Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DORA MARKET....Sudarsan Raghavan produces a devastating story about the surge in the Washington Post today. The setting for his piece is one of the showcase neighborhoods that the military routinely shuttles its visitors through, and for the first time (that I've seen, anyway), he calls them what they almost certainly are: Potemkin villages.

Nearly every week, American generals and politicians visit Combat Outpost Gator, nestled behind a towering blast wall in the Dora market. They arrive in convoys of armored Humvees, sometimes accompanied by helicopter gunships, to see what U.S. commanders display as proof of the effectiveness of a seven-month-long security offensive, fueled by 30,000 U.S. reinforcements. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq, frequently cites the market as a sign of progress.

"This is General Petraeus's baby," said Staff Sgt. Josh Campbell, 24, of Winfield, Kan., as he set out on a patrol near the market on a hot evening in mid-August.

....[But] visits to key U.S. bases and neighborhoods in and around Baghdad show that recent improvements are sometimes tenuous, temporary, even illusory....Even U.S. soldiers assigned to protect Petraeus's showcase remain skeptical. "Personally, I think it's a false representation," Campbell said, referring to the portrayal of the Dora market as an emblem of the surge's success. "But what can I say? I'm just doing my job and don't ask questions."

....After the delegation left, Maj. Ron Minty , 36, said that the generals had wanted 300 shops open for business by July 1. By the day of the delegation's visit, 303 had opened....Still, the Dora market is a Potemkin village of sorts. The U.S. military hands out $2,500 grants to shop owners to open or improve their businesses. The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said...."The Americans are giving money, so they're opening up stores," said Falah Hassan Fadhil, 27, who sells cosmetics.

1st Lt. Jose Molina, who is in charge of monitoring and disbursing the grant money, said the U.S. military includes barely operating stores in its tally. "Although they sell dust, they are open for business," said Molina, 35, from Dallas. "They intend to sell goods or they may just have a handful of goods. But they are still counted."

With enough time, money, and manpower you can secure any single neighborhood. No argument there. But how many of these showcase neighborhoods are there? Visitors could come to Iraq by the planeload and all report back that they were individually impressed with what they saw, but how meaningful is this if it turns out they all saw the same few places? Are there thousands of Dora markets around Iraq? Hundreds? A couple of dozen? My guess is the latter, but we really don't know, do we? Maybe all those visitors ought to think about getting together and comparing notes. They might discover something interesting.

Kevin Drum 12:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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On Sunday, the New York Times detailed Bush biographer Robert Draper's stunning portrait of the President asleep at the switch as the disastrous May 2003 decision to dissolve the Iraqi army moved forward. Now, Tuesday's New York Times suggests that Coalition Provisional Authority viceroy L. Paul Bremer indeed told Bush that he planned to disband Saddam's military and that the President casually - and unquestioningly - went along for the ride.

For the details, see:
"Bremer Letters Show Bush OK'd Disbanding Iraqi Army."

Posted by: Furious on September 4, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin - did you see this in Tuesday's Financial TImes?

Chinese Army hacks into Pentagon computer systems - "The Pentagon acknowledged shutting down part of a computer system serving the office of Robert Gates,..."

Go see.... This is bad, bad news - they can't even keep the own computers secure.


Posted by: fatbear on September 4, 2007 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

that was - of course -
"they can't even keep their own computers secure."

Posted by: fatbear on September 4, 2007 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

If you want to know how many "Dora Markets" are around Iraq, all you have to do is ask the Army how many markets they are paying for.

They have an exact count of how many shops were built with American blood and money, but I doubt they would confess the number.

Posted by: DigitalDave on September 4, 2007 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone surprised by this has been asleep for the last 7 years

Expect more of the same

"All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." - I.F. Stone

Posted by: daCasacadian on September 4, 2007 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

"The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said...."The Americans are giving money, so they're opening up stores," said Falah Hassan Fadhil, 27, who sells cosmetics."

I'm amazed that red state America and military families are still supporting this debacle of a war and that empty little suit of a man in the White House. Are they so "rah-rah rally around the flag and the president" they don't mind sending their sons and daughters to the middle east to die building goddamn stores in a dusty mareketplace?

Posted by: jbk on September 4, 2007 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

[That was over the line, Al.]

Posted by: Al on September 4, 2007 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

America's presence in Iraq is the crutch that keeps the other shoe from falling(the elimination of Sadaam being the first). Whether it falls next year or in 50 years, it is going to fall. Centuries old animosities don't evaporate just because we want them to.

The stupidity of our intervention and the virtually unavoidable dire consequences of it generate almost unsupportable anger
and anguish. The cost to all concerned will dwarf even the best plausible resolution. We are in a quandary reminiscent of that faced by the princess in The Lady and The Tiger. None of our options are acceptable.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on September 4, 2007 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

Can you help Dora and Diego find the right path through the spooky market? I can't wait to find some good runs! Avoid swiper and the insurgents! If you see IEDs on the ground click on them!

Click on the map when you find him!

I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the MAPPP!!!!!!

Now enter a HumVee and you exit the Green Zone! Drive across the river and wave to the Apaches.
Now enter the market! Enter the market! Buy some sawdust, buy a rug, there's swiper! Swiper no swiper!

Now we need to drive back to the base. We enter teh humvee cross the river go over the bridge, there's an IED! There's an IED! What can we do?

Boots says to call in the Apaches! Call in the Apaches!

The Apaches come and detonate the IED with their 30mm machine gun. So we cross the bridge and go down to the road to the Green Zone and drive in.

We did it! We did it!

Posted by: jerry on September 4, 2007 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

I've said this before, and though it's a lost cause I'll say it again: Count Grigori Potemkin, Catherine the Great's lover, political partner and viceroy of the newly conquered Ukraine, was a highly effective imperialist who built entire cities. He stage-managed a triumphal tour of his domain by Catherine. Fastening on the stage part, Potemkin's political enemies in St. Petersburg came up with the "villages" smear to discredit the real achievements. Unfortunately it worked perfectly, not at the time but in collective memory.
A better term would be "Marie-Antoinette villages", after the kitsch fake village she built in the park at Versailles - an accurate symbol of the French monarchy's detachment from reality.

Posted by: James Wimberley on September 4, 2007 at 6:01 AM | PERMALINK

It is mind numbing when one has to hear, yet again, that or Democracy exporting President has to sneak in and out of Iraq; visit one spot, talk for a few hours and leave. During this photo op he gets to make bland statements that will be goobled up by those who are already on board and further evidence of progress in Iraq. As always our soldiers and select Iraqi politicians serve as props. The pity is that the Visitor in Chief will never be impressed by the facts. In that he will be aided and abetted by generals who have become experts ar parsing language.

Posted by: Alan on September 4, 2007 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

Selling dust.

That should be the title of the Petraeus book.

Posted by: Emphyrio on September 4, 2007 at 6:32 AM | PERMALINK

America's presence in Iraq is the crutch that keeps the other shoe from falling...

Yogi lives!

Posted by: Cougarhutch on September 4, 2007 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK

The give away should have been the Disney background music, the little synagogue, and the pretty women throwing flowers from the balcony.

Posted by: B on September 4, 2007 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

They only need a dozen fake markets if they know the same Senator or Congressman will visit "Iraq" a dozen times. Has anyone been that many times?

A half-dozen trips, a half-dozen markets. If someone visits a seventh time, they build a seventh market.

Posted by: Avedon on September 4, 2007 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of when I was a kid and folks would travel to Russia. They'd be escorted around to just a few show places but then herded away from the vast 'other' of Russia. Are we now them?

Posted by: Ed D. on September 4, 2007 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Build a seventh market?

Why, some Iraqi entrepeneur will be on Larry Krudlow discussing his expansion of Dust 'R Us into his seventh market.

Maybe hedge funds for it will be established. I say IPO.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 4, 2007 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Why wasn't this post named "Dora Market = Potemkin Village"?

Posted by: mickslam on September 4, 2007 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of my old auditing days. New auditors were told of an old cow farm trick. The farmer calims to have hundreds of cows and the auditor is there to confirm the claim. The farmer tells the auditor to have a seat in the barn while the farm hands bring the cows by to be counted. Of course, the farm hands walk the same dozen cows by numerous times while the auditor counts them. Since he can only see a cow or two at a time he counts each cow many times until the farmer is happy with the tally.

Posted by: Eric on September 4, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

This whole war is a Potemkin Village. A contrived distraction from the real source of our problems with "global jihad":


And now they're banging their war drums against Iran, yet another country which had nothing to do with 9/11.

It's not just fraud, it's treason.

Posted by: Bill in Chicago on September 4, 2007 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

We don't really know about these markets and we don't really know about anything in Iraq.

From the very beginning, Americans agreed that it was okay with them if they did not know and that it was even okay if Bush/Cheney lied to them.

The corporate press/media agreed to cooperate by helping to keep Americans uninformed and, when asked to do so, publishing and broadcasting lies and propaganda.

Posted by: James E. Powell on September 4, 2007 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK


Reminds me of a tale from an outfit in Louisiana - Made "Hadacol"? or a type of that liquor laced pick me up - Flew investors into LA - Following a walk through the warehouse for a count, threw a fine Cajun party for them - During the party, laborers hauled the warehouse stock across the river to a second warehouse - After the party, a happy crew of visitors were taken across the river for a look-see at the second warehouse.

Dora is becoming a Mel Brooks "Blazing Saddles" set. So apt that Shrub, ala Guv LePotamaine, visited the set this weekend.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 4, 2007 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: James E. Powell on September 4, 2007 at 10:05 AM

That brought tears to my eyes, Mr. Powell.

Need we shelter our tender selves at the expense of those upon whom the focus of this administration has fallen? I guess it could have been America herself these creeps could be demolishing, instead of some country Over There full of People We Don't Know.

I am going to quit reading this commentary about my personal failure as a citizen of this country when it comes to Bush and go out to ensure my grass is no higher than 1 and 1/2", least the wrath of my neighbors fall upon me and I fail as well in the last of the principles for which this country stands, a nice lawn. [insert deep soul-seaching sigh here]

Posted by: Zit on September 4, 2007 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

I assume congressman Brian Baird is talking about these Potempkin markets when he talks about all the progress he saw over there which made him change his mind.


Posted by: Dean Wormer on September 4, 2007 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

The irony is that the original Potemkin villages were set up to impress the Czar, not the press or legilators.

You wonder if the same thing is going on now.

Posted by: hesiod on September 4, 2007 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Say what: "The U.S. military hands out $2,500 grants to shop owners to open or improve their businesses. The military has fixed windows and doors and even helped rebuild shops that had burned down, soldiers and others said..."

I thought the plan was to turn Iraq into a showcase of free-market capitalism. When did the Bush Administration go socialist?

Posted by: CMcC on September 4, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Enron's fake trading floor worked well, and Enron was a big Bush backer.
The Lincoln Group also does fine work planting news stories, commentary and outright propaganda.
When all they have to represent good news is lies, one knows the truth is in the worst case scenarios .

Posted by: Mike on September 4, 2007 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

"I thought the plan was to turn Iraq into a showcase of free-market capitalism. When did the Bush Administration go socialist?"

You might be confusing crony capitalism, or old-fashioned corrupt patronage, with socialism. The recipients of this govt largess may be a select bunch who qualified through kickbacks to officials -- and that is NOT a generally-applied benefit for the social good.

Posted by: tubino on September 4, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Does that mean that Lindsey Graham's five bucks for five rugs deal actually cost the American taxpayers $500 per rug? In that case, he got a damn good deal.

Posted by: ignoreland on September 4, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm getting so frustrated and depressed I don't know what to do anymore. You write your senator, you write your representative, you talk to people, you vote, but what happens? And it gets even worse when you hear the likes of Cokie Roberts pontificating on Iraq policy with all the urgency, concern and intensity of a discussion on zoning policy.

Posted by: jrw on September 4, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

For some reason, this article brings to mind a thought I've had whenever I see footage of American soldiers on patrol in Iraq: The Iraqis have long tried to take care of their familiy's security by creating gated and locked courtyards along with heavy locked doors. Given the current sectarian violence, it's easy to see why they'd put the resources into this. What happens when the Americans come along to sweep the house for insurgents? They destroy the gates and doors, with SWAT-style door breakers or even with tanks, to pull down iron gates.

Think about the result of this. Not only have the soldiers destroyed this important investment that Iraqi families make in their own security, but in doing so, they leave them absolutely vulnerable to violence from other Iraqis. You think this is winning us any friends? The same thing happens when they break down the doors of a house and find guns that the family has bought for self protection- the men are dragged away as insurgents (and are tortured as part of the process), all because they tried to protect their family (picture the uproar if troops tried to take away the weapons of American gun owners!). Most Iraqis started out with very warm feeling towards the Americans but this relentless stupidity and lack of understanding of local conditions is making the whole mess into a vicious cycle.

Posted by: That American Chap on September 4, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

First the administration basically banned unauthorized reporters. Then they quit reporting Iraqi casualties. Now their bribing Iraqis to open shops so the military can show visitors dog and pony shows about how well the surge is working.
When any government goes to these lengths to "prove" that something is working - it's not. All the administration is doing is salting the mine, hoping they can get some suckers to bite and take it off their hands. Con men, everyone one of 'em; including that toady Petraeus.

Posted by: Doug Stamate on September 4, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think the problem is what the American Armed forces are doing, even paying the shopkeepers money to open is basically a good thing to do.

Unfortunately they should haver been doing it at the beginning, not now.

It's simply too late.

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