Overhyping Al Zaqawi?

Chris at AMERICAblog says of George Will’s latest,

. . . Will is going overboard and really playing up the WH/Pentagon hype to a level I didn’t even think was possible. Sheesh, I hope that your check is in the mail from the Pentagon PR office. With the massive bombardment of pro-war PR going on right now, I guess he felt he had to be more outrageous then others.

Yet, if they read beyond the first paragraphs of Will’s piece, the Pentagon can hardly be pleased. Indeed, the title, “Iraq’s Atomization,” is a rather large clue.

The [central premise of the U.S. intervention in Iraq] was that Iraqis are primarily nationalists and only secondarily sectarians. Zarqawi’s wager was that explosives, used with sufficient cruelty, could blow that premise to smithereens. He may have succeeded. If so, the February bombing of the Askariya shrine, although the blast itself killed nobody, may have been the most deadly explosion since the planes hit the twin towers because it provoked sectarian violence that may now constitute a social firestorm.

[…]

It is sometimes charged that journalism, which considers the phrase “good news” an oxymoron (“We don’t report the planes that land safely”), is missing the good news from Iraq. But so pervasive is the violence, and hence so dangerous has Iraq become for journalists, that the Wall Street Journal, hardly a hostile observer of the U.S. undertaking in Iraq, thinks the bad news might be underreported.

Even the good news often has a dark cast to it. At last — 25 weeks after the voting — the Iraqi parliament has produced a full government. But its first task is to conquer itself: It must end the sectarian violence being committed by people wearing government uniforms, in the military and police.

It is frequently said that protracted terrorism has an atomizing effect on a polity, reducing civil society to so much human dust. In Iraq it may be having the opposite effect: Rather than disaggregating Iraqis, the force of the explosions — especially the one on Feb. 22 that demolished the dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra — seems to have blown them together, ruinously, into furious Sunni and Shiite blocs.

This is Pentagon PR? The product of the White House hype machine?

Indeed, it strikes me as an overly pessimistic view of what’s happening in Iraq. Early indications are that the latest crackdown by security forces are having significant success:

American and Iraqi forces have carried out 452 raids since last week’s killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and 104 insurgents were killed during those actions, the U.S. military said Thursday. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the raids were carried out nationwide and led to the discovery of 28 significant arms caches. He said 255 of the raids were joint operations, while 143 were carried out by Iraqi forces alone. The raids also resulted in the captures of 759 “anti-Iraqi elements.”

That link was originally to a report that the Zarqawi raid landed a rather substantial intelligence trove. TigerHawk and Michael Tanji discuss that aspect at some length.

The bottom line is that, while they by no means guarantee success, the coalescing of the Iraqi cabinet and the killing of Zarqawi and his top advisors were big events in positive direction. While I can understand arguing that the war hasn’t been worth the price paid and being angry at the Bush administration for the way it’s been carried out, it strikes me as simply bizarre for people to continually dismiss any positive signs.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    There are quite a few people who believe that in Iraq and, presumably, the War on Terror more generally, every time you kill or apprehend a terrorist you create one or more new terrorists to replace him. Maybe that’s Chris’s position.

    I don’t agree completely with that calculus and, in particular, I think that every foreign jihadi apprehended or killed is a victory for us and, more importantly, for the Iraqis who bear the brunt of the punishment the foreign jihadis have dealt out.

    I continue to believe, however, that there needs to be a change in incentives in Iraq and where, when, and how that will happen isn’t clear to me.

  2. Anderson says:

    Early indications are that the latest crackdown by security forces are having significant success:

    “The latest crackdown.” Enough said.

  3. Bithead says:

    The [central premise of the U.S. intervention in Iraq] was that Iraqis are primarily nationalists and only secondarily sectarians

    One can certainly understand the confusion.
    Under Saddam, there wasn’t really much of a nation to be loyal to. This is a point that eludes the leftist press… they still can’t get their arms around the concept that anything was wrong with Saddam’s rule of Iraq.

    Remember, too that to the ‘one world’ left, nationalism is incomprehensable on it’s face.

    With all this, and since the Iraqis now actually have a nation to ‘up’… something they lacked previously… the resulting nationalism is beyond the left’s wildest nightmares, let alone their predictions.

  4. McGehee says:

    �The latest crackdown.� Enough said.

    Because of course if you do it right the first time you’ll never have to do it again. So enlighten us, Anderson: how do you do a crackdown so right the first time that there never has to be another? And how would you really feel about it if it happened?

  5. DC Loser says:

    Under Saddam, there wasnâ??t really much of a nation to be loyal to.

    The Iraqi Army sure fought like there was something worth fighting for during that bloodbath against the Iranians from 80-88. The entire country was mobilized for that war.

  6. James Joyner says:

    DCL: And then Saddam promply gave back the minimal gains from that war in a futile effort to get Iranian backing during the 1991 Gulf War.

  7. Leo says:

    The jihidi’s are a bit like the mafia in one way: their management training program sucks rocks.

    Speaking generally, they get less competent the more and older ones you kill.

  8. Bithead says:

    The Iraqi Army sure fought like there was something worth fighting for during that bloodbath against the Iranians from 80-88. The entire country was mobilized for that war.

    Well, yes and no.

    When you have a proverbial gun to your head, you’ll fight, but not as well as when your heart is in it.

  9. Bithead says:

    And I think I should add: There’s a major difference between the Military thinking something is worth fighting for, and the PEOPLE thinking soemthing is worth frighting for. And the perception of what the ‘something’ under discussion, is usually different, between the two, in the case of less than free nations… such as Cuba, for example… or, China… or…. Yes, Saddam’s Iraq.