NYT: Progress, optimism in Baghdad; Update: Should the Times apologize to Petraeus?

posted at 12:40 pm on November 20, 2007 by Allahpundit

It was posted in headlines 12 hours ago and everyone’s heard about it by now but it wouldn’t seem right to let a page one like this pass without mention on the blog, so here you go. Cross your fingers and dive in. It’s a pastiche of anecdotal evidence about security returning to the city to match the statistical evidence that’s been accumulating over the last month, starting with a woman whose family has taken the bold step of returning to Dora — the same neighborhood where St. John’s Church, recently made famous by Michael Yon, is located. The locals there told Yon they wanted their Christian neighbors to come home; the woman interviewed by the Times is Shiite but her experience seems emblematic. The ending of the article captures the fact of improvement but also the relativity of it:

Mrs. Aasan said she was thrilled and relieved just a few days ago, when her college-aged son got stuck at work after dark and his father managed to pick him up and drive home without being killed.

“Before, when we lived in Dora, after 4 p.m., I wouldn’t let anyone out of the house,” she said.

“They drove back to Dora at 8!” she added, glancing at her husband, who beamed, chest out, like a mountaineer who had scaled Mount Everest. “We really felt that it was a big difference.”

If you only have time for one Iraq article this morning, skip the Times and read Rod Nordland’s account of his return to Baghdad in Newsweek. It’s along the same lines as the Times’s — incredulously optimistic, but with appropriate caveats — yet even more detailed about the creep of normalcy. A taste:

Al Qaeda in Iraq is starting to look like a spent force, especially in Baghdad. The civil war is in the midst of a huge, though nervous, pause. Most Shiite militias are honoring a truce. Iran appears to have stopped shipping deadly arms to Iraqi militants. The indigenous Sunni insurgency has declared for the Americans across broad swaths of the country, especially in the capital.

Emerging from our bunkers into the Red Zone, I see the results everywhere. Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. The Baghdad Zoo is open, and caretakers have even managed to bring in two lionesses to replace the menagerie that escaped in the early days of the war (and was hunted down by U.S. soldiers). The nearby Funfair in Zawra Park—where insurgents used to set up mortar tubes to rocket government ministries, and where a car bombing killed four and wounded 25 on Oct. 15—is back in business…

People who have long lived like fugitives can now do the most normal things. Zuhair Humadi, a high-ranking Iraqi official who lives in the Green Zone, recently attended a public wedding celebration in Baghdad without a massive security detail. The Shorja bazaar in old Baghdad, hit by at least six different car bombs killing hundreds in the last year, is again crowded with people among the narrow tented stalls. On nearby Al Rasheed Street, the famous booksellers are back in business, after being driven into hiding by assassins and bombs. People are buying alcohol again—as they always had in Baghdad, until religious extremists forced many neighborhood liquor shops to close.

The caveat is what happens as the surge winds down and the American buffer between the newly segregated Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods evaporates. I wrote a few days ago about the pressure being brought on Maliki to cement the new sectarian accommodation by drawing more Sunnis into the security forces and putting them on the state payroll. Newsweek adds to that a detail about how much the U.S. has paid so far to secure the cooperation of more than 67,000 Sunni tribesmen: $17 million, or less than the cost of one Apache helicopter. Conservative bloggers tend to view Arab violence against Americans perpetually through the prism of religious jihad (for good and understandable reasons), but the more you read about Iraq — including/especially the writings of certain embeds who were ahead of the curve on this — the more you see how much criminal motives complicate the picture. Bill called the insurgency in Anbar a “mafia” operation in August, and today WaPo confirms:

U.S. military commanders say that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology and that a growing number of insurgent cells, struggling to pay recruits, are turning to gangster-style racketeering operations.

U.S. military officials have responded by launching a major campaign to disrupt al-Qaeda in Iraq’s financial networks and spread propaganda that portrays its leaders as greedy thugs, an effort the officials describe as a key factor in their recent success beating down the insurgency.

“I tell a lot of my soldiers: A good way to prepare for operations in Iraq is to watch the sixth season of ‘The Sopranos,’ ” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch…

“If what they are truly migrating into is money, money, money,” [Lt. Col. Eric Welsh] said, “then that means they are disenfranchised from what al-Qaeda stands for. What you end up getting is al-Qaeda being ineffective and diluted and being almost something else.”

They’re trying to publicize that mafia aspect for propaganda reasons now since Iraqi Muslims are much less likely to cotton to fanatics fighting for graft than for jihad. A shrewd move, since this phenomenon is by no means relegated to Sunnis: Remember the Times story from a few weeks ago about young Mahdi Army recruits starting to alienate Shiites by resorting to petty crimes and teenage gang behavior? A PR campaign against predators and extortionists will bite them, too. SCIRI, always a bit smarter and smoother than the oafish Sadr, is already way ahead of the game in the south.

Here’s the Memeorandum item on the Times story, incidentally. Of the few on the left who have dared to touch it, I count one who’s not sneeringly dismissive.

Update: Captain Ed makes the case that Keller and co. should man up and eat a little shinola here after dismissing Petraeus’s testimony in September. I think Tom Maguire‘s right, though: the thrust of the “empty calories” editorial was that (a) if there is progress, it’s owed more to Iraqis than to Bush’s strategy (“Even if the so-called surge has created breathing room, Iraq’s sectarian leaders show neither the ability nor the intent to take advantage of it.”) and (b) without political reconciliation the surge hasn’t accomplished its task, a point even Petraeus would probably concede.

As for what the Times thinks about Iraq these days, it’s exactly what you’d expect.

More (Bryan): I touched on the influence of organized crime in Iraq in a post shortly after Michelle and I came back from Baghdad. And CPT Aaron Kaufman talked about the progress in Adamiya, which was one of the worst parts of Baghdad when we were there, when I interviewed him from Germany last week.


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Whereas Time Magazine is asking “Has the surge reached it’s Limits ?”

Guess they still want to be pessimistic

BTW Allah is story on Murtha in your mail

William Amos on November 20, 2007 at 12:44 PM

Caught this on the front page while I was in Starbuck’s this morning, and I have to say I did a double-take to be sure it was the NYT.

peski on November 20, 2007 at 12:51 PM

President Bush: “Petraeus – you’re gonna be my Grant”

and so he has………….

jake-the-goose on November 20, 2007 at 12:54 PM

My feet are getting cold.

Bill C on November 20, 2007 at 12:55 PM

If this turns out to the good news I hoped for, then make sure this is an election issue for the defeatocrats.

Kini on November 20, 2007 at 12:56 PM

Peace through strength. Yet there are still those who believe that the surge has failed. There are non so blind as those who refuse to see.

But it’s more than just extra soldiers, it’s also the tactics. God bless our Troops!

Tony737 on November 20, 2007 at 1:07 PM

Does the Pantsuit still have a willing suspension of disbelief?

BTW, I heard a clip from Laura Ingraham yesterday and she had audio of the CNN reporter who was sneeringly negative last year and who now sounds a different tune. His name escapes me at the moment, but I think it’s the guy who was suspected of being drunk during a press conference.

JammieWearingFool on November 20, 2007 at 1:15 PM

The NY Times didn’t survive the Iraq war. R.I.P.

JiangxiDad on November 20, 2007 at 1:20 PM

Is it me, or is Hillary getting a little bigger around? She used to look a little leaner to me.

Also, the NYT is getting thinner.

saiga on November 20, 2007 at 1:25 PM

NYT stock trading today at $17.75/share. Same price as April ’97.
Way to go Sulzberger.

JiangxiDad on November 20, 2007 at 1:29 PM

The NY Times didn’t survive the Iraq war. R.I.P.

JiangxiDad on November 20, 2007 at 1:20 PM

One can only hope and pray…

doriangrey on November 20, 2007 at 1:30 PM

That last NY Times Editorial piece is a joke. It must be.

Zetterson on November 20, 2007 at 1:39 PM

BTW, I heard a clip from Laura Ingraham yesterday and she had audio of the CNN reporter who was sneeringly negative last year and who now sounds a different tune. His name escapes me at the moment, but I think it’s the guy who was suspected of being drunk during a press conference.

JammieWearingFool on November 20, 2007 at 1:15 PM

Michael Ware?

Zetterson on November 20, 2007 at 1:41 PM

My God, a victory for the US in Iraq has got to hurt the Democrats. They’re depending on their side to win that war.

Buzzy on November 20, 2007 at 1:47 PM

Before we all swoon from the victory dispatches, let’s get a grip on what “success” means by asking and answering a couple of questions:

1) During Saddam’s 30-year reign of terror about 300,000 people are said to have died unnaturally as a direct consequence of his rule (killed by his goons or slaughtered in various wars he initiated). That’s just shy of 30 dead Iraqis per day. How are we doing compared to Saddam? Can we keep the number of dead Iraqis (war related; clearly I don’t mean crime, disease or old age) substantially under 30 a day?

2) Are the achievements of the past few months sustainable without keeping close to 200,000 armed Americans (military and Blackwater types) there?

3) How long can we sustain the economic effort (spending the equivalent of 2.5% of our GDP in money borrowed from China) involved in keeping close to 200,000 armed Americans in Iraq?

4) What is our best-case scenario in, say, five years? Is Iraq going to be like Saudi Arabia (a theocratic human rights hellhole with a strong and stable central government and a pro-American foreign policy)? Is it going to be like Iran (a theocratic human rights hellhole with a strong and stable central government and an anti-American foreign policy)? Is it going to be like Afghanistan under the Taliban (a fracticiouos land made up of fiefdoms held together in the iron fist of a sectarian militia)? Can we dream about something as stable, prosperous and democratic as Turkey?

5) Looking back on March 19, 2013 (the ten-year anniversary of the invasion), what tangible, lasting benefits will the United States have derived from this venture?

6) What will happen (and when) to the 2.5 million Iraqi refugees in nearby countries and to the additional 2 million internally displaced Iraqi citizens? Will they be able to return home? Will they be absorbed by the places where they are now? How many of them will the United States absorb?

Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that we don’t seem to have the daily, multi-dozen-victim terror attacks and intense sectarian cleansing that we had a year ago. But until we can find some reassuring answers to these questions, any talk of success rings kinda hollow to me.

factoid on November 20, 2007 at 1:54 PM

Great post AP. I think it would be a good time for President Bush to make a suprise holiday visit to Iraq. He needs to tell their leaders that the time is now. What can you say about our troops. Outstanding job! General Petraeus has moved into an elite group of Generals. Great leader who executed his plan. I think the Iraqi people are starting to really get a taste of freedom. Once they do, they will demand it from their Government, even if they have to elect a new one.

chief on November 20, 2007 at 1:55 PM

Does the Pantsuit still have a willing suspension of disbelief?

That’s the question CNN’s Poodle Spritzer should have asked her in the “Great Debate”! Think a Republican would have skated by without getting that thrown in their face had they made such a public slander? Rush gets nailed all over the MSM for one sentence extracted out of context, but Herself gets the velvet gloves treatment, after insulting the honor a General who is looking like a military genius. What would we do without the MSM protecting our right to know what they know is right?

drunyan8315 on November 20, 2007 at 2:00 PM

factoid on November 20, 2007 at 1:54 PM

Get up from your computer. Go to the window and open it. Look outside. See or hear any celebrating? Didn’t think so. Swoon alert over.

JiangxiDad on November 20, 2007 at 2:11 PM

JiangxiDad on November 20, 2007 at 2:11 PM

So this whole thing about the success of the surge … the imminent collapse of the New York Times Corporation … Petreaus being like Grant (and by extension, Bush like Lincoln) … peace through strength — this was all just hype, is what you’re saying?

factoid on November 20, 2007 at 2:39 PM

Maybe we should just enjoy the little victories where we get them. That’s how you are successful in a COIN environment. You set up a series of small victories and added up over time you achieve success. It takes patience and discipline. The recent successes in Al Anbar wasn’t just because General Patreus showed up. It was because Marines have been working the COIN concept now for the past 3 years. Anyways we’ve all had depressing news shoved down our throats for the past four years, once again, enjoy the good stuff when you can get it. Success breeds success, and optimism is contageous.

gator70 on November 20, 2007 at 2:54 PM

I’ll bet that was painful for the NYT to publish that.

RMCS_USN on November 20, 2007 at 3:01 PM

Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted …

factoid on November 20, 2007 at 1:54 PM

No. No you’re not. You’re exactly the opposite of delighted. Obviously.

Your belief system – even your ego – is apparently solely dependent on continued bad news from Iraq. If George Bush turns out to be right, you and your ilk may vanish in a puff of logic.

You aren’t pleased at all. People who are pleased don’t write 6 paragraphs worth of caveats and “yeah, but ..”

It speaks volumes about you.

And it makes me pity you. I can’t imagine having to hear this good news, and then write that horrid post you just offered. I really can’t. The cognitive dissonance involved, the abandonment of all principles … it must be shameful and painful.

All because you just can’t be wrong. Dead Americans don’t matter, and certainly dead Iraqis don’t matter. All that matter is proving George Bush wrong.

I pity you, friend. I truly do. The one thing we should all share is a willingness to cheer for peace.

You and yours can’t do that.

Professor Blather on November 20, 2007 at 3:14 PM

Can we dream about something as stable, prosperous and democratic as Turkey?

certainly not if the liberals get their way and do everything possible to unseat a potential Ataturk (Musharaff?)

max1 on November 20, 2007 at 3:25 PM

Good job, Allah.
I enjoy reading your analysis.

AlexB on November 20, 2007 at 3:47 PM

No. No you’re not. You’re exactly the opposite of delighted. Obviously.

You know that factoid isn’t Michael Moore, right?

Factoid, we can be happy about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, yet still recognize that there’s a long way to go and that a successful surge doesn’t mean permanent stability in Iraq. We should be critical, but I don’t think AP is breaking out the good champagne. As for commenters on this website, commenters on any website tend to include those who oversimplify or engage in schadenfreude. I think the pokes at the Times are nothing compared to the type of alternative “reality” you’d see at a site like DailyKos. Most non-Democrats are just happy to see something good happening in Iraq. Heck, I’d like to think that most Democrats are glad, too.

calbear on November 20, 2007 at 5:11 PM

factoid on November 20, 2007 at 1:54 PM

In case you haven’t heard, this is “The Long War”. But I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your comments warrant an answer. (Frankly, it would be easier to treat you as Professor Blather did.)
The nature of the situation in Iraq, and much of the Middle East, is this; admittedly we don’t necessarily know exactly what results our actions there will have. What we know, at least for those who’ve been there and/or understand the region, is that if we’d done nothing the result in the future, both near and far term, would *most likely* be much worse.
Guarantees? Don’t get many of those in real life. Likelihoods? Easier to come by.
Thought experiment factoid. Take your #4 and assume that there had been no intervention in Iraq. What is your best/worst case?
For extra credit, set the calendar back to the mid-1940s, make appropriate historical changes (you can guess what those might be) to all your ‘questions’. Now press play and figure out how many of them we answers for then. The point being that we don’t always know the consequences of our actions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act.

sandcrab on November 20, 2007 at 5:37 PM

and (b) without political reconciliation the surge hasn’t accomplished its task, a point even Petraeus would probably concede

I would dare say that the Iraqi government is better reconciled than the US government.

redshirt on November 20, 2007 at 5:48 PM