I really don’t know where to begin with this Victor Davis Hanson piece. It is contains so many errors, breezy unsubstantiated assertions, and relatively minor truths conflated into enormous macro-changing realities as to be almost impossible to criticize. But I’ll see what I can do.
The first thing to say is watch this discussion with Nir Rosen and Michael Ware the two Western journalists with the contact on the ground in Iraq (the third would be Counterpunch’s Patrick Cockburn). Rosen an Arabic speaking American has been the only Western journalist to really break through to the local Iraqi level. Ware has more contacts with the US military.
The picture they paint is one of reduced violence yes but largely due to 1) the American military undertaking a shift in realizing the basic fragmentation of the country and the recognition of the militias (The Awakening for the Sunnis, the freeze with the Mahdi Army, and the Badr Brigade and Peshmerga dominance of the ISF) and 2)the ethnic cleansing essentially completed in 2006/7.
What both make clear–contrary the entire premise of VDH’s piece–is that it is just a matter of time before these guys go at it again after the US leaves. The Awakening Sunnis see their enemy–and tell anyone who asks (e.g. Ware and Rosen)–as the Shia government which for them is an Iranian transplant.
So here is Hanson then (a guy who I have to point out is not an Iraqi expert):
There is a growing confidence among officers, diplomats and politicians that a constitutional Iraq is going to make it. We don’t hear much anymore of trisecting the country, much less pulling all American troops out in defeat.
Critics of the war now argue that a victory in Iraq was not worth the costs, not that victory was always impossible. The worst terrorist leaders, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Muqtada al-Sadr, are either dead or in hiding.
First off Ware says that one of the highest military commanders in the US told him (as is correct) the real winner in Iraq was of course Iran. Iran has more influence, connections, power than the US has or will ever have in Iraq.
The counterinsurgency (which McCain equates with the surge but whatever) was premised on finally coming to grips with the fact that the militias ruled the country and the country was, as Rosen points out, ruled (is ruled) by warlords. So when VDH is talking about not leaving in defeat this is as they say, “not even wrong.” It has nothing to do with the US winning/losing a war as it does that the US took out a regime, did not have sufficient troops to maintain the security, and then finally coping that the reality is the reality there.
And what the hell does it mean to say a constitutional Iraq is going to make it? Kurdistan is essentially a separate country and Baghdad is walled off into separate ethnic spheres. Of course Iraq–or whatever you call it–is going to make it in some sense or another. It is a country that has been under a brutal dictatorship and then a brutal occupation. Whatever victory Hanson discusses is hard to fathom after a massive bloodletting and the renewed “improved security” consists of 600 civilians dying/month.
VDH again (my emphasis):
The 2007 surge, the Anbar Awakening of tribal sheiks against al-Qaida, the change to counterinsurgency tactics, the vast increase in the size and competence of the Iraqi Security Forces, the sheer number of enemy jihadists killed between 2003-8, the unexpected political savvy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the magnetic leadership of Gen. David Petraeus have all contributed to a radically improved Iraq.
Good Lord, can we get past this Donald Rumsfeld notion that winning=killing bad guys. Newsflash dude there was a jihad because there was an Occupation. There was even a foreign transplant al-Qaeda jihad in Iraq because of AN OCCUPATION. An occupation which taught techniques of using IEDs and suicide bombers to Pakistan and Afghanistan (increasing violence there).
For over four years, war critics insisted that we took our eye off Afghanistan, empowered Iran, allowed other rogue nations to run amuck and soured our allies while we were mired in an unnecessary war. But how true is all that?
Actually according to Ware’s source in the US military quite.
Then this classic:
The continuing violence in Afghanistan can be largely attributed to Pakistan, whose tribal wild lands serve as a safe haven for Taliban operations across the border. To the extent the war in Iraq has affected Afghanistan, it may well prove to have been positive for the U.S.: Many Afghan and Pakistani jihadists have been killed in Iraq, the war has discredited al-Qaida, and the U.S. military has gained crucial expertise on tribal counterinsurgency.
WTF? As noted earlier, it wasn’t just the US who was learning from Iraq to use over in Afghanistan–the counterinsurgency in Iraq was very urban and the Afghan-Pak situation is quite rural. The Sunni Awakening worked in Iraq because AQI attacked the Sunni populations, whereas the Taliban are increasingly seen as the righteous insurgency against the occupation as well as the defenders of the Pashtun people. iow, Not entirely clear the US can apply much that it has learned from Iraq there.
But clearly the insurgents have learned the techniques from the Iraqi theater as noted before. And again with this (completely un-countersinsurgency mindset) stupid notion that victory is achieved via more efficient killing of baddies.
The war has discredited one supposes AQI in Iraq. Which had no standing in Iraq prior to Saddam. It has gained legitimacy among say the Sunni of Lebanon (if you listen to Rosen’s reporting). The actual original al-Qaeda however is quite strong and revived in Afghanistan.
Then the call for war with Iran and the double bank shot where this redounds to Iranian loss of influence:
Iran in the short-term may have been strengthened by a weakened Iraq, U.S. losses and acrimony over the war. Yet a constitutional Iraq of free Sunnis and Shiites may soon prove as destabilizing to Iran as Iranian subversion once was to Iraq. Nearby American troops, freed from daily fighting in Iraq, should appear to Iran as seasoned rather than exhausted. If Iraq is deemed successful rather than a quagmire, it is also likely that our allies in Europe and the surrounding region will be more likely to pressure Iran.
I always wonder if it’s even worth the time with this point-by-point reality-based community retorts to a piece like this when Hanson’s piece is propaganda not really a honest debate, perusal of the facts. It’s simply a justification of US occupation/war period and is a closed non-permeable cloud of haze.
Rosen and Ware’s talk is from April, so in a certain limited sense its dated–Hanson would of course point to all the Maliki-led incursions as sign of the government taking over versus the militias. Of course that rubs both ways as Maliki is now telling the US to leave. A rather large I would say piece of information shockingly (although not really when you get the mindset) missing from VDH’s analysis.
But the central point of Rosen/Ware is still correct–whether Maliki is stronger vis a vis Sadr or not–there is no political reconciliation. There is “no free Sunnis and Shias” in Iraq. There are divided communities with divided militias and no political process and seems most likely that violence will re-ignite since the Awakening guys want to take on the government and the Shia government correctly sees them as a threat and is not interested in absorbing them into the Iraqi Army.