Monday, July 30, 2007

Oh, What a Lovely War!

The first thing I noticed in this paean to the Iraq war by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack was who they didn't talk to:

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

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.

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.

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.

There's a lot more, but the "who" that O'Hanlon and Pollack did not talk to is not there, either. Give up? Why, it's anyone at all who wasn't wearing a U.S. military uniform! And guess what? O'Hanlon and Pollack -- far from having "harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq," have been two of the war's biggest boosters from the very start:
... The op-ed contains “no mention anywhere of the fact that both men very prominently backed the initial invasion and the ’surge.’” Pollack, who authored a pre-war book he described as “the case for invading Iraq,” appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in Oct. 2002 uncritically touting the false intelligence about Iraq:
POLLACK: What we know for a fact from a number of defectors who’ve come out of Iraq over the years is that Saddam Hussein is absolutely determined to acquire nuclear weapons and is building them as fast as he can.

O’Hanlon has shared Pollack’s euphoria over attacking Iraq. Prior to the invasion, he predicted a “a rapid and decisive” victory. He has sought to convince war critics to get behind the escalation. And now he is pushing a plan for Iraq that envisions a long-term occupation.

Glenn Greenwald quotes from the transcript of an NPR interview from September, 2003, in which O'Hanlon makes the same upbeat claims that violence is down, the streets are safer, the counterinsurgency is working, blah blah blah, as he does in his NYT piece :
Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. He just returned from a Pentagon-sponsored visit to Iraq and he's in the studio. Welcome back, Michael. What's it like in Iraq?

MICHAEL O'HANLON: Well, it's obviously tough. It's a little better, however, than I thought for a couple of reasons. One is I think the counterinsurgency effort is going fairly well. Now obviously, you mention the number of attacks per day that continue; it's a real concern. We're still losing troops. Everyone's aware of that. The truck bombings in August were tragic. The assassination of the Governing Council member was tragic, but overall, the counterinsurgency mission seems to be going well in that we are taking out a lot more people than we're losing and I believe we're using force fairly selectively and carefully on balance. There's some mistakes here and there. Also, security is pretty good in most of the country despite the fact that it's not good everywhere and that we certainly hear the reports of violence on a daily basis.

HANSEN: You say it was better than you thought. What were the surprises? Were there any?

O'HANLON: I would say that the main surprise for me was probably that one could travel around the country, even flying over contested areas, with relatively confident sense of security. There wasn't as much need to avoid certain areas as I might have expected. There is obviously violence. There was violence in some of the regions that we visited on the days we were there. But you're talking about specific, isolated acts just like you would get in an American city. I'm not trying to say that this is a country at peace, but overall, we really do run most of the country together with our Iraqi partners and the resistance forces are very small pockets who operate only at a given moment here or there.

HANSEN: American officials have claimed that foreign terrorists have entered Iraq. Were you shown any evidence that would substantiate those claims?

O'HANLON: I think it's compelling. I wasn't shown evidence directly, but certainly there's a lot of—we've arrested some people from other countries, not as many as I might have thought. And the numbers that are estimated of foreign jihadists are smaller than I had feared. Granted, the estimates could be wrong. It's always very hard to count people in an insurgency or a counterinsurgency, but it's probably several hundred to, at most, a couple of thousand from foreign countries. And we're starting to do fairly well at going after them, or at least limiting their ability to organize.

HANSEN: How are the American troops, who seem to be under daily fire, handling the dual role of being warriors on the one hand and nation-builders on the other?

O'HANLON: Our military is so spectacular at balancing these sorts of things. Whether you like the mission or not, whether you approve of the war or not, you have to admire the troops. And we spent most of our time with them and they just work extremely hard and they're very professional. They've done this throughout the '90s in the Balkans. We should remember that we've learned a lot from those '90s experiences, that the Bush administration, even though it opposes nation-building in principle, is now benefiting from the fact that we have a military so well-trained in precisely this balance of being warriors at night and then peacekeepers by day. And we're doing pretty well at the combination, I think.

O'Hanlon even cheerfully acknowledges the carefully controlled view of Iraq he got:
HANSEN: Final question. Your visit was sponsored by the Defense Department. Are you concerned that you perhaps were given a rather narrow view of the country by your hosts?

O'HANLON: There's no doubt. But we only had a couple days there. We talked primarily to American officials. However, we could be quite prying and we could really push them. And I think overall, nonetheless, I was reassured. We didn't meet a lot of Iraqis who could tell us how things were going, but on balance, I think we had some access.

Of course, this didn't stop O'Hanlon, then or now, from making claims of progress uninformed by anything close to a balanced, accurate picture of conditions in Iraq.

Steve Benen sees it as a calculated political strategy:
That O’Hanlon and Pollack describe themselves as observers who have “harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq,” is obviously a political strategy. If they can convince the reader that they’re White House critics, who work for a historically left-leaning think tank, then their support for the current strategy caries more weight.

Except the claim is inherently misleading. O’Hanlon and Pollack endorsed the war before it began, and have eagerly backed the occupation ever since, including the so-called “surge.” These guys “have harshly criticized” the administration the same way that John McCain and Lindsey Graham have — as enthusiastic war supporters who’ve been frustrated at times by the Cheney-Rumsfeld policies. But that doesn’t make them objective, credible analysts; on the contrary, they’re touting dubious results that bolster their own predictions.

More importantly, O’Hanlon’ and Pollack’ evidence of progress in Iraqi is wholly unpersuasive.

Of course, the surge-adoring hordes don't see it that way. It's fascinating to see how the same media critics on the right who see "liberal lies" everywhere in the MSM, can accept and repeat an outright lie when it supports their ideological position on the war. Still, if there is anything more astonishing than O'Hanlon and Pollack telling us, straight-faced, that they have "harshly criticized" Pres. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, it is seeing those two described by neocons as "prominent lefties" who have been "harshly critical of the war effort to date."

Cross-posted at Shakespeare's Sister.

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