Real customers, not actors

Sometimes it’s important to point out things that are false. Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon portray themselves as “vocal critics” of the administration on Iraq. As a result, their credibility on Iraq increases–if the “vocal critics” say the surge is going well, then it must be. Well, Glenn Greenwald does everyone a favor and points out just how false the “vocal critic” or “critic” appellation is for O’Hanlon (in particular).

The important thing about Greenwald’s work, of course, is that it undermines the premise of Pollack and O’Hanlon’s argument. They have just returned from Iraq, stuffed with anecdotes about energized troop morale for the brilliant leadership of General Petraeus:

>Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

Having established their credible skepticism, they launch into an anecdotal and impressionistic assessment of events on the ground:

>After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Really–“the moral of our troops” is second only to the heat?

>Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

>Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

>In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

And so on. Juan Cole pointed out the hollowness of the “shopping evidence”: people shop even in wartime. But the rest of the piece continues in the same vein: anecdotal observations of an optimism reminiscent of administration press releases whose credible authority rests entirely on the deeply misleading (or just plain false) claim of skepticism at the beginning of the piece.

2 thoughts on “Real customers, not actors”

  1. Surely, the two authors were not “vocal critics” as they had indicated in their article. That does not, however, mean that they have reached a false conclusion. There seems to be a great deal of evidence presented in the article to suggest that progress is being made. Strip away the overly-eager rhetoric and you are left with a great number of facts which support their position.

    They cite the Ghazaliya Neighborhood-

    “In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers.”

    Citing Tal Afar and Mosul-

    “Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.
    in Baghdad (and others) as evidence of overall improvement in the situation. ”

    This article sees much stronger than the many other ‘shallow’ affirmations of success in Iraq. The two authors have presented, at the very least, a picture of progress in Iraq. That hardly supports their conclusion that citing progress in Iraq should be sufficient to continue to fund Iraq. That’s an article for another editorial.

  2. No one said they reached a “false conclusion.” Rather, since the authors were not vocal critics, but rather vocal proponents of the surge, the premise of the article (that they are skeptics surprised by progress) is false.

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