Sunday, March 26, 2006

Warring over reality

Over the past week I have noticed several signs of an emerging Republican strategy to try to turn Iraq, as well as 9/11, to their advantage yet again. Blogs and talk-show hosts (led by Rush Limbaugh, whom I caught recently) are pushing it; Republican politicians may not have to follow along. Essentially, it goes like this:

1. The war in Iraq is actually going well.

2. The liberal media only print bad news because they hate President Bush.

3. Anyone who has decided that the war is going badly has been taken in by the liberal media. (Rush said that in so many words to a basically friendly caller who expressed doubts about the war.)

It has become clear that a significant portion of the population (although far from a majority) believes a good deal of this and will not have their minds changed by anything that happens. I noted my impression from two weeks ago that the media is, in fact, terrified of being blamed for the loss of the war, and this may make the strategy easier to execute. Meanwhile, the President himself has announced that those who oppose warrantless wiretaps don’t want a terrorist surveillance program, and this seems sure to be a leading argument in this fall’s elections. And he has already created the new “metric” based upon which the Administration plans to claim success—that Iraqi security forces have taken over responsibility for more than half the country. (Unfortunately, it will be the largely unpopulated half.)

As a reality check, let me make a list of stories that would constitute good news from Iraq—but which are not appearing.

1. A decrease in total number of insurgent attacks. (Incidentally, while US deaths have fallen significantly over the last month or so, severe wounds have made up for a good deal of the slack.)

2. A decrease in the deaths from sectarian violence, which is steadily increasing.

3. The arrest and disarmament of religious militias.

4. An increase (rather than the continuing decreases) in oil production, electric power, and the availability of drinking water.

5. A renewed ability by reporters to move unescorted about the country (which, a piece in the current New York Review of Books tells us, has become harder and harder since late 2003.)

6. The formation of a government (it has been three months since the election.)

7. The agreement of the major factions on some peaceful partition of the country (which increasingly seems to be the only way out.)

8. The capture of Al-Zarqawi. (While I doubt it would hurt the insurgency significantly, if at all, it would testify to some improvement in intelligence.

What is actually happening in Iraq is instead more disturbing nearly every day. To begin with, it emerged early last week that President Bush had conveyed to Prime Minister Al-Jaffari, through Ambassador Khalizad, that he should abandon his post to facilitate the formation of a national unity government. This proof that we refuse to accept the outcome of the democratic processes we insituted has generated extraordinarily little attention, even after Scott McClellan issued a standard non-denial denial of it. But even more disturbing was something that I found yesterday on the blog Baghdad Burning, by a young Sunni Iraqi woman living in the capital. Moving from channel to channel on her tv one night last week, she saw an announcement from the Ministry of Defense. “The Ministry of Defense," it read, "requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.” The two channels closely allied to the ruling Shi'ite parties did not carry this announcement; other channels did. The blogger and her family agreed that the instruction was worse than useless, since security forces tended to arrive heavily armed and did what they wanted.

Following up on this item, I spent the last ten minutes trying to identify the current Iraqi minister of defense, but I could not not find it in various web searches. Prime Minister Al-Jaffari was the acting Defense Minister in the government announced last May, but the news item I found reporting that said that the position was expected to go to a Sunni. I could not find a single story since last May that would provide further clarification (and would appreciate any that anyone can give me.) The position is, of course, up for grabs again in the new government.

In any case, to use the analogy I used a few years ago, this directive would have been similar to a directive in the late winter of 1933 from German President Hindenburg's office, telling the German people not to obey SA men deputized to assist state police forces who showed up at their homes. The Iraqi security forces (and, to judge from the announcement, perhaps parts of the Army as well) are acting without higher authority.

The idea that we cannot now afford to give up in Iraq is another common wartime fallacy, very familiar, of course, from Vietnam. As I argued last week, war is too risky a business to insist upon victory at any cost. It’s a throw of the dice and the player should be ready for any outcome. And indeed, Clausewitz himself argued that the cost of any war must continually be weighed against its potential benefits. “Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by the political object,” he wrote, “the value of this object must determine the sacrifices made for it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow.” That was the view of one of our civilization’s supreme rationalists, who knew all too well how hard it is for human beings to apply it in practice, even when continuing the war cannot possibly bring any new benefits.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The press did contribute much to the loss of the war in Vietnam. By breaking the morale of a populace, creating doubts about the motives of the national leaders, creating pop culture icons of irresponsible and anti-social elements, the press created an inevitability that cost better than 50,000 young American lives. Being that news anymore is just another entertainment time slot that must be filled and hyped for ratings, The media is playing it for all its worth and the result will be the same(Vietnam Redux).