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December 20, 2007

Et Tu Kevin?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Kevin Drum writes about an email he got from a VSP in good standing.

One thing you might write about — if only because nobody else has, I think — is how that whole dust-up over the O'Hanlon/Pollack op-ed looks in retrospect. I mean, clearly they were on to something — the relative quieting down of stuff that has taken place in Iraq over the last several months, etc. Completely debatable whether that was due to the surge, or is sustainable, or is deeply significant, etc. etc., but it's not like the caricature of them put forth in the blogosphere at the time — as paid lobbyists for the Bushies, reporting back what they were told to after checking out a Potemkin village — holds up, does it?

Kevin's reaction?

But basically they reported two things: (a) violence is down and security has improved, and (b) the economy, police force, political leadership, and infrastructure are still disaster areas. And actually, um, that pretty much seems to be true, doesn't it?

I disagree and I think Kevin should probably take a closer look at the debate that took place at the time.  I went through an old post of mine to see what I and others had written and here's what I found.  I was clearly wrong about the reduction in violence (And I'm happy I was), but that was actually my fourth and last point.   The main critiques still stand and Kevin and this emailer's analysis mischaracterize the argument. 

The single biggest complaint in the blogosphere was that in their op-ed Pollack and O'Hanlon represented themselves as "two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.”  In other words as war critics.  This is what made the piece such big news.  It's true that they complained about certain strategies and tactics but ultimately they were strong supporters of the war and this representation was a stretch at best.  But that's not how it got covered and the Bush Administration picked it up and ran with it.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that Pollack and O'Hanlon continued to represent themselves as critics.  You know who else falls into that category?  John McCain. 

Second, Kevin says that Pollack and O'Hanlon were basically saying that violence is getting better but the politics are still pretty bad.  But this is all a matter of emphasis.  In their op-ed in the Times they spent the entire article talking about security improvements.  Only in the last couple of paragraphs did they finally acknowledge that the politics weren't going anywhere.  If the assessment was really as Kevin described it, they should have spent half the article on the lack of progress on politics.  Kevin seems to be making this assessment based on their report a month later, in which they offer a more balanced approach, after they'd gotten blasted.  But nobody read the report.  Everyone read the op-ed.

Finally, I wrote this about the Pollack-O'Hanlon op-ed on August 1 and I have yet to see anything that would cause me to change my mind. 

Meanwhile, much of the progress on security has come on the backs of questionable alliances with forces who aren’t necessarily friendly to the United States.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend has historically proven to be a dubious proposition.  Working with Sunni tribes that have previously attacked American troops doesn’t seem like too much progress.  Especially since it has caused Prime Minister Maliki to threaten to further arm Shi’a militias.  Why?  Because Maliki understands that while Sunni tribes might be useful in fighting Al Qaeda, what we are essentially doing is arming the Sunnis against the Shi’a for the inevitable outbreak of more sectarian hostilities.  This whole concept was tried in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Didn’t work out too well….

These were the main critiques, at least as far as I saw it and I still think they all stand.

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There's also the fact that they were wrong about the violence at the time. While they said it was down because of the surge we had just learned that the initial month or so of the surge was he deadliest ever. So even if violence has fallen since then we have to wonder if it was worth the lives lost to get the surge started in the first place.

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