CNN’s shell game

CNN’s Anderson Cooper introduces his latest segment from Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware by claiming that Ware is “keeping them honest for us tonight.” But Ware’s report raises the question, who is keeping him honest?
Ware starts out okay:

Now, physically, can you pull troops out by April of next year? Sure. You can pull anything out by April next year, but only if you’re willing to pay the cost. I mean, it could be a bloodbath by Christmas. And it would be an ignominious withdrawal for the United States. Anderson. . .

Perhaps sensing that Ware is off message, Cooper prompts him to talk about how bad the political situation is. Picking up steam, Ware then turns to the issue of sectarian violence, which is substantially down in Baghdad where the surge has focused, and down somehwat in Iraq as a whole. Ware seeks to minimize this accomplisment:

And let’s not forget, say here in Baghdad, hundreds of thousands of people have left in the past 12 months. So, there’s fewer people to be caught in the middle. Neighborhoods themselves are much more homogeneous than they were. They have essentially been ethnically cleansed. So, now the neighborhoods are Sunni and are Shia.
And, also, don’t forget, America is now allowing predominantly Sunni neighborhoods to maintain their own militias here in the capital and some of the provinces. That means the police death squads can’t get to them. So, really, has the sectarian violence abated? Not exactly. And is that directly related to al Qaeda? No, because that ignores the fact that al Qaeda’s not the only one involved in the sectarian violence.

Ware’s first point, that sectarian violence is down for reasons other than the effort of our troops, is both implausble and irrelevant. It’s implausible because Sunnis had been leaving Shia neighborhoods (and visa versa) for many months prior to the surge. Yet the decline in sectarian violence coincides roughly with the onset of the surge. It’s irrelevant because a sharp decline in sectarian violence will improve life in Baghdad, and our overall chance for success in Iraq, regardless of its cause.
Ware’s comment that the decrease in sectarian violence is not “directly related to al Qaeda” is also irrelevant and a bit bizarre. To be sure, the goals of reducing sectarian violence in Baghdad and defeating al Qaeda are distinct, though related. But the evidence is we are making progress in both areas — dramatic progress against al Qaeda in Anbar province and slower progress against sectarian violence in Baghdad.
Ware thus plays a shell game to the extent he suggests that our efforts with respect to sectarian violence aren’t succeeding because these efforts may not be having a direct impact on al Qaeda. Each effort should be judged in terms of its effectiveness in achieving its own goal, not its effectiveness in achieving the goal of the other effort.
By playing this game, Ware heightens the prospects for the “ignominious withdrawal” and possible “bloodbath” he warns us of.
Via Real Clear Politics.
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