Go figure — the 85% of the population that isn’t Sunni doesn’t pine for the Arab Stalin who tormented them. We already knew that, of course, and Maher probably does too but he can’t resist the zesty moral equivalence of the comparison. NYT reporter Damien Cave sets him straight. Given all the Times-bashing the righty blogosphere does, it’s worth acknowledging that their Iraq team plays it pretty straight: Cave, John Burns, Michael Gordon (whom the left loathes for his military “stenography”), Ed Wong, etc. It’d have been easy for Cave to seize this as an opportunity to make himself a media property by telling Maher what he wanted to hear. Kudos to him for resisting.

Watch the whole clip as he’s got plenty of insights, not all of which are encouraging. His metaphor about a hammer hitting a ball of mercury is especially sharp. Click the image to watch, then come back and watch the clip below of Michael Ware picking up where Cave leaves off about what America owes Iraqis. He’s another guy who takes a beating from time to time but seems to be on the mark more often than not. His point here about just how far the Maliki government has degraded is sobering, and probably not an overstatement. The surge is working, says Jeff Emanuel, on the ground southeast of Baghdad, but who picks up after the surge leaves off?

Too bad Michael O’Hanlon waded back into the fray to bait the nutroots. After this, Cave was all set to become their new hate object.

cave.jpg

Update: Cave says morale is generally high, the LA Times begs to differ:

As military and political leaders prepare to deliver a progress report on the conflict to Congress next month, many soldiers are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war…

But the disparities in living and working conditions among soldiers heighten resentments, chipping away at morale. So does the feeling that the mission is futile, a belief fueled by the Iraqi political stalemate and the unreliability of Iraqi forces.

“There are two different wars,” said Staff Sgt. Donald Richard Harris, comparing his soldiers’ views with those of commanders in distant bases. “It’s a dead-end process, it seems like.”

Asked to rank morale in his unit, Harris gave it a 4 on a 10-point scale. “Look at these guys. This is their downtime,” he said, as young soldiers around him silently cleaned dust from their rifles at a battle position south of the capital. A fiery wind blasted through the small base, an abandoned home surrounded by sandbags and razor wire.

“It sounds selfish, but if we just had phones and Internet service,” said Staff Sgt. Clark Merlin, his voice trailing off.

WaPo says the White House isn’t planning any troop cuts beyond rotating the surge brigades out when their tour ends in April. That would leave 130,000 still on the ground at this time next year. Good news for Iraq, but probably electoral disaster for the GOP. Oh well.