Thursday, February 22, 2007

On Knowing Who to Read

One of the most instructive features of the Iraq war is the sifting of the pundit class into "reliable" and "unreliable" categories. In the former group are conventional libs at the NY Times and Washington Post, hawkish neo-libs at The New Republic, "populist" right-wing radio hosts (Limbaugh, Hannity, Parshall, Boortz, Ingram), anyone associated with Fox News, Trotskyite neo-cons (Hitchens, NR, The Weekly Reader, AEI, etc.), religious broadcasters (Kennedy, Mohler, Stanley, etc.), and warmongering libertarians at Reason and Cato. In other words, virtually the entire media and political establishment.

Among the remnant of reliable journalists, leftist writers Robert Scheer and Alexander Cockburn have been nearly always on the money. Paleo-cons and paleo-libertarians associated with Chronicles, The American Conservative, and Anti-War.com have likewise been reliable sources. Among better known conservative columnists, Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran and the redoubtable Paul Craig Roberts are the gold standard. But to understand the Iraq conflict and the changing nature of warfare, William Lind cannot be beat.

Last Friday, I walked through my living room and for some unknown reason, Fox News shouters were squawking from my television. There was Geraldo Rivera live from Iraq (why he wasn't covering the Anna Nicole Smith imbroglio is beyond me) telling listeners with bated breath that the surge was a success already (!) and that al-Sadr had fled to Iran.

Of course, I already knew what was happening because I had read Lind. On January 29th, he explained that the Madhi army and other Shiite militias would largely fade from the scene because we were doing their dirty work:

The Mahdi Army and other Shiite groupings have a different perspective. Once we understand what it is, we can see that it makes sense for them to avoid a confrontation with the U.S. military if they can. From the Shiite perspective, American forces are in Iraq to fight the Sunnis for them. Our troops are, in effect, the Shiites' unpaid Hessians.

Thus far, we have been willing to play the Shiites' game. Their challenge now is to make sure we continue to do so as Bush's "big push" in Baghdad unfolds. Originally, they wanted U.S. forces to control access to Baghdad, cutting the Sunnis’ lines of communication and reinforcement, while the Shiite militias carried on their successful campaign of ethnic cleansing. With Bush insisting American forces work in Baghdad, the Shiites came up with an alternate plan, one we have seemingly accepted: the Americans will drive out the Sunni insurgents, leaving Sunni neighborhoods defenseless. As the American troops move on, they will be replaced by Iraqi soldiers and police, mostly Shiite militiamen, who will ethnically cleanse the area of Sunnis, just as in plan A. Again, the Americans will have fulfilled their allotted function, fighting the Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites. Aren't Hessians great?

Meanwhile, the Sunnis and foreign fighters in Iraq could either flee temporarily, or continue egging the Shiites into conflict. They opted initially for the former, but in recent days it appears that the bombing has indeed stepped up again and there is no safety in Baghdad.

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