September 17, 2004

Fatalities in Iraq

There has been a lot of talk of late in the blogosphere about what Iraq casualty rates (both in terms of location and number) tell us about how the war is going. In an interesting post, Belmont Club espied reasons for optimism.

Then Andrew Sullivan wrote:

But it also seems to me that military deaths may not be the best way to analyze this. After all, the White House may well have been withdrawing troops from sensitive areas in order to minimize casualties in the run-up to elections (perhaps prior to an attack on Fallujah in November?).

To which Belmont responded:

How to square this [Sullivan's argument] with observed events? The best way to minimize American casualties in the short term would have been to withdraw them from high-combat areas like Al-Anbar Province and Sadr City and fall back onto solid perimeters or bases in the open desert. That would cut US casualties by a dramatic percentage. The empirical problem with Sullivan's hypothesis is that of the 52 Americans who have died in September the vast majority were killed in patrols, "stabilization operations" or convoys in Al-Anbar which are offensive operations (although any good defense has active patrolling). [emphasis added]

I gotta side mostly with Sullivan on this one. What the Belmont blog misses is that while offensive operations in places like Anbar Province are indeed where most of the casualties are occuring (ie, we are taking the fight to the enemy pace Belmont and contra Sullivan)--we also need to note that the scale and pace of our counter-insurgency effort has slowed down considerably--and yet casualties are still occurring at a relatively high rate.

We'll look at casualty trends below, but for now note that it's beyond doubt that there have been fewer, major counter-insurgency actions in Iraq of late. Indeed, that's been part of our new declared strategy:

"The goal is to help the Iraqi interim government gain control of those cities as soon as possible" while at the same time "we make every effort to avoid major military confrontations," says Brig. Gen. Erwin Lessel, deputy director for operations of the multinational forces in Iraq. "The more reconstruction and economic progress you have, the population migrates towards the government and away from supporting the anti-Iraq forces."

Note too, relatedly, that we are relying on airpower more (a tactic, incidentally, that often causes more undesired collateral damage than do on-the-ground counter-insurgency operations).

Indeed, when we were more robustly fighting in the Sunni Triangle back in April--we lost 140 men that month. After April, we decided to scale back from such operations for varied reasons (losing too many soldiers, international outcry if we flattened Fallujah, election(s) nearing etc). And, perhaps most important, the Army (as opposed, reportedly, to the Marines) started buying into such arguments:

...there is an innate disconnect between the requirement for security that the coalition forces must stay to implant, and the instability that the presence of these same forces causes. This disconnect will continue to grow. With the military setbacks of Kufa, Najaf and Fallujah, in which insurgents and irregular forces skillfully combined fanatical, if militarily unskilled fighting, with the use of religious terrain to battle the coalition to a standstill, Iraqis now know that the U.S. can be beaten. This combines with the inflammatory photos from Abu Ghraib to ignite widespread willingness to fight the coalition, or at least to give sanctuary to those who fight. This trend of increasing combativeness will likely grow, loosely coupled with the growing desire of foreign fighters to see the coalition, and anything associated with it, fail.

In other words, some experts advised the Army that is was better for us to a) pull out of major population centers, b) train Iraqi forces, c) have Alawi try to get some regions/towns under government control peacefully and d) failing (c), use (b) to regain said regions/towns later--rather than U.S. forces.

The problem with all this? What if doesn't work? What if the so-called ink-blot strategy is working better instead?

Look, to be sure, as Wretchard indicates, we are still engaging in a good number of offensive operations--but I think I've made it more than clear that our force posture has been materially more conservative and protective post-April. Indeed, this is likely the main reason why fatality rates have been lower in June and July--we lost almost two-thirds fewer men in those months than we lost in April.

While that's great on the level of losing fewer of our troops--it's begs a $64,000 question. That question is, if we really needed to get back into towns like Fallujah--would we be losing more troops now than we did back in April because the insurgents have re-grouped, strengthened, and are becoming (that dreaded, over-used word so loved by the New York Times!) more "sophisticated"? Unfortunately--and this goes more to Sully's point than Wretchard's--I fear the answer is yes. (Or, put another way, given the limited scope of our counter-insurgency efforts over the past summer--are we losing too many soldiers given the relatively smaller scale of our operations? Again, I think the answer is, unfortunately, yes).

P.S. Also, folks, a capital city like Baghdad is critical in all of this. You can't have foreign nationals, willy-nilly, being kidnapped from the Mansour neighborhood smack dab in the morning on their way to work. You can't have myriad suicide car bombings slaughtering new Iraqi police recruits seemingly every day. You can't have the effing perimeter of the Green Zone unsecured at this late juncture. Not only is it critical to exert real control over the capital as a strategic matter--it's also of hugely symbolic import--for us, for the international community and, yes, for the insurgents.

Listen, we're all in this together. Suger-coating and potentially dubious number-crunching exercises aren't going to win this war. Understanding (at least as best as one can judiciously ascertain) where we are right now, however, might help. And, truth be told, it ain't all that pretty. No, it's not Tet, not by a long shot. But it's not a rinky-dink little insurgency fully contained and emasculated in Anbar province either. It's something in between, and the sooner we accept that, the better for all of us.

Posted by Gregory at September 17, 2004 03:01 PM
Comments

Great post Greg. A sober, clear-eyed assessment, which is absolutely imperative if we have any chance of making this thing turn out in a positive fashion.

Drop the campaign slogans, lose the propaganda about rebuilt hospitals, stop blaming the "liberal" media's pessimism, and realize that the spate of reports recently released by non-partisan think tanks are not politically motivated (not to mention the National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the government's own intelligence officials - at least those that do not reside in Douglas Feith's office).

The situation is not a pretty one. Accept it, and re-align the strategies accordingly, even if that entails an implicit criticism of the Bush team's handling of the reconstruction up to this point.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 04:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The situation in Iraq is not unexpected considering the political dynamics of both Iraq and the US at this time. This has been a two-front war since April.

The President would be unwise to escalate combat in Iraq during the election endgame. We will stay the course until November just as the President stated at the convention.

Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters will attempt to derail both Bush in November and Iraqi elections with isolated attacks. They will fail.

After the US elections you will see a major US-Iraqi offensive against insurgents. Look for the 82nd Airborne, now deploying to Afghanistan for election stabilization, to redeploy to Iraq for election security.

Despite the ever-whining of Kerry and his allies in mainstream media, Allawi and Iraqi government forces get stronger every day. Insurgents can kill a few US and Iraqi forces but they cannot either force the US out or topple the Iraqi government. Meanwhile we can take and hold any ground we wish on any given day. All the insurgents can do is die.

If Sunnis can't vote in January, they will have only themselves to blame. If they attack an elected government in Iraq they will be isolated and destroyed by Iraqi forces that get stronger everyday. Zawaqiri had it right last March.

If we can maintain the will, we will prevail. Only Americans can defeat America in Iraq. Let's put this in proper perspective, if freedom dies in Iraq then civilization is on a path to destruction. I am optimistic.

Keep a stiff upper lip Gregory.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 06:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do Prime Minister Allawi and his government have the resources they needs to succeed?

I think one of the reasons that Najaf residents had such a negative view of Muqtada al-Sadr's idiotic insurgency is that Najaf was doing well economically before Mr. al-Sadr brought his Mahdi Army and a ruinous battle to that holy city.

I'm wondering whether the 60% unemployment rate in Iraq might be contributing to the strength of the insurgency.

Maybe Iraq needs some old-fashioned bleeding-heart big-spending New-Deal-style liberalism to bring down that unemployment rate. For example, Amatzia Baram of the U.S. Institute for Peace says that Iraq needs 2 million new houses. Why don't we (the U.S.) give Prime Minister Allawi's government the money to build those houses and thereby create jobs for unemployed Iraqis?

Posted by: Arjun at September 17, 2004 07:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US Congress has very stringent requirements on US taxpayer funded projects. Allawi doesn't have the controls in place to receive money at this time. After the Iraqi elections, when a government is formed, the money will be spent. Until then only security and infrastructure will be funded.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 07:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I just saw a column that nicely reinforces what I tried to express above: Austin Bay's in the Houston Chronicle (accessible through RealClearPolitics).

Let's spend some more money in Iraq, and win some Iraqi "hearts and minds", ASAP.

Posted by: Arjun at September 17, 2004 07:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun: "Why don't we (the U.S.) give Prime Minister Allawi's government the money to build those houses and thereby create jobs for unemployed Iraqis?"

Is that a rhetorical question? The obvious answer is politics, and the fact that every penny spent in Iraq is presented by the Democrats as a squandered opportunity to fund our schools, health care, mohair goat farms, whatever.

Kerry's crass whining about "building firehouses in Baghdad instead of at home" isn't going to let up before the election.

I agree with you that this seems like a problem that deserves having some money thrown at it, but for various political, ideological, and technical reasons, the US can't even get that right.

Posted by: Matt at September 17, 2004 07:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Good idea Arjun. Problem lies with your description of such economic endeavors:

"old-fashioned bleeding-heart big-spending New-Deal-style liberalism"

The Bush team is stubbornly dedicated to absolutist free marketism, supply side economics, and privatization. If they weren't so ideologically doctrinaire, and willfully ignorant of empirical evidence, they might dabble in a bit of New Dealism. It would help. The same advice is contained within the pages of the CSIS, Chatham House and ICG reports, but I don't expect to see it implemented anytime soon.

Speaking of which, Lugh did you get a chance to look any of those reports over? Did you get a chance to review any of the summaries of the NIE? Do you consider these sources to be allies of Kerry or part of the mainstream media? Even the CSIS (which Bremer and Rumsfeld used for a prior study on Iraq in July 2003)

Because they do not share in your optimism, and they do not share your assessment of the strength of Allawi. I suggest you read them. They are an honest, non-partisan accounting of the facts on the ground.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 07:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

oops- while I was typing, lugh added a point I should have mentioned - we have (justifiably) delicate sensibilities about giving money away.

Posted by: Matt at September 17, 2004 07:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The CIA lost whatever credibility they had and CSIS is a pro-left organ. I'm not prepared to walk the path with these compromised entities. I remain optimistic that we will prevail.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 08:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lugh,

Rumsfeld and Bremer used a "pro-left organ" to conduct studies on Iraq?

Very interesting. I didn't know they had such bi-partisan tendencies. I'll take your word for it though.

What about Chatham House and ICG? What about the Council on Foreign Relations? What about Francis Fukuyama? Are they also "pro-left organs"?

Can they all be blinded by their anti-Bush animus? Are they all pro-Kerry?

I don't think they are all tainted sources, yet they all come to the same conclusions.

Most importantly, it is not about being optimistic or pessimistic, it is about being realistic. If you can realistically assess the situation, then you will be in the best position to craft the necessary policies and strategies needed to succeed.

On the other hand, if you remain a pollyanna, ignoring the reality of the situation, you will doom the mission to failure. It might make you feel better about Bush, or the overall decision to invade Iraq, but it will hurt the chances for future success. Facts are stubborn things.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 08:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

Everything you hear for the next 52 days is political and needs to be viewed through the US election political lens. Attacks in Iraq are geared to affect both the election here...and in Iraq.

Until the US elections are over we must demonstrate will to persevere. Both the US military and Iraqi forces are taking down insurgents in tactical operations daily. Strategic operations will ramp up after the US elections.

US policymakers take input from all flavors of think tanks. None are absolutely correct and none are absolutely incorrect. All input is opinion that is politically tainted.

The CIA is clueless in the ME. The terrorist attacks and Saddam's weapons programs demonstrate that fact quite clearly. When the CIA wants ME intel they call other nation's intel orgs whose data must be filtered for political agendas.

The essential point is that any attempt to quantify the situation in Iraq during this part of the election will be fruitless. The main front in the war now is in the purple states.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 09:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hugh - "Insurgents can kill a few US and Iraqi forces but they cannot either force the US out or topple the Iraqi government." Agreed 100%. But they can continue to make life unstable for Iraqi civilians. They can seed themselves in crowds and whip up anti-American/anti-government sentiment. They can blow up power stations and oil terminals. They can manipulate family and tribal loyalties to their advantage. They can preach sedition in the mosques. They can kidnap anyone who catches their eye and calibrate the release/execution according to circumstances. By keeping the main population disgruntled and insecure, Allawi's government looks ineffectual, which is equivalent to bringing it down.

Bear in mind that Iraqis have only recently emerged from decades of mind control, and they're still coming to terms with a world that most of them never dreamed existed. Check out Zeyad (http://healingiraq.blogspot.com/, scroll to the 9.16 post labeled Conspiracy Theories and the Ummah). Their instinct is to see America as the enemy. If the civilian population turns ugly in a large scale, we're toast. If it takes bribery and government-funded jobs to crack that wall, so be it.

It is a fact that most of Iraq is quiet now, and that's a wonderful sign. But everything is balanced on a knife edge. There are 2 trains racing on parallel tracks now; the civilians who just want a quiet life, and the insurgents/terrorists/Islamists who want to derail it and take over. Right now the insurgent train has pulled ahead by having made a chunk of the capital city a no-go area. The tracks merge in January; if the civilian train gets there first (and by that I mean general elections are held, they're not too corrupt and only a few people get killed), Iraq has a good chance. If the insurgent train gets there first (disrupt elections on a grand scale, blow up the Green Zone), we're looking at another Lebanon.

Posted by: Tina at September 17, 2004 09:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lugh,

I know you are carping on the CIA, but the NIE was prepared with input from all the government's intelligence services, including the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (who happened to have the most accurate appraisal of Saddam's WMDs as well as the best counsel for post-invasion Iraq - though they were completely ignored in favor of Feith's shoddy operation).

I also find the assertion that the government's intelligence services, under the auspices of the Executive branch, would be politicizing these findings with the intent of unseating their own leader a bit far fetched. Does the Village Voice have an anti-Bush agenda? You bet. Does the State Department and the Defense Department? Hmmm, maybe I guess, but what would that say about his leadership?

But your overall thesis is overly reductive: don't believe anything you read about Iraq with a pessimistic appraisal because it is an election season. Do you exclude sanguine predictions too? Should we believe nothing but neutral non-appraisals?

I doubt very much that all analysts have a political agenda. Sometimes facts are facts, the number of attacks against coalition troops is what it is, the number of casualties, the military realities, etc. Not to mention the fact that attacks have been fairly consistent. The problem isn't necessarily that there are more now in the run-up to November, it is that the insurgency hasn't gone away, and is gaining in popularity amongst the population. Poll after poll, commissioned by the Bush administration, shows that people like al-Sadr are becoming more revered while Allawi is becoming reviled. The American presence is becoming more resented, while the insurgents praised. Is the Iraqi population trying to influence the election too? If so, what does that say about our long term prospects?

Furthermore, there are certain intractable problems that go beyond the insurgency: namely the competing, and disparate, aspirations of the various ethnic groups. These will be hard to reconcile even if the insurgency were quelled. Some sort of fragmentation, even if formalized in a federation, will likely result.

The situation has layers of complexities and problems. I wish it were all the product of election year hype, but unfortunately wishing doesn't make it so.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 10:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tina,

You are correct...the Iraqi people have learned to mistrust authority. Our best hope is the next generation of Iraqis.

Allawi is a caretaker and doesn't have the wherewithal to distribute and account for aid distribution. That will have to wait for the elected government that forms after January.

The current violence in Iraq is not a surprise. Iraqis will bleed and die at the hands of insurgents and Zawaqiri's foreign gangsters until Iraqi forces put them down after the elections.

As I type, Nancy Pelosi is on CSPAN preaching surrender and John Kerry is on the campaign trail promising to pull out of Iraq at the earliest moment. These defeatists are Zawaqiri's best propagandists.

The only power that can defeat America in Iraq is Americans. American will to prevail is our ultimate weapon.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 10:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

The CIA is highly politicized and overwhelmingly Democrat. State is no better. Career GSA employees routinely ignore the Executive branch and follow their own dubious agendas. That is how we got into the mess we're in with global terrorism.

There is no problem in Iraq that can't be resolved....after the US elections. Your assertation that the insurgency is growing is incorrect. There were perhaps 5-10,000 insurgents and foreign fighters early this year and the number has not changed appreciably. The number of attacks is miniscule in a country with 25 million inhabitants.

As much as you hope for our demise in Iraq, I'm afraid you are destined to be disappointed. Iraq will be a free, stable nation if we stay the course.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 10:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lugh,

Please keep our discussion above snide remarks like this:

"As much as you hope for our demise in Iraq, I'm afraid you are destined to be disappointed. Iraq will be a free, stable nation if we stay the course."

I happen to have friends and family (including my sister) in uniform fighting in Iraq. The last thing I want is failure. There is nothing more that I want than peace and stability right now so they can all come home forget right now, how about YESTERDAY.

Generally, I value conversations on this site because people tend to express intelligent and well reasoned disagreements in an adult manner that is often sorely missing in many other venues within the blogosphere (and of course Greg sets that tone with his posts). Please don't reduce the discourse here to that level.

We can disagree on our assessment of the situation, but to suggest that I want failure in Iraq is irresponsible of you, and I don't appreciate it.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 10:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Regarding the substance of your post, is it your contention that any group, agency, think tank or other entity that suggest that there are problems in Iraq that threaten the success of the mission are politicized?

Is every voice that is not absolutely optimistic merely in it for partisan reasons? Only supporters of Bush and the Iraq mission (at least those who have not expressed realizations that failure is an increasing probability) are the ones who have it right?

That is an interesting dichotomy. What if Bush himself declared after the elections that some form of loose federation or fragmented Iraq was the only realistic solution? Would he be doing it for partisan reasons?

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 11:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric,

My point is that every opinion that is given for the next 52 days is political. NGO and even leaked government reports are political. Trust nothing for the next 52 days.

Bush has not been ambiguous about his intentions. We will stay the course in Iraq.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 17, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am way underequipped to evaluate the strategic argument, but I have some ideas about what biases different actors/analysts/commentators may be showing. Evaluation of these things isn't affected merely by left-right hawk-dove dimension; there is a tendency of "realism" -- usually identified with a certain kind of conservative -- that tends to value stability more than liberty and tends to have more pessimistic views about possibilities for fundamental political change. eeg Scowcroft, Kissinger etc. Thus there are people who are not distinctly left who might still be grinding an axe against Bush's more visionary approach. Just because they're "not-liberal" does not mean "not-biased" and, likewise, just because they're biased doesn't mean they're Left....

Posted by: Dave Boyd at September 17, 2004 11:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dave,

Interesting take, and one that I find more plausible than the suggestion that the CIA, the upper echelons of the military brass, and the intelligence community in general is predominately comprised of Democrats.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 17, 2004 11:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess we always have to have the obligatory Army - Marine dichotomy. You say "And, perhaps most important, the Army (as opposed, reportedly, to the Marines) started buying into such arguments" yet the article you cite says "The Marines, in particular, take a more aggressive stance, but many Army officers agree, too."

It isn't an Army-Marine split. Why is that always so hard to understand? Are non-military people simply incapable of comprehending this? The Army is the largerst, most diverse military service. That issue you cite is much more of an Infantry vs non-Infantry type of split. Blow the suckers up, clean the suckers out. But it underestimates our enemy, just as so much of the left-wing and commentariat does.

We're winning in Iraq, obviously winning. When this phase of conflict in Iraq is over, Wretchard of Belmont Club is going to be proven right. And Gregory/Eric, what you guys always seem to forget is context.

Remember, practically the whole world has said that what we are attempting to do in Iraq is the IMPOSSIBLE. It seems to me that any sane, rational person who understands that CONTEXT knows we've made steady progress in Iraq. Impressive success. Why? Because war is never clean and clear or error-free yet we've deposed Saddam, successfully occupied the country, successfully prevented civil war, and successfully turned power over to the Iraqis.

The Army strategy (one might say the political strategy) Gregory directly or indirectly critiques is going to prove to be brilliant. Those people in Fallujah had set up a perfect trap for American forces. They had European and Arab reporters in place to show the whole world American futility. AND WE DENIED THEM THAT PROPAGANDA. Yes, our troops could have gone in there and destroyed the place. Imagine how biased the reporting would have been. We have to have some Iraqis that go in with us. There has to be an American AND Iraqi face on the troops when we go in.

Quit with the micro-critiques. That is certainly the weakeness of democracy these terrorists have been banking on. All in all, Bush has done a fantastic job and so has Centcom. It will not be the State Department or Embassy types who are going to get us through the January elections. It's going to be the United States Armed Forces and our coalition partners. Because force is what matters right now. Raw, determined, lethal force.

Posted by: RattlerGator at September 18, 2004 03:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To the serial optimists of the bunch I ask what is the basis of your optimism? Is it your own partisanship - an intense desire to see Bush re-elected to the point that you cannot accept, even to yourself, that the Iraq situation is bad? What are the facts on the ground in Iraq that convince you that "we're winning. We're obviously winning." I wish we were winning and we may win in the future. But we are not winning right now. If you really want to win in Iraq, and not just re-elect the President, then a good place to start would be to accept the various recent sober assessments of the situation. And to say that The Great Offensive is being delayed for after the election is just silly. How do you know that? If Bush is a man of such steely resolve, who does what he thinks is right regardless of what the polls say, then why is he waiting until November?

Posted by: Elrod at September 18, 2004 05:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the United States is the best country in the world, but I never describe myself as "patriotic" -- I don't deserve that adjective, because I've never served in our military. Words aren't worth much, as compared to actions (which is why I disdain the idea of "political courage"), but I'd like to thank the best Americans, those who do serve in our military, including some who read and post on this website, and including Eric Martin's friends and family serving in Iraq. God bless you for your good work, and may you return home safely and soon.

I agree that "[t]he U.S. Congress has very stringent requirements on U.S. taxpayer funded projects", but are we well served by these requirements in Iraq?

I was excessively optimistic after the handover, and one of the reasons for my optimism was that almost all of the $18 billion of U.S. taxpayer money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction had yet to be spent. But nearly 3 months later, almost all of the $18 billion of U.S. taxpayer money has yet to be spent. What's taking so long?

Aren't there crippling bureaucratic impediments to quickly spending money on urgently-needed jobs-and-reconstruction projects in Iraq? Isn't that part of the motivation for the admirable Spirit of America Foundation? Shouldn't we speed up the jobs-and-reconstruction spending?

I believe that the 60% unemployment rate in Iraq is contributing to the growing strength and popularity of the insurgency.

In a recent issue of The New Republic on suggestions for improving the situation in Iraq, Hassan Fattah, a former TNR journalist now working for an Iraqi newspaper in Baghdad, advised the U.S. to help "put Iraqis to work".

Iraqis are obviously less likely to join or support the insurgency if they have jobs and their lives are improving. (I think that is why Najaf residents hated Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army: until Muqtada al-Sadr brought ruin on that holy city, Najaf businesses were making good money providing goods and services to Shi'a pilgrims.)

I think that building schools, hospitals, clinics, soccer fields, and houses in Iraq, using Iraqi contractors and Iraqi workers, is an excellent use of U.S. taxpayer dollars. I'd gladly pay higher taxes to pay for such worthy projects. I'm going to try to restrain my criticism of my candidate from now on, but it just doesn't make any sense to talk about how we'd rather spend those U.S. taxpayer dollars "right here, at home, in the good old U. S. of A." when we have 140,000 troops serving in Iraq.

Posted by: Arjun at September 18, 2004 07:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun,

I can't agree with you more. Jobs for Iraqis to rebuild Iraq would take a lot of wind from the insurgents sails. But Allawi doesn't have the bureaucracy to manage projects and distribute funds in the orderly manner required by Congress. Simply put, we would have to hand cash out to various tribal leaders and the money would simply disappear. You won't see much activity until 2005.

Elrod,

Allawi clearly doesn't want to make more enemies before the Iraqi election. He prefers to negotiate. The immediate goal is as representative an election as possible. The mid-range goal is an Iraqi security force that can quell the insurgents and foreign fighters. The long term goal is an environment where Iraq can be rebuilt in a stable democracy.

Bush will defer to Allawi and fight tactical battles in Iraq until after the US election then provide as much election security as possible.

This is just a smart strategy. It is long, hard work turning a failed state into a stable democracy. You can't rush the process. I'm very optimistic and grow moreso each day.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at September 18, 2004 12:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's a simple way to explain the possible scenarios from Mickey Kaus.

http://slate.msn.com/id/2102469/

1) if Zarqawi and his terrorist thugs increase the violence inside Iraq around October in order to create a "Tet Offensive", then terrorists want Bush to lose.

2) if there's an attack on U.S. soil before the elections, then the terrorists want Bush to win.

and i'll add this one.

3) if there's an attack in Australia and it led to the defeat of John Howard, then this will have a domino like effect and improve Kerry's chances of winning the presidency. This could also be part of Al Queda's "October surprise."

Tell me i'm wrong on this one.

Posted by: john marzan at September 18, 2004 03:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Rattlergator,

You said:

"Remember, practically the whole world has said that what we are attempting to do in Iraq is the IMPOSSIBLE. It seems to me that any sane, rational person who understands that CONTEXT knows we've made steady progress in Iraq."

While that statement might be true, it appears that the civilians in the Pentagon suffered from the opposite affliction: over optimistic appraisals of how EASY this would be.

Remember Wolfowitz testifying before Congress explaining about flower, candy, and a force reduction down to 30,000 by August 2003. It is now September 2004, and the 30,000 number seems years away at best.

Further, these people seemed to rely on best case scenario predictions to the detriment of the mission. Large force size was unnecessary, there would be no looting or insurgency, there was no history of ethnic strife to consider, etc.

If put in the context of the impossible, Iraq looks pretty good. If put in the context of the proponents of the war within the government, it looks like a disaster.

The future remains unwritten, but neither the optimist nor the pessimist seems to have a monopoly on reason where Iraq is concerned.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 18, 2004 10:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

B.D. has stated that if Mr. Kerry had been U.S. President instead of Mr. Bush, the U.S. would not have gone to war in Iraq.

I agree with B.D. on this point.

It's certainly OK for the Kerry campaign to refuse to answer the hypothetical question "Would Saddam Hussein still be in power if Mr. Kerry had been U.S. President?" After all, that question is completely irrelevant to the 2004 campaign. The question is what to do now.

On the other hand, the Kerry campaign's attempts to actually answer the question with a "No" seems disingenuous to me, like trying to have it both ways. How on earth do they propose that Mr. Kerry could have ended Saddam Hussein's rule without a war?

(I promised myself I wouldn't attack my candidate's rhetoric from now on, but I'm not attacking HIS rhetoric right now.)

Let's ask the useless hypothetical question another way: What would have happened if Mr. Bush had followed Mr. Kerry's advice in 2003, and waited for the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. inspectors? I think Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime would still be in power in Iraq -- but we wouldn't be in the mess we're in today in Iraq, and President Bush would be sailing towards re-election instead being where he is now: in a tough fight and (I believe) headed for political defeat.

Posted by: Arjun at September 19, 2004 06:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric, my response to you -- who gives a flying f*** at this point if they were overly optimistic -- there's a job to be done and our guys are clearly getting that job done. Again, CONTEXT.

No one in the "easy to panic crowd" seems to really be able to deal with that.

If you MUST look backwards -- America had to make a case for war she knew was necessary. The "game" when it comes to international action is "rigged" in favor of the leftists (and until fairly recently I was one of them). Who can really deny this? All of this pro forma "make your case to the U.N." crap. What an insulting joke. But it had to be done. Some of those statements you hang your hat on was part of the game -- not that they weren't believed, but they probably were exaggerated.

Now, why were they exaggerated? This thread, to me, proves exactly why they were exaggerated. Somehow, Mark Steyn can state the obvious today:

"After the predictions of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and a mass refugee crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe and wall-to-wall cholera and dysentery all failed to pan out, the naysayers fell back on predictions of imminent civil war. But the civil war's as mythical as the universal dysentery."

Even though there has not been a single American fatality in the majority of Iraqi provinces in the last few months, even though the vast majority in-country have certainly embraced the change in Iraq, Gregory writes this post of his.

Incredible.

As if the fact that the enemy is persistent is a shock. As if the fact they have employed what will surely be a losing strategy but one nicely tailored to engender premature Western panic MEANS DISASTER FOR AMERICA. WTF???

This is as absurd as it is frustrating. Their tactic is so transparent I keep wondering why this is even fazing us. Kidnap, homicide bombing. Kidnap, homicide bombing. That, my friend, is an obvious losing strategy. Patience and perseverance is all that is required. These clowns are banking on American panic when a case for panic cannot be made.


Personally, I think the military has built into their tactics the November elections. And that's a good thing. They, too, know the weakness of Democracy and are using this time to build up Iraqi formations, gather intelligence, co-opt tribal leaders (surely y'all have seen stories on this), shape the battlefield, and decapitate terrorist leaders.

What's the problem? Asymmetrical war is hell? No shiznit!

Posted by: RattlerGator at September 19, 2004 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In response to john marzan's posting, I think that the recent attack on the Australian embassy by al-Qaeda's area affiliate Jamiah Islamiyah may have been an attempt to influence the Australian election. I have no idea whether al Qaeda or its allies have any desired outcome for the U.S. Presidential election, but the pattern seems to be that al Qaeda favors discord between the U.S. and its allies.

Posted by: Arjun at September 19, 2004 09:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun asked, "How on earth do they propose that Mr. Kerry could have ended Saddam Hussein's rule without a war?"

I don't know about them, but here's how I'd do it if I was Kerry.

Look at the order that we sent units into KSA for Gulf War I, and start sending them into kuwait in the same order, but if possible faster. Arrange to telephone Saddam -- if necessary send him a phone to take calls on. Call him and tell him "Hello, Saddam. I sent the 1st Cavalry Division to kuwait.". And then a little later call him back again and say "I just now sent the 24th mechanised infantry division to kuwait.". And after awhile he'll get the idea Kerry is trying to tell him something.

So maybe they discuss it, and Kerry says "I thought it over, and I want iraq. And I can take it from you. If we do this the hard way it's going to cost a lot of money and some of my boys' lives, and I don't like that. So if I have to do it that way I'm going to get a little fragment of your skull to put on my desk to remind me how unreasonable you were."

Maybe Saddam says something to that, and when he stops talking then it's "Maybe we can make a deal. How would you like to be a rich man with no worries? Nobody much trying to kill you. Nobody trying to take over. Fly around europe like a nice long vacation. You could sell me iraq, and you leave with all your top guys just as soon as you show my guys how you run things. I have no reason to cheat you. I could throw in an extra billion dollars or so you can split with whichever of your guys that haven't put enough away in foreign banks."

So Saddam thinks it over. And there's the 1st Cav and 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and 1st MEB, and so on. If he says no then we do it like GW1, with overwhelming force and plenty of backup and follow the military doctrine the whole way. If he says yes then we can probably buy iraq without firing a shot.

Too bad Marcos is dead, they could compare notes. Likewise Idi Amin. I think Pinochet is alive though in frail health and enduring lawsuits.

So we get a country with no infrastructure damage beyond the sanctions, and no collateral damage, and we pay, say, argentina to accept Saddam's torturers and assassins. (If we try to kill them off some of them get word and disappear and get more dangerous.) We run free elections, get a government set up, and leave. No extra DU rounds contaminating the place. Nobody loots the nuclear waste sites or the museums. Life goes on just as before (until we fire the spies and deport the torturers) and they get democracy. Will they keep it? I dunno. Maybe it would have come too easy. Without the shooting and looting and all, how do they know they actually have free speech now?

It would mean letting Saddam and the whole deck of cards get away free. But was punishing them worth the collateral damage?

Posted by: J Thomas at September 20, 2004 05:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The 911 commissions report actually gave credibility to Bush saying that Iraq had recently sought large quanities of uranium from Africa in the SOTU speech in Jan 02' Joe Wilson is the one who reported that to the CIA in 1999.

But this drunken asshole forgot about that time. so when Cheney asked the CIA to verify if that claim was true in 2001, the wife of Wilson, who worked at the CIA told them that her husband knew the Nigerian minister and she could have him check it out for them, and they said ok, even though this asshole isn't an intelligence agent. So he goes down to Niger for two weeks and drinks tea, then comes home and reports to the CIA that it wasn't true. But this drunken dick forgot that his 1999 report was still sitting in the file that his new report just go added to. So when Clintons president it's true, but not under Bush? So Wilson hear's the SOTU speech and got pissed because he told them that the story wasn't true and he can't believe the President wants to go to war so bad that he'll deliberately lie about the evidence. Like any good drunken democratic patriot, he takes it upon himself to save the world and writes an Op-ed piece in the Washington post calling the President a liar. MSM explodes over the story, Wilson makes all the the talk show rounds, gets a book deal, convinces the world Bush has hidden motives for wanting to remove Saddam, and for the next two years, not one fucking CIA agent bothered to come to President Bush's defense. George Tenet didn't bother to grab the 1999 report out of the fucking file and give it to the President so he could defend himself? Tony Blair got the same screwing from the British media and no one their did anything to help him either. But France did produce a couple of documents showing Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger, but the documents had been proven to be forged documents. Ted Kennedy went ballistic saying Bush concocted up this in Texas, and our lameass MSM used the forged documents to attack the President relentlessly up until the 9/11 report came out this spring. over 100 Front page stories calling the president names, but most of them, and none of the talk shows have ever done any stories to tell the world the the president hadn't lied, but Joe Wilson had. And Joe Wilson's wife was the reason he was sent to Niger, even though he said in his book that she had nothing to do with it.

MSM's isn't interested in undoing the damage to the CIA nor the presidents reputation. The democrats and liberal media are perfectly fine with the CIA"s credibility being ruined if it helps them get back in the whitehouse.

Posted by: Gary B. at September 20, 2004 11:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I rescind my criticism above of the Kerry campaign's have-it-both-ways rhetoric on Iraq. The leader of that campaign offered a forthright statement today on the hypothetical question of whether he would have gone to war to depose Saddam Hussein: No, he wouldn't have. Finally, a little clarity! Mr. Kerry doesn't just oppose the "way" Mr. Bush went to war: in retrospect, Mr. Kerry opposes the war itself.

One might ask why today's clarity was not observed before today, but 1) as I keep reminding myself, I'm not going to criticize my candidate's rhetoric, and 2) better late than never.

Posted by: Arjun at September 20, 2004 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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