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    30 October 2007

    Death is down in Iraq but the surge is still failing

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    It's truelly painful to witness.

    Our conservative politicians, desperate for something to distract the public from the horrendous reality that is the Republican party, have recoalesced into the shortsighted idiots that caused the occupation of Iraq back in 2002-2003... and the media in large part is right there with them. We have a few months of below average violence and we're on the cusp of victory in Iraq? What planet are you people on? Truth is we've done little there since January and the Iraqis have done less.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today frames this truism nicely. We've surged and therefore there should be less violence (check!) and political reconciliation (ehhhh!). Who in their right mind would begin arguing that the surge has been a success at this point. To me, it's pretty obvious that we're stuck back in January at the latest.

    I've heard some conservatives claim that the Democrats will "change their minds" about Iraq. They may, but not because the 'we're winning' claim is correct, but because that's what most Democrats do: The majority of them are weak. A strong Democrat, a progressive Democrat, would take the argument and beat the offending conservative over the head with it. The point of the surge was to secure a portion of Iraq to allow for political reconciliation. There has been absolutely nothing on this point of reconciliation, period. Not even a hint. Therefore the surge is failing. Plenty on action condemning some of our unaccountable mercenaries (which should be our responsibilities), but none on reconciliation. That's a pretty big point.

    An appropriate reading of the mentioned GAO goes like this:
    The U.S. and Iraqi governments have failed to take advantage of a dramatic drop in violence in Iraq, ... prospects [are] waning "for achieving current U.S. security, political and economic goals in Iraq."

    Iraqi leaders have not passed legislation to foster reconciliation among Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, and sectarian groups still retain control of ministries and divide Iraqi security forces...

    Moreover, the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq are plagued by weak planning, a lack of coordination with the Iraqi government and among U.S. agencies, and an absence of detailed information on "the current and future costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq,"...

    "U.S. efforts lack strategies with clear purpose, scope, roles and performance measures," ...

    The findings raise questions about whether the increase of U.S. troops that began last February will ultimately achieve the goal of giving Iraqi political leaders enough of a respite from violence that that they can work to resolve Iraq's many problems.


    This is a time for serious assessment of the problems at hand, and our leaders and our media are being feed numbers to claim progress? We were told there would be legislation, words, agreements, photo ops. We haven't got much time left to hold the lid on Iraq. To claim victory is right around the corner is to assume the word victory will be redefined as "still stuck in the same place we were last year" by March '08.

    [UPDATE] Marc Lynch shows concern about the ridiculousness of all this in a recent post:
    Body counts are only one small part of a much larger puzzle. What I want to know is not the day to day casualty trends, or good news stories from some carefully selected hamlet, or the latest assassination of an Awakening shaykh. I want to know: does the devolution to the local level make strategic sense, even if it reaps short-term tactical sense? Towards what endpoint are the tactics leading? Do we want to see a unified Iraq with a sustainable political accord - the official goal of American policy, as Undersecretary of State Nick Burns reminded the DACOR audience yesterday? If so, are American political and military tactics encouraging or discouraging such an outcome? Those are questions that we could be discussing in this moment of relative American political respite, but there's really not much of it (a moment of self-criticism here: I suppose I should give credit to the Biden partition/federalism resolution effort, even though I strongly disagreed with it, for at least trying to raise such issues.)

    Maybe that's because there is no possible winning strategy anymore, just better or worse tactics leading nowhere in particular. I understand the logic of the bottom-up reconciliation strategy quite well, thanks. I just see no evidence whatsoever that it is working: whether public opinion surveys, continuing refugee flows, or sectarian and confrontational political discourse. Yes, Ammar al-Hakim went to Ramadi, which is encouraging - but his mission failed... and if you look at what he was actually trying to sell to the Sunnis, you'd be less encouraged than some people have been by the atmospherics. Yes, Tareq al-Hashemi went to Sistani with his National Compact, but the Compact has gone nowhere. And so on. The national political level remains completely deadlocked, and the politicians seem to have lost whatever sense of urgency they felt back in August and September. And all of those politicians behave according to the logic of moral hazard that the US has created - since the Bush administration can't credibly threaten to escalate and won't threaten to withdraw, it has no leverage over any of them while protecting them from the consequences of their decisions. And even if those politicians did somehow magically come to agreement, their ability to deliver on any such agreement declines by the day.

    Posted by Geoff

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