Friday, November 23, 2007

Iraq - Who Is In A State Of Denial?

By Cernig

Charles Krauthammer, always the touchstone for glib neoconservative spin and revisionism, today writes that critics of the occupation of Iraq are in a state of denial. To accomplish this, he has to manage several different states of denial himself.

Firstly, he writes that:
Why is top-down national reconciliation as yet unattainable? Because decades of Saddam Hussein's totalitarianism followed by the brutality of the post-invasion insurgency destroyed much of Iraq's political infrastructure, causing Iraqis to revert to the most basic political attachment -- tribe and locality.
In this, he glibly passes over the destruction of Iraq's political and actual infrastructure by the invasion iteself and by the badly mismanaged CPA regime, which set the scene for the insurgency in the first place. A huge factor? Of course not! Look over there - a river in Egypt!

Then comes this:
Gen. David Petraeus's genius has been to adapt American strategy to capitalize on that development, encouraging the emergence of and allying ourselves with tribal and provincial leaders -- without waiting for cosmic national deliverance from the newly constructed and still dysfunctional constitutional apparatus in Baghdad.
This is, of course, the latest version of Petraeus' genius from those who kept telling us his genius was in new counter-insurgency techniques until it became clear that actually meant more airstrikes, in reducing violence via his "surge" until it became obvious the surge had less to do with that reduction than the entirely independent Anbar Opportunism and a ceasefire by the Mahdi Army.

Now, it seems Petraeus' genius lies in agreeing to militia demands to pay them more than AQI is willing to. It's a technique older than Rome but apparently Krauthamer believes it is brand new and sprung whole from Petraeus' Olympian brow.

Next, we have this:
Do the critics forget their own arguments about the irrelevance of formal political benchmarks? The transfer of power in 2004. The two elections in 2005. The ratification of the constitution. Those were all supposed to be turning points to pacify the country and bring stability -- all blown to smithereens by the Samarra bombing in February 2006, which precipitated an orgy of sectarian violence and a descent into civil war.

So, just as we have learned this hard lesson of the disconnect between political benchmarks and real stability, the critics now claim the reverse -- that benchmarks are what really count.
Denial? How about denying the recorded facts that none of those kabuki benchmarks stage-managed by the occupation actually helped reduce levels of violence? Yes, violence spiked after Samarra, but it spiked from levels which were already considerably higher than those of 2003 and 2004. The trend was already upwards. Krauthammer, here, wants to deny the difference between staged benchmarks with no effect and the one benchmark which actually counts - political reconcilliation. Other benchmarks mean nothing unless they contribute to that and every liberal critic of the occupation has said so. Yet even Maliki and his Sunni deputy cannot agree, while US diplomats and analysts fear that their very public feud will help undo any meagre chance of reconcilliation as it reflects a larger feud "about control of the state...about basic interests, factional and sectarian, and survival."

Finally, Krauthammer writes that "it is folly to abandon the pursuit of that success when a different route, more arduous but still doable, is at hand and demonstrably working."

This is the most common denial of the pro-occupation Right and it needs serious examination. Violence is down in iraq - how much, exactly, is an open question because the U.S. military, Iraqi government and pro-occupation cheerleaders insist on cherry-picking the lowest unverifiable figures available and playing games with start-points and head counts. However, it is clear that, even at best, violence has dropped only to levels equivalent with January 2006. As my colleague Fester ably pointed out a couple of days ago that means an average of over 80 attacks a day but:
Iraq was a failing state due to targeted violence against key system nodes and highly skilled people by the fall of 2003 when the attack levels were around 30 attacks per day. The political-military situation fell apart after the April 2004 Fallujah campaign when attack levels were around 50 per day. As I noted previously, we probably would need to see 90% to 95% reduction in attacks per day for something resembling sustainable stability to start appearing.
The Anbar Opportunism and its copycats, combined with the Mahdi ceasefire, have certainly taken Iraq in the right direction - but there's a long way to go and plenty of room for reversal with a closing window (as US military officers keep pointing out, to general denial by the Right). The cheerleaders are being, as always, overly optimistic in breaking out their victory champagne and parades.

Meanwhile, yesterday 20 shells fell on the Green Zone and today bombs exploded in Mosul and a Baghdad market. Non-violent killers, directly attendant on the lack of infrastructure reconstruction, are just as much of a threat as bombs - 80 people have died from cholera in Baghdad in the past few weeks and at least six government hospitals have unsanitary water supplies. As the UN's refugee commission puts it:
There have been several public reports in recent days about limited returns to Iraq. We welcome improvements to the security conditions and stand ready to assist people who have decided or will decide to return voluntarily. However, UNHCR does not believe that the time has come to promote, organize or encourage returns. That would be possible only when proper return conditions are in place – including material and legal support and physical safety. Presently, there is no sign of any large-scale return to Iraq as the security situation in many parts of the country remains volatile and unpredictable.

...Inside Iraq, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) increased slightly over the last few months. According to the latest figures received by UNHCR (with data from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, Ministry of Displacement and Migration, Kurdistan Regional Government, local and international NGOs, UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration) as of 21 November, it is estimated that over 2.4 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq. The breakdown is: 1,021,962 displaced prior to 2003; 190,146 displaced between 2003 -2005; and 1,199,491 displaced after the first Samarra bombing in February 2006 (28,017 during October).

Reasons for the increase include better registration of the displaced, but also recent visa restrictions in Syria, which meant more people moved inside Iraq rather than seeking refuge outside. We have also seen more secondary displacement, as governorates close their doors to the newly displaced from elsewhere (11 out of 18 governorates have limited access to new arrivals).
Clearly, with 2.4 million internally displaced Iraqis and 2.2 million refugees in other countries, there is as yet none of the "real stability" Krauthammer wishes us to see. Instead, what exists is "a hyper-violent version of Lebanon, where politics takes place everywhere but in the parliament itself."

And therein lies the last, and most outrageous, of the denials Krauthammer is making - one he wants us all to buy into. One of the Arab world's most important secular nations has been reduced to religious division and Afghan style warlordism and is very definitely not not the regionally contagious example of pro-American, pro-Israeli, democratic, capitalist prosperity (with a pony for all) that pro-occupation pundits and the White House told us it would be. This is the "success" of the Surge to date. Go on, deny it.

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