What needs to be understood is the central role that Al Qaeda — or more accurately its successor organization, a group called the Islamic State of Iraq — is playing on these fronts and the diminishing role of all the other insurgent groups.
The wider Sunni insurgency — the groups beyond Al Qaeda — is being slowly, and surely, defeated. The average insurgent today feels demoralized, disillusioned, and hunted. Those who have not been captured yet are opting for a quieter life outside of Iraq. Al Qaeda continues to grow for the time being as it cannibalizes the other insurgent groups and absorbs their most radical and hardcore fringes into its fold. The Baathists, who had been critical in spurring the initial insurgency, are becoming less and less relevant, and are drifting without a clear purpose following the hanging of their idol, Saddam Hussein. Rounding out this changing landscape is that Al Qaeda itself is getting a serious beating as the Americans improve in intelligence gathering and partner with more reliable Iraqi forces.
Hooray. Huzzah! Yippee! We’ve turned another corner!
Greats news, if you can believe it. Except as much as I would like to, I don’t. Hilzoy, writing about the SOTU address the other day, nailed it:
It was, instead, a speech that might have impressed me if I had just beamed in from Jupiter. It was well-written and well-delivered. The beginning, about Nancy Pelosi, was quite gracious. Even the parts about earmark reform and energy policy might have impressed me if I didn’t know anything about Bush’s record on these issues.
The problem, of course, is that I do know about Bush’s record. Bush is in a situation in which no speech he can give can really do the job. He has lost the confidence of the American people. People don’t really trust him at all. He says that he has a plan to win the war; he has said that any number of times before. He says he’s concerned about energy independence; Jim Webb claims that this is the seventh time Bush has mentioned energy independence in a state of the union message, and while I haven’t gone back and checked, that sounds right.
When no one trusts you, more words will not alter that fact. You need to win their trust back, and no speech on earth can do that. You need action. And nothing I’ve seen from Bush to date suggests that he has the wisdom and leadership to get it right in Iraq, or the bare minimum of interest needed to do something good in domestic policy.
And such it is with Iraq, the surge supporters, and this administration. I would love to believe that we really are ‘winning’ or making progress, but there is ample evidence that we are not, and the word of the surge supporters and this administration is no good.
How many milestones have we passed? How many corners have we turned? How many insurgent #2’s have we killed (so many that the administration no longer refers them to the #2 man, but instead call them ‘top aides’)? How many times were we told that Padilla was the greatest threat to mankind, only to watch an administration now afraid to even try him without venue shopping. How many times were we told that extra-legal surveillance was absolutely necessary, only to learn last week it really isn’t. How many times were we told the abuses at Abu Gharaib and elsewhere was the work of a few bad apples, only to learn that torture is the policy of this administration. Hell, they even went farther and legalized it after they couldn’t deny it anymore. How many times have we been told everything is great in Iraq and that it is only the liberal media and biased statistics that are misleading us?
I would love for this article to be true. Hell, if it is, let’s declare victory and GTFO now. But simple common sense and the mountain of contrary evidence keeps me from believing we are close to the elusive and ill-defined victory we all want.
And oh, by the way. The author of that NY Sun piece is the former Director of Research for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (Check under scholars for his bio). Yes. That Ahmed Chalabi.