The Daily Iraq: 31 July 2013

Iraq Body Count figures for July 30: 50 killed

IBC total to-date for July, 2013: 941 civilians killed

The AP reports 26 more dead today in several shootings (the deadliest in two Shi’i neighborhoods in Baghdad and in Mosul), but they’re not quite getting the story correct:

Attacks including bombings of Shiite and Sunni mosques left 26 dead in Iraq, the latest in a surge of bloodshed that is raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian killings, officials said Wednesday.

Most attacks on Shiites are presumed to be carried out by the country’s branch of al-Qaida, which claimed credit on Tuesday for a wave of bombings the day before that killed at least 58 people. It said the attacks were carried out on behalf of “oppressed Sunnis,” suggesting the group is trying to capitalize on Sunnis’ complaints of being treated as second-class citizens by the Shiite-dominated government.

The attacks on Shi’i targets are being carried out by Iraq’s al-Qaeda branch, but so are the attacks against Sunni targets. The one attack on a Sunni Arab target today was a shooting on a checkpoint manned by Sahwa, a Sunni militia that opposes al-Qaeda. It’s all part of the same destabilization campaign by AQI (or ISIS if you prefer). If and when this conflict becomes sectarian, it will probably be be immediately clear and very devastating.

Meanwhile, back in the country that broke Iraq in the first place, we have Kenneth Pollack (via), comrade in (sending other people off to bear) arms to friend of the blog Michael O’Hanlon, who has been Thinking some Big Thoughts about how to Fix Iraq. This ought to be good.

Dr. Pollack is a senior fellow at Brookings who formerly served on the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration. In 2002 he wrote a book called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq that explained why containment had failed and only a full-scale invasion could prevent Saddam Hussein from nuking and/or conquering the world. While the book was not intended to make the case for invading Iraq as an immediate response to 9/11, nonetheless it did provide the “intellectual” heft for a number of “liberals” who initially supported the war, particularly around the issue of Saddam’s supposedly out-of-control WMD program.

When the war started to go badly, in 2004, Pollack wrote a “Gosh, didn’t ‘we,’ meaning the foreign policy community at large and not, say, ‘me personally,’ really screw the pooch on that whole WMD thing” piece for the Atlantic that ultimately concluded that, yes, the primary rationale for the war had turned out to be total bullshit and the whole project was kind of a clusterfuck, but everybody’s hearts had been in the right place, and it’s not that the war itself had been a bad idea, just the way the Bush Administration did it, so no worries, right? “I do not believe that it was a strategic mistake, although the appalling handling of postwar planning was,” he wrote, because being a Very Serious Person means never saying you were wrong, EVER, and “There is also no question that he [Hussein] was pure evil, and that he headed one of the most despicable regimes of the past fifty years,” because rational terms like “pure evil” and “despicable” are often used in Very Serious Foreign Policy Analysis.

Pollack and O’Hanlon teamed up to attempt something of an exacta; while claiming that they had both been harsh critics of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war, they also took a trip to Iraq in 2007 and came back gushing about how wonderful things were there, in the middle of the country’s 2006-8 civil war mind you, and how America just needed to “stay the course.” They’d each written a lot of “stay the course” kinds of pieces during the war, as in “we don’t like how Bush is running the war, but if we just Stay the Course everything will turn out OK.” I guess after you’ve strongly endorsed the invasion, made ludicrous claims about the need for and ease of that invasion, and continually insisted that America just needed to stay the course in the midst of the invasion, throwing in an occasional “but we are real mad at the president for not doing this invasion right” counts as harsh criticism. Pollack and O’Hanlon, being two respected foreign policy scholars at the very centrist, establishmentarian Brookings Institute (as opposed to lunatic war-thumpers hawking nonsense at a right wing shop like Heritage or AEI), are for my money the two best pieces of evidence that being wrong about Iraq will never negatively impact the careers of anybody in our Very Serious Foreign Policy Community.

So it shouldn’t surprise you to know that, in an ideal world mind you, the Very Serious Kenneth Pollack would like to see us invade Iraq again! Because it worked so well the first time!

In an alternative universe, the United States might re-intervene in Iraq, redeploying tens of thousands of soldiers to restore everyone’s sense of safety and allowing the political process to heal again. In this universe, the United States is never going to intervene in Iraq again, nor will the Maliki government ever request that we do so.

Oh man, this universe is so lame and stupid! If we could only re-re-intervene (“intervene” because “invade” is such an ugly word) in Iraq, then we would totally fix all the things that we broke when we re-intervened after our first intervention! Just because the first Iraq intervention that I pushed for was a catastrophe, does that somehow mean that we can’t ever intervene Iraq again? WHY CAN’T WE RE-INTERVENE AGAIN? DAMN YOU NON-ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE!

…the problems of Iraq will not be easily healed. They are not the product of ancient hatreds, a canard that resurfaces with the outbreak of each such civil war.

No, but the “ancient hatreds” make for convenient excuses, don’t they?

Instead they are principally the products of our own mistakes. We caused the Iraqi civil war, we healed it briefly, and then we left it to fester all over again.

Whose mistakes? And who exactly is “we” here?

It is not that Iraqis had no say in the matter, no free will. Only that they were acting within circumstances that we created and those circumstances have driven their actions.

Actually it’s exactly like the Iraqis had no say in the matter, once you and your ideological buddies made the decision to invade come hell or high water. “The Iraqis” didn’t get a whole lot of say in that decision, did they?

Pierce’s guest blogger, Michael Maiello, summarizes the rest pretty well:

As for his real world proposals, Pollack says that we should take an active role in Iraq’s economic development, including joint task forces to oversee its economy, infrastructure and oil production (hey, why would the Iraqi’s mind, right?) that we could be more supportive of the current government’s rivals and critics and we could expand our influence in the region by offering “greater aid to the Syrian opposition,” because, well … magic?

What’s great about Pollack’s suggestions that fall short of a new war is that, he promises, they can be achieved at “relatively low financial cost.”

Pollack is, no doubt, a Middle East expert, a foreign policy expert and a security expert. But when he talks about money, check to make sure your wallet is where you left it. In The Threatening Storm, Pollack’s pro-invasion tour de use of force, he assured us that Iraq could also be rebuilt on the cheap:

“It is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars.”

I would only quibble on one point, which is: if a foreign policy analyst turns out to be utterly wrong in almost every detail about the most important foreign policy decision this country has made in at least the past 25 years, can’t we stop calling that person an “expert”? Why are the same people who got it so wrong on Iraq still at the forefront of our foreign policy community?

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