As the Democrats declare the Iraq war moribund and failed, others are not so sure. General Petraeus (oh well, what does he know?) reports that Sunnis are turning away from support for al Qaeda, and that the number of killings is significantly down since the surge began.
The perception in the MSM is different, and it’s no accident. That’s because the terrorists in Iraq are focusing on big bombings, media events that get our attention and cause a perception of ever-increasing carnage. Terrorists are savvy about how our media works, and about how to wear down support for the war still further; they have no reluctance to use the murder of Iraqi civilians to speak to Reid, et al, in the language they understand and respond to.
But statistics indicate the terrorists’ overall killing capacity is down, at least for the moment. Quite a few leaders have been captured recently, as well, although the operation is fueled by resupplies from Syria and Iran, the engine that drives the whole thing.
I was listening to an interview with Foud Ajami on Fox News, in which he made reference to an item with a fairly low profile on the media radar screen, the resignation from the Maliki cabinet of six al Sadr supporters. Ajami thought it was a good thing, symptomatic of al Sadr’s growing weakness, and good in the practical sense as well because these particular six ministers were overwhelmingly corrupt and useless (in some cases, actually illiterate).
But like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, the same news is seen differently by different analysts and “experts.” Well, they can’t all be right; here are two divergent views on the subject (hint: it’s no surprise Juan Cole finds the development ominous. My guess is that Harry Reid feels the same. The former Iraqi Ambassador Rend al-Rahim, on the other hand, sees it as a weak protest from a Sadr wounded by the surge. And the basic MSM line is a quick assertion that it’s a blow to the Maliki government.)
Ajami, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins and author of a 2006 book on Iraq and the US entitled The Foreigner’s Gift, sees signs of hope in an Iraq that has seen changes in the Sunni perception of the struggle. Sunnis have been accustomed to being rulers there, but their numbers are now reduced (partly by emigration) and they are disillusioned with promised hope from foreign Arabs who never came, or came only to cause more trouble. The Shias, on the other hand, are turning on their erstwhile champion al Sadr and his cabinet ministers (and this was written before their resignation):
There is a growing Shia unease with the Mahdi Army–and with the venality and incompetence of the Sadrists represented in the cabinet–and an increasing faith that the government and its instruments of order are the surer bet. The crackdown on the Mahdi Army that the new American commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has launched has the backing of the ruling Shia coalition. Iraqi police and army units have taken to the field against elements of the Mahdi army….To the extent that the Shia now see Iraq as their own country, their tolerance for mayhem and chaos has receded.
That last sentence probably is true of all elements in Iraq, and holds the key to any eventual healing. The surge is having an effect on Iraq that could, over time, lead to a possibility of such healing. But one thing we may not have is the luxury of time.
Ajami made it clear in the interview I watched that the Iraqis are following events in the US government avidly. They understand that President Bush will be in power until January of 2009, and that he will stand firm in the face of a Congress determined to repeat the “helicopters on the roof” scenario of 1975. In the race between the forces of chaos and order in Iraq, both see January 2009 as an exceedingly important date.