"A War We Just Might Win"

There’s a very interesting op-ed in the NY Times today, by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, describing their recent fact-finding mission to Iraq.

As background, both O"Hanlon and Pollack are liberals, and they work for the Brookings Institution, which is not exactly a hotbed of conservatism. Both have been opponents of the administration’s conduct of the war. Nonetheless, they are reporting significant progress due to the surge:

The article goes on to make the following points:

  • Morale in the army is high - higher than it’s been for a while. The reason appears to be that the troops have faith in Petraeus and believe that they’re finally using the right tactics.

  • Civilian casualty rates are down by a third, and cooperation between civilians and the U.S, military is very good and improving.

  • There’s been a major turnaround in the Sunni regions - tribal Shieks that were fighting the U.S. only a few months ago have switched sides and are now fully cooperating.

  • The Iraqis are finally becoming effective. Mosul and other cities in the north are almost completely under Iraqi control now, with fewer Americans present, and they are relatively peaceful.

  • Most of the corrupt Iraqi military officers have been removed, and the American high command says that 3/4 of Iraqi Generals are ‘fully reliable partners’.

  • The Iraqi military has become far more integrated. Unlike before, when military units were thinly-disguised tribal militias, they are now composed of many different Iraqis. For example, in 2005 the third infantry division was overwhelmingly Kurdish. Today, it’s 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni. This is an important change, because before when the Iraqi military would step into sectarian conflict, they’d take one side and make the situation worse. Hopefully, this will be improved now.

  • A big part of this is that al-Qaida in Iraq and the Mahdi army really blew it - they initially had the support of the people, but when they gained control of areas they brutalized the population and caused them to rebel and take sides with the Americans. The U.S. is winning the battle for hearts and minds. The result is that Anbar province, which was one of the most violent places in Iraq, is almost peaceful today because the population turned and drove out the Islamists and allied with the U.S.

  • The allied Provincial Reconstruction Teams are becoming very effective, with many Iraqi partners helping them to rebuild infrastructure. Micro-loans and smaller-scale projects are showing success.

It’s not all good news, of course. On the political front, the leaders of Iraq have not stepped up to the plate. The Iraqi police forces are still a mess. There is still significant sectarian tension and violence. As they say, “The situation remains grave”.

However, based on their findings that the situation is improving, they are now recommending that the surge be given ‘at least into 2008’


How many times have we heard that our new strategy is working, and that things are getting better? They told us this when reconstruction projects were coming online, they told us this during political elections, and they told us this when Iraqi army units were becoming operational. I want numbers. I want facts. I want metrics. No more of this “things are getting better” crap from some guy.

There was never really any chance it WOULDN’T be given until 2008, was there? It’s sort of a pointless suggestion.

Untrue. They have been supporters of the war from Day One and have been consistently wrong about their assessments of progress in Iraq. Here’s Glen Greenwald’s debunking of their article in Salon.

Two columnists spend a week in Iraq being managed by politicians? Are we supposed to be overwhelmed by their insight?

Like treis said, we’ve reached the point where nobody has the credibility to say “trust me on this”. You want to convince me we’re winning in Iraq? Show me the victory and then I’ll believe it happened.

Some apparently are. I believe it was Patriot X who coined the term “pre-fooled”.

More Iraq optimism from the left.

Of course, if they had said the opposite you guys would be holding them up as paragons of truth and virtue.

Remember, “Bush isn’t listening to the generals”? It was considered the height of arrogance to not listen to the generals - so long as they were saying things that you approved of. Now that the generals say they have the right strategy and it’s working, they’re not to be listened to.

Remember all the talk about how rash it was for Bush to go into Iraq without a plan? Now some of you want to pull out of Iraq - without a plan.

Remember when the only rationale for military intervention was the presence of genocide? That was actually the U.N.'s ‘trigger’ for intervention. Now the anti-war types are acknowledging that pulling out of Iraq may cause a genocide where one doesn’t currently exist. But hey, them’s the breaks.

It’s not just O’Hanlon and Pollack that are reporting positive news, btw. The statistics show it, and other reporters in the country are saying the same thing. The military says it’s working. There’s a chance, however slim, that the Iraq situation can be steered towards some kind of reasonably soft landing instead of erupting the middle east in flames. Doesn’t that actually matter to anyone?

I’d do a flippin maypole dance if I believed it.

GOP seeks a new tack on Iraq war
Congressional Micromanagement:

“Height of arrogance”, indeed! :slight_smile:

Can you tell me what specific, quantifiable metrics you are using to make that statement?

Have you been paying any attention at all to the history of this thing? Bush has winnowed through the generals for the last four years, removing those who don’t agree with him on this, until he has a pretty pack of epauleted puppets who dance to his piping no matter how off-key it is.

Bah. All I’ve heard all day long is the usual right-wing shills trumpeting this piece as: “See? A couple of liberals say everything’s going great in Iraq! Stay the course!” Firstly, it’s news to me that O’Hanlon is a liberal, but that doesn’t matter, really. Liberalism need have nothing whatsoever to do with whether one is for or against the continuation of the occupation. It is perfectly possible to argue against the war on purely practical grounds.

Get it straight: there are plenty of reasons to condemn the war other than merely to take partisan shots at one political party, and however wonderfully the conflict may be going right now, we’ve still spent hundreds of billions of dollars and killed tens of thousands of people for what strongly appears to be no particular useful reason.

Secondly, while preparing this post I read a few pieces by and about O’Hanlon. While he has indeed been mildly critical of tactics during the occupation, I saw nothing to indicate he has ever opposed the invasion or occupation as a strategy. In fact, in this pre-invasion piece on the Brookings site discussing potential US military and Iraqi civilian casualties, if you follow the PDF link to the full text he sounds a bit like George C Scott’s character in Dr. Strangelove: “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but…”

Oh yeah, in the same piece he definitively rules out a “quagmire” in Iraq.

So, I, er, must remain skeptical.

That’s the situation as it is. I’m not sure when it started, but at some point, it became impossible in American politics to say, “this stance was wrong, we’re going to do things this way now instead, the right way.” I don’t think it has anything to do with partisanship, as I see it from the GOP and the Democrats. But politicians have pretty much decided they have to present themselves as infallible. Too many Democratic leaders have tied their hands around Iraq being a failure, they now have a self-interested desire to see Iraq be a failure. It doesn’t matter how successful things start looking there, it HAS TO FAIL. If it doesn’t fail, their entire message is undermined, and it will cost them political capital.

What’s really sad, is there is no reason it has to be that way. Instead of crying about how they only supported the war because they were lied to, Democrats could score big points by saying, “we supported the war, but we were wrong to do so. However, we have applied pressure on the President and have forced him to change his ways. We helped push Rumsfeld and his disastrous policies out of office, and because of this, we have turned the situation around in Iraq.” But for whatever reason, they still find it most convenient to paint Iraq as an abject failure, with absolutely no possibility whatsoever of success. That way, they can just say “not our fault, elect us!!” And score the political points they want to score, what’s a few million dead Iraqis compared to the Democrats electoral hopes in '08? Apparently, not much.

Not the strongest of arguments. Let’s hear these guys say the opposite, then maybe we’ll see if you’re correct.

That is disgusting, you evil bastard. The level of self-denial that is needed to twist the current situation in Iraq into a “it’s all the Democrats fault” is utterly fucking shocking. I really wish there was a god, because at least then I’d be comforted by you and your ilk burning in hell.

Sam Stone
I seem to recall yet another war a few decades back in which we were told, year after year that we were finally “getting somewhere”.

And heck I am glad to hear that we have recently turned the corner in the War On Drugs too.

As I said in another thread, Sam, we “won” the war 4 years ago. It’s the peace we have to win, and that has proven illusive. The Iraqi parliament just decided it was more important for them to take a one month vacation than to get their shit together so our men and women can quit dying. We need to hold the feet to the fire, and the only way to do that is to start getting out of there. Sorry, I just can’t buy this business that we need to have an open ended commitment to those spineless politicians over there.

Devil’s advocate: why on Earth would someone who is anti-Iraq War want things to go well there? Yes, they’d want the troops and civilians to stay safe and sound, but why would they want success of any kind there, if they’re committed to ending the war? We don’t expect those who want to stay the course for things to go bad, so why are we expecting the opposite of the other side?

(Yes, some folks could go all utilitarian and say that deaths may be necessary to show everyone what a mistake the war is to hasten withdrawal and save more lives, but I haven’t seen anyone express that POV that I can recall.)

Moderator’s Warning: Struan, you’re way out of line here. Rein in your temper or need to take it to the Pit.