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What They Call ‘Progress’ in Iraq

Posted on Jan 16, 2008

By Joe Conason

As America marks the first anniversary of the troop escalation in Iraq, at least one thing has become clear. Although the “surge” is failing as policy, it seems to be succeeding as propaganda. Even as George W. Bush continues to bump and scrape along the bottom of public approval, significantly more people now believe we are “winning” the war.

What winning really means and whether that vague impression can be sustained are questions that the war’s proponents would prefer not to answer for the moment. Their objective during this election year is simply to reduce public pressure for withdrawal, which is still the choice of an overwhelming majority of voters.

So long as the surge appears to be working, political space is created for the Republican candidates who support the war—especially Sen. John McCain, the hawk’s hawk, who said recently that he might keep U.S. soldiers in Iraq for “a hundred years.” Although that remark was not well received in the Arab world, Arabs may take comfort in the fact that no matter how determined the Arizona senator is to fulfill that threat, he is unlikely to do so since he is already over 70 years old.

But the revival of McCain’s moribund candidacy over the past few weeks would have been impossible without the media’s endorsement of “progress” in Iraq. Indeed, war propaganda itself has surged lately on the strength of casualty statistics from December 2007.

Consider the work of William Kristol, who played an important role in selling the war as editor of The Weekly Standard and on the Fox News Channel. From his new perch on The New York Times Op-Ed page—proof that being hideously wrong is no obstacle to scaling the heights of American punditry—he proclaims that “we have been able to turn around the situation in Iraq” and achieve “real success.”


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According to Kristol, who once mocked concerns about religious strife in Iraq as “pop sociology,” the drop in violence last month marked the lowest overall number of deaths for both civilians and military forces since the war began in March 2003. Declining casualties for a month or two means progress, which, in turn, means that the war must continue, and that the president’s policy is correct.

What has fallen far more sharply than the casualty statistics in Iraq is the standard for success there, as defined by neoconservatives like Mr. Kristol. In the original promotional literature produced by these individuals and their associates, and recited by the president, this war was supposed to remake the Middle East into a showcase for democracy, with ruinous consequences for our terrorist enemies and cheaper oil for us—and all for free because the Iraqi petroleum industry would cover all the costs.

When that happy future never arrived, to put it mildly, the war’s proponents scrambled to reduce expectations. So in announcing the surge, the president set forth a series of benchmarks for progress in Iraq that was supposed to result from our increased troop presence. The objective was not a temporary reduction of sectarian killing, but real movement toward reconciliation of the contending factions, including the passage of laws on sharing oil revenues and political power among the Sunni, Shia, Kurds and other ethnic communities. President Bush declared the escalation would create space for the Iraqis to act on behalf of their own country.

Even those minimized objectives have yet to be met. The oil-sharing statute is stalled in the Iraqi parliament, while Kurdish regional authorities make their own separate deals with foreign oil companies. The Sunni militia organizations that we have armed to fight al-Qaida have been rejected by the Shiite central government. The statute passed by the Iraqi parliament last week to reduce sanctions against former members of the Baath Party, a statute that was supposed to mollify the Sunni leaders, appears only to have alienated them further because they consider it fraudulent.

Worst of all, despite the undoubted courage and commitment of our troops, violence in Iraq has increased since the new year began. Killings of civilians by car bombs and snipers averaged more than 50 per day during the first two weeks of January, and U.S. military deaths are averaging slightly more than one per day, or nearly 50 percent higher than last month.

At that level, if American troops stayed for 10 more years, let alone a century, as Sen. McCain suggests, our casualties would double. What would winning mean then?

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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By rhbee, January 20, 2008 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Please say it isn’t so.  Finally someone who realizes that at least part of our problem with the ME is that we are no more settled in our inter-relationships than they.  However, I might want to see the relationship that settles be the one where the christian majority agrees to live under the democratic majority.

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By Marshall, January 20, 2008 at 12:53 am Link to this comment

Thanks for the link Lilmamzer - I’ll definitely take a look.

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By Victor Berry, January 19, 2008 at 7:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our surrogate President David Petraeus and our surrogate Secretary of State Ryan Crocker are creating another Pakistan.  Al-Anbar province is well on its way to becoming the “restive, ungoverned tribal area in western Iraq.”

We’ll see if the Democrats can reverse the Bush administration’s version of “freedom is on the march” which has only generated more places like Warziristan, the Gaza Strip, Helmand Province, and now al-Anbar Province.

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By Blackspeare, January 19, 2008 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment

Bush and company have bought into the concept set forth in the “Project for the New American Century(PNAC).”  Essentially, it is a blueprint for empire building.  In an unsettled world,  the strongest nation, both economically and militarily, will lead.  Couple that philosophy with Friedmanian economic protocols and you’ve got the current US administration——an array of government policies intertwined with corporate power.  Called it oligarchism, fascism, or aggressive capitalism——I call it a time bomb!

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By Jeff, January 19, 2008 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

That logic would make every Presidant since WWII a Hawk as they have not gotten us out of Japan, Germany, Korea, etc. 

Freedom and democracy require generational changes.  People who look at Iraq and say that it’s not working because they do not yet have a stable democracy are incredibly short-sighted.  How long did it take us?  The first Pilgrims came to America with the goal of freedom and democracy, and it still took them around 200 years.

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By felicity, January 18, 2008 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

How true.  It’s clear that there is a mutual aid society in play between the media and the government. The name of the game is fear which ups ratings for the media at the same time as it allows the government to funnel obscene amounts of money to the military-industrial complex - no questions asked.

We are getting screwed royally, or is that royally screwed.

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By P. T., January 18, 2008 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment

It is a war due to the conflict.  People need to understand that and oppose it.

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By P. T., January 18, 2008 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

You’re right about McCain.  A million year occupation of Iraq isn’t that long.  wink

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By Mark Anderson, January 18, 2008 at 6:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The more you folks in the media keep referring to our invasion and occupation of Iraq as a “war”, the more you encourage the public to support this illegal and immoral action. It’s time we stop calling everything we oppose a war.  War on drugs, war on obesity, war on poverty, etc. etc. etc.  The overuse of this word encourages force and violence.

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By Louise, January 17, 2008 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment

Figure in the euro.
When the petro-dollar means nothing, the whole equasion will change.

Saddams threat to move his reserves to the euro started this whole mess. Iran poses the same threat.

What was the real reason Bush went to see his buddies the Royals? I seriously doubt his trip had anything to do with Israel, but hyping that story works well for the media, who have strong ties to the war machine.

Keeping the Royals loyal to the petro-dollar is critical. And as long as the Royals can keep jacking up the price, they’ll co-operate. So that too translates into just one more tax for us. Another tax the rich make money off.

It doesn’t take a PhD to figure that out.

It also doesn’t take a PhD to understand why the Royals distance themselves from involvement with the war in Iraq, or the pending war in Iran.

They’re running low on reserves. Best to wait and see who comes out on top and join the winning side. The side that decides, euro or petro-dollar. The side that ends up controlling the money.

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By P. T., January 17, 2008 at 10:17 pm Link to this comment

The Bush administration and the media are trying to create the false impression that southern Iraq, under the control of Shia militants (who the Bush administration is afraid to take on), is really under the control of the Iraqi government and the U.S.  I just read a Reuters story to that effect.

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By Jeff, January 17, 2008 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Do you folks ever get tired of having to tie your success to others’ failures?  Here is the Democrats plan for success in 2008:  If Iraq gets worse and the economy tanks, we win.  Now that’s inspiring!

Additionally, Mr. Conason clearly exhibited that his political biases are more important than reality when he referred to McCain as the “Hawk’s Hawk” (incidentally, the apostrophe should come after the “s” - “Hawks’ Hawk).  I am actually not a McCain supporter, but that statement is ridiculous.  People automatically assume that because a person was in the military he will be a warmonger; the opposite is generally the case.  Of all the candidates, the Hawks are Giuliani and Clinton (before you start to argue, take a deep breath, go read what she has said about her plans for Iraq, consider what whe will have to “prove” to the rest of the world, and agree that I’m right).

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By felicity, January 17, 2008 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment

Those who understand the ME - none of whom has ever darkened the doors of Washington - understand that peace in Iraq will come when the Shias are prepared to share power or that the Sunnis are prepared to live as a minority under Shia majoritarian rule. That’s what we’re sacrificing lives and treasure to make happen.

Reality check:  Change players:  Peace will come in America when Democrats (assumed majority) are prepared to (always) share power with Republicans or that Republicans are prepared to live as a minority under Democratic majoritarian rule. Piece of cake.

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By ender, January 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment

Are a propagandist or this adminstration also, or just Israel?

Time for a little truth lil’-

Get your head out of FOX’S ARSE.  We have killed more Iraqis than Saddam and turned Iraq into a terrorist training ground for the thousands of new terrorist volunteers we created.

Suddam was a brutal b@st@rd if you got on his bad side, but was actually one of the most progressive mideastern rulers.  His UN delegate was a Christian.  Christians and Jews had liquor stores in downtown Baghdad.  Women were given rights they don’t have in the US yet. A majority of college professors were women, and Iraq had more engineers per capita than any nation in the world.


We have destroyed a nation to steal their oil but primarily because they began trading oil in Euro’s.  Iran has done the same thing so we are going to attack them next.  That has been the plan since 1996 when PNAC TOOK OUT A FULL PAGE ADD IN THE NYT URGING PRESIDENT CLINTON TO DO IT.

The illegal invastion of Iraq has nothing to do with pride in our moral high ground or giving a flying fk about the iraqi people. ISRAEL HAS VIOLATED MORE UN RESOLUTIONS THAN SADDAM, BUT HE’S DEAD WHILE WE GIVE ISRAEL $20 BILLION IN NEW WEAPONS SO THEY CAN CONTINUE SUPPORT THEIR PROGRAM OF NATIONAL TERRORISM.

This is about maintaining the US hegemony of the oil economy and money on the side for the Bush family fortune tied up in the Carlisle group.

Idiots like you are the reason these theives have gotten away with this instead of being hung as war criminals.

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By P. T., January 17, 2008 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

The Iraq situation is even worse than Joe Conason says.  Shia militants control southern Iraq, where over 80% of Iraq’s oil is.  Northern Iraq gets attacked by Turkey.  Bush is stuck with a collaborator regime in Baghdad and without oil.

There is still a ruling class consensus to continue the Iraq War though (with them making money off of it), and the leading presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, do not want to get crossways with that class.  They can destroy one’s campaign.

The fly in ointment is the huge cost of the war to the people, during a recession.

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By ocjim, January 17, 2008 at 11:39 am Link to this comment

A little research would indicate that sectarian cleansing was nearing an end when Bush announced the surge. His intelligence forces probably knew this beforehand.

But overall, government forces seem to be no closer to providing security for citizens, but killings and violence are down, experiencing a steady decline from September, 2007 to present time.

Civilian statistics bear this out. According to figures compiled by the interior, health and defense ministries, 481 civilians died violently in Iraq in December of 2007, a 75 percent drop from the 1,930 who were killed in December 2006, when the country was on the brink of civil war.

For this decline, neocons gives absolute credit to Bush’s surge.

But more knowledgeable and more objective sources paint another picture.

Though Abdul Samad Sultan, minister of migrations, last year insisted that over 1,000 self-exiled families returned to their neighborhoods, mostly in Madaen, Mahmoudiya and Shaab, other stories have chronicled illegal immigrants returning with no other choice: it was either go to prison or be deported from countries like Syria and Lebanon.

And we should review a little history. The frantic flight of Iraqis during the height of the killing was told on several fronts.

Last year’s report by the non-governmental organization International Medical Corps, said that 540,000 Iraqis had fled their homes from the February 2006 bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra to early 2007.

Consistent reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times revealed stories of the nightly wails and cries of ethnic cleansing reaching a peak by the end of 2006 and into early 2007, when something like 2000 civilians a month turned up mangled and dead.

According to Pepe Escobar, the ‘Roving Eye’ for the online publication, Asia Times, in the rush of dawn hundreds of bodies were displayed to advertise the deaths of Sunnis living in the ethnically-mixed area of Baghdad, thus spreading grief among relatives and intense fear among the rest, causing leagues of Iraqis to leave their home and their possessions.

By the time that Bush announced the surge, the cleansing showed signs of ending and the Shiites were ready to cooperate with allied forces and Sunnis pledged to fight a small al Qaeda force. This might suggest that ethnic cleansing was already complete, and seemed to correspond with the Bush surge.

Many, who are always looking for cynically-calculated Bush policy, say that Bush forces knew this before they even planned the surge.

Even with the improvements, the latest figures show that more civilians died overall in 2007 (16,232) than in 2006 (12,360).

Iraq still remains politically unstable, and is still a dangerous place. It was a mistake from the beginning, an endeavor having nothing to do with fighting terrorism, and probably everything to do with imperialistic strategy.

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By SamSnedegar, January 17, 2008 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

Dr. KIA [piled higher and deeper twice]:

I’m not going to chide you Dr., for asking that question. No less an economic luminary than Duncan Black tole me once that the US government couldn’t go broke, that all it had to do to pay its bills was to print the money. So why NOT just print the money and buy the oil? Let me answer in part by pointing out that if any of that were possible, then why would we borrow money from the Chinese?

No, paper currency isn’t worth any more than what backs it in goods, services, and resources, and those items are called WEALTH.

I had an uncle in Indiana who owned gas wells. He could cap his wells, not sell a cubic inch of gas, and still USE the gas as collateral to borrow money to build shopping centers, hardware stores, and pitch and putt golf courses, all of which ventures were capable of generating beaucoup cash flow back to my uncle who grew wealthy off of gas he never sold.

The dollar USED to be backed by all the stuff we had and made like iron, steel, copper, wheat, corn, oil, coal, aluminum, and so on, not to mention all the appliances, cars, airplanes, toys, and so on we produced, and also all the products we made from oil . . . including pharms.

Now, our labor costs are so high for most things, we farm out the labor to third world countries because it just costs too much to run Pittsburgh and Detroit and Los Angeles and so on. We are negative on oil, using about twice as much as we produce, and so we find ourselves with a national debt of about nine trillion and a trade deficit of nearly a trillion a year now—-in other words far more is going out than is coming in, and where are the Perot charts when we need them? In any event, the dollar is going down in value and we have no gas well like my uncle . . . unless . . . we can steal oil from the mideast where it is owned by a bunch of wild and crazy arabs who are ripe for the plucking.

We don’t need to sell it or make money off of it; all we have to do is CONTROL it. That is what we are doing: propping up the dollar and even making a profit for our oil barons whose reserves go up in dollar value no matter the price of a barrel of oil on the market.

As an aside, you might recall that we asked Turkey to back our invasion of Iraq by allowing us to proceed through their country, and they agreed? But we weren’t able to raise the money they wanted for the privilege, and so we had to come via Kuwait only. Why didn’t we just print THAT money? Don’t you wonder about all the pallets of money lost in Iraq? Probably the reason that our government didn’t care was because it was all counterfeit money made by the government with flaws which kept it from being legal tender in the USA. (I can’t prove that, but it surely makes more sense than just putting money by the billions out on pallets where anyone with a fork lift can come and “lift” it.

Another problem with saying the oil is to rescue us from bankruptcy is that it won’t, even if our government GOT IT ALL and the obscene oil prices keep going up up up . . . all stealing Iraq’s oil does for us is put of the denouement for a few more years, and then . . . Enron time for America. Oh, if we get most of the other oil in the mideast, we can probably make a comeback and put food on our families for another hundred years, but eventually the oil will run out, and what will we do then? Maybe we will need THREE PhDs to figure it out.

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By Pacrat, January 17, 2008 at 6:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Of course this administration hypes everything it possibly can to try to justify its illegal activities. It’s just a matter of spin - twisting words to have meanings that a dictionary wouldn’t recognize. “Failure” means “progress” and journalists whose companies’ licenses are under the control of this administration play along.

Why not just leave the Iraqi to determine their own fate?  - but they do need serious assistance in putting their country back together after the Bushies have literally destroyed it and its citizens. In fact, why not just leave Iraq?

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, January 17, 2008 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

SamS, I think you’re spot on.  One thing:  what do you think is the motivation to steal rather than to buy Iraqi oil?  We could have simply stayed out of the hornet’s nest, allowed the Iraqis (if there is such a group of people) to market their oil like most other world market commodities at market price.  Seems to me that if you add the cost to Am. taxpayers of this war to the price of gasoline made from Iraqi oil, it probably comes up to around $100/gal.

Thinking of it like that, you also have to add our paying for the war to the already huge subsidies our gov. gives to Big Oil.

I’m no genius, but it seems everything I thought about the war from the getgo is turning out to be true.  And I know that most people think as you and I do, even geniuses like Joe C.  So, why is this happening?

From the average Iraqi’s viewpoint, this is an even greater tragedy.  We’ve destroyed any semblance of a homeland they may have had and felt and probably any hope they may have had for peace any time soon.

Aren’t you just sooo proud to be an Imerikin???

My biggest regret may be that I won’t be here fifty to a hundred years from now to see history give George W. Bush his due. I’m going to rethink my atheism.  I should hope for an after-life.

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By SamSnedegar, January 17, 2008 at 5:11 am Link to this comment

I see that after nearly five years of war to steal oil, Conason finally mentioned the word “oil,” but only to say that an “agreement” doesn’t quite exist for Iraq except where we did the same as Saddam and keep our hands off the Kurdish sector.

In the first place, the “surge” was not meant to solve any problem save that of how to get crack troops into place guarding oil fields and pipelines while reservists and new hires were relegated to the civilian sectors in Baghdad and vicinity. It worked fine, for the 82nd or 101st airborne was reassigned to Iraq under cover of that surge, and all is well in the oil business.

I say the same thing to Mr. Conason as I do to author Ritter: if you’re going to talk about Iraq and not discuss the reason we are there in the first place—-and intend to stay there—-then you can utter a lot of truisms but still keep on blowing smoke. I understand that your publishers won’t let you tell the public the truth, and I have always supposed the reason is somewhat like the reason that Ken Lay didn’t want anyone tattling on his Enron manipulations: show them the truth, and the whole house of cards will fall . . .

Well, there are hundreds of countries around the world who don’t want the American consumers to be reduced to the status of Argentina or Enron, i.e. bankrupy, and even Tony Blair and his country knew enough to back our play to steal oil to save our economy, so the fear that we’d go like Argentina is probably wrong. Oh, we’ll go, but not until we start failing to be able to borrow any more money to pay back the money we have already borrowed, and not until every last job in the USA has gone overseas. Greenspan knew that and still was amazed (he said) that NO ONE would talk about oil and Iraq.

It is so simple: all of the mystery about why we have behaved as stupidly as we seem to have done is solved immediately once you admit we went there for oil and we have to stay there for oil or our economy tanks. And it’s not just that oil, it’s all of the oil in the mideast we want to steal. (all those bases we have built at the expense of being able to supply drinking water and electricity to Iraqis are not for taking care of surges, oh no; they are for taking care of future invasions of other oil rich entities in the mideast.

Iran? no, they’d never stand for it. We’re going after the arab oil in the Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. The attack on Iran is only to keep them out of the mix when we invade arab countries to steal their oil.

If the “surge” was merely a matter of troop strength in numbers, then surely we could have increased only the number of mercenaries in place, but that wasn’t what was needed; what was needed was CRACK troops to guard the oil and its transport.

You can’t talk about that if your publishers won’t let you talk about oil, can you?

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By lilmamzer, January 17, 2008 at 4:34 am Link to this comment

Good post - you are right, and the real progress in Iraq has been overlooked, probably by editorial policy, in the mainstream media for a long time.

Have you been following Michael Totten’s dispatches from Iraq? He’s excellent, objective, and dispassionate. A great contemporary journalist.

The comment threads on his blog are also at a consistently high level and I’m a regular reader.

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By lilmamzer, January 17, 2008 at 4:33 am Link to this comment

the above post was for Marshall:

By Marshall, January 16 at 11:02 pm #
(162 comments total)
How did the Surge become the Problem?

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By lilmamzer, January 17, 2008 at 4:32 am Link to this comment

Good post - you are right, and the real progress in Iraq has been overlooked, probably by editorial policy, in the mainstream media for a long time.

Have you been following Michael Totten’s dispatches from Iraq? He’s excellent, objective, and dispassionate. A great contemporary journalist.

The comment threads on his blog are also at a consistently high level and I’m a regular reader.

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By cyrena, January 17, 2008 at 12:57 am Link to this comment


The reason the surge is not working, and never has, is because what you’ve just claimed as proof of it working, is all bullshit. Specifically this,

•  ‘…..having reduced violence, sectarian strife, provided a much greater sense of normalcy to the citizens of Baghdad and beyond, and severely hampered the effectiveness of Al-qaida…..”

The violence hasn’t been ‘reduced’ so I’m not sure where you’re coming up with that. Sectarian strife is impossible to measure, but if it ‘appears’ to be reduced, it’s because the cement walls surrounding these various communities and the forced removal and relocation of over half of the population has ‘reduced’ their interactions. Still, you have absolutely, positively NOTHING to verify this. Car bombs and suicide bombings continue on a daily basis, with civilians continuing to die on a daily basis.

How exactly, do you think that is any greater sense of ‘normalcy’ to the citizens of Baghdad and beyond?

As for ‘severely hampering’ the effectiveness of al-Qaeda, how the hell do YOU know that? And, what are you basing that on. Severely hampering from WHEN? From when they didn’t even exist in Iraq? Because of course we ALL KNOW that al-Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq, prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation, and we STILL don’t know to what extent al-Qaeda even operates in Iraq, or to what extent they are responsible for any of the on-going destruction of that nation.

So you see, you really are full crap.

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By Marshall, January 17, 2008 at 12:02 am Link to this comment

What’s clear is that the surge is successful policy, having reduced violence, sectarian strife, provided a much greater sense of normalcy to the citizens of Baghdad and beyond, and severely hampered the effectiveness of Al-qaida.  All this in a country that, only last year, many were saying was fully involved in civil war.

What hasn’t been successful is the Iraqi government in resolving the large and contentious issues the country faces and taking real steps to establishing effective governance.  And the flaw in the plan may be that they just plain can’t.  It may well require some serious rethinking about just how power sharing can occur in Iraq.

Rather than lambast the surge policy, which is working, we should be focusing on what can be done to shatter the gridlock that prevents Iraq from taking advantage of the improved climate.

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