October 13, 2006

Leaving Iraq. The Tulip or the Star?

Rusty asks:

So, is leaving the answer? Or is there something else we should be doing?

Both, really.

Essentially we have to draw-down until we disappear, and the credit and legitimacy associated with victories over the Islamofascist insurgency accrues to the new government. But that leaves us with a dilemma.

Since I'm a bicycle enthusiast I've always felt that the dilemma is analogous to Lance Armstrong's choice of whether, and how, to allow Marco Pantani the win on the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour de France in 2002. Armstrong's "big idea" was that by making a magnanimous gesture he'd create a strategic ally in his overall effort to win the Tour. But it didn't work out that way. The problem was that he didn't pull up soon enough, so Pantani (and more importantly Pantani's fans) knew that the victory had been gifted. Had Armstrong been more clever he'd have made the arrangement far less obvious, and still have won Pantani as an ally.

So, borrowing from this analogy we need to leave early enough that any final victories won't be attributed to the US.

I think the best way for us to accomplish this tricky transition, without sacrificing our own reputation, is to simply move on to another military mission. We can rightly say that we didn't leave because we were defeated, but because we had pressing concerns somewhere else. The draw-down probably should be gradual, but still faster than would have seemed prudent a few months ago. Maybe the Baker Commission can give us some cover?

And where should the next engagement be? The tulip or the star?

Posted by Demosophist at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2006

Strike Two

It seems to me that the dire condition of the Republicans in congress is due, almost entirely, to their own neglect and incompetence. Their current electoral disadvantage is almost entirely a matter of their inability to respond appropriately to the propagation of two caustic memes: 1. That the US is losing the War in Iraq and the larger War on Terror; and 2. That Mark Foley's pederasty somehow tars anyone other than himself. During today's Meet the Press Bob Woodward was treated to a profoundly sympathetic interview by Tim Russert. Not only did Russert loft a few soft pitches directly over the plate, but it was clear that Woodward had been briefed on what questions would be asked so that he'd be able to prepare responses, ready with documentation and cites (something missing from most of his book). But the primary fault of the interview was that Russert failed to challenge the basic assumption of the book, without which it reduces to total incoherence: that the US is losing. If that assumption is challenged the entire premise of State of Denial becomes evidence of a state of denial by Woodward and his supporters, about the actual condition of the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. It's also an indictment of the mainstream media's ability to make sense of facts... a flaw from which the conventional wisdom would not recover were it given reasonable credence. And by their self imposed incapacity to make a defense one could almost suspect Republicans of complicity in their own demise...

The basic assumption of the Woodward book, quite apart from its disregard for academic validation and transparency, is simply the mind-numbingly foolish contention that because an enemy continues to fight with some degree of ferocity we must have the wrong strategy, and we'll lose the fight unless we change strategies by choosing to fight with less intensity ourselves. If we'd used this same analytical paradigm during WWII we'd have given up the Pacific Campaign and the advance into France, because the most ferocious fighting happened near the end of the war: at Iwo Jima and the Bulge. Furthermore Woodward's support of his thesis, the argument that attacks are increasing, avoids mention of the equally salient fact that lethality is declining. US casualties in Iraq have been declining, while those of the Iraqi forces have ticked up by 30%. Furthermore, a close look at the casualty trend suggests that although average casualties have remained about the same since the fall of Baghdad, the variation has decreased. The peaks and valleys are no longer as high or as low as they were in the past. This suggests that the persistence of the opposition is based not on a growth in recruitment and resources do to anger at the US, but on the continued perception that if they keep up the fight the US will eventually just give up and go home. And it also suggests that, in spite of what Woodward claims, violence is being slowly contained. In other words they're still fighting with some ferocity because they have faith in Bob Woodward and the Democrats.

Of course, the US is going home eventually anyway... though not because we're losing. Rather, we are gradually handing off responsibility for the war to Iraqi security forces (h/t: Good Lt). What's happening, in other words, is something precisely analogous to what was happening toward the end of WWII... when the tide of war was turning decisively against the Axis causing them to reach deeply into their dwindling resources in a "hail Mary" attempt influence perceptions. Al Qaeda itself recognizes this, even if Woodward doesn't. Thus, it becomes a question of whether one chooses to believe Bob Woodward or Al Qaeda concerning the state of the war.

Russert could have brought some of these issues up, but didn't. That's understandable in a sense. Selling the story that the US had lost in Vietnam, over the empirical fact that we were winning that war, established the American Mainstream Media dominance that secured positions, careers and privilege for the next thirty years. The ability to over-ride an empirical fact is one of the most profound demonstrations of power that can be imagined, so one can understand why Russert would have a desire to repeat the hat trick. But what one can't really forgive is the inability of the Republican establishment to effectively counter these memes, or even summon the desire to try. As they carp and grouse about who is responsible for an inappropriate but non-criminal act it's easy to see how they might swing wildly at a curveball delivered in the general neighborhood of the plate. But strike two is still strike two. There won't be any do-overs, and if they can't take advantage of reality to counter an outright defeatist fantasy perhaps they deserve to lose. Strike one was high and outside, strike two low and inside. Any bets where the next pitch will be?

Posted by Demosophist at 06:37 PM | Comments (0)

The Foley Affair

For those who don't know, I've been posting on The Jawa Report and Winds of Change. At this point I'm not sure what direction I'll take with this blog, but may devote it specifically to issues related to analysis of complex social problems through various methodologies similar to John Warfield's "Interpretive Structural Modelling", which was used to help revolutionize the Department of Defense. I currently have a post up about the Foley Affair that's garnering a lot of interesting comments: Page Prank?

Posted by Demosophist at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2006

Forests of the Heart

VDH doesn't think very much of Woodward's latest. I don't recall exactly how many times Woodward insisted, in his interviews on FOX, that his facts were totally accurate and his analysis "tight", but the reality is that he can't verify more than half of what he says, let alone how he interprets it. Of the more controversial evidence, he probably can't verify more than 10%. If someone suggested that he were 90% false, Woodward would be correct in observing that such an the assertion can't be proved, but that's chiefly because the fellow who invented Gotcha Journalism, hasn't provided enough information to allow an objective observer to put his sources to test.

Relatedly, Al Qaeda's own narrative isn't exactly inspired by confidence in their mission. Given this, there are only two explanations for the almost-universal conviction in the media that we're losing the war: ignorance or mendacity. And although much of the consensus is built on ignorance of strategy (or even what strategy means, since it's usually conflated with tactics) I can't help but speculate that some small percentage of the effort is simply a power play, seeking to impose a narrative and thereby demonstrate dominance.

Hence, an effective counter to Woodward's aggressive defense is that the assertion that his book is mostly false in support of its key point, that the White House is in a state of denial about the war, can't be falsified. And more damningly, Woodward's theme reduces to incoherence in light of the enemy's demonstrated opinion of their own status. His narrative might as well have been a subjective religious experience, like Tulsidas' Ramayana, for all we know. Only in the perverse world of mainstream media, and in some dark corners of post-modern academia, is this considered a strength.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:01 PM | Comments (0)