April 13, 2007

Continuing to Cry Defeat

I must thank blog aggregator Memeorandum this morning for providing this link about the latest Charles Krauthammer column, which in turn, led to a Melanie Phillips blog entry highlighting key points of a Fouad Ajami editorial, Iraq in the Balance.

Among the subjects the Ajami essay touches upon are the long history of Sunni and Shia animosity, the failure of salvation for the Sunni insurgency, and the distrust of Iranian-backed Shia militias as Iraq enters what Ajami calls the "final, decisive phase":

There is a growing Shia unease with the Mahdi Army--and with the venality and incompetence of the Sadrists represented in the cabinet--and an increasing faith that the government and its instruments of order are the surer bet. The crackdown on the Mahdi Army that the new American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has launched has the backing of the ruling Shia coalition. Iraqi police and army units have taken to the field against elements of the Mahdi army. In recent days, in the southern city of Diwaniyya, American and Iraqi forces have together battled the forces of Moqtada al-Sadr. To the extent that the Shia now see Iraq as their own country, their tolerance for mayhem and chaos has receded. Sadr may damn the American occupiers, but ordinary Shia men and women know that the liberty that came their way had been a gift of the Americans.

The young men of little education--earnest displaced villagers with the ways of the countryside showing through their features and dialect and shiny suits--who guarded me through Baghdad, spoke of old terrors, and of the joy and dignity of this new order. Children and nephews and younger brothers of men lost to the terror of the Baath, they are done with the old servitude. They behold the Americans keeping the peace of their troubled land with undisguised gratitude. It hasn't been always brilliant, this campaign waged in Iraq. But its mistakes can never smother its honor, and no apology for it is due the Arab autocrats who had averted their gaze from Iraq's long night of terror under the Baath.


One can never reconcile the beneficiaries of illegitimate, abnormal power to the end of their dominion. But this current re-alignment in Iraq carries with it a gift for the possible redemption of modern Islam among the Arabs. Hitherto Sunni Islam had taken its hegemony for granted and extremist strands within it have shown a refusal to accept "the other." Conversely, Shia history has been distorted by weakness and exclusion and by a concomitant abdication of responsibility.
A Shia-led state in Baghdad--with a strong Kurdish presence in it and a big niche for the Sunnis--can go a long way toward changing the region's terrible habits and expectations of authority and command. The Sunnis would still be hegemonic in the Arab councils of power beyond Iraq, but their monopoly would yield to the pluralism and complexity of that region.

"Watch your adjectives" is the admonition given American officers by Gen. Petraeus. In Baghdad, Americans and Iraqis alike know that this big endeavor has entered its final, decisive phase. Iraq has surprised and disappointed us before, but as they and we watch our adjectives there can be discerned the shape of a new country, a rough balance of forces commensurate with the demography of the place and with the outcome of a war that its erstwhile Sunni rulers had launched and lost. We made this history and should now make our peace with it.

Without any shred of a doubt, we are in the final, decisive phase of this war.

The "surge" of American troops into Iraq only half-begun as part of Commanding General David Petraeus' counter-insurgency doctrine will be the final major push of American forces into the Iraq theater. With the success of the surge, the stabilization of Iraq means that American forces should be able to start drawing down in victory. If the surge does not work, the American public will be able to elect a President in 2008 that will bring our troops home in defeat. Either way, the surge represents America's endgame, for better or worse.

Based upon the success of French Lt. Col. David Galula's counter-insurgency efforts in Algeria, General Petraeus literally wrote the book on American counter-insurgency, Army Field Manual FM3-24 (PDF).

The Baghdad security plan, expanding to other parts of Iraq, comes at a time when al Qaeda has lost support in its former base of al Anbar province, where Sunni tribes once loyal to al Qaeda have turned against it. Within the past months, Sunni tribesmen that have recently joined the Iraqi police and military by the hundreds and thousands have fought pitched battles that al Qaeda has invariably lost, and the Sunni supporters of al Qaeda in Iraq are continuing to fracture, as noted as recently as yesterday.

As Krauthammer states in his recent op-ed with a nod to Ajami:

Fouad Ajami, just returned from his seventh trip to Iraq, is similarly guardedly optimistic and explains the change this way: Fundamentally, the Sunnis have lost the battle of Baghdad. They initiated it with an indiscriminate terror campaign they assumed would cow the Shiites, whom they view with contempt as congenitally quiescent, lower-class former subjects. They learned otherwise after the Samarra bombing in February 2006 kindled Shiite fury -- a savage militia campaign of kidnapping, indiscriminate murder and ethnic cleansing that has made Baghdad a largely Shiite city.

Petraeus is trying now to complete the defeat of the Sunni insurgents in Baghdad -- without the barbarism of the Shiite militias, whom his forces are simultaneously pursuing and suppressing.

Meanwhile, John Wixted points out that the media-declared "civil war" in Iraq is not a civil war:

Again, these Sunni insurgent groups are unhappy (not happy) with al Qaeda for indiscriminately slaughtering Shiite civilians in Iraq. How does that fit into the "civil war" schema? Answer: it doesn't. Think about the Tal Afar bombing again, the one that you thought was just part of the cycle of violence in a escalating civil war between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. There is just one tiny little problem with that superficial analysis: the major Sunni insurgent groups are extremely displeased with bombings like that. That being the case, you should now be able to appreciate the fact that, contrary to the standard analysis, the Tal Afar bombing (like many similar bombings) was not carried out by Sunni insurgents in their civil war against Shiites. Instead, those bombings represent al Qaeda in action. They are, in effect, counterattacks in our war on terror, not retaliatory strikes in a civil war.

The Sunni insurgents have come to realize that al Qaeda is not helping them in their fight against American troops. Instead, al Qaeda is trying to provoke a civil war, which benefits al Qaeda alone. That is, al Qaeda is trying to get Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army to once again start executing Sunnis in Baghdad. That's why the Sunni insurgents are not happy. They have no interest in a civil war because it does not benefit them in any way. They want al Qaeda to help fight the Americans, and that's what al Qaeda was doing for a while. It's what George Bush wanted al Qaeda to do as well (at least I suspect as much). But al Qaeda came up with a fiendish alternative plan, and it has been amazingly effective up until now. Predictably, in response to al Qaeda's repeated atrocities against Shiite civilians, most Americans and all Democratic politicians think they are watching a civil war unfold in Iraq and have become demoralized as a result (just as al Qaeda knew they would -- it's always that way with the weak-willed America).


All of this should also serve to update your thinking about Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army, which, contrary to what you might believe, was killing Sunnis in Baghdad in an effort to stop those atrocities being carried out by al Qaeda against Shiite civilians. But now the Mahdi Army is cooperating with the troop surge, so those executions have come way down. Perhaps Muqtada realized that he was just playing into al Qaeda's hands (and the truth is, he was).

Unfortunately, last month, al Qaeda successfully slaughtered many hundreds of Shiites, and that increase in violence offset the decrease in violence by the Mahdi Army, so overall civilian casualties in Iraq remained essentially unchanged. However, the fact that the Sunni insurgency is beginning to resist al Qaeda, and the fact that they have even implored Osama bin Laden to call off attacks against civilians by al Qaeda in Iraq could be highly significant. If the Mahdi Army continues to cooperate (and all signs suggest that they will despite the Tal Afar bombing) and if al Qaeda can be induced to stop slaughtering civilians, then the troop surge will be seen as a resounding success because civilian casualties will come way down.

In short, Sunni tribes former aligned with al Qaeda are turning against them and joining the Iraqi military and police forces by the thousands. At the same time, Shia militias are staying their hands (for the most part), while the more militant offshoots of the Madhi Army are being either rounded up or shot down as are their Sunni opposites.

All in all, there is a picture beginning to emerge that shows the more radical and divisive elements of both the Sunni and Shia sects are slowly but steadily being whittled away. Sunnis and Shias formerly loyal to al Qaeda or al Sadr quietly melt away, inform on their former allies, or actively join forces with the Coalition and Iraqi government. These extremists that now only exist to cause terror in a fractured nation tiring of war, are losing.

Aligned against these growing signs of progress, we once again encounter our ever-present enemy... Democrats:

A memo from a top House Democrat says party leaders must not yield to White House pressure on Iraq and should cast President Bush as increasingly detached from public opinion.

Bush has said he will not negotiate with Democrats on legislation that would finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September if it sets an end date for the Iraq war. Holding only a narrow majority in Congress, Democrats do not have enough votes to override the president's veto.

In a memo to party leaders, Rep. Rahm Emanuel says that as long as Democrats continue to ratchet up the pressure on Bush, the president loses ground.

Like many Democrats, Emanuel shows that in his eyes, the real enemy in the War on Terror (a name, I'd add, Democrats are cravenly trying to change) is American President George W. Bush, not al Qaeda terrorists or Shia militiamen.

The gathering signs of progress in Iraq means that the window of opportunity to claim a "victory" for Democrats—a headlong retreat and possible genocide that could result from a too quick withdrawal before Iraq is stabilized, which they would then attempt to pin on Bush—is closing.

If signs of progress continue to cautiously crop up in Iraq, the media-determined and Democrat-supported narrative of defeat may slowly begin to fall away, which is the worst possible situation for Democrats.

Should the surge continue to prove effective and Iraqis continue towards a path towards a reconciliation and a fair division of assets among the sects, it is not hard to see that public opinion will begin to turn against the liberal Democrat leadership, who have done all that is within their power to lose the war. Nobody likes someone who cheers against the home team, especially if the home team(s) rallies to win.

Only time will tell if the "rally" in Iraq is successful, but that is a chance Democrat leaders such as Emanuel, Reid, and Pelosi aren't will to take, and why they endeavor to lose Iraq by forfeit.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 13, 2007 12:02 PM

CY:"The gathering signs of progress in Iraq ..."

... "Bomb Attack on Iraq's Parliament Building ... a stunning assault in the heart of the heavily fortified, U.S.-protected Green Zone" (Foxnews, Thursday, April 12, 2007 )

"A homicide truck bomb exploded on a major bridge in Baghdad early Thursday, collapsing the steel structure and sending cars toppling into the Tigris River below ..." (Foxnews, Thursday, April 12, 2007 )

A further example for the MSM-conspiracy against the US-strategy in Iraq?

Posted by: he at April 13, 2007 01:19 PM

How many attacks in 4 years have there been inside the green zone?

1? 2? They got lucky, and only took one life. By objective strategic standards, no big deal.

Tragic, yes. A sign of a burgeoning, rampaging insurgency? No. A sign that the US has failed, and has no chance of acheiving its objectives in Iraq? No.

Unless thats what your hoping for.

Posted by: TMF at April 13, 2007 02:01 PM

A couple of other indicators worth mention:

First is the narrowing of focus by al Qaida in Iraq. Initially they focused on the MNF but that failed to gain the support of many Iraqis as the elections demonstrated. So they turned their attention to the Shiia. The idea being to intimidate the Shiites into turning their backs on the MNF in order to make the violence stop. This didn't work either as there was a severe backlash against the Sunnis for it. This resulted in calls from Sunnis for AQI to stop attacking civilians. That resulted in AQI narrowing their focus even further to "wayward" Sunnis. Again, they were going to intimidate the Sunnis into line in order to make the violence stop. But the Sunnis discovered they had an ally in the MNF and Iraq government. So instead of getting the Sunnis in line, they effectively pushed the Sunnis into the arms of the Iraqi government. So where at first it was a Muslim insurgency against "infidel" occupiers (broad focus), it then became Sunnis against Shiites (narrower focus), and has now become radical Sunnis against more moderate Sunnis (yet narrower focus) and the result is a splitting off from AQI of many of the groups ("franchises")under its umbrella.

The second development is to notice that al Qaida has now restarted operations in areas outside Iraq. We saw operations in Morocco and Algeria this week. That signals that al Qaida isn't sending their best and brightest to Iraq anymore. A year or so ago, the people who would be performing terrorist operations in those countries would have been sent to Iraq. Now they are staying home to fight.

I am seeing nothing but positive indications for us and dire indications for al Qaida.

Posted by: crosspatch at April 13, 2007 03:15 PM

Holy Toledo! A surprisingly positive article out of CNN!

Posted by: crosspatch at April 13, 2007 03:40 PM

"Aligned against these growing signs of progress, we once again encounter our ever-present enemy... Democrats...."

I'll bet you any amount of money you can round up that you will be repeating this divel one Friedman Unit from today. The real enemy is Repbulicans. They are delusional. They hate America.

Posted by: TraitorHater at April 13, 2007 09:00 PM

Remind me again which side of the aisle was comparing our troops to Nazis, TH. We're just handing you the rope until the country allows us to hang you with it. Aux la lanternes!

Posted by: SDN at April 13, 2007 10:12 PM

I'll bet you any amount of money you can round up

Petraeus is going to ensure the dems will be out of power again in 08' and rendered ineffective as enemies anymore.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 14, 2007 06:59 AM

Just wanted to comment on the "green zone" attack. My FIRST thought was that the U.S. Capitol is a fairly secure place yet there was an attack there. What does that say about our country? That's it's a complete failure and it's time to get out?

All it shows is that a determined person or group can, eventually, breach any security.

Posted by: DoorHold at April 14, 2007 10:59 AM

Purple avenger is definitely existing in his own seperate reality.
Things are not going well in Iraq the American people know that, the policies of Bush have been all failures. A liberal (why is liberal only good over there) democracy flowering in Iraq ???

Posted by: John Ryan at April 14, 2007 04:18 PM

When the Imus affair can basically knock the Iraq off the headlines for a week, you know that things are getting better. The MSM will do anything it can to hide this fact.

Posted by: southdakotaboy at April 14, 2007 07:46 PM

A liberal (why is liberal only good over there) democracy flowering in Iraq?

How long did it take to fight the revolution and ratify the US constitution again John?

Seems to me the Iraqis are WAY ahead of schedule. Of course your kind would have had Washington surrender rather than tough out the winter at Valley Forge. Your kind don't do difficult.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 14, 2007 07:46 PM

"A gunman in a wheelchair opened fire on a crowded street in San Francisco's Tenderloin district early Saturday, killing a woman and wounding four other people, police said."

Yet another example that socialism in San Francisco is a failure....heh

Posted by: ray robison at April 15, 2007 09:37 AM

"Without any shred of a doubt, we are in the final, decisive phase of this war."

Without any shred of doubt, this prediction will come back to haunt you in a year when the war in Iraq is once again damaging Republican election campaigns.

I don't see how you infer from the excerpts you posted that "the more radical and divisive elements of both the Sunni and Shia sects are slowly but steadily being whittled away" or that Sunni tribes are joining Iraq's police and military forces "by the thousands."

According to the Washington Post:

"Insurgent leaders, in interviews in person or by telephone, offered different explanations for their split. Many said their link to the al-Qaeda groups was tainting their image as a nationalist resistance force. Others said they no longer wanted to be tools of the foreign fighters who lead al-Qaeda. Their war, they insist, is against only the U.S. forces, to pressure them to depart Iraq."

"We do not want to kill the Sunni people nor displace the innocent Shia, and what the al-Qaeda organization is doing is contradictory to Islam," said Abu Marwan, a religious leader of the Mujaheddin Army in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad. "We will strike whoever violates the boundaries of God, whether al-Qaeda or the Americans." (

This suggests that a split between insurgents and al-Qaida has more to do with shutting foreigners out of the insurgency and improving its effectiveness than a fundamental shift to support for the American forces. At any rate, it is not clear how the surge has promoted this.

You may also want to read this article in the Guardian:

Ironically, as Lynch argues, this split might make it easier for the US to withdraw (by uniting Iraqi factions) even as it makes it more dangerous for us to stay.

There is no evidence to suggest that Iraq would become any more chaotic upon a US withdrawal than it already is, and some to suggest that it might acutally improve once our provocative presence is ended. Anyway, this thing won't be solved by sending more 19-year-old Americans to Iraq and further eroding the sovereignty of the Iraqi state. As a prominent American said:

"Any student of history recognises there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq. A political resolution of various differences ... of various senses that people do not have a stake in the successes of Iraq ... is crucial."

The speaker? General Petraeus.

Posted by: R. Stanton Scott at April 15, 2007 04:00 PM

"There is no evidence to suggest that Iraq would become any more chaotic upon a US withdrawal than it already is, and some to suggest that it might acutally improve once our provocative presence is ended."
Posted by R. Stanton Scott at April 15, 2007 04:00 PM

Congratulations! You just parroted John kerry nearly word for word in his argument to pull US troops from Vietnam which caused a full scale regional destabilization that killed MILLIONS! Nice....

Posted by: ray robison at April 15, 2007 06:29 PM


I've looked high and low for information on a bloodbath in S. Vietname after 1975 and have yet to find it. Certainly, you can fold in the Khmer Rouge killings into that number to get to millions dead, but that's a specious argument at best and dishonest at worst.

Here's what I did find: Jacqueline Desbarats and Karl D. Jackson set out to prove that a bloodbath in South Vietnam did occur, in spite of media reports to the contrary. By conservative estimate they said that 65,000 people had been killed from 1975 to 1982.

Their work was refuted by Gareth Porter and James Roberts in 1988 in their article, “Creating a Bloodbath by Statistical Manipulation,” in Pacific Affairs.

In an essay published in 1990, Desbarats claimed “possibly more than 100,000 Vietnamese people” had been executed but didn't answer any of the problems brought up by Porter and Roberts’s critique of her methodology.

So, even if you read and believe the scholars who claim a bloodbath did occur, their numbers have never been more than 100,000+. Tragic yes, but still nowhere near your millions.

You can claim that our withdrawal from Vietnam caused the rise of Pol Pot and the subsequent mass murder, but I could make an equally persuasive case that Nixon's incursion into Cambodia is what destabilized that country, and both of our arguments would be irrelevant to what we have at hand in Iraq.

As always, I'm prepared to be educated. I don't know everything (even though my wife will tell you I think I do), and I invite links to credible sources for your numbers.

Posted by: David Terrenoire at April 16, 2007 12:09 PM

DT, the rise of the khmer rouge was a direct result of the power vacuum left when the US retreated

Here's more on the subject

"During this period of Nixon's phased redeployment, the Khmer Rouge Communists took over the government of Cambodia leading to the extermination of roughly 25% of that countries population, or two million people. This horrendous slaughter on the order of magnitude of the Jewish holocaust might have been avoided if Nixon had not signaled American intentions to wash our hands of the region. And that wasn't even in Vietnam.

After Nixon withdrew all ground forces from Vietnam, the North Vietnamese broke their peace agreements (surprise, surprise) and took over Southern Vietnam that we had abandoned. Of course the Communist atrocities continued there and hundreds of thousands died. It was then that the North Vietnamese implemented the infamous "re-education" camps where the primary focus was to torture civilians into compliance.

Khmer Rouge forces invaded Vietnam, Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia. The Chinese who supported Vietnam invaded Vietnam in retaliation for the invasion of Cambodia which was in retaliation for the Khmer Rouge invasion of Vietnam. How many more hundreds of thousands of people died because we decided the cost was too high and the war was immoral?"

There are people who still deny the jewish holocaust. I dont care if communist sympathizers deny the mass murder committed by the NV in SV. And yes, destabilization of neighboring countries that kills millions is a part of the equation an honest thinker must face. But feel free to ignore it.

Posted by: Ray Robison at April 16, 2007 12:57 PM

I am constantly fascinated by those who find the killing of thousands of innocent people horrible and tragic--until the United States starts doing the killing.

"Destabilization that killed millions" in Southeast Asia resulted not from our withdrawal from Viet Nam, but from our presence there. This included, as Mr. Terrenoire points out, our incursion into Cambodia, as well as bombing civilian population centers, mining harbors to interdict trade, destruction of rural villages and agricultural capacity, execution of women and children, and support for an unpopular authoritarian government in South Viet Nam, itself as odious as the Communists we sought to "protect" them from.

Indeed, had we permitted the French colonial mission there to fail, instead of adopting it as our own, Ho Chi Minh may actually have established a government based on our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution--as was his stated goal during the 50s. As President Bush himself points out, we can know the intent of our enemies by listening to their own words.

But as Mr. Terrenoire also points out, Southeast Asian history has little to do with what we face today in Iraq (exept insofar as that experience shaped our civilian and military institutional biases). Southeast Asia was about colonialism and how local populations used communist rhetoric and assistance to end occupation of their land by Western powers.

Our invasion of Iraq today is arguably a resurgent colonialism--great powers safeguarding natural resources necessary for their industrial productivity. But to the extent it really is about fighting terrorism, it happened because our government decided that criminal terrorist gangs could be destroyed by attacking associated states, and then associating states with the gangs. This does not surprise international relations theorists, who expect states to see problems in terms of the behavior of other states.

But it is unlikely to solve the real problem and stop the commission of the crime of terrorism. Internationally or domestically, crime will always exist, and the best solutions are to be found first in addressing the conditions that foster it and then developing the institutional structures needed to capture and punish those who continue to live outside the law.

Indeed, we only legitimize groups like al-Q'aida by declaring war on them and elevating them to the status of an organization that can effectively challenge a powerful state. This also leads us to apply a type of force to the problem that is least effective. Instead of permitting bin Laden the glory of standing up to the US, we should be shaming and demonizing him as a common killer of women and children.

The best way for the US to spread democracy and American values in the world is to develop organizational infrastructures that institutionalize small-l liberalism: open trade, individual rights, capitalism, and participatory, transparent government. This is most easily accomplished by talking to people, not shooting them.

Posted by: R. Stanton Scott at April 16, 2007 01:40 PM

And yes, destabilization of neighboring countries that kills millions is a part of the equation an honest thinker must face. But feel free to ignore it.


On the contrary, I wasn't ignoring it, I just don't buy the simplistic causality that our withdrawal caused the killing fields. And any article that contains a line like this:

But if you are a liberal who would not deign to be caught caring about American security or influence in the world (other than to point out how immoral that is), how about the humanistic component? How about the utter devastation left in South East Asia?

This loses all credibility. First, I'm a liberal and will happily display my security bona fides any time anywhere. No, this article is partisan BS, authored by a guy named Ray Robinson, and as you quote heavily from your own article to defend your own positions I feel obligated to point out that no where do you prove your point. You makes the assertion that the withdrawal caused the killing fields, but assertions are like opinions and we all know about those.

And I asked for a link to a number of South Vietnamese killed in what you claim was the resultant bloodbath. The only number I could find was 100K, and that from someone wanting to prove your theory, against all evidence to the contrary, that a bloodbath did occur.

I'm well aware of the re-education camps. I make no case for Hanoi or the takeover just as I would have a hard time defending the South Vietnamese regime. You and I can debate that war, and I'd be happy to engage over drinks, believe me, but I doubt if here it would produce anything more than long-winded, pointless posts.

But I did find this line in your article interesting:

So what was the cost of "phased redeployment" versus a strategy of victory? Well for one the US military was demoralized for decades.

Again, this is a complicated issue, but I can assure you that people in the military were seriously demoralized by 1970, years before our withdrawal. I know. I was one of them and I was RA.

So, I'm not trying to whitewash the tragedy that followed South Vietnam's fall, but what you've opened up here is a far more complicated argument. Finding a direct link from the withdrawal to the subsequent wars in SE Asia is simplistic and ignores a millennium of regional history.

To use this as reason to remain in Iraq is, I believe, a rather thin attempt to put this fiasco into a moral light and it sounds a bit desperate now, just as it sounded in 1971 when Nixon tried it.

Posted by: David Terrenoire at April 16, 2007 01:45 PM