Thursday, March 27, 2008

If the President Spoke and No One Was There to Hear Him, Would He Still Be Full of Crap?

After months of being assaulted with the insurgent falsehood that "the surge is working" by the President, his administration, and his new BFF, John McCain, it seems that Muqtada al Sadr has thrown a wrench into their new reality. Or so you would think.

To hear Bush tell it, that violence you're hearing about in Basra and the Green Zone, it never happened. And if you don't believe that, well then consider that the renewed attacks are actually a good thing.

Concerning the efficacy of the surge in the first place, the decrease in violence was attributable to many factors, the greatest of which certainly wasn't a couple thousand more troops. The cease-fire called for by al Sadr last August is arguably the most significant factor, taking his formidable Mahdi army (militia) out of the equation. You take the largest Shiite faction and outspoken opponent of the Maliki government off the table and that violence was reduced should come as no surprise.

Additionally, it has been well-publicized that the US government is paying off a large number of Sunni (former) insurgents to not attack us. Of course, they don't call them Temporarily-Bribed Noncombatants, they call them the Concerned Local Citizens.

Another aspect of the drop in violence--one that people seem loathe to address--is the pure logistics of the sectarian violence. Upon the fall of the Hussein regime, sectarian killings were easy due to the mixed neighborhoods which bred close proximity and accessibility. Five years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, sectarian killings have become harder because the population is mostly segregated along Sunni/Shia lines. That is, it's literally harder to find people to kill (that aren't protected by their own kind.)

So, clearly there is a number of ingredients to the mirage of success, but an increase in troops isn't high on the list of most significant. That said, somehow Gen. Petraeus has become an untouchable among the US government and media, and to question the success of the surge pure blasphemy.

Then came the week of March 24:

Is 'success' of US surge about to unravel?

Clashes spread as US, Iraqi forces attack Shiite Militia

From the first link:

A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.

Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr's Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr's followers that they'll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.

That this renewed violence by Sadr's loyalists is generally considered as a less-than-full-scale rollback of the cease-fire should scare supporters of the the efficacy of the surge. If this is only a slight upturn, the likelihood of the Iraqi forces pushing back successfully against a full-scale onslaught is extremely low.

Basra is Iraq's only port city and contains 80 percent of the country's oil reserves. Not a small tactical region by any stretch.

But when life hands President Bush lemons:

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will provide more details about the progress of the surge when they testify before Congress early next month. But this much is clear: The surge is doing what it was designed to do. It's helping Iraqis reclaim security and restart political and economic life. It is bringing America closer to a key strategic victory in the war against these extremists and radicals.

On the security side, the surge has brought important gains, which I discussed in detail last week in a speech at the Pentagon. In Baghdad, we've worked with Iraqi security forces to greatly diminish the sectarian violence and civilian deaths. We've broken the grip of al Qaida on the capital. We've weakened the influence of Iranian-backed militias. We've dramatically improved security conditions in many devastated neighborhoods in what some have deemed a "re-liberation."

In Anbar Province -- which 18 months ago was declared "lost" to al Qaeda -- we joined with (read: paid off) the brave local sheiks who launched the first large-scale Arab uprising against al Qaeda.

This speech was given Thursday, as the situation in Iraq deteriorated into chaos. As that Shiite militia that we've rendered impotent interrupted the functions of government and daily life. As significant instability spread to the all-important oil-exporting port town of Basra.

Besides the obvious unwillingness to look at the situation as it is, and not as he wishes, President Bush continues to stress the impact of al Qaeda at every opportunity. This repetition is clearly his effort to continuously conflate al Qaeda and Iraq as retroactive justification for the war, despite ample evidence that no such relationship existed prior to the US occupation.

While spending plenty of time on al Qaeda--not the group responsible for the most recent uprising--in his speech Thursday, Bush mentions al Sadr and his Mahdi militia by name precisely zero times.

That omission is no accident. The actual situation on the ground is of no significance to Bush. All that matters is his continued desire to make this debate about al Qaeda even when the facts belie his case. No one can read a speech that doesn't once name the actual root of the violence, yet centers on a rival group, and suggest that he has any other goal in mind.

The surge isn't working. It never was. Al Sadr was calling the shots from the beginning, and, admit it or not, this administration knows it.


Update (3/27, 1915):

Glen Greenwald
points to this prophetic article from February in the The Guardian predicting the very outbreak of violence that now threatens Basra.

This indicates two distinct options: One, that Dan Smith, a newspaper reporter, has better intelligence and a firmer grasp on the situation than the US government. Or, two, the US government is not being particularly honest about the reality of the situation.

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