Democracy Arsenal

« The Thing No Republican Candidate Mentioned | Main | That Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer »

November 30, 2007

The Illusion of Success
Posted by Michael Cohen

While everyone should be pleased by the evident progress in Iraq on the security front, the front page article in today's New York Times detailing the challenges in resettling Iraqi refugees is a sobering reminder of how illusory -- and temporary -- these gains really are.

The Iraqi refugee situation is one of the great unreported stories of the Iraq conflict and it appears that not only does the US government have no plan for dealing for these folks - neither does the Maliki government:

The Iraqi government lacks a mechanism to settle property disputes if former residents return to Baghdad only to find their homes occupied . . . Nor has the Iraqi government come forward with a detailed plan to provide aid, shelter and other essential services to the thousands of Iraqis who might return. American commanders caution that if the return is not carefully managed, there is a risk of undermining the recent security gains.

What's worse is that the military continues to put pressure on the Iraqis to move forward on the refugee issue, but to no avail:

Col. Cheryl L. Smart, who tracks the data on displaced Iraqis for General Petraeus’s command, said that the American military had been “very vocal” with the Iraqi government about the need to establish a system to adjudicate claims about property rights and to avoid using Iraqi troops to carry out “forced evictions.”

As if that isn't concerning enough, guess who's in charge of the resettlement - Ahmed Chalibi. If it wasn't so said, it would almost be comic.

There is of course is a larger lesson here - apologists for the this Administration like my favorite bete noire Charles Krauthammer would have us believe that the security improvements in and around Baghdad show that the tide has turned in Iraq. But, if the Maliki government can't tackle issues like refugee resettlement (even under US pressure) there is zero hope that the security gains will translate into long-term progress for Iraq. And let's be clear, political progress means more than reconciliation - it means a commitment by the Iraqi government to  finding solutions to issues like divvying up oil money, de-baathification, refugee resettlement etc.

Indeed the lack of political progress and any movement on issues like refugee resettlement provides the most compelling evidence possible that the surge is not working and that a shift in US policy is necessary.

Yeah, I'm not holding my breath either . . .


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Illusion of Success:


I don't agree that "everyone should be pleased by the evident progress in Iraq on the security front." Whatever progress has been made cost too high a price in American lives and money. There's nothing to be happy about.

There's nothing to be happy about when less Americans and less Iraqis are dying and some sense of normalcy has returned to Baghdad? Mike, how you can make that argument is incomprehensible to me . . .

"when less Americans and less Iraqis are dying and some sense of *normalcy* has returned to Baghdad"

Are you insane? A "sense of normalcy".

Baghdad is arguably the most violent city in the world, even post surge.

In what sense is that "normal"?

Christ you people exhaust me.


You have to judge these things in some sort of context. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars have had tens of thousands wounded and thousands killed. For that we get a reduction of violence in Baghdad, 4 years into the war, and I'm supposed to be pleased?

That'd be like paying $50,000 for a used 1995 Hyundai and then being pleased that a finally have a car.

The reduction of violence in Baghdad is something we've paid a price to achieve. The price was too high, thus I am not pleased with it. How is that hard to understand?

Mike, if you've read my posts you know that I agree with you about the pointlessness of this war . . . but the fact that less people are dying is quite simply a good thing. We can certainly agree that this war has been a disaster and never should have been fought and that its been a terrible waste of resources and lives. But that doesn't change the fact that the improved security situation and the decreased number of civilian deaths is a positive development for the Iraqi people. That seems to me the most uncontroversial notion one could possibly express. Fewer people dying is a great thing - no matter what the larger context. I for one hope it continues: a view that I would hope you share.


You know I've read your stuff. We probably agree on this... I just prefer to refer to things in Iraq as "less bad" rather than good. I just won't give an inch mostly for fear of what war supporters (not you) will do with such sentiments. It's just my reflex on this topic. If I say "The Iraq war," I always try to add the clause "A mistake" or "A disaster." If Iraq turned into Earth's first Utopia tomorrow as a direct result of our invasion, I'd still be pointing out that the war was a mistake.

Mike, perversely your stance plays directly into the hands of the war supporters, who are loudly claiming that those who oppose the war simply refuse to acknowledge the signs of success on the security front. Your credibility is enhanced if you acknowledge the "temporary" success, but make the more important point that it means nothing if there is no movement on the political front. It might seem like a minor debating point, but to deny the fact that less Iraqis and Americans are dying doesn't help your cause.

Of course the war was a mistake, but all of us should be hoping that out of this terrible tragedy something positive happens - like a stable, democratic Iraq. I certainly am hopeful this occurs, but as I said earlier I'm not holding my breath.

We shall see, my friend. But thanks for the debate and advice.

Just from a tactical point of view, war opponents would do well to begin putting some distance between the political situation in Iraq and their discussion of the American military commitment there.

Partly this is because it seems so unlikely that Congress will be able to force a significant reduction in the size of that commitment by January of 2009. The next President will be stuck with it, and a critique based on how badly the Bush administration handled Iraq won't be very useful. But there is something else that is just as fundamental, because it isn't just the Bush administration that we will have to leave behind in order to extricate the United States from Iraq. We will also have to leave behind the Iraqis.

In order to do that, we will have to move past the idea that the obstacle to reconciliation, a stable liberal democracy and all the other things it would be nice to see in Iraq is a group of stubborn Shiite politicians who just won't conciliate. It isn't. When Saddam Hussein was overthrown the wronged group, the oppressed group, in Iraq was the Shiite majority. Saddam's was not an overtly sectarian regime, but in the nature of things most of the Iraqis who supported and prospered under his rule were his relatives and members of his sect; while many Shiites collaborated to get by, many others were cruelly and repeatedly persecuted. The resulting profound sense of Shiite grievance might have been assuaged right at the start of the occupation by acts of Sunni Arab contrition and repentance, taking advantage of the generally temperate Shiite senior clerics and the authority they had at that time. The insurgency that happened instead magnified the sense of Shiite grievance -- "resistance" against the American occupation being indistinguishable from attacks against employees of the American-supported government and Shiite civilians in neighborhoods Americans were trying to secure -- and left Shiite government officials vulnerable to attack from factions within their own sect if they appeared willing to conciliate unrepentant Sunni Arabs.

How can American forces in Iraq bridge this gap? They can't. That is the argument for leaving. The effort to invoke reconciliation in an environment that makes it impossible is one that cannot be sustained at a cost America cannot afford. In fact, the troop surge and revised counterinsurgency tactics sponsored by Gen. Petreaus have not just helped reduce the level of violence in most of Iraq but have reduced the chances for a resumption of full-scale sectarian conflict -- because the extreme Sunni Arab factions most intent on killing Americans are the same ones whose mass-casualty attacks on Shiites inspired reprisals in the first place and, if allowed to resume, would surely bring on a new round of intense violence.

But that's the best we can do, short of committing to staying in the country at something close to the current force level indefinitely. Barring some new development -- most likely a negative one, considering the part of the world we are talking about -- we could be going round and round about whether things in Iraq are getting better and whether the surge worked well into 2009. At some point the war's opponents will have to make the concession that the surge worked well enough for us to leave, and that what happens next is up to the Iraqis. Sooner would be better than later.

Suppose a quack physician decides to treat some otherwise healthy arthritis patient with daily bleeding by leeches and small weekly doses of mercury. Suppose that after several years of this quack treatment the patent’s physical and mental health has been ruined, and he hovers near death in agony. His organs are failing; his mind is going; his vitality is sapped; he’s confined to his bed; his apartment is in shambles and he’s unemployed. Suppose then that the quack finally gets half a clue, halts the mercury treatments, cuts the leeching back to once per week and even begins an antibiotic regimen. The patient stabilizes and stops deteriorating. He’s still a wreck, but he’s not quite as much of a wreck as he was a few weeks ago, and at least he’s not getting any worse. Despite the fact that the quack continues to engage in various reckless experiments on the patient, with some luck the patient’s own restorative powers and the cessation of the most barbaric treatments may someday return him to a semblance of decent health. However, he will never be what he was, and many physical and emotional scars will probably be with him permanently. And even if, implausibly enough, he does recover his full health, the past cannot be erased: it will always be the case that he endured years of agony and wretched loss for no good reason whatsoever. The quack should clearly be punished, even if the current treatment is not quite as atrocious as it was in the past.

Yet the quack and his associates are far from chastened or remorseful. They want us to focus all our attention on the patent’s slightly improving fortunes this week, and forget about the past several years. They even have the audacity to affirm that if the patient recovers his health eventually, this will vindicate the years of malpractice and show that the quack was justified all along. While the rest of us all hope for the patient’s recovery, we recognize argumentative position of the quack and his friends as absurd and revolting.

The patient is Iraq, and the quack and his supporters are Bush and his media minions. These folks are actually angling to declare victory and claim vindication, and will do so if we let down our guard and become distracted. So it is absolutely essential that even as we, or even better others, do whatever we can to bring the Iraqi patient back to some semblance of an ordinary life, we continue to keep the focus on the disaster that has been wrought and the accountability that must be demanded. What has happened to Iraq is an outrageous crime, and nothing that happens in the future will erase that crime. There have been hundreds of thousands or even a million excess Iraqi deaths – millions in fact, if you count the sanctions. People have seen their young children shot up and blown up before their eyes. Millions of Iraqi refugees have been scattered throughout the region. Homes and economies have been wrecked. Prisoners have been tortured, and many thousands of young men are still in prison right now. Priceless historical artifacts and monuments of the cradle of civilization have been destroyed. Islamist extremism has been set loose in a country that previously saw little of it. The stability of the entire region is on the brink.

We must document and outline the human, strategic and financial costs of the Iraq debacle, and continue to educate and remind the ever-forgetful public about these costs. We must shove the perpetrator’s faces in the mess, and force them to smell and taste the decay. We must bear witness to the Iraqi calamity, the ponderous and depressing gravity of which has still yet to be grasped by many Americans, especially those inside the Beltway and those involved in the insipid prattling of political campaigns. We must atone nationally, and hold those most responsible accountable so that no American leader is tempted to engage in this sort of malpractice ever again

Michael Cohen says Mike M.’s stance “plays directly into the hands of the war supporters, who are loudly claiming that those who oppose the war simply refuse to acknowledge the signs of success on the security front.” This abject defensiveness is so typical of security-minded hawkophobes, who are incurably ashamed in their hearts over some perverse sense of inherent Democratic pansyhood, who are obsessed with capturing the “security argument”, and who can’t seem to avoid playing the role of prison bitches for the worst of cretins. Who cares what the noisy war supporters “loudly claim?” Those people are intellectual reprobates and morally discredited monsters. Why don’t we just loudly tell them to shut their cakeholes, sit in a corner and be glad they are not swinging from a scaffold? Some of these people should be, at the least, behind bars for what they have done. We ought to be confiscating the warbucks and bank accounts of people like Frank Gaffney, James Woolsey, the Texas oil boys and other crony war profiteers, and using the cash to relieve Iraqi suffering. War supporters? Their continued loud yammering is as intellectually inconsequential as the loud farting of an elephant or the loud braying of a pack of hyenas.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use