North America. Since liberation, however, Iraq has witnessed a private-sector boom, especially among small and medium-sized businesses.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as numerous private studies, the Iraqi economy has been doing better than any other in the region. The countrys gross domestic product rose to almost $90 billion in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), more than double the output for 2003, and its real growth rate, as estimated by the IMF, was 52.3 per cent. In that same period, exports increased by more than $3 billion, while the inflation rate fell to 25.4 percent, down from 70 percent in 2002. The unemployment rate was halved, from 60 percent to 30 percent.

None of this is necessarily proof of final success in Iraq. But the question, which has not examined in detail, is whether Amir Taheri's allegations are true. Have millions of refugees returned to Iraq? Are millions of pilgrims swarming into southern Iraq from the Shi'ite world? Is the Iraqi economy up, at least vis-a-vis its neighbors? These are serious charges, not in the least because if true, certain politicians have essentially advocated abandoning the very policies that made them possible. Now maybe having millions of Shi'ites flowing into Iraq is something America shouldn't want. Maybe having 3,000 Iraqi clerics return from exile is actually a bad thing. Maybe the Iraqi private sector boom, if it exists, actually benefits certain political factions hostile to America. But it is something politicians should be debating; something the papers should be covering. At least in more detail than they have till now. Or maybe it isn't a defeat after all.


Blogger Joan said...

I'm waiting for someone on the Left to even acknowledge this article. I have the feeling I will need infinite patience.

5/19/2006 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Deuce ☂ said...


Your observation:
..."Now maybe having millions of Shi'ites flowing into Iraq is something America shouldn't want. Maybe having 3,000 Iraqi clerics return from exile is actually a bad thing. Maybe the Iraqi private sector boom, if it exists, actually benefits certain political factions hostile to America."

I was struck with the same comment and an uneasy feeling. The answer is a resounding maybe. I do not see how a few thousand more madrassas is in US interest. Was an Iraqi bulwark against Iran better? I think so. The US was also interested in a renewed Russia and a China participating in world affairs, and one can wonder how that is going. Life's lesson number 2164, "Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it".

5/19/2006 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Dr Sanity:
UPDATE: Almost as if to deliberately counter Taheri's piece, there is an article in the NY Times today--with the melodramatic title "As Death Stalks Iraq, Middle Class Exodus Begins"
(which sounds suspiciously like the headlines they use to talk about Detroit and other urban areas of the US)
--except, as noted by Cori Dauber, what they are really reporting on is an exodus from Baghdad..not all of Iraq.

But the article is framed to suggest that this is a phenomenon impacting the entire country. Dauber also comments that they have no data to support such an overarching conclusion. (Does an exodus from Detroit or D.C. mean that the entire middle class is leaving America?)
However, the Times piece itself is a data point supportive of my own thesis--that the MSM is dedicated to putting the worse possible face on every current aspect of Iraqi society.
Iraqis have reasons to be upset with the slow-moving pace of their new governemnt, and until that government coalesces and starts doing what it needs, it will disaffect many there.
How is that different from any other free country, where citizens can leave when it is in their interest to do so? As I mentioned in the comment section to this post, the fact that the MSM and the left desperately want to believe Al Qaeda and chaos are winning is like a beacon of hope to the murderers and terrorists.
They know they have lost militarily and politically; but they are hoping that their useful idiot brigade here in the U.S. and elsewhere can pull out a victory for them despite defeat.
UPDATE II: Gateway Pundit has a lot more information on the Times story.

5/19/2006 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Dr. Sanity

5/19/2006 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

12:53 PM - I'd like cheap lettuce and a clean toilet, thanks.

5/19/2006 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger DaveK said...

Great, but sobering analysis, Wretchard. Is it possible that the MSM will never tumble to what is real in this war, and what is just he pseudoreality of their wishful thinking?

It is maddening that we have propagandists, posing as relaters of absolute truths, doing what they claim is journalism. It would be better if they went to work for Xinhua, so their politics would finally be laid bare.

Just my $.02

5/19/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

There is and has been a case for declaring Victory in Iraq. The Administration has never made it, though.
They have left it to their enemies to frame the debate.
Both in Iraq and here at home.

Returning refugees is a sign of change, of Victory. A victory for whom though, that is the question of the day.
Is Mr al-Sadr's factions ascension to power a "good thing"?
Mr Rumsfeld seemed to think not, nor did Mr Bremmer.

There has already been at least one incident of Blue on Blue fighting. Kurd vs Shia

Which Force will change with the integration of the Mahdi Army into the ISF, does the Mahdi Army secularize or will the ISF become more sectarian and political.

Look to Hezzbollah's pattern for the answer.

5/19/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Monkeesfan said...

doug shows one of the key problems of the MSM's coverage of Iraq - they are so determined to undermine US/Allied victory that the MSM literally scours every corner to find something to "prove" that the war isn't being won.

5/19/2006 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


Your 12:53 PM - 3,000 clerics

You may have seen an article today in the Jerusalem Post addressing American displeasure with Iraq for sending a delegation to the Arab League Boycott Office in Damascus. This office promotes the boycott of Israel. Could all those clerics and millions of pilgrims have something to do with this?

It should also be noted that Saudi Arabia also attended. You may recall the Saudi promise to abandon the boycott as one of the terms for gaining American support for Saudi membership in the WTO.

Apparently being an Arab, American "ally" means never having to say what you mean. Something like being the President of the United States (I hope that’s not too confrontational, it’s just so hard to nicely say “LIAR”.)

This is why we fight?

"US fumes as Iraq backs Israel boycott" -

5/19/2006 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Comments at Pat's Place:
Greetings from Amman where I've just attended the "REBUILD IRAQ 2006" CONFERENCE .

I'll tell you, the participation in the conference was breath-taking. The conference's self description says that there were over 1000 (ONE-THOUSAND) exhibiters from 51 countries.
If you are interested check the website. I've got a two-inch thick booklet containing information on each exhibiter.
AMAZING, simply amazing. (And, why would the first world be seemingly so underrepresented -?- Speculation alert: could it be the constant drumbeat of negative news about Iraq, to the exclusion of anything good? Just asking. . . )

I would also like to take this moment to draw your attention to the recent Brookings Institute Iraq Index update . Here are a few data points from that report ((see: index.pdf for the complete report)):
Futurist looks at Brookings Data .
IRAQIBLOGCOUNT - Lots of New Blogs .
Evidently a lefty blog or 2 linked to the good Dr. so her comments are quite lively.

5/19/2006 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Allen 1:14 PM careful, you'll get your tag soon enough.
Now hoist that (Mexican) Flag for your Country!

5/19/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Habu_1 said...

The eclipse of the Kaaba, small business' up and running, dinar up, digging for Hoffa's all GREAT news. We've won !!!
BUT, like John Williams brilliant theme from "JAWS" here come da MSM, filled with it's leftest and Boomer's of the Most Destructive Generation to distort, not report the truth.
Well, will just keep on finding the truth and letting the world know....GREAT ARTICLE Sir.

5/19/2006 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger TM Lutas said...

Regarding whether 3000 clerics returning to Iraq are a good thing or not, I have two observations.

1. These are clerics Saddam did not like. They're likely a mixed bag of all sorts of ideologies but one thing they will not be is pro-Baath.

2. These clerics were reading, writing, and preaching in exile camps. They were exhorting the rootless exiles, a vulnerable group. Now they go back to Iraq and enter back into an established structure. This is not a bad thing.

5/19/2006 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger geoffgo said...


Seems to this old warrior that whether we've absolutely achieved victory or not, becomes less relevant, going forward. We might next have to deal with 3 or four simultaneously, to secure the world's pipeline, or some other future circumstance we've not yet war gamed.

If Ameri speaks the truth, our efforts will come to be seen eventually, as the most remarkable humanitarian achievement in history. Unfortunately, the world has little to compare, so we don't get our high marks yet.

Let's see. Knock 2 down, stand 2 up, with minimum disrupton of the homeland, and the fewest civilian and military casualties by anyone's measure, in under 5 years. All this, dispite the bungling management and sheer obscuration of all of our electees.

Two dynamics are working together here; as we get better at regime change, it gets cheaper and appears ever easier in the face of growing threats. And, as we get more effective, we will destroy far less infrastructure with each rep. Next rep, we'll get real-time targeting from the opposition, acting as our FACs with their GPS/cellphones.

Our drones will be able to destroy all military vehicles and aircraft on their way to suppress the uprising. Or, block the critical routes. Rat's mercenaries on the cheap?

5/19/2006 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger geoffgo said...


Two regime changes have not been enough to get the rapt attention of those you identify. How about:

The surgical strikes by Predator drones will continue until Islamic terroism stops. The new virtual deck has 5,200 image cards to start. Last month's target list is available in both English and Arabic, for those interested, by mailing $5 to 1515 "K" St., W.D.C, 10049

5/19/2006 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger trish said...

"Have millions of refugees returned to Iraq? Are millions of pilgrims swarming into southern Iraq from the Shi'ite world? Is the Iraqi economy up, at least vis-a-vis its neighbors?"

I don't blame anyone for not giving a damn either way. And my guess is that not many do.

5/19/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...

To all doomers out there Islam is not monolithic. There are factions.

1. Did you get the main point regarding the return of the clerics:

"This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police."

2. Regarding economics: Democracies tend survive once a minimum financial status is met - I think it is $3,000/year. The Iraqis are meeting that standard. They have something to fight for. Simiarly, there could very well be economically induced emigration into Iraq because of these factors.

3. Regarding the pilgrimages: Would you rather them go to Saudi Arabia or Iran?

Some here seem outright Realpolitiky... Deal with the kleptocrats and murderers - forever?

It would be very nice if the media - which pretends to have viable resources in the region - would help answer these questions. But would they be able to still look good after taking the black tinted sunglasses off?

5/19/2006 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Re: ground-truth in Iraq, the larger war on terror, and how much remains of the 30-60K fanatics who came thru the training camps.

Who's the best informed person in the world? Mr. Bush.

Anyone other than me notice the extra spring in his step, even ebullience of this man in his recent semi-public gatherings? It can't just be the pleasure we have seen him take in election time, the contests and the matching of wit with those on the other side.

He had the strength of his faith before (when we all were losing ours). But now he knows. He's waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

5/19/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


Your 5:33 PM - "pilgrimages: Would you rather them go to Saudi Arabia or Iran?"

Your points are very well taken.

The US must FIRMLY press for a secular Iraq, which is attainable, given the former Ba'th regime. It is the potential for the unhealthy influence of Islam on government that concerns me; hence, my query addressing the Damascus meetings.

As to the Saudis…well, the country got bigger by 15, yesterday.

5/19/2006 06:51:00 PM  

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