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April 07, 2008

Ant on a Monster Truck Tire Syndrome

Ah...The Ever Shifting Narrative. Let's see if we can keep track of the party line as it bobs and weaves.

1. Moqtada al-Sadr won in Basra:

... the very fact of the cease-fire flies in the face of Maliki's proclamation that there would be no negotiations. It is Maliki, and not Sadr, who now appears militarily weak and unable to control elements of his own political coalition.

Sadr, in fact, finds himself in a perfect position: both in politics and out of it, part of the establishment and yet anti-establishment.

2. PM Maliki's ill advised assault only laid bare the limits of US, Iraqi military power:

The offensive, which triggered clashes across southern Iraq and in Baghdad that left about 600 people dead, unveiled the weaknesses of Maliki's U.S.-backed government and his brash style of leadership. On many levels, the offensive strengthened the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

3. But this should not have come as a surprise to anyone. This is a civil war Iraq can't win. What's more, the Iraq problem is only compounded by the disastrous bumbling of the Bush administration:

4. Bush, listening to Generals: historically unprecedented.

5. Obama, listening to Generals: the change we seek.

6. And Moqtada al Sadr? Clearly the winner, all around:

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday.

The surprise announcement came on the day Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a television interview, ordered the Mehdi Army to disband or Sadr's followers would be excluded from Iraqi political life.

It was the first time Sadr has offered to disband the Mehdi Army, whose black-masked fighters are principle actors in Iraq's five-year-old war and the main foes of U.S. and Iraqi forces in a recent upsurge in fighting.

Now why on earth would he do a thing like that? Is he trying to defy the conventional wisdom?

Frankly, we're shocked.

Here's a thought. Why does there have to be a conventional wisdom?

Iraq is a complex country whose sectarian loyalties and politics we don't begin to understand. Events are moving rapidly, and they are shaped by human beings.

Real, live, human beings who don't always behave the way we expect them to behave. Human behavior, no matter how experienced we become at watching the political scene, will never entirely lose its power to surprise us:

PATROL BASE YUSIFIYAH, Iraq - Students and teachers had looks of joy - and bewilderment - as Soldiers handed out school supplies and toys at the Mullah Fayad school in Yusifiyah, Iraq, March 27.

Children grinned ear-to-ear as they looked over the treasure. When teachers asked who had sent the truckload of goods, they were surprised by the answer. Everything had been donated in the name of Sgt. Michael Stokely, who was killed Aug. 16, 2005, in Mullah Fayad.

Stokely, from Sharpsburg, Ga., served with the 48th Georgia National Guard. After his death, his father began the Mike Stokely Foundation.

The organization put together a shipment of school supplies for citizens of the communities where Stokely lived and died. It took an Army five-ton truck to deliver the supplies to the school.

..."They donated a lot of stuff," said Hughes, Ark., native Staff Sgt.
James Robinson, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Co. C, 3-187th Inf.
Regt. "It's like the packages just wouldn't stop ... I know a lot of kids in the neighborhood appreciated that."

Teachers received materials as well. Unlike the children, who were happy to get the gifts without asking who they come from, the teachers wanted to know who to thank. They could barely believe their ears when Starz told them.

And here is the killer quote: the one you won't hear from the media when they blather on about how we need to win hearts and minds:

"They said it's almost too much to imagine," Starz said. "All the teachers wanted a copy of Sgt. Stokely's picture and the foundation's name so they could frame it and put it up in their school. They say it's something the Quran teaches - the forgiveness of your enemies. But it's so hard to do ... that it's never actually seen."

The media manage to miss scores of stories like this every week. You didn't hear much about the Villages of Hope story, did you, in the NY Times?

Of course you didn't, though that program has been in place since 2004. So much bad news, so little time. As Daniel Henninger notes, some people seem terribly invested in the bad news business:

Is it uncharitable to suggest that when the fighting erupted in Basra last week between Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the U.S.-trained Iraqi army, some opponents of the war hoped it would become George Bush's Tet Offensive? That is, a battle whose military details are largely irrelevant, but whose sudden violence "proves" to voters that a U.S. military commitment is unwinnable and should be abandoned?

It was hard not to miss the antiwar spin coming off reports of the fighting, after a year of unmistakable gains from the Petraeus surge strategy.

An Obama foreign policy adviser, Denis McDonough, said it "does raise a handful of concerns as it relates to the surge and, more importantly, about the prospect of political reconciliation." The New York Times noted that Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Pennsylvania, said the Bush commitment to keeping up troop levels in Iraq is a "clear admission that the surge has failed to accomplish its goals."

The Democrats appear so invested in a failure that a half-week of violence erases a year of progress. What is the source of such instincts?

Ah, the audacity of hope. It's Spring, and like the sap rising in the trees so rise the hopes of those who would like nothing more than to see America humbled; even if that means that over 4000 men and women have died for nothing and countless Iraqis and Afghans will never see the gains our armed forces have bled and sacrificed to bring to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Freedom. It's something we take for granted, like the air we breathe in and out every day. We never stop to think what life would be like if suddenly, it weren't there for us, or for our children.

The Iraqis don't have to think terribly hard to imagine that fate. Neither do the Afghans. It astounds me that Robert Stokely was able to look beyond his personal loss and try and bring about a part of what his son gave his life for. Meanwhile, people like Nancy Pelosi seem unable to see beyond the ends of their own noses.

Some days, I'm not so sure about the wisdom of conventional wisdom. How will Moqtada al Sadr's public announcement that he takes orders from Iran (that is, essentially, what he just admitted) play in a nation held hostage by foreign terrorists? If I had to place a bet on history, I'd bet on the Michael and Robert Stokelys of this world rather than the Nancy Pelosis and the Moqtada al Sadrs. But then that's just me.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

- Proverbs 29:18

Posted by Cassandra at April 7, 2008 12:01 PM

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In this setting, the conventional wisdom is what folks cite who cannot or will not invest the intellectual energy to fit together all the pieces of a complex puzzle. Thanks for helping (again!) to restore some balance in the public discussion.

Posted by: Bob at April 7, 2008 01:53 PM

I suppose what I don't understand is the need to start writing the history books before the war is over.

As much as I'd like to believe events are conclusively pointing in one direction or another, I don't think any of us have enough information to make pronouncements like that. Yet you get these people looking at a (wow!) two week "trend" and pronouncing that more significant than the last 6-9 months.

How the heck does that happen? And who gets to pick the time frame?

Does it "just happen" to confirm their pre-existing point of view? Why, it does! Who would have guessed such serendipity was possible!


Posted by: Cass at April 7, 2008 02:59 PM

This is just what tends to happen when you allow treason to prosper.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 9, 2008 12:24 PM

I don't think any of us have enough information to make pronouncements like that. Yet you get these people looking at a (wow!) two week "trend" and pronouncing that more significant than the last 6-9 months.

They are writing the history books because they assume they will be the victors. And they assume this because in writing the history books now, they make fantasy into reality through visual and textual propaganda.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at April 9, 2008 12:25 PM