Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March 19 Blogswarm, Part Two

It seems at times that no matter how many lies the WHS* tell about the war and how many times those lies have been proven to be just that, every time they come up with a new one, the media swallow and regurgitate it as readily as they did all the ones before.

Undoubtedly the most successful of the lies was the one that got us into the war in the first place, that of the fabled "weapons of mass destruction." But there is one now that rivals it: "The surge is working."

No, it's not. It never did.

Why? Well, say there’s this car dealership with stagnant sales. Company execs come up with a plan to offer entertainment as a way to draw more people to the site with the idea that the more people, the more sales.

So they do this and when they check the figures six months later, they see that yes, in fact, more people have come to the showroom than during the preceding six months. However, sales remain flat.

“Hooray!” they cry. “More people! Our plan is working!”

No, it’s not. The idea was to generate sales, not visits.

The Iraq plan is not working. The idea of the escalation of the war, excuse me, “surge” (Or is it “enhanced intervention techniques?") was avowedly to provide an “opening” for political progress in Iraq. Last June, Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker
said the ultimate purpose of the surge is to buy time to build up Iraq's security forces and political process.

"[T]he process of reconciliation is key," he said. [Brackets in original.]
Such political progress is something that even the escalation's biggest cheerleader, David Petraeus, is unable to bring itself to claim is happening.

Yes, there have been some military gains - which I suppose was to be expected when you pour a bunch more soldiers into a relatively small area, i.e., Baghdad. But the purpose was to promote a political settlement. And there is zippo progress on that front.

No, the “surge” is not working. But the claims about it, the claims of "success" and "progress," are.

Those claims are based on a handful of cherry-picked statistics, the power of which is drawn from the inability or unwillingness of the US media to remember that Iraq consists of more than Baghdad and Anbar province and that there are more sources of information that the Iraqi government and the US military. Thus we hear, over and over again as if it was the only relevant metric, that sectarian violence against civilians has gone down. Which is has - but according to Iraq Body Count, the number of civilians killed by the war in 2007 was only slightly below that of 2006, the bloodiest year so far. We have, by dint of much labor and effort and an additional 30,000 or more troops, managed to get the monthly death toll of civilians "down" to where it was in 2005. If military brass want to claim that as a "success," I'd say both that they set a very low standard of success and that they first must declare the previous two years utter failures. And I don't mean any mealy-mouthed platitudes about how "well, of course no one was satisfied with the degree of progress shown" but a direct "we were fucking losers."

But more importantly, are there reasons beyond the escalation for the apparent drop in sectarian violence, which is what we call it because we don't want to admit it's a civil war? Yes, of course there are and you knew that was coming, else why would I ask the question? Here are three:

- The ceasefire declared by Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army.
- The fact that ethnic cleansing has been quite "efficient" to the point where there are few mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad and few mixed areas anywhere in the country. There is less sectarian violence because the two sides have a good deal less contact.
- The US has in effect temporarily bought the loyalty of a fair number of former Sunni insurgents, providing them arms and paying them $300 a month, twice the national average income, to be, supposedly, some kind of lethal community watch program.

That last point may be the one with the greatest potential to blow up in our faces. Already the strains are showing. A couple of weeks ago, Brian Katulis at the Center for American Progress wrote that
[t]he disaffected Sunni groups that turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq are now demanding their due - political power for these “Awakening” groups commensurate with their newfound military clout and their belief that Sunnis should once again be the dominant power in Iraq as they were under Saddam Hussein.
But of course the Shi'a-dominated central government is loath to accept that idea and the Sunnis are "losing patience" with both the US and the Baghdad government. That, Katulis says, could lead to civil war returning "in full force" because
it is increasingly clear that the surge did little more than temporarily mask these divisions by offering support to different factions - support that today further undermines the Iraqi state
and could lead to US forces being caught amid warring factions and possibly a target of each. It's hard to imagine that the US military is unaware of that possibility, which I strongly suspect is a good part of the reason for the increasing reluctance to commit to even modest troop withdrawals despite all the public "victory is just around the corner" optimism.

Thus, in January, the White House was already sending "strong signals" that withdrawals would slow if not stop completely by the summer. By the end of February it was clear that come July there would still be about 140,000 US troops in Iraq - about 8,000 more than there were when the escalation began. That is to be followed by what Petraeus called a "period of assessment" extending into the fall with no promise of further reductions before then - or even after.

Or even ever.
Since last year, the administration has been working towards a long-term security agreement with Iraq, an "enduring relationship," as they had it. The basic outlines were clear: a long-term American troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for a guarantee of security for the Iraqis.

To give you an idea of the outline, the Iraqis said that it would be silly to expect that Iraq would be able to defend itself alone until at least 2018. Forever seems a fair conservative estimate.

But there was a problem. There was a strong case to be made that for the administration to strike such a deal without the consent of the Senate was unconstitutional. ...

So, abruptly, the administration's position changed. The administration would be striking a long-term pact along the same lines, but there would be no security guarantee. None at all. According to the letter of the agreement, if Iraq were attacked, we'd just let it burn.

For some reason, some cynics think this is just a workaround. Without the actual security guarantee, the administration can hammer out the treaty without any hassle from Congress.
When Rep. Gary Ackerman asked David Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, if he was "stating uncategorically" that in the event Iraq is attacked "that the administration will take no action ... until an appropriate course of action is decided, in consultation with the Congress," Satterfield replied
Mr. Chairman, the administration will act as any administration would act in defense of U.S. interests.
Oh my yes, absolutely. And with that handy-dandy War Powers Act just waiting to be invoked - there are, after all, all those US troops not to mention private contractors in harm's way - what's a president to do? No security guarantee? No problem!

(Actually, it'd be a refreshing change for this administration to act "as any administration would," but I think was can assume that's not what Satterfield meant.)

Meanwhile, in another of the increasing number of echoes of Vietnam, the US is creating a hidden war. When John McCain talks about being in Iraq 100 years, he attaches the caveat that "as long as Americans aren't dying," people here won't care. Even though we condemn him for such callousness, the fact is he's very likely right and we know it: That's why in our protests we keep focusing on the number of Americans killed, even though by some accounts nearly 300 Iraqis have died as a result of the war for every American killed and even by the most conservative tabulations limited to Iraqi non-combatant deaths by violence, they still outnumber US deaths more than 20 to 1. We know that despite the horrendous cost to Iraqis, the American public that we are hoping to rouse will be moved much more by the (by comparison only) small cost to Americans. In the same way, the Pentagon knows that at long as US casualties can be kept down, so can public outrage. And while the current wack jobs occupying the White House may not give a damn what the public thinks, the brass can't be sure about the next crew.

So how do you pursue a war while minimizing the risks to the soldiers on the ground, a war that then can be rendered largely invisible to the public? Simple. You fight the war from where the enemy can't effectively reach: the sky.
The U.S. military conducted more than five times as many airstrikes in Iraq last year as it did in 2006....

The U.S.-led coalition dropped 1,447 bombs on Iraq last year, an average of nearly four a day, compared with 229 bombs, or about four each week, in 2006. ...

The greater reliance on air power has raised concerns from human rights groups, which say that 500-pound and 2,000-pound munitions threaten civilians, especially when dropped in residential neighborhoods where insurgents mix with the population. The military assures that the precision attacks are designed to minimize civilian casualties ... but rights groups say bombings carry an especially high risk. ...

The strategy was evident last week, as U.S. forces launched airstrikes across Iraq as part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. On Thursday morning in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military dropped 38 bombs with 40,000 pounds of explosives in 10 minutes, one of the largest strikes since the 2003 invasion. U.S. forces north of Baghdad employed bombs totaling more than 16,500 pounds over just a few days last week, according to officers there.
The number of bombings for 2007 is understated because the Marines keeps their own statistics for bombings in western Iraq "but could not provide 2007 data."

Colin Kahl, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, said that as US ground forces decline "you may see even more airstrikes." Personally, I'd bet on it.

And we'll be told it's a sign of progress. And the media will believe it.

First Footnote: The air war is also picking up in Afghanistan. (Afghanistan. You remember.) US and NATO bombings totaled nearly 3,600 in 2007 - more than twice as many as 2006 and more than 20 times the number in 2005.

Second Footnote: I need to correct myself. It's not "bombing." According to Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North, who bears the lengthy title of US Central Air Forces and Combined Forces Air Component commander in Iraq, it's "kinetic strikes." Please make the correction on your copies of your papers.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

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