Thursday, May 27, 2004

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No failure of proof here

A lot of information in today's TNR Online column comes from previous blog posts. There's a lot of posts about the current situation in Iraq. Even former CPA advisors are dissatisfied -- click here for Larry Diamond's take and here for Yass Alkafaji's take. On Iraqi polls showing greater disenchantment with the American occupation, click here and here -- the latter one contains the 80% figure with regard to the CPA (thanks to Mark Kleiman for the links). Here's a blog post that discussed the rising support in Iraq for Muqtada Al-Sadr. There are a raft of polls demonstrating waning U.S. support for the current administration's Iraq policies -- this Washington Post poll is just the latest. The general pessimism in Washington on Iraq comes from Doyle McManus' Los Angeles Times think piece this past Sunday. On the conservative reaction in particular, here's another link to Reihan Salam's TNR essay, and my blog riff that emanated from it.

The White House has a link to the full text of President Bush's speech on Monday.

Here's a link to James Dobbins et al's America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq -- the quote in the TNR article comes from this press release. The calculation of the number of troops needed in Iraq comes from Michael Gordon's November 2003 Dispatches essay for

I've previously written about the errors in postwar planning in this Slate piece, which prompted some interesting feedback. The two TNR Online articles I wrote last year on democracy promotion in the Middle East can be found here and here. The point about ideological litmus tests being applied to CPA personel is based in part on this Ariana Eunjung Cha story in the Washington Post (link via Kevin Drum) and in part on first-person accounts I've received from CPA personnel. My assertion about the lack of viable policy options to the neoconservative grand strategy in the Middle East is based in no small part on the information gleamed from a roundtable conference held last week at the University of Toronto on "International Security and the Transatlantic Divide." Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Kopstein for inviting me to participate.

The current debate about Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith crystallizes the current questioning of administration competency. General Franks' quote about Feith -- "The fucking stupidest guy on the planet" -- can be found on page 281 of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Other juicy Franks quotes can be found at this Slate synopsis by Bryan Curtis. Slate's Chris Sullentrop has a pretty harsh assessment of Feith.

One of the things that got cut from the essay was my point that the situation in Iraq is not necessarily as bad as it has been portrayed in recent weeks. On the current situation in Fallujah, see this National Review Online essay by W. Thomas Smith Jr., which includes a verbatim transcript of a May 20th press conference held by held by Muhammed Ibrahim al-Juraissey, the city's mayor; Gen. Mohammed Latif, commander of the Fallujah Brigade; and Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. On the successes against Sadr's Mahdi militia, see this Washington Post account by Daniel Williams and Scott Wilson as well as this New York Times account by Edward Wong (credit must go to Andrew Sullivan for linking to all of these stories). I blogged about the progress in legal reforms in Iraq last month, and the revival of Iraqi security forces this month. Here's a link to the DoD claims about local governance.

One final caveat that got cut -- we can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well. Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom is as good a summation of these points as any, and here's a link to my take on Zakaria's thesis, with my follow-up here.

posted by Dan on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM


Here's what Richard Cohen reports today about Iraq:
On a recent Sunday four men, stripped to their underpants, were paraded through the city on the back of a pickup truck. They were escorted by scores of masked men shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) and their backs were bleeding from the 80 lashes each had received for selling alcohol. Later, they were treated at a hospital and released -- another example to the populace that things had radically changed.

Where has this happened, you're probably wondering? Well, it's Fallujah, the Iraqi city described by George Bush in the most serene terms in his address at the Army War College the other night.

Not to put Mr. Drezner in the same bag as Mr. Bush, but it does seem as if in Falluja American interests in the establishment of democratic institutions have lost out. And though the Sadrists have been handled militarily by US forces, it isn't clear that politically they haven't emerged stronger than before their uprising--again, no advancement for democracy.
The larger question is whether external military force can solve another country's problem of democratic governance--whether foreign conquest can be the path to a satisfactory constitution. The dispute goes back at least to American intervention in the Philippines at the beginning of the previous century, when we fought an extraordinarily nasty little war supposedly to fend off a strategic threat from some other power roaming the Pacific. It seems to me that in establishing democracy elsewhere our failure rate is high enough to suggest we might do well to show a more decent respect for the sovereignty of other nations. Our record is sullied enough to favor a policy of reticence, building on our good fortune in being able to easily deter attack by any other power and thereby protect our vital interests.

posted by: Scared on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

er, could you please repeat the question?

(and what does this have to do with us being duped by Chalabi?)

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I tend to agree with Scared that trying to impose democracy in an alien society is probably not a good idea. But I will say a few anecdotal incidents is not conclusive. It's not clear that that Iraqis as a whole are against democracy or support Sadr. I suspect a lot of his support comes from simple fear--he might win and you don't want to be on the wrong side. While I thought and still think the war was a mistake (for the reasons that Scared noted), I also suspect that we would be in a lot better position if Bush had paid more attention to the security situation in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. It seems to me that much of Sadr's success is at least as attributable to our failure in providing security as it is to any inherent popularity.

posted by: MWS on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

OK - I'm as slow as ever.

George Will has also been frequently dissatisfied recently, and today's offerring seems "on message":

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

DWD : "The deluge of bad news from that country--Muqtada al-Sadr's armed resistance, Ahmed Chalabi's alleged duplicity, Nicolas Berg's gruesome murder, and, oh yeah, a little problem at Abu Ghraib--raises the question of what, exactly, went wrong."

I can't for the life of me see why these events constitute a "deluge" of anything but hurdles to clear for a well trained fighting force, working in tandem with a determined America and a savvy State Department. We have those ingredients. The quagmire is the state of our two party system and a circulation starved media.

It is just so frustrating for those of us who honestly believe that the terrorists must be stopped and that Iraq is the place to stop them.

No one can believe that Muqtada al-Sadr has a future in Iraq. He's their Michael Moore. There's no quicker way to die in Iraq than to join up with Sadr. And I think everyone new Ahmed Chalabi was a dirt bag, but we just couldn't tune in to the Chamber of Commerce. To dig up dirt, you go where the dirt is. And isn't Nicolas Berg's horrible death just a reminder of what we're up against and why the Geneva Convention needs to be rethunk! And the prison? Undependable, sure, but it seems to me it was made a far bigger tabloid deal than it needed to be - IF our goal was focused on our long term future, not some political parties short term power grab.

posted by: RD on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

One of the things that got cut from the essay was my point that the situation in Iraq is not necessarily as bad as it has been portrayed in recent weeks.

Of course! Why would the media want THAT published somewhere?

Let's remember the media's role here: always publish every story making Iraq appear in bad shape; cut everything to the contrary.


posted by: Al on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Actually, it seems to me that a whole lot of people think Sadr has a future in Iraq. His fighters may be overmatched against the American First Armored Division, but against lightly armed Iraqi civilians they are the best thing going. This is why he is such a problem.

Hindsight once again: Sadr probably should have been arrested right after Khoei was murdered, despite the discomfort this would have caused among Shiite clerics. These clerics, Sistani included, held back from asserting their authority over Sadr last summer, counting on their greater age and scholarly attainments to secure popular allegiance. They underestimated him, his movement and (probably) his Iranian resources, and now he has what Saddam had -- thousands of well-armed toughs willing to intimidate and kill to back their leader.

I mention this only to caution against the tendency to look at Iraq as if everything that goes wrong (or right) there is solely a result of American policy. In this instance the Iraqis who oppose extremism even if they do not seek to emulate us badly misjudged their enemy, and the American army is left to deal with the consequences.

posted by: Zathras on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I should add Drezner's complicity in the media's ongoing campaign to bury anything halfway positive about Iraq is really quite disappointing.

I'd like to know why that part got cut. And why he agreed to it.

posted by: Al on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Can't the Iraqis be excused somewhat of dredging up there own history with ruthless, murderous dictators and their past relationship with our country. We've done the same, drawing parallels to every war, action, skirmish and engagement we can use to support either side of any arguement. Wait till the Iraqis find out how much fame and fortune they can achieve by writing books. Then I'll know for sure that Democracy has taken root. (And in my previous post Abu Ghraib situation was "undefendable" as is my spell check abilities.)

posted by: RD on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Dear Al,

I will be the first to admit that there are some things going right in Iraq - for instance the other day the WaPo featured a story about building sewer systems in Iraq.

However the bad news is the kind of news about a demagogue preacher becoming popular, the US being forced politically to back down in Fallujah and Najaf and hand them over to anti-liberal forces, the IGC President getting blown up in a car bomb, Iraqi intellectuals and liberals getting assassinated, and the new candidate for Iraqi interim President turning down the job - presumably because he doesn't want to meet the business end of a car bomb either.

Let's face it, it really is all about performance that creates confidence. We didn't win the confidence of the Iraqi people. Because we didn't win the confidence of the Iraqi people, centrifugal forces took over. Because centrifugal forces took the limelight, the American people gradually became less than confident about their leadership's ability to see it through. As the American people faltered, the political leadership began looking to cover their ass instead of being bold enough to win.

It just goes to prove what I was saying last year, that it really is hard to redo a first impression and we really got off on the wrong foot with the Iraqis because of the cluelessness of Feith, Cheney, Wolfowitz, et al.

Now there is a crisis of confidence, and it's not irretriviable but any idiot who says "more of the same" is just asking for massive failure. At this point a change in course is needed if for no other reason than to recapture public confidence in the Iraqi and American publics and so buy time.

Cause that's what's happening, we're running out of time.

posted by: Oldman on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

A little testy, but mesmerising arguments. Let's ignor the "we shouldn't be there at all" crowd just for a moment. Is there degree of cluelessness among current leaders, or is drooling imminent. Why is it all the retired Generals are the only smart ones. So the all clue in know it alls absolutely knew that the Iraqi soldiers would high tail it back to the slums. That's why we should have sent in a half million troops to fight alley by alley, door to door and rat hole to rat hole, mowing the obvious badguys down, carpet bombing their lairs, you know, the ones with the neon enemy signs flashing. I think you guys would be howling sonic booms because civilian casualties would be horrendous, American soldier casket planes would be stacked up over Dover and the Arab nations would be showing us just what a coalition looks like. The result,if we were successful, would be an occupation that could never end and probably cross international boundries. You scholarly types need to share whatever it is you smoke on campus these days. I could use a hit.

posted by: RD on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I always thought the biggest flaw in the idea was that it didn't really take the risks of implementation into consideration. Those should have been weighed against the risks of containment. But it seemed to me that the administration considered only the risks of containment.

posted by: fling93 on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Have I been standing to close to the lead paint fumes? I remain a panglossian optimist. The situation in Iraq is looking better every day. The worst seems over, and the country has turned the corner. We were severely hurt when Turkey did not allow us to invade from the north. This would likely not have occurred if its parliament saw the West united behind President Bush. To be blunt, why does Daniel Drezner and others ignore this event?

The following letter sent to Andrew Sullivan is admitted only anecdotal evidence. Nonetheless, I believe this soldier truly sees the bigger picture better than the chattering classes:

"Anyway, he said that he refuses to watch the news coverage of what's happening over there. He said that the things they show are true but that the media blows everything out of proportion and makes it look like it's total chaos all of the time. He said that for the most part it's quiet and boring. And he has been in downtown Baghdad for a year in the middle of it all! He said that it's really like an inner city that has a lot of gang activity. The people that live there are happy that the troops are there and are very friendly and supportive (women and girls always blowing kisses, men waving and smiling!) They point out the "bad guys" and call them "Ali Baba"! He said that so much has changed for the good over there. Kids are back in school, adults suddenly have internet access and telephones where before they had no way of knowing what was happening in the outside world. Businessmen are tearing down old falling apart mud and stone buildings and building real businesses. J has learned some basic Iraqi including writing their alphabet (which is basically symbols written from right to left) and he has in turn taught English to some of the Iraqi's. As much as he doesn't want to go back, he sees how much the Iraqi's need help and wants them to be successful. He said that he can see them becoming a thriving country within the next 10 years. He said that all of the troops that he knows are very supportive of what Pres. Bush is doing but that Donald Rumsfeld is another story. No one seems to like him at all for a lot of different reasons."

posted by: David Thomson on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I'm amazed by the amount and speed of the number of war supporters who seem to be in a total rush to separate themselves from the conflict. The common thread throughout is "This has clearly been a disaster".

Now, I don't have degrees in foreign policy studies, and I live the relative backwater of Houston (hence my user name) out here in flyover coutnry, but it's just hard for me to determine with any certainty that things are awful over there - or, for that matter, good.

We're getting messages from multiple sources, from Washington wonks all the way to Iraqi bloggers. On some level, it is impossible to get a truly accurate view of what's actually happening in Iraq. OTOH, we get way too much information about what's happening in the halls of the Pentagon and State Department and other internecine bullshit and score-settling that, frankly, most of us hicks out here don't really care about.

IMO, at the rate things are going, it's going to be extremely difficult to see if the invasion "worked" for a long time, given the virtually infinite number of ways one can consider something a success - or failure.

I suppose the thing that bothers me the most is that, rhetorically speaking, a lot of people seem to have decided that because something isn't perfect, it's therefore a failure (with the corollary that because it hasn't been faster, it's also a failure).

I didn't expect the panicked distancing from the enterprise by the pro-war side, making suggestions that a) the Bush team has done everything wrong and b) that the situation is effectively beyond salvage. I guess I thought there was more backbone involved.

I thought that there'd be some acknolwedgement that we were going into a totalitarian society traumatized by years of brutality, suppression and deprivation. That we'd face seething religious undercurrents. That we'd run into some bad characters interested in serving themselves. That in some ways we'd be going in blind because it is notoriously difficult to get good information out of closed societies. And as a result of all of the above that we'd face hurdles we hadn't anticipated them ... and probably couldn't have even if we'd waited years and years for more intelligence and the blessing of the UN.

Engaging in war - as opposed to sitting behind a soft wall of self-protective bureacracy and doublespeak - will lead to fuck-ups that require changing of the plans. Sometimes, you have to take the least-bad alternative. Sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes the politicians and bureaucrats do their usual bang-up job of meddling in the situation.

To date, there's been no civil war. The revolt uniting Shiite and Sunni against the coalition hasn't materialized. We've apparently absorbed the loss of troops from Spain and elsewhere. There's ongoing public investigation and punishment for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, which in any event hasn't yet caused the Iraqis to freak out. Fallujah has been isolated, though it will be a problem in the future; the Shiite core appears to be choosing calm over Sadr's toy army. Every day that goes by we fix a little more infrastructure and train a few more security workers. Britain and our other partners at this point seem to be still pretty solid.

So I guess this (finally) brings me back to the question: What were the expectations of the pro-war crowd going into this? Were there specific things that had to be done in order to keep your support, or just the vague idea that things should have been "better"?

Anti-war folk need not address the above, since I'm assuming each screw-up from the Bush administration that we've seen so far has validated your pre-war views, and that even our successes are either a) dumb luck; b) aren't really ours; or c) not really successes at all but in reality failures.

posted by: Steve in Houston on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Indeed, have I been standing too close to the lead paint fumes? I read many of the same materials that Dan Drezner cites---and yet we seem to come to exact opposite conclusions. Am I therefore someone who refuses to see the bad stuff? Or, is it possible that my outsider status allows me to see the bigger picture? It seems to me that Iraq is rapidly becoming a great success story. And yes, the other dominoes in the region should start to fall. I sense that both Jordan and Saudi Arabia, for instance, are now on board with the President’s program. Am I totally off my rocker? How many other people share my giddy optimism?

posted by: David Thomson on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Dan, can you kindly point me towards any "social science evidence" which suggests that invading Iraq was a good idea?

posted by: decon on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

... and will you also please publish a list of other countries we ought also to invade (only after electing a competent Commander in Chief, of course). And a rank order would be preferred to a mere listing, if possible.

posted by: decon on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I never thought that the creation of a democracy in Iraq was impossible. However, I opposed the decision to invade because I had no faith in the current administration's capacity to see it through. As Josh Marshall said a while back:

"Is it really reasonable to expect that the values which undergird liberal democracy in America will be effectively spread abroad by the most illiberal people in America?"

posted by: Noah on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

The problem does not lie in Iraq. At the moment it lies in the White House.

"But it was a horrible war, and as Allard Lowenstein said one night in a debate, it looked as if the goal was not to win and get out but lose and stay in. (One of the few times I have been floored in a debate, and this on national TV. Allard said "Jerry, you want to win and get out. I just want to get out. Your friends McGeoge Bundy and Robert McNamara want to lose it and stay in.")"

From today's National Review Online:

"... The drop in poll numbers suggests that discontent has spread beyond typical Bush haters. A significant number of Independents and Republican-leaning, natural supporters of the President Bush look to be seriously considering their Election Day options.
... But part of it may be that a significant segment of the natural Republican base has no appetite for nation building.
The Jacksonian response to the Fallujah savagery would have been a crushing, and perhaps indiscriminate, counterattack on the entire town. Upon hearing that American forces, after hammering Sadr's insurgents for days suddenly shifted and began negotiating with former Baathists to patrol the city, Jacksonians may have concluded that we're no longer in this to win."

Translation: by both pulling out of Fallujah (entirely) and backing off on Sadr, Bush may have convinced what Walter Russell Mead called America's "Jacksonian" faction (see:

that he lacks the will to win. And if he intends to "lose it and stay in and lose it" (borrowing Al Lowenstein's phrase), the Jacksonians would rather cut their losses by dumping Bush for Kerry and pull out entirely. This doesn't mean that they want to risk further terrorism, just that they re starting to feel they must endure the price of presidential weakness until they have a President who will use American power to win as opposed to avoiding defeat.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]


The flaws in this Iraq project are many-fold.

1. Contrary to your suggestion, the flawed idea is NOT that democracy cannot be fostered in a country with a tyrannical past. History shows this assumption is wrong.
The fatal flaw is assuming that democracy, somehow, can be exported without having in place the rule of law and separation of powers that guarantees constitutional liberties. Fareed Zakaria has written about this at some length in "The Future of Freedom". Not to take away credit from him, but this is common sense. Democracy is majority rule. It does not guarantee constitutional liberalism or personal liberties. With no guarantee on personal liberties and consitutional absolutes, democracy may quickly morph to a tyranny of the majority.

What is interesting about Zakaria's book, additionally, is the argument he makes (with some facts to back it up) that a broad-based, relatively prosperous middle-class, established via an embrace of capitalism with reasonable legal protections (meaning, the non-laissez-faire form of capitalism) could very well be a strong foundation for establishing personal liberties.

Thus, the Bush administration made two fatal flaws on the "ideas" front.
(a) They wilfully ignored common sense in repeatedly clamoring for democracy without addressing *in substance* the worrisome concern of a tyrannical majority (which could lead to civil war). By this I don't mean that they never thought about individual rights. What I mean is that high levels of security, coupled with the building of the economy/personal income of the majority, to the point that constitutional rights become desirable and sustainable (from an economic standpoint) has been given short shrift.
(b) They wilfully ignored the long history of failed democratization experiements due to the imposition of laissez faire capitalism on a repressed people (just reading "World on Fire" by Amy Chua or even Stiglitz's latest book - an effort of no more than 2-3 days - could have educated them). The economic "policy" Bush and Bremer have "brought" to Iraq reflects another example of ideology sure to result in failure.

2. There were obviously numerous fatal flaws in implementation. I imagine, it would be hard for anyone (except, perhaps, this administration's diehard supporters) to display a greater level of (appalling) incompetence than what these guys have demonstrated. But, again, this is another reflection of depraved indifference to history. The number of people who were ignored, the number of reports that were brushed aside, the number of experiences that were too many to count.

posted by: TR on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Where is Osama?
Where is Osama?
It is time for sane people to pull their head out of the sand. Focus on the fact that this administration is willing to send young men and women to their death in an irrelevant country to keep our attention from their monumental failure.
Where is Osama?
Where is Osama?

posted by: George on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

“Where is Osama?”

Osama’s murderers are actively involved in Iraq. Have you ever heard of a guy named Nicholas Berg?

posted by: David Thomson on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Let's suppose that we hand over sovereignty June 30th, violence slowly tapers off (or not) and we proceed toward elections in which a not terribly theocratic government is elected. The way some people are wailing I'd have to conclude that they believe this to be an impossibility. And yet local elections have been happening accross southern Iraq in which moderate candidates have been winning. I have not noted this information anywhere in the mainstream media by the way. Let us suppose that in 6 months things work out in this postive way at the national level. The perception of the Bush administration as incompetent in its handling of Iraq would have to be reconsidered in the light of these events and the relatively low US casualties getting there (I realize this must be a nightmare scenario for some).

My point is that real incompetence is evidenced by rushing to judgements about things we cannot possibly know with any degree of certainty. We are only a year into this and we don't have much longer to wait to find out how things really turn out. Having a little patience and backbone at this stage is a more sane reaction than a lot of wailing, second guessing and gnashing of teeth. I never believed it would be easy, no matter what the administration implied.

posted by: Graham on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Steve in Houston: "I thought that there'd be some acknolwedgement that we were going into a totalitarian society traumatized by years of brutality, suppression and deprivation. That we'd face seething religious undercurrents. That we'd run into some bad characters interested in serving themselves. That in some ways we'd be going in blind because it is notoriously difficult to get good information out of closed societies."

Yes, it would have been nice to acknowledge all that. The problem is that the administration refused to acknowledge it before the war and pretty much still refuses to acknowledge it.

May I remind you of what Cheney said on "Meet the Press" about any possible problems just days before the war started?

Cheney: Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. [...]

Russert: If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

Cheney: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. [...] The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

So there - there simply won't be any problems, so why plan for them?

posted by: gw on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Hey TR, did you get your 3x5's mixed up? 1. Contrary to your suggestion, the flawed idea is NOT that democracy cannot be fostered in a country with a tyrannical past. History shows this assumption is wrong.
(a) They wilfully ignored common sense in repeatedly clamoring for democracy without addressing *in substance* the worrisome concern of a tyrannical majority (which could lead to civil war).

The idea that no one can self govern because of their past cannot be substantiated beyond anicdotal agrument. This is the Fertile Crescent for Christ's sake. Heck we've been at it for two hundred plus years and our "Democracy" is still slip sliding along the socialist spectrum.

So we should give up on spreading Democracy. No one but us can do this thing we're doing. Are they too stupid, too lazy or too submissive. What's the alternative as non-Democracies fester and grow into cancerous hatred of anything that seems to be better than they've attained.

I like how writing in outline form verses paragraph form makes ideas appear to be more valid regardless of out pointless it proves to be. I'll see your 1.(a)(b)2. and raise you 5 points to a successful terrorist campaign in Iraq.

And I also like how we start with a premise - failure, then build an argument from historical writings and obscure authors. Patten did that, then put the books down and danced a little whoop ass on the bad guys. That's what Bush is doing, whooping the bad guys and it's success is threatening the opposition party and the global weasels. He's even presented the argument in outline form for academia. What more can we ask, 3x5's?

posted by: RD on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Graham -- a fair point, akin to what I wrote in February on the topic.

My point here is whether, to date, the public perceives Iraq to be a failure, and how that affects our grand strategy. I think the polling evidence strongly suggests that the perception of failure is increasing.

posted by: Dan Drezner on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Unfortunately the perception of failure is not created by events on the ground per say but by the reporting of those events by the mainstream media. The negative is emphasized and the positive played down or outright ignored. I am not saying that things are rosy, but they are not as dire as one would think if you got all your news from the top 5 stories AP pumps out every day.

posted by: Graham on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I'd be interested to know what the pro-war people think of the fact that the corrupt and incompetent UN is in charge of selecting the future gov't of Iraq, and that we still don't know who the Iraq's leaders will be with about a month to go. Doesn't that suggest that this failure idea is not just a media construct, but that we truly are in real trouble?

We've had 4 plans in the past year, our poll #'s in Iraq are trending down, and the head of the 82nd Airborne has said that he thinks that we are failing strategically.

No doubt the media is getting a lot wrong, and distorting both the good and the bad, but anyone who thinks that its coverage is the main problem is in denial, IMO.

posted by: Carl on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Carl, good question. It's seems we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. We have never given up on the UN, but have not allowed our self preservation to wrest solely on their determination. We faithfully have gone to them time and time again, almost more to give them an opportunity to properly engage as it is just the proper thing to do. We shouldn't be shocked that such a enormous international bureaucracy would be to susceptible to scandal and deception. And I assure you, the UN is not "in charge" of selecting the future government of Iraq. We've staffed a significant piece of the process to them, once again giving them an opportunity to perform with some sort of distinction that will encourage our support. Given that Hillary is campaigning for 2008 with positions like increasing the military, maybe a total retooling of the UN would be a winning campaign issue.

posted by: RD on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I've been waiting for someone else to bring this up because it seems so obvious to me that there must be some well-known facts that only I'm not aware of so if that's the case accept my apologies in advance and please don't be too hard on me BUT...

I have a question for those who see Islamic law being enforced in Fallujah?

So what?

It isn't all of Iraq. Presumably citizens will be allowed to come and go as they please. If doctors,lawyers,teachers,engineers and skilled craftsmen don't like it there-they have almost all of Iraq to move to. The government of Fallujah knows this as well(or will find out soon enough).

I for one see the situation in Fallujah as an opportunity to showcase and contrast the advantages of a non-secular govt. over the alternative.

If Fallujah wants to be East Berlin with no wall, as far as I'm concerned they can knock themselves out!

What am I missing here guys? Please be gentle.

posted by: Rocketman on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

Iraq is an astounding success.

I'm in agreement with Steve in Houston. It sounds to me like you're simply following the building consensus manufactured by mainstream media that Iraq is a failure of policy, execution, and planning.

I don't see it as a failure at all. I see Americans meeting challenges and overcoming them. I see a resiliency in shifting tactics to include Iraqi forces (both political and military) in decisions and execution. I see the Shia rejection of Sadr as the result of our change in tactics in Fallujah.

We are not at war with the Iraqi people and it is they who will run their own country, not us. And giving them a say in handling current problems is exactly the right thing to do.

Remember, when Baghdad fell we WERE considered liberators. All through the summer, naysayers aside, reconstruction was going well. Can we fault ourselves that the Iraqi's expected instant solutions? Saddam's regime had fallen and they expected something immediately to take its place so they could get on with their lives. We could have deposited a top-down ruler and bureaucracy and left. Instead we took the time to build infrastructure and set up the institutions required of a democracy: independent judiciary, bank, currency, tax system, property laws, schools. And local education on how democracy and elections work. Elected town councils now sit all over the country.

Ramadan was an extremely bad period because of Zarqawi..not insurgency nor Shia uprising. But even that settled down after the horrible fall of 2003 (when, coincidence?, the horrors at Abu Ghraib occurred) until the turnover loomed closer. Then the last-chance for grabbing power people made their move. It was not unexpected. Our military knew that Sadr would be a problem and were planning for how to deal with him. Fallujah too.

So we've dealt with those two problems without turning the Iraqi people against us. Zarqawi has more planned, I'm sure, but more troops on the ground is not the answer to him. More troops simply mean more targets and more supply lines to hit.

What the Iraqi people themselves have learned from this is priceless...that their freedom and their democracy depends on themselves as much, if not more, than our troops there. It is not being handed to them free and clear, they must want it for themselves and fight for it and they realize this now. They wouldn't have understood this last April.

This is not a failure of planning at all, it is a success in terms of flexibility, intelligent response, and fortitude.

posted by: Syl on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

I'm in the paint fumes, too. I wrote an evidence-based post that Iraq is going well.
It caused some discussion.

posted by: Jon Kay on 05.27.04 at 02:21 PM [permalink]

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