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Galbraith: Washington journalists "too often take what people say at face value.”

Has the 'surge' brought us any closer to 'victory'?

ASK THIS | September 15, 2008

Author Peter Galbraith marvels at the conventional wisdom in Washington that the 'surge' has worked. For a variety of reasons, violence is down. But if 'victory' is a secular, democratic and pro-Western Iraq, then the 'surge' hasn't gotten us any closer at all.

By Dan Froomkin

Peter Galbraith’s new book, Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies has a chapter on the “surge”, in which he calls it the “Potemkin Surge.”

This may sound surprising – if not heretical -- to many people in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, who have bought into the gospel that the surge has worked.

But if the surge has worked, that must mean victory is just around the corner, right? That’s certainly the impression that the Bush White House is trying to give—without exactly coming out and saying so.

Certainly the surge has been accompanied by a dramatic and welcome reduction in violence. But Galbraith argues that it wasn’t the surge as much as other factors that led to the reduction in violence; that the main factor was the Sunni Awakening; and that the U.S.’s de facto creation of a Sunni army -- led in some cases by the same Baathists the U.S. invaded Iraq to overthrow – has in fact contributed to Iraq's breakup and set the stage for an intensified civil war between Sunnis and Shiites once the U.S gets out of the way. Whenever that is.

“It’s not a stability that can last,” Galbraith said in an interview last week. “People are coming to the conclusion that we’re winning merely because we’ve reduced the violence, as if that were an end unto itself.”

Reporters should be pushing back more aggressively when administration officials talk about how, thanks to the surge, we’re now winning in Iraq, he says.

“What do they mean by victory?” Galbraith asks. President Bush and Republican presidential nominee John McCain generally describe victory as leaving behind a peaceful, secular, democratic country that is an American ally. But where are the signs that Iraq is headed in that direction?

Rather than a country on its way to normalcy, Galbraith sees a country where rival factions are consolidating their power and readying for an epic battle once the coast is clear. Another reason often cited for the reduction in violence is that Moqtada al Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army to observe a cease-fire. But rather than a sign of political reconciliation, Galbraith says, this is a sign of strategic thinking. Why fight the Americans when his real enemies are the Sunnis?  Sadr “has every strategic reason to keep his  powder dry,” Galbraith says.

Why is the Shiite-led government suddenly so eager for us to leave? It’s not because the violence is down. It’s because we got the violence down by turning people who were shooting at us into a Sunni army. “The Shiite government sees the Sunni military as a threat—which it is,” Galbraith says. “It isn’t that ‘things are going so well we can manage on our own,’ – it’s that ‘you are no longer serving our purposes’.”

Galbraith thinks journalists are under-reporting certain key aspects of the current Iraqi political situation. Among them:

  • The character of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s  government, which Galbraith says is profoundly anti-Sunni and not likely to make accommodations, regardless of the occasional PR blitz to the contrary. Reporters should also talk to Sunnis and Kurds in the government and ask them how much influence they feel they have. Reporters in Washington should be asking their sources: Do you really see Maliki as someone who is committed to secular democracy?
  • The character of the Sunni Awakening. A hundred thousand Sunni fighters – used to getting paid $300 a month by the United States – are in fact not going to be easily accommodated by the Shiite government. And who knows what they’ll do when the U.S. stops paying them? 

Galbraith praises the quality of reporting from Iraq, “especially given the difficulties of operating in Iraq.” But in Washington, he said, journalists “too often take what people say at face value.”

If people continue to think the surge is a success, the result could well be Bush leaving office with a widespread public perception that we’re winning in Iraq.

But then what happens? What happens is that when things start to get ugly again, when there’s a civil war, or a partitioning, or an anti-American strongman comes to power  – i.e. when we inevitably start to “lose” – Bush could avoid the blame.

“We need to settle the issue of ‘Who lost Iraq’ now,” Galbraith says. “Because the last thing we need in our politics is another corrosive debate like ‘Who lost Vietnam’ and ‘Who lost China’,” Galbraith says.

Well, then, who exactly did lose Iraq?

“George W. Bush.”

Forrest Gump rides again
Posted by Bill Hunt
10/04/2008, 12:30 PM

The war in Iraq is lost and there is no other way to say it. If the war was won then we could dictate terms, how they do whatever they do like we did in Germany and Japan. There's not a chance of that happening with us standing hat in hand saying pretty please with money on it to a government elected by free elections.

The definition of war has changed. We no longer go for victory but rather containment. The rabble in Iraq was a push over but had to be pushed. How could we have won?

Real simple. Forget Saddam and his palaces. Forget his generals and their, "cut and run at first bark" dogs. Go after the people big time. Cut their water, food and all utilities, gas, electric etc. Isolate the major population centers and literally starve them out, (3 to 4 days). Then you say, "bring all your knives, guns, explosive devices etc and pile them right there" and we will give you food and water. And say, "oh, by the way bring that fellow Saddam out here. We'd like to have a peace talk with him."

The dumbest thing I've heard in my lifetime is, "surgically remove their military." But then there's General McCafry saying, "shock and awe. We'll hit'em with shock and awe." The one thing a conquering power needs in one piece is the conquered people's army to maintain order. Soldiers follow orders while telling civilians they've been liberated and now have rights was paramount to an invitation to riot. The stupidest move in the history of warfare was the disbanding of the Iraqi army that is now top priority to rebuild, under fire.

Iraq is what one gets when an ANG draft dodger plans a war with a career bureaucrat for his chief adviser done in a way that satisfies the moral constraints on war imposed by the Vatican.

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