George Packer on O'Hanlon and Pollack Op-ed
George Packer (brilliant writer) blogging now on NewYorker.
The O'H and KP op-ed here.
I talked to Pollack yesterday. In answer to some of the questions I raised: he spoke with very few Iraqis and could independently confirm very little of what he heard from American officials. In eight days he travelled to half a dozen cities—that’s not much time in each. The evidence that four or five Iraqi Army divisions, with most of their bad commanders weeded out, are now capable of holding, for example, Mosul and Tal Afar, came from American military sources. Pollack found that U.S. officers sounded much more realistic than on his previous trip, in late 2005. He gauged their reliability in answers they gave to questions that he asked “offline,” after a briefing—there was a minimum of happy talk, but also a minimum of dire gloom. The improvements in security, he said, are “relative,” which is a heavy qualification, given the extreme violence of 2006 and early 2007. And it’s far from clear that progress anywhere is sustainable. Everywhere he went, the line Pollack heard was that the central government in Baghdad is broken and the only solutions that can work are local ones.
It was a step back from the almost definitive tone of “A War We Just Might Win” (a bad headline, and not the authors’). That tone was misplaced, and it is already being used by an Administration that has always thought tactically and will grasp any shred of support, regardless of the facts, to win the short-term argument. But look at this little tempest outside of politics, in the context of the war: Pollack and O’Hanlon were genuinely surprised by the changes they saw and heard about in Iraq, and they considered those changes significant enough to tell war critics here—in the overconfident shorthand of an Op-Ed—not to pull the plug just yet. Whatever you think of their past mistakes and present methods, it’s a case that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
The major flaw of the op-ed (in my opinion) is that it talks not one bit about the political situation. Or lack thereof.
There are security improvements in certain specific places through the surge--although car bombs and Iraqi civilian deaths are up. But what is sustainable about this? What prevents this from becoming another Tal Afar? Which was heralded as this great success, then the Americans left and turned back into a ghost town, riddled with crime/violence.
And the sectarian deaths are only down because the Shia militas have no reason to fight--because they can outsource their killing of the Sunnis to the American Army.