April 21, 2006

Some Straight Talk on Iraq

Every now and again, you stumble across a post that shatters through all the easy soundbites, and transparent posturing, and cheap hustles, and, you know, tries to really tell it like it is. Go read here.

P.S. This is not to say that I don't have minor quibbles, here and there, with some of the author's analysis. But the general thrust of the piece, which reads like a spirited clarion call for straight talk and shunting aside all the tiresome spin, both by the Right and the Left (the Right: there is an epidemic of Iranian-made IEDs in Iraq! Iraq's violence isn't any worse than a bad couple of weeks in ye olde Detroit! Civil war will be averted if only Jaafari steps aside! The Left: Training and equipping of the Iraqi Army is making no progress and doomed to failure! The US must withdraw its forces by May 15th if no cohesive government is in the offing!) is very refreshing indeed. (Hat Tip: RCP)

Posted by Gregory at April 21, 2006 03:51 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

This is an absolute must read!


How incredibly refreshing to hear a discussion about this war without the insults, insane rage, political spin, threats and all the bull that has characterized the recent postings here. You may not agree with Michael Yon, who afterall is there, putting his life on the line, (and has been there for years) but you have to respect his ability to express his opinions and perspectives in an orderly, civil and responsible way. These hate posts that seem to come from the hard left primarily are repulsive not so much for their perspectives, but for the brutality of their delivery. I don't think people learn or are convinced of anything by being pounded in the head, insulted, and treated as inferiors. If the hard left thinks it will win the hearts and minds of Americans with this sort of conduct, I for one will bet against them.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at April 21, 2006 05:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've admired Michael Yon's writing and photography for some time. However, lacking in his long post is any mention of America's other interests and commitments in the world; any recognition that the entire effort in Iraq is being paid for with borrowed money; or any acknowledgment that success in Iraq remains an ill-defined concept -- and in any event is entirely dependent on what Iraqis do, not on what American soldiers or the media reporting the war do.

Yon's words describe a small group of trees as well as the best digital photograph, but if he has a sense of the forest he does not show it here.

Posted by: Zathras at April 21, 2006 05:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In general, I do not do semantic debates--and that is exactly what this is, a debate over the definition of the words "civil war." What is more useful is to understand what is happening on the ground, not bickering over what pre-existing classification is most appropriate. That said, I do not regard the situation in Iraq as a "civil war." If eight hundred people were dying each month in Texas, but there was no open rebellion, no competing governments, no armies in the field, I would still not label it civil war. I think it might be best to call Iraq's situation "severe sectarian strife that is killing about 30 or 35 people a day." At the risk, however, of being accused of delivering "devastingly juvenile BS" from "euphoric lofty heights" whilst being a "tuned-out" "totally divorced from reality" "hack" (given that such language seems to be your preferred mode of discourse of late), we can call it a "civil war," if you insist. I think that that "low-grade" would be an appropriate modifying adjective, (though if using it would similarly put me at risk we can omit that as well).

If we use the term civil war, however, we must be careful to explain what it is not. And it is not characterized by open rebellion, or the rise of rival political structures, or massive refugee flows, or military units openly disobeying government orders, or prominent societal leaders calling for war to be made against other factions. I think that the risk in calling the present discord "civil war" is that we won't have a term for if such a situation were to arise. I think that if such an event were actually to occur--e.g. the Sunnis walking out of the present government, issuing a call to arms, demanding exclusive control over the government, establishing a rival capital in Mosul, naming a President, and setting up military units with orders to attack any Shiite or Kurd they could find--the difference would be one of orders of magnitude, not one of degree. If you think the difference between the two is, in fact, one of degree, you can call the present situation a civil war. Like I said, I don't do semantic debates. The most important thing is not how we label it, it is that we understand it.

Dan Larsen

Posted by: Dan Larsen at April 21, 2006 05:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here is something nobody talks about, nobody talks about Iraq or Afganistan. That at least is my experience from here in Michigan and by nobody I mean no ordinary citizens. It just isn't brought up. I've had at least a breif discussion on the prosects of attacking Iran most every day recently and one about gas prices every hour but the wars we are in now never get mentioned.

What Americans want more than anything is lower gasoline prices. Strangely the least popular president in modern history, Bush, seems to be doing everything possible to insure they go higher, all without any identifiable political opposition. The political market is broken obviously.

The stock market is doing great however and corporate cash flows are rising to the sky. Out here in the middle class for every 10,000 discussions of American Idol there will be one about foreign policy which is not based upon a sort of profound ignorance, or idiocy. Take your pick. Did I mention corporate cash flows are soaring?

Posted by: rapier at April 21, 2006 12:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So basically, the administration is B.S.-ing the public about how tough this fight is. The left sees this and says nothing will change so why let our troops die from this incompetence.

You declare the sky continues not to fall, though our course troops deaths are escalating, troops on their third tour are burning out, and we have 1,000 Iraqi dead a month -- which equals 120,000 in a year -- but we're winning!

So don't be glum. George Bush is firmly in charge.

The decider in chief.

Mission Accomplished.


Posted by: Richard Bottoms at April 21, 2006 01:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Don: "If we use the term civil war, however, we must be careful to explain what it is not. And it is not characterized by open rebellion, "

Yes, it is. US forces (now with some Iraqis) go in and stomp it down, and then it arises elsewhere. I think that you're confusing the open taking and open holding of terrain with open rebellion.

"or the rise of rival political structures,"

Miliitias, sectarian parties.

" or massive refugee flows,"

There've been reports of ethnic cleansing from Iraq.

" or military units openly disobeying government orders,"

What did Riverbend report? One government ministry telling people not to obey forces from another? And in this case, the military units are most likely to be militas of the factions in power, so things go the other way - get a militia, get political power, bring in the militia as army/security forces.

" or prominent societal leaders calling for war to be made against other factions. "

You've missed the Sunni-Shiite war going on?

Posted by: Barry at April 21, 2006 02:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I tend to agree with both Don and Barry, actually. I call it a civil war, for several reasons, including because it has characteristics of the Lebanese civil war. The capital is under siege, and the government is paralyzed.

But, Don's points are good -- some prominent leaders advocate restraint rather than increased violence, and the only clear rival government is in the Kurdish area, and it does not violently oppose the central government (nor would it have a hope if it did). Furthermore, there are not clearly geographically delineated areas of "rebel-controlled" land (much less rebel-governed).

It is especially not like a simple two-party civil war, with clearly identified rival leaders advocating ongoing violence, and whom reporters can go and identify, and interview, and who can be easily invited to peace talks.

Surely there are standing militias -- this is obvious -- and it is unclear whether the Interior Ministry is running death squads, or if the Iraqi army is running any.

There are reportedly some 50,000 refugees of what is somewhat like ethnic cleansing -- anyway, certainly it is ethnic strife.

But, I especially buy into a point that is a corollary of Don's argument, namely, there could be clear civil war and ethnic cleansing, much worse and more blatant than what we see murkily now (now, we see things murkily, especially with regards to whether or not Iraqi Interior is running death squads). If we call this the Iraqi Civil War, then that worse scenario will be ... the Worse Iraqi Civil War? The accelerated and worsened Iraqi Civil War? I guess.


But, one thing that worries me a bit, is this:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0420/dailyUpdate.html

The $10Bn a month, and apparently rising? cost, is not going to be slowed by semantic discussions.

Posted by: frank wallace at April 21, 2006 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It doesn't matter if we call it Civil War or George Bush's Excellent Adventure. It's still costing us $10,000,000,000 every month plus the odd soldier killed here and there, plus the 1,000 insignificant Iraqi lives snuffed out.

Our glorious leader didn't plan, wouldn't adjust and now we're stuck. Or actually the soldiers are stuck. Jonah Goldberg and the rest of the NRO crew are safe and sound, free to battle on with their typewriters of doom onward to victory.

BTW, forgive my earlier poor math. It's only 12,000 Iraqi's killed a year. A far easier number to live with.

For us anyway.

Posted by: Richard Bottoms at April 21, 2006 04:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg is so “on” today, isn’t he? Tough. Trenchant. Talking Straight on Iraq, neither Left nor Right, exactly where a thinking man wants to be on a tough issue like this. Talk about positioning!

Posted by: Nha Bao at April 21, 2006 04:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Perhaps Yon can be praised for his rah rah embed combat reporting from dangerous tactical locations. But his larger message is incoherent. Let's look at some of his statements.


***************

He agrees with this statement by General Barry McCaffery:

"# Iraq is much tougher. The enemy forces in this struggle are principally Sunni irredentists - but there is also a substantial criminal class determined to murder, rob, kidnap and create chaos.
# We also face a small but violent foreign Jihadist terrorist element. These terrorists do not depend on foreign sanctuary. They can arm themselves with the incredible mass of munitions and weapons scattered from one end of Iraq to the other."

*************************

"the enemy, the largest segment of which was clustered under the category Former Regime Elements (FRE).
The main goal of the FRE is simple: under the former regime, they were in charge. They want to be in charge again."

*************************

"When it comes to this enemy, I believe we have nothing but more tough choices. In the past six days alone, I have been in the immediate proximity of two homicide bombings. [REFERRING TO AFGHANISTAN]

*****************************

"These people, whether we call them freedom fighters, insurgents, thugs, or terrorists, have a stated mission to attack anyone who is not like them, wherever they can. They are not bluffing. They cannot be appeased. **They will not stop if and when we leave***, if we leave without completing the mission. If we leave, all vestiges of progress will be lost and those Iraqis who risked their lives to work with us to gain that progress will no longer trust Americans. If we run, the enemy will follow us. They will kill us. They will not stop until we stop them."

*****************************
END of QUOTES


So the insurgency/"civil war" in Iraq is comprised of Sunni's, criminals, and a small number of foreign Jihadis. So the opposition in Afghanistan are the Taliban, an invward looking fundamentalist tribal group, and possibly some Al Qaeda elements.

Who amongst all those are coming to kill us? And how will victory in Iraq prevent this? This is not some existential struggle for the survival of the American way of life. The Taliban are not coming to get us. The Sunnis are not coming to get us. Al Qaeda? Sure but they are no threat to our existence.

We may have a moral duty to the Iraqi people to provide some measure of stability, but that's because we blew up their country to begin with.

Posted by: chew2 at April 21, 2006 04:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's still costing us $10,000,000,000 every month plus the odd soldier killed here and there, plus the 1,000 insignificant Iraqi lives snuffed out.

Ten billion dollars a month sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn't that much.

Call it 80 million people with jobs in this country. 10,000,000,000/80,000,000 =
1000/8 = $125 each.

If every working american paid a mere $125/month until it's over, we could pay the immediate costs for this war without increasing the national debt.

It just isn't that much money. Bush should ask Congress for an increase of $125 / month in everybody's income tax, and the money issue for the war would be settled.

The big military spending isn't for iraq and afghanistan, it's for Rumsfeld's military transformation.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 21, 2006 04:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I'd say it's far to late to be whining about straight talk concerning Iraq.

Where was the straight talk when it could have actually made a difference?

Not here that's for sure.

Posted by: Davebo at April 21, 2006 04:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the link, Davebo. I'd never gone back through this site's archives. Looking at it now is like a bad acid flashback -- all the disinfo that war enthusiasts blithely tossed around is right there, like a fossil ant frozen in amber.

I've seen references to this in the comment threads, but reading it for myself..... Yikes. My opinion of GD has really turned around.

Posted by: sglover at April 21, 2006 06:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nice account of a several-hour long firefight in an Iraqi neighborhood, with Iraqi NG and Interior Ministry acting a bit opposed:
http://healingiraq.blogspot.com/archives/2006_04_01_healingiraq_archive.html#114548394546127456

Posted by: Barry at April 21, 2006 07:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would not say that the situation in Iraq is characterized by "open rebellion"--you do not have opposition leaders advertising where they are, what they control--as opposed to say, the situation in Fallujah a while ago. But this is essentially a debate over the definition of the term "open rebellion", and, like I said, I don't do semantic debates.

There are no serious rival political structures. The sectarian parties are generally participating in the government. The militias, however problematic they are, are not a rival political structure. If I asked you to name the rival "president" and his rival "cabinet", you wouldn't be able to.

Whatever reports of ethnic cleansing we have, we surely do not have massive refugee flows, and whatever cleansing exists, it is surely not on a level that we have seen elsewhere.

One government agency telling a unit not to obey another government agency is a turf war, not a civil war. Moreover, whatever disobeying that may be occurring is not "open"--e.g. "The leader of the Iraqi 3rd Armored Brigade today announced their opposition to the government, and that they are defecting to rebel leader ______ in trying to overthow the government."

I have not missed the Shiite-Sunni "war". What I am saying is that you do not have societal leaders--the people who were elected in the last election, for example--declaring their open hostility for the government and the constitution.

The central point that I'm trying to make is that if we do call it a "civil war"--I'm not calling it one, but like I said, semantics--we must be clear as to what parts of a typical civil war this is not--because as far as civil wars usually go, what we have right now is a rather mild one. If we have an real old-fashioned-style civil war--e.g. the Sunnis walking out of the present government, issuing a call to arms, demanding exclusive control over the government, establishing a rival capital in Mosul, naming a President, and setting up military units with orders to attack any Shiite or Kurd they could find--you'll know it. Such an development would be different by orders of magnitude, not mere degrees--such that the death toll would be not 800 a month, but 800 each few days. And then things have the capacity to get even orders of magnitude worse than that: a really bloody, messy civil war in which millions die. A danger in using the term "civil war" is that we really don't have a term for something worse than a civil war. If you want to call the present situation "civil war", and you're content with calling the other two hypothetical developments a "bad civil war" and a "really bad civil war", that's okay by me (semantics, again.) The important thing is that we understand the situation, not how we label it.

Posted by: Dan Larsen at April 21, 2006 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But this is essentially a debate over the definition of the term "open rebellion", and, like I said, I don't do semantic debates.

Yeah? You sure did a helluva good impression of one, in the remainder of your post. Sheesh....

Posted by: sglover at April 21, 2006 10:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> Whatever reports of ethnic cleansing we have, we surely do not have massive refugee flows,

I think you're fighting a semantic battle, as to whether 50,000 people is "massive" -- that is a relative call, isn't it?

> One government agency telling a unit not to obey another government agency is a turf war, not a civil war.

A "turf war" is not usually used to describe fighting that involves guns and death squads, at least not the in US.


But asides from the fact that I don't buy all your semantic arguments, I think overall I agree that civil was is a very broad term, and Iraq's current state is nearer the end of the spectrum of anarchy, than the end of pitched battles.

Posted by: frank wallace at April 22, 2006 01:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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