Jay Reding.com

Live From The Surge

Michael Totten, blogging from Baghdad, has a fascinating look at life in one Baghdad neighborhood:

“This is not what I expected in Baghdad,” I said.

Buying Juice In Baghdad - ©2007 Michael Totten

“Most of what we’re doing doesn’t get reported in the media,” he said. “We’re not fighting a war here anymore, not in this area. We’ve moved way beyond that stage. We built a soccer field for the kids, bought all kinds of equipment, bought them school books and even chalk. Soon we’re installing 1,500 solar street lamps so they have light at night and can take some of the load off the power grid. The media only covers the gruesome stuff. We go to the sheiks and say hey man, what kind of projects do you want in this area? They give us a list and we submit the paperwork. When the projects get approved, we give them the money and help them buy stuff.”

Not everything they do is humanitarian work, unless you consider counter-terrorism humanitarian work. In my view, you should. Few Westerners think of personal security as a human right, but if you show up in Baghdad I’ll bet you will. Personal security may, in fact, be the most important human right. Without it the others mean little. People aren’t free if they have to hide in their homes from death squads and car bombs.

The “surge” is making progress, but that progress is normally hidden from public view by a media unwilling to report on it. Not all Iraq is as peaceful as the Graya’at neighborhood of Adhamiyah, or we wouldn’t be needed. The goal is to make as much of Iraq like Graya’at so that we aren’t needed any more.

What’s more important to note is that the kind of work being done here, interacting with local Iraqis and developing networks that help us identify and stop the terrorists, can’t be done from Kuwait or Okinawa or by a Predator drone flying at 35,000 feet. If we don’t have a presence in Iraq, we can’t do the things necessary to make life better for the people of Graya’at or anywhere else in Iraq. At the same time, terrorists will have unfettered access and will turn Iraq into another Afghanistan — a totalitarian hellhole in which radically austere Islamic law is enforced with the barrel of a gun or the blade of a knife.

For all the talk about how there’s no “military solution” to Iraq, most of what goes on in Iraq isn’t combat — it’s the sort of economic and political development activity that Totten witnessed in Graya’at. That sort of local-level development is ultimately what matters most in democratizing Iraq — a state can have the best-designed government ever put in place, but still fail as a democracy unless there is a civil society to support it. The goal of the “insurgency” in Iraq has been to disrupt the formation of civil society in Iraq by keeping everyone in fear — and slowly but surely that campaign is failing.

Totten’s on-the-ground reporting is exactly the sort of thing that the mainstream media should be doing — but have largely chosen not to. We in the States don’t get a balanced picture of what happens in Iraq, and most people are basing their opinions off of misinformation, disinformation, and gut-level feelings based on those faulty premises. If the American people truly knew what was going on in Iraq and could see it for themselves, those polling numbers would be the exact opposite of what they are now. That’s a message I’ve heard time and time again from those who have been in Iraq, and thankfully independent journalists like Michael Totten are doing the critical work of getting the fuller picture out.

10 responses to “Live From The Surge”

  1. Mentoc says:

    At the same time, terrorists will have unfettered access and will turn Iraq into another Afghanistan — a totalitarian hellhole in which radically austere Islamic law is enforced with the barrel of a gun or the blade of a knife.

    Happening now, already. Or maybe you hadn’t heard about the gay kids hanged under Sharia law?

    Is there a single dire consequence of troop reduction you can point to that isn’t already the case? That’s why people keep telling you that it can’t get any worse – because everything you keep saying will happen is happening.

  2. Jay Reding says:

    Is there a single dire consequence of troop reduction you can point to that isn’t already the case? That’s why people keep telling you that it can’t get any worse – because everything you keep saying will happen is happening.

    Are you kidding? It would get massively worse. It wouldn’t be 200-300 people dead per week, it would be a bloodbath in the thousands.

    Take Graya’at for example. It’s just north of al-Adhamiyah, a majority Sunni neighborhood in the northern part of Baghdad. Right across the Tigris and the al-Aaimmah bridge is the Shi’ite district of al-Kadhimiya, which also happens to be an area heavily influenced by the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army.

    The US pulls out, and the Mahdi Army is going to start a killing spree in al-Adhamiyah, executing as many Sunnis in places like Graya’at as they can. And who will the Sunnis in al-Adhamiyah have to turn to? The government’s not going to be likely to help, they’ll be busy elsewhere. The Interior Ministry still hasn’t fully been cleared out, so they’re little more than death squads to most Sunnis. The only people who could help them would be al-Qaeda — and their support comes at a price.

    The argument that Iraq is as bad as it will be is baseless — most of Iraq is relatively peaceful. The Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south have few car bombings, few executions, and a relatively normal security situation. Almost all of the violence is in places like Baghdad, Baqubah, and other areas in the Sunni Triangle.

    If the US wasn’t making any difference, why the sudden change in al-Anbar, which used to be the worst part of Iraq, a part that even the Marines had said was completely overrun just under a year ago? Why is it now that places like Ramadi and Hit are suddenly peaceful, after being terrorist-held hellholes for months?

    If people would pay more attention to what was really going on in Iraq, they wouldn’t be so quick to condemn the whole country.

  3. Mentoc says:

    It would get massively worse. It wouldn’t be 200-300 people dead per week, it would be a bloodbath in the thousands.

    Well, right now it’s something like 200-300 dead every other day, so once again – can you point to any dire circumstance that hasn’t already come to pass?

    The US pulls out, and the Mahdi Army is going to start a killing spree in al-Adhamiyah, executing as many Sunnis in places like Graya’at as they can.

    Why? Baghdad is already mostly through an ethnic cleansing, so it’s not clear that a withdrawal of US troops would facilitate a mass slaughter. They’re not blood enemies committed to mutual extinction; they’re just committed to ethnic purity. Which is awful, don’t get me wrong, but that’s already happening. A mass slaughter – that’s worse than the mass slaughter going on right now, I mean – just isn’t in the works. Certainly not according to the military’s own wargame simulations:

    If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations.

    The sectarian conflict isn’t driven by a need for mutual extermination; it’s driven by a desire for a three-state solution. The only thing standing in the way of that is the continued US presence – so it’s just as likely that our withdrawal will precipitate a short burst in conflict that rapidly leads to peace – as opposed to the sustained apocalypse our presence is maintaining.

    The Kurdish north and the Shi’ite south have few car bombings, few executions, and a relatively normal security situation.

    And there’s hardly any troop presence in those areas – which undercuts your assertion that an absence of troops will set the entire nation on fire. Clearly the conflict will be limited to the geographical borders of the three Iraqi ethnic groups, and once those are set as separate nations, the conflict will be over.

    If people would pay more attention to what was really going on in Iraq, they wouldn’t be so quick to condemn the whole country.

    So when are you going to start? A continued troop presence in the hundred of thousands just so guys can make frozen daquiris with generator-powered blenders hardly seems like a sufficient casus belli. But I guess you guys are really reaching the bottom of the barrel in terms of arguing the effectiveness of the surge.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    Well, right now it’s something like 200-300 dead every other day, so once again – can you point to any dire circumstance that hasn’t already come to pass?

    How about tens of thousands dead every week? That’s as likely as anything.

    Why? Baghdad is already mostly through an ethnic cleansing, so it’s not clear that a withdrawal of US troops would facilitate a mass slaughter. They’re not blood enemies committed to mutual extinction; they’re just committed to ethnic purity. Which is awful, don’t get me wrong, but that’s already happening. A mass slaughter – that’s worse than the mass slaughter going on right now, I mean – just isn’t in the works. Certainly not according to the military’s own wargame simulations:

    Look at the map — Baghdad is becoming more divided, but there’s no clean lines. The situation would be exactly what I described — neighborhoods like al-Adhamiyah would be surrounded by hostile Shi’ites and would turn to al-Qaeda for protection. The military’s wargames didn’t include al-Qaeda, and as the Post said, the results still weren’t at all good for Iraq or the United States.

    Saying that Iraq is as bad as it can be is a dodge, it’s a way of washing one’s hands of the affair and trying to ignore the inevitable consequences. There’s no doubt that things in Iraq will get much, much worse if the US leaves precipitously — as Ambassador Crocker has noted — and given the Ambassador’s record, he’s someone well worth listening to.

    The sectarian conflict isn’t driven by a need for mutual extermination; it’s driven by a desire for a three-state solution. The only thing standing in the way of that is the continued US presence – so it’s just as likely that our withdrawal will precipitate a short burst in conflict that rapidly leads to peace – as opposed to the sustained apocalypse our presence is maintaining.

    Which is utter bollocks — who is calling for a “three-state solution?” For one, Iraq has always been ethnically mixed, most Iraqi tribes have been mixed Sunni/Shi’ite. The only people who are calling for such a “solution” are people like Moqtada al-Sadr who would benefit greatly from wiping out Iraqi Sunnis. There’s no clean line of partition — it’s not like one can draw a line between Sunni and Shi’ite areas or even Sunni and Kurdish areas.

    A federal system is a viable solution, but that’s not partition. And in fact, most Iraqis don’t want their country to be turned into a series of ethnic enclaves. No wonder, because that sort of thing has never worked — look at the breakup of Yugoslavia as an example.

    And there’s hardly any troop presence in those areas – which undercuts your assertion that an absence of troops will set the entire nation on fire. Clearly the conflict will be limited to the geographical borders of the three Iraqi ethnic groups, and once those are set as separate nations, the conflict will be over.

    Yeah, after a few million people end up dying in the process. But hey, they’re just brown people, right? Who cares?

    The conflict won’t be over. The Sunnis wouldn’t have a viable state, groups like the Jaish-al-Mahdi aren’t going to stop killing Sunnis, and al-Qaeda would love for their to be a Sunni rump state desperate for their protection. Unless you think that decades of war with horrendous regional consequences is just fine, splitting Iraq into warring cantons would be about the dumbest thing that the US could do.

    So when are you going to start? A continued troop presence in the hundred of thousands just so guys can make frozen daquiris with generator-powered blenders hardly seems like a sufficient casus belli. But I guess you guys are really reaching the bottom of the barrel in terms of arguing the effectiveness of the surge.

    Again, you snark while missing the point: the only way Iraq can get together is if there’s a grassroots civil society. The only way to build that is to do exactly what we’re doing — simultaneously stop the terrorists and rebuild as much local infrastructure as we can. The only way we can do those things is to have a presence on the ground and help the Iraqis lift themselves up.

    We’ve always been playing by the Pottery Barn rules, just as Colin Powell said all those years ago — we break it, we buy it. Well, we broke a lot of things in Iraq getting rid of Saddam, and now we have the moral and strategic imperative of getting Iraq back into some semblance of order. To pull out is grossly irresponsible, and a complete abrogation of everything we stand for. Democracy? We’d be stabbing it in the back. Human rights? We’d be ignoring them in favor of political expediency. Freedom in the Middle East? Already people like Mr. Sullivan have made the patently racist assertion that it’s impossible — apparently he thinks that brown people can only live under the thumb of a dictator.

    We’re going to be doing the same thing we’re doing in Iraq for the rest of this century, as failed states represent one of, if not the, largest security threats this country faces. If we don’t have the political will to see this sort of things through, then we’re better off just surrendering to al-Qaeda right now, because September 11 will have been just the first of many if we’re not willing to go on the offense and fix the things that create this sort of terrorism in the first place.

    What the left doesn’t get is that they’re pissing all over their own values just to take a cheap shot at Bush, and they don’t even seem to care — which is why even if the left gets what they want, it will only make things worse for everyone. A withdrawal from Iraq would be a strategic and humanitarian disaster the likes of which this country has scarcely seen — and the only reason that the left is flogging for it so badly is because they want to give Bush a black eye, damn the consequences. Such small minds. Such small people.

  5. Mentoc says:

    How about tens of thousands dead every week? That’s as likely as anything.

    Oh, for god’s sake. Now you’re just making up numbers. What’s your evidence for these dire predictions? You could just as easily claim an alien invasion of downtown Baghdad, at this rate.

    Look at the map — Baghdad is becoming more divided, but there’s no clean lines.

    They’re getting cleaner, by the tune of 50-60 unidentified bodies every day. By the time a pullout happened, which could be no sooner than about six months after we decided to do it, they’d be cleaner still. The way the country is organizing itself, it’s simply obviating the possibility of the “bloodbath” you describe.

    Yeah, after a few million people end up dying in the process. But hey, they’re just brown people, right? Who cares?

    I’m sorry, but that’s your racism, not mine. And if you’re such a fan of “brown people”, why the assumption that they can’t do it on their own? Isn’t that a little racist and patronizing in itself?

    The Sunnis wouldn’t have a viable state, groups like the Jaish-al-Mahdi aren’t going to stop killing Sunnis, and al-Qaeda would love for their to be a Sunni rump state desperate for their protection.

    None of which seems to be being prevented by our presence, anyway. Which gets back to how you’re proving my main point for me – there’s simply no reasonable prediction you can make that hasn’t already come to pass.

    We’ve always been playing by the Pottery Barn rules, just as Colin Powell said all those years ago — we break it, we buy it.

    As the Pottery Barn reminded Powell all those years ago, they don’t have such a rule. I’m not sure we should, either. We’ve made a herculean effort to fix what we started in Iraq, but the current leadership just didn’t commit what it took, when it mattered. And it’s too late to fix that mistake now. The surge is just a game of whack-a-mole, and by definition, you can’t hit enough of the moles to keep them all down at once. The pressure you increase here simply drives the insurgency back into the areas you’ve already cleared.

    Well, we broke a lot of things in Iraq getting rid of Saddam, and now we have the moral and strategic imperative of getting Iraq back into some semblance of order.

    As you keep pointing out whenever you can, with the most tenuous of examples, there is a semblance of order in Iraq – or did you forget about Mr. Cocktail up there? They have a functioning government. They’ve been voting for years. Remember all those purple fingers you plastered all over your blog?

    If we don’t have the political will to see this sort of things through, then we’re better off just surrendering to al-Qaeda right now, because September 11 will have been just the first of many if we’re not willing to go on the offense and fix the things that create this sort of terrorism in the first place.

    And that’s exactly the faulty assumption conservatives always make – the faulty assumption that’s led us to the sorry state we’re in now. The assumption that the difference between victory and defeat has nothing to do with tactics or planning, it’s all a matter of a Triumph of the national Will. The will to win is necessary, Jay, sure; and you had it for three years. When your side couldn’t do the job, the will was lost. It’s had nothing to do with Democrats and liberals but everything to do with the failure of the Bush administration to properly execute their own war of adventure.

    A withdrawal from Iraq would be a strategic and humanitarian disaster the likes of which this country has scarcely seen — and the only reason that the left is flogging for it so badly is because they want to give Bush a black eye, damn the consequences.

    Or – and this is just a crazy alternative – the reason that people are politically opposed to Bush is because they see that over 6 years of his policies have led to the abject failure of nearly every program and policy he’s set out. Just a thought.

  6. Jay Reding says:

    Oh, for god’s sake. Now you’re just making up numbers. What’s your evidence for these dire predictions? You could just as easily claim an alien invasion of downtown Baghdad, at this rate.

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/05/02/iraq.scenarios/index.html

    What, and you honestly think that there wouldn’t be a massive outbreak of violence? That’s the sort of naivete that people say got us into this war. Next you’ll argue that they’ll be laying down flowers as we leave.

    The reality is that Iraq is not ethically separated, and it would take a massive bloodbath, hugh internal and external displacement of peoples, and a conflict which would very likely spread beyond Iraq’s borders. The idea that we can just cleanly leave and let the Iraqis sort things out is foolish — it would turn Iraq into another Yugoslavia: and that’s probably one of the better scenarios.

    I’m sorry, but that’s your racism, not mine. And if you’re such a fan of “brown people”, why the assumption that they can’t do it on their own? Isn’t that a little racist and patronizing in itself?

    No, because it takes time and training to raise a decent military. The Iraqis can defend their own country, but when they’re being used as pawns in a larger proxy war and have lived under three decades of totalitarian domination, throwing them to the wolves and telling them to figure it out on that own is a complete and total rejection of basic humanitarian principles.

    None of which seems to be being prevented by our presence, anyway. Which gets back to how you’re proving my main point for me – there’s simply no reasonable prediction you can make that hasn’t already come to pass.

    And the argument that things in Iraq are as bad as they’ll ever get is completely and totally naive. It’s your partisanship that leads you to that conclusion, not the facts on the ground. The idea that the killings won’t get any worse is hopelessly and terminally naive — no credible source takes that stance because there’s no rational basis to believe it. You certainly haven’t offered anything in the way of proof.

    As you keep pointing out whenever you can, with the most tenuous of examples, there is a semblance of order in Iraq – or did you forget about Mr. Cocktail up there? They have a functioning government. They’ve been voting for years. Remember all those purple fingers you plastered all over your blog?

    And that’s one step to stability, but hardly the only one. That government wouldn’t stand a chance without a functioning and effective security apparatus.

    And that’s exactly the faulty assumption conservatives always make – the faulty assumption that’s led us to the sorry state we’re in now. The assumption that the difference between victory and defeat has nothing to do with tactics or planning, it’s all a matter of a Triumph of the national Will. The will to win is necessary, Jay, sure; and you had it for three years. When your side couldn’t do the job, the will was lost. It’s had nothing to do with Democrats and liberals but everything to do with the failure of the Bush administration to properly execute their own war of adventure.

    So the Democrats have no will to win, nor to they have any idea about tactics or planning. That’s great…

    If you’d actually bother to read what’s posted here, the reason why the surge is a “change in course” is because it significantly changed the tactics in planning.

    Since apparently I have to administer reading comprehension tests around here, your next comment must contain the following answers:

    1.) What happened in Tel Afar in 2004-2005?
    2.) What did the US do differently in retaking Tel Afar in 2005?
    3.) What tactical differences have been applied from that battle to the current surge?

    When you can start arguing from a factual perspective rather than the kneejerk Bush-is-to-blame-for-everything reactionary bilge, then maybe you’ll be able to come up with convincing counterarguments.

  7. Eracus says:

    “Or – and this is just a crazy alternative – the reason that people are politically opposed to Bush is because they see that over 6 years of his policies have led to the abject failure of nearly every program and policy he’s set out.”

    Or – and this is just a crazy alternative – the reason that people are politically opposed to Bush is because they are so ignorant and, lacking the ability to think critically, they believe everything they see on CNN or read in a newspaper. And, of course, the “failure of the Bush Administration” wouldn’t have anything to do with the Democrat penchant for placing party over principle, would it? I mean, in this war, just why exactly is it that the Democrats have defended the terrorists, attacked the Executive, exposed national security and counter-intelligence programs, and continue to undermine our troops?

    Do you not think it a bit odd that the top priority of the Democrat Party after the attack on United States has been to attack American leadership in SUPPORT OF THE ENEMY whose idea of warfare is the slaughter of innocents here and abroad?? And you think Bush has failed??

    What an idiot.

  8. Mentoc says:

    What, and you honestly think that there wouldn’t be a massive outbreak of violence?

    In the middle of already massive violence?

    It’d be like lighting a bonfire – in the living room of a burning house. Not a major change, basically.

    The reality is that Iraq is not ethically separated, and it would take a massive bloodbath, hugh internal and external displacement of peoples, and a conflict which would very likely spread beyond Iraq’s borders.

    Massive bloodbath – ongoing.
    Displacement of peoples – check.
    Conflict spreading beyond Iraq’s borders – check.

    You’re still “predicting” things that are already happening. Nostradamas you ain’t, Jay.

    The idea that we can just cleanly leave and let the Iraqis sort things out is foolish — it would turn Iraq into another Yugoslavia

    And a decade and a half later, what used to be Yugoslavia is several stable states – not exactly a “breeding ground for terror.” We’ve certainly experienced more than ten times the civilian casualties in Iraq as occurred around the breakup of Yugoslavia.

    The Iraqis can defend their own country, but when they’re being used as pawns in a larger proxy war and have lived under three decades of totalitarian domination, throwing them to the wolves and telling them to figure it out on that own is a complete and total rejection of basic humanitarian principles.

    You don’t think Iraqis, who have lived in Iraq all their lives, know how to run their own country? How racist can you be?

    And the argument that things in Iraq are as bad as they’ll ever get is completely and totally naive.

    By all means, prove that, if you can. I’d suggest you stop trying to do so with evidence that proves my point, however. And calling me “partisan” and “naive” doesn’t support your arguments; it’s really just more evidence that you have no idea what you’re talking about, here; you just know what tired, discredited talking points to recycle.

    The idea that the killings won’t get any worse is hopelessly and terminally naive — no credible source takes that stance because there’s no rational basis to believe it.

    Oh, I’m not saying they won’t get any worse; it’s just nonsense to assert that they’ll get apocalyptically worse. There’s just no room for that to happen.

    So the Democrats have no will to win, nor to they have any idea about tactics or planning. That’s great…

    No, that’s false. Democrats tend to win wars, actually.

    If you’d actually bother to read what’s posted here, the reason why the surge is a “change in course” is because it significantly changed the tactics in planning.

    C’mon, Jay. 18,000 guys “significantly changed the tactics?” All they did was rearrange the deck chairs.

    When you can start arguing from a factual perspective rather than the kneejerk Bush-is-to-blame-for-everything reactionary bilge, then maybe you’ll be able to come up with convincing counterarguments.

    When you can provide evidence, as well as an ability to understand it, maybe you’ll be able to defend your points.

    And, of course, the “failure of the Bush Administration” wouldn’t have anything to do with the Democrat penchant for placing party over principle, would it?

    With six years of majority control over every branch of the government, Eracus, the idea that Democrats have been any sort of meaningful obstacle is just nonsense. Republicans have been getting literally everything that they wanted – that’s why we’re in such a sorry state, now.

  9. Jay Reding says:

    Given that you’re not willing to answer the questions asked — or debate the facts rather than your own half-assed opinions, its off to the pile you go.

  10. Eracus says:

    “With six years of majority control over every branch of the government, Eracus, the idea that Democrats have been any sort of meaningful obstacle is just nonsense. Republicans have been getting literally everything that they wanted – that’s why we’re in such a sorry state, now.”

    How anyone can make so glaringly misinformed a statement as this is beyond comprehension. Are you suggesting the Democrat Party supports the war? That the Democrat Party has cooperated with the Executive? That the Democrat Party has supported the troops?? Is that why the Democrat leadership has for years been referring to Iraq as a failure, a quagmire, and a lost cause and continues to undermine U.S. forces under fire in Iraq??

    Can you possibly be any more stupid, Mentoc, and still expect anyone to take you the least bit seriously?? You come across as just another vacuous liberal twit who doesn’t have any idea what you’re talking about. But do, please, tell us: Which war was it in the last 60 years that the Democrats “won?” We are all a-twitter with anticipation for yet another illustration of your brilliant, incisive mind at work.

    Republican domination!! Who knew??