March 17, 2008

Iraq Opinion Lag Narrows

I'm working on a long two-part essay called The Liberation of Karmah for this site and a shorter piece for Commentary about Kosovo. I'm behind schedule, though, so I'll leave you with some data to chew on for now.

Last summer when I returned from Baghdad and Ramadi I was disturbed to see that Iraqi public opinion had barely changed in the wake of the surge. There seemed to be a serious disconnect between the hard data and what I had seen with my eyes. I didn't quite know what to make of it.

In hindsight it makes sense. American public opinion hadn't budged on Iraq either last summer. Only now is it starting to shift. Iraqis are closer to Iraq than Americans (obviously), but it seems that opinions are slow to change with the facts even there.

A new poll released today shows that Iraqi public opinion

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 17, 2008 12:22 PM
Comments
OPB did a story on Mosul this morning 3-17, where their point was that the surge has failed.... My point in bringing up this particular piece of propaganda is that more than a few Iraqis probably also get their information from biased sources....
The information war, both domestically and in Iraq, has been where the Bush Administration has been it's most inept.
Posted by: james at March 17, 2008 5:15 pm
Maybe one reason the Iraqis are cynical about the future is because the "surge" is "working" because Sadr has kept his dogs on a leash. Once they are loosed, either from his say-so or the militants deciding he isn't relevant, all bets are off.
Posted by: oldbogus at March 17, 2008 6:56 pm
It's interesting that NHK (the Japanese station I believe) was apparently involved with this poll.
I'm a bit discouraged that 42% find attacks on US forces as "acceptable". Down 15% from the previous years, but still.
Posted by: lee at March 17, 2008 8:14 pm
I found it highly interesting that while the Iraqis still largely see the "American" side of the surge as a failure and leading to worse security, they largely flip their opinion when it comes to the "Iraqi" side of the surge.
42% might find attacks on US forces OK, but less than 10% find it OK to attack awakening council members. Opinions of most other Iraqi security forces are very high compared to US forces.
Funny how it seems that as long as it has an Iraqi face on it, then it instantly gains ~40-70% approval just like that, regardless of competency/corruption/bias/etc. Not saying that all Iraqi forces are incompetent, or Iraqi forces don't deserve a lot of the credit for recent successes. Just find the perception gap very interesting.
Posted by: SeiginoRaikou at March 18, 2008 9:25 am
While I, too, think Bush (& Admin) has been terrible on the info war, I also think there was a terrible strategic mistake -- that the "US had to win".
It was always the case that only Iraqis could win. This is true even in the failed first Fallujah assault, and the second "successful" pacification (Nov 2004) ... where only after the Awakening has there been real success.
Which is why I'm not certain McCain is right that Rumsfeld's "light footprint" was wrong -- I can easily imagine a Shinseki-sized 300 000 troops working harder, killing more terrorists AND civilians, being more in the way, being more clearly occupiers, not liberators. Certainly being less well trained, less well supervised, thus with more torture mistakes, rape mistakes, (actual?) puppy killing mistakes.
What does it take for a liberated people to decide they are willing to fight, kill, die; and sometimes even kill innocents, so as to achieve Iraqi freedom? It seems like in Iraq's case it took from May, 2003, until Nov 2006 (the Awakening).
The future Modern Iraq is being created by the blood of heros. Iraqi heros. Maybe Petreus will get a "Lafayette" type reference in History, with Bush in a supporting role (?).
Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 18, 2008 10:13 am
I heard that NPR/OPB story on these figures too. It is interesting how their story used these findings to support their anti-US in Iraq POV. I thought it was a clear case of "How to make friends and influence people with creative statistics."
Even my dog rolled his eyes at this one. Then again, he's biased.
Posted by: Lindsey at March 18, 2008 10:51 am
james,
I agree that the US handling of the information war has been ham fisted at the best of times, but the Bush Administration had a shallow well of talent to draw on. How many journalists with integrity, imagination, and a willingness to serve their country come out of J-school every year? What are the military standards for PAO's?
About 150 years ago the US Navy got tired of the dregs they were getting for chaplains and imposed standards for naval clergy. (That a substantial fraction of all Navy Medals of Honor have been awarded to Chaplains speaks to the efficaciousness of that method.) Those standards were drafted by the individual religious organizations. Who would we go to for a set of journalistic standards? Where would we find an organization that enforced them? How would we draw premiere journalists away from news organizations to serve the military?
I do not think it is honest to blame the current administration for institutional problems with the handling of information warfare.
Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 18, 2008 12:38 pm
Patrick,
I don't think you want journalists working for the military in any capacity whatsoever, including pro-military journalists. Honest and well-educated military historians would be better.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 1:39 pm
I don't think you want journalists working for the military in any capacity whatsoever...
Well, except for Stars and Stripes, which has done some good work.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 18, 2008 2:32 pm
Michael,
The military has hundreds of people working in Public Affairs. The navy has an entire rating "Mass Communications Specialist" (formerly Journalist). The other services have similar specialties. The DoD has its horde of communicators.
Primarily these people are used to communicate with hometown news outlets so that voters don't forget that local boys and girls are out risking life and limb for their country. This could be viewed by skeptical people as an effort to keep congressional staff from stealing everything from the defense budget for earmarks. Regrettably these communications warriors are less expeditionary force and not well equipped to fight outside the ferocious battles inside the Beltway.
We need expeditionary communicators capable of providing our story outside of our shores. The kind of people they have and the methods they are using is not accomplishing the mission. They should be looking for people like you to do a hard job that needs doing. Instead they are looking harder and harder inside the box for solutions that just aren't there.
Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 18, 2008 3:41 pm
Stars and Stripes is a privately-owned newspaper. The reason so many people think it's owned by the military is because it is distributed free to members of the military. It is published for the military, not by the military.
I didn't know that until I got to Iraq and a Stars and Stripes reporter I met in Baghdad explained it to me.
From the About page:
Stars and Stripes is a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community. Editorially independent of interference from outside its own editorial chain-of-command, it provides commercially available U.S. and world news and objective staff-produced stories relevant to the military community in a balanced, fair, and accurate manner. By keeping its audience informed, Stars and Stripes enhances military readiness and better enables U.S. military personnel and their families stationed overseas to exercise their responsibilities of citizenship.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 3:44 pm
Patrick,
I wouldn't want that job. I need to be free from inteference.
When I met Michael Oren in Israel, he was briefly working for the IDF as a spokesman. What he said to me when I met him later as a private historian was completely different, and much more interesting. It turned out that Michael Oren the historian largely agreed with my view of the latest Hezbollah war, while Michael Oren the IDF spokesman was not allowed to say so.
That is a huge problem, and I am not willing to be compromised in that way by any government institution in any country.
I don't think this problem can be resolved.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 3:49 pm
I suppose my last comment negated my first one. Oh well.
I don't know the answer.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 3:50 pm
I heard John Mccain visited Fallojah (I'm sure I misspelled this). I wonder if Mr. Totten had the chance to speak to him?
Posted by: lee at March 18, 2008 3:50 pm
Lee,
I'm home from Fallujah and have never met John McCain.
It takes me longer to write up my material than it does for me to collect it. So I finish writing from home. I'm almost done with my material from this trip and am getting ready to travel again. Not to Iraq this time, though. I need a break from it. I'll go back later this year, probably to Baghdad again.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 3:55 pm
Stars and Stripes is a privately-owned newspaper. The reason so many people think it's owned by the military is because it is distributed free to members of the military. It is published for the military, not by the military.
Hmm. Most of my info about it comes from Bill Mauldin's autobiography, which is pretty dated now, but I don't see any indication that it is privately owned. Who owns it?
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 18, 2008 4:40 pm
Wikipedia indicates that it is owned by the Department of Defense.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 18, 2008 4:41 pm
Michael,
I do not love cleaning the head (toilet for those of you not in the Naval service). Nevertheless the head's got to be cleaned, and every so often I find myself with pine oil and a bucket swabbing the decks. Service is not about what you love to do, it's about doing what needs to be done for those you love.
Part of the problem the military faces is that the personalities of those who seek the journalism field are necessarily composed of egotists who promote their own agenda. More often than not, service journals resemble high school yearbooks with lots of coverage of the people on the staff pictured doing thing they think are interesting. We need some people who are better able to handle the complexities of information warfare outside of Washington, D.C.
Regardless of what it cost him, the State of Israel was exceptionally lucky to have someone of Michael Oren's stature and capacity on the job. For those who think this means that conscription is an answer, please keep in mind that Ernie Pyle was a civilian and Bill Mauldin was a volunteer from the New Mexico National Guard. We need recruiting and bonuses for qualified international correspondents with the skills necessary to get carried in news outlets abroad. We need the budget for external news efforts and native reporters. We need to start taking this front seriously.
Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 18, 2008 4:46 pm
DPU,
I don't know who owns it. I didn't ask, but I doubt the reporter was lying to me.
The Stars and Stripes Web site says the paper is authorized, not owned, by the Department of Defense. It has to be authorized because DoD distributes it to service members.
I have no "dog" in the argument, I'm just relaying to you what I heard in Baghdad.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 5:02 pm
Patrick: Part of the problem the military faces is that the personalities of those who seek the journalism field are necessarily composed of egotists who promote their own agenda.
True, but that's a harsh way of putting it.
I want and need to be free from US military pressure just as much as a radical lefty needs that. I HATE being pressured by the subjects I write about, and I will not tolerate it, even if the pressure is benign and comes from an institution I sypathize with. This is not because I have my own agenda per se, but because the truth needs to get out regardless of who likes it and who doesn't.
I suspect that if I were to embed in Afghanistan right now I would be critical of our counterinsurgency strategy there after seeing a much more effective strategy in place in Iraq. I absolutely must be able to say so in public if that is indeed how it turns out. The military would not be doing me or itself any favors if they had me on payroll and I had to stick to a "party line."
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 18, 2008 5:08 pm
I have no
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 18, 2008 5:20 pm
Michael,
I'm not trying to recruit you. I am hoping aloud that we will get an organization that would be smart enough to recruit you started. I am hoping against hope that they would be smart enough to give you a long leash and editorial support necessary to get articles that would tell the truth instead of propaganda.
I do not wish upon you the agony of trying to get Cairo newspapers to carry your accounts, but we do need somebody to take on that mission.
Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 18, 2008 5:29 pm
I think everyone needs a break from Iraq in a way. Hopefully the situation will continue to improve and we can eventually withdraw from that region. Not just yet, apparently.
Posted by: lee at March 18, 2008 9:12 pm
It is clear that the surge has worked. I think we could debate why it has worked and what contributed to it.
For me one of the main reasons for the success is that fact that by the time they arrived most of the mixed areas of Baghdad had already been cleansed and a substantial part of the Sunni community in that city had already been forced to flee. To a certain extent the surge has succeeded because what it was sent to stop had already played itself out.
Anyway, I think we will not really be able to tell what the lasting effect of the surge is until the troops are gone. If the violence flairs after 20,000 troops are removed then it will be clear that the surge was not a success and only temporary. I'd also like to see what happens when we stop funding former Sunni insurgents in places like al Anbar. Once our money dries up, what are these men going to do? Are they going to go back to killing US troops like they did before the money started to flow?
Patrick, I do not think it would be as hard to get Michael's articles in Arab papers as you might think. As most of them are Saudi owned, and most of the Saudis (those of note) are solidly behind the US war effort in a wish to blunt Shi'a extremism, you'd probably find many of them would welcome a point of view that is generally supportive of American aims in the area. Watching and reading the Saudi media now is almost sometimes like watching Fox News with the hard-line anti-Shi'a/Iran stance and the pro American viewpoints expressed.
Posted by: Marc at March 19, 2008 6:17 am
As most of them are Saudi owned, and most of the Saudis (those of note) are solidly behind the US war effort
No they're not. From the NY Times:
Although many American military officials and politicians -- and even the Iraqi public -- use the term Al Qaeda as a synonym for the insurgency, some American and Iraqi experts say they believe that the number of committed religious ideologues remains small. They say that insurgent groups raise and spend money autonomously for the most part, with little centralized coordination or direction.
Money from swindles in Iraq and from foreign patrons in places like Saudi Arabia allows a disparate, decentralized collection of insurgent cells to hire recruits and pay for large-scale attacks...
...A military official familiar with studies on the insurgency estimated that half of the insurgency's money came from outside Iraq, mainly from people in Saudi Arabia, a flow that does not appear to have decreased in recent years...
A consistent flow of Saudi money to the insurgency in Iraq can only mean one thing - it's being funded and facilitated by Saudis "of note".
Since Saudis of note are paying big money to murder American soldiers, they're not solidly behind the US war effort. And they certainly wouldn't publish articles that openly discuss the contempt Iraqis have for the insurgents and the Saudi armies of Al Qaeda, as Michael's articles do.
Saudis are "supporting" our efforts in Iraq for the same reasons the Russians are supporting Iranian/Shi'a efforts. As the NY Times article notes, it's all about the money.
Speaking of the Russian/Iranian/Shi'a conflict with the American/Saudi/Sunnis, have you heard anything about al Sadr lately? Did the Russian doctors help him recover from 'food poisoning'?
At one point in time, al Sadr appeared to be about as tough as Nasrallah. I think Newsweek called him the 'most dangerous man in Iraq' Now where is he?
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 19, 2008 9:30 am
Mary,
You are confusing what I am saying, that wouldn't be the first time here.
The Saudi owned MEDIA is certainly behind the war effort. That doesn't not mean that other Saudis are not funding terrorists. I know for a fact that is the case.
However, the mainstream Saudi establishment is certainly pro-American. All you have to do is read Saudi owned and run papers throughout the Middle East or watch some Arabic TV. You do speak and read Arabic right?
What makes the situation dodgy is that even the royal family is split along many different levels and have vastly different ideas about things. For the moment the majority fear the Shi'ites/Iran/Hizb'Allah more than they do the AQ types, so that is what they are concentrating on.
This fear of the Shi'ites has even gotten people like Prince Bandar talking to, and willing to business with, the Israelis.
As to as-Sadr, only in his own dreams is he is as dangerous as Nasrallah. Not only does he lack Nashrallah's intelligence, he lacks his education. He might not be able to do anything about the first, but he is now working on the later, that is where he has been.
Again, I think if Michael talked to the right people he'd be able to get his articles in at least some of the Arabic press.
Posted by: Marc at March 19, 2008 10:08 am
However, the mainstream Saudi establishment is certainly pro-American. All you have to do is read Saudi owned and run papers throughout the Middle East or watch some Arabic TV. You do speak and read Arabic right?
I speak enough Arabic to order a decent meal, but otherwise I rely on translations provided by major news sources like MSNBC. I read their article "More evidence of Saudi doubletalk", describing how Sheik Saleh Al Luhaidan, close friend of then-prince Abdullah and chief justice of Saudi Arabia's Supreme Judicial Council was recorded encouraging young Saudis to go to Iraq and fight with the sunni 'resistance'.
After this report appeared, the Washington Post reported that the majority of car bombers in Iraq were Saudis. Oh, and Sheik Saleh Al Luhaidan was promoted by Prince Abdullah for his efforts. I wouldn't call that 'pro-American'.
For the moment the majority fear the Shi'ites/Iran/Hizb'Allah more than they do the AQ types, so that is what they are concentrating on.
If Prince Bandar fears the AQ types, why did he threaten Tony Blair with AQ attacks when Blair was investigating corrupt Saudi arms deals? And why did Blair stop the investigation? The Saudis are doing what they always do - stirring up trouble, profiting from the trouble, and quietly funding terrorism worldwide. The only thing they fear about the Shi'ites/Iran/Hizb'Allah is that they're also running the same racket.
As to as-Sadr, only in his own dreams is he is as dangerous as Nasrallah. Not only does he lack Nashrallah's intelligence, he lacks his education. He might not be able to do anything about the first, but he is now working on the later, that is where he has been.
Is it? Who has seen him lately?
As the Ukraine's Yushchenko can testify, education and intelligence can't stop the effects of bad sushi.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 19, 2008 12:28 pm
It appears that the Iraqi elections are on again, a sure sign of top level political progress. I always saw the security that the surge promised as a precursor to political reconciliation, and I was not sure if the violence level had dropped enough.
I would be in favor of the Iraqis voting in the general election on a binding referendum for the removal of US troops within a year.
Posted by: MartyH at March 19, 2008 12:32 pm
Is it? Who has seen him lately?
Are you suggesting that he's dead or something, Mary?
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 19, 2008 8:06 pm
Are you suggesting that he's dead or something, Mary?
I have no idea. But the formerly 'most powerful man in Iraq' faded from view pretty quickly.
However, the weird Iranian/Italian Uruknet theorizes that he could have been assassinated..?
Sources close to Muqtada al-Sadr reported that he is secretly and urgently hospitalized in Tehran, after an assassination attempt, mixing poison in his food, right now he constantly in coma, under supervision of Iranian doctors
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 19, 2008 8:55 pm
Mary,
So you rely on translations from American media sources and that allows you to somehow make sweeping generalisations about the Arabic media? Sorry, doesn
Posted by: Marc at March 20, 2008 7:13 am
I am not impressed with our media when it comes to covering stories here, let alone covering stories in the foreign press.
But you're impressed with the mostly Saudi owned Arab press?
Juan Cole and Osama bin Laden are decent Arabic speakers, but that doesn't mean their interpretations of the political situation in the Middle East are more valid than those of non-Arabic speakers.
But then again, we were talking about the Saudi establishment and I doubt you'll find any members of the royal family manning those car bombs.
Neither does Osama bin Laden, or any other al Qaeda leader. Your point?
These people live and breath for the Western life.
Most wealthy Saudis drink Coke, they drive SUVs, they love to party when they leave the KSA - but they wage war against us for the usual reasons - more money, more power. Read the NY Times article linked above.
What it seems you fail to understand, and it isn't a big deal because our own intelligence services miss it all of the time as well, is that the Saudis are playing a double edged game here.
Actually, the double-edged game fiction is standard State Department propoganda. If Bandar and his ilk are so afraid of al Qaeda, why were they sending thousands of dollars to the 9/11hijackers? If Bandar and his ilk are interested in working with Israel, why are they funding Hamas? Why are their local representatives, CAIR, supporting Hamas?
The double edged game routine makes no sense at all. The simplest explanation, that al Qaeda is Saudi Arabia's unoffical army, is the only one that makes sense. Like any army, the Saudis would prefer that they wage wars abroad - no coups at home, please.
The only question is, why do we continue to work with them - why do our 'intelligence' agencies spread their propaganda? Why do we ally with the Saudis, why are the Russians helping the Iranians, why are the Chinese trying to get into the game. Why does the terrorist mantra 'your superior intelligence is no match for our puny weapons' work? GPS units that can triangulate our location anyplace worldwide have been in use for years, but we can't trace and eliminate al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah? We can't trace their weapons? We can't find bin Laden? Who is playing whom?
I thought the simplest explanation (we're being played due to total US government incompetence) was the best, but al Sadr's 'retreat' shows things in a different light. He was no longer useful in whatever game was being played and now he's gone.
But his valiant army fights on. Apparently clashes between Sadr's Mahdi army and the Iraqi police came amid reports that China and Iraq were about to finalize negotiations over the development of a local oil field where the Chinese are willing to invest more than one billion dollars.
Of course, this 'war against terrorism' is all about Islam. And Democracy. And our pro-western Saudi allies will help us save the world (and of course, Israel) from al Qaeda and Iranian imperialism. Because they're just as scared of those oh-so-powerful terrorists as we are.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 20, 2008 9:37 am
I have no idea. But the formerly 'most powerful man in Iraq' faded from view pretty quickly.
Why do you think he faded from view? His political influence is still strong, he's still pulling strings, and his militia still controls large areas.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 20, 2008 11:01 am
Why do you think he faded from view?
Because he hasn't been seen since he slipped into a "food poisoning"-related coma (with Iranian and Russian doctors at his bedside)
However, 'al Sadr' has been issuing orders via leaflets.
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 20, 2008 11:38 am
Because he hasn't been seen since he slipped into a
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 20, 2008 11:49 am
Ah, so you do think he's dead or something.
No, I have no idea. He's 'elusive', unseen, reportedly ill and communicating only through written responses.
According to a Kuwaiti news article translated by MEMRI, al-Sadr was in an Iranian hospital, comatose from
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 20, 2008 1:03 pm
According to a Kuwaiti news article translated by MEMRI, al-Sadr was in an Iranian hospital, comatose from
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at March 20, 2008 1:33 pm
Mary,
I don
Posted by: Marc at March 21, 2008 6:42 am
And oh no, back to that piracy thing again?
But it explains so much.
On the use of piracy as a tool of statecraft -
"By the 16th century, piracy had emerged as an essential, though unsavory, tool of statecraft. Queen Elizabeth viewed English pirates as adjuncts to the royal navy, and regularly granted them "letters of marque" (later known as privateering, or piracy, commissions) to harass Spanish trade."
"It was a brilliant maneuver. The mariners who received these letters, most notably the famed explorers Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, amassed immense fortunes for themselves and the Crown, wreaked havoc on Spanish fleets, and terrorized Spain's shoreside cities. Meanwhile, the queen could preserve the vestiges of diplomatic relations, reacting with feigned horror to revelations of the pirates' depredations. Witness, for example, the queen's disingenuous instructions saying that if Raleigh "shall at any time or times hereafter robbe or spoile by sea or by lance, or do any acte of unjust or unlawful hostilities [he shall] make full restitution, and satisfaction of all such injuries done." When Raleigh did what Elizabeth had forbidden
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 21, 2008 9:17 am
So yes, the al-Saud family is VERY afraid of AQ, this is exactly why they do not go after them in every way they can and it is also why certain segments of the family still fund them even though their own goals are much more of a pro-American slant.
And that's why then-Prince Abdullah promoted his close friend and cheif justice, the 'radical' Sheik Saleh Al Luhaidan? That's why Bandar used al Qaeda as a tool of extortion against Tony Blair? Honestly, that doesn't make any sense at all.
As-Sadr was never the most powerful man in Iraq.
I never thought that he was. However, Newsweek believed it, so much that they put a fairly scary picture of Mookie on their cover. And no, Newsweek isn't famous for their Bat boy stories. They're still a respected news source, mostly.
This is exactly why he has gone to study.
Uh huh. Let me know when he re-appears - in a form more substantial than a leaflet..
Posted by: maryatexitzero at March 21, 2008 9:28 am
The US commanders and command have had it to here with the mostly free ride Sadrism has been getting, and are chewing hard at the "fringe" elements, on the tacit assumption that the fringe goes way down deep to the core. Sadrists have been wailing that their commanders are being targeted, and are being told, "Only if you bother us." They justifiably take little comfort from that. And the CG is more and more repeating the mantra that only it has the right to organize men under arms.
Before Mookie makes ayatollah, his brain will implode. Actual learning, as opposed to scheming, kills his little grey cells.
Posted by: Brian H at March 23, 2008 9:43 pm
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