Media reports indicating that many top leaders escaped before Arrowhead Ripper began appear to be mostly true. But other information suggests some AQI leaders are trapped just down the road from where I write. In addition to the seven men who were caught trying to escape while dressed as women, there is information that some AQI leaders remain trapped in a constricting cordon.
In meeting after meeting, I have seen Townsend stress to his subordinate commanders the importance of moving deliberately and at their own pace. Given the massive amounts of IEDs that have been found, my guess is that we might have taken dozens more killed by now if the clearing operation had been rushed. Doubtless many American lives have been saved by locals just saying “stop,” and pointing to bombs.
I wish, oh how I wish, that our mainstream media outlets were capable of observing and writing such incidents as these. But their "Green Zone" mentality and their oh-so-cynical attitude towards anything the American military does pretty much guarantees that we won't see very much of that.
So we depend on people such as Yon, Bill Roggio, and Michael Totten. Those folks travel to Iraq for the most part on their own money, and depend on the contributions of readers to finance the trip.
As the title of the post indicates, I'd like to think of helping these guys as buying ammunition in the Information War in which we are currently engaged. It's clear that we'll never lose militarily. We'll win or lose in the hearts and minds of people here and in Iraq.
Given what the American public has had to consume from the major media, it's no wonder a large portion of our citizenry thinks the Iraq effort was all in vain. They see almost nothing but the negative, punctuated by occasional reversals such as Iraqi election coverage.
Yon and the others do what mainstream journalists claim to do, but don't. Yon, Totten, and Roggio lay out both the good and the bad that they see. They clearly have a bias - they want us to win, as all journalists did a few wars back. But the resulting clarity also gives them the ability to be objective, to point out the bad things in the hope they can be noticed and corrected, as well as pointing out the good things that balance the bad.
So, if you can afford it, send these guys a few bucks. Cancelled any newspaper or magazine subscriptions lately? Take that money and spend it on some real journalism.
Oh, and while I was at Michael Totten's site, I noticed this essay by SF writer Dan Simmons on various ways the Iraq conflict could turn out. Very much worth a read.
If I've missed any major worthy correspondents, I'd encourage commenters to add them. For example, I know Bill Ardolino went over a while back, but I don't know what his current plans are.
**** Update 10:10 AM CST ****
Looks like McQ got to Yon just before I did. But my post is mostly about helping these guys continue to do their work in Iraq, so I'm leaving it up.
UPDATE (McQ): I completely support Billy's point. These guys give you a pretty unvarnished look at what is going on in Iraq and let you decide. They deserve your support if that's type of journalism you appreciate.
I read the Dan Simmons essay. Very interesting, a valuable essay. I also appreciate that he recognizes our responsibility for creating a possible haven for terrorism and chaos, and focuses on American interests now. That suggests there can be a meeting point between those who supported the invasion to say, "you know, the anti-war side was right on many of the negative consequences of invading, and the dangers of over optimism and hubris. They weren’t just peaceniks reacting with emotion, but history has shown their arguments pretty accurate. But as wrong as that was, we’re there." Then the anti-war side can say "We shouldn’t be in Iraq, but we are, and how we leave and how the region develops is very important for American interests. The pro-war side was right about the dangers of fascism in the guise of Islam. We agree on that."
That would be a good start at trying to reforge a national consensus. However, there is a variety of ways to analyze the situation and figure out a strategy. I think that the big movement now needs to be away from having Iraq be about the US and varioius insurgencies and extremists. By going in without listening to much of the rest of the world, we’ve created a situation where nobody wants to help us (and even foreign leaders that might want to can’t, because their domestic political situation won’t allow it). I don’t think we can prevail through the current offensive because insurgents and al qaeda can simply adapt, retreat, regroup, and change tactics/locations — and they can offer up thousands of low level fighters as martyrs. The political and economic structures in Iraq will undercut real efforts to create stability, and insurgent groups can morph towards less al qaeda and more ethnic division, including internal fights within the Shi’ites (al-Sadr is more nationalist, the government more pro-Iran). All this would maintain the kind of chaos that allows jihadism to thrive. The only way to prevail is to change the nature of the game. Simmons writes:
But having acknowledged the need for such humility and having admitted to the political and military errors and hubris that have led the United States to this mess in Iraq, the fact remains that the U.S. and the West have to prevail there or suffer the consequences of rising Islamist, jihadist, and Iranian nuclear extremism that will threaten not only our children and grandchildren but the very existence of our civilizations.
The starting point for the renewed dialogue between Americans and between America and its former friends might begin by general agreement on a statement taken from a document titled “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” released by the White House in November, 2005 – “What happens in Iraq will influence the fate of the Middle East for generations to come, with a profound impact on our own national security.”
I would suggest two changes:
1. Define "prevail." If we want to make Iraq a stable western democracy that is secular and modern, that’s setting the bar too high. Prevail means keeping Islamic extremists from dominating Iraq, prevent Iraq from being in chaos (which breeds terror) and limit (though not eliminate) Iranian influence and make it in Iran’s interests to see more stability.
2. Avoid seeing this as primarily a military fight or war. It’s not — that’s what’s so frustrating to the so called "dead enders," who can’t understand why we’re not going at this like it was WWII. It isn’t that kind of conflict. We can have a major shift to create a UN Security Council sponsored (yes, yes, I know, the General Assembly committees put nasty states on human rights committees and all that, but this is the Security Council I’m talking about here, and they can act if they choose to) resolution to pool resources and create an international effort to create political and economic stability in Iraq (countries would play various roles in terms of security, economics, or political influence). This will require some compromises with Iran as they’ll need to be on board at least grudgingly. I think if we admit error and are willing to be a partner rather than trying to lead and control policy, we’ll find others may be more willing to help than one might suspect. After all, foreign leaders aren’t stupid, they know what’s in their interest as well.
Finally, I think the pro-war side has been too slow to recognize the danger of an Iraq syndrome that mirrors the Vietnam syndrome. If the US leaves Iraq, even if the "surge" creates a bit of stability which allows us to say "job done" and return, there will be no will for America to participate over there if Iraq again crumbles, or if there are real problems elsewhere in the region. The only way to try to help the Mideast go through a modernization transformation, which is not just political and economic, but also cultural, social, and religious, is through on going engagement at multiple levels. This is only possible if there is an international effort that ultimately helps the states and peoples of the Mideast find their own way, rather than provide a ready made solution.
Then the anti-war side can say "We shouldn’t be in Iraq, but we are, and how we leave and how the region develops is very important for American interests. The pro-war side was right about the dangers of fascism in the guise of Islam. We agree on that."
I’m not going to hold my breath for that to happen...
Not when you have such tripe as this being foisted from the left...
Even with the low poll numbers, liberals still feel stymied in conveying just how bad this administration is. It’s been the ultimate frustration to consider the people who don’t see Bush’s malevolence: In 2004, rural America cited national security as their number one reason for voting for Bush. But people in the major cities, where there’s actually a chance of being victimized by terrorism, people voted against Bush. Frustrating. In the cities, where most people are utterly at two with nature, people cited Bush’s raping of the environment as a major reason to vote against him. In rural America, where people fish and hunt and generally do things outside, they voted for Bush. Sooooo frustrating. On Sutton Place and in Harvard-Westlake, where kids go to college after high school, they vote against Bush. In rural America, from where the majority of tragically killed kids in Iraq soldiers come, they vote for Bush.
You could argue that even the world’s worst fascist dictators at least meant well. They honestly thought were doing good things for their countries by suppressing blacks/eliminating Jews/eradicating free enterprise/repressing individual thought/killing off rivals/invading neighbors, etc. Only the Saudi royal family is driven by the same motives as Bush, but they were already entrenched. Bush set a new precedent. He came into office with the attitude of "I’m so tired of the public good. What about my good? What about my rich friends’ good?"
How can anyone not see it? It’s not that their policies have been misguided or haven’t played out right. They. Don’t. Even. Mean. Well.
Arab governments are finally taking notice that the Islamist radicals they have been tolerating, appeasing – and sometimes even nurturing – are clear and present dangers to them. Their winking and subtle support for Israel during last summer’s war with Hezbollah may have been explainable by the Sunni-Shia conflict, but their sudden fear and loathing of Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, cannot be.
he fact that Arab governments threaten to build nuclear arsenals to counter Iran’s, but not Israel’s, all by itself tells you who and what they’re really afraid of. Blowback isn’t just for Americans anymore.
I’ve always thought the real "war" is within the Islamic world and not Islam vs. the West. Before the jihadists could even consider taking on the West they’d have to win at least the Mideast (unless they could radicalize a different part of the Muslim world). One reason I don’t like the Iraq war is that violence and chaos are usually helpful to radical elements, especially if a foreign power is involved. Everytime I read one of those "we’re in a clash of civilizations" pieces I want to scream "no, no, no! That’s what we’re trying to avoid!"
The neo-conservative argument was that we could avoid that by spreading democracy and markets to Iraq, thereby creating a dramatic move towards western modernism. That didn’t work out (and I would argue has made things worse). Now I think the best tactic is to develop an international effort to counter jihadism/extremism and help Mideast states chart their own path into the future, not expecting dramatic moves to democracy and western style market economies any time soon (but encouraging steps that way, and discouraging authoritarianism and corruption). That’s a lot less idealistic than ’spreading democracy and freedom,’ but in the long run may be more effective.
And the anti-Bush rant...yeah, I agree. That, and similar anti-liberal rants from the right really generate nothing positive at a time when we could use more unity. There was a saying "so goes Maine, so goes the nation." Our legislature in Maine is nearing the end of a session where they’ve been praising each other for their bipartisan work putting the good of Maine above special interests. A little of that kind of spirit would go along way in American politics.
That was an excellent first comment. In fact, no matter how Iraq goes, there is always going to be that "push the baby bird out of the nest" moment and the key is how to do that without having the bird die so to speak. The end state of Iraq may not be a shining beacon of democracy, but I think we could get a Sri Lanka, or a Philippines, or a Peru out of them. I think now that we see some portions of the Sunnis making a turn around, we are much better positioned to slowly pull out troops leaving lots of trainers, etc. as needed. I just don’t know if there are enough Iraqi forces available yet - I hope we are pushing for more of those!
Also, I think it would be smart to make sure the oil-spot / take-hold plan of the surge can be well entrenched so that the Iraqi forces can continue doing it - its the best strategy to beat an insurgency (along with political amnesties, etc.)
I think you are overly optimistic about international support, beyond aid and some training, especially regarding Iraq’s neighbors Iran and Syria. If we pull out expect them to smell blood in the water rather than develop a case of friendly feelings. But they are also making enemies in Iraq, much as Pakistan did in Afghanistan - blowback applies to more than just the USA. The UNSC already has a ton of resolutions about Iraq - one more won’t help or hurt I guess.
"This is only possible if there is an international effort that ultimately helps the states and peoples of the Mideast find their own way, rather than provide a ready made solution."
I don’t really get what you mean by this. Any concrete examples?
While we don’t want a war vs. Islam and would prefer a war within Islam, I think many people in the Middle East pre-9/11 thought that the radical Islamists wouldn’t bother them too much and could be bought off into only attacking the West and Israel. (So the implicitly thought it was a Islam vs. West war, no?) I think after 9/11 one of the "best things" that happened were the bombings in Islamic countries by AQ. Iraq has a similar affect of reminding Islamic countries that the radicals are not something to be tolerated.
However, if Islam ends up being an endless source of radicals, i.e. they cannot seem to reform and keep producing generations of jihadis in maddrassahs, well things will change for the worse.
Regarding slow vs. dramatic changes...Suharto wanted slow change but got fast change...so did Marcos, and many others in Asia. I think we shouldn’t worry about the speed or degree of change but simply encourage it.
Best would be no war within Islam, but rather gradual moves towards modernization. A true war within Islam, involving extremists vs. moderates, or Sunni vs. Shi’ite will have a devastating effect on the world economy and could even lead to an existential threat against Israel, who can’t remain aloof from such a conflict. One reason I opposed going to war with Iraq was the propensity for violence to ignite more violence and spur on extremist action. But absent a time machine, it doesn’t really make sense to debate the past at this point.
I am optimistic that if we can somehow find a way to leave Iraq without having it become either completely chaotic or dominated by a radical Shi’ite leadership the extremists and al qaeda elements will quickly start losing as locals turn against them. One problem will be states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt where the extremists use anti-government sentiment to gain support. Chaos is more of a threat in Iraq than undue Iranian influence. Sistani does not believe in Khomeinism, al Sadr is a nationalist, and many of the ruling parties are friendly to Iran but still focused on Iraqi interests. In fact, Iraq might exert a positive influence for the continued development of Iranian democracy, which backslid in 2004 and now is in danger of stagnating.
Once the Iraq issue has some kind of closure or at least point of equilibrium, hard nosed realist balance of power dealing can play interests against each other and create at least a situation where no state sees a shooting war is in their interest. At that point, the key will be to hold that condition, so that the region can undergo a transformation, recognizing that we can’t push western ideas onto the states there. They have to create their own path forward, we can try to help prevent a conflict from spreading (and to work this will really need to be a UN Security Council effort).
I think when it ceases to be an issue of "American success or failure," and rather "the future of Iraq," it’ll be easier to generate international support for trying to maintain some kind of Iraqi stability. A lot of Europeans now think "well, America got itself into this mess when we were smart enough to stay out, they should pay the price." It’s hard for even pro-American governments like those of Merkel and Sarkozy to overcome that political attitude, so they can’t really do more. The US at some point needs to make the difficult choice of giving up its effort to control how events in Iraq unfold, and move to a supporting or cooperative role. That may not work either, but given the current political climate at home, that might also be the only way to keep America engaged. While I don’t think the "surge" the right approach, I understand the logic. If it does wors to create some opening for stability, then the only way I think it can have a positive long term effect is if we quickly move to truly internationalize the Iraq situation, and connect it to the broader issue of Mideast stability.
Good points. Aid creates dependency and corruption, and the Palestinian Authority is a good example of that. But violence tends to aid extremists. I’m not sure what the answer is. Building real markets and economic links would be best, but how to get there from here, well, I don’t know. It’s not aid, it’s not military...but what?