Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

KEEPING UP WITH THE TALKING POINTS....One way you can tell when a PR campaign is gearing up is the sudden appearance of a raft of articles all telling a remarkably similar story. So here's the remarkably similar story that's suddenly popping up everywhere regarding the surge: Sure, there might not be any political progress in Baghdad, but there's been lots of progress at the local level and that's what really matters. You can see versions of this story here, here, and here.

Today David Sanger connects the dots and tells us directly that this flurry of similar stories is just what you think it is: a harbinger of yet another attempt to move the goalposts in Iraq.

Bush Shifts Terms for Measuring Progress in Iraq

With the Democratic-led Congress poised to measure progress in Iraq by focusing on the central government's failure to perform, President Bush is proposing a new gauge, by focusing on new American alliances with the tribes and local groups that Washington once feared would tear the country apart.

That shift in emphasis was implicit in Mr. Bush's decision to bypass Baghdad on his eight-hour trip to Iraq, stopping instead in Anbar Province, once the heart of an anti-American Sunni insurgency. By meeting with tribal leaders who just a year ago were considered the enemy, and who now are fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a president who has unveiled four or five strategies for winning over Iraqis — depending on how one counts — may now be on the cusp of yet another.

There's an awful lot to say about this beyond the obvious point that this goalpost moving is a pretty desperate attempt to dig up something — anything — positive to say about political reconciliation in Iraq. For starters, there's the fact that the Anbar strategy is entirely accidental and we don't truly control it. There's the fact that one of the underlying goals of arming the Sunni tribes is a veiled desire to create an armed balance of power between Sunni and Shia that can't possibly be stable. There's the fact that we're encouraging a de facto balkanization of the country. There's the fact that even if this strategy is a good one, we don't have anywhere near enough troops to make it work on a widespread basis. And finally, there's the fact that the Shiite militias simply aren't going to allow this strategy to spread to Baghdad.

All of these things are worth posts of their own, and I might even get around to writing one or two of them sometime this week. In the meantime, just be aware that this is apparently the new talking point: national reconciliation doesn't matter anymore. Tribal reconciliation is where the action is. We'll let you know how it's going six months from now.

Kevin Drum 12:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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Comments

Given that the Petraeus PR strategy is to tart up a few markets -- something that, in the abstract, isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as implemented is a pile of toss -- can we expect a hearty endorsement of Iraq as a regional beacon of anarcho-capitalism?

Posted by: ahem on September 5, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

For starters, there's the fact that the Anbar strategy is entirely accidental and we don't truly control it.

Doesn't this describe the entire ShrubCo rolling clusterfuck?

Posted by: craigie on September 5, 2007 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I agree with all of your conclusions except for part of the first one. I don't think the Anbar "strategy" is accidental. The Saudis are likely the authors of all of that-just my hunch. They are probably FAR more concerned about Sunni Iraq becoming an unstable "hotbed of support for AQ" than we are. Maybe that's why they are building that wall on the border. Hot damn! Maybe that's why WE have been over there for so damn long?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 5, 2007 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that the Sunni alliance is just them getting breathing space, by getting rid of al-qaeda, which hurts the Sunni position by targeting non-fanatics, and provoking Shia to retaliate.

Nowhere have they said they accept occupation by the US. But that won't stop Bush from arming them, so they can kill our troops, perhaps in concert with Shia, after al-qaeda is squashed.

We treat a Sunni tactical victory as a US strategic one. Won't we be surprised?

Posted by: jim p on September 5, 2007 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

jim p, I wonder if we've also made "promises" to the Saudis that we will "get out of the way" after the Sunnis are armed. They told us to leave Saudi in the past and we did. I think they are calling most of the shots now.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 5, 2007 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Doc, I bet you're right.

Some analysts I've read say Cheney has been trying to rally the established Sunni leaders into an alliance with us and Isrrael against Iran. More likely the Saudis are playing us, but for the same purpose. Like Iraq's Shia south letting the troops roll throw unopposed, explicity saying "let the Americans and Baathists kill each other for us." Here it's we overlook Sunni funding/equipping of insurgents-- hell, fund & equip 'em ourselves--and they'll take care of both the al-qaeda and, later the Shia.


Posted by: jim p on September 5, 2007 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

Operation Lipstick On a Pig...engage!

Posted by: stand on September 5, 2007 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

Instead of mere "mission creep," we have "mission running around like a chicken without a head."

The goals were disarming Saddam Hussein of the WMD he was addicted to and receiving garlands of flowers from the grateful Iraqi people."

Everything thereafter qualifies as spin, and even the ever lowered "spins" are pathetic.

Posted by: Luther on September 5, 2007 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

The CIA guy Ken Silverstein of harpers spoke to said it best:
the administration is spinning [these deals] as some sort of strategic victory for its vision of the Middle East. It’s not. The good news is that the sheiks are accepting our guns and money. The bad news is that the sheiks are accepting our guns and money. Yes, okay, go ahead and make these alliances–but understand how it’s going to play out. Don’t boogey in the end zone and pretend these Sunni fighters are a bunch of Presbyterians.

When I was in Pakistan I asked an Army commander if we could get the Afghan tribes to do something and he said, “We can usually get the Afghans to do something that they want to do.” In Afghanistan, the Soviets made thousands of deals with the tribes, but you don’t buy them–you rent them. These guys change sides all the time. It’s the same thing here. Their needs and goals are completely unrelated to our vision of the world.

RFE had some people spend a month reading Sunni insurgent media, websites and press releases. It turns most (all?) Sunni groups think the US is gonna leave. So now they achieved that goal, why not, in the meantime, have US help in blowing up the enemies they will be stuck with in the post occupation civil war? Its not like the US is all that careful with who it considers AQI.

Posted by: asdf on September 5, 2007 at 6:47 AM | PERMALINK

we can all agree that the books are being cooked - the question to be answered is why? and why does the military seem so willing to play along?

Posted by: gus on September 5, 2007 at 7:21 AM | PERMALINK

For starters, there's the fact that the Anbar strategy is... There's the fact that one of the underlying goals of arming the Sunni...
There's the fact that we're encouraging a de facto balkanization...
There's the fact that even if this strategy is a good one...
And finally, there's the fact that the Shiite militias simply aren't going to allow this strategy to spread to Baghdad.

Proving, once again, facts have a liberal bias;>

Posted by: Martin on September 5, 2007 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/II06Ak02.html
Interesting James Baker opinion piece.

"...Foreign policy is not social work. Americans are often motivated by the most altruistic of humanitarian impulses. But when the body bags start coming home, it is extremely difficult to rally public support if there is no overriding national interest."

"Above all, we should always remember that in foreign policy, "stability" is not a dirty word."
------

Sounds like a call for installing an Iraqi strongman and then getting out, and BTW, don't bomb Iran unilaterally.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 5, 2007 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I think moving the goalposts is an awesome idea. I think we should move them even further. If we measured success in terms of the Iraqui people's ability to reliably have the sun rise each morning, wouldn't we be able to bring our troops home much sooner?

Posted by: Scott Herbst on September 5, 2007 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Iraqi tribal structure constitutes Mid East democracy?
-cognitorex-
The GOP think tanks are busy working on a new paradigm.
It turns out, they say, that the predominant Iraqi Tribal political structure is amazingly akin to a/our Democratic structure.
Ergo, should the Sunni sheikhs we are now championing as paragonic leaders prevail in a pan-Iraq consolidation, it should be argued that Bush has brought democracy to the Middle East.
Such a spiritually tingling success, such a great teaching, the best teaching for all sentient beings.

Posted by: cognitorex on September 5, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Paul Krugman deftly points out that Gen. Petraeus is going to try to sell Congress a cock and bull story about the “surge”, just like Colin Powell sold the UN a cock and bull story about WMDs. Read about it here. The sad part is that a significant number of our Congresscritters are gonna believe these liars…

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 5, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think moving the goalposts is an awesome idea. I think we should move them even further.

Maybe Bush/Cheney is trying to move them into Iran, and one last "Hail Mary" operation.

Posted by: Nemo on September 5, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

You've entirely missed the most important thing: how did George Bush's wingtips look?

Posted by: josef on September 5, 2007 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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