What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 31, 2007

O'Hanlon, The Times, and The Surge

I called in to NightTalk last night and was on hold for about 40 minutes. Never made it on the air.

Mike Pintek (sitting in John McIntire's old chair but by no means filling it) was discussing this New York Times op-ed with Earl Tilford, a military historian from Grove City College.

By the end of the hour, their political exchange had shriveled up into an echo chamber discussion on the Book of Revelations (Pintek: "Don't they know that the Jews win?" is what I heard).

Oh god, I thought. How completely removed from reality can a political discussion be when its foundation is the last book The Bible? Hitchens is right: Religion poisons everything.

Here's how the op-ed begins:

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

Pintek, being Pintek, took from the op-ed and presented the viewers with the meme that the surge in Iraq is working. I was calling in to say, in essence, not so fast.

The primary reason is found here. Mr. O'Hanlon (one of the two authors of the op-ed) is from the Brookings Institution. It turns out that the Brookings Institution maintains a database on statistics from the Iraq war and these statistics conflict with what O'Hanlon wrote for the Times. Oh yea, O'Hanlon is also responsible for the Brookings data.

From the Brookings web site:
Michael O'Hanlon spearheads the Iraq Index project at Brookings, with assistance from Research Assistant Jason H. Campbell. O'Hanlon is a Foreign Policy Studies senior fellow and served on a U.S. government delegation to Iraq to review post-war progress.
Here's the Brookings Iraq Index (dated, July 23 2oo7). This is from page 4 of that document:

With what promised to be a pivotal summer now more than half over, the situation in Iraq remains tenuous at best. Even with all surge forces in place and operational, the modest progress made in the security sphere thus far has not had the hoped-for subsequent influence on the political and economic sectors. Adding to the pressure is the steadily increasing demands stateside for a change in strategy. Indeed, the “political clocks” in Washington and Baghdad are perhaps farther apart today than they have ever been.

From a security standpoint, having the full allotment of surge troops in theater has allowed for intensified coalition operations in and around Baghdad aimed at rooting out militants from their sanctuaries. Initial reports indicate that these have led to a decrease in the levels of violence in these areas. However, violence nationwide has failed to improve measurably over the past 2-plus months, with a resilient enemy increasingly turning its focus to softer targets outside the scope of the surge. And while the number of internally displaced persons has declined, it has done so not as a result of security improvements but because there are fewer places for Iraqis to run with a number of provinces unable to accept any more refugees. In assessing the overall sentiment of the Iraqi people recently, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker summed it up in one word: fear. [emphasis added]

Never mind that O'Hanlon and Pollack (hardly critics of dubya's war) have been wrong many many many other times about the war in Iraq.

Sure Mike. The surge is working.

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