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Friday, May 25, 2007

I Love Divided Government

I Love Divided Government! I really do!

This is a post about Iraq. I almost never post about Iraq. That's because I don't have a clear picture about what's going on over there and there are others who do a much better job hypothesizing about what's going on than I can.

But that doesn't mean I don't read about Iraq. It doesn't mean that I don't care. In fact, I read a lot and care a lot. Now that I've been reading about it for 4+ years, I think I actually have a better feel for it. On an absolute scale, I still don't have any idea where we stand. But I feel that I'm starting to get a feel for the direction things are moving in.

I read a wide range of sources, from very, very negative to totally glowing. The first thing I do is look for changes in the tenor of those sources. Some sources never change. For example, Daily Kos has never, ever, once written anything but ultra-negative reports and essays about Iraq. Therefore, when looking for changes in tenor, I simply ignore such sources since there's never a change. However, much of the media, while negative on average, does change the level of negativity over time. Much of the alternative media (the blogosphere, etc.), while usually more positive, also changes tone. The changes are very slow, and the changes are often swamped by noise and other variables (e.g. elections), but it is sometimes possible to detect a change.

The other thing I do to qualify sources is to see how well their predictions have held up. Some sources are much better than others. I can do nothing but rave about the predictive capability of Wretchard at the Belmont Club. Is he perfect? No, far from it. However, whereas most sources' predictions are nearly always wrong, his are occasionally close to the mark. That description may not sound impressive, but relative to everybody else, it really is.

So I have a measure of change and a measure of confidence. I've been informally forming these intuitive measures for more than four years.

The reason I'm posting about Iraq now is that the change meter is showing significant change. The mainstream media, while incredibly negative over the last few months, has printed some almost positive articles lately (and driving the anti-work crowd nearly berserk). Embedded hawkish journalists like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio, while usually more upbeat than most, are even more upbeat as of late. Wretchard has gone from gloomy to, well, somewhat less gloomy.

This doesn't mean much. Going from gloomy to somewhat less gloomy is hardly cause for celebration. But still, the change is unmistakable.

I have a hypothesis for a factor that may have helped the change to occur.

One of the reasons for pessimism was (and still is) that the Iraqis are just not getting their act together. They are just not making progress. They've been a bit too laid back in my opinion, reminding me of some of the surfers at the beach here. In fact I've had visions of ol' al-Maliki taking to his buddies: "Yo, dude, don't worry about the country, man, the Americans will make sure we don't screw it up to bad."

The threat of hanging serves to focus the mind. I was thinking that a good way to get the Iraqis to focus would be to tell them that we're leaving. Tell them that we're leaving soon. Very soon. And not only that, we're gonna place 20 million machine guns in the center of the country with 2 billion rounds of ammo and say, "hey, we're outta here, have at it, may the best faction win, and good luck!" I think that would get their attention. It would get mine!

Of course, I would never do that. Well, I would never do that, but our rather unscrupulous Congress might (minus the machine guns and ammo, I suppose). Not only might they do that, but it rather looked like they were gonna do that. And sure enough, the Iraqis (especially the Sunnis) seem to be noticing. And getting off their butts. At least a little bit.

I think that's why we're seeing a change in Iraq lately.

Congress ultimately backed down, but they put the Iraqis on notice first. That fact is that if there is no progress in Iraq over the coming months, we may actually leave and leave them to their own devices (and civil war, and mayhem, and genocide, and famine, and mass refugee migration, etc.).

My feeling is that the American people, in their infinite Wisdom of Crowds, correctly put the Democrats into office all so this showdown would happen and enable progress in Iraq. We're good, we are!


Harry Eagar said...

I predicted, before it started, that Muslims, and especially Arab Muslims would be incapable (or perhaps just not interested in) organizing and running a modern state.

That's a prediction that's 100% correct.

Bret said...

Congrats on the accurate prediction. So any new predictions? I guess you're saying that the current positive trend is just a temporary blip? Or can they somehow manage to get to a peaceful, non-modern state? Or will we end up running it for them?

Oroborous said...

My initial optimism has been beaten down, and now I'd be happy if, after a brief and hopefully fairly bloodless civil war, we end up with relatively prosperous Kurdish and Shi'ite areas controlled by strongmen.

The Sunnis can go pound sand.

But I still believe that the invasion and nation-building were worth trying.

Bret said...

I can't say I was ever wildly optimistic, but I've been more pessimistic the last few months. If Harry's right (Arabs incapable of running a modern state), even if things are going a bit better, is there an end game?

But I also agree that the invasion was probably necessary in order to at least remove Saddam. I think it would've happened eventually anyway.

Susan's Husband said...


One could also argue it was necessary to prove Mr. Eager's case. It's one thing to pontificate about it, another to have hard evidence.

That is, in fact, a big reason I supported the invasion. It would have been wrong to just say "The Sunnis can go pound sand", it's a very different thing to say so after the last four years.

Harry Eagar said...

Yes, that was exactly my position and very uncomfortable to hold, too.

I believe I said I could, with bitter gall and wormwood in my heart, accept 100 American deaths in battle to prove what I already knew had to be true.

That was mere booshwah, because I did not then, and do not now, believe the people running things are capable of learning anything.

They didn't learn anything from Vietnam, which is how I figured it out,

That includes all of them, no exceptions.

My predictions?

As long as the Americans stay, no net change.

Once we leave, Iraq will dissolve into some sort of congeries of medieval despotisms.

Then we'll bumble along that way until the ultra Muslims push things to a breaking (or if you are Gladwellian, tipping) point and the hard men take over.

I have before said that if you really wanted to persuade our enemies to rethink their view, you'd plaster their streets with posters of Berlin and Tokyo in 1945, with the label, 'Let's talk.'

That is also why I advocate the Congress recognizing that Iran has been at war with the US since 1979.

As long as we're not serious, why should we expect anybody else to be?

mw said...

Great post!

FYI - I linked to this from my most recent Carnival of Divided Government". I have also been making predictions about the End State in Iraq.

BTW- I think your trackback is broken, I could not get it to work.