March 12, 2008

Rosen vs. Kagan on The Surge

But when you hang out with the Sunni militiamen, with the concerned local citizens, when you hang out with the Mahdi army, when you're not with the American soldiers, but when you're with them naturally, and then you ask them who they were and why they joined these forces, they're quite clear.

They're former Islamic Army of Iraq, former 1920 Revolution Brigade, former Army of the Mujahedeen, the Iraqi Resistance. Some of them are even former al-Qaida.

And, yes, they realize they have lost the war against the Americans and they have lost the war against the Shias. "And we have to get the Americans off of our backs so we can control some territory."

So now they have territory inside Baghdad and elsewhere and they can use this as a foothold. And they are attempting to become a political movement.

Honestly, could you possibly find two people with more diametrically opposed views on Iraq than Nir Rosen and Fred Kagan? Check out the fantastic debate between the two of them on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Abu Muqawama knows and greatly admires Nir, even if we disagree on U.S. policy in Iraq and pretty much everywhere else. The guys has spent years living in Iraq, interviewing Iraqis. His Iraqi Arabic is, at this point, quite excellent. As far as reporters go, Nir is to the Iraqi Sunni resistance movements what Michael Yon is to the U.S. military. Listening to Fred Kagan trying to contradict Nir on what is happening on the ground is, then, amusing.

Having said that, listen to Nir's own description of the situation in Iraq and try to form a coherent U.S. policy there. The irony is, despite what Nir says -- or perhaps because of what Nir says -- a continued U.S. presence seems necessary, as does a very patient COIN/state-building campaign.

Update: Charlie, here. A certified-smart-guy-drinking-buddy writes in:

I'm surprised he [Kagan] didn't accuse him [Rosen] of being pro-AQI and pro-Iranian at the same time, bc, you know, all those Islamo-fascists are working together.

I think Nir is a left-wing nut, but you can't challenge the fact that he has more "data" on the Iraqi side of things. And, you know, we should every once and a while listen to the other actors [i.e., CLCs] in the strategic environment. Kagan has been to Iraq for about a month total, doesn't speak Arabic and he never speaks to Iraqis--ever--without the U.S. military around. Many of these guys are trying to play us. Now, contra Kagan, I think MNF-I knows that and that the approach they are taking to the CLCs is the only one that makes sense regardless of whether their motivations are primarily defensive (with all this talk mere bluster) or offensive/expansionist motivations. But sheeeeeet, this is a big mess.