Iraqi Pro’s and Con’s, and a Christmas Betrayal

Daniel Drezner has been thinking about the eventual withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, and Time magazine’s long look at the insurgency this week has him war-gaming Sunni motivations. Specifically, Drezner isn’t buying the assertions by some Sunnis that once the Americans set a timetable for withdrawal, they can begin to control their more unruly factions. He writes: “The one possibility of a U.S. withdrawal contributing to the Sunnis laying down their arms is if there’s some kind of grand bargain behind the scenes in which the Shiite parties basically pledge to keep their militias from engaging in any kind of a pogrom — but if I was Sunni, I’d take my chances playing cat-and-mouse with the U.S. military instead. Indeed, my strategy would be not to engage with U.S. forces at all, but do as much damage to Shia-predominant military units as possible.”

Speaking of Iraq, a couple bloggers seem to be finally catching on to George Packer’s recently released “The Assassins Gate,” where the author, a nominally pro-war liberal, recounts the intellectual foundations for the march to war, and the disastrous handling of the occupation. Henry Farrell from the group blog Crooked Timber just finished the book, and writes that although there’s “something quite troubling about the book’s rhetorical set-up…Anti-war people should read this book - it really does a terrific job of setting out the complexities of politics in Iraq. Pro-war leftists and liberals should read this book too, and reflect carefully on Packer’s documentation of how badly “democracy-building” was implemented in practice.”

Farrell’s critique revolves around Packer’s contention that “The Iraq War was always winnable; it still is.” Farrell responds that this is little more than “an apologia for a claim that is never directly defended - that the project of bringing democracy to Iraq could have worked if it had been executed more competently,” and that Packer fails to include the voices of the anti-war crowd “with anything approaching seriousness.”

Kevin Drum has also been reading the book, and makes a very un-bloggerly plea for commonsense and fairness when he writes that “I’ve seen a lot of lefty critics who have hammered Packer because he supported the war and, in their eyes, hasn’t been forthcoming enough about admitting he was wrong about that. Michael Hirsh led the charge here in these pages a couple of months ago. I have three words for these critics: get over yourselves. Perhaps someday we’ll ship Packer and his fellow liberal hawks off to reeducation camps and force tearful confessions of doctrinal error out of them, but for now partisans on both sides could do worse than admit that the world comes in shades of gray and neither success nor failure in Iraq was quite as preordained as you might think. A little bit of difficulty figuring out where you stand on the war isn’t quite the moral failing some seem to think it is.”

Finally, CJR Daily, in our willingness to stay out on thefront lines in the “War on Christmas,” looks to the Carpetbagger to fill us in on how the White House is breaking Bill O’Reilly’s heart. The ‘bagger reminds us of O’Reilly’s assertion last week that “philanthropist George Soros is ‘the moneyman’ behind a massive conspiracy to destroy Christmas” - and produces, tongue-in-cheek, compelling evidence that Soros may be even more powerful than even O’Reilly thought.

“First,” the Carpetbagger tells us, “First Lady Laura Bush wished everyone a “happy holidays” when the Christmas season began at the White House. Then the official White House holiday card was sent to supporters, over the signatures of the president and his wife, extending “best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005.

And as if these obviously anti-Christian affronts weren’t outrageous enough, a member of the White House press corps reminded Scott McClellan on Friday that the invitation to the annual Christmas party for the media now reads, “A Holiday Reception.” In a defense that will clearly irritate O’Reilly, McClellan said:

“This is a time to welcome people of all faiths, and all those who are celebrating the holiday season.””

Ouch. If O’Reilly, who thinks using “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” “is insulting to Christian America,” is correct, it appears that the evil Soros has two moles right inside the White House — the First Lady and Scott McClellan.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.