A bunch of Democratic senators visit Iraq, get glommed by a military PR machine headed by a Cheney faction insider, and return saying there have been military successes in Iraq - and the wingers go wild.
Never mind that every senator involved also pointed out the truth that military momentum, if there is any, is exactly as usueful as a bike for a fish if there's no political follow-up. The wingers crow that the senators are flip-flopping on saying the the military are losing in Iraq - and are right to crow because that's exactly what's happening.
But are the military really winning? Anthony Cordesman's recent report, which is being so widely cherry-picked by those who want some cause for optimism, says any such progress is an accident rather than a result of US military planning.
The same fighters that were killing Americans could be killing them again in a matter of weeks or months if the central government does not act, and Sunni tribal loyalty oaths to the government are now worth about as much as central government help to the Sunnis – which is to say that some could prove to be little more than worthless if the central government does not act.He is also cautious about accepting US military statistics on numbers of attacks or deaths as gospel, calling them "erratic and uncertain" while pointing out that "mass bombing deaths have not been controlled and car bombings and suicide bombings have not been checked."
There is a real opportunity that did not exist at the start of the year. What is critical to understand, however, is that while the surge strategy has had value in some areas, much of this progress has not the function of the surge strategy, US planning, or action by the Maliki government. In fact, the “new” strategy President Bush announced in January 2007 has failed in many aspects of its original plan.
At the end of the day, the US military are trying to take credit for something that isn't down to them. There seems to be a bipartisan political willingness to let them do so, and that stems from the political pressure to describe US troops as "the best in the world" and thus always blame failures on political leadership. It simply isn't true, though - US troops are regarded as, on a good day, the third or fourth best in the world even by Pentagon wargamers. What they do have is the best military technology in compensation. The Israelis, Brits and Germans all get higher overall ratings in such wargames and even the best militaries in the world are all still capable of making massive mistakes. (I know this assertion is going to get me some flak from American readers - which doesn't stop it being true.)
Maybe conservatives are right, the Dems are too gullibly ignorant on military and national security issues to be trusted with them. But there's no reason to suspect a new Republican administration would be any less belligerent or more trustable than the current one, and as Cordesman writes "the half truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq". So where does that leave America?
Update Remember that i said from the first that Cordesman's report would be spun and cherrypicked to provide any hope at all for the pro-occupation crowd. My words were no sooner published than the guy who runs the Opinionator blog at the NYT (safe behind his Times Select barrier) used them as the contra to Jules Cretinhead's mindless cheerleading so that he could then agree with the cautiously optimistic conservative, James Joyner.
But the Opinionator isn't the only one playing every trick in the book to try spinning critics as coming around to some kind of optimism almost despite themselves. Greg Sargent has more examples of the same kind of stuff today.
And Think Progress has the definitive word from Cordesman himself.
I did not see any dramatic change in our position in Iraq during this trip. Many of the points, the problems which exist there are problems which have existed really since late 2004, if not earlier. I didn’t see a dramatic shift in the ability of the Iraqi’s to reach the kind of compromise that is almost the foundation of moving forward. […]Spin that!
But I also want to stress another thing. I did not see success for the strategy that President Bush announced in January.