Thursday, September 30, 2004

Back to the Future

Just some quick thoughts on Andrew Sullivan's belief that Iraq is now the new Algeria. He says in the "Daily Dish" that:

The reason I believe things are dire in Iraq is pretty simple. The evidence is accumulating that the insurgency -- fostered by Baathist thugs, al Qaeda murderers, and other Jihadists - is gaining traction. That would be a manageable problem if the population despised them and saw a way through to a better society. But the disorder and mayhem continues to delegitimize the Iraqi government and, by inference, the coalition occupation. ... And once the general population turns against an occupying power, then things get really ... Algerian. The key moment was probably when George W. Bush blinked in Fallujah. That was when the general population inferred that we were not prepared to win. It's amazing, really. This president has a reputation for toughness and resolution. Yet at arguably the most critical moment in this war, he gave in. He was for taking Fallujah before he was against it. I cannot believe the situation is beyond rescue. But this president's policies have made it much much more difficult than it might have been.

During the April, 2004 fighting three things were critically different from today. There was the threat in April of a combined Sunni-Shi'ite uprising. The fear was that hitting Fallujah would stoke a Shi'ite insurgency. Since the Sunnis were considered secondary Fallujah was spared. This is not to justify the decision, but simply to point out the considerations at the time. Today, data provided the Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group Inc (used by the New York Times to argue that fighting is spreading in Iraq) seems to show that the Shi'ite insurgency is a spent force, the result of a military campaign against Sadr which culminated in August, 2004 combined with efforts to isolate Sadr politically. There were seven attacks in an Najaf province out of a total of 2,429 in the month studied.

Second, there were only 5,000 "trained" men in the Iraqi Army in April 2004. Today the numbers are moving towards and past 70,000. A link to General Sharp's briefing on September 20 has many of the details of the state of training and increased numbers. What is strategically different about the Sunni strongholds today is not only the loss of allied Shi'ite insurgent support but the growing availability of Iraqi troops to crush them. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers said in an interview today that Coalition forces are planning a 'solution' to the Sunni lawlessness in conjunction with the Iraqi government. To the legitimate question of 'why only now?' one can reply 'because there were no Iraqi forces then' -- barely a year after the fighting and on the heels of the capture of the principal Ba'athists. Fallujah could have been taken in an all-American assault and be occupied to this day by an all-American force; but rightly or wrongly, the President chose not to.

This brings us to the third and often ignored point. There was no interim Iraqi government in April, 2004. There is one today. It's establishment was decried as premature by everyone on the other side of the droit and practically over the dead body of Kofi Annan. Even today, as Mark Steyn points out, the press can hardly bring themselves to ask Iyad Allawi a question, as if he didn't exist. Describing a press conference in the Rose Garden at which both Allawi and Bush were present, Steyn writes:

On Thursday, President Bush held a press conference at the Rose Garden with Mr. Allawi. You know how these things go. The Norwegian Prime Minister happens to be visiting Washington and they hold a joint press conference and Norwegian issues aren't terribly pressing at the moment so the press guys ask Mr. Bush about prescription drug plans for seniors and increased education funding while the visitor from Oslo stands there like a wallflower at the prom. But Iraq is the No. 1 issue in American right now, and they've got the go-to guy right in front of them, and what do the blowdried poseurs of the networks ask? ... They're 6 feet from Iraq's head of government and they have no question for him.

So perhaps it really isn't important whether "disorder and mayhem continues to delegitimize the Iraqi government"; or that Sadr is gone or a new Iraqi army is building. After all, these are events in a future that never should have happened, because according to a certain point of view, the Iraq operation should never have occurred. No matter: according to that point of view it will fail. At least, that is what Saddam and Sadr told themselves and what Zarqawi is telling himself now.