George W. Bush may be in Baghdad today, but that won’t change the realities on the ground in Iraq.
The next month, the Bush administration is going to try and convince Americans that what most observers see happening in Iraq is not actually happening and that conversely, things are improving — with no evidence.
Paul Krugman in his piece, “Snow Job in the Desert” fillets Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack for their role in the effort and compares the non-empirical assertions of Colin Powell on WMDs to Petraeus’s coming assertions that the surge is working.
A difference I’d suggest to Krugman between Powell and Petraeus is that Powell was lied to by the administration for which he worked and was told that the intel in hand had come from multiple credible sources — and not just the single, questionable source, later identified as “Curveball.” Petraeus, in contrast, is actually a working part of the information collection and marketing operation on the surge.
My New America Foundation/American Strategy Program colleague Nir Rosen framed Iraq realities bluntly in an exchange with CNN’s Tom Foreman. I think Rosen’s grim read is right:
TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Nir, let me start with you. Who is running the show in Baghdad? Or is anyone? NIR ROSEN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well it depends where you are. As it has been since April 9, 2003, when Baghdad fell to the Americans, militias have been running the show. Whoever has power in the given neighborhoods, whatever local warlord, he’s the one running the show. The government is basically a theater. Whatever happens in the green zone doesn’t matter. It’s always been militia leaders, political leaders at the party level who control the various militias and the ministers, not the prime minister and not the Americans, certainly. it is various militias.
FOREMAN: Nir, based on what you are saying though the problem is there is no credible alternative is there?
ROSEN: There is no government to begin with. It’s a collection of militias. And indeed, there is no alternative. The whole focus on the government in Baghdad is the — problem is that — in everybody’s approach. In Iraq it used to be you could have a coup replace the government and the whole country followed. But now Iraqi is a collection of city states, Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Erbil, each one with its own warlords. They don’t answer to Baghdad. Baghdad has no control over them. When we overthrew Saddam, we imposed one dictator after another. We didn’t like Prime Minister Jaafari so we got rid of him and we put in his close ally, Maliki. And now the occupier is once again upset that the occupied people are not being sufficiently obedient. But it doesn’t matter. We are past that stage. Iraq doesn’t exist as a state anymore. The government has never existed. It has never brought in any services. Even the most fundamental service the government can provide, a monopoly over the use of violence, it doesn’t provide that because it has never controlled the militias and militias are the ones that control the police and the army.
FOREMAN: So Nir, we keep hearing reports, though, nonetheless out of Baghdad. People saying that give us time, we are trying to get this government worked out. We are going to make some progress. Do you see any way that can happen?
ROSEN: No. This has been the case for the past would two years at least. There is no hope. There is no government. Neither side is interested in compromise and why should they? The Shias control Baghdad. They have removed the Sunnis from Baghdad, from Iraq’s political future.
FOREMAN: What’s going to change that if anything?
ROSEN: Nothing is going to change that. The Shias have actually expelled most of the Sunnis from Baghdad. It went from being a majority Sunni city. Now it is a majority Shia city. The last few pockets of Sunnis are slowly being purged by the police and the Mehdi army. It’s now irrevocably a Shia city and Sunnis are just out. Unfortunately, Iraq has been completely remade and it is time to be honest. It is time for the American leaders to be honest and American military to be honest with their people.
There can be no reconciliation. This does — the latest show we had a few days ago where they brought a few leaders together and pretended like they were going to reconcile, the Sunnis are still out of the government and they remain so and why should they be? They have been expelled from Iraq. The majority of the three million refugees that we have from the region, from Iraq are Sunni. The majority being internally displaced are Sunni. Of course, whatever agreement were to be reached, parliament would never ratify it anyway.
Krugman is right to put us all on alert for a month of “snow jobs” ahead.
Rosen is setting a benchmark for truth-telling in Iraq, and it would be constructive for the administration to either object to what he is sharing or to concede that his observations are closer than Petraeus to the on-the-ground truth.