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Glorious Victory in Iraq

Claims of "progress" in Iraq don't add up

White House depiction of Iraq

By Terry Canaan, special to Fog City Journal

November 27, 2007

Yippee! There's been a downturn in the violence in Iraq. The surge has been a huge success and Iraq is now a nation of group hugs, cotton candy, and rainbows.

At least, that's the impression you get from the White House and a media who's past mistakes should make them one helluva lot more cautious. In an interview with President Bush, ABC's Charlie Gibson asked, "You took a lot of doubting and rather skeptical questions about the surge. I'll give you a chance to crow. Do you want to say, I told you so?" Bush said he didn't. George W. Bush is now more circumspect about the Iraq war than the media.

And he's certainly more cautious than the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby:

With the media at last paying attention to the progress in Iraq, shouldn't leading Democrats think about doing the same? Perhaps this would be a good time for Hillary Clinton to express regret for telling Petraeus that his recent progress report on Iraq required "a willing suspension of disbelief" - in effect, calling him a liar. Perhaps Senate majority leader Harry Reid should admit that he may have been wrong to declare so emphatically: "This war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything."

All of the Democratic presidential candidates have been running on a platform of abandoning Iraq. At the recent debate in Las Vegas, they refused to relax their embrace of defeat even when asked about the striking evidence of improvement. They continued to insist that "the surge is not working" (Bill Richardson), that "the occupation is fueling the insurgency" (Dennis Kucinich), and that the "strategy is failed" and we must "get our troops out" (Barack Obama).

Jacoby ends his piece by asking how dems can "be so invested in defeat that they would abandon even a war that may be winnable?" and by saying that, with things in Iraq "looking so hopeful, this is no time to cling to a counsel of despair."

It's a little ironic that Jacoby meant to misuse the word "hopeful," but failed. The word he was looking for was something that meant "improved" -- the word he used means "optimistic." An optimist and a realist are often two different things and Jacoby's playing the optimist here.

It takes the Philadelphia Inquirer's Trudy Rubin to put things in a more realistic light. "Iraqis I know who fled their homes are still afraid to go back," she writes. "Violence is down to early-2006 levels -- Before the most horrendous wave of sectarian killings that followed a bombing by Sunni militants of a holy Shiite shrine. But car bombs still explode, civilians still die violent deaths, and some provinces remain troubled."

In other words, things have gone from "violent as all hell" to "horrendous" and back to "violent as all hell" again. This isn't a downturn in violence, this is the end of a spike. It took a "surge" of thousands of troops to return Iraq to a level of violence that was considered unacceptable in 2006. This is "success" and "progress" only if you define "success" as a return to a very violent status quo and "progress" as a step forward after a step back.

To get a snapshot of what Iraq looks like today, we can turn to yesterday's Reuters' Factbox for Iraq. Yesterday, a roadside bomb injured six in Mosul. In Falluja, "Police detained four gunmen after an attack that wounded a policeman." In Baghdad, a car bomb killed nine and wounded 30, a roadside bomb wounded two civilians, and another roadside bomb killed one Iraqi soldier and wounded six others. Iraq is a violent nation.

In the Democratic response to Bush's weekend radio address, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said, "[In my capacity as former commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq], I saw firsthand the consequences of the administration's failure to devise a strategy for victory in Iraq that employed, in a coordinated manner, the political, economic, diplomatic and military power of the United States. That failure continues today. At its base is the mistaken belief, despite years of evidence to the contrary, that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone."

The problem here is that even if there were progress in the field in Iraq, there is no progress in the Iraqi government. Nothing can happen without political progress. "The keys to securing the future of Iraq are aggressive regional diplomacy, political reconciliation and economic hope," Sanchez said, "Yet, as our current commanders in Iraq have recently noted, the improvements in security produced by the courage and blood of our troops have not been matched by a willingness on the part of Iraqi leaders to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace to their country."

And even then, this war continues to be a war in search of a reason for being. There were no WMD, no ties to terrorism, and Saddam's dead. In fact, the war has actually been over for quite a long time. What we're engaged in is an occupation -- we're not fighting a war anymore, we're some other nation's SWAT team.

And we know that Britain's military thought invading Iraq would be illegal before the war, that neocon White Houser Richard Perle later admitted the war was illegal, and that UN weapons inspector Hans Blix agreed.

Since when is success a legitimate reason for finishing up a crime? No one argues that Al Capone's criminal career should've been excused because he succeeded in becoming the warlord of Chicago. If our presence in Iraq was illegal before the spike in violence ended, it continues to be illegal now. "But we're winning!" is a crappy argument to continue a criminal enterprise.

But, there is no real evidence that we are winning. In fact, I'll believe that a "win" is even possible when someone explains to me what a "win" actually is. As it is now, I don't have any idea -- and neither do the people cheerleading for the administration. How do you "win" an occupation? An occupation is an end in itself. The occupation is the win -- not quite what you'd envisioned, is it? What we're hoping for is some sort of "do-over," so we can get a better win. It's not going to happen.

The media should approach recent developments in Iraq with the same skepticism they should've had for neocon claims before the invasion. The Bush administration should have lost their claim to the benefit of the doubt a long, long time ago.

Current claims that Iraq is now turning around should be analyzed, not simply repeated. The media has no business reporting that Iraq is a nation of group hugs, cotton candy, and rainbows on the Bush administration's claims that this is so. If I know it isn't, then why don't they?

Terry Canaan is a former political fundraiser living and writing in Wisconsin. He publishes the blog "Griper Blade."





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