The New Narrative Continues

The new ‘narrative’ on Iraq led by The NY Times, which I discussed here, has certainly caught on. This piece by Ullrich Fichtner in the reliably anti-war Der Spiegel, is more than an overseas echo – it has independent importance.

Before discussing it, I have to say that as a someone intensely interested in the Iraq war there is nothing new in either the NY Times or the Der Spiegel articles. I have been reading about it for months – the good and the bad – at the weblogs of independent journalists Bill Roggio, Michael Yon, and to a lesser extent Michael J Totten. The positive news that the MSM outlets are now reporting about Ramadi and the Anbar Awakening, for example, was regularly reported as it happened on Roggio’s Fourth Rail through the latter half of 2006. The apparently sudden turn around being attributed to General Petraeus and the surge has its roots in the counterinsurgency methods that the US military have been practicing all along. Michael Yon reported those practices in detail from Mosul in 2005. Both Yon and Roggio have military backgrounds and can perceive and report how a commander and his troops carry out larger strategic purposes through the tactical ups and downs. They can see further in the fog of war than most MSM reporters, who seem particularly prone to see the war though one ideological lens or another. This problem is quite evident even in this remarkably positive summation of the current situation by Ullrich Fichtner in his article in Der Spiegel:

Ramadi is an irritating contradiction of almost everything the world thinks it knows about Iraq — it is proof that the US military is more successful than the world wants to believe. Ramadi demonstrates that large parts of Iraq — not just Anbar Province, but also many other rural areas along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — are essentially pacified today. This is news the world doesn’t hear: Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest, a city that once formed the southwestern tip of the notorious “Sunni Triangle,” is now telling a different story, a story of Americans who came here as liberators, became hated occupiers and are now the protectors of Iraqi reconstruction.

One problem is that ‘what the world thinks’ is based on what reporters like Herr Fichtner have been telling the world for years. Here is a sample from elsewhere in the same article of Fichtner’s basic orientation which also serves as his self-revealing explanation for the skepticism about the current positive developments in Iraq:

No one can forget how the hawks twisted the truth to engineer reasons to go to war — the made-up stories of Saddam Hussein as a mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks and the trumped-up reports about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. President George W. Bush himself repeatedly told his people and the rest of world horrible fairy tales, painting the most glaring of disaster scenarios, talking ad nauseam about unmanned Iraqi drones that, in his imagination, posed a threat to the US.

The lies didn’t stop there, not even after the invasion. Bush kept promising that American troops were on the verge of uncovering Iraq’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction. And on May 1, 2003, he gave his now notorious “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. At that point, though, the real war hadn’t even begun yet.

Oy Vey! No wonder Germans are mixed up. What a dog’s breakfast of fact and fancy. No wonder polls have sometimes shown over 40% of the German public believing that Bush brought down the Twin Towers like Hitler burned the Reichstag. And no wonder it seems an irritating contradiction that the US military has made some real progress. It is only a contradiction against a background built on psychological projection of German experience in WWII. Broadly it is quite understandable that Germans would tend to see in Bush a leader intentionally and outrageously lying to lead his country into war – that is what Hitler actually did. But as any therapist knows, the surest evidence of projection is often in little things. Did Germans really experience Bush as going on ad nauseam about drones? I certainly didn’t. Could that discomforting nausea have arisen from the fact that Germany pioneered the use of drones at the end of WWII? They were called V-1s and V-2s and I even remember the sound of them exploding in the background as my father listened to Edward R Murrow report from London. I am pretty convinced they were real. Later, in 1991 I heard copies of the V-2, Saddam’s scuds, slam into into Israel during coverage of the 1991 Gulf War. I think they were real too.

Back in the present, there is ample room for very real criticism of Bush’s handling of the war without resorting to projection. Let’s just take the big picture. At the highest level of grand strategy Bush argued for a change in direction. He said that in the past the US supported dictators in the Middle East in an attempt to create stability and safety and had achieved neither. He was right. He proposed promoting democracy in the Middle East to achieve those goals. That didn’t work either. To be balanced, we got a peaceful and prosperous Kurdistan, but we also got an ineffective elected government, an insurgency, and a pretty good start on an all out civil war.

Oy Vey!

But that is the current situation. And the current cause for some hope is neither the outcome of US policy nor even the genius of General Petraeus’ counter insurgency strategy, but the result of a fatal flaw in the policies of our enemy. They have revealed themselves to be, not religious Muslim reformers, but murderous thugs and even the Iraqis most disinclined to like Americans – the tribal Sunnis of Anbar – have recognized them as such. Even the long aggrieved Shiites appear to be recognizing the same problem with Iranian jihadis – Fichtner’s report of Milaki’s cool relations with Iran is a good sign. It has taken over four years and many mistakes and over three and half thousand American lives to expose the jihadis for what they are to their fellow Muslims. I would have to give the American military more credit for that than the Bush administration which seems to have failed entirely to see the insurgency coming – the real problem with that ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t read Der Spiegel or the NY Times to stay ahead of the curve. Because Michael Yon does not hesitate to report things going wrong in Iraq or Afghanistan I tend to trust him when he reports something positive. Both Yon and Ullrich Fichtner describe the relationship between Iraqis and US troops similarly at a factual level. I don’t believe I have cherry picked the following quotes to make Fichtner look bad or Yon look good – I think Yon just sees more. Here is Fichtner describing Lt Col Erich Welsh’s current work with Iraqis in Mosul:

Welsh, 42, gets together with Mosul’s police and military commanders almost every day. He says he is actually the “let’s go” type, not one to miss a battle, but the visits with the Iraqis are an important part of his job. He says he takes them just as seriously as combat missions and that the Iraqis have become his brothers in arms. They greet each other in the traditional Iraqi manner, with kisses and hugs, “and I even drink their coffee,” says Welsh, “which is saying something.”

That passage is similar to Yon’s description here of Lt Col Kurilla’s work in Mosul in 2005 because the counterinsurgency strategy is the same. Here is the conclusion of Yon’s latest analysis of the relationship between the US military and Iraqis after two more years of working that same strategy:

Large numbers of Iraqis detested us after the prisoner abuse stories, and some over-the-top attacks on Fallujah, for example. But through time, somehow the American military has managed to establish a moral authority in Iraq. It’s not the only authority, but the military has serious and increasing moral clout. In the beginning, our influence flowed from guns, or dropped from the wings of jets. Later it was the money. Today, the clout still is partially from the gun, and definitely the money is key, but there is an intangible and growing moral clout and it flows from an increasing respect among Iraqis for our military. Washington has no moral clout in Iraq. Washington looks like a circus act. The authority is coming from our military. The importance of this fact would be difficult to understate.

Note: For anyone confused or even offended by my use of the Yiddish, ‘Oy Vey‘ please substitute the German ‘Gott in himmel’.

2 Responses to “The New Narrative Continues”  

  1. 1 DavidP

    The V1s were unmanned aeroplanes, ie drones. The V2s were rockets, that is the foundation of the technology that was used in the US space programme, not to mention ballistic missiles.

    I’m sorry, I missed your earlier post at the time where you said, “I have never believed that the Democrats will force a pullout where they can be blamed for the consequences or that either Obama or Hillary would just walk away because it is so plainly against US interests. [..] the truth, to paraphrase Hilary, is they have to deal with the Iraq they have in January 2009, not the Iraq they wish they had.”

    I don’t see that Hillary will walk away from the position she has held since February, “If we do not in Congress end this war by January 2009, then I will.”

  2. 2 admin

    Yes, I know that the V2s were rockets not drones in the classic sense — I’ve seen both up close. I was using a bit of poetic license since they are both unmanned guided missiles and scary.

    As to Hilary I don’t trust her either but I do believe that American self interest will prevent either her or Obama simply pulling out and precipitating a slaughter and victory for the terrorists. I’d much prefer to see a Republican president that the terrorists knows is not soft. Many Muslims are learning that the juhadis are not their friends but I think they need more time before being a terrorist becomes seriously unpopular in the Muslim world and 2008 is not the time to tack left. Still, I think we will, but if the right republican candidate comes into focus in the right way to provide a clear alternative to Hilary or Obama – they may stand a real chance of winning. I think the electorate wont want to give either party control and may cheerfully split the government – Dems in Congress, a Republican in the White House.

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