Bush’s Surge: The Arsonist Calls 911

Peter Beinhart, a senior fellow in the Council for Foreign Relations, a so-called conservative think-tank, published an op-ed column in the Washington Post on January 18, titled “Admit It: The Surge Worked.”  The column was printed in my home town newspaper, The Register Guard, today, in the Commentary Section.  The RG’s title was “Admit it: Bush was right, and courageous.”

I beg to differ.

Beinhart opens with the following thesis statement:

It’s no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge. According to Michael O’Hanlon and Jason Campbell of the Brookings Institution, the number of Iraqi war dead was 500 in November of 2008, compared with 3,475 in November of 2006. That same month, 69 Americans died in Iraq; in November 2008, 12 did.

All right, assuming O’Hanlon and Campbell of the Brookings Institution got the numbers right, one could agree that the dramatic drop in deaths of both Iraqis and Americans is a good thing.  Whereas we can all probably concur that if no one had been killed in one month would have been best, in a nation where a war is being waged, a low casualty count is encouraging news.

Beinhart goes on to acknowledge that the post-surge improvements are fragile:

Is the surge solely responsible for the turnaround? Of course not. Al-Qaeda alienated the Sunni tribes; Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army decided to stand down; the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops. And the decline in violence isn’t necessarily permanent. Iraq watchers warn that communal distrust remains high; if someone strikes a match, civil war could again rage out of control.

To a reasonable person, who has been following the progress of the war in Iraq, this statement makes sense.  One phrase, however, is disconcerting:

the United States assassinated key insurgent and militia leaders, all of which mattered as much if not more than the increase in U.S. troops.

Beinhart appears to directly contradict himself, here.  He seems to imply that a strategy of assassinating the key insurgent leaders would have had the same effect as adding the 30,000 plus troops on the ground (although his punctuation use might be including the impact of  Qaeda on the Sunnis and al-Sadr’s holding back his Mahdi Army also contributed).  So, which factor should be considered the basis for the dramatic decline in deaths, the assassinations or the troops?  To what degree did the one depend on the other for that decline?  Finally, can Bush be credited for the success, especially, as Beinhart insists, making a courageous decision?

Beinhart believes so:

But if Iraq overall represents a massive stain on Bush’s record, his decision to increase America’s troop presence in late 2006 now looks like his finest hour.

This statement, questionable as it is on so many levels given the now historical context of the Bush presidency, is only the prelude to Mr. Beinhart’s fatal flaw in his whole argument:

Politically, Bush took the path of most resistance. He endured an avalanche of scorn, and now he has been vindicated. He was not only right; he was courageous.

As my grandfather used to say, this is about as “cock-eyed” an interpretation as you could possibly get.  Here’s why: Beinhart ignores his own half-hearted attempts to describe the events and outcomes of the Surge within the context of historical reality and how George W. Bush’s decisions set those events and outcomes in motion.  Beinhart believes his own set of assumptions crafted from his political ideology and draws a conclusion that any sophomore college student taking Introduction to Logic could poke holes in after binge-drinking the night before.

Here’s my analogy.

Two gangs from opposite sides of town have been feuding for many years.  One gang, known as the Bushies, whose leader is called Decider, has grown very large and powerful.  None of the gangs on the other side of town, known collectively as the Easties, are as big or as powerful, but they supply the Bushies with “bling” and the Bushies use lots of it, need lots of it, and know that the biggest source of bling is across town.  The gangs have been feuding for a long time, but the rumbles have never been very long and the casualties limited.  The bling has continued to flow to the Bushies pretty much uninterrupted.

One day, Decider decides the time has come to have the ultimate rumble and take down the Easties for good.  He decides to take down the Baghdaddies first.  The Bushies hit the Baghdaddies hard, setting their neighborhood on fire and seem to get the upper hand pretty fast.  But the gangs in the surrounding neighborhoods feel threatened, and though they know they can’t take on the Bushies directly, they send their gang members to infiltrate the rumble.  Sometimes they help the Baghdaddies fight back; sometimes they set more of the neighborhood on fire, hoping to prevent their own turf from being torched.

The Bushies are taking a lot of casualties, even though the Baghdaddies are being killed in droves.  The burning neighborhood grows and grows, killing more gang members from both sides than the gangs themselves.

Decider doesn’t waver in his decisions.  Keep going.  Finish the feud once and for all with the Bushies on top.  The bling must flow.

Flash point.  The burning neighborhood erupts into a firestorm.  Decider’s gang lieutenants surround him and deliver an ultimatum.  The firestorm will destroy them all.  They must have help to put out the fire.

Decider, against every fiber of his being, relents.  He dials 911 and calls for the fire fighters.  The flames are soon extinguished.  Decider and his supporters trumpet the success of the rumble, and praise Decider for his courage to call 911 as the finest moment of his time as gang leader.

^^^^^^^^^^^

There is a research principle that says when interpreting data, the most likely solution will be both simple and elegant.  It will be simple in that no other interpretation agrees so closely with the data, and elegant because it when applied it creates a satisfying unification with the other data in the theory.

And so, there is a conclusion that fits the evidence both simply and elegantly: The arsonist who first set the fire and then was forced to call 911 to save himself and an entire nation from being destroyed by those flames, Mr. Beinhart, was neither right nor courageous.

The Perfect War: 4000 Years and Going Strong

The conflict in the Middle East is the Perfect War.  That it’s 4000 years long and going strong is probably an underestimate.  It might be 5000 years.

At this writing Israel has invaded the Gaza Strip and cut it into three pieces.  Hamas, the political party that “governs” Gaza is not close to surrendering.  In fact, it is safe to say they have no intention of surrendering, even though it would save hundreds, perhaps thousands of their citizens’ lives (the death toll is already over 500).

Israel’s invasion, clearly a show of force to make up for their mistakes (and loss of face) in Lebanon two years ago, is a military operation that could easily end up in the text books of every military academy as an example of how to “do it right” against an intransigent enemy.  They have two stated goals.  One, find and destroy Hamas’ missiles and the routes (tunnels) to resupply them.  Two, destroy Hamas’ political machine.

Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  Who’s justified?  Who’s the oppressor?

I will leave that to the analysis of the historians.

But what I observe is pagent.  A perfect war scripted over millenia.  Rhetoric honed to emotionally charged but meaningless sound-bites.

Here is the latest:

From Hamas:

A senior Hamas leader made a rare appearance to rally his troops. Hamas’ second in command Mahmoud Zahar released a statement to Alaqsa TV stating, “By killing our children you legitimize us killing your children. By bombing our mosque you legitimize us bombing your synagogue. By bombing our hospitals you legitimize to us bombing your hospitals.”  ABC News

From the Israeli Government:

Israeli military sources told ABC News the overarching goal of the campaign in the Gaza Strip is to strike “a hard blow against Hamas” and to force the organization into a more amenable negotiating position “to bring about a more stable security situation for its citizens in the south.”  ABC News

From the United States Government, by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:

“It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible,” Rice said, “but we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable.”

“Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address,” she told reporters after meeting with Bush.  ABC News

From the United Nations humanitarian staff on the ground in Gaza:

“When women, children and babies are killed in Gaza, how can you say Gaza is not in a humanitarian crisis?” Christopher Gunness, a spokesperson for the UN relief operation in Gaza, told ABC News. “When hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, how can you not say Gaza is not in a humanitarian crisis? When bakeries are shut down, how can you say Gaza is not in humanitarian crisis?

“We are on the ground and we have a much better idea of the situation than those who view Gaza through the lenses of high-altitude bombers.”  ABC News

From Hezbollah in Lebanon north of Israel:

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a political science professor close to Hezbollah, says the group sees the ground invasion as a new phase in the fighting and in its potential involvement. On Sunday, local media reported that Hezbollah militants have been put on “high alert.”

“We shouldn’t overestimate Hezbollah’s restraint. … At this stage, if Hezbollah is provoked in any way, even a small incident, it could give Hezbollah the justification and pretext to enter the conflict,” Saad-Ghorayeb said.  ABC News

From another Middle East country with Radical Islamists (in this case, next to a mosque in Cairo, Egypt):

A crowd of about 100 protesters, including women, managed to begin a small demo. People in this country are usually careful about what they say about the government in public but today their voices were loud and clear — “watch the terrorism in this country,” they said, referring to the Egyptian police. They were also chanting pro-Hamas slogans and saying, “With our blood, with our souls, we will avenge you Palestine.” But as soon as the demonstration started, riot police moved in and broke it up, arresting people and putting them in vans.  Lama Hasan, World View Blog, ABC News

From the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, Egypt:

One interesting point to note: Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal discussed the need for a Palestinian national unity government. He said that had such a government been in place, a “massacre” would not be taking place right now.

So will the meeting generate any change in Gaza? One of the journalists I spoke to said that it was unlikely. She remarked that it had taken the Arab League five days to finally meet since the strikes had started and after nearly 400 Palestinians had been killed.

The meeting therefore could be just a show for the people on Arab streets, to make them feel that their leaders are trying to do something about the situation when in reality nothing may come of it.  Lama Hasan, World View Blog, ABC News

Finally, from leaders in the European Union:

In Ramallah in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank, French President Sarkozy called for a ceasefire as soon as possible and said that “time is running against peace.”

“The guns must fall silent, there must be a humanitarian truce,” Sarkozy said.

He said he would tell Israeli leaders the violence must stop but he also condemned Hamas for its attacks on Israel.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, heading an EU peace mission, sounded more resigned to prolonged fighting.

“We do not have a specific plan for a ceasefire because the ceasefire as such must be concluded by the involved parties,” he said in Jerusalem.    ABC News/Reuters

There you have the rhetoric of a perfect war.  Tit-for-tat.  It will end, this conflict, that is.  But a perfect war is far too valuable to bring to a close, once and for all.  I invite you to read my previous post, “Abraham’s Lot”  (Click on the Recent Entries link to the right).  It is my commentary on why this 4000 year old war is perfect.  Except, of course, over the past 4000 years, for all those who have been killed by perfection.