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September 06, 2006

Faith And Commitment II: The War Of Perceptions

An old adage maintains that war is just politics by other means, but it has often occurred to me that the obverse is equally true. As often as not these days, politics has come to resemble a ritualized form of warfare in which the participants don't even trouble to hide the knives when they go for the jugular. In war, though, the spoils are usually tangible: treasure, lives, cities destroyed or taken from the enemy. In politics they tend to be more ephemeral: reputations, poll numbers, the ability to sense and exploit a national mood.

It should not surprise us, then, that in deadly parallel to the bloody and protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a no less vicious shadow war has played out here at home. It is a war of perceptions, a war between combatants no less determined than those who will stop at nothing to prevent democracy from taking hold in the Middle East.

Last week the war of words raged on. The administration, tired of mostly baseless accusations that it had failed to justify the war to the American people, attempted once more to make its case. Predictably, that supposedly eagerly awaited case was met with hoots and howls of derision from the party in opposition. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began with a speech to the American Legion that even the radically right-wing rag Slate magazine realized was primarily aimed at what he saw as biased media coverage of the war. But Rumsfeld had the nerve to express "unacceptable dissent" from the received wisdom that only certain points of view may be expressed on Capitol Hill:

Well, entirely coincidentally no doubt, Rumsfeld gave a rousing speech before an American Legion convention yesterday in which he said that the real problem with the country these days is that too many people "believe that, somehow or someway, vicious extremists [can] be appeased." In a pointed attack on the media, he added: "Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere." There is too much criticism of American atrocities, he said, and not enough praise for those who win medals for valor.

Of course, Slate's clear-sightedness didn't outlast the inevitable spin. Soon enough, Rumsfeld's speech was automagically converted by media luminaries like the AP and Keith Olbermann into a "demonizing" attack on the Democrat party and the "majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land", to which this stunned author can only reply that she was shocked, if gratified, to hear the DNC finally admit they control the media.

This "majority" - it's an interesting demographic, because by all accounts they elected those very same "transient occupants". And though we keep hearing, from smart, smart folks like Jack Murtha, that a "majority" of Americans want us out of Iraq now, no one is really quite sure what that means. Consider, for instance, the intriguing answers to this poll question:

"Do you think the U.S. should withdraw SOME troops from Iraq by the end of the year, or do you think the U.S. should keep the SAME NUMBER of troops in Iraq through the end of the year?" If "Withdraw": "Do you think the U.S. should withdraw ALL troops from Iraq by the end of the year, or do you think the U.S. should keep SOME troops in Iraq through the end of the year?"

...only 26% favor a "withdraw all" strategy by the end of the year, while the majority (69% favor a strategy which withdraws only some or none) don't. Now one should note that 61%, which matches the number who "oppose" or "disapprove" of the war also is the percentage which said "withdraw". However, less than half of the number saying "withdraw" said "withdraw all"...

A clear majority (69%)of this question feel we should remain in Iraq past the end of this year. Interesting.

Last time we checked, 26% was clearly not a majority. Poll numbers have always been ambiguous, and moreover they respond in a volatile fashion to events in the news cycle. Unless the Democrat party intends to rewrite the Constitution to introduce the substitution of Gallup polls for the ballot box and election terms, it would seem the rhetoric about polls is, while interesting, of little moment.

But in the grand tradition of carpe diem, leading Democrats on the Hill sent a letter to the White House with their latest list of demands. It makes for interesting reading:

Over one month ago, we wrote to you about the war in Iraq. In the face of escalating violence, increasing instability in the region, and an overall strain on our troops that has reduced their readiness to levels not seen since Vietnam, we called upon you to change course and adopt a new strategy to give our troops and the Iraqi people the best chance for success.

Apparently the Democrats haven't heard of Operation Together Forward, nor are they aware that last month violence in Baghdad fell by 46%. Of course, you probably didn't hear that either, unless you happened to read the last paragraph of an article in the WaPo entitled (no, not VIOLENCE IN BAGHDAD FALLS BY 46 PERCENT!!!!!), BUT

Iraqi Troops Battle Shiite Militiamen In Southern City
20 U.S.-Backed Soldiers Are Killed
.

Of course, since this is not the New York Times, we will helpfully point out that one month does not a "trend" make, and we will also admit that such improvements are utterly useless if they are not sustained. We will even admit that it is easier to get a 46% percent reduction in violence when the level of violence has climbed far too high in the first place. It will not be as easy to sustain that rate of reduction - like most improvements, these things often exhibit an exponential character: rapid improvement at first, followed by a slower, steadier rate of change which will surely be interpreted by the media as a sign that things are going to hell in a handbasket rather than an entirely predictable and normal phenomenon.

Not content with asking the administration to change tactics when they have already done so (evidently with some success, though the media have - per usual - declined to inform the public) the Party in Opposition proceed to the next item on their agenda:

Unfortunately, your stay the course strategy is not working. In the five-week period since writing to you, over 60 U.S. soldiers and Marines have been killed, hundreds of U.S. troops have been wounded, many of them grievously, nearly 1,000 Iraqi civilians have died, and the cost to the American taxpayer has grown by another $8 billion dollars. Even the administration's most recent report to Congress on Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq indicates that security trends in Iraq are deteriorating, and likely to continue to worsen for the foreseeable future. With daily attacks against American and Iraqi troops at close to their highest levels since the start of the war, and sectarian violence intensifying, we can only conclude that our troops are caught in the middle of a low-grade civil war that is getting worse.

This is what passes for insight amongst our elected representatives. If, in war, people are dying, money is being expended and the enemy refuses to give up, the solution is obvious to anyone who is is not a mildly retarded chimpanzee under the control of Zionist overlords: we must quit. Never mind those pesky strategic objectives. On this subject, Adel Abdul Mahdi (the Vice President of Iraq) is compelling:

The mostly bad news from Iraq this summer left a lot of people in Washington, including a few in the Bush administration, feeling confused, anxious and doubtful about whether the Iraqi government can deliver on its promise to stabilize the country. As it turns out, some of Iraq's most powerful leaders have had similar feelings as they have watched the news from Washington.

That was the message of a quiet pre-Labor Day visit here by Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has been one of America's key allies in the attempt to replace Saddam Hussein's totalitarianism with a democratic political system. Mahdi is now Iraq's vice president, but he called his meetings with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and key senators and congressmen a "private visit."

In fact, he was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq's single most influential figure -- and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani's message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that "Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy." But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well.

"It's a critical moment. We want to be sure that we understand perfectly what's going on, and what is the real strategy of the United States in Iraq," Mahdi said. "We read in the press about different perspectives and attitudes. That's why we want to be clear -- whether there is a Plan B."

Mahdi said he got Bush's commitment to stand by the government. But the uncertainty he expressed on behalf of Sistani was real. "When I read the [American] press, I'm confused," said the burly, bearded economist, who was educated in a Jesuit school in Baghdad and later in France and who speaks fluent English.

The worry goes deeper than that caused by growing calls for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops, or by reports that some even in the Bush administration are considering the abandonment of Iraqi democracy. As Mahdi sees it, American and Iraqi agendas are more broadly out of sync. Whether or not they support the government and the war, Americans are looking for ways to quickly reverse -- or escape from -- the deteriorating situation they see on the ground.

Mahdi, Sistani and other Shiite leaders in the government don't share Washington's perception of a downward spiral. They also don't buy the American sense of urgency -- the oft-expressed idea that the new government has only a few months to succeed. Consequently, the many ideas for silver bullets tossed around in the U.S. debate mostly don't interest them.

You could see this in the conversation I joined at Mahdi's suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel. We journalists peppered him with questions about why the formation of a unity government had failed to reduce the violence. We asked about all the options usually talked about in Washington -- from a rewrite of the constitution to a partition of the country; from an international conference to the dispatch of more U.S. troops.

For the most part, our queries were politely and somewhat laconically dismissed. Iraq is not in a civil war, Mahdi said, and doesn't need more U.S. troops. It has a constitution and elected government, and thus there is no need for an international conference. As for constitutional reform, the Shiite and Kurd parties that wrote the charter last year are waiting for proposals from Sunni dissidents. Mahdi added: "So far we have heard nothing."

So what is the solution? "Time -- that is it," Mahdi replied. "A nation like Iraq needs time. The elections for a permanent government happened eight months ago. We have been in office a few weeks. The people who we have in office have never governed. These people come from oppression and a bad political system. We can't import ministers to Iraq. There will be many mistakes. The Americans made many mistakes, and Iraqis had to support that."

"Our options as Iraqis are that we don't have an exit strategy or any withdrawal timetable," Mahdi said, somewhat bitterly. "We simply go on. . . . It is a process, and brick by brick we are working on it."

When I listen to men like Mahdi, I am shamed.

Shamed as an American. Shamed as a human being.

And I am tired. So tired of the over-complex theories of too-smart men who are so sure the Bush administration got it wrong.

History, I am well aware, may well prove them right. I doubt there are too many men and women fighting over there right now who don't know that, though. I doubt there are too many people in the White House who don't know that.

I think there is a critical difference between men like this and men like Fred Kaplan, who I read dutifully every week as he tells me what a stupid, stupid man George Bush is:

Bush doesn't see this danger—he chooses not to see it—because it plays against his ideology. He views the world as locked in a titanic struggle between, as he put it in today's speech, the forces of "freedom and moderation" and the forces of "tyranny and extremism." This is, in his mind, "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

He acknowledges that some of these dark forces are driven by "different sources of inspiration"—some are Sunni, some Shiite, some homegrown terrorists. But he claims that they nonetheless "form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology." As for the sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq—a phenomenon that would seem to cast doubt on this Manichean vision—Bush explains it away as having been "inspired by Zarqawi." Certainly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi encouraged sectarian violence, but to say he contrived it is ludicrous.

It's not simply ludicrous; it leads to bad policy. It reflects a gross misunderstanding of Iraqi society (which is far more complex than a checkerboard of freedom fighters versus extremists)—and of the real enemies we face (which are far less monolithic or unified than the president seems to believe).

Not all of our enemies are fascists, and not all of our friends are democrats. The danger—really, the crisis—looming in the Middle East is not the threat to freedom and democracy but rather the threat to stability. This is the bugaboo Bush does not want to face. He has said, over and over, that his predecessors' infatuation with stability is what caused the festering stagnation and resentment that bred the terrorists who mounted the attacks of Sept. 11. "Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither," Bush said this morning. That's a matter of debate. In any event, the new danger is that Bush's neglect of stability to promote freedom will leave us with neither of those things—to the still-deeper detriment of peace: a trifecta of world misery.

This article, and ones like it, is why I couldn't write yesterday.

I read it, and my mind just shut down. I just, for lack of a better word, fucking shut down. I know I shouldn't swear. It's not ladylike. It would be more professional if I didn't. But I cried when I read those words. I am crying again now. I can't help it - I feel so angry, so helpless in the face of malice and arrogance of that magnitude.

I wonder: did Fred Kaplan read Adel Mahdi's essay in the Washington Post? Will he presume to explain to him the extraordinary complexities of Iraqi society, and how "those people" just aren't ready for democracy?

Or will this man - Robert Kaplan - who makes many good points, but who also, I fear, seems to think that we should be managing the Iraqis into freedom, explain to them they they aren't like us? No, no soup for you today. You are not ready. It is in our national interest for you to have stability, even if that means mass graves and plastic shredders. You have no human dignity. You do not possess that essential spark that makes us believe that you can carry the torch we pass.

Lord knows, the Democrats do not believe it. The current direction is democracy and a united Iraq. But that is not what they want:

We propose a new direction, which would include:

(1) transitioning the U.S. mission in Iraq to counter-terrorism, training, logistics and force protection;
(2) beginning the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq before the end of this year;
3) working with Iraqi leaders to disarm the militias and to develop a broad-based and sustainable political settlement, including amending the Constitution to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources; and
(4) convening an international conference and contact group to support a political settlement in Iraq, to preserve Iraq's sovereignty, and to revitalize the stalled economic reconstruction and rebuilding effort.

It is September. Phased redeployment "before the end of the year", in addition to being unrealistic from a logistics point of view, is nothing short of a code word for withdrawal.

The Democrat party, not content with meddling with the American Constitution, would like to help the Iraqis amend their Constitution "to achieve a fair sharing of power and resources". Apparently the Democrats find the current arrangement unsatisfactory. So much for representative government. Why are we not surprised?

And in perhaps the ultimate obscenity, there is this demand. The President, having deposed one dictator, should:

"convene an international conference ...to preserve Iraq's sovereignty,".

That's right. Forget that Constitution which is supposed to give the Iraqis the right to govern themselves. The international community is going to step in and show you little brown people how it's done, being notoriously successful in running the affairs of third world nations.

On balance, perhaps the Iraqis are wise to distrust America.

Perhaps there is something wrong with me and perhaps this is a dangerous attitude, but I can't help but prefer the kind of optimism that places freedom and the tools of democracy in the hands of the Iraqis and the Afghans to the kind of arrogant paternalism that wants to preserve stability at all costs and hide the bodies. Al Qaeda has been around since the early 1900's. Islamic extremism is nothing new. People have been dying by the hundreds of thousands in the Middle East for decades.

We have been in a war and just didn't know it. The only question has ever been, which side were we on? It's not a question of being blind to consequences, or of foolishly thinking we can control events. There is no plan detailed enough or grand enough to ensure that history will fall neatly into place: there never has been. This is the awful gift and burden of freedom - that we cannot control what the recipients will do with it, and that we cannot do all their growing for them. To think that if we'd had a large enough army or a good enough plan is, I believe, a fool's dream.

Observing that mistakes were made does not change the present, nor does it prevent us from making similar mistakes in the future. If that were so, simply chanting "Iraq = Vietnam" would have warded off all mischance in the current war.

"If only we had"... is of limited utility, because we cannot know with certainty what would have happened, had we done x, y, or z. Things may have gone better. Or we might be reading a book called Fiasco: How the State Department mismanaged the reconstruction of Iraq . What we do know is that the Iraqis have braved terrorists time and time again to vote and to approve a Constitution that the Democrat leadership now appears to wish to replace with some "international committee".

We know that, though by all accounts neither the Iraqis nor a majority of the American people wish us to leave by the end of the year, the Democrat leadership has just asked the White House to do just that.

And we know one more thing, if simply care enough to stop and think about it. We have made promises, to real people who are depending on us. And as with the fall of Saigon, when the Democrat majority in Congress voted in 1974 to withdraw all military funding from the south Vietnamese Army, making the Paris Peace accords utterly worthless and unenforceable, a lot of real people will die, as they did in April of 1975 when South Vietnam was at last overrun by the Communists.

And perhaps then the many critics of this war will finally have been proved right and perception will have become reality. At last, they will have done what the terrorists could not: made of Iraq another Vietnam.

Posted by Cassandra at September 6, 2006 05:44 AM

Comments

I hear you, Cassandra. I had a bit of a shutdown yesterday, too. Of course, I can't put it into the coherent and powerful words, you do. Like you, I should've just not written yesterday. But I did, and then regretted my temper tantrum and discouraging words.

My heart is breaking--of sorrow, fury, fear, and loss of hope.

Posted by: FbL at September 6, 2006 12:14 PM

I don't know that this was really all that coherent. It was meant to be something more, but I kept getting interrupted and somewhere along the line it turned into something else. But that's what happens when you just sit down and write.

At any rate, I have something that will make you laugh. Wait a minute :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 6, 2006 12:17 PM

And for what it's worth, I refuse to give up. The outcome has never been in doubt as far as I'm concerned, so long as we remain resolute.

We just need to keep slogging away. It really is that simple. Sometimes you just have to keep showing up.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 6, 2006 12:20 PM

Oh, Cassandra. Thank you for that. You are not alone. Sometimes I wish you and I worked in adjoining cubicles.

Posted by: Patrick O'Hannigan at September 6, 2006 12:30 PM

We just need to keep slogging away. It really is that simple. Sometimes you just have to keep showing up.

Yeah, I know... *sigh*

That's something I've learned from my soldier friends these last few years. As John tells me at times when I feel I've been knocked to the floor again, "Ruck up and get moving."

I will. Just as soon as I'm done with my whining and temper tantrum. :D

Posted by: FbL at September 6, 2006 12:32 PM

We all have attacks of the sulks.

I couldn't write yesterday. I feel like that lots of times but it rarely impedes my writing. But yesterday all that was coming out was bitterness and bile and anger, and I didn't want to foist that on anyone, so I didn't. I worked and I had a good cry and I listened to some nice music. Sometimes you just need to step back and take a deep breath. That's not giving up. I think of it as re-calibrating.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 6, 2006 12:37 PM

Good always triumphs over evil. Have faith in the patriotism of Americans who quietly go about their daily lives knowing the difference between right and wrong.

The Howard Dean part of the Democratic Party do not speak for the majority of Americans of any party! History is rapidly overtaking their cowardice and artifice!

Posted by: vet66 at September 6, 2006 12:57 PM

Pardon the interruption.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 6, 2006 12:59 PM

"Good always triumphs over evil."-vet66

I'm sure that's a great consolation to the victims of the Khmer Rouge, Aushwitz and Rwanda (not to mention Darfur, but hey, if I mention that,I might be called one of those murderous thug-neocons!). Also, not to mention Nanking, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The list is pretty long.

I'm not really trying to mock you, vet66, but why does there always have to be such a tragic loss of life among the innocents, before "good" finally wakes up and asserts itself, and puts down evil?
Why does it seem so maddeningly obvious to some, and so obscure to others?
Why is it always the same arguments, over and over? It seems like it's Abbott and Costello doing "Who's on First" in endless repitition.

Abbott: Who's on first.
Costello: I don't know!
Together: Third Base!
Abbott: Now you've got it.
Costello: I don't even know what I'm talking about!

I fear that Internet "blogs" are a kind of intellectual trojan horse, a mind trap if you will, which will eventually metasticize into some vast Marxist swamp, where objective truth, reality and knowledge will all be subjectified to the dialectic of endless argument.
In the end, only the argument will matter. It doesn't matter whether you ever read Marx or not. Cricket made a great point a few days ago on another thread regarding Thesis and Synthesis. I think that she almost has it exactly right with regards to the other side.

There's a new "troll" on Tigerhawk's blog, "RonB", who is just full of this stuff.

It's like I can almost hear him saying in unison "Third Base!" with a host of previous crypto-Marxist commenters I've read on a hundred blogs, saying the same thing, over and over. It's that absurd.
I get it, I guess. It's just that I'm not going to agree. Ever.

I know it drives Cassandra mad (take heart, dear lady), especially when she tries to be reasonable and engage in some kind of dialogue or argument with the trollsters when they arrive from Salon or wherever. But again, it is the dialectic that fills their minds, whether they know it or not,and not any kind of objective right or wrong.
Frankly, there is no reasoning with them. If they wanted to be reasonable, they would try to expand their horizons and re-think their position based on.....REALITY?

"Our options as Iraqis are that we don't have an exit strategy or any withdrawal timetable," Mahdi said, somewhat bitterly. "We simply go on. . . . It is a process, and brick by brick we are working on it."

These are human beings, trying to put their country back together after generations of Baathist (fascist, real fascist) rule. And at the same time, two extra-national forces are trying to make Iraq a pawn in a larger struggle (al Qaeda and Iranian agents provacoteurs).

And brave young men, our young men and their young men, have paid with their lives to give these people a chance to stand up and live in human dignity and freedom.

We live in interesting times, but not very pleasant ones.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at September 6, 2006 02:58 PM

I'm glad you wrote about the "Not Wanted" piece. It was the other thing I might have written about this week, if I hadn't decided to write about dead deer instead.

Posted by: Grim at September 6, 2006 03:38 PM

Don wrote:
And at the same time, two extra-national forces are trying to make Iraq a pawn in a larger struggle (al Qaeda and Iranian agents provacoteurs).

Three. Don't forget the Democratic Party. :-/

Posted by: Patrick Chester at September 6, 2006 08:12 PM

Next time, the least you could do is warn me Patrick :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 6, 2006 08:20 PM

very nice post Cass

Posted by: Jane at September 6, 2006 08:29 PM

Thank you, Jane :)

And re: Sometimes I wish you and I worked in adjoining cubicles., Patrick,

That could be dangerous :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 6, 2006 09:57 PM

Like I've said many times before, Cass, you swim in the sewer of the MSM and you're gonna get stinky.

If I had to read all the sewage sludge which counts as op/ed pieces in the MSM, I think I would go crazy too. This is why I only make infrequent forays out there.

About 15 minutes of CNN is enough to convince me that its still the same-old-same-old, i.e. Bush lied people died, Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld should immediately resign, we must immediately surrender like the French to the Islamofascists before they kill us all, etc.

The MSM never say anything new, but spew out the the same tired cliches, dogma, and mantras. I heard that crap in the Soviet Bloc, why would I want to subject myself to the rantings of a self-appointed "People's Kommissar" now?

Sadly, there are those in the MSM that are just too stupid to know better. Lenin's famous quote about the Revolution's need for "useful idiots" seems particularly apt in this context. There are those in the MSM, however, who are knowingly and intentionally causing harm to our great nation. This is, of course, loudly denounced by the Left. The same people who, for years, denounced the notion that the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were Soviet agents who betrayed their nation by selling secrets, including nuclear secrets, to the Commies. Even after the end of the Cold War, and the opening of KGB archives proved their guilt, the Left still trumpets them as a cause celebre of right-wing commie witchhunts.

Dan Rather, Jayson Blair, and the other many media scandals show that the MSM places their leftist political agenda above any ethics or scruples the industry may have once had. For the most part, they are not "journalists", but propagandists for their zealous left-wing dogma. Why then take them seriously? Why pay them the slightest attention?

If you must address them, then consider the source. If you talk to most criminals in prison, they will loudly proclaim their innocence of any wrongdoing. Most of them are liars. You should take the same skeptical approach with the criminals in the MSM.

Plus, you are far too fabulous, cherie, to let such insolent scoundrels get you down. If you are going to waste time on insolent scoundrels, look no further than my own humble self (gives a leer as he twirls the tips of his mustachios).:)

Posted by: a former european at September 6, 2006 11:08 PM

Cass, Once again I have to say,Great Post!
Please don't let these idiots get you down.

You are a Beacon in a dark and stormy time, and I for one have got your six, as most of your esteemed commenter's have ably demonstrated.

Never-fear we will persevere. The majority of Patriotic Americans realise what is at stake and will not give the dhimmicrats a leadership position.

AFE- Thanks for the smile.

Posted by: unkawill at September 8, 2006 12:23 AM

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