Monday, April 21, 2008

Info-ops in real time

There was a reason Bush thought this current period of time was to be a "defining moment" in his Iraq adventure: it was to be the summing-up and fruition of the year-and-a-half process since his meeting with Maliki in Amman in November 2006 (see the famous Hadley memo for the briefing): Sidelining/eradication of the (Shiite, anti-occupation) Mahdi Army; and in so doing, earning of the support of Arab nations and groups for the Maliki administration ("strong leader", "curbs Shia extremists" and so on).

And one of the celebratory moments was to have been the meeting of the countries neighboring Iraq (and some others) in Kuwait, starting tomorrow. (Attendance at that meeting was the primary reason for Condi being in the region; her excursion to Baghdad was unexpected). This was to have been a celebration of the fact that Arab regions, now more respectful of the Maliki administration, would announce the opening of embassies in the Green Zone, and other fraternal support.

The problem is that the crush-Sadr/earn-Sunni-respect program didn't go as planned. Violence escalated. The Green Zone is under daily rocket and/or mortar attack, and Arab regimes are less likely than ever to open embassies there. Moreover, the story that fighting Sadr equals fighting Iran hasn't really taken hold of the Arab-regime hearts and minds either.

The most important thing to bear in mind is the nature of the original plan--crush or neutralize the Mahdi Army and thereby draw Sunni groups and nations into alliance with Maliki. How far would you have to go in order to achieve the first objective? Could it include risking civil war? And the secondary point is: What will be the actual nature of the Sunni Arab support you would obtain even if you could crush the Mahdi Army. Because obviously it will tend to be the worst kind, appealing to sectarian animosity instead of appealing to actual common desires to live together in peace and fraternity.

In terms of the neighboring countries and other Sunni-based regimes in the region, it is the that first point--suppressing the Mahdi Army--that is the problem. The crush-Mahdi program, if it gained an inch in terms of the Maliki-the-leader meme, it lost a mile in terms of having destroyed the semblance of improved security, including in the Green Zone. That is the situation that Condi will be facing tomorrow in Kuwait, where we can expect more comic-rhetoric from her about Arab solidarity, and little else.

In terms of domestic Sunni-group support for Maliki, the story is more complicated, but we should remember that it wasn't supposed to be complicated. Maliki-the-leader--Maliki the fearless combatant of Iranian influence--was supposed to inspire the other groups: that's what leadership is. So that didn't happen either.

But the point about Bush strategies seems to be this: There is a "Plan A" to influence people by military force to do what you want, and behind it there is always a "Plan B" which is to continue and escalate that military force, right up to and including civil war, in the event that Plan A doesn't work out. In this case, Basra and Sadr City, the lack of any outpouring of Sunni Arab support, and finally Moqtada's weekend ultimatum, have shown that Plan A didn't work. So it will be Plan B. A defining moment to be sure.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, something unusual happened yesterday in the "progressive" food-chain, in connection with this defining moment. At the top of the chain, Marc Lynch linked to a wire-service story about the Sadr ultimatum, adding only the sneering comment: "Nothing to see here". And Juan Cole gave the Sadr statement a short sentence, followed by another one about a Sunni-takfiiri attack piece, as if these were two peas in a pod. That left Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly without any correct-line source to link to, so he naturally resorted to quoting the New York Times, to the effect it was possible Iran had abandoned Sadr. Finally, at the very bottom of the food-chain, Matt Yglesias, linking to Kevin, opined: "Meanwhile, it seems that the Iranians have decided to cut Muqtada loose and fully line up behind the ISCI government. That counts as good news, I'd say..." confusing at least one of his readers, who noted that a couple of short weeks ago, Matt was in Moqtada-good/Maliki-bad mode. Suddenly, it was: "Moqtada the Iranian puppet whom Iran has abandoned." Elaborating, really, on the theme: "Nothing to see here".

These strange intimations of info-ops happened on the same day that the NYT, after six years of saying nothing about it, finally managed to put together a lengthy piece on the former info-ops: How the Pentagon, corrupt retired generals and the TV networks worked together to whitewash the military/torture operations.

There was one big-circulation progressive site that was paying attention:

Siun at Firedoglake posted last night an informative piece about what Sadr actually said, and about what is actually going on in Sadr City and elsewhere, and there was an active discussion.

Elsewhere, however, it was "Nothing to see here". Which seems strange, given the fact that this was supposed to be the time of fruition of a year-and-a-half US policy for bringing into being a stable, generally-accepted government in the Green Zone. And when the full implications of that policy for civil-war creation and mayhem become apparent, the left is told: "Nothing to see here".


Blogger James said...

"supposed to be the time of fruition"? that's not how it's been portrayed in the American media. That time was supposed to have been the first Petraeus/Crocker hearing in September. This round has barely elicited any major notice. Whether you want to blame that on clever media strategy and narrative-building by the Bush administration, or sloppy reporting by the Mainstream Media (aside from Tom Ricks, they are rarely competent war/defense/etc. reporters), or some combination of those or other things, that's your choice. But yeah, the public narrative nowadays has been very confused. none of this "culmination" you speak of

10:19 AM  
Blogger badger said...

What was supposed to be special about the current period of time (March 25 through the present), in the minds of Bush and his allies--"defining moment" (Bush); "Baghdad political spring" (Talabani); opportunity not to be missed (Condi)--is the fact that the Maliki government was finally making the big effort and going after the Mahdi Army, and this was supposed to gladden the hearts of certain Sunni groups because it was supposed to show impartial "leadership" on the part of Maliki (or to show the Badr Corp willing to kill Shiites too, if you prefer to look at it that way).

The big effort was supposed to be rewarded by the big payoff, with Sunni parties lining up to join the government, and Gulf states jostling one another for the best spots for their embassies in the Green Zone. This was the hoped-for "fruition".

Instead it is turning into another round of fitna. My point about info-ops is that this particular, specific time is a pretty important time in the history of this whole adventure, and just at this time we start getting this "nothing to see here"--"just an Iranian puppet abandoned by its sponsor"--meme.

11:16 AM  
Blogger annie said...

badger, i wanted to call you attention to The New Walls of Baghdad re your post The Gaza model in Sadr City. (i would have posted it on that thread but thought you might miss it)

somebodies listening.

also, siun is a real gem. fdl is very lucky to have her, she goes a long way towards bringing the truth about the war to a sometimes very uninformed blogisphere.

1:49 PM  
Blogger badger said...

where does she get the patience ?

4:30 PM  
Blogger annie said...

really, i have no idea. the comment section there would drive me nuts.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Matt Duss said...

Very interesting analysis.

Please email me:

8:09 AM  

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