Saturday, February 24, 2007

Badger's progress report

There are at least six story-lines that are woven into the English-language coverage of Iraq, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. They are the following:

(1) The "US withdrawal: victory for the left" story (Helena Cobban)
(2) The "Victory for the middle-class Shiites" story (Juan Cole)
(3) The "Sunnis fight back" story (Arabic language only)
(4) The "Augmented catastrophe" story (Arabic language only)
(5) The "Indomitable American perseverance" story (IraqSlogger)
(6) The "No real American defeat, but a civil war" story (James D. Fearon, Foreign Affairs magazine)

As you can see, these come in pairs. Cobban and Cole mirror each other, and compared to the two other story-pairs, their stories are mainly the elaboration of a desired and desirable outcome, with reality subordinated to that. They are the "good-outcome" stories, suitable for polite discourse.

By contrast, the "Sunnis fight back" story is part of the mainstream reporting in the big US-allied Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, while the "augmented catastrophe" story builds on that and warns of a new regional conflagration that could well result from this sectarian approach. Unlike the Cobban-Cole narratives, these Arabic-language stories deal not with what has supposedly been accomplished, or soon will be (US defeat and withdrawal; a stable Shiite-led regime in Baghdad), but rather with what is to come. And since they include accounts of what is actually happening in the region, they get no English-language coverage, or only very out-of-context.

Finally, there are the IraqSlogger and the PoliticalScience narratives. If Cobban and Cole tout some kind of ultimate victory for the edification of the left or whoever, these, by contrast, represent ideology for the rest of America. Fearon's story, which was told in another version in his congressional testimony a few months ago, and is now refurbished in the white-shoe Foreign Affairs magazine, is that the Iraq conflict must be understood not as a resistance to foreign occupation, but rather as a civil war, and this means that the American military will have a positive (although diminished) role to play in trying to mitigate the damage and help bring about the best possible outcome in the circumstances. IraqSlogger is the retail version of that, with its denigration of Iraqi participants in the conflict, and its highlighting of American exploits.

In terms of English-language coverage, there is no meat in the sandwich. Eventual stability under Shiite rule (Cole) and definitive US withdrawal (Cobban), while they are very nice ideas, they mean not paying any attention to the next phase of the US-runs-Iraq story, once Bush "runs out of patience" with Maliki. For Cole, it is unthinkable that the SCIRI establishment would be in any meaningful way dislodged from its current position, and for Cobban, it is politically incorrect to discuss any new government, coup-generated or otherwise, that isn't based on the idea of a definitive US withdrawal. So their story ends with this (probably illusory) US withdrawal/Shiite-led stability.

Instead of continuing the story of American involvement in Iraq and the Mideast along the lines of the Arabic-language coverage, with careful attention to the Arab and American efforts to create a Sunni "moderate alliance" against an alleged Shiite threat, the risks involved in that, and what it means for Iraq, that story is for all intents and purposes abandoned, and in its place we have a return to the comic-book tales of public-spirited Americans fighting evil, under the heading of civil war in Iraq.

I started "missing links" about six months ago, with the idea that a person self-taught in Arabic, could by merely pointing to highlights in the Arabic-language coverage, to some degree improve the quality of the discussion. Not much to show for it so far.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put on a sitemeter: maybe you'll be gratified to see who's stopping by (even if they don't leave a comment).

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You were doing great until the last paragraph. Were did that come from? I thought you were on your way to one of your best postings. And then...

When you started missinglinks did you really think you could affect the egos of Cole and Cobban or the editors of things like Iragslogger? If so you were deluding yourself. If on the other hand you had the goal of bring a fresh perspective on Iraq through the analysis of documents, than you have been wildly successful.

I hope you are just having a ‘bad-hair day.’ And you will get on with what you do very well and is very valuable – finding common themes in divers documents.

1:20 PM  
Blogger badger said...

"bad hair day", very amusing.

As far as I am concerned, my friend anonymous, every day is a bad hair day. But I understand what you are saying

2:03 PM  
Blogger D. Ghirlandaio said...

" If on the other hand you had the goal of bring a fresh perspective on Iraq through the analysis of documents, than you have been wildly successful."

And if no one listens?
That was Badger's point.

I'd say keep writing, but only as if it were a hobby, to amuse yourself. That will allow you to keep things in perspective and think clearly even as everything around you turns to shit. The price is that you won't be able to care that much what happens. The best observers are not the best people.
I'l envy you if you can pull that off.

s. edenbaum

4:14 PM  
Blogger annie said...

I'd say keep writing as if very dedicated readers are stopping by daily to get some of the only decent english language coverage of the ME news sources available on the web.

so much of what is available here in the msm is just speculation or propaganda. the US is still conducting raids on the press in iraq.

we need you. don't despair.

4:39 PM  
Blogger dancewater said...

I hope you keep writing and doing what you are doing.

Here's where I think (realistically) this all to be headed - into a Sunni Arab vs. Shi'a Persian major, major, major war.

Mostly provoked by the USA.

I think bush's goal is "let's you and him fight" all across the Middle East and a good deal of the rest of the oil-rich world.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey buddy, I have a feeling your readership is larger than you think. You are providing a unique and "critical" service and you need to keep it up.

Just witnessing Juan Cole parsed is worth the trip and your translation of the arab press is very useful.

I drop by every day and will sorely dissappointed if you disappear.

9:10 PM  
Blogger gordon said...

Please keep going and don't get too depressed. I am a total ignoramus who stumbled upon your site and can't remember how. But it is invaluable.

I used to read Cole, whom I think is well intentioned; but he has become a bit pompous. More than that though, he appears as a patriot who still cannot grasp that the US invasion was of evil intent from the start. In truth, he is a left leaning Democrat who happens to speak a few languages but has little else going for him and certainly nothing in the way of insight beyond his made in USA goggles.

Thank you for your work. It is appreciated by many more than you probably imagine.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Badger you are doin ga great job. I stop by every day and I refer to you in comments in other blogs as often as is appropriate.

When Allawi takes power will be the moment the rest of the blogosphere will be unable to ignore your writings any further.

Thanks for all your hard work.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I know that Hot Air linked to you at least twice, Badger, 'cause I emailed AllahPundit the links.

Sorry, can't recall which posts.

3:29 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Cole came off my blogroll a long time ago. Before the day's out YOU will be ON it. 'Nuff said, Badger?

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday, I posted this comment on “Iraq Today.” However, after reading Badger’s post regarding Cole and Richard’s comment on the same, I thought it might be interesting here. I hope the double posting is not a problem!
Sunni & Shia differences

With no more information about the Iraqi civil war than the combatant’s respective Sunni and Shia Islamic sects, it is reasonable to conclude, as most media presentations have, that the war is fought for theological reasons. Today J. Cole tacitly perpetuates this theological hypothesis by linking to a site that, based in large part on his authority, perpetuates the religious war idea.

Cole links to Barbara Karkabi’s article “Muhammad's death precipitated Sunni-Shia rift - A split that is 1,300 years old.” In that article Ms. Karkabi reports the religious differences between Sunni and Shia Islam. After reading the article the reader can reasonably infer that these two groups are inflicting unimaginable violence on each other because of differences about the legitimate successor to Mohammad and other theological issues. However, if one gives pause, is it not hard to wonder if in fact so much hatred can come from 7 th century religious issues? If so, one might consider what another historian of the Sunni Shia split had to say on the subject.

A. J. Toynbee writing in the early part of the 20 th century also noted the theological differences. However, he writes: “By 1300 A. D. the entire political and psychological situation which had first evoked and then sustained Shi’ism in the early centuries of Islam had now passes away; and Shi’ism [at the time] was deemed to have become an anachronism…a lingering relic of the past on the test of numbers…by the end of the 13 th century, the motives which had evoked and sustained the movement during the first three centuries of Islam had been put out of action by radical changes of circumstance. The personal appeal to right the wrongs of the disinherited and persecuted House of Ali had lost much of its effect…” Note he refers to ‘political and psychological situations” that “evoked and sustained Shi’ism” – not theological.

Then 1500c Isma’il Shah came on to the scene: “He aimed at nothing less than the military conquest of the entire Iranic World and he proposed to use his power in order to impose the faith of the Shia minority of the Iranic Society upon the consciences of the Sunni majority by sheer force…Between 1500 and 1508 (the year of his conquest of Baghdad), Isma’il eliminated all power and principalities that challenged his mastery…”

In sum, if one expands their reading of history beyond mass media and J. Cole, they will find authoritative evidence that the historic conflict between Sunni and Shia is more one of post 16 th century issues having to do with material economic/political empire building than 7 th century spiritual theological issues about Mohammad’s progeny.

4:45 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Thank you all with a big thankyou. Having a group of thoughtful readers is really the whole point, so I'm going to take everyone's implicit advice and shut up and get back to work. However, I am going to try and come up with a rhythm for posting a little less frequently. Today, Sunday, for instance, I'm going to take the day off...basking in people's nice comments...

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Veronica said...


I read all your postings. There have been times when I was out of town and had no access to a computer but as soon as I returned, I caught up with my reading of all your posts.

I agree with your assessment of the "story-lines that are woven into the English-language coverage of Iraq". There also are the most damaging, constant mainstream news media, the propaganda mouthpiece of Bush-Cheney regime.

Your blog helps us gain knowledge which we pass to others. You are having a positive impact on readers and are helping us make a difference with people's views around us.

We need more of your postings, not less. O.K., you may take Sunday off, if you wish - ha-ha.

12:32 PM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

I think your readership is farlarger than you think. I read you via rss reader for example and know many who do likewise.

It's great you're going to give yourself time off. I suggest you declare all Sundays as "Be nice to badger" days from here on in and ... be nice to yourself.

I do have one question however ummmmm speaking as a gorilla shouldn't that "be bad pelt day?"

(Ducks and runs ..... )

12:58 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Sy Hersh is not the authority on "the redirection." Badger is.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redirection? Bush and the neocons are allied with the same criminals as always.
I look foward to reading your blog. I count on it.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Judith Weingarten said...

Go to
and get a free counter: this one will also map the locations of your readers (which will, I think, surprise and please you).

Juan Cole, unfortunately, has succumbed to the typical academic fault that comes with fame: no more rigorous criticism of his own opinions. It's a problem, but he's still a lot better than the mass media. Keep on blogging, Badger, so we have the tools to judge both in our own hands.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous mike sola said...

From an almost-self-taught reader of the Arabic press, I think you are doing a great job of bringing the views and analysis that we are missing in the Western press to light.


PS: I have once again taken off the shelf Volume 2 of the Daoud book on reading standard Arabic, which I bought in Beirut in 1970.

3:23 AM  
Blogger JHM said...

I don't want to start an argument unless somebody else is seriously interested in maintaining the contrary, but it does seem to me that Slogger City is not well described by talking about

The "Indomitable American perseverance" story (IraqSlogger) . . .


. . . the Iraq conflict must be understood not as a resistance to foreign occupation, but rather as a civil war, and this means that the American military will have a positive (although diminished) role to play in trying to mitigate the damage and help bring about the best possible outcome in the circumstances. IraqSlogger is the retail version of that, with its denigration of Iraqi participants in the conflict, and its highlighting of American exploits.

Their press summarizer, "Amer Mohsen," suddenly went around the bend and out of sight this morning, Tuesday 27 November, when he editorialized ("summitorialized"?) as follows:

[T]he Iraqi academic Falih ‘Abd al-Jabbar wrote an article in the government-owned Al-Sabah al-Jadeed warning against the flight of the urban middle class from Iraq. The emigration of the educated and the skilled from the country, ‘Abd al-Jabbar argued, follows a more basic need than economic opportunity or future prospects, instead, middle-class Iraqis are leaving in order to save their lives.

‘Abd al-Jabbar believes that this loss is irreparable, since most of the émigrés will probably never return. The analysis takes a more sinister approach when ‘Abd al-Jabbar establishes a formula of “quality vs. quantity” among Iraqis. The major problematic for ‘Abd al-Jabbar is that “authentically urban” Iraqis are being replaced by “rural” ones who are now flooding the cities. These newcomers, whom the author refers to as “the marginal and migrant groups,” carry in them the seeds of social ills, they are “pre-modern”, their society is “closed,” “hierarchical” and “has a strong tendency towards violence,” according to ‘Abd al-Jabbar.

Aside from the classist generalizations contained in the argument (whether regarding the “modernity” of city-dwellers, or the destructive effects of rural-to-urban migration), the author disregards the fact that most cities in the Global South have witnessed the same dynamics in terms of a sharp rise in the urban population; what distinguishes one experience from another is not the “quality” of urban residents, but the conditions in which they are integrated into society, and the quality of the state that is charged with building their social and educational infrastructure. Most importantly, such an analysis that “ranks” the “quality” of the population allows us to blame the spread of murderous sectarianism and increased violence on the sociological make-up of Iraq, and prevents us from investigating the institutions of political patronage that were built over the last years, fixing the livelihood and political identity of Iraqis –- almost exclusively -- around their sectarian belongings.


M. Mohsen is certainly out for Dr. ‘Abd al-Jabbár's scalp, but if either of these two is a fan of "American perseverance," isn't it the sociologist rather than the slogger?

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is my first visit to your site, via a link from Rootless Cosmopolitan (Tony Karon), and I have to say I am very, very impressed by your writing and analysis. I plan on coming back regularly. So, let me add my voice to that of your other readers and ask you to continue the great work. You know we cannot get this stuff elsewhere.


8:21 PM  
Anonymous Barkley Rosser said...


Since it appears that you are looking for some support, feeling frustrated that the big dogs are not paying attention when you bark at them, I will throw mine in also. Have been following you pretty regularly since Seth Edenbaum brought you up on maxspeak where I co-blog, so know a bit about these frustrations. I do not always agree with what you say, but you are providing a very useful and informative platform, so I encourage you to keep it up. You are almost certainly having more influence/impact than you think you are, and although I do not know, I suspect your readership is a lot more well informed than that of most blogs dealing with the Middle East.

I will confess to having taken a few pokes at you, as well as citing you favorably, although without linking, shame on me, on maxspeak, although I think I did so at least once. I do think you are a bit overly harsh on Juan Cole and have said so. I do not see him looking at some pollyanna Shi'i middle class paradise just over the rainbow, nor do I see that anti-Sunni animus in him that you see, although you did catch him the other day in that mistranslation that reversed the meaning of the views towards the southern political initiative in Iraq, which was more about intra-Shi'i conflicts anyway. Cole looks pretty darned gloomy to me, with civil war high on the prospect, if in fact not already what is going on in his view (I have seen him more than once post things to that effect), although gloom is fully justified whatever one's political perspective on Iraq is. Looks like a lot of people are still going to be dying in the upcoming future who would not be doing so if we had stayed the hell out of there.

Where one might get this view of Cole (I do not follow the others you categorized closely enough to comment on your labelings of them), is that he has argued that if one is going to have a democratically elected in some way or other regime in Iraq, at least for the near term future it will almost certainly lead to governments dominated by theocratically oriented Shi'i parties. The Shi'a are the majority group and the religiously oriented ones were suppressed by Saddam. So, this is their moment, and it will take them failing outside of the current war context for the voters of Iraq to turn to somebody else, particularly a secular Shi'i like Allawi. (Of course somebody like him or Chalabi could come to power through a military coup, perhaps backed by the US, but that would be the end of the democratic experiment.)

Indeed, much of the reporting that both you and Juan Cole cover has to do with all these intra-Shi'i struggles, Dawa versus SCIRI versus Fadhila versus the Sadrists, and so on. In that regard, my one clear disagreement with your current post is your remark about the overthrow of the SCIRI establishment. They are not the dominant party of the current coalition, and while Allawi was making more noise recently, to little avail, as both you and Juan noted, the more serious near term rival for being PM is probably SCIRI's al-Hakim. For some time to come the power struggle over who rules Iraq will be one between these sectarian Shi'i parties. SCIRI does seem to be the biggest of these parties in Iraq, so perhaps you were referring to a coming weakening of that position, perhaps in favor of Fadhila or the Sadrists?

If you need to have the straw man of Cole being overly egotistical and you will be the person to correct his mistakes and hold his feet to the fire, then go ahead and believe in the straw man. You are providing informed and insightful commentary, and Juan Cole certainly does make mistakes and screw up from time to time. Might as well be you keeping the closest tabs on him, since you clearly are quite capable. There was a time when he was the lonely voice crying in the wilderness, but now that he has become almost respectable, a voice of the semi-establishment, he needs a voice crying in the wilderness over his blunders and misdirections.

I agree with whomever it was who pointed out that the Shi'i revival began with the Safavid dynasty in Persia. That of course faded quite a bit later with the pathetic Qajars. The more recent revival is more recent, the peculiar historical fact that the first modern Islamist revolution was in a Shi'i-dominated country, Iran in 1979, unless one wants to count Pakistan in 1947, the homeland of modern Islamic economics. But the early regimes there were not so theocratically Islamist of the form we see now, even if the nation was founded to be a predominantly Muslim state. Of course the demographic surge in some countries by the underclass Shi'a has also fed this sense of rising up, notably in Lebanon, with the Shi'a also a ruled-over by Sunnis majority in dinky Bahrain (I know, they are not a majority in Lebanon, just a plurality who got screwed in the 1943 political position handout).

Anyway, badger, keep up the good work and don't get too down, at least not about your own efforts. There are enough things going on out there in the world that are depressing enough as it is. We must all keep our efforts up to try to fix it, even if those efforts are in vain ultimately. And, some of us will be keeping our eyes on you as well, :-).

Barkley Rosser

6:28 AM  

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