Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Strange Little Column

One wants to feel almost sorry for Michael O'Hanlon, he of the Brookings Institution and together with Ken Pollack, supporter of the war and of the president's escalation "policy". Almost.

For instance, no-name, non-members of the Washington D.C. establishment like Glenn Greenwald shouldn't be getting ink for criticizing O'Hanlon's trip to Iraq's Green Zone and subsequent pro-surge write-up of a few weeks ago.

But O'Hanlon's apologia in today's Fred Hiatt's Washington Post is not really conducive to his cause.

The first couple of paragraphs consist basically of O'Hanlon pouting about being criticized, a situation I'm sure is probably new to him as it pertains to how media personalities and fellow pundits have usually gratefully treated his work. Worse, though, is his petulant claim that however devoid of merit his trip and analysis might have been, it was all worth while, really, because the result of the whole shebang was that O'Hanlon and Pollack had the chance to speak truth to power, against all the tiresome, whinny Politically Correct pessimism about Iraq:

Unfortunately, much of the blogosphere and other media outlets have emphasized the wrong question, challenging the integrity of anyone who dares to express politically incorrect views about Iraq.

Sigh. But after dispensing with the pissing contest part of his op-ed, his substantive responses end up falling flat, too.

His first bulleted item in that regard is a claim that Iraqi civilian casualties are down, at least according to the Army. OK. But where are the numbers and what are they compared to? O'Hanlon doesn't provide them. As Matt Yglesias comments, if the military was sure of their accuracy, why not provide them?

His second bulleted item says the counter-insurgency tactics are working much better. There are more "joint patrols" between Iraqi and U.S. military units. I don't know what O'Hanlon really means by this claim, but I think he means, or at least I wonder what he thinks of, the new policy of financing Sunni insurgents and trying to turn them against Al Qaeda in Iraq. And what, one wonders, is the likely long term effect of this policy?

His third bulleted item says Iraqi forces are improving, but offers no evidence to support this claim other than that the U.S. military folks he spoke to seem to be more satisfied with their Iraqi counterparts collaboration and the fact that a few of the most biased commanders (i.e. most aligned with Shiite militias) have been fired. O'Hanlon admits his positive vibes regarding this point are "more hedged than the first two".

His last bulleted item says that "Economic reconstruction is improving". O'Hanlon lauds the fact that "we" (this is another troubling trend in O'Hanlon's writing--who is "we"?) are now focusing on more small-scaled reconstructive efforts, because, and he even says this, the big ones are "particularly vulnerable to single-point failures and thus sabotage".

This last point highlights yet another weakness in "our" progress in Iraq: "small-scaled reconstructive efforts" in the area of utilities means in plain English that "we" have pretty much retreated to trying to run the country on local generators, an effort that does not speak of quality, efficiency or permanence.

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