Lieberman and Graham Whip Up a Fairy Tale and Call It, “Iraq and Its Costs”


When your loyalty is to a particular ideology or policy, and not to the truth, then it’s easy to portray an abject failure as a stunning success. All you have to do is spin the facts while ignoring any inconvenient realities that don’t fit in with the desired narrative. Today’s Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed by two masters of the craft:

When Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress tomorrow, he will step into an American political landscape dramatically different from the one he faced when he last spoke on Capitol Hill seven months ago.

This time Gen. Petraeus returns to Washington having led one of the most remarkably successful military operations in American history. His antiwar critics, meanwhile, face a crisis of credibility – having confidently predicted the failure of the surge, and been proven decidedly wrong.

Think Progress debunks:

As proof of the surge’s success, the two hawkish senators cite statistics that they say show “dramatic improvements in security”:

No one can deny the dramatic improvements in security in Iraq achieved by Gen. Petraeus, the brave troops under his command, and the Iraqi Security Forces. From June 2007 through February 2008, deaths from ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad have fallen approximately 90%. American casualties have also fallen sharply, down by 70%.

The fact that Lieberman and Graham only cite statistics through February — even though numbers for March 2008 are available — undercuts their argument. Perhaps they ignored March because there was “a 25 or 30 percent increase in the number of civilian casualties” from February to March[.]
[…]
Lieberman and Graham also claim that “the critics in Washington have been proven wrong” about political progress in Iraq, citing the passage of “de-Baathification, amnesty, the budget and provincial elections” legislation by the Iraqi government. But this too is not an honest assessment of what has occurred in Iraq. In a report to be released today, the experts who advised the original Iraq Study Group call political progress “superficial“:

A new assessment of U.S. policy in Iraq by the same experts who advised the original Iraq Study Group concludes that political progress is “so slow, halting and superficial” and political fragmentation “so pronounced” that the United States is no closer to being able to leave Iraq than it was a year ago.

And then there is this:

Al Qaeda in Iraq has been swept from its former strongholds in Anbar province and Baghdad. The liberation of these areas was made possible by the surge, which empowered Iraqi Muslims to reject the Islamist extremists who had previously terrorized them into submission. Any time Muslims take up arms against Osama bin Laden, his agents and sympathizers, the world is a safer place.

The truth is that the “Anbar miracle” is mostly attributable to the six-month cease-fire that al-Sadr announced in August of last year (and recently renewed), and to the erstwhile Sunni insurgents who were hired by the U.S. occupation forces to fight Al Qaeda. They are the ones who did the “liberating” and they did it because the U.S. military promised to pay them — not because they were “empowered” to fight “shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers.” And then when they were done, the Bush administration grabbed the credit, and left the men who did the fighting high and dry. In plain English, the Americans stiffed them.

The WSJ op-ed uses al-Maliki’s recent military offensive against followers of al-Sadr in Basra as proof that al-Maliki “has the political will to take on the Shiite militias and criminal gangs. …” That view has been widely disputed, including by the people most directly involved:

While the government claims it is going after outlaws in Basra, the southern oil hub, it is clear they are targeting Mahdi Army controlled area. With the group under attack they are reacting and a freeze that Sadr put on his militia is unraveling.

Sadrists feel targeted and isolated among the Shiite parties. They believe that this battle is to undercut their reputation and popularity before the provincial elections in October. Their Shiite rival, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, (ISCI), retains control of much of the south but is far less popular than the Sadr trend. Provincial elections would take ISCI’s monopoly on power in the south away.

Furthermore, Lieberman and Graham might want to reconsider pointing to Basra as an example of Maliki’s political maturity or authoritativeness — even the Bush administration has been distancing itself from such talk since Iraqi government officials had to travel to Iran to negotiate peace terms with al-Sadr.

The Bush administration was caught off-guard by the first Iraqi-led military offensive since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a weeklong thrust in southern Iraq whose paltry results have silenced talk at the Pentagon of further U.S. troop withdrawals any time soon.

President Bush last week declared the offensive, which ended Sunday, “a defining moment” in Iraq’s history.

That may prove to be true, but in recent days senior U.S. officials have backed away from the operation, which ended with Shiite militias still in place in Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki possibly weakened and a de facto cease-fire brokered by an Iranian general.

“There is no empirical evidence that the Iraqi forces can stand up” on their own, a senior U.S. military official in Washington said, reflecting the frustration of some at the Pentagon. He and other military officials requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak for the record.

Having Iraqi forces take a leadership role in combating militias and Islamic extremists was crucial to U.S. hopes of withdrawing more American forces in Iraq and reducing the severe strains the Iraq war has put on the Army and Marine Corps.

The failure of Iraqi forces to defeat rogue fighters in Basra has some in the military fearing they can no longer predict when it might be possible to reduce the number of troops to pre-surge levels.

“It’s more complicated now,” said one officer in Iraq whose role has been critical to American planning there.

It’s always been complicated. That’s the problem. The Bush administration thought it could impose a simplistic, ideological narrative on a country thousands of miles away without understanding thing one about said country’s culture, history, or religious and political traditions. It’s still doing that.

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