June 24, 2004

Unreality bites

Unreality has set in over Iraq. I'm not just talking about Paul Bremer's bizarre interview with the Washington Post, which listed the lifting of import duties (!) in a country without secure borders as an indication of Iraq's bright future... no, I'm talking about the general unreality at home about what has been achieved so far, and is still achievable.

It is, of course, on both sides. Word to those who still care about objective reality: THIS is an army press release, to cover a battlefield setback. Every defeated army in history has made similar statements. There were official statements just like this after Dieppe. And no doubt Shiloh. The Persians probably released one after Marathon. What could the commander of the 1st Armoured Division, many of whose men have been held on in Iraq months after their tours were supposed to have ended, going to say different at this point? "Hey we tried to get Sadr, didn't work out, so a few of you are dead, better luck next time?"

The only thing that a writer's taking this seriously at all really indicates is that their built-in spin detector is now way... way... off...

Reality is as much an unknown quantity among many of those in the opposition ranks too, of course. In order for them to plan domestic opposition effectively, however, they really have to get one thing straight. You're. Not. Leaving. You can't. Energy needs demand American basing in the Middle East. The Saudi bases were forfeited for Iraqi ones. So the Iraqi ones are the ones you're getting. I'll say it again: You're. Not. Getting. Out. Even if Kerry wins. Hell, even if Nader wins. Two or three presidential elections from now, you will still have tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq. If you do not take that as your starting premise in this discussion (witness Lapham's latest in Harper's as an example) you are being fundamentally unserious.

At the moment, the Iraq adventure is more or less where the Philippine adventure was in March, 1900; the open rebellion has calmed down a bit, there is a parallel civilian power struggle in the offing, and the Americans are changing leadership. (McKinley didn't have Kofi Annan back then, so he had to invent the Taft Commission to fill its place, but other than that we're pretty close.) That puts us about one year from the popular Aguinaldo figure's (Sadr's?) end, a year-and-a-half from a bloody American defeat that outrages the home front and leads to American reprisal atrocities (Balangiga), two years from the "zones" policy (what they called the Philippine concentration camps) and a decade away from the end of the still-to-come Moro (Kurdish?) rebellion. If everything goes according to precedent, Iraq will be a fully sovereign nation again no later than 2050.

What, you thought it would take less somehow?

UPDATE: Wretchard outdid himself this week, writing of the seizure of eight British personnel in broad daylight 1000m down the wrong river bend into Iran, "the enemy full court press has begun... The Mullahs have rolled the dice and the only answer should be to insert them, one by one, between their bearded lips." On Thursday, the eight were calmly released with apologies all around. When will prowar bloggers start to realize that their favourite Iraq "analyst" couldn't analyse a poppyseed bagel? Every falsifiable prediction I can ever recall him making (there are so few... it's mostly just paragraphs and paragraphs of platitudes) has been wrong. You could make yourself rich betting AGAINST this guy.

UPDATE #2: The New York Times has a more balanced look at the Sadrist Revolt. Sullivan sees this as vindication of the WashTimes piece, but I'd say it was just a fair assessment of what was a well-executed military operation that did not achieve all its political aims. For evidence of that balance, note the difference in the numbers: the Washington Times claimed Sadr had a "10,000 strong army" of which "several thousand" were "killed." The New York paper says that number (excluding Sadr City itself) was roughly 3,000, and is now down to around 200 active combatants... it can be inferred through a combination of deaths, wounds, captures, and desertion. This is an entirely believable military outcome, given the time and forces involved, whereas the first numbers obviously had some hype built in. The New York paper also emphasizes the non-battlefield accomplishments, like the amusement-park building, equally with the flat-out military ones.

I'm not trying to say the 1st Armoured was "defeated" per se, just that their PR officers were going to push the media to write stories like these regardless of the outcome (as I would have in their place). In the same vein as Den Beste's "all diplomacy is successful," so too are all military operations, by definition. What happened in the Sadrist revolt was the Americans set out with a widely-stated aim, "to kill or capture Sadr," that turned out to be militarily unachievable. So their commanders changed their aim mid-op to something actually achievable -- "restore control of the country and diminish Sadr militarily"-- and ably met that new aim. To call that either a defeat or a victory is just simplistic.

There's another good piece here. I question the "1500 killed" estimate, but the Post does at least attempt to quantify civilian casualties, which neither of the others do. I suspect total active Sadrist casualties (including wounds and captures) could be in that ballpark, though. Given that the same piece describes an episode where 400 Sadrists "vanish" overnight, it's reasonable to assume that of those c. 5,000 armed men Sadr had on his side in the beginning, the majority just decided this was not a winnable fight and have dropped their rifles for the time being.

Posted by BruceR at 09:26 PM

And the 21st century belongs to...?

American F-15Cs apparently have a little trouble with Sukhoi Su-30s, when they're well-flown for a change:

The success of the Indian air force against American fighter planes in a recent exercise suggests other countries may soon be able to threaten U.S. military dominance of the skies, a top Air Force general said Wednesday.

"Other countries?" I don't think so. Just India.

Posted by BruceR at 06:51 PM