Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dearth of a Salesman

It would be a truly remarkable - near miraculous - thing if The Surge was able to somehow bring the roiling conflagration in Iraq under control. I very much want to believe that the infusion of troops, though vastly below what General Petraeus has previously argued was necessary, could tip the momentum in favor of those looking to tamp the violence and reestablish normalcy in Iraq.

Maybe, as an adjunct, certain Iraqi factions would decide that efforts at reconciliation should take on a sense of urgency due to an increasingly impatient US population, coupled with an ascendant and assertive Democratic Party.

So it is with the arched eyebrow of curiosity (not to be confused with the furrowed brow of concern) that I have been processing the early reports of progress and enhanced security in and around mid-Surge Baghdad. While there is evidence that the increased emphasis on Baghdad's security was merely causing a reprise of the familiar game of Whack-a-Mole as large numbers of insurgents have re-located to non-Surged regions, that alone is not enough to dismiss outright the potential for some form of ink-spot type consolidation in Baghdad from which to spread the secure zone outward.

Despite this attempt to preserve a shred of sanguinity with respect to events in Iraq, though, the salesmen of the Surge are doing their best to convince me that the most recent spate of "good news" is worth about as much as Arthur Chrenkoff's entire archives.

The Straight Walk Express

Exhibit A is John McCain's detached-from-reality depiction of life in Baghdad. Witness how man-on-the scene Michael Ware easily demolishes McCain's fanciful rendering (big tip of the hat to Digby):

BLITZER: Senator John McCain suggests that crackdown is already working. I asked him about that in the last hour.


BLITZER: Here's what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday.


BLITZER: "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today."


BLITZER: "The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq." You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you're in trouble if you're an American.

MCCAIN: You know, that's why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to -- I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don't get it through the filter of some of the media.

But I know for a fact of much of the success we're experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts -- not all. We've got a long, long way to go...


BLITZER: ...Let's go live to Baghdad right now.

CNN's Michael Ware is standing by -- Michael, you've been there, what, for four years. You're walking around Baghdad on a daily basis. Has there been this improvement that Senator McCain is speaking about?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that's because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.

Is Baghdad any safer?

Sectarian violence -- one particular type of violence -- is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain's confidence.

I mean, Senator McCain's credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry.

To suggest that there's any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I'd love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.

And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee. I mean in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I've spoken to some military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee. There's multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There's attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection.

So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one -- Wolf. [...]

Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and -- whether it's General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?

WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.

I mean, if al Qaeda doesn't get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don't descend upon you, or if someone doesn't tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you'd barely last 20 minutes out there.

I don't know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.

When the sell job is on that hard, the buyer should always be wary of the product. It's also worth noting (as Ware did) that McCain has sacrificed so much of his remaining credibility on all matters Iraq by spouting this obvious misinformation. Reminds me of the last time Michael Ware had to bring a US Senator back to reality. Speaking of which...

The Boy Who Cried Lieberman*

You knew Joe Lieberman wasn't going to let John McCain hog the spotlight focused on Iraq Delusion Syndrome in the Senate. Sure enough, Lieberman asks that you, the reader, decide whether he is lying now, or all those other times. Greg Sargent has the details, but here's the gist:

On the Senate floor, Lieberman implored his fellow Senators to vote Yes on the amendment to nix withdrawal timetables. He argued that "[It is clear that for the first time in a long time, there is reason for cautious optimism about Iraq]" -- even though he's been steadily arguing for months and months in the recent past that there was cause for such optimism

So when was Lieberman spinning falsehoods? The judgment is yours.

(*stolen, without remorse, from Scott Lemieux)

Good From Afar, but Far From Good

Over at Missing Links, Badger flags another incident that is, sadly, indicative of the different ways that stories of "progress" or "promising developments" get spun in the Iraqi press, and in the US media.

The government-run newspaper Al-Sabah ran a tiny three-sentence note about a proposed draft to amend the law on DeBaathification, stressing that the announcement from the President and the Prime Minister contained no details whatsoever. Al-Mada, which is a pro-Talabani paper, said nothing about the proposal. Azzman, in its domestic Iraq edition, said nothing about it either, but ran a story in its international editio ...Al-Sabah al-Jadida ran a small item that described the proposal in terms of technical adjustments to already-existing DeBaathification provisions.

In other words, although the Sunni-oriented Azzaman was slightly more interested in this than the government-oriented papers (but not in its domestic edition), the broad consensus in the Iraqi press was that this is not history-making. By contrast, the NYT, WaPo and AP all took this up as if it represents a definitive change in policy-direction for the Maliki administration, and the culmination of months of hard work by the departing US ambassador Khalilzad. Good work, Ambassador! One problem seems to have been that the Iraqi journalists, untrained in Western journalistic standards, would have asked questions of the Embassy about this, like: If this is a major reconciliation measure, why is there only minimal Iraqi coverage of it; why are there no expressions of support for this from the Sunni parties; is the Chalabi De-Baathification organization in fact going to be disbanded; why is this being announced on the day of Khalilzad's farewell press-conference; and so on. [emphasis added throughout]

Do you mean that on top of failing to implement an effective rollback of de-Baathification the Iraqis haven't forged a pact to share oil revenues, formed a unity government coopting elements of the insurgencies, voted overwhelmingly for Allawi and/or Chalabi, disbanded the militias, etc.? But the liberal media said...

With salesmen like these, who needs snarky bloggers to kick the tires?

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