July 17, 2008

Is the War Over?

(Note: I wrote a brief post on this topic a few days ago. This is an excerpt from a longer piece for COMMENTARY.)

Independent reporter Michael Yon has spent more time in Iraq embedded with combat soldiers than any other journalist in the world, and a few days ago he boldly declared the war over:

Barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

I’m reluctant to say “the war has ended,” as he did, but everything else he wrote is undoubtedly true. The war in Iraq is all but over right now, and it will be officially over if the current trends in violence continue their downward slide. That is a mathematical fact.

If you doubt it, look at the data.

Security incidents, or attacks, are at their lowest level in four years. Civilian deaths are down by almost 90 percent since General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency “surge” strategy went into effect. High profile attacks, or explosions, are down by 80 percent in the same time period. American and Iraqi soldiers suffer far fewer casualties than they have for years. Ethno-sectarian deaths from Iraq’s civil war plunged all the way down to zero in May and June 2008.

Yon is braver than the rest of us for declaring the war over, but it’s important to understand that there are no final battles in counterinsurgencies and it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact dates when wars like this end. The anti-Iraqi insurgency – a war-within-a-war – really is effectively over. As long as another such war-within-a-war doesn’t break out, Yon will appear more perceptive than the rest of us in hindsight when the currently low levels of violence finally do taper off into relative insignificance.

Read the rest in COMMENTARY Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 17, 2008 12:16 AM
Comments

Al-Qaeda failed in Iraq because they were too violent. Sectarian violence is down, not because of the Surge, but because there are really no mixed neighborhoods anymore and walls keep everyone apart. Those are good things to see. But, really, what did those have to do with the Surge? Nothing at all, of course.

Posted by: The Good Democrat Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 6:07 AM

You two boys are the best we have on Iraq. If Cronkite or Hemingway were young men, they'd be doing what you fellows are doing. This is a headline in my group's internet mailings.

Posted by: JohnJimson Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 7:40 AM

"Al-Qaeda failed in Iraq because they were too violent. Sectarian violence is down, not because of the Surge, but because there are really no mixed neighborhoods anymore and walls keep everyone apart. Those are good things to see. But, really, what did those have to do with the Surge? Nothing at all, of course."---TGD

Great. An off the shelf observation from insurgencies-r-us.

Golly, why even bother with such things as Officer Training Schools and counter-insurgency technique when all we really have to do is consult with 'democrats' to see the big Military Picture ? Who knew ? Nice to know anyway I suppose.

Another potential cost saving brought to us by the Party of Move-On, General Betrayus, willing suspensions of disbelief, and 'run, run the sky is falling. We must RETREAT AND SURRENDER NOW'. I'm sure all the troops in Iraq for the Surge agree with you on this, Or at least they would if they were bright enough to have never volunteered to be there in the first place.

Have you not even bothered to keep up with the latest Party Line ? Even the Messiah is 'refining' his website almost as we speak to eliminate some 'problematic' blasts from his past. Now even the VERY junior Senator from Illinois is allowing that the Surge did indeed get the job done in Iraq. You are running the real risk of 'deviationism'here, my 'friend'.

I know it's hard to remain current, when you have to spin like a top just to retain some semblance of intellectual consistency, but the new line is that Iraq never mattered anyway since Afghanistan is really the important War . So who cares if the US Won and the monsters lost?

Try to keep up. It just makes things easier for everyone.

Posted by: dougf Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 7:51 AM

Here's an amusing take on the "separation": Montagues and Capulets.

The separations are breaking down again, at various speeds in various places. Some places, they never happened.

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 8:53 AM

I know this has nothing to do with the above post, but I just read the Reuters story about the Israeli-Hezbollah swap that just completed, and had to say something, and here seemed a good place.

http://www.reuters.com/article/middleeastCrisis/idUSL17800385

Perhaps this is just my Western sense of honor speaking, but what sort of people refuse to return the bodies of their enemies until they get something in return? The bodies! This is not like holding POW's or prisoners for exchange, but something else entirely. Something much more barbarous. You just don't hold the remains of your enemy, keeping families in the dark and rituals and rites undone, until you get a reward.

Again, sorry for the off-topic post.

Posted by: jasonholliston Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 9:18 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 07/17/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 10:41 AM

Jason Holliston, unfortunately it's the same story as in Vietnam when the North Vietnamese often refused to return remains. They have kept that up even to today, when diplomatic pressures are still being brought to bear on them to return remains that we pretty much know they have to have.

Posted by: Jamon51 Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 11:11 AM

Jason Holliston,
When I heard that news item on the radio it stopped me in my tracks and proceeded to make my blood run cold. I wish I could remember where in the web I read the first hand account of the surviving mother (I think) of the child and father murdered by that evil terrorist bastard Qantar, although I won't look because I don't really want to read it again. Once was quite enough. He shot the father in front of the 4 year old little girl so that the last thing she saw in life, before he crushed her skull with a rock, was her father's face in death. And now he is welcomed home a hero by Hezbollah. Lets see how long his claims of innocence hold out now that he is back in the bosom of his detestable terrorist brothers.
I suppose the message to others that Israel places a higher value on the corpses of their countrymen than it does on the endless imprisonment of that worthless creature Qantar is a bit of a higher road. At least that is how I am choosing to look at it.

Posted by: Lindsey Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 12:26 PM

When I saw the title my first thought of was as a kid watching all my friends, the day after the real Soap Box Derby, go down the same hill. Unfortunately none of their racers were anywhere near as sophisticated as from the day before. So something going wrong was not just a possibility but a liklihood. But we watched anyway, hoping we were wrong and then realizing that like Iraq all of them were going to make it down the hill. One way or another.

Posted by: Pat Patterson Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 2:18 PM

Lindsey: At least that is how I am choosing to look at it.

Well, I wish there were more people like you. People who understood why this happened and don't blame the Olmert government for being "weak."

It's amazing to me that anyone seriously believes the Israeli government made this decision out of weakness. It was the exact opposite of weakness, in fact. The easy move would have been to say "screw the families" and ignore the terrorists' demands.

Releasing a son of bitch like Kuntar wasn't an easy choice at at all. It made the government look bad and undermined national security. But it was the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective. As painful as it was.

I remember a few months back we had Mary claiming she would personally rather be tortured than released in exchange for terrorists. Well, as we know, one high-profile Israeli hostage was held in the trunk of a car for many months--a pretty mild form of torture by Lebanese standards. So, I suggested she spend a few days in the trunk of a car herself to make sure she'd be ready for the challenge.

Likewise, I invite anyone who calls the Israeli government cowardly to take the trunk challenge themselves. And to get an idea of what the families feel like, get someone to kidnap your kids for a few days.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 8:44 PM

I remember a few months back we had Mary claiming she would personally rather be tortured than released in exchange for terrorists

No, I said "I think it would be better to spend a few months in the trunk of a car, or even to die, than to spend an entire life watching people, maybe many people, be killed by murderers who were released on my behalf. But those are just my personal beliefs, and I have no ability to influence Israeli policy."

..and we were talking about the Israeli policy of releasing monsters into the general population in return for kidnapped civilians, not soldiers.

I still believe that giving in to terrorist demands is wrong, but Israelis make their decisions and Israelis get to live with them. As long as I can be guaranteed that they will never release monsters on my behalf, they can do what they please.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 9:39 PM

"what sort of people refuse to return the bodies of their enemies until they get something in return? The bodies!"

That's easy to answer - murderous evil degenerates. Murderous evil degenerates who are admired by some of the posters on this blog. Of course I'm not talking about Michael but I wonder what his reaction is to the fact that even the alleged "good guys" in Lebanon toasted the return of the child-skull-crushing Kuntar?

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at July 17, 2008 11:16 PM

Gary Rosen: I wonder what his reaction is to the fact that even the alleged "good guys" in Lebanon toasted the return of the child-skull-crushing Kuntar?

Short version: fuck them.

Long version: you'll find out tomorrow.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 12:21 AM

http://beirutspring.com/blog/2008/07/16/lebanese-bloggers-not-happy-with-kuntar-celebrations/
http://lebop.blogspot.com/2008/07/qantar-is-criminal.html
http://blacksmithsoflebanon.blogspot.com/

To which Lebanese "Good Guys" are you referring Gary? Certainly not these good folks. Even the comments sections are pretty uniform in their disgust about this. I heard on NPR that the bodies of the Lebanese that were returned were welcomed by jubilant hordes of flag waving Lebanese. I wonder what flag they were waving. I bet it was yellow, and I doubt many "Good Guys" were in attendance. Lets not forget that Hezbollah pays a hefty salary for anyone willing to show up and wave a flag, so even of there was a good turnout, I wouldn't believe the propaganda. No mention on NPR, of course, that living murderer terrorist prisoners were also released, just the poor little dead guys. Hezbollah apparently hasn't cornered the market on propaganda.

Thanks to Blacksmiths of Lebanon for filling in a few blanks in the story. I didn't mention in my previous rant the minor detail that the terrified wife and mother, hiding from the terrorist Kuntar and friends, accidentally smothered her 2 year old son to death trying to keep him from crying and revealing their hiding spot to the murderers. That poor Israeli woman lost her entire family, directly or indirectly to that bastard. And still they released him, unharmed, after almost 30 years of feeding and clothing him. I wonder how many live prisoners Hezbollah has released.

Anyone who thinks that the Israeli government is weak for weighing all of this and still making the decision they did is a fool. It may have been an error, or even flat out a bad idea, but weak it was not. It must have been excruciating. It takes far more courage and grace to lay aside the desire for retribution than it does to exact it.

The terrorists will never understand this.

Posted by: Lindsey Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 12:40 AM

"Perhaps this is just my Western sense of honor speaking, but what sort of people refuse to return the bodies of their enemies until they get something in return? The bodies! This is not like holding POW's or prisoners for exchange, but something else entirely. Something much more barbarous. You just don't hold the remains of your enemy."

Before this whole topic denegrades itself to yet another pro-israel people vs pro-palestinian people argument, I would just like to say that both Israel and hezbollah traded body parts. I forgot how many bodies Israel transferred yesterday, but it was above 12 I think.

Posted by: Joe Rushty Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 1:33 AM

Yes, Joe, you are right. I don't even have to check, though, to know that Israel didn't murder its prisoners after they were captured.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 1:39 AM

Great piece Michael, thanks.

I am also very keen to see your take on the prisoner swap.

Incidentally do you have any plans to address/visit Afghanistan in the near future?

I think the real locus of the "war" shifted there in the last three months and your take would be great to read.

Posted by: Limbic Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 3:56 AM

MJT: Israel didn't murder its prisoners after they were captured

Neither did Hizballah--both Israeli soldiers were badly wounded during the initial attack and didn't survive.

I guess we can blame them, though, for not giving them the medical attention to keep them alive.

As evil as Hizballah is, there's no reason for them to capture prisoners alive and murder them in captivity. It's a lot easier to kill a couple of unsuspecting soldiers and make off with their bodies, which themselves command a high price.

IMO Israel should insist on signs of life if future kidnapping occur (and sadly, they will). I remember the same thing happened with the soldiers captured in 2000. It wasn't clear for awhile if they were alive or dead at first, but finally the truth became available and the IDF declared them fallen. The problem was that the families had been holding out hope for so long and were in denial. So they waited until the bitter end and Hizballah (who refused to confirm they were dead) delivered the coffins.

I think it's pretty obvious by now that if you're captured by Hizballah you'll most likely come home in a plastic bag. If soldiers are captured in an attack, the working assumption should be that they are probably dead, not alive.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 6:05 AM

mary: As long as I can be guaranteed that they will never release monsters on my behalf, they can do what they please.

This is absolute bullshit. People much stronger than you have been held hostage by terrorists, and I can't think of a single one who was angry about getting released in exchange for "monsters."

You're ignoring my main point. If you seriously believe you would rather suffer months (or years) of captivity and torture rather than see terrorists go free, why don't you try it on your own for a few days to make sure?

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 7:17 AM

This is absolute bullshit. People much stronger than you have been held hostage by terrorists, and I can't think of a single one who was angry about getting released in exchange for "monsters."

Edgar, this is an academic discussion. I'm not Israeli, I'm American, and the American government does not set terrorists free or make concessions when their citizens are kidnapped.

The previous discussion concerned Israel's policy of punishing reporters for traveling to unsafe places (because the Israeli government would feel obligated to make sacrifices to get them out). This is a completely different issue.

While I disagree with Israeli policies about hostages and travel restrictions on reporters, the blame for this recent debacle falls on entirely the shoulders of Hezbollah (of course) and to the members of the Lebanese government (even the "good guys") who have made it clear that they will not protect or defend their people in any way. Hezbollah and their sponsors are currently holding all of Lebanon hostage, they've stuffed the country into a trunk and the Lebanese government is letting them do it.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 7:42 AM

Mary
I would not put all the blame on the Lebanese government. Hezbollah exists because it has significant local support. Once that dries up, so will Hezbollah.

Posted by: Boojum Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 8:00 AM

I live in Israel, and I must admit that I initially shared Mary's opinion about releasing Kuntar. However, when I saw the news clips of the two coffins arriving at the border I immediately knew that the country had done the right thing. There was a profound emotional reality to it that transcends the understandable but simplistic arguments for non-capitulation. The other poster is absolutely right - it was not weakness, it was the opposite, and it expressed an essential Israeli quality that is difficult for outsiders (including myself) to understand at first. It also showed the mature understanding that Israel doesn't have to win every ghoulish little game that Hezbollah wants to involve them in. Hezbollah may have won today, but today is already over. Watch out for tomorrow, Lebanon.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 8:11 AM

I am amazed at the rationalizations of Democrats who twist and turn using all sorts of disinformation to prove that the Surge didnt work.

Good Democrat said, "Sectarian violence is down, not because of the Surge, but because there are really no mixed neighborhoods anymore and walls keep everyone apart."

This outright lie is continually perpetuated by those who view Iraq solely from a partisan political bias. If you look at the map on Michael Yon's website listing the ethnic composition of Baghdad neighborhoods, you will see that there are many mixed neighborhoods. Since there are so many I stopped counting at 22 even though there were many more, because it was more than enough to refute this baseless talking point.

http://michaelyon-online.com/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=7&Itemid

It is true that the walls in certain neighborhoods have helped create more stability. Yet these walls are criticized despite the measurable stability they have brought.

This makes it clear that people like "Good Democrat" view the current reduction in violence as harmful to their political agenda.

If Obama becomes president I will enthusiastically support his war policy if he conducts it in the best interests of our country. I am partisan in favor of our country, not one political party.

Posted by: Freedom Now Author Profile Page at July 18, 2008 1:25 PM

I support the Surge, and Gen. Petraeus, and Bush's Iraq war. Will certainly vote McCain, and not even hold my nose (despite McCain-Feingold, only).

But the Anbar Awakening -- Sunni Iraqis fighting against Al Qaeda -- is why there is reduced violence in Iraq.

I'm not sure, but believe it likely, that Sunni opposition to Al Qaeda is due to AQ excessive violence -- which was possible only because Rumsfeld's "light footprint" allowed AQ to take over neighborhoods. With Shinseki's (and McCain's) 300 000 troops in full Vietnam occupation mode, and the US is responsible for 'everything', I don't believe AQ would have been so successful at gaining power, and thus also not so successful at creating anti-AQ feelings by Sunnis.

With more troops sooner, many of those murdered early by AQ would not have been murdered then, so perhaps Iraq could transition sooner, with less violence. But it's just as or even more likely that Sunnis would have kept supporting anti-American AQ enough to keep them going at a higher than current level, but much lower than the 2006 level of violence.

We will never know, since even if we (and Iraq?) invade Iran, there won't be an Iran kind of neighbor feeding the anti-American killers.

Only the Iraqis can win in Iraq. The biggest US problem is the desire for the "US" to win. What we can do is first, veto winning of the bad guys, and second, give some support to the "good guys" among the Iraqis. Altho US support might look like, and later become, corruption.

Michael Yon had a great article of a respected anti-AQ Iraq colonel 'general' who was arrested by the US for corruption.

The "War" won't really be over until there are a majority of OPEC members who are democracies with changing executive power based on votes. It's specifically not clear that Russia is, today, on the 'democracy' side of such a line. It is very clear that dictator types will be following the Putin-Mugabe (Mubarak) type of psuedo-democracy in the future.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at July 19, 2008 11:42 AM

The fact is that the Sunni tribes of Anbar don’t have much influence in Baghdad where the Surge was centered around.

Furthermore, the success of the Awakening was made possible by a talented American soldier who has received little credit for the excellent work that he has done. Col. Sean McFarland. Without his support the Awakening would have never been successful.

By 2005 the Iraqis had successfully held 2 elections and a referendum on a new Constitution. The insurgency was beginning to look like it was waning. Enter AQI's counter-offensive in 2006.

Our reaction in 2007 was much more effective. The gains the insurgents made in 2006 were only due to their brutality, a dynamic that we were able to use against them. So yes; their own strategy was counter-productive in the end, but only because we adeptly crafted our response accordingly.

Posted by: Freedom Now Author Profile Page at July 20, 2008 2:40 PM

I remember someone else who declared the war was over and victory achieved.

Bush had to eat those words and the incident will be one of the lasting memories of his presidency.

The only thing "bold" about his declaration was to even consider wanting to follow such a statement.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at July 22, 2008 10:27 AM

There is some wisdom in what you say Marc, but thats not the whole story.

The truth is that at the time of the Mission Accomplished episode the biggest controversy was that President Bush was showboating a photo-op.

Thats because the troops did accomplish the mission assigned to them, the removal of the genocidal Baathist regime. Having Saddam Hussein removed from power and finally brought to justice was indeed a victory.

Our troops deserved to be congratulated for their hard work.

Posted by: Freedom Now Author Profile Page at July 23, 2008 4:22 AM
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