April 02, 2006

And What Was It Before?

The NY Times released an anonymous editorial Sunday titled, "The Endgame in Iraq." To read it is to understand why the Times is failing both financially and intellectually.

Iraq is becoming a country that America should be ashamed to support, let alone occupy.

And what was it before? A brutal dictatorship that ran rape rooms and torture centers, a thugocracy that twice invaded its neighbors and used chemical weapons against civilian and soldier alike.

The nation as a whole is sliding closer to open civil war. In its capital, thugs kidnap and torture innocent civilians with impunity, then murder them for their religious beliefs.

And what was it before? A country where the government itself kidnapped and murdered not dozens, but hundreds or thousands at a time. Does the Times simply prefer state-sanctioned mass murders to ad hoc slaughter?

The rights of women are evaporating.

And what were they before? Rape rooms, RAPE ROOMS were run by the government itself.

The head of the government is the ally of a radical anti-American cleric who leads a powerful private militia that is behind much of the sectarian terror.

And what was it before? The head of government ran what was once the fourth largest army in the world, not 10,000 ragtag thugs, and Saddam's "state security" murdered more civilians in "peacetime" that Iraq lost during the war and occupation combined.

The Bush administration will not acknowledge the desperate situation. But it is, at least, pushing in the right direction, trying to mobilize all possible leverage in a frantic effort to persuade the leading Shiite parties to embrace more inclusive policies and support a broad-based national government.

One vital goal is to persuade the Shiites to abort their disastrous nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Mr. Jaafari is unable to form a broadly inclusive government and has made no serious effort to rein in police death squads. Even some Shiite leaders are now calling on him to step aside. If his nomination stands and is confirmed by Parliament, civil war will become much harder to head off. And from the American perspective, the Iraqi government will have become something that no parent should be asked to risk a soldier son or daughter to protect.

And what was it before? When at any time, was this war not a "desperate situation" for those reporting for the New York Times? Since before this war began, the Times has consistently prescribed clouds of doom for every lining of silver. The very fact that even Shiites are calling for al-Jaafari to step down is a measure many did not expect. Iraqis want peace, having seen enough death and destruction in the hands of the dictator the Times presumably would prefer to remain in power. It is hardly surprising that the Times would feel that no soldier should risk his life to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. They didn't support this from the beginning and helped create this situation by giving the insurgency hope, so why should they change their approach now?

Unfortunately, after three years of policy blunders in Iraq, Washington may no longer have the political or military capital to prevail. That may be hard for Americans to understand, since it was the United States invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and helped the Shiite majority to power. Some 140,000 American troops remain in Iraq, more than 2,000 American servicemen and servicewomen have died there so far and hundreds of billions of American dollars have been spent.

Yet Shiite leaders have responded to Washington's pleas for inclusiveness with bristling hostility, personally vilifying Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and criticizing American military operations in the kind of harsh language previously heard only from Sunni leaders. Meanwhile, Moktada al-Sadr, the radically anti-American cleric and militia leader, has maneuvered himself into the position of kingmaker by providing decisive support for Mr. Jaafari's candidacy to remain prime minister.

A faction, one faction of Shiites lashed out after an elite Sunni-Shiite anti-terrorist unit took on the Madhi Army militia and destroyed one of its bases, and freed a kidnapped hostage without sustaining a single casualty. The Iraqi Army has quietly relegated al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency to near irrelevance.

Do you doubt this?

When is the last time you heard the name Zarqawi? When was the last major success of the insurgency against the Iraqi Army, much less the U.S. or British militaries?

al Qaeda and the remaining Sunni insurgency can still take lives and they may be able to do so far years, but they cannot win. With this threats behind them the Iraqi Army now turns to clearing out a just one corrupt Shiite faction and its Madhi Army milita allied with Iran. al-Sadr is no kingmaker. He has no great constituency outside of his slums, only poor political skills, and an alliance with Iran that has made him a legitimate military target. No one can play kingmaker from beyond the grave.

It was chilling to read Edward Wong's interview with the Iraqi prime minister in The Times last week, during which Mr. Jaafari sat in the palace where he now makes his home, complained about the Americans and predicted that the sectarian militias that are currently terrorizing Iraqi civilians could be incorporated into the army and police. The stories about innocent homeowners and storekeepers who are dragged from their screaming families and killed by those same militias are heartbreaking, as is the thought that the United States, in its hubris, helped bring all this to pass.

And what was it before? Under Saddam, Iraqis knew who it was who was dragging innocent people away in the middle of the night. Today, they at least stand a fighting chance.

As it now stands, the Army is increasingly able to handle its own areas of responsibility; predominately Shiite Army units successfully defended Sunni sections of Baghdad during "sectarian" fighting. This fact is something the Times prefers not to cover as it undermines their three-years-and-counting "all it lost" narrative, but this truth that is establishing trust all the same. With the Iraqi Army on legs that grow steadier day by day, the U.S and Iraqi Army forces like the ones that cleaned out the Madhi Army militia nest last week can now focus on weeding out militiamen. Things are bloody and fluid in Iraq, but perhaps not as dire as the Times predicts over and over again.

It is conceivable that the situation can still be turned around. Mr. Khalilzad should not back off. The kind of broadly inclusive government he is trying to bring about offers the only hope that Iraq can make a successful transition from the terrible mess it is in now to the democracy that we all hoped would emerge after Saddam Hussein's downfall. It is also the only way to redeem the blood that has been shed by Americans and Iraqis alike.

Conceivable? Most certainly. al Qaeda can take lives, but it is far past the point that it can win. The Sunni insurgency is quietly melting away as Iraqis take the lead in "clear, hold and build" operations, and Sunnis see that the government is operating in their best interests.

The biggest threat to Iraq's future at the moment is a lightly armed Madhi Army militia that is held together by a cult of personality surrounding Moktada al-Sadr and Iranian special forces soldiers.

The situation in Iraq is far from ideal, but individuals now have a say in their own future, which is something they have not had in decades. Iraq isn't what we want it to be now, but it is better than it was before, under Saddam. The Times, of course, decided their approach to this war before it began, and no Coalition success was too large to overlook, and no Coalition setback was too small to ignore. Don't expect their coverage to change. The Times coverage in Iraq is brutal, one-sided, and superficial.

But then, that's what it was before.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 2, 2006 11:38 PM | TrackBack

Great post!

Posted by: Jim Hoft at April 3, 2006 08:02 AM

Media Bias??? What media bias???

Posted by: Ticketplease at April 3, 2006 08:31 AM

We could have handled the Iraq situation in a smarter way. We knew we could take out Sadam with our military strength in conventional warfare but don't seem to understand the Iraqi society and its history of internal religious and ethinic hostility. When the all powerful dictator was in charge he kept the lid on with ruthless efficiency and by playing the ethnic groups against each other. We don't have the stomach for Nazi type methods of controling a restive population like the Turks and Sadam used to.

Our only hope is to set up a puppet government and supply them with military back up and tons of
money ( a lot of which will end up in Switz bank
accounts). When the situation cools down a little
we can declare victory and bring the troops home
just like Viet Nam. Then the the real bloodletting
will start. Such a situation occured in India as
the British finally decided they couldn't hang on to the jewel of their empire. The walked out and left the waring religious factions to fight it out
and divide the country along ethnic lines.

We have already lost too many lives and too much money trying to maintain a hold over a people who don't want us there. Let the Iraqis settle it
among themselves. We can send guns and money to the faction we favor and buy oil from the winners.
Where is Lawrence of Arabia when we realy need him?

Posted by: John Sage at April 3, 2006 11:36 AM

Your arguments are empty. How do smart and motivated folks like yourself support the constant and repeated missteps of this President? You justify this pre-emptive war by saying that things were bad under Saddam also? that's it? How do you reconcile that logic with other human atrocities in the world? Where is the line drawn? Of course that is a very difficult question - i wonder if you have such a strong and confident answer? Darfur? Iraq? N. Korea? Do you really think we have the ability to address these problems without the help of the rest of the civilized world? You sound like a person who says "Screw wworld opinion" (maybe not. Also, killing Al-Sadr? that is plain dumb. Of course we'd prefer him dead but the consequences are worse. And yes he is clearly a kingmaker - HE chose Jaafari.
This was was BS from the start. We were lied to about WMD (at the very least we were led by the nose by the Neocons and selective intelligence was their currency) Even Powell is embarrassed by his own claims to Congress and UN. The notion we went in to spread democracy is simply a bunch of crap sold after the fact. The mistakes and lies are numerous without shred of regret. Multiple Generals, Zinni and Shinsecki and others call the endeavour inept and criminal. Why do folks like you refuse to believe we made a mistake and we simply must put our best foot forward and clean up the mess. You can love this country and hate this foolish and inept administration. It's plain crazy for you guys to attack the "media" and NYTimes when the big picture is clear - Bush messed uo and his underlings gave him horrible advice. Do you think we are succeeding in Iraq? If yes you are utterly delusional - NO ONE thinks we are succeeding. Respectfully yours, another patriotic American.

Posted by: Thomas Ram at April 3, 2006 11:39 AM

First of all, let me get this straight. You are blaming the people who did not want to go to war in Iraq for the problems there. Maybe you should blame the people who did want to go to war in Iraq for the situation. I don't think that statement needs any argument to back it up, it seems pretty straight forward to me. Second, I have heard so much about these rape rooms, but I want to know when and how often women were raped in Iraq before the war compared to after. Do you know? Article after article reads how college women could walk streets of Baghdad unafraid before the war, but now require escorts. A lack of functioning government created a situation where rapes and killings can me committed by anyone and go unpunished because the Iraqi forces are trying to prevent a civil war. Similairly, Christians were not also unafraid to walk the streets, but now that sectarion warfare has broken out, they too are scared. Also I don't see how counting on Iraqis to fight the war is progress. The TImes didn't elude to that, they called the fighting the problem, not just the fighting the troops are involved in. Just because we train Iraqis to fight other Iraqis isn't progress. Peace is winning the war, not a troop pullout as the country continues to fight each other. This is real people with real lives we interrupted, not a cage match we want to watch.

Posted by: What?! at April 3, 2006 11:51 AM

Regarding "And What Was It Before?" post, yes, we did a really good job with this invasion thing and of course, we are completely justified in putting these people through whatever hell we decide to because, hey, we're Americans and we're always right, right?


Posted by: Dave at April 3, 2006 11:57 AM


Posted by: Amber at April 3, 2006 12:43 PM

Three years ago, Bush supporters attacked the 'liberal' media for questioning the doctrine of pre-emptive war. Fine. Now that the situation in Iraq has become far worse than even the most pessimistic war critic had predicted, the burden of proof now falls on you, conservative blogger. YOU must prove that the situation in Iraq is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein using YOUR reliable, un-biased sources. Simply writing RAPE ROOM in capital letters ain't gonna git 'er done. If the NYTimes is biased, then show us the light. Where's the real story about Iraq? 40,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion. At which time did they choose to make that sacrifice? All the money we set aside to rebuild Iraq is gone because . . . you finish that sentence.

Posted by: William Payne at April 3, 2006 12:49 PM

You want numbers, William? Try these:

Ronald Hilton estimates that, over the 24 years of Saddam Hussein's rule, about 600,000 people were killed by the Iraqi government. Now, maybe I ain't all that good at cipherin', but by my math, if you assume that Saddam Hussein was in power for 24 years (8,646 days, including leap years), and 600,000 people were executed during that time, you come up with an average of 69.4 people a day executed by Saddam Hussein's regime. That doesn't, by the way, include the 1,000,000 or so Iraqis who died during Mr. Hussein's wars of aggression agsint Iraq or Kuwait. That's just executions.

So, Mr. Steele's argument, essentially, is that Iraqis were better off when they had a tranquil public life with 70 people being bumped off by their own government every day, than they are now with 13 people dying in sectarian violence each day. Nevermind that, at the current rate, it will take 126 years for the daily death toll in Iraq to equal the death toll under Saddam Hussein. It just feels really unsafe.

And, frankly, Iraq is really unsafe. But it'as a fundamentally different kind of threat that existed under Saddam. Now the threat is overt violence; easily seen, and easily identified. Under Saddam Hussein, the threat was far more subtle. Your neighbors merely disappeared in the middle of the night, with hardly a ripple to mark their passing.

Saddam was responsbile for executing 600,000 Iraqi civilians (we're not even counting the estimated million dead from wars he started) versus the 40,000 that have died since we invaded (including insurgents, which become "innocent" civilians when someone else picks up their RPG or AK before they hit the morgue).

At a bare minimum, Bush's war is five times safer for Iraqi civilians that Clinton's peace with Saddam in power.

Those are your numbers.

Enjoy your denial.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 3, 2006 01:09 PM

2300 American and untold numbers of Iraqi lives to trade Saddam for THIS??

We began breaking Iraq fifteen years ago with sanctions, and Bush finished the job. We've broken apart a nation, and as Colin Powell warned, now we own it.

Does the "confederate yankee" wax nostalgic for our own civil war, such that we should visit that on other nations in the name of American hegemony?

Posted by: Doug Thompson at April 4, 2006 02:33 AM

Personally, I am tired of the bleeding hearts in this country crying about all the dead Iraqi civilians. Is it sad that some civilians are dying? Yes, of course it is. Is Iraq pretty unstable? Yes, it is as of now. However, said bleeding hearts often conviniently forget the brutal Regime Saddam headed. The unfortunate thing is that while I can listen to the arguments that these bleeding hearts make and agree that what is going on is a travesty, the bleeding hearts cannot bring themselves to at least admit that the fact Saddam is no longer in power is a very very good thing.

I wonder if any of them have talked to anyone in Iraq lately. I happened to have had a friend in Iraq before the war and after the war "ended" I asked him if he is happy Saddam is gone. He said he is very happy, and so are many Iraqis in Baghdad (his home). I asked him if he hated America. He said while he is not thrilled with the occupation, he is happy that we ridded their country of Saddam. But I suppose that we should completely neglect the testimony of someone who actually lives there right? I mean, his opinion can't mean anything.

Posted by: Brian at April 4, 2006 06:28 AM


Just because they are happy Saddam is not in poer does make them better off. Hell I would be happy if Bush wasn't in power but I wouldn't want to live through a war to see tha happen.

Posted by: judith at April 4, 2006 07:57 AM

I have a couple simple questions. If you gave every one whom wanted a automatic weapon one and a full magazine here in our country, who do you think would have those weapons? What do you think would happen in our very own society? Who would or could control our criminals and our fanatics? The Bush administration was well aware of the situation it created is any one willing to debate that fact?

Posted by: a soldiers wife at April 4, 2006 08:07 AM

Confederate Yankee: You're putting a spin on the NYTimes story that's not supported by the actual text of the editorial. Nowhere in the text does it say that Iraq is worse off now than before the U.S. invasion. By asking repeatedly "what was it before" you make it seem like the NYTimes is arguing that the situation in Iraq is somehow worse now than before.

But that's not the intent of the editorial. The point is rather that the U.S. administration was and continues to offer a woefully inadequate plan for the stabilization of Iraq. Starting with the poor post-war planning done before the actual invasion started, and continuing through today, the administration seems to be bewildered by Iraqi society and how to stabilize it.

It's pointless to argue whether 600,000 secret deaths are better or worse than 40,000 open and violent deaths -- you can't really compare human lives as if they're apples or bananas. But we CAN argue with the administration that its post-invasion planning continues to be befuddled and dangerously confused.

Posted by: bobbem at April 4, 2006 09:45 AM

Its rather amusing to me how people, especially Condfederate Yankee continually refer to how brutal Saddam was. Maybe he should pick up a history book and read how we supported Saddam in the 80's with weapons and $$$$ to fight Iran. Where was the outcry about the rape rooms then? When he gassed the Kurds in '88 what was America's response?

The fact of the matter is, the United States will turn a blind eye to just about anything as long as it suits our interests. So spare me the the Saddam was a bad guy and we had to take him out B.S.

Posted by: Bryan at April 4, 2006 10:35 AM

May I cry foul in regards to Mr. Yankees' earlier display of 'statistics' about Saddam's rule? Fist, the link he included as a source leads only to another blog, nothing substantive. Secondly, attempting to assess the safety of civilians in Iraq in 2003 by dividing the number of deaths in previous conflicts with the number of days the guy was in power is absurd. There is no evidence that 69.5 people a day were dying in Iraq. That number is the product of some long division done with two numbers that have nothing to do with civilian safety in Iraq in 2003. In addition, it's my understanding that the 500,000 wrongful deaths that occured in Iraq between the 1990s and the present were a result of severe economic deprivation brought on by the embargo of Iraq which contributed heavily to the current instability of the country.

No one is arguing that Saddam was a good leader. He was a tyrant, whose actions were a byproduct of poor British and U.S. foreign policy in the 60s and 70s. However, there are roughly 300 dictators operating in today's world, the majority of whom either instigate or at least condone huge injustices. In the past, the U.S. has actively supported these dictators just as we supported Saddam. (In the 1970s, the NYTimes praised General Suharto in Cambodia shortly before he fought 'communism' by fire-bombing 500,000 peasants.)

Now, the U.S. is unilaterally, without the support of the world, blaming some dictators for terrorism while continue to support other dictators. I wish I had a clear suggestion for how to end evil dictatorships, but I know that toppling a country's regime, smashing its infrastructure and arming the desperate religious sects is not the answer.

Posted by: William Payne at April 4, 2006 01:21 PM

Lies, William, you're drownig in lies. You are wrong virtually across the board.

If you bothered to follow the link embedded in the blockquote above, you'd be able to see that the figures above were pulled from Ronald Hilton at the World Association of International Studies at Stanford University. Hilton, in turn, pulled data from a Stephen Cass article, who had compiled statistics from the (Iran-based) Documental Centre for Human Rights in Iraq and Human Rights Watch, hardly charter members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

The 600,000 dead cited did not include the estimated one million killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, nor did it include a single soul killed in the 1991 Gulf War. The 600,000 dead cited above does not include the half million you say died of starvation as a result of sanctions.

The 600,000 human beings cited above were those coldly executed—murdered—by Saddam Hussein’s regime, just as I stated.

Saddam Hussein is not a byproduct of the 1960s-70s, but an unnatural partition of the Ottoman Empire and the humiliation Iraq—including Saddam’s uncle Khairullah Tulfah,a pro-Nazi nationalist—faced by being bested by Britain in World War Two was a main influence on Saddam's life well before the United States entered his life in any way.

You argument is that since we can’t depose 300 hundred dictators at once, that we should allow all of them to operate with impunity. You are an apologist for murderers, sir, and in my opinion, a vile human being.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 4, 2006 02:16 PM

I am drowning in lies, though not my own. The problem with blogging is people like you . . . you are operating on one bogus statistic: you claim Saddam tortured and killed 600,000 people independent of any known conflict. You have one source: The Documental Centre for Human Rights in Iraq. (????) The fact that two hawkish individuals quoted this source, one from the other, does not lend it any validity. The Doc. Center for Human Rights in Iraq ( currently distributes no information to the U.S. public, is based somewhere in Middle East and has a useless Web site. I'll stick with the Times. Hell, I'll stick with the Heritage Foundation. The 600,000 figure is not supported by any news article or any other human rights groups. Your case against the NYTimes and me is based on one, obscure and probably invented statistic.

Here are real facts. In 1996 on 60 Minutes, when Madeliene Albright was presented with the fact that 500,000 children under the age of 5 had died as a result of the U.S. led United Nations embargo on Iraq starting in 1991, she said she thought it was worth it. A Columbia professor did a study a year later on child mortality in Iraq revealing that only 350,000 children had died and the number of adults was well below one million. Phew! I guess it was worth it.

Your point that Iraq is an unnatural partition of the Ottoman Empire is well taken. The British and the U.S. agreed to leave Saddam in charge of Iraq in the 1970s after years of lousy Western occupation because he was westernized and malleable. But Iraq was a fictional country, an "unnatural" blend of opposing religions. Despite the fact that Saddam's reign turned sour early on, we armed and funded him heavily. After he invaded Kuwait, we wrecked his country with the worst embargo in history, crushing the economy, and then acted surprised when he became increasingly totalitarian in his behavior.

I have never suggested that dictators be allowed to exist with impunity. I simply believe that totalitarian violence cannot be remedied with more totalitarian violence, and my belief is strongly supported by the fact that our aggression in Iraq has opened a Pandora's Box of sectarian disarray and cruelty, which far surpasses the state affairs in Saddam's poverty stricken Iraq in 2003.

Posted by: William Payne at April 4, 2006 10:30 PM