Quagmires and Impasses

A Pentagon report released yesterday says that overall violence in Iraq has not diminished since the troop buildup began. Ann Scott Tyson writes in today’s Washington Post:

Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.

Writing about the same Pentagon report, Peter Spiegel says this in the Los Angeles Times:

Violence in Iraq rose slightly in the three months ended in May because of increased attacks in cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful before the Bush administration’s troop buildup, the Pentagon reported Wednesday.

The intense focus on Baghdad and western Iraq by newly arriving U.S. troops pushed insurgent groups into other regions, causing a rise in violence in northern and eastern provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, the Pentagon said in a quarterly report to Congress on Iraqi security.

And then there’s the headline in USA Today: “Petraeus says security crackdown working.” Of course.

So a Pentagon report says the “surge” is not working, and Petraeus says it is. Who is telling the truth? And what is truth, anyway?

Reading these headlines reminds me of Joseph Campbell, who said that all religions are true. You just have to understand what they are true of. When General Petraeus says the troop buildup is “working,” he’s talking just about Baghdad. And he’s talking about “signs of normalcy.”

“I’m talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks — big ones, markets that are very vibrant,” says Petraeus, commander of the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The scenes provide a sign that the new strategy in Iraq is working, although many problems remain, he told USA TODAY in an interview Wednesday.

Five months after President Bush ordered an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, data suggest that sectarian violence in Baghdad has declined. Other tentative signs of progress have included a rise in Iraqi army enlistments and some quality-of-life improvements such as fewer electricity blackouts in the capital.

See? I’m sure that what General Petraeus says is true. You just have to be clear what it is true of. And nothing he says refutes the larger truth, that the surge is not working.

As soon as word of the Pentagon report hit the web, righties grabbed their shovels and went to work looking for the pony. I don’t believe they found one, exactly, but they did turn up some horseshoe nails and something that might have been part of a bridle. For example:

So, is the surge working? Yes, because violence once centrally located in baghdad has moved to other areas, and this again is an expected dispersal. It matches exactly what the administration has been saying over the last few months, that we can expect to see rises in casualties – both civilian and military due to the enemy redoubling their efforts.

This increase will eventually decrease when we get more boots on the ground those additional areas and as we continue preparing the Iraqi military and paramilitary units to take control. Again, takes time to build a country and this report shows that – while slow – there is progress.

And, y’know, if you disregard the fact that our army is broken, the Iraqi military isn’t getting any better, and we’ve already been in the bleeping country for more than four bleeping years, you can sorta kinda say that’s true.

Jules Crittendon, who for various reasons is quickly becoming my choice for biggest asshole on the planet, is unable to discern the relativity of things.

Apparently it’s not only supposed to be impossible to stabilize Iraq, it’s also supposed to easy and immediate. Pentagon report cites no overall drop in violence.

Wait a minute, if its failing, then how come it’s working [he says, linking to the USA Today article about General Petraeus]?

Such a shame no one ever explained critical thinking to Mr. Crittendon. But seems to me that if Righties are so easily satisfied with relative truth; why not relative victory? I’m sure the White House speech writers could come up with one. Then we could bring the troops home.

Getting back to what is truth — Joseph Campbell said that “Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.” This is pretty much what has happened to us politically as well. When George W. Bush started talking about his “war on terror,” most of us assumed he meant this metaphorically, as in “war on cancer.” But we were wrong, weren’t we? He and the Right don’t think metaphorically. A war is something you do with armies and tanks and artillery, so that’s how we went after terror.

Just this morning I ran into another rightie blogger sneering about “surrender monkeys” and people who “don’t want to win.” But win what? Let’s be clear. Is the ultimate objective a military victory, or a significant reduction in international terrorism? Because the terrible paradox righties lack the moral courage to face is that by winning one we must lose the other. The difference between most of us against the war and most people for it is not that one side wants to win and the other doesn’t. The difference is that we have a completely different understanding of what it is we want to win.

All manner of military and intelligence experts have tried to explain that chasing a military victory in Iraq is actually counterproductive to reducing terrorism and making America more secure. General Odom tried to explain it. A National Intelligence Estimate of April 2006 tried to explain it. Numerous security experts have tried to explain it. But to explain these things to a rightie is a futile as explaining rocket science to a hamster. They tap their toes impatiently through the explanation — if they allow one to speak at all — and then say, yeah, you people are just surrender monkeys. You don’t want to win.

That’s why I don’t argue with them any more. There’s no point. All we can do is to take power away from them so they stop hurting America.

I wrote a few days ago about how our “strategy” (meaning tactics; Bushies have never figured out there’s a difference) in Iraq has gotten so convoluted it’s tripping over itself. Today Timothy Garton Ash writes on the Guardian blog about this.

You think you’ve reached bottom, then you hear knocking from underneath. As I follow the news from Iraq, and the American debate about it, I fear that the worst is still to come. Here’s the latest twist. In desperation, and since the surge is not having the desired effect, the US military is now arming and funding Sunni gangs to help them fight other Sunni gangs linked to al-Qaida. The enemy of my enemy is my friend – even if, until only yesterday, he was the enemy I had claimed to be defeating. But how will the US military know they are not supporting killers who have the blood of American soldiers on their hands? Ah, because they will use biometric tests – retina scans and fingerprinting – on those they are arming. How reassuring.

In the short term, this modern version of a 19th century British colonial technique may actually serve to beat back the al-Qaida-related bands, as it reportedly has in Anbar province. But in the medium term, it can only fuel the civil war that most observers expect to erupt with full fury as American and British forces pull back. And that’s in addition to arming the largely Shia forces of the Iraqi army. One way or another, Americans are giving Iraqis more weapons with which they can kill each other. After yesterday’s attack on the al-Askari mosque in Samara, another round of Sunni-Shia violence must be expected.

Mr. Ash goes on to suggest America should re-think its foreign policy. Indeed. His worry — and I admit it’s a legitimate worry — is that even if the next President is a Democrat, that person will just tweak the old policy instead of introducing a whole new one.

But we have a more immediate concern, which is that George W. Bush is still POTUS. And probably will be for almost 20 more months. Sidney Blumenthal writes at Salon that the whole world is watching the clock.

High officials of European governments describe U.S. influence as squandered and swiftly eroding (one minister went down a list of Bush administration officials, rating them according to their stupidity), the country’s moral authority nil. Lethal power vacuums are emerging from Lebanon to Pakistan, and Europeans are incapable on their own of quelling the fires that burn far closer to them than to the United States through their growing Muslim populations and proximity to the Middle East. They have no illusions that they will be treated seriously as real allies or that there will be a sudden about-face by the Bush administration. Their faint hope — and it is only a hope — is that they have already seen the worst and that it is not yet to come. Even worse than Bush, from their perspective, would be another Republican president who continued Bush policies and also appointed neoconservatives. That would toll, if not the end of days, then the decline and fall of the Western alliance except in name only, and an even more rapid acceleration of chaos in the world order. …

… Bush’s foreign policy has descended into a fugue state. Dissociated and unaware, the president and his administration are still capable of expressing themselves as if it all makes complete sense, only contributing to their bewilderment. A fugue state should not be confused with cognitive dissonance, the tension produced when irreconcilable ideas are held at the same time and their incompatibility is overcome by denial. In a fugue state, a trauma creates a kind of amnesia in which the sufferer is incapable of connecting to his past. The impairment of judgment comes in great part from a denial of distress. Bush’s fugue state involves the reiteration of a failed formula as though nothing has happened. So he proudly reasserts the essence of his Bush doctrine: Our acts are independent of other countries’ interests. And he adds new corollaries: Other nations must forgive our unacknowledged mistakes even if we threaten their national security. To this, Bush overlays cognitive dissonance: Our policy is working; it just needs more time. Thus the incoherent becomes coherent. …

… In Iraq, Bush’s policy is now to arm all sides in the sectarian civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. He claims to be devoted to nation building, which he previously dismissed, while he presides over a mass exodus of 2 million Iraqis, upholds law and order while holding tens of thousands of prisoners without due process, and conducts a “surge” of troops to secure the capital city of Baghdad whose main effect has been to facilitate its ethnic cleansing. The Iraqi government, for its part, has not met any of the benchmarks in reforming its laws demanded by the United States as the sine qua non of continuing support.

Here’s the punch line:

And where in the world is Condoleezza Rice? While Bush was in Europe, the secretary of state was at home. Instead of attending the summit, she delivered a speech at the Economic Club of New York, announcing that the new doctrine of the administration henceforth should be called “American realism.”

“American realism”? Too bad Joseph Campbell is gone; we could put him to work finding the truth in that.

I Am Still Here.

I’m sorry I’ve been a bit scarce the past couple of days. I got wrapped up in writing something that I will probably post as a series eventually, but I want to compose the whole long thing first to be sure it’s coherent.

I’m just about to launch into composition of a regular blog post, and I should have that up by this afternoon.