Saturday, September 01, 2007

Ramadi’s Transformation is "Breathtaking" but Senator Reid Sees Only "Failure"

There comes a time in politics, as in war, when the momentum shifts noticeably. When events reach "a tipping point."

The discussion amongst politicians in Washington and media figures in New York about the Iraqi battlefield in the War Against Islamofacism has reached such a point. Again.

When news reports from the battlefield describe battlefield transformations as breathtaking– particularly reports in journals that more typically blame America first–the effect on members of the chattering classes is similar to a light suddenly illuminating cockroaches infesting a long-dark storage room. The confusion is surpassed only by the sounds of the scampering.

The Times of London, not known for its support of any recent American initiative and certainly not counted as a cheerleader for Western efforts in Iraq, this week published a breathlessly positive report on progress in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

Shortly before I arrived last November masked al-Qaeda fighters had brazenly marched through the city centre, pronouncing it the capital of a new Islamic caliphate. The US military was still having to fight its way into the city through a gauntlet of snipers, rocket-propelled grenades, suicide car bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Fifty US soldiers had been killed in the previous five months alone. I spent 24 hours huddled inside Eagles Nest, a tiny COP overlooking the derelict football stadium, listening to gunfire, explosions and the thump of mortars. The city was a ruin, with no water, electricity or functioning government. Those of its 400,000 terrified inhabitants who had not fled cowered indoors as fighting raged around them.
Lost in most of our news accounts, al Qaeda has now lost two capital cities of its caliphate in Iraq, Ramadi and Baqubah.

Today Ramadi is scarcely recognisable. Scores of shattered buildings testify to the fury of past battles, but those who fled the violence are now returning. Pedestrians, cars and motorbike rickshaws throng the streets. More than 700 shops and businesses have reopened. Restaurants stay open late into the evening. People sit outside smoking hookahs, listening to music, wearing shorts – practices that al-Qaeda banned. Women walk around with uncovered faces. Children wave at US Humvees. Eagles’ Nest, a heavily fortified warren of commandeered houses, is abandoned and the stadium hosts football matches.

“Al-Qaeda is gone. Everybody is happy,” said Mohammed Ramadan, 38, a stallholder in the souk who witnessed four executions. “It was fear, pure fear. Nobody wanted to help them but you had to do what they told you.”

Ramadi is a city with a population before the war of 400,000. It is the capital of Anbar Province, an area that represents more than a quarter of Iraq's territory and which contains many of the infiltration routes from Syria.

The conquest of al Qaeda in Anbar, and make no mistake about it, conquest is the proper term, is consequential for all of Iraq.

It provides an example of success, a showplace, certainly for the daytrippers from DC and New York, but more importantly for the citizens of Karbala, Nasyriah, Mosul, Tirkut and Baghdad. Iraqis can now see what post-Saddam, post al Qaeda peace looks like.

While philosophers teach that we learn more from our failures than our successes, it helps to have proof that the counter insurgency theories work and that they are affordable in terms of resources. While every death is memorable, every casualty a cost and every dollar an expense, victory in Anbar was less costly than was the previous status quo.

Removing al Qaeda from its capital and base of operations increases its costs of operations in terms of risk and resources while reducing its effectiveness. While its impossible to precisely identify by how much, it unarguably tips the odds against the enemy. Do it two or three or a dozen times, they lose, we win.

Solidification of the victory in Anbar will is allowing American commanders to focus resources and attention on other trouble spots, leveraging their effectiveness. Again, if General Petraeus can do it a couple of times–and it looks like he may be succeeding in Baqubah and Diyala Province–the momentum and leverage shift geometrically and victory becomes possible, likely, probable, then certain. The process feeds on itself and accelerates with each success. Where today, victory is happening in 25% of the territory, tomorrow 40% in do-able. If we can get that far, we can go the distance.

All this begins to explain the growing confusion and discord among those most strongly opposed to the Bush Administration's approach to war.

What if the perception of possible success strengthens or grows?

In April, The New York Times shocked its readers with a report headlined, Progress in Anbar.
RAMADI, Iraq — Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat. (Emphasis added.)
The Los Angeles Times eventually acknowledged the changes on the ground, that progress was being achieved "slowly and subtly," but added about the positive news it was reporting
It is not a message many politicians in Washington want to hear.
Wow. Crude and blunt, the sort of comment heard in group therapy. That was an observation both true and distressing, an American newspaper reporting that American politicians were troubled by news of American troops succeeding.

The floodgates of change opened with the publication of a lengthy and positive 1,361 word editorial page report in The New York Times by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack describing the progress they had seen on a recent visit to Iraq.

Intrigued, The NYT then commissioned a survey on public attitudes towards the war. The paper was so surprised by the results–showing an increase in support–that it ordered a do-over.

Even the Associated Press joined the parade, reporting
The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.
The first tangible shift came in an interview by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) on his return from a fifth visit to Iraq. While Baird voted against the war authorization, he is now convinced that American troops deserve enough time and enough support to succeed. Baird's comments sent shockwaves through the liberal firmament.

Other Democrats have since joined into a small chorus that lists among its members Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Assistant Majority Leader and Hillary (It's working) Clinton (D-NY), who added, "We have to win."

Contrast that with the discordant words and actions of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Ritz Carlton), stuck between the irrerestible force of changing public opinion and the immovable wing that now controls his party.

While Reid has just recently surrendered his position requiring an immediate surrender by American forces, he is apparently unable to adjust to recognize reality. As recently as August 31 he continued to call Iraq a failed strategy.

Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (another success denier) have scheduled a series of hearings during the first half of September in order for their respective legislative bodies to hear from, among others, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

The last time General Petraeus was in DC, the Congressional leadership was "too busy" to meet with him.

RELATED LINKS: Katie to Iraq! CBS Looking for a Long-Term Deal
Liberal Media: Dropping Like Flies
Senator Harry Reid: Expert on Iraq?
Can the Democrats Win Without America Losing?
Harry Reid to Troops: You've Lost the Damn War
"Progress in Anbar"– No! It Can't Be. Not the NY Times!


Anonymous said...

i just have to thank you for this

Harry Reid (D-Ritz Carlton)

oh and also the fail to accept reality,, you rock,,, may I borrow that,, I do live in Nevads! and not at the Ritz, (Washington DC, by the way)

Bob Leibowitz said...

Please do be my guest, and please mention the Canticle to your friends.

Thanks. -- Bob