Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Half Full

The Times Online reports that large numbers of refugees are returning from Syria to Iraq. "The numbers are certainly large enough, as we report today, for a mass convoy to be planned next week as Iraqis who had opted for exile in Syria return to their homeland." Can Iraq be getting better?

Tom Friedman at the NYT admits things are seemingly better in Iraq but brings up the current objection, which goes like this: 'Yes, the violence may be down but political reconciliation has not been effected'. He writes:

But then I talk to people in Baghdad and look at what is really evolving there and I say to myself: “Maybe you’re missing something that Secretary Rice knows — that there isn’t going to be any formal political reconciliation moment in Iraq, grand bargain or White House signing ceremony. The surge has made Iraq safe, not for formal political reconciliation yet, but safe for an ‘A.T.M. peace.’ ”

That is, each of the Iraqi factions basically agrees to live and let live with the new lines drawn by the last two years of civil war and the Baghdad government serves as an A.T.M. cash machine — supporting the army and local security groups and dispensing oil revenues to the provincial governors and tribal chiefs from each community. ...

I have more questions right now than strong opinions.

So I went to a source I knew I could trust — my colleague James Glanz, The Times’s Baghdad bureau chief who has lived through so much craziness there: “There is a sense of quiet on the streets that we have not seen for a long time in Baghdad,” he told me, “but there is also a big question mark in the shadows of every alley. We don’t know what is lurking back there, but we suspect, and evidence suggests, that it is the same set of problems that were always there.”

Fair enough. However it might be pertinent to observe that many of the colonial creations of the Middle East -- Saddam's Iraq in particular -- were already truces without reconciliation. And they were not even "ATM truces" based on oil revenues so much as an outward calm founded on fear. In Saddam-era Iraq this took the form of the military domination by one group or tribe over the other. Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit, for example, was the source of many high-ranking personages in the ruling Ba'ath Party. Some divided societies worked better than others, as for example did Lebanon, whose government explicitly recognized rival ethnic interests. While the lack of a European-style political reconciliation may be a concern, by regional standards the ethnic discord in Iraq may not be unique. The thousands of Iraqi returnees have glanced at Damascus and preferred Baghdad.

It is important to point out what has been achieved by simply getting to this point, this ATM truce. The current calm in Iraq represents not only a 'partial peace' but a huge victory. For the first time since Algeria at least, a Western army has defeated the combined efforts of a terrorist insurgency, a global radical Islamist attack and the intervention of two neighboring countries in less than five years. Al-Qaeda in Iraq made an explicit effort to precipitate a civil war in Iraq and failed. Syria backed the Sunni insurgency in its effort to restore dominance in Iraq and failed. Iran backed the Shi'ite militias, including the Special Groups and may be failing too. MNF-Iraq took on all comers in what amounted to a military randori and tossed them all out of the ring. You can call that an ATM truce or you can call it something else.

It was recently fashionable to schedule screenings of the movie Battle of Algiers to impress upon Americans how hard and hopeless their task was. This movie should continue to be shown, but it may be ruined by flashing this card as the credits roll: "this is what happened to the French, and seemingly to every Western Army since the 1960s, even to the Israelis in Lebanon in the 1980s. But it didn't happen to the US in Iraq." That would certainly provoke outrage, perhaps because people accustomed to being handed a flagellant whip don't know what to do with a glass of champagne.

It's a startling realization and shouldn't be borne in mind to gloat, but rather to provoke further thought, as Friedman hoped to do with his "ATM" observation. The question that will torment historians, if Iraq becomes viable, is 'what went right?'. It's a hard question not in the least because it so easy to get the wrong answer. Was it more troops? The number of additional forces deployed in the Surge was really quite small, and the Surge began happening even before the full complement was in place. Was it a new strategy or set of tactics? If so, which? Did information warfare play a part? The questions come thick and fast. It is at least as important to figure out what went right as to ask the standard question of what went wrong.

And figuring out what went right is important because Friedman is undoubtedly correct in thinking that complete victory is far from won. Victory is far from completely achieved in Iraq, but most especially with respect to radical Islamism throughout the region and across the globe. We need to know what went right to figure out where to go from here.

But that understanding must begin with the realization, which the returnees from Baghdad may understand better than the pundits in Washington, that something very wonderful may have been achieved in Middle East. It can never come by perversely mis-characterizing it, as some commentators at the Daily Kos have done, as a "gift" truce from Moqtada al-Sadr. A more balanced approach would be to recognize the elements of success for what they are and to apply them to the challenges that are yet to come.


Blogger Unknown said...

The glass will always be half full, except, of course, when it's broken and its pieces scattered.

11/21/2007 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger 49erDweet said...

The left can never, never, never allow this to be considered a "victory", no matter how short-lived or convoluted. They just can't! It would [further] fry their brains

11/21/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

49erDweet said:

"The left can never, never, never allow this to be considered a "victory", no matter how short-lived or convoluted."

They'll do some 1984/Ministry-of-Truth gambit. Fortunately it's only moonbats shrieking in the attic. Most people can see what's happening.

11/21/2007 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Bowler said...

So I went to a source I knew I could trust — my colleague James Glanz, The Times’s Baghdad bureau chief...

The Times? Trusted? Therein lies his problem. Friedman wouldn't know a trusted source if it bit him on the ass.

11/21/2007 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

What went right? An excellent question,to which I will make the following guess: Iraqis themselves are seeing that there is the possibility of a secure future back home, and they're going home to give it a try. The last time the US offered them what they thought was a chance for security, we cut and ran, leaving them at the mercy of a merciless Saddam Hussein. Hussein is now gone and we have not cut and run. So the question that needs to be asked is: "where would we be right now if Reid and Pelosi had prevailed?"

And now the next question needs to be asked: "what could go right in other Middle Eastern countries given the right circumstances?" If that question floats around much, monarchs and tyrants might begin looking over their shoulder. F

11/21/2007 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Could it be that the Iraqis finally got over their terror from Saddam and got mad instead. The idea that the US wasn't bugging out this time might have given them the impetus act on their anger.

11/21/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger dueler88 said...

"What went right?" is an excellent question. It's how we *used* to figure out the best course of action. Not only should you evaluate what went wrong so you don't keep screwing up, but also what was done well in order to keep doing it, or perhaps improve upon it. But the latter action is just *way* too Conservative. Keep doing what works? Forget it! In the current paradigm of politics (or war punditry), that which one doesn't agree with can't possibly be the right thing to do. We MUST try something - anything - other than bringing violence against those that mean us (and everyone around them) harm. It's almost as if there's an active process of deliberately forgetting all of those hard-learned societal lessons.

We would have lost WWII - or perhaps simply surrendered to fascism - if FDR and Truman had contemporary Democrat sensibilities.

11/21/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...


A still small voice is calling...

MySandmen appears to be as active as my blog site...

Is that a still small voice I hear in the roar of the fire and the storm and the quake???

Better put my ear to the ground…

Better listen…


11/21/2007 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger watimebeing said...

"Could it be that the Iraqis finally got over their terror from Saddam and got mad instead. The idea that the US wasn't bugging out this time might have given them the impetus act on their anger."

Examine what about Saddam and his henchmen frightened the Iraqi's and compare it to methods used by AlQ or any wielder of Sharia enforcement powers. You get a clue as to what the Iraqi people are rejecting. The indiscriminate application of violence to achieve, enforce or merely to flex power with no recourse and little logic to the exercise except the logic of those performing the exercise. What the Dems by default have endorsed is more of the uncertainty and more of the fear. What the Iraqis chose was a regular, logically based and standardize measure of what is and is not reasonable behavior. They are still qualifying and quantifying those behaviors in law and by contract between the government and the people, the tribes and the government, and the tribes with one another.

In deposing one abuser, we have, by staying, allowed the Iraqis to determine they do NOT want to replace that abuse with a different kind of abuse or just another abuser. The lines were clearest in the Kurd dominated north, became more clear in the Sunni areas and are being made clearer in the Shi'ah areas. Our success in the North and West of Iraq is allowing the Shi'ah to put these decisions in clear perspective re Iranian influence and the militias.

Persistence pays. But tactics that allow the indigenous population to see clearly the difference, without distortions of intentions, without disparity between action and intent, and with the ability to see accurately where in the mix of players their best interests lie is a critical part of the puzzle.

The way forward in the War Against Terror means demonstrating those differences and allowing time and success to build the confidence necessary to toss off the abuse and keep it permanently at bay.

Our intentions were always honorable, our actions nearly always just, especially when correcting the few unjust actions. I do not know if the conclusion would have been reached sooner were it not for the actions of the Democrats and moonbats in the US. I cannot scientifically demonstrate that fewer lives would need to have been forfeit because of the blatant distortions of our intent and our actions in the press. But I have a reasonable and rational expectation that the cost of their dissent and distortion can be measured in time lost and blood spilled.

It is a very heavy weight to bare, denial provides only a temporary respite and the long term effects are just ugly.

11/21/2007 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Here's an insight into what went right in Iraq from Investors Business Daily:
War On Terror: A sketchy diagram of al-Qaida's defenses left behind by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may prove to be the key to victory in Iraq. Sometimes in the fog of war, the fog lifts.
It may not rank in the annals of warfare with the breaking of the Imperial Japanese Code, which led to our naval victory at Midway in World War II, or the cracking of the Nazi Ultra Codes, which Dwight Eisenhower said was decisive in the Allied victory. But a map left behind in a safe house by the deceased leader of al-Qaida in Iraq may have helped doom the jihadist cause.

Winston Churchill spoke of the "hinge of fate" — events on which the outcome of a war is later seen to have depended. For Churchill, it was El Alamein and the turning back of Erwin Rommel's vaunted Afrika Korps. "Before Alamein," he said, "we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat."

The surge of Gen. David Petraeus that is winning Sen. Harry Reid's "lost" war is our El Alamein. The general's soldiers broke Al-Qaida's code when, last December in an al-Qaida safe house, they recovered a map drawn by Zarqawi. It gave U.S. war planners insight into how al-Qaida was able to move weapons, explosives, fighters and money into Baghdad.

The map showed four rings surrounding Baghdad where al-Qaida and its terrorist operatives were holed up in sort of an underground railroad for jihadists. With the aid of the map and the added surge troops, U.S. forces became lords of the rings, flushing al-Qaida out of its urban strongholds and picking them off as easy targets in the desert.

read more here:

11/21/2007 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

More "On Topic" but also from Investor's Business Daily:
Adopting "the United States can't win in Iraq" as a rallying cry has proved to be a colossal misjudgment for Democrats. So Murtha and his patroness, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have resorted to an absurd assertion: Winning this "unwinnable" war doesn't really matter.

Consequently, Murtha and House Democrats last week passed another bill to hold our troops hostage, this time making $50 billion of vitally needed battlefield funds contingent on a pullout. Republican senators blocked the measure.

The Democrats who run Congress and campaign for president are themselves hostages — to and the rest of their well-funded leftist-peacenik base. They are not allowed to join ordinary Americans in celebrating victory anymore. To those fanatics who give Democratic politicians so much money, losing to our terrorist enemies isn't everything. It's the only thing.

read the complete editorial:

11/21/2007 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger mouse said...


I'm just as mean as you are, or maybe you're the nice guy and you just bring out the bubbling, boiling venom within me. You wrote:

"this is what happened to the French, and seemingly to every Western Army since the 1960s, even to the Israelis in Lebanon in the 1980s. But it didn't happen to the US in Iraq." That would certainly provoke outrage, perhaps because people accustomed to being handed a flagellant whip don't know what to do with a glass of champagne.

And further:

"It's a startling realization and shouldn't be borne in mind to gloat." Ha!

I've excepted your post and have been sending it to them as needs it most. I subject head my email: Thanksgiving. I head the text this way: But that understanding must begin with the realization... that something very wonderful may have been achieved in the MiddleEast. Give my salutation, some comments. Then the lengthy excerpt, and close:

It is a thanksgiving to know those valiant men were not lost in vain. There is an advance, a calm, and a hope. This is a kind of joy this Thanksgiving, to those families who lost those valiant men... brothers, husbands, sisters, mothers.

Ha! The whip is in my left hand now, and the champagne in my right. --I'm right handed. I'm actually most interested in the champagne.

11/21/2007 11:10:00 PM  

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