Wednesday, April 07, 2004

No -ists, ands, or buts

It must be great to be William Safire. The world so clearly laid out in front of you, easily categorized, and -ist-ified.

I think I've used the phrase "slack-jawed incredulity" before. This is another moment for such an expression. In today's op-ed, Safire turns his attention to the escalating violence in Iraq as he considers this new "two-front" war. It's so rich with targets, in fact, that I think I'll return to an old way of commenting: the thread. My comments in blue , his in plain. It'll be fun, read along. Warning - I'm feeling a bit feisty today - too much to do, not enough time to do it - and too much of actual import going on the world past my desk:

April 7, 2004
Two-Front Insurgency

WASHINGTON — In light of about a dozen American combat deaths yesterday, we should keep in mind our historic bet: that given their freedom from a savage tyrant, the three groups that make up Iraq could, with our help, create a rudimentary democracy that would turn the tide against terror.

In the northern group, we can see success: rival Kurdish parties have come together to work within an Iraqi parliament when elections come. "Kirkuk is our Jerusalem," they say, and that oil-rich area — long the center of Iraqi Kurdistan, before Saddam's ethnic cleansing — should be their regional capital in unified Iraq. [Quick note: how much peace of mind do you get from one emerging democracy comparing itself to a city in another violence-free democracy? Oh wait, Israel still has problems too, doesn't it. I get the meaning, but if you look at it another way - not all good.]

In the center group — the Sunnis, who profited most from Saddam's dictatorship — we see mostly a sullen population, its Baathist diehards allied with an affiliate of Al Qaeda longing for regime restoration. There is where the atrocities of Falluja were committed in the fiercest Sunni challenge to liberation. [Another quick note: "sullen." Sullen is a word best used to describe losing prom queens and jilted lovers. Use it in a sentence: "She sat sullenly in the gymnasium corner, thinking how Jonathan did her wrong." I'd think Sunnis are a little past "sullen."]

In Baghdad and the South, long-oppressed Shiites — 60 percent of Iraq's population — have the most to gain from democracy and reconstruction. But they are now split. A minority of terrorists led by the firebrand Moktada al-Sadr, under Iran's influence, are challenging the quietist Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. That ayatollah is keen to protect his following by complaining about the liberation and wrings his hands about Sadr, who has openly declared alliance with Hamas and Hezbollah and war on the West.

So here's the first problem: Safire does well by identifying and distinguishing the 3 Iraqi groups - but doesn't seem to think there's going to be a problem getting these guys on the same page - let alone same map or flag. FOP Jim Pinkerton does a great job explaining the need and logic behind dividing Iraq along it's natural lines and no longer forcing together people who've been at each others throats for thousands of years. They aren't acting in a unified method now - do you really think they'll start falling in love the moment we help them pick out carpet for the first Iraqi parliament chamber? I'm thinking no.

All this means that we are now fighting an active two-front insurgency. That calls for a change in our strategy. Up to now we have tried to hunker down and train Iraqis to handle security, lest we appear to be nasty "occupiers." That only emboldened the Sunni terrorists and Shiite Iranists. One anti-American confidently told another Iraqi with cool nonpartisanship about ousting U.S. presidents: "We'll do to Bush what we did to Carter."

So, the word "Iraqi" is assumed in the statement "One anti-American" right? And I never knew that's why Carter lost. I thought it was that swamp rabbit attack. What kind of irony-meter readings did you get from "cool nonpartisanship?"

But now that the Saddam restorationists and Islamic fundamentalists have made their terrorist move on both fronts, we can counterattack decisively.

-ist Fest '04!

"In war, resolution." Having announced we would pacify rebellious Baathists in Falluja, we must pacify Falluja. Having designated the Shiite Sadr an outlaw, we must answer his bloody-minded challenge with whatever military force is required and with fewer casualties in the long run.

But we must impress on the minds of millions of Shiites that there is no free ride to freedom. We should keep the heat on Shiite ditherers by holding fast to the June 30 deadline for the delivery of sovereignty to Iraq's three groups. It's less about the U.S. election than demanding that Iraqi leaders and U.N. facilitators live up to their promises.

If there's anything I hate, it's a dithering Shiite. Though that may be the name of my new rock band. And of course it's not about the U.S. election. None of this is. None at all. Pay no attention to those men behind the curtain at the CPA. And remember this, above all else, they only hate us because we're free.

We should couple this with a temporary increase in troop strength, if necessary: we will pull alongside, not pull out or pull alone. We should take up the Turks on their offer of 10,000 troops to fight on our side against two-front terror. The Kurds, who have patched things up with Ankara and know which side of the two-front war they and we are on, would withdraw their ill-considered earlier objection.

We should break the Iranian-Hezbollah-Sadr connection in ways that our special forces know how to do. Plenty of Iraqi Shiites, who are Arab, distrust the Persian ayatollahs in Iran and can provide actionable intelligence about a Syrian transmission belt.

I'm sorry, can you be more specific about what you want done here? I think I feel some preemption coming on, but I'm not sure . . . .

And we should coolly confront the quaking quagmirists here at home.

Two points for alluring alliteration. But minus ten for pandering propaganda.

Does Ted Kennedy speak for his Massachusetts junior senator, John Kerry, when he calls our effort to turn terror-supporting despotism into nascent liberty in Iraq "Bush's Vietnam"?


Do the apostles of retreat realize how their defeatism, magnified by Arab media, bolsters the morale of the insurgents and increases the nervousness of the waverers?

-isms galore. Apostles of retreat. It's holy week - time for fun with religious allusions.

Does our coulda-woulda-shoulda crowd consider how it dismays the majority of Iraqis wondering if they can count on our continued presence as they feel their way toward freedom?

These are the times that try men's souls, and — as Tom Paine's enlightened acquaintance, Mary Wollstonecraft, would have added — women's, too. This is the crisis; we'll come though it.

And in left field: Mary Wollstonecraft! Where did she come from? And, honestly, if women were in charge, we wouldn't even BE there - at least not like that. We're more the party of life than preemptive death, thanks. Mary Wollstonecraft - what is up with that?

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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