Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hither and Yon?

Some of the authors over at Winds of Change are a bit perplexed by revered pro-war journalist Michael Yon's recent claim that Iraq is currently in a state of [the conflict whose name we should not speak out loud]. Said Yon:

Last week, in America, a radio producer for a large syndicated program in the United States called me requesting that I go on the show, a show that has hosted me many times and where I've been referred to as, "Our man in Iraq." But when I said Iraq is in a civil war, that same producer slammed down the phone and, in so doing, demonstrated how much he reveres truth.

The first time I said something the producer did not agree with, he slammed down the phone....That same syndication had regarded my opinion highly when I was saying what they wanted to hear. They were not happy per se for truth....When the receiver slammed into the phone, the producer revealed himself naked; he was not supporting the troops, nor the Iraqis, but the President...Although sometimes the truth saddens me, it just is what is.

I checked my website to see if the United Arab Emirates had shut me down for saying Iraq was in a Civil War. They had not. More interestingly, though a few military leaders politely disagreed with the statement that Iraq is in a state of civil war, a larger number of Iraq-experienced military officers agreed (off-the-record) that Iraq is in a civil war, and thanked me for saying it.

So whose opinions should we respect on matters Iraq? Smart combat veterans who have graduated from top schools in the United States and who have faced bombs and bullets and bled in Iraq, or a radio producer who has never been there and who cannot control his temper in the face of words? It's time we listened to our combat leaders.
What's interesting about Yon's statement, aside from its against the grain honesty, is that it turns GOP conventional wisdom on its head. Instead of the media fabricating, exaggerating and hyping a non-existent civil war story in order to make Bush look bad, the media - as encountered by Yon - is actually refusing to discuss the issue of Iraq with a pro-war journalist, despite the lengthy prior relationship, simply because that journalist offers an unvarnished appraisal of the 'civil war' issue.

It's not as if Yon's position is outlandish after all. In addition to the military officials agreeing with Yon 'off the record,' his assessment has been seconded by such disparate voices as Zalmay Khalilzad, Ayad Allawi, retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, Anthony Cordesman, and countless Iraqi bloggers from Riverbend to Nibras Kazimi to Iraq the Model. Just this Saturday, another high ranking Iraqi military official joined in (via Juan Cole):

However, a senior Iraqi official said Saturday that an "undeclared civil war" had already been raging for more than a year.

"Is there a civil war? Yes, there is an undeclared civil war that has been there for a year or more," Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal told The Associated Press. "All these bodies that are discovered in Baghdad, the slaughter of pilgrims heading to holy sites, the explosions, the destruction, the attacks against the mosques are all part of this."
Compare and contrast the description of the situation - both in Iraq and with respect to the media - that we get from Michael Yon with the version proffered by Wretchard at the Belmont Club - who lays out his theory on the nefarious conspiracy being perpetrated by the dreaded MSM:

Politically what's interesting is how the narrative has changed. Nobody is talking about the Sunni insurgency succeeding any more. Even the press hardly makes the claim of an insurgency on the brink of success. [...]

Instead of insurgency the talking points have changed to how Sunnis might soon become victims of an ethnically hostile Iraqi army in a Civil War. Going from a boast of conquest to a portrayal of victim is usually an indicator of something. In my view, the shift of meme from the "insurgency" to a "civil war" is a backhanded way of admitting the military defeat of the insurgency without abandoning the characterization of Iraq is an American fiasco. [emphasis mine throughout]
You see, the insurgency is defeated so now all that the Bush-haters in the media have left to hang their collective hats on is this silly old civil war nonsense. And, apparently, Allawi, Khalilzad, various Iraqi bloggers, high ranking US and Iraqi officers and a whole host of other characters are in on the grand conspiracy. Quite a pantheon of actors, no? Wretchard goes on in a subsequent post:

Some time back there was a shift from the "insurgency" theme to the "civil war" theme. All the old names -- remember Fallujah? Tal Afar? Mosul? -- have gone to page 2.
Wretchard has the MSM coming and going, doesn't he. Looks like he might have attended classes at the Bush administration's school of advanced "heads I win, tails you lose" studies. If reports of insurgent attacks are put on the front page, well then the media is focusing on all the bad news and deliberately sapping the public's support for the President and the war effort. But if they drop them back a page, then they are obviously rooting for civil war, trying to fabricate a crisis out of thin air and/or cleverly concealing the astonishing good news that the insurgency has been "defeated."

This says nothing of the strategic analysis on display here. For example, I draw little comfort from the fact that the Sunni insurgencies seem to be shifting their focus from US forces to Iraqi civilians in an effort to achieve their various goals - which include everything from preventing the formation of a functioning state and increasing the Sunni bargaining position at the negotiating table, to imposing an Islamist caliphate. Nor is the fact that the Shiite militias are retaliating with gusto a particularly positive sign. Simply put, nothing about the fact that the dynamic may be morphing from a battle against an occupying power to a low-intensity, but potentially full blown, civil war is particularly encouraging.

I don't view this as the defeat of the insurgency the way Wretchard does, just a realignment of objectives and means. I see it as a combination of possible factors including: (a) an appraisal that US forces will likely be leaving in large numbers regardless making them less a priority; (b) relatedly, a stockpiling and preservation of resources for when the US forces leave and the larger battles commence; (c) a hunkering down of US military forces in large bases and concomitant curtailment of patrols reducing their attractiveness and availability as targets; and/or (d) a recalibration by the Zarqawi-led gangs that civil war would be the best possible outcome at this juncture, and such a goal should supersede the goal of targeting of US forces.

But those maneuvers don't necessarily suggest a defeated insurgency, just a different and equally pernicious battlefield involving former insurgent elements on one side, and Shiite militias and paramilitaries on the other. Even still, some of those "old names" Wretchard asks us to remember as if they are only a historical footnote continue to be pretty dangerous places. Like Haditha/Ishaqi, Samarra, Ramadi and Najaf. To name but a few. But I'm sure things are just peachy in Fallujah - where the insurgency is no doubt routed. Anyone want to make a dash to that placid metropolis for a little last minute spring break-style escapades?

I'll leave you with this Iraqi blogger's take on how meaningless such banter about defeated insurgencies really is when you look at the situation on the ground:

The word "gun" became like the everyday-words human beings use. Like "water" and "food," Iraqis unwillingly had to include this word into their everyday conversation and vocabulary. [...]

Many Iraqis became interested in buying weapons more than other things. People are saying the prices of weapons are incredibly increasing due to the increasing demand by the people and criminals as well.

People are fed up. Literally! All my friends are thinking of leaving the country. They live in fear every single moment. I have four Sunni friends whose names are Sunni names. I am so worried about them. Death squads are wandering freely in the country kidnapping and killing people one after the other, sometimes just for their names. Few days ago fourteen bodies were found in western Baghdad. All of the victims' names were "Omar", a Sunni name.

The sight of wooden coffins tied on taxis becomes an everyday episode. Bad news become like cookies we have with tea: a boy shot in the face during a carjacking, a ruffian stabbed in a neighborhood fight, a sheik ambushed by his rivals or insurgents, a son with a bullet through the heart, a woman weeping and sobbing for the loss of her son, a married couple shot "mistakenly" by US soldiers.

Few days ago, a friend of mine was caught in the middle of cross fire in Yarmouk neighborhood. He had to hide in one of the shops whose owner hesitated to accept for a minute until my friend begged him. He swore he saw armed men walking freely in front of one of the mosques. They were fighting the Iraqi army until the sheikh of the mosque called on the armed men to stop fighting. "We told you to fight the Interior ministry commandoes, not the National Guards [Iraqi Army]. These are our friends, not enemies," my friend heard the Sheikh of the mosque calling through the mosque's loudspeaker. Can you just imagine that? What kind of state is this? If the Iraqi army, which the US military said is improving, was not able to control one neighborhood, what should I expect? Should I dream of a state of law, a state where I feel safe?

"Lawless" is the best word to describe Baghdad for the meantime. Do whatever you like. No one will ask you what you are doing. You can kill whenever and wherever you want. You can stop your car in the middle of the street, pull your gun and shoot anyone you hate. Do you think police will come for rescue? Huh! Of course not, because they might be the ones who are shooting.
Hey, buddy, what about the good news? Haven't you heard? The insurgency has been defeated. Sheesh.

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