Perhaps those of us who are trying mightily to follow events in Iraq should be excused if we don’t have deep opinions on the game affot. We don’t know enough. One of the genuine problems is that the establishment media’s reporting is either non-existent, or stupidly biased (I exclude some of the print media from this, see last paragraph). On the first point: All we are told is that someone has been killed, someone taken hostage, part of a city has been retaken, or that another mortar has landed somewhere, and so on. This tells us almost nothing. There is virtually no genuine analysis based on some facts (or even probabilities). Why are we not told of the relationship or lack between Sadr and Sistani? Why do they not talk about all the Iranian inlfuence and money going to Sadr? Why doesn’t the media explain what Sadr’s relationship with some Iranian ayatollahs is? (I know not all of it favorable.) Why don’t we have an explanation of why Sistani is not (it would appear) being run by the Iranians? Why don’t we hear about the fundamental distrust between the insurgents in Fallujah and Sadr’s gang? And then we are told that there are negotiations by the Governing Council in Fallujah, and so operations have stopped. Which guys on the Governing Council have more authority, which ones have (unlawful) militias loyal to them? Not enough information, and not enough thinking.
This is made worse by the bias of the media. I am amazed by the bias. Everything happening in Iraq is either another Mogadishu or another Vietnam, and is most certainly a quagmire. The so called chaos there means that we don’t have enough troops, that we are utterly unprepared for the mischief that has arisen, that we have have two left feet as we walk. So they keep showing a few pictures (repeated over and over) of a truck being blown up, of an Iraqi holding an American pair of boots high in the air (front page of today’s New York Times), or photos of Sadr being removed from walls, etc. Big deal, this is not useful. And if this isn’t enough, the elite media is attempting to collapse the 9/11 hearings (the public part, that is) with the so called chaos in Iraq. The administration was incompetent then, and it is incompetent now; the only difference is that before 9/11 they didn’t want to fight, and now that’s all they want to do. But it is a quagmire, we are told. The administration doesn’t understand that their policy is in shambles, that Iraq is spinning out of control and the President is on vacation at the Ranch! The elite media is banging their drums, demanding to be heard, demanding that someone pay attention to them. In the meantime, the public is not being well served by this drum beat.
Things are messy in Iraq; this is true. But, frankly, it’s not as if the mess is new. This is both war and nation-building, both conducted at the same time. A ramarkable effort, when you think about it. It is also possible that the lid has been blown off, and that it can’t be put back on until the water stops boiling. But let’s think through the difference between what is going on now and what that has to do with the short-run consequences, and what might happen (and be made to happen) in the long-run. There is a difference. The al Sadr led violence may well reveal that this is his last grasp at power (we should have dealt with him months ago, by the way), that if he doesn’t succeed now he will not, ever. Sadr has always been a political outlaw; it is not in Sistani’s interest that Sadr succeed, and never has been; they have fought. Besides, note that Sistani’s paramilitary forces are not fighting (and he has a more serious organization, (technically illegal, by the way) a couple of them, than that of Sadr. That Sadr has taken refuge in Najaf--Sistani’s stronghold--is quite smart, in the short term. We will not go in there to get him; yet, he will end up in Sistani’s control. Sistani is holding the cards already, and he may have more cards to play before this is over. But that may not be entirely a bad thing. From what we know about him, he does not seem to be interested in waging a civil war, or, even a war against the Coalition. Yet, and no surprise here, he doesn’t want to seem as if he is controlled by the Americans.
By the way, in saying all this I am not suggeting that the situation cannot get worse. Of course it can. The Kurds could take up arms. Sistani can take up arms. Now that would be serious.
Here are a few articles from the press that, it seems to me, shed light on some of these matters. I include them here not because I agree with each one, but because, each in its own way is informative. The AP reports on the cease fire in Fellujah. Los Angeles Times reports on how some of the Iraqi Governing Council are disenchanted with our policy in Fellujah. Washington Post reports on our tactics in Fellujah, and also on how are military efforts are doing elsewhere around the country. An idiot in Newsweek calls this Iraqi uprising an Intifada. Reuel Marc Gerecht, in contemplating a Shiite war, has some good analysis of the current fog. And Larry Diamond argued two days ago that we should arrest al Sadr, as soon as possible. And Yitzhak Nakash argues for letting Sistani broker a cease fire. David Brooks argues against negotiations. Victor Davis Hanson reflects on this odd sort of Western cannibalism wherein we are eating one another, while forgetting that we are at war. he advises us to get a grip. Good advice.