Thursday, January 31, 2008

Measures of Men

A post over at DailyKos has attempted to argue that the American effort in Iraq has gone nowhere and accomplished nothing. It's author is attempting to make this claim on the fact that since last month, US casualties have increased, although the first sentence makes what must have been a very difficult concession to make:

"For the first time in five months, month-to-month deaths in Iraq have increased."

So they begin this rant by admitting that they don't have a trend. They then continue by creating a trend of their own:

"That's two more than the number of deaths in May of 2005..."

"That's six more than the number in March of 2006..."

"And that's the same number as the number of American deaths in November of 2007..."

Certainly, if we're allowed to pick and choose what months we'd like to represent, we can create all sorts of illusory items. We could even go on to claim that we've made no progress, so long as we don't look at things like political changes, security changes, or confusing things like numbers and trends. And since its Kos, they do:

"This week, we learned that despite claims that the surge is a "success," it has done nothing but brings us back full circle. Back to a U.S. military presence of some 130,000 troops"

This kind of myopia is ignorant enough that I don't feel the need to lecture on it; it's preposterous on its face, there's no debunking necessary. This kind of willful ignorance will only fool those who are not paying any attention, and those people don't read this blog.

At the end of the Kos posting, is a list of those American soldiers who died doing their country's will in January. On this list of the names of heroes is one that you may be familiar with.

"Andrew J. Olmsted, 37, Army Major, Jan 03, 2008"

Major Olmsted has asked that his death not be politicized, and Kos has not obeyed those wishes as the inclusion of a list of fatalities in the post politicizes every one of them. But I won't do that here.

I can't tell you what Major Olmsted's values were, or why he died, or what he might have died for. But he can. His friends honored his wishes to have a final blog post put up. Read it here, and don't let anyone else tell you his story.

Moving on.

It is one thing to count American casualties, as the Kos post has done so gracelessly. It is entirely another to censor facts for effect. As a blogger, you always read more than you include in a post. If you don't, you've done a bad job. But that's not to say its not a problem when your editing process ends up being intentionally misleading. You leave more than you say on the cutting room floor every time you post, so you have to be careful not to trim off the truth, or leave out important considerations.

One such important consideration is the number of Iraqi fatalities in the same month, seeing as it is their country and whatnot. But the Kos post doesn't mention Iraqis, quite simply because the poster does not care about them. I've said that before, but it bears repeating. So how have the Iraqis fared this past month? According to, they suffered 542 fatalities in January, compared to 548 in December and 560 in November.

So while reinvigorated offensive operations in Mosul and other locations have increased American fatalities, the Iraqis' trend, while less impressive, has held. Good for them. But let's not fool ourselves and say that the deaths are all that matters.

We have not gone to war to prevent the deaths of our soldiers. We have gone to war to secure a more lasting peace, and security for a greater portion of the world. Here that means putting our soldiers in harm's way, knowing full well that their armor, weapons and training will not save all of them. This is what makes them heroes. This is what advances the cause of freedom. This is also why soldiers die. That shouldn't be forgotten, no matter what the casualty count looks like.

Each soldier fights for their own reasons, and is willing to die for different reasons. As a result, we cannot possibly understand fully the death of each soldier; we can only look to see what the actions that led to their deaths have gained. It is a crude an unjust method of measuring a man's worth in war, but at the strategic level it is all we have. To strip us of that is to leave us without any way of understanding the war or the men engaged in it.

For DailyKos to declare that the deaths of Americans and Iraqis have gained us nothing because they are higher this month than they were last month is every bit as unfair to their memories as it is false.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dahr Jamail's Insurgent Mix Tape

Let me preface this by saying that Dahr Jamail, a journalist who writes for IPS, has actually been to Iraq and has done lots of unembedded work - this naturally makes him better qualified to speak on matters of how the Iraqis feel about things than I am. I'm not impugning his character for who he talks to or what he sees.

That said, I am taking serious issue with his total lack of neutrality. I don't expect pro-American sentiment and I don't actually want any pro-American sentiment in a piece of what is supposed to be objective journalism. If a piece is objective, then there ought not be any sentiment in it at all, which is what I would prefer. Michael Totten can manage that. Dahr Jamail has abandoned the idea altogether in favor of posting rants from his own email inbox. From his article in the Asia Times:

"Of late, I have been asking Iraqis I know by email what they make of the American version (or versions) of the unseemly reality that is their country, that they live and suffer with. What does it mean to become a 'secondary issue' for your occupier? "

He's naturally talking about election politics in the US, and doing a pretty serious butcher job on it as well. While for a candidate, Iraq may not be the most pressing issue by election time, what political analysts interested in the election are saying and what the majority of voters think are very much different things.

As to why Iraq may be taking a back seat, it's really very simple. We can read the emails from the angry Iraqis that he knows, and try to extrapolate from those anecdotal rants, or we can look at the objective data that we've been seeing coming out of Iraq. One of these things is useful and has predictive and instructive power; the other is a waste of our time.

"Tahir, on the other hand, has a warning: 'It seems that all US politicians and the majority of Americans think the way McCain does. But they should not think Iraq is Japan or South Korea.'"

The content of the statement itself is hamhanded, ignorant, and totally worthless. There's nobody in the US who thinks that the Americans have completely aligned themselves with McCain or his rhetoric about the duration of the war. To even suggest it is to deny the existence of the slew of Democratic presidential candidates, who all happen to disagree with McCain. But I don't need to tell you that, because you're not an idiot.

Put more diplomatically, you're in touch with American politics, and Tahir, whoever he is, has no idea what the American political atmosphere is like.

All that aside, the fact that Dahr Jamail didn't think the statement was worthless is indicative of a few other things, first of which is that quality information about American politics is severely lacking in whatever region Tahir is from. When people say that the US is losing the information war, this kind of thing is exactly why they say it. Tahir should not be able to say something so ludicrous without being laughed at, and Jamail should not be able to include it in a serious news article without being scoffed off the face of the earth.

We're still not winning the information war; there are clearly too many Iraqis we aren't getting through to. We can make what excuses we like for this clear lack of footing in the info war, but there it is - it still needs lots of work.

The second thing it can tell us is that one of the reasons we're not winning the information war is because of people like Dahr Jamail, who perpetuate and legitimize the insurgent narrative. If that seems unfair, let me corroborate it:

"Abu Taiseer, another resident of Baquba, summed up Iraqi bitterness this way:
At the very beginning of the occupation, the people of Iraq did not realize the US strategy in the area. Their strategy is based on destruction and massacres. They do anything to have their agenda fulfilled. Now, Iraqis know that behind the US smile is hatred and violence. They call others violent and terrorists while what they are doing in Iraq and in other countries is the origin and essence of terror."

Alright, I suppose that's nothing that the American left hasn't also claimed, no matter how preposterous it is - if it's not totally clear at this point that massacres and destruction do not move a counterinsurgency forward, there's no hope trying to convince them. But still, nothing a hardcore leftist wouldn't say. Maybe saying that Jamail is advancing the insurgent narrative is overstepping a bit. Then I would offer this:

"Abu Tariq, a merchant from Baquba, believes the US military intentionally destroyed Iraq's infrastructure. He told Ali,
The Americans destroyed the electricity, water-pumping stations, factories, bridges, highways, hospitals, schools, burnt the buildings, and opened the borders for the strangers and terrorists to get easily into the country. The one who does all these things is void of humanity. I hate America and Americans."

Short of publishing a myopic email that calls for outright violence, I'm not sure Jamail can do anything more to push insurgent propaganda. I'm not saying that the people who wrote to him are insurgents. I'm saying that they're parroting the insurgent narrative, wherein the US is responsible for quite literally every last one of the ills in their society. They're doing it because that's what they're told. They're told that because the US isn't doing a better job of telling them otherwise.

That needs to change. Iraq isn't out of the woods yet, and until we can win over insurgent propaganda, we still stand to lose what we've done so far.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Anti-War Lie

There's been quite a bit of positive news on Iraq lately. We have the BBC saying this:

"Iraq faces a period of economic growth and political progress, according to assessments by the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

"The IMF sees 7% growth in 2008 and a similar rise next year, and says oil revenues from buoyant exports should be up by 200,000 barrels a day."

That's very good. This is the sort of change we've needed to start seeing. Everyone knows the security is thus far still improving, but economic gains reflect confidence in arenas other than just security. And if the economy picks up, that means it'll generate jobs and get people off the streets in a constructive manner. Unequivocally good deal there.

Unfortunately, we still are not able to move from "cautious optimism" to just plain "optimism" when we're talking about the ISF. From CBS:

"Lt. Gen. James Dubik, head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command, said the Iraqi defense minister has stressed to him that the country could not assume responsibility for internal security until as late as 2012. Also, it would be unable to defend its borders until at least 2018.

"'There are positive signs, indeed, and steps forward, but the truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point,' Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee. "

They still need a lot of big-ticket items, and unfortunately the purchasing system doesn't work very well so that will take some time, and so will the training, as the article states. But this isn't so discouraging as we'd like to think, as we don't intend to hand over control just yet. But, defying all intelligent thought and reason, there are people who want to:


What he really means is that retreat is the only option; I know, it confused me too. But here's the big lie that the Anti-war movement tells you without ever saying the words: when they say they want us gone, it's not because they care about what happens to Iraq or Iraqis. It's because they do not want to sacrifice to move the human condition forward. When we listen to the arguments they make, it becomes obvious.

"Despite the fact that more than two-thirds of Americans want Congress to stop the bleeding and get our troops out of Iraq, Congressional war spending is likely to eclipse the one TRILLION dollar mark in 2008."

When they say "stop the bleeding," they don't realize that the withdrawal of American forces at this point will only stop the bleeding of Americans. Iraqi civilians will die in greater numbers without the protection led by American forces. The ISF will not have American leadership, and will become less effective. They too will die in greater numbers without the guidance and mentoring the Americans have provided. But our soldiers won't die, and that's all that matters to them. They don't care about seeing Iraq's war end. They just want to see our part of the war end, because that's all that will stop if we leave now.

An argument one hears on a daily basis from the American Left is how many social services could be put in place or improved with the money that's being spent on the war in Iraq. They're certainly right, we could spend the money making sure every man, woman and child in America can get a flu shot or prescription medication. Or we could spend that money saving lives and trying to better the conditions in a third-world country. We could have medicine, or the Iraqis could have food and safer streets for their kids. The American Left would rather have their "free" medicine, thanks very much. If the problem can't be fixed by flooding the market with donations or hosting a march, they haven't got the steam for it.

This isn't what one should expect to hear from people who declare themselves to be "citizens of the world". We should be hearing about what we can do for the Iraqis to lift them up. We should be hearing them ask us all for patience and resolve, so that their fellow men can someday live in a nation worth living in. We should be hearing them ask us to do more; to donate, to volunteer for the cause of peace in Iraq for all Iraqis, not just ourselves.

We should not be hearing them howl like fools to abandon our fellow men in their time of need.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Iranian Roulette

The very two-faced nature of Iran's activities toward Iraq have always been regarded as an issue, but for some reason it's not always clear what their intent is. To me, it seems fairly clear that Iranian diplomacy is very clearly aimed at undermining the American effort while at the same time attempting to win over the anti-American elements in Iraq. That would explain their ridiculous, ham-handed subterfuge regarding the speedboats, and offer some insight into this particular maneuver:

"Gen. David Petraeus disclosed the reversal to reporters after a meeting with President Bush who was visiting troops in Kuwait.

'In this year, EFPs have gone up, actually, over the last 10 days by a factor of two or three, and frankly we're trying to determine why that might be,' Petraeus said."

I'll wait for a trend to form before I say anything rash (it took months for Surge progress to become a trend for the media, so fair is fair), but I'm going to go way out on a limb and suggest that the Iranians did it.

Iranian ambitions toward Iraq have been fairly obvious: they want to kick the US out and at the very least establish an alliance with the Shia who will be in power should the US effort fail and the Iranian effort succeed - JAM, among others. Not surprisingly, they've been gaming at this by trying to attend diplomatic meetings with Iraqi officials, while stoking anti-American sentiment by trying to subvert the security gains or make the US look like liars (see the speedboat article). The entire point is to make the Anti-American populace of Iraq feel that Iran is trying to help them remove the Americans while at the same time generating some sort of good will with that same demographic - which unfortunately isn't a small one, as al-Sadr's popularity could attest to.

The Iranians are very clearly throwing their hat in with the malcontents of Iraq, and are probably doing so more aggressively because security keeps improving. Odds are, they've pushed up EFP importation to try to boost the perception that security is failing, because it isn't. The Iranians don't need an unfriendly state right next door, and they are fairly well afraid of American influence on the region - we do have them surrounded, which is something to bear in mind.

All that said, beyond diplomatic efforts that should be increased towards Iran, there's not much for it other than to keep our heads down and keep working. Things will eventually get good enough that subterfuge won't play, but for now, the solution to everything is the same one: keep moving the ball forward. Security, jobs, services, and information - let the Iranians try to cope with that.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

The new offensives in Northern Iraq are directed much as we might expect them to be. I've mentioned before why Diyala province especially is a key territory, so this should come as no surprise:

"US military commanders have launched a joint US-Iraqi assault against al-Qaeda in Iraq focused on Diyala and three other provinces north of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital."

Other news reports detail how this offensive will be structured, with US and ISF forces spearheading and doing most of the actual combat, while police and CLCs will be responsible for security as US and ISF operations begin winding down. Kind of a "duh" moment there, but there's a fair amount of speculation as to whether or not the CLCs will work in Diyala province, given it's sectarian mix. From the original Al-Jazeera article:

"Compounding the military's woes is the checkerboard pattern of Shia and Sunni communities adjacent to one another amid orange groves."

So far, CLCs have been very successful in predominately Sunni areas, but there is potential in Diyala for a Sunni-Shia clash if this isn't handled carefully - some Sunni tribal leaders have been quite blunt about who they're taking the fight to after AQI is beaten, and the Shia aren't halting their consolidation of power for anyone, so local CLCs may be percieved by the Shia as a threat. That's very clearly what's been happening at a national level, and that's also at the heart of worries about a possible genocide in Iraq. So what we really have in Diyala is a microcosm of the frustrations that have been playing out across the country.

That, by the way, makes it much less daunting than it makes it useful. Diyala province will offer an opportunity to experiment with the Sunni-Shia tensions at a molecular level, as it were, and it may well offer some useful insight as to how to allay those tensions at a national level.

That is, if it's done correctly, and there's no guarantee of that right now. How Diyala's CLCs play out over the next few months will depend very much on their local leadership - just a few veiled tigers thrown into leadership positions could very well poison the whole mess. But thus far in Diyala, according to MNF-I, no such problems have cropped up with currently existing CLCs:

"Northern al Hashmiyat was recently controlled by al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) . Troop C kept a heavy presence in the area, but since 4th Stryker Brigade’s move into Diyala, the AQI presence in al Hashmiyat has been diminishing. Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) groups began taking over responsibility of the security in the area. CLC checkpoints arose around the villages.

"'We used to provide a heavy presence there,' Shekishiro said. 'But the CLCs have been successful at providing their own security for the past month.'”

It seems that those expecting the CLC idea to fall through based on ethnic tensions are going to have to wait a bit longer, at the very least. If the Sunni-Shia rift really hits the fan, things will get very ugly and we haven't yet averted that possibility, because we can't; only the Iraqis can do that for themselves. But expecting that to happen based on mixed ethnic populations hasn't been a winning horse yet.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The New Deal

First, if you're a regular reader, thanks very much for your patience these last few weeks. I'm now very comfortably situated in England, everything went as well as could be expected and in some cases a little better.

While I was gone, the numbers for December 2007 came in at 21 US fatalities, and places civilian and ISF casualties at 548 - just a shade lower than November 2007. This is supposed to give politicians room to make progress, but it also has the added bonus of giving the US room to make it's next move: jobs, jobs, jobs. ABC News has the story dated January 2nd:

"Modeled on a program under which the U.S. pays armed groups who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, the military has begun recruiting villagers for public service jobs working to improve sanitation, do repairs and pick up trash."

As I've said before, lack of jobs can drive the insurgency and in many places, it does. What it's going to come down to are measures exactly like this one: give them something to do that eases the discontent both in their streets and in their homes. They need money to feed their families, and they need functional neighborhoods to keep them safe. And it wouldn't hurt to have something to be proud of.

We've seen this kind of effort happening on a much smaller scale elsewhere, but that it's becoming a serious program in some places is encouraging. Of course it won't stop the violence all by itself, but it is a move in the right direction. While having paid CLCs running security where they can is helpful, they can't all stay gunmen forever. Someday they will be safe enough that those fighters will need new jobs, and if they can simply be rolled into this new program and earn the same rate for a different task, so much the better.

It's a new year. Let's hope that the Iraqis make the best of it.