Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

VISITING BAGHDAD....Nancy Youssef was McClatchy's Baghdad bureau chief during the height of the violence in 2005 and 2006, back "when we didn't bat an eye at 70 bodies in the street, when a good week meant that none of our friends or sources had been killed." Now, after a stint in DC as Pentagon correspondent, she's back in Baghdad. Over at Nukes & Spooks, she describes what the city looks like today:

We went to neighborhoods I never thought I would see again, let alone at night. Street lights illuminated the shopping districts and bustling customers. People were hanging out of their cars to celebrate weddings. Couples were enjoying dinner, sitting next to windows, without the fear of a car bomb. It was so ordinary and yet almost magical.

Now, I don't want to overstate where things are. Most of the city is silent and dark again by 9 p.m. and throughout there were blast walls and barriers to keep people from parking. And no one is sure how long this will last. But for the first time in years, Baghdad felt almost like a normal city to me.

Regardless of what you think is responsible for this turnaround, this is what Barack Obama will see when he visits Iraq later in his world tour. As a result, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to take the next step: drawing down the American troop presence in order to placate public opinion and allow political reconciliation to move forward too. "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months," he told Spiegel. "That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes." It sounds like Obama's visit with Maliki (if he has one) should be a fruitful one.

Kevin Drum 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Comments

If she's calling it like she sees it, things bode well for Obama's visit. Maliki is receptive to Obama's plan. Obama will look like the president elect, working out the fine points. We broke it. Although we haven't fixed it, at least we'll have a president who's willing to get the hell out and let them try their hand at erasing our bootprint.

Posted by: Everyman on July 19, 2008 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

It sounds like Obama's visit with Maliki (if he has one) should be a fruitful one.

It sounds like Obama is already the president.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on July 19, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

The thing that constantly amazes me is that we invaded a country, murdered thousands of civilians, devastated the quality of life, deployed mercenaries AKA Blackwater who plunder and murder at will, and then pat ourselves on the back because, seven years later, the lights are on in a couple neighborhoods in the capitol.

Bravo.

Posted by: Let Them Eat Cake on July 19, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Not seven years; five years.

What's two years in an empire? I guess I put my neck out there on that one.

Posted by: Marie Antoinette on July 19, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

excellent.

glad that's over.


Iran, Bitches!

Posted by: cleek on July 19, 2008 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

The pundits were talking about a strange triangle last night. It seems that Bush is now beginning to talk drawdown (no doubt forced upon him by internal Iraqi politics), and taking steps that could be the beginning (of the beginning) of normalization with Iran. This is now Bush endorsing Obama's policies over McCain's. Perhaps this is also Bush seeing what is going to happen once he's gone, and trying to create some legacy by putting his name onto the inevitable changes.

Posted by: bigTom on July 19, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if there's any correlation between these safe neighborhoods and those reports of ethnic cleansing from awhile back?

Posted by: Wilm on July 19, 2008 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

MHR: What were we doing there in the first place? People seem to forget that fine point while measuring our inches of "progress".

Have a nice day. Would that you could spend a few of them in Iraq as an Iraqi. Perhaps your rose petals on the altar of Bushism would be somewhat withered.

Posted by: Everyman on July 19, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Oh gosh, well I guess all the refuges can move back now. Are the kids back in school? No sewage in streets. I wonder if Nancy Youssef got some camera footage of the magical Baghdad so we can see too? It's not like I don't trust the news any more, but well, I don't. Should any of us?

And all this AFTER the surge officially ended and we are already drawing down now. We can stand down as Iran stands up, and thats fine by me.

Posted by: Me_again on July 19, 2008 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know. Something about it sounds not Christiany enough yet.

Why aren't the Iraqis parading in the streets carrying full-size crosses, and screaming about the blood of the Lamb while wearing faux-blood stigmata?

Sounds like we failed.

Posted by: Swan on July 19, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Fallujah is in lockdown mode FYI.

Posted by: apeman on July 19, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

It sounds like for the second time in a week Al Maliki is not so subtly endorsing Obama.

Posted by: markg8 on July 19, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Half the fun of Der Spiegel is saying its name in an exaggerated German accent, kind of like Gollum from LOTR: "Der Shpeeegel."

Posted by: Swan on July 19, 2008 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

So it seems that the short term military goal of the surge (which I thought was a bad idea) worked. The Mac crowd will crow about this. How should Obama respond? Discuss.

Posted by: keith g on July 19, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin!!! God will not favor this nation until the Iraqis stream out into the streets on the Sabbath, to glorify the Blood of the Lamb!
Bush!!!

It must be so!

Posted by: RAVING CONSERVATIVE FANATIC on July 19, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

I'd also like to add that (1) Cheney doesn't have all the oil in his personal piggy bank yet and (2) Iran is still unconquered and (3) the rest of the world is still unconquered.

Sounds like we have failed! The would-be world-dominating American legions have been humbled!

Posted by: Swan on July 19, 2008 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

mhr-

If the kind people in charge of our empire had gotten the war policy correct from the beginning, [many more soldiers, quite a bit less corruption, I could go on...], then indeed, we would all be singing the praises of Herr Bush.

But now that things are going oh so well for our brown skinned brothers in Iraq, the ones that haven't been um, you know, collaterally damaged or forced to relocate to a country nearby, the leadership of Iraq has decided that it is indeed time for U.S. to go.

I am happy for that decision. Are you? Or maybe you think we should stick around for a hundred years more? I for one can't wait for my Iraqi oil rebate check. The one that is going to pay for this mess.

Posted by: on July 19, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Nouri al-Maliki hasn't been in Iraq lately, and doesn't know the facts on the ground.
.

Posted by: John McCain on July 19, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

So to all you sufferers from Bush Derangement Syndrome, have a nice day.

Shut up, minority.
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on July 19, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

BTW it looks like the Washington Post hired a oilman to do their oil interest editorials of late, whereby the environment is a pesky inconvenience for the oil industry and we can't leave Iraq because ExxonMobil and BP are dominating world powers instead of we the people.

More reasons why you should passionately distrust the US press and media liars of today. We can't impeach Bush because we have to embace all the criminal acts Bush did. It's really pretty awful.

Posted by: Me_again on July 19, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

There is really no one left to kill in Baghdad, is there?

Having been a party to genocide, I think it is a little presumptuous for Americans, of either political stripe, to call what has happened in Iraq over the past five years a "success". It is a humanitarian catastrophe - and we caused it!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 19, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

It sounds like Obama is already the president.

works for me. Seems like Bush is accepting this as well, and slowly adopting various parts of Obama's foreign policy. McCain's trying to jump on the bandwagon too(re Afghanistan).

Posted by: haha on July 19, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

As a result, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to take the next step:

In other words, we will not decide when, how, or under what circumstances we leave Iraq.

Rather, the Iraqis will decide it for us.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on July 19, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

It sounds like Obama's visit with Maliki (if he is allowed to have one) should be a fruitful one.

FTFY.

Posted by: Mary Contrary on July 19, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if there's any correlation between these safe neighborhoods and those reports of ethnic cleansing from awhile back?

And looking ahead, what's going to happen when those people want to move back home? It won't be a housing bubble, that's for sure.

Posted by: tomeck on July 19, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Nancy Youssef. Sounds like a person who can "pass."

Isn't the Iraqi government still confined to sanctuary in the Green Zone? Why would he want US troops to leave? To undergo beheading?

Not credible. Sounds like an insincere pander bear to me.

Posted by: Luther on July 19, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

"But for the first time in years, Baghdad felt almost like a normal city to me."

I don't know where people got this idea that a wartime city normally resembles Death Row, and everyone hides in the basement, not eating, not screwing, not dancing, and waits their turn to die. Hell, even when the Blitz was thundering towards Paris, things weren't that bad.

"Some of the people are still alive and behaving like human beings!" is not a very good metric for a successful occupation. I recommend everyone watch "Persepolis"; it's a great firsthand account of life in Tehran during the Iraq-Iran war.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on July 19, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You may wish to look back and examine your coverage and other progressive bloggers coverage of the surge.

I suggested way back then, that there was a good chance it would work, and I didn't understand how so many people with such little actual knowledge of the area could be so certain it would fail.

It may not have made much if any political progress, but having a much more normal Baghdad is a real advance, if only for the Iraqi citizen.

I haven't seen any polling, but I am curious what Joe Random American thinks of the success or failure of the surge and what they might attribute as a result of that to the various parties and candidates.

I think it was a real mistake that so many bloggers categorically said it would fail and almost seemed to root for failure or just pooh poohed it as a gift from Sadr or as an artifact of the millions of dollars Petraeus handed out on the ground. All of that was true, and yet, wrong.

Reducing the violence even without the political progress was a terrific thing.

This doesn't mean we had to be seen as agreeing to the surge itself. But to be seen as always critiquing it and predicting failure puts a pretty bad face on us, and was a bit averse to reality.

Posted by: jerry on July 19, 2008 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

This is the improvement which Kevin, my-judgement-is-better-than-thine Obama and hordes of the Left worked tirelessly to prevent.

It's funny how you're now all calling it "the surge". What happened to calling it "escalation"?

Posted by: am on July 19, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

It's also funny how the wing nuts forget that many progressive bloggers admitted that extra troops could bring down the violence temporarily (as long as they were around) but that extra troops wouldn't lead to political reconciliation. And it hasn't.

You guys also fail to give credit to other factors outside the surge. For instance, violence often decreases after the ethnic cleansing is completed. In addition, we have 100,000 "awakened" Sunnis (aka former terrorists) on the payroll and at least they're staying quiet as long as the checks keep coming.

Iraq's got 5,000,000 internal and external refugees. Any idea what happens when they try to come back to their homes?

Maybe Jerry and am can go to Bhagdad and work as Welcome Wagon volunteers. I suggest flowers and chocolate for the returnees.

Posted by: tomeck on July 19, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

I just returned from my third trip to Iraq in 18 months. I completely disagree with the premise that violence, as we tend to measure it, is a meaningful index of progress.

(1) We focus almost exclusively on the deaths of US soldiers. These are greatly reduced, thank God, due to better equipment and tactics. Those tactics include an enduring local presence that has been quite important to combating extremists. On the other hand, Iraqi security forces have been taking lots of casualties from suicide attacks or more standard militia operations.

(2) Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed. Even with a substantially enhanced security presence and homogeneous sectarian neighborhoods, there are numerous acts of war, every day. Many target Iraqi security forces; these are softer targets and becoming more important targets as our departure looms.

(3) The situation in Diyala, Mosul, and much of the north is really bad. Al Qaeda (AQI) conducts devastating suicide attacks regularly in this part of the country.

(4) Much of the south is restive. Arms flow freely from Iran, the militias are numerous and well equipped, and the Iraqi security forces are often simply clients of the strongest local militia.

(5) From our point of view, the Iraqi security forces are very unreliable. It is not a matter of whether they will fight; of course they are more reluctant to fight their own citizens. Rather it is a question of whether these forces actually share our goals, or even the goals of their own government. Personally, I doubt it. The Army is closely monitored and has very few reliable units, the police are poorly trained and equipped, tend to form local allegiances and are infiltrated or intimidated. The Sons of Iraq, tribal auxiliaries, have their own agenda and have been known to facilitate attacks on coalition forces. I hope we keep their pay coming, because otherwise they will revert to being insurgents, overnight.

Make no mistake, this conflict is far from over, at least for the Iraqis. Those folks frequenting the parks in Baghdad know it and will return to their homes when, inevitably, violence flares up again.

Posted by: searp on July 19, 2008 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Malaki is endosing Obama? You people are on crack. He's talking to his own voters. It looks like Bush-McCain and company are going to try to declare victory. The intention is, of course, to leave Barry standing there still talking about what a failure the whole thing is despite what the media is showing or force him to backpeddle crazily on what has been about the only issue in his campaign. Either result is a plus for McCain. Not a bad strategy, but I suspect it won't make a hell of a lot of difference come election day.

Posted by: Pat on July 19, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

I read an insightful comment somewhere that Bush and Cheney should have to spend time in an Iraqi morgue, dealing with the multitude of bodies -- as a result of their immoral war for oil.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this, as this administration has defrauded our beautiful country through its lies, imperialistic delusionary thoughts, shameless campaign tactics, reactionary governmental responses, trickery and deception--as the citizens were busy addressing their ever-diminishing personal economies. Good luck, Barack Obama, on your visit.
Senator Obama will never have a naive foreign policy like these destructive neo-con bozos.
He seems to have an intelligent, measured, reality-based orientation,
as opposed to this coldhearted, militaristic administration. The emperor has no clothes, as he has sent too many kids to war. Why are we still in Iraq? Anyone? Anyone?

Posted by: consider wisely always/a different voice on July 19, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

Naive? What's naive about going there for the oil, and staying there for the same geopolitical reasons? Anyone? Anyone?

Posted by: Pat on July 19, 2008 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

Keep on keeping on, Pat, and hope for the best. We already know freedom wasn't the goal of the Bushies. President Obama will have to mop up Georgie's mess.
Wasn't it Madison who said "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." No??? Anyone? Anyone?

Posted by: consider wisely always/a different voice on July 19, 2008 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

How many Iraqis have been murdered in order to get us this far?

The war was, and is a brutal and undeserved assault on the Iraqi people. Those decrying the self-congratulatory bullshit from escalation proponents are on the mark. Fewer dead Iraqis is a good thing, but the violent death rate in Baghdad is still much higher than it was under Saddam Hussein. Were only 14 citizens murdered in Baghdad in a month that would look like a fucking miracle.

Not one of you sanguinary fuckers has done anything to warrant smugness. A jail cell, perhaps for cheering on war crimes, but no smugness.

Posted by: the on July 19, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Pat: Naive? What's naive about going there for the oil, and staying there for the same geopolitical reasons?

Nothing of course, unless you think that the price of "going there" and "staying there" exceeds the marginal cost--that the equation boils down to little more than who is willing to go there and stay there. That is not "naive"--it is ignorance and stupidity of the highest order.

Posted by: has407 on July 19, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

>Most of the city is silent and dark again by 9 p.m.

>Baghdad felt almost like a normal city to me.

Yes, Most human cities are normal by being silent and dark by 9 p.m. Especially L.A. and New York. London, Paris? Everyone is in bed by 8 p.m.

God, reporters are stupid animals.

Hopefully Earth will be blown up for that super highway through space. (Hey. You humans were sent a message. You had your chance to complain...I mean whine.)

Posted by: James on July 20, 2008 at 3:42 AM | PERMALINK

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TACKLE THE REAL ISSUE? It's the status of forces agrement that is the real issue.

Bush wants Iraq for his personal military staging zone with unfettered air rights and permenent bases. And the right to abuse civil liberties and full immunity for any and all military and contractors.

This is disgusting. Blackwater or KBR employees could rob rape and murder at will, and they have.

The issue is Iraqi soveriegnty and our INTENTIONS. A few bases and an embassy just like other countries should be the most we ask. And NO immunity except in miliary operations taken at the request of the Iraqi gov.

So, when we stop talking about 16 months and get to the real issue here.

Posted by: lilybart on July 20, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TACKLE THE REAL ISSUE? It's the status of forces agrement that is the real issue.

Bush wants Iraq for his personal military staging zone with unfettered air rights and permenent bases. And the right to abuse civil liberties and full immunity for any and all military and contractors.

This is disgusting. Blackwater or KBR employees could rob rape and murder at will, and they have.

The issue is Iraqi soveriegnty and our INTENTIONS. A few bases and an embassy just like other countries should be the most we ask. And NO immunity except in miliary operations taken at the request of the Iraqi gov.

So, when we stop talking about 16 months and get to the real issue here.

Posted by: lilybart on July 20, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Not seven years; five years.

No longer than that. Go back to the original Gulf War, then add the years of sanctions before the second invasion. Things got worse for about 16 years before the trend reversed. That's after losing 1/5 of your population to evacuation and an "unknown" many lives. The surge is working in this context. 30,000 extra troops in a country running out of will, reason, personnel, and material to put up a fight (why fight? just wait) has a quieting effect.

Posted by: YY on July 21, 2008 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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