Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Patraeus the cock-eyed optimist

I suppose it would be remiss of me not to comment on the Patraeus testimony that happened today. I actually caught some of the hearing on NPR. I was listening to a female Republican representative (I didn't get her name) and I was flabbergasted at the gulf between her reality and mine. In her view, any questioning of Patraeus' objectivity was tantamount to anti-Americanism. She's clearly fallen into the "let your enemies pick the battlefield" trap as evidenced by her quoting jihadists who say that driving the US out of Iraq is one of their primary goals. (Never mind that it's also a goal of the majority of American people and the majority of Iraqi people.)

Then there was Patraeus' testimony. He sounded so wise, so assured, so reasonable. But I have now idea how he's coming to the conclusion that we should stay there longer. (Well actually I do: that's the conclusion he's supposed to come to.) Here's a roundup of some of the evidence that contradicts the Patraeus' and the administration's claims (they're the same) about our position in Iraq:

First of all, Patraeus is not some objective general just giving an apolitical assessment. He has a long history of backing the administrations positions, including a pro-occupation editorial that came out right before the 2004 election. Here's Glenn Greenwald:

It is actually amazing to watch media coverage of Gen. Petraeus' testimony depict him as though he has just risen from the apolitical ether as the objective and trustworthy source with regard to the war. The White House is desperate for that image to be maintained because the nation no longer trusts George Bush or Dick Cheney or other Republican office-holders, precisely because they have heard from those individuals over the last several years countless assurances of "progress," only for events repeatedly to prove those claims to be untrue.

But since the inception of the war, Gen. Petraeus has been at the forefront of issuing those sorts of highly -- and unduly -- optimistic statements about the war's progress. The media should not take a position as to how much credibility ought to be assigned to Gen. Petraeus' testimony, but it is inexcusable to exclude from their coverage these facts -- facts which demonstrate indisputably that what Gen. Petraeus is claiming this week about the war's success is exactly what he has been claiming for the last several years.

There are numerous pieces of evidence that Patraeus is not some neutral, unbiased general. After his testimony to Congress, Patraeus and Crocker (the US ambassador to Iraq) gave a 1-hour exclusive to FOX News. Hardly the venue wherein one demonstrates one's political independence. Republican operative Ed Gillespie (former chair of the RNC) has been "hard-wired" into Patraeus' operation:
Another new arrival in the West Wing set up a rapid-response PR unit hard-wired into Petraeus's shop. Ed Gillespie, the new presidential counselor, organized daily conference calls at 7:45 a.m. and again late in the afternoon between the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy and military in Baghdad to map out ways of selling the surge.
Second, the idea that the so called "surge" (really a mild increase in troop strength combined with some strategy shifts and a shitload of PR) is in any way succeeding is ridiculous. The primary goal of the surge was to create a space for political reconciliation. Sullivan has quotes from Bush himself showing this clearly to be the case. This political reconciliation has clearly not happened. Maliki's government is still only at 23 of 40 ministers. None of the political questions that Iraqis need to answer can be answered by an American occupation.

Third, many Iraqi's don't want us there. Why this fact doesn't get more attention is baffling to me. A new BBC/ABC/NHK poll just came out (here's the pdf) that illustrates how negatively our occupation is viewed by Iraqis. Here are some highlight quotes (or lowlights, rather) from the Washington Post article on the poll:
  • BAGHDAD, Sept. 10 -- Seven in 10 Iraqis believe the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and Anbar province has made security worse in those areas and nearly half want coalition forces to leave immediately[...]
  • In most areas, the poll reveals a basic disconnect between U.S. commanders' view of a steadily improving situation in Iraq and a bleaker outlook among Iraqis. [...] poll numbers show that ordinary Iraqis are significantly more likely to say "things are going badly" than in the early days of the increased U.S. military presence in March.
  • More than six in 10 Iraqis now say the U.S.-led invasion in spring 2003 was a mistake. That negative assessment is 11 percentage points higher than it was in March. For the first time, more than half of Shiites, 51 percent, say it was wrong for coalition forces to invade Iraq, an event that toppled a power structure in which minority Sunnis dominated Shiites and Kurds.
  • Nearly half of all Iraqis now want coalition forces out of the country immediately, a 12-point increase from March,
  • Nearly six in 10 Iraqis say attacks on coalition forces are "acceptable," up six percentage points from March, including a 15-point jump among Shiites, 50 percent of whom now call such actions acceptable.
OK, it's the disconnect between those last two points that boggle my mind. Nearly half of Iraqis want us out immediately, but nearly 6 in 10 approve of attacks on occupying forces. That must mean that at least 10% of the population doesn't want us to leave immediately AND approves of attacks on us. Do they want us to stay SO we can be attacked? How large is this group? What's going on here?

Question: has anyone ever won a counter-insurgency campaign when nearly 60% of the population supports attacks on the occupying forces? (Without simply killing everyone, that is.) I'm not a military historian, so any help here would be welcome. It would seem rather difficult to quell an insurgency when someone can take a you, then flee into a random house and have better-than-even odds that the occupant approves of what they just did. Not that that particular scenario happens like I just described it. But 60% approval rating has got to make life more comfortable for a guerrilla than it would otherwise be.

I could go on and on about how most things aren't getting better in Iraq (see a sobering graph here at TPM) , and how what is getting better (e.g. Sunni tribes in Anbar deciding they don't like foreign Al Qaeda people blowing them up) doesn't need an American occupation in order to happen. Some people argue that if we withdraw, horrible things X, Y, and Z will happen, forgetting that this argument has been used for years and that horrible things X, Y, Z always happened anyway, even though we stayed. And even if horrible things X, Y, and Z will happen if we withdraw, that's not an argument for staying longer. We should only stay longer if our continuing presence is making horrible things X, Y, and Z less likely to happen when we eventually do pull out. And that doesn't seem to be happening.

Fortunately, Americans are highly skeptical of Patraeus' testimony and the whole Iraq occupation. Greenwald again:

But what is notable about all of this, if not surprising as well, is that the overwhelming majority of the American people now harbor such intense distrust towards our political and media elite that they are virtually immune to any of these tactics. Several polls over the past month have revealed that most Americans do not trust Gen. Petraeus to give an accurate report about Iraq. And a newly released, comprehensive Washington Post-ABC News poll today starkly illustrates just how wide the gap is between American public opinion and the behavior of our political establishment.

The majority of Americans have emphatically rejected the Beltway P.R. campaign of the last several months, and are as opposed more than ever before to the war. Perhaps most remarkably, in light of the bipartisan canonization rituals to which we have been subjected, a strong majority (53-39%) believes that Gen. Petreaus' report "will try to make things look better than they really are" (rather than "honestly reflect the situation in Iraq").

Moreover, huge majorities continue to believe that the war was not worth fighting (62-36%) and that the U.S. "is not making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq" (60-36%). Only a small minority (28%) believe the Surge has made the situation in Iraq better, while vast majorities believe it has made no difference (58%) or has made the situation worse (12%). And a sizable plurality continues to believe the U.S. is losing the war (48-34%).

More significantly still, overwhelming numbers of Americans understand what the D.C. Establishment refuses to accept: namely, that even if there are marginal and isolated security improvements, there is still no point in continuing to stay in Iraq. Large majorities want the number of U.S. troops in Iraq decreased (58-39%); believe overwhelmingly that a decrease should begin "right away," rather than by the end of the year or next year (62-33%); and favor legislation now to compel troop withdrawal by the spring (55-41%).

What is frustrating is that Congress, including many Democrats, continues to be baboozled by these power point slides and "we need another six months" and Patraeus' reputation. Enough is enough is enough.

UPDATE: There's a petition you can sign at Openleft.com to try to counter some of this disconnect between the American people and our political class. I'm not sure how much good it'll do, but I wanted to do SOMETHING.

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