Sisyphean Efforts

According to Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior, violence in Iraq as a whole since the end of June has declined 70%.  (One might point out that the media that allegedly never report “the good news from Iraq” have been…reporting some good news when there has been some to report.)  If correct, that’s good news for Iraqis, though it only returns the situation to its 2005-level misery.  Had someone said to you, “In late 2007, we will just be getting back to the awful situation we had in late 2005,” would that have inspired confidence in you to be willing to remain in Iraq?  It has taken two years to go nowhere, and this is now being described as “progress.”   

The problem with the jingoes isn’t that they want America to succeed, since that is actually what all of us want (for most of us, the sooner the better so that we can bring our people home), but that they are so chronically optimistic that they are also still expecting Sisyphus to get his boulder to the top of the incline and keep it there.  Perhaps when the boulder rolls back down the hill, they will find a way to blame it on the “MSM” and the antiwar movement. 

In other words, they always believe that there is progress and good news, and would believe it no matter what.  (This is why I consider optimism to be a species of mental illness.)  Once in a great while, there actually is a little good news (it was bound to happen sooner or later), and from their braying about it you’d think these people possessed oracular powers.    

A large part of the decline seems to be the changed situation in Anbar, where “violent deaths” declined 82%.  Assuming that all of these figures are basically accurate (that’s a big assumption), that means that much of the “progress” (a.k.a., getting back to where we already were) being touted derived from the Awakening in Anbar, which, as we have had to say over and over, was incidental to and not part of the “surge.”  Good news?  Certainly.  A vindication of the “surge”?  Not nearly so much as crowing jingoes would have you think.  The “surge” has had some modest and perforce temporary success, but it has yielded no political results and cannot conjure up a professional Iraqi police force or independently effective Iraqi Army by sheer willpower. 

As we know, the police force is a shambles, and the army remains still largely inadequate to the task of providing security on its own.  The elements needed for long-term stability and victory, such as it is, are not present, and there is little that has happened in the last ten months has made them more likely in the coming year.  The “surge” was intended to “buy time,” and so it has bought a little–only in this very narrow sense can it be declared successful.  As most of us already know, and all of us should know, that time bought with American lives will be frittered away to no good purpose by the different factions.  Of course, if Turkey invades Kurdistan, all bets are off anyway.  

The part of the story that doesn’t seem to be getting nearly as much attention is this:

However, in the northern province of Nineveh, where many al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab militants fled to escape the crackdown in Baghdad and surrounding region, there had been a 129 percent rise in car bombings and a corresponding 114 percent increase in the number of people killed in violence.

While the figures confirm U.S. data showing a positive trend in combating al Qaeda bombers, there is growing instability in southern Iraq, where rival Shi’ite factions are fighting for political dominance. 

This really is not an exercise in being a naysayer.  This is to keep in mind that every time we have been told that there has been progress in Iraq, some other part of Iraq has soon enough started going to hell after one part had seen a modicum of order restored.  This is not a coincidence, and we have seen the same pattern since the first battle of Fallujah: success in one place simply pushes insurgents and bombers to some other part of the country, where they begin their attacks anew.  As Nineveh province goes to pieces, we are being told about success in Anbar and Baghdad.  As soon as forces are shifted to face the problem in Nineveh, where they will be at least moderately successful, Baghdad or Diyala or somewhere else will probably start deteriorating again.  This is the very definition of running around in the circles, and there is a large part of the population that sees this abuse of our military as a policy that treats them with respect and honour.  Excuse me if I don’t buy it. 

The fundamental flaws of the “surge” that have been criticised since the beginning have always been: 1) insufficient numbers of soldiers to accomplish the counterinsurgency task assigned to them, and 2) a hopeless local political mess that shows no real sign of resolving itself.  The deeply compromised and sectarian nature of the “Iraqi government” has always been at the heart of the latter problem.  The “surge” will at some point come to an end, as has always been the case, which means that the old evils that the “surge” was meant to combat will return once the “surge” has ended.  As Prof. Bacevich pointed out a couple weeks ago, ending the one thing that might have been doing some good on the security front makes no sense by the standards of the supporters of the “surge”–yet this is what Gen. Petraeus has recommended. 

It is the manipulative propaganda of the administration and the hopelessly confused nature of the strategic planning of this war that make it unsustainable and indefensible.  No doubt, our military can execute very smart, effective tactical plans until the end of time (I believe that is the unofficial target date for ending the war at this rate), but if it is in the service of no larger, coherent, feasible plan it is a waste of lives, money and resources.  The strategic goals have remained unchanged for the duration of the occupation (the frequent talk of the “surge” as a “new strategy” has revealed just how few understand what strategy is), and they remain just about as far-fetched and distant as they have ever been.  It is high time to end the war.

Cross-posted at Eunomia

3 thoughts on “Sisyphean Efforts”

  1. they want America to succeed, since that is actually what all of us want

    Speak for yourself, please.

    Iraq was a wrongful enterprise by the US state, and it needs to fail, and the more disastrously the better, in order that future such enterprises are the more strongly deterrred. It is, in fact, probably only the failure so far of the Iraq enterprise that has prevented the benefits of US “liberation” from being extended to Syria and iran, for a start.

    It is particularly important for it to fail because those responsible for the aggression have not been held properly accountable and have not been removed from power, and nor are they likely to be so treated.

    The above may be politically disadvantageous to say within the US, but it is the simple truth. The truth is anti-American.

  2. I have been very loud in my denunciations against the illegality and injustice of the Iraq war since the beginning. Of course it was a wrongful enterprise. That isn’t in question.

    The truth is that the war will never actually be ended until we can separate the pointless “desire” to succeed from a realistic assessment of the prospects of bringing the war to whatever they think a “successful” conclusion looks like. Wanting success and actually bringing it about are obviously radically different things, and that is what has to be emphasised.

    In any case, we shouldn’t be ceding the definition of American success in Iraq to war supporters. To my mind, American success in Iraq is a safe, speedy withdrawal. If opponents of the war align themselves with a view that openly calls for American failure, they can be certain that the war will continue until something even more calamitous for us and the entire region happens. That doesn’t help anyone, least of all the people in Iraq and neighbouring countries.

  3. Why not think about Freedom and Justice issues for the whole world not just for the US.

    From that prospective, the US – being the only mega-superpower Empire on the planet Earth – should be contained.

    The principle of balance of power that is applied to one country, today should be applied to the world as a whole. And balancing it by having 3 superpowers is a good idea – also very stable, as soon as one of 3 superpowers gets too much power, the remaining two join forces.

    But wait a second – that is how global politics works anyways – as we speak. So the future will be – if US continues to escalate the war against the rest of the world, then the very strong opposition emerges, and the eventual damage to the US is huge. If although the US gets to it’s senses sooner then that – and getting out of Iraq would be an indication – then damage is much smaller. The huge damage means full scale nuclear war by the way.

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