Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Understand the Chronology

[posted by Callimachus]

The Iraq narrative already has been well-framed, by the big legacy media and the left-leaning academic pundits (with a minor assist to the BDS bloggers). It's a venture based on impossible premises and doomed to failure from the start. That's nice, because everyone who opposed the war from the beginning is validated and vindicated and everyone who thought it was a good idea is supposed to now eat poop and die.

"Defeat, doom, failure, folly" thud like jungle drums beneath the text of most of what you read these days on Iraq. Very well, the media always has a tendency to fall into ruts, and pundits serve themselves best when the present can be twisted to fit their narratives.

[Even as I write this I have a smug conversation flowing around me in which professional journalists mock and laugh at a despised America they see as sinking in the quicksand of Iraq.]

What's being missed amid all this morbid glee? Plenty. For one, the lives and work of some 140,000 Americans serving in that country. As I've shown here repeatedly, they are invisible in the mainstream media's coverage. They have been invisible almost since the liberation of Baghdad, after which, for reasons no one can clearly explain to me, the embeds disembeded.

The contractor/reconstruction effort, which was a huge and amazing piece of collective work, also never got any play except when the word "Halliburton" and "overcharge" ended up on the same page. Is it over now? Is it still going on? How would you know?

What about the U.S. military as a system? All we are told now is that it's "broken" or "almost broken." What is that supposed mean? It's words about words, like "civil war." It tells you nothing about the present or the future. It only tells you that the people who write this crap can't or won't break out of their cocoon of words and think about realities.

Which, again, is typical, because when it comes to military matters, the media generally is clueless, the military generally is content to keep them in the dark, and the pundits in their faculty lounges -- well, when they're not signing petitions to keep ROTC off campus they're carving off chunks of the departmental budget to form "Peace Studies" think tanks.

I want to know: Are our military managers learning from the things they did wrong in Iraq -- and the things they did right? Are we learning to fight this anti-insurgency? Because even if we pull up the tentpoles in Baghdad and go home today, this war will still out there, waiting for us. Next time, next country.

All the more so if we do get chased home, as so many of us perversely wish, because then every thug from Medellin to Mindanao will know: "That's how you can beat America and be a hero."

Nothing is more important to the next 15 years. Yet the silence on that topic is appalling. The closest thing to coverage of that issue I've seen in big media recently is from Germany, and if you can stomach Der Spiegel's usual catshit-for-a-breastpin condescending tone when writing about America and Americans (it's worse in the German original), you can at least see the topic addressed.

The important names all are in here: Mattis, Petraeus, William Wallace (U.S., not Scotland) -- the ones you don't see in the domestic media any more, and if you don't know their names you don't know enough.

I also highly recommend the companion piece, a Q and A with Petraeus. Just reading it will remind you of the thing most often deliberately buried in the prevailing narrative: Iraq was not necessarily doomed; creative and smart approaches were tried and they succeeded; the bottom didn't fall out all at once in 2003. It could have worked, and in places it did work, and in places it's still working.

SPIEGEL: During your time as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul you tried to do exactly that. Your work up there is considered the most successful example for a new security doctrine. But what went wrong after the first year?

Petraeus: The first year was quite a good period in Ninevah Province and northern Iraq. We did, indeed, have a tough patch there, too; but by and large it was a fairly good period. Certainly we had to deal with the dynamics of Sunni Arabs who started to question whether they had a stake in the success of the new Iraq or not, and that was yet another dilemma over time that accumulated along with the influx of foreign fighters and the return of Saddamists who merged with people in the neighborhoods who weren't sure about their future in the new system. And of course that dynamic is still there.

SPIEGEL: What do you tell critics who claim that your operations failed in Mosul? Despite the fact that things got off to a good start, the region has since fallen to pieces.

Petraeus: It's important to understand the chronology. The trouble really started about five months after the 101st Airborne left Iraq -- though there is no question that the insurgents and foreign fighters were already trying to make inroads in our area as early as the fall of 2003. In fact, when many other areas did poorly during the uprising across Iraq in April 2004, Mosul and the Iraqi security forces there did quite well. The eventual spiral downward was likely the result of political dynamics in the wake of the tragic assassination of the governor of Ninevah Province at the end of June 2004 -- just as sovereignty was transferred from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim Iraqi government led by (former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad) Allawi. But you'll always find these big, catalyst moments in history as one occured when the governor was killed, on the very same night of the transfer of sovereignty. The situation in Ninevah became very fragile. The Sunni Arab members of the province council largely left, in a province where Sunni Arabs make up more than 70 percent of the population. So that couldn't turn out well, and soon the situation started to go downhill at an increasing pace.

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