The Burden Of Proof

There’s been something nagging at me for some time now, and the news this morning that House Democrats passed a funding bill for Iraq complete with withdrawal strings attached only seemed to aggravate this.

Six months ago, this would have been great.  Ten, even better.  Hell, if they could have gotten around to it mid to late September when public antipathy towards the Iraq War was at an apparent peak, that would have been, politically, great, but instead they have to do this now.

The problem with their efforts now are obvious.  Violence in Iraq is, actually, down, and public opinion, though not surging, is on the rise.  There are inherent difficulties, and those difficulties are hilighted by the renewed vigor that the neoconservatives have employed in making their case for staying in Iraq.

Always smug, the recent data coming from Iraq has only added to the sanctimonious hot air streaming from their fingertips.  For instance, just last week Don Surber proudly boasted, “President Bush was right.  Deal with it.”  Meanwhile, just earlier today Michelle Malkin relished the idea that those foolish Democrats were waving the white flag just as we’re actually beginning to win the war.

Screaming from the rooftops, neocons everywhere seem to be rejoicing that the Democrats ploy to politic off of America’s failures is on the verge of guaranteeing their political doom.  It’s almost enough to make a stalwart opponent to our continued occupation in Iraq begin to second guess himself.


The fineprint, however, makes itself readily apparent in Don Surber’s own piece which conveniently uses history to contradict itself:

The reluctance of the American press to embrace victory is understandable. We all got burnt in April 2003 when the statuary was coming down. In January 2005, the purple-fingered majesty of an election also was a false start.

This coming on the heels of victory so blatant that Surber had to spell it out, “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y”.  But here’s the thing, Bush wasn’t right, as Surber’s telltale paragraph above only partially points out.

Bush wasn’t right about the Mission being Accomplished.  And let’s not equivocate here, this wasn’t just bad timing, a misplaced slogan, or a simple gaffe.  That single moment in history highlighted for all to see just exactly how wrong the administration has been from day one.  It is a priceless windown into the mentality of the forces that have governed this war from the beginning, and the two most key figures, Bush and Cheney, continue to this day.

It was the idea that this was going to be a cake walk from the beginning that was wrong, and enacting a new strategy four years later can hardly be seen as a vindication of the failed policies, all of which centered around a largely debunked failure of an ideology.

It was this desperation to prove that Bush was right that has led to a timeline of sorts in which hope not justified was used to show that V-I-C-T-O-R-Y was just around the corner.  But no matter how hard some searched and believed for the inevitable victory, it was nowhere to be found.  Ousting Saddam didn’t bring it.  Capturing him and hanging him didn’t bring it.  Elections didn’t bring it, and, believe it or not, the Surge hasn’t brought it either.

In Michelle’s piece, she quotes House Minority Leader Boehner which sheds even more light onto what is going on.

“By Christmas, some 3,000 American troops will return home from Iraq after achieving remarkable success in our fight against al Qaeda. And how is Congress welcoming them back? By passing yet another politically-motivated measure that cuts off funding for those continuing to serve our nation in Iraq and hamstrings the commanders who are leading them to victory. This measure will never be signed into law, and it represents yet another failure for Democratic leaders intent on putting politics before accomplishment.

(Bold added for emphasis)

What exactly is it that makes this such a key statement?  It is the fact that, after everything we know, the Administration and its cheerleaders are still doing what many of us have been begging it to stop doing for ages.  That is not to end the war in Iraq, that is the much larger picture, but instead to stop doing that which has destroyed the trust of so many who no longer feel that Bush and the neocons are capable of engaging in Iraq responsibly; believing in their own narrative to a fault.

That al Qaida in Mesopotamia was never the threat the administration tried to claim itself to be is only part of the equation, just as the usage of the group for political gain (playing off of the fears of the American public) is only another part.  The final bit of calculus here is that such ventures into delusionary narratives prevent those in charge from seeing the nature of the threat in Iraq through a more realistic lens.

AQI had never, since its inception, accounted for more than ten percent of the violence in Iraq.  By contrast, Mouqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army was a major player and the goings on there have largely been ignored.  If we were to look at the threat level of various groups in Iraq more realistically, then the fact that earlier this year al Sadr called for a six month cease fire would carry with it far more weight.

For one, it would stand in direct contention to the idea that the Surge has worked.  If you’ll remember, the point of the Surge was to reduce violence in Baghdad such that Iraqi governmental legislators could negotiate reconciliation.  The goal itself was absurd to deliver to the military, essentially transforming what should be a participant in warfare into a strange combination of bodyguard and referee, but it should also be noted that the fact that Iraqi officials are still gridlocked on reconciliation makes the Surge a failure under its initial parameters.

Some will argue, of course, that the surge was not a failure, it just enjoyed success under different circumstances, namely bottom up successes such as those witnessed in Anbar province.  But there are primarily several interlaced problems with that thinking.

The first problem is a logical one, a derailment of the if-then logic train.  The surge was employed under a rigid if-then goal; if we surpress violence, then top down reform will take place.  This has not happened, it is a failure.  The problem with accepting unintended consequences as direct successes is that it does not address the flaws with the original thinking.  Responsibly, this should send any logician back to the drawing board to study the failures, and seek to further understand what resulted in the coming about of the “successes”.  This did not happen.

Instead, because it was politically convenient to have the surge be a success, these new successes were not properly studied and built upon.  This interlaces with a second problem mentioned above, and that would have to be that the nature of the successes do not address some of the more important root problems that plague Iraq.  Anbar was such a stunning success, but much of this was a result of the ethnic cleansing that occurred there.  Bottom up works fine, sure, except it worked fine under conditions that only covered up what caused a bulk of the violence in the first place.

The final factor that results in there being no success in the surge is the fact that the relative calm that has resulted lately did not come because of US policies, but instead because of Iraqis.  As Brandon Friedman (linked above) concludes regarding al Sadr’s cease fire:

Unfortunately, no one seems to be calling our elected officials or the traditional media on this nonsensical idea that the “Petraeus strategy” should be credited with stanching the flow of blood.  No one seems to notice that, as with everything else in Iraq, the Iraqis are going to do what they want, when they want.  When al-Sadr lays down his arms, there will be relative peace.  When he takes them up, Americans will die in dozens.

Regardless, the fortunes of Iraq will turn on Iraqi decisions made in Baghdad and Najaf, not in Washington, D.C. and the halls of Congress.  As this situation shows, peace in Iraq lies in the hands of Iraqis.  It cannot—and will not—be forced by Americans at the point of a gun.

And that’s when everything clicks.  There is a reason why the neoconservatives have become even more shrill in their celebration of their own policies and in their condemnation of those who stand opposed to the US presence in Iraq; they need to shift the burden of proof over to us.

In the near term, we Defeat-o-crats look like we’ve lost, but here’s the rub, this has never been our war, it has been theirs.  It is their responsibility to prove that it is a success, and, well, you might as well get while the getting is good.  Their reputations depend upon it, and for a president who is certain to be judged harshly by history, his legacy depends up on it.  For the responsible anti-war crowd, among which I like to include myself, the stance has not changed from day one.  It would be nice to “win” the war, but we don’t think it’s possible.

We don’t think the best results can be reached through US participation, an assertion that has been backed up by decades worth of history between the US and the Middle East.  Further, we are largely skeptical of any claims of success because every claim to success in the past has pretty much turned out to be completely erroneous.

As stand by that claim today.  I would love to be wrong on this, but the burden to prove me wrong lies not with me, but with those who continue to blid themselves with their own narrative in their support for this war.

One Response to “The Burden Of Proof”

  1. cavedog says:

    ISF and American casualties were trending down before al-Sadr’s cease-fire, which was called on 8/29 or 8/30. The most obvious downward trend correlating with that date is the halving of Iraqi civilian casualties. In the same term ISF casualties actually rose very slightly.

    So Brandon Friedman has a chronological monkey wrench in his argument.

    That said, I don’t think there’s much disagreement about this being the Iraqis’ war and that they’re going to have to win it, which means in the short term political reform and in the long term social reform, neither of which the US is going to be much help with.

    I think that’s why we’re at a point where American military officials are getting frustrated that the IG hasn’t used the increased state of security to get the political side of things moving. The leaders involved know that the Iraqis have to get moving if they want to win this.

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