December 29, 2003

SO HOW ARE THINGS IN IRAQ? Beats me. This story from the Washington Post doesn’t sound so great: “The United States has backed away from several of its more ambitious initiatives to transform Iraq’s economy, political system and security forces as attacks on U.S. troops have escalated and the timetable for ending the civil occupation has accelerated.”

On the other hand, this story from the Christian Science Monitor says that things are going much better in the counterinsurgency, and that attacks — rather than escalating — are going down.

When Saddam was captured, Josh Chafetz predicted that guerrilla attacks would intensify for about a month, then fade away. They don’t really seem to have intensified, which is either good news or bad news.

I suspect that money will be the key, with the switchover to new currency in February putting a crimp in the operations of the anti-US forces. Increased pressure on Syria and Iran, and on Saudi extremists, will also make a difference over time. Here’s a tidbit from the CSM story:

Russell says over $10 million in cash has been seized in recent months, even as the asking price for an attack on coalition forces has surged, according to locals. He says the relatively large pool of men willing to attack US forces in the area a few months ago has dwindled as tough tactics have killed many, with few losses on his side.

The supply of money and martyrs seems to be running low, which is good news.

UPDATE: Hmm. This sounds like good news on the money front: “Saddam Hussein has acknowledged depositing billions of dollars abroad before his ouster and has given interrogators the names of people who know where the money is, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said in remarks published Monday.” Stay tuned.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Well, this certainly sounds like good news:

Influential spiritual leaders from Saddam Hussein’s hometown — a bastion of anti-American sentiment — are joining forces to persuade Iraqis to abandon the violent insurgency, one of the leaders said Monday.

The effort marks a new, open willingness to cooperate with U.S. forces — a shift in the thinking of at least some key members of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority, which lost political dominance with the fall of Saddam and has largely formed the most outspoken and violent opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

Walter Russell Mead, who emailed the link, observes: “This could be the most important breakthrough of all: responsible Sunnis realizing that despite their enduring bitterness at the way the US ended Sunni dominance in Iraq, using the window offered by the US presence to include protection for Sunni minority rights and Sunni interests in the structure of a new Iraq is now their best hope for the future.” I think that’s right, but as the CSM story notes, we won’t see an overnight change, but a gradual one. But I suspect that this demonstrates which way these guys — who are a lot closer to the situation, and who have a lot at stake — think the wind is blowing at the moment. That’s an important indicator, too.

People keep looking for a single storyline here, but there’s a lot going on. The ultimate storyline, of course, is that if we don’t chicken out, things are likely to turn out well — and if we do chicken out, things are certain to turn out very, very badly.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: With regard to the Post story above, Michael Ubaldi observes that it should probably be taken with a grain of salt, given reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s tendency to paint consistently bleak pictures. Stay tuned.

MORE: In a related development, Phil Carter looks at the intelligence officers who tracked down Saddam. And David Adesnik observes: “All I can add is that the outstanding soldiers responsible for finding Saddam did exactly what Americans are supposedly unable to do: they used common sense and cold logic to understand the inner workings of a foreign culture and the behavior of clandestine guerrillas.”

“What Americans are supposedly unable to do” — yes, but mostly so supposed by people who don’t want Americans to be able to do it.

STILL MORE: On the Saddam’s-hidden-billions issue, Alex Bensky emails:

One of the themes from the left was that our sanctions against Iraq were in effect murdering babies. It turns out that the Iraqi government had plenty of money to buy medicine and food for young and old alike, but instead of spending it on that it was being squirreled away in Swiss banks or used to buy and equip dozens of opulent palaces and otherwise feather the nests of Ba’athist thugs.

You owe it to your readers to link to those who now admit that they were wrong and the cause of the starvation and sickness was Saddam and not the U.S. I’ll be waiting right here to see those links…any day now.

Uh, yeah, Alex. I’ll be sure to link every single example that I come across.

MORE STILL: Mickey Kaus thinks worries that we’re moving too fast are wrong:

[T]he “artificial timeline” derided by Hillary Clinton has some obvious virtues. The June 30 deadline focuses the minds of the Americans on what they can and can’t expect to accomplish before they’ve outstayed their welcome–do we really need to “cash out” Iraq’s food rationing program in accordance with Milton-Friedman’s theories before we leave?–and it focuses the mind of Iraqis on what they need to do as well, including what compromises they may need to make. . . .

Remember, we’re not (in theory) leaving after June 30. The Pentagon is talking about a large negotiated presence for “one or two years, in terms of the troops’ staying there,” according to Deputy Secretary of State Armitage. And there will be ongoing reconstruction programs.

Very interesting post. He’s right about the mind-focusing bit, and I wonder if it doesn’t explain the Sunni clerics’ willingness to play ball, now that they’re faced with the prospect of dealing with a Shia dominated government.