More Thoughts About Iraq
So what exactly has changed since Rumsfeld penned these words in 2003? It is virtually accepted that the military "surge" in Iraq is working. After all, GOP candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul) all say so, as does the president. Oh, and don't forget those libs O'Hanlon and Pollack. The same narrative of success spun by GOP politicos and the White House is also regurgitated by an ever compliant media.
Can someone explain why we should believe these fellas? Isn't it entirely likely that they are cherry-picking data to support their cause? It certainly would not be the first time.
For example, at the heart of administration claims is the assertion that violence in Iraq is down. As I wrote last month, the claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There are numerous reports that civilian casualties are rising, and even those likely undercount the reality on the ground.
Likewise, conflicting data is frequently produced by different tentacles of the regime. The General Accounting Office, using methodology adopted by the CIA and DIA, published a bleak assessment of the security situation in Iraq.
The GAO was clearly pressured by the Pentagon and made several changes to the report, but still concluded that "Iraq had failed to meet all but two of nine security goals Congress had set as part of a list of 18 benchmarks of progress."
Speaking to the issue of disparate numbers related to violence in Iraq, Comptroller General David Walker told Congress, "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree."
One intelligence analyst put it this way: "Depending on which numbers you pick you get a different outcome. If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian. If it went through the front, it's criminal."
Moreover, military statistics do not include violence created by the escalating warfare between rival Shiite militias in southern Iraq or attacks by Sunni tribesmen aligned with the U. S.
During congressional testimony Walker said, "The primary difference between us and the military is whether or not violence has been reduced with regard to sectarian violence...It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased -- a key security benchmark...We could not get comfortable with (the military's) methodology for determining what's sectarian versus nonsectarian violence."
In short, don't believe everything you're hearing about the military success of the surge. The situation is always more complicated than the state will admit.
But even if there is some military success, the political situation continues to disintegrate, and daily life for Iraqis remains extremely difficult. Nearly half the cabinet ministers have withdrawn support for Maliki's government.
Walker accurately calls the Iraqi government "dysfunctional": "Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about -- safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things. I think you'd have to say it's dysfunctional -- the government is dysfunctional."
Those we're helping don't appear to think things are getting better either. Obviously they aren't watching Fox News. In a recent poll, nearly 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military surge and 60% see attacks on US-led forces as justified. The number rises to 93% among Sunni Muslims. That's what I call winning hearts and minds.
But back to the question posed by Rumsfeld: Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?
I believe the answer is demonstrably "NO." Robert Pape and Micheal Shuer have argued that our policies are largely at the root of the global Islamic insurgency. Speaking of suicide bombers, Pape says, "The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.” In short, the rotten fruit produced by an interventionist foreign policy is largely the reason for, and not the solution to, our problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Separate analyses by the Saudis and Israelis found that the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters in Iraq became radicalized by the war itself.
In recent Congressional testimony, Brookings scholar Daniel Benjamin also argued that the war has created more terrorists. "The invasion of Iraq gave the jihadists an unmistakable boost," said Benjamin. "Terrorism is about advancing a narrative and persuading a targeted audience to believe it [and we] have too often lent inadvertent confirmation to the terrorists' narrative" through ill-thought policies.
Changing tactics will not rescue American policy in Iraq. Moving 30,000 soldiers here or turning over security to Iraqis there is largely window dressing. The "strategy" from the outset was the problem. The delusion, as Bruce Fein writes, "that Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis would embrace American style democracy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by spontaneous combustion" is at the heart of our failure. The worship of a false god, democracy, has led to this.