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Tilting at Windmills

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January 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

PROGRESS IN IRAQ....Via ThinkProgress, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs Mark Kimmitt spoke at the Heritage Foundation today about the prospects for political reconciliation and stability in Iraq:

If I had to put a number to it, maybe it's three in 10, maybe it's 50-50, if we play our cards right....To recognize that this will be the next phase, that this will be done in 2008 rather than 2007, is a bit of a disappointment as the new way forward envisioned that progress in politics and reconciliation would occur in parallel with progress in security. To see such significant progress in security with only the foundations of progress in reconciliation is a bit disheartening, not to mention sobering.

A couple of notes. First, Kimmitt was reading a prepared statement, so this was presumably a considered and vetted position. Second, he was absolutely clear that the surge will be a success only if "the gains in security can be translated into gains in stability." War supporters frequently act as though an emphasis on political reconciliation is mere caviling from liberals who don't want to admit that the surge has been a success, so it's good to see that this emphasis is not only common sense, but also (as it always been) official Bush administration policy.

Kevin Drum 6:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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I think that the 750 M a year that they are using to buy off the Sunni insurgents (at $10 a day for each one of them, as per NPR) would have bought them Saddam as well, and everyone would be better off with so many less lives lost.

We are all fools for keeping quiet about these guys' catastrophic mistakes. In any normal democracy they would have been forced to resign unceremoniously.

Posted by: gregor on January 8, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

The optimistic outlook is a 3% to 50% chance of success? And these guys have, for 5+ years overstated the chances of success? That in itself is depressing.

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on January 8, 2008 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously, that should have been "a 30% to 50% chance of success."

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on January 8, 2008 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

IOW: "Yup, those liberals were right all along on the surge. This is going to take longer than we thought. Say ten years? Forever? Whatever it takes -- Americans aren't quitters. 'Course some Dems are talking like quitters, so we look for this to be a big issue in the upcoming campaign."

Posted by: Don Bacon on January 8, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

We need another substitute for the amount of $$ needed to buy off the islamofascists. If time is measured by Friedman Units, [F.U.], then the dollar amount to buy an insurgent could be Hamilton Unit? Democracy Unit? Vegas Unit. [it's a bet for sure].

I have a neocon acquaintance that couldn't be more smug now. "It was all worth it."

Posted by: bobbywally on January 8, 2008 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Why are we wasting time listening to the fools at the Heritage Foundation?
The war has been an unmitigated disaster. The President put all of our eggs in one basket and ignored the rest of the world. Even if by some miraculous chance, Iraq became a flowering democracy in 2009, it still would not be worth the expense in blood and treasure to get us there.

Posted by: D. on January 8, 2008 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have a neocon acquaintance that couldn't be more smug now. "It was all worth it."

Even if the surge is a success, and McCain is right that 100 years from now we'll be out of Iraq, the whole Iraq debacle will never have been "worth it". Bush screwed us all on this.

Posted by: AJ on January 8, 2008 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Look at it this way, the "Hail Mary" pass that was the surge did what it was supposed to--buy time.

Who actually thought that it would address the real governing issues of Iraq? Probably no-one.

Time for what?

Time so Bush would not have the last year of his term with Iraq in absolute meltdown.

The next president will have to be the real "decider".

Posted by: Neal on January 8, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that Bush and Cheney just kept on declaring new strategies, waiting for things to coincidentally (or randomly) improve, and then they get to declare how right they were all along, and what fools we were to doubt them.

If you wait long enough, the laws of chance suggest that eventually you'll get a decent run of good luck. That seems much more likely, than they suddenly quit being wrong whenever their lips moved.

Posted by: dr2chase on January 8, 2008 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

if we play our cards right....

Boy, if those aren't famous last words . . .

Posted by: Bonnie on January 8, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

...so it's good to see that this emphasis is not only common sense, but also (as it always been) official Bush administration policy.

I know I'm dense...but that quote baffles me, Kev.

Posted by: elmo on January 8, 2008 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

After slaughtering over a million Iraqi citizens and displacing perhaps one or two million more, I find the use of the word "success" in the context of America's invasion and occupation of Iraq to be insulting and depraved.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 8, 2008 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities." -- Winston Churchill

Posted by: jhh on January 8, 2008 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't a 30 to 50 percent chance of success the same as a 50 to 70 percent chance of failure? Is that the best odds we can get for nearly a trillion dollars.

Posted by: sparky on January 8, 2008 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

elmo,
this emphasis [reconciliation] is not only common sense, but also (as it always been) official Bush administration policy.

"I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. . .A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." --Bush, Jan 10, 2007

Posted by: Don Bacon on January 9, 2008 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

..if "the gains in security can be translated into gains in stability."


what about action....

how's that going?

U.S. Scales Back Political Goals for Iraqi Unity - NYT 11/25/07

Iraq's bid to pass bills dead for year - L.A. Times 12/6/07

oh right...

Posted by: mr. irony on January 9, 2008 at 4:45 AM | PERMALINK

The whole brief is highly recommended. Kimmitt is a reitred General who spent many years in uniform in Iraq. Sobering report. Two tidbits of note I saw...

1. Their initial estimate of success back before the surge was 1 in 5.

2. Biddle says if we leave there will be civil war. If we don't there may or may not be civil war. The next President is going to have to accept starting up a Rwanda if he pulls all the troops out, or argue it was inevitable in the first place.

3. Kimmitt gives a list of 10 key things to track over this next year as indicators of success or failure.

Posted by: SJRSM on January 9, 2008 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

The measure of success needs to be economical.

By severa lestimates, the Iraq war may cost 2/3 of the US'sentire WW II!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 9, 2008 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

"I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. . .A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." --Bush, Jan 10, 2007

"Now look here, Nouri, if that bag of garbage is still there after the spring session, I'll ground you. I swear I will."

"Nouri, aren't you listening? If that bag of garbage isn't in the trash can before summer break, I'll ground you AND I'll dock your allowance. I mean it."

"Look at me when I'm talking to you, Nouri! If that bag of garbage is still stinking up the kitchen when Ramadan starts, I'll ground you AND I'll dock your allowance AND I'll take away your X Box. I'm serious here."

"Why do you make me always have to play the bad guy, Nouri? That garbage is really piling up. Do you want the health inspectors to condemn the house? If you don't put that bag of garbage in the trash can by the end of the year, I really will ground you, and dock your allowance and take away your X Box. And wipe that smirk off your face."

"OK, Nouri, here's another installment of your allowance. But I really mean it this time. You have to take care of that garbage by spring. If you don't, I'll take away your car keys for a month!"

Posted by: cowalker on January 9, 2008 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Biddle says if we leave there will be civil war. If we don't there may or may not be civil war.

What does he mean "may or may not"? There's no "may" about it -- the civil war has already been going on for several years now. It isn't the fact that me will leave that may start it -- it's the fact that we invaded that already has started it.

Posted by: Stefan on January 9, 2008 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Scholars agree Iraq meets definition of 'civil war': It is put among the worst in 60 years

By Edward Wong / The New York Times
Published: November 26, 2006

BAGHDAD:...Though the Bush administration continues to insist that it is not, a growing number of U.S. and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq in every way meets the standard definition of civil war.

The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed, with at least 100 from each side.

American professors who specialize in the study of civil wars say that most of them agree that the conflict in Iraq is a civil war.

"I think that at this time, and for some time now, the level of violence in Iraq meets the definition of civil war that any reasonable person would have," said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford who in September testified to Congress on the Iraq war.

While the term is broad enough to include many kinds of conflicts, one of the sides in a civil war is almost always the sovereign government. Therefore, some scholars say the civil war in Iraq began when the Americans transferred sovereignty to an appointed Iraqi government in June 2004....Others say the civil war began this year, after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra set off a chain of revenge killings that left hundreds dead over five days and has yet to end. Allawi proclaimed a month after that bombing that Iraq was mired in a civil war. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is," Allawi said.

Many insurgencies, and ethnic or sectarian wars, are also civil wars. Vietnam and Lebanon are examples.

....many scholars say the bloodshed in Iraq already puts the country in the top ranks of nations stricken by civil wars in the last half- century. Fearon and a colleague at Stanford, David Laitin, say the deaths per year in Iraq, with at least 50,000 reportedly killed since March 2003, place this conflict among the worst 20 civil wars of the past 60 years, on par with wars in Burundi and Bosnia.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/11/26/news/civil.php

Posted by: Stefan on January 9, 2008 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote that "War supporters frequently act as though an emphasis on political reconciliation is mere caviling from liberals who don't want to admit that the surge has been a success."

Two thoughts on this. First, it is certainly the case that many war critics use the lack of political reconciliation to dismiss claims of success regarding the surge. So while I think Kevin is right to note that people who believe the surge has worked should not dismiss the observations of folks who put an emphasis on reconciliation, I think the opposite is true as well. People who are focused on reconciliation should not dismiss claims of success regarding the surge as boosterism from conservatives who don't want to admit that reconciliation is important.

Second, I know for myself I feel a great deal of frustration when war critics insist that the metrics developed a year ago are the only measure we should use to evaluate progress. Our focus should be on reconciliation and progress, whether or not it happens to fall in line with those specific metrics. For example, if Iraq manages to find a way to ensure the equitable distribution of oil revenues to the satisfaction of most Iraqis without passing an actual hydrocarbon law, we should see that as real progress even if the original metric (the oil law) remains unmet. It is absolutely true that the surge will ultimately be a success only if "the gains in security can be translated into gains in stability." But I think it is important to remember there are many ways in which that translation can occur - more in any event than the 18 metrics from January 2007.

Posted by: Hacksaw on January 9, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Second, I know for myself I feel a great deal of frustration when war critics insist that the metrics developed a year ago are the only measure we should use to evaluate progress.

Is that really what war critics are saying? Those were the only metrics proposed by Bush. HE didn't propose any security metrics, since it is obvious to all that security can't be maintained in the absence of political stability.

If the Iraqis managed to ensure the equitable distribution of oil revenues to the satisfaction of most Iraqis without having to go through a civil war first, I don't think any war critic would quibble because a hydrocarbon law hadn't been passed. But it would certainly be an amazing feat to accomplish this in amity and without legislation.

Do you see any signs that any of the goals that were supposed to be achieved through actions measured by the 18 metrics will be achieved through equally peaceable means? Because none of us war critics will be satisfied that the war was worth it if the Shiites slaughter all the Sunnis and agree happily that all the oil belongs to them.

Posted by: cowalker on January 9, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Hacksaw,

Success will be what I say it is dammit.

And I will say it is a success!

Posted by: Tripp on January 9, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

For example, if Iraq manages to find a way to ensure the equitable distribution of oil revenues to the satisfaction of most Iraqis without passing an actual hydrocarbon law, we should see that as real progress even if the original metric (the oil law) remains unmet.

Similarly, if pigs manage to find a way to fly, we should see that as real progress even if the laws of biology and physics have not been repealed. And the same is true for many other wholly imaginary events that will never ever happen.

Posted by: Stefan on January 9, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

cowalker,

"Do you see any signs that any of the goals that were supposed to be achieved through actions measured by the 18 metrics will be achieved through equally peaceable means?"

I think this came up most strongly last September following when DOD and GAO reported different progress against the 18 metrics. At issue was whether the measure should be achieving the metric or if it should be progress towards achieving the metric.

For example, although Iraq has not passed the hydrocarbon law, the central government has improved the sharing of oil revenues with Sunni provinces (one of the key sticking points). Similarly, while the deBaathification law has not passed, former Baathists are being allowed to reenter the government. Should we ignore these things completely and conclude no progress has been made because the specific legislation has not been passed? These were among the points, incidentally, that Petraeus and Crocker raised in their briefings to Congress.

So to answer your question, yes I think there are signs that some of the "goals that were supposed to be achieved through actions measured by the 18 metrics" may be achieved peacefully, even if they aren't achieved through the legislation called for in the metrics. I certainly don't want to oversell those signs nor do I want to understate the importance of reconciliation at a national level, but the signs of progress are there nevertheless.

Posted by: Hacksaw on January 9, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

The "success" of the surge? GIGO and specious attributions of "causality":

Those Who Talk Democracy Should Listen to Iraq's People
The surge has only bought time for the US in Iraq. There will be no reconciliation without complete withdrawal
by Seumas Milne [The Guardian/UK]

... The fact is that 2007 was the deadliest year for US troops, with 901 killed; and the second bloodiest for Iraq as a whole, with at least 22,586 civilian deaths. The level of resistance attacks on US forces is still running at 2,000 a month, and the level of violence is back to roughly where it was in 2004-05 - seen as disastrous at the time. The reasons for that drop are mostly not disputed. The first is the creation of "awakening councils", in effect US-backed Sunni militias, to police areas that have been at the heart of the resistance campaign.

Then there is the six-month ceasefire called by Moqtada al-Sadr's anti-occupation Mahdi army, the most powerful Shia militia in the country. And lastly, there has been the impact of the surge in US troop numbers and the change of tactics orchestrated by its architect, General Petraeus, including the carving up of cities such as Baghdad into ethnically cleansed security zones behind Israeli-style walls, barriers and checkpoints. Iraqis also report that US troops have sharply reduced their patrols and operations in the last couple of months in Baghdad and elsewhere, with fewer clashes as a result.

But already, the upsurge in bombings, assassinations and attacks on US forces in the last couple of weeks - including the first killing of American troops by an Iraqi soldier - should be a warning to those now talking up the success of the surge. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 9, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

What's really been going on in Iraq, from a legitimate journalist who's there (and has been for some time):

The Myth Of Sectarianism
The policy is divide to rule
By DAHR JAMAIL [ISR]
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 9, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Dahr Jamail!!!

You've got to be kidding me.

Thanks for the chuckle though.

Posted by: Hacksaw on January 9, 2008 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK
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