Friday, March 28, 2008

Contrast in Iraq: How Do We Demonstrate Progress?

Iraq Protests

The wave of fighting that's broken out this week is being offered as evidence by the antiwar left that the surge has failed.

Glenn Greenwald attacked Frederick Kagan, for example, as failing to predict the outbreak of violence this week in an address at the American Enterprise Institute. Here's Greenwald:

Other than Bill Kristol and Fred's brother, war cheerleader Robert Kagan, nobody has been more wrong about more things with regard to Iraq than supreme war theorist Fred Kagan. He's also deemed by the establishment media and the Bush administration to be the most respectable and knowledgeable expert on Iraq. Within that depressing contradiction lies most of the answers as to why we have destroyed that country and will continue to do so indefinitely.

This quote is a classic example of the left-wing nihilism that's offered by prominent hardline critics of the war.

There's really nothing - no indicator of progress - that would satisfy the hard-left's implacable war opponents, who demonize the administration as the resurrection of the Nazi regime.

I don't see this as a good sign, frankly, of the power of left-wing thought. Greenwald's by no means alone in his demonizations, but let me, nevertheless, provide some contrast and perspective to the current outbreak of violence in Basra in the context of what's happening in Iraq overall.

Amid the fighting in Iraq, President Bush argued yesterday that "the battling in Basra not as a setback but as more fodder for optimism, a sign that Iraq's leaders were ready to challenge the militias that dominate the southern city with a tough security crackdown designed and led by the government's own forces."

Bush stresses the big picture: That Iraq's moving forward, that the al Maliki regime is taking independent action, and that while not glamorous, the crackdown on the militias indicates a forward movement toward greater capacity and autonomy for the Iraqi state.

It's good to remember that major military-strategic assessments have maintained the likelihood of continued violence, so this week's fighting was not unanticipated (see Raymond Ordierno, "The Surge in Iraq: One Year Later").

Also, Larry Diamond, a top democratization expert in political science, who served in the Coalition Provisional Authority, and who wrote a book on the political/strategic failures of the initial Iraq occupation, has now called the new strategy under General Petraeus a success, and that sectarian political compromise is possible but remains to be achieved.

Thus not only was there expert expectations of continued sectarian strife, it's simply not accurate to claim, as far-left critics do, that the administation's surge strategy has failed, and indeed has been a failure from its inception.

CNN's Kyra Phillips, reporting from Baghdad this morning, said that the violence in Basra should be viewed in light of the dramatic development of civil society across Iraq.

I see one of the biggest signs of this (in contrast to the gloom-and-doom antiwar spin) in the mass street demonstrations taking place in Baghdad. As seen in the New York Times photo above, thousands of demonstrators marched yesterday in a massive show of support for Iraq's Shiite faction.

The Los Angeles Times leads its report this morning by highlighting the protests:

Shiite Iraq Protest

In a sign of growing rage against the Iraqi and U.S. governments, tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims marched Thursday in their Baghdad strongholds to protest a crackdown on Shiite militiamen that has led to more than 125 deaths.

Yes, it's perhaps a sign of growing rage, but the photographic images are striking in how democratic is that rage. Amid the sectarianism, backers of the armed Shiite militias now fighting the central government have taken to the streets in peaceful protests to express their opinions and excercise their liberty to criticise the current parliamentary regime.

This in itself is one of the most dramatic displays of progress since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The al Maliki government has not called out police to clear the streets, the army has not opened fired on demonstrators, and we're not seeing a clampdown on dissent through an authoritarian backlash against the Shiite street activists.

What we are seeing is exactly as President Bush declared in his Iraq address yesterday, that "sometimes it requires grass-roots politics to get the folks in central government to respond."

This is true, as we can see from the pictures and media reports from the scene. But to acknowledge these facts would be to destroy the main antiwar Democratic talking point: That Iraq's been the greatest foreign policy blunder in history, that the country's falling apart, and that the current outbreak of violence demands nothing less than unconditional withdrawal.

The current military operations against the Mahdi army is troubling, but it is not a setback to the long-term consolidation of the Iraqi democratic regime. The peaceful protests on the Baghdad street attest to that.

See more coverage of Iraq the Washington Post and Memeorandum.


Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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