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September 07, 2007

Apples and Oranges
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Not to be obsessed with this issue (but it’s true I am).  I did a little more analysis comparing the GAO’s numbers and the Pentagon’s numbers on “sectarian incidents”, which indicates that the Pentagon is likely comparing apples (mid to late 2006 numbers) to oranges (2007 post surge numbers).  Again, this is only an indicator.  I can’t assert anything for sure, there could be a problem with the GAO numbers.  But this goes beyond just the exclusion of certain attacks and may demonstrate that when they started excluding certain types of violence in 2007 they didn’t necessarily do the same for 2006.

Specifically, I took the GAO's daily attacks (page 10 in this testimony) on civilians and converted it to monthly (Note:  the GAO's source is the Pentagon).  These numbers are a best estimate based on eyeballing and measuring the numbers from the graph so we know they aren't completely exact but close.  I compared that to the Pentagon's numbers on "Sectarian Incidents" in the June report.  I compared June 2006 to April 2007 (The Pentagon report doesn’t go beyond April).  Sectarian incidents are defined by the Pentagon as "threat and violence with apparent sectarian motivations." Two issues:


Abnormality A:   Generally speaking civilian attacks reported by the GAO are higher than sectarian incidents reported by the Pentagon.  This makes sense since "sectarian incidents" are a subcategory.  Except in November and December 2006 sectarian incidents are higher than civilian attacks and in January the numbers are basically equal.  I guess that is possible if you include "threats" but it seems highly unlikely.  Especially when you consider that for all the months before and after, civilian attacks are significantly higher than sectarian incidents.  The end result is that “sectarian incidents” seem extraordinarily high in the three months right before the surge begins.

Abnormality B:  As of March 2007, you start to see a steep and pronounced difference between civilian attacks and sectarian incidents, which makes it look like sectarian incidents have suddenly dropped dramatically relative to attacks on civilians.  Those type of differences do not exist in the 2006 numbers which track each other much more closely

Anyway, I don’t know exactly what it means, but it seems odd and it has the effect of making the late 06 numbers look really bad and the March 07 and on numbers look much better.

O'hanlon on Why Car Bombings Shouldn't Count
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I had meant to write on this earlier, but on Wednesday Michael O’Hanlon wrote this piece in the Washington Times.  O’Hanlon writes:

However, it is the distinction of total fatalities versus EJKs [Extra Judicial Killings] that will likely get the most discussion this month. The reason is that car and truck bombings, like the terrible Aug. 14 bursts in northern Iraq that killed some 500 Iraqi innocents, are to some extent not indicative of the overall situation in Iraq. Of course, the more dependable Iraqi security forces at checkpoints, the more vehicle bombs will be stopped before detonating, and the more crack Iraqi special forces we can help train, the more successful raids we can conduct against car and truck bomb factories.

In addition, the intelligence information needed to counter vehicle bomb networks often comes from Iraqi citizens, and the more of them who want to help combined U.S.-Iraqi security forces, the better this information will be. Finally, as some 80 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq are believed to be foreigners, better border security will also at least somewhat dampen car and truck bombings. So broad security trends do of course influence the statistics.

Indeed, for all these reasons the rate of major vehicle bombings in Iraq is down perhaps a third over the course of 2007. But there is still a capriciousness that means single events can radically alter trajectories about the frequency and lethality of attacks. One day of bad luck like Aug. 14, one day when bombers find a prime target not protected enough, and trendlines can change overnight.

By contrast, EJKs are to some extent a reflection of the broader state of sectarian violence, less prone to aberration from single events.

This is a serious stretch.  O’Hanlon is basically arguing that people being killed on the street is a more steady and predictable measure than car bombings.  Aside from ignoring the fact that other factors are also being used to massage the number (i.e. no Sunni on Sunni violence, no Shi’a on Shi’a violence, no one shot in the head from in front) he also forgets the fact that mass car bombings have a great impact on the psychology of a population.  The entire point of a counterinsurgency strategy is to convince the people that the government, not the insurgents, is best able to keep them secure.  This in turn leads to greater confidence in the government which causes support for the insurgency to dwindle.

By this measure car bombings are extremely important because mass attacks traumatize the population.  The whole point of spectacular terrorist attacks is to spread a disproportiante and irrational level of fear into the population.  As a total percentage of population, the 500 people killed in Iraq on “one day of bad luck” was actually greater than the percentage of Americans killed by the 9/11 attacks.  That “one day of bad luck” changed this country’s entire political landscape and foreign policy.  “One day of bad luck” matters and it needs to be counted when measuring the violence.

September 06, 2007

Getting Shot in the Front of the Head Doesn't Count
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Karen DeYoung does a great job of breaking down the various questions with the "sectarian violence" numbers that are being quoted by Petraeus and Bush.  My favorite

according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian," the official said. "If it went through the front, it's criminal."

So to recap.  The violence numbers do not include:  1) Sunni on Sunni violence. 2) Shi'a on Shi'a violence  3)  Car bombs  4)  Getting shot in the front of the head. 

But violence is down.  Trust me.

September 05, 2007

Reconciliation - Such a Nice-Sounding Word
Posted by David Shorr

...and I'm all for it, but to paraphrase Forest Gump's mama, "reconciliation is as reconciliation does." While the Administration and all the Codels have us looking under the lamppost -- where, as the old joke goes, the light is better -- at all the disjointed, sketchy and out-of-context evidence of supposed military progress, somehow we stopped looking for the original object of our search: political progress.

Even this is a limited critique, though. Political progress is framed as follows: if those darn Iraqi politicians would only get serious about reconciliation... Such an if-only-they-would frame makes it sound like a solution is just around the corner, merely a matter of Iraqi leaders buckling down to it.

But this is a figment. Since I can't put it any better, let me again quote what the 82nd Airborne soldiers said about the prospects for reconciliation in their "War as We Saw It" Times piece (now moved into TimesSelect): "There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers ... Trying to please every party in the conflict -- as we do now -- will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run." It is time (long past, really) to drastically adjust our expectations

Continue reading "Reconciliation - Such a Nice-Sounding Word" »

A thought on Car Bombs
Posted by Moira Whelan

Following on Ilan's post yesterday, just a thought on car bombs...

If they don't count in Iraq, do they count in Germany? Did they count in London? Or further back...Belfast? Beirut? Oklahoma City?

September 04, 2007

Secrecy Report Card 2007:
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Government secrecy rationalized by "security" claims is a corrosive problem that has widespread political, social and cultural implications. The extent to which democratic governments thrive or are damaged by external threat perceptions depends on the actions of elected leaders. Today, the threat of terrorism presents an unprecedented challenge to the US Government. How we interpret this threat –a stagnating and indecipherable fog of fear, or an opportunity to dramatically shift resources and policies—will determine the future of American democracy.

The increasing difficulty of public access to government information in the post 9/11 world comes at a critical time for American democracy, where political institutions are struggling to adapt to legitimate fears about terrorism on top of globalization and ideological extremism on the right.

Today’s strategic policy vacuum has had implications for government. Lacking compelling leadership to give us a positive vision of the future, institutions and bureaucracies take the path of least resistance. In this case, clinging to Cold War philosophy— insisting that a complicated and diverse threat such as terrorism can be remedied internally by secrecy and coercion and externally by a constant state of military readiness. This tendency to seek comfort in these known patterns has been exploited with skill and with dastardly results by the Bush Administration--and turned into the chief rhetorical calling card of today's Republican party.

the oldest FOIA request in the federal government has now been pending for more than 20 years.
See morehere.

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This would be funny if it wasn't so sad.  From April.

U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

President Bush explained why in a television interview on Tuesday. "If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory," he told TV interviewer Charlie Rose.

Unimpeachable logic...

Condi Rice: Rhetoric vs. Policy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Glenn Kessler’s profile of Condi Rice is well worth the read. Like most articles about the Bush administration, it reads like a tragedy. And I read it with sadness, regret, and, finally, anger. Again, I was left wondering what might have been.

This graf caught my attention, and like the recent Peter Baker article, it gets the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” wrong:

But at the same time, friends and former colleagues marvel at how Rice has been transformed by the president she so devotedly serves -- from a hardheaded foreign policy "realist" to a wholehearted supporter of Bush's belief in the power of freedom and democracy.

Let us be clear and shatter this myth for what it is. No, Rice is not a wholehearted supporter of Bush’s supposed “belief” in the “power of democracy.” She never was. Secondly, as I have discussed elsewhere, there is good reason to suspect that Bush’s “belief” in democracy promotion has been a rather weak belief, and one that rarely took precedence over more pressing strategic concerns (like wanting to bomb the Iran). Yes, we have heard Condi’s rhetoric. We know that she gravitates, at least at an abstract level, toward a foreign policy orientation known as “constructive instability.” She does wax somewhat eloquently on the missionary components of U.S. policy. But these are just words, and it is about time we judge this administration on what it has actually done, and not what it would like us to believe it would have done had circumstances been different. This is not to say that Bush and Condi do not care about democracy in the Middle East; it is only to say that they don't care about it nearly enough.

In reality, this Administration has shown itself to be a consistent, dogged defender of autocratic regimes. In 2005, during the "Arab spring," a different history may have been in the making. But if we look at how the Bush administration has since given a green light to Mubarak, Abdullah, Musharraf, Qaddafi – the list is a long one – then it would be easy to conclude that this administration has succeeded at one thing: dramatically raising expectations, only to shatter them, all the while pretending to still care. Few things could be more insulting to the courageous dissidents of the Arab world who, for a short while, believed – or wanted to believe – that U.S policy had changed. But they were betrayed. In the Middle East, such betrayals are not easily forgotten.

. . . And the Sky is Blue
Posted by Michael Cohen

Ok, I know that we are supposed to stick to sober foreign policy blogging here, but I really had to link to this story I caught on MSNBC today, "Rockers Really are More Likely to Die Early."

Here's my favorite line:

“The paper clearly describes a population of rock and pop stars who are at a disproportionate risk of alcohol- and drug-related deaths,” said Mark Bellis, lead author of the study.

In other unrelated news, two new studies find that the Pope is indeed Catholic and bears enjoy defecating in the woods.

The More Things Change . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

The day after Labor Day is always a little bittersweet for me - after all it's the traditional end of Summer. But I'm pleased to report that when I woke up this morning not only was the sun still shining, but when I read the New York Times headline, "Bush In Iraq Says Troop Reduction is Possible" I saw that the President is still lying about Iraq.  Ah, everything is still right in the world!

As we all know, the President went to Iraq yesterday in order to hear directly from Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker about the situation in Anbar province. Of course, this was not a PR stunt - heaven forbid!  However, after his consultations with Crocker and Petraeus, the President said the two men,

Tell me that if the kind of success we are now seeing here continues it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.

I'll leave aside the highly dubious assertion (i.e. bald-faced lie) that the US is seeing any real success in Iraq, but here's the real punchline to the story:

Mr. Bush did not say how large a troop withdrawal was possible. Nor did he say whether he envisioned any forces being withdrawn sooner than next spring, when the first of the additional 30,000 troops Mr. Bush sent to Iraq this year are scheduled to come home anyway.

So basically what we have here is the President saying that maybe there will be a drawdown in troops if the practically non-existent success on the security front continues, but we're not going to provide any specific information on when and how many troops might be brought home and, oh yeah, it might actually coincide with an already planned drawdown in the Spring and of course this has nothing to do with the debate in Congress on troop reductions or giving political cover to Republicans who might be getting antsy about the situation in Iraq.

I think I'll go back to sleep . . .

Car Bombings Don't Count
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

An excellent wrap up of the surge by Tina Susman in the LA Times today.  This nugget seemed to be especially absurd.

According to U.S. military figures, an average of 1,000 Iraqis have died each month since March in sectarian violence. That compares with about 1,200 a month at the start of the security plan, the military said in an e-mailed response to queries. This does not include deaths from car bombings, which the military said have numbered more than 2,600 this year.

We also know that these violence numbers don't include Shi'a on Shi'a violence in the South or Sunni on Sunni violence in Anbar and other parts of the country. 

I have an idea.  Why don't we count murder rates in the U.S. but exclude all gun violence.  Seriously, what is so difficult about showing the actual numbers!!!

September 03, 2007

Meeting With the Enemy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I find it a tad bit ironic and a whole lot more disturbing that the man who refuses to even talk to countries such as Syria or Iran, is willing to sit across the table from Sunni tribal leaders who have the blood of American troops on their hands.

I’m not a fan of the Anbar strategy.  I think what is going on here is the Sunni tribal leaders see an opportunity to align themselves with the U.S., better arm and organize themselves and eliminate AQI.  This way, they will be prepared to fight the Shi’a and turn against the central government later on.  That’s why the Maliki government has been opposed to this whole concept from the start.  But don't take my word for it just listen to what  Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch who is in Iraq thinks:

They say: 'We hate you because you are an occupier, but we hate al-Qaida worse and we hate the Persians even worse' Sunni militants refer to Iraq's Shiites as Persians, a reference to the strong links between Iraqi Shiites and the Shiites who predominate in Iran.

Still, I accept the fact that sometimes you have to deal with unsavory characters and cut unpleasant deals.  But for God’s sake, if you are going to cut this deal, do not give them a face-to-face with the President of the United States.  What kind of message does it send to American troops?  What kind of diplomatic message does that send to the world?  Let them meet with Crocker or Petraeus but not the President.  What benefit was there to that particular meeting (outside of PR)?  Did these guys really have to be in the room? 

On Labor Day Let's Remember....
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Communism is dead!  Truly, really and absolutely dead.


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