The op-ed coup d’etat between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi is only part of the juxtapositioning over the September Benchmark report and the non-progress it will be required to present:

Op-ed war of words no. 2: Quality and quantity
On July 30, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that Iraq was “A War We just might Win“, something that every Republican Presidential candidate has found interesting for the wrong reasons: that a so-called liberal paper would hold an editorial favorable to Mr. Bush’s goals.   

Immediately afterward, a long-time Iraq correspondent, Jonathan Finer, wrote in the Washington Post that these two, and indeed all, Green Zone Investigators (which includes Congresspersons, pundits, national security advisors, Presidential candidates, etc) never get out to see anything and their epiphanies are at best, suspect.   Like so many, Mr. Finer focussed on location, (ie, the Green Zone) but he also (at last) included the element of time, calling these “snapshot tours”.  No fact-finding mission of a week will tell you what is going on in Iraq, whether surrounded by BlackHawk helicopters and handlers or not. 

I’m sure of four things: a. that trips to Iraq serve as legitimizers to all who go, even for that three-day weekend.  b. that the feeling of fear that all of these day-trippers have as they go back and forth from the Green Zone feels real enough to introduce a kind of reality to the trip.  c. that people such as Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack get information that we don’t get, study Iraq often and with numbers. and d. I’ve also heard with my own ears Mr. Pollack talk publicly about this war as a debacle.  The editorial they cited was hedged: failure was still exceedingly possible, and despite the title of the op-ed, it did not really sound like a “win”.  And despite Mr. Finer’s characterization, it sounds as if the two Brookings trippers went past the Green Zone, to Mosul, Tal Afar, Ramadi, and the “Ghazni neighborhood of Baghdad.”  Of course, they did this in eight days, and I doubt even the complexity of the Ghazni neighborhood could be adequately assessed in that time.  But this is their view:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high.

I have a little sympathy for Mr. Hanlon and Mr. Pollack because it’s just horribly risky to write a positive-sounding op-ed, especially when there’s so much data to the contrary.  I’ve done it myself, and if you’re not a pessimist you look like a fool.  But unfortunately, this week the NYT ran an editorial from non-GZ Trippers, i.e., staff officers that have been hip-deep in Iraqi dust and sweat and blood for 15 months with the 82nd Airborne.

Being there, and being there:

As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)  

One of these NCO’s, SSgt. Murphy, currently has a head wound, and this underscores that sympathy ultimately should not go to the optimistic op-ed writer but to the practitioner.  And these practitioners slam the ivory-tower, marble-halled view:

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Thus, according to this last op-ed, the splintering in politics is well-represented with continued splinters in security.

More, and more:
Yesterday, John Warner R-Va, came back from a four-day trip to Iraq and said it’s time to start withdrawing troops, about 5,000 this year, in the hopes of prodding Iraq’s politicians to get going. 

The new August National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, that part of it which we are privileged to see, anyway, (10 pages, give me a break) is against troop withdrawals and yet offers not too much in the way of encouragement.   It is a supplement to the National intelligence Estimate from January/February 2007.

The op-ed wars continue. . . . .  the Benchmark Report will be presented on September 11, yes, 9/11.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. 

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