Friday, April 13, 2007


No Balloons for Biden

Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette already took Senator Joe Biden to task over the latest of his usual foolishness (Washington Post, April 12), but I noted yesterday that Fred Kagan did so as well over at the Weekly Standard.

Biden, readers may recall, recently fell upon what he views as the inevitable partitioning of Iraq into its respective sectarian parts, ethnic and religious, as the answer to all questions about Iraq. Biden was long been one of those lesser lights who has had to seek attention in the shadow of his more prominent peers.

Biden, ever lugubrious in speechmaking, nevertheless has been much less adept at politicking, at least as measured by media attention. I am sure he thinks he’s stumbled upon the winning differentiator among his Democratic Presidential rivals, by seizing as strategy, the net result he thinks will happen anyway. This will make him look wise and prescient in one pseudo-policy, or so he must think.

The problem is, Biden gets it wrong, according to Kagan. As demonstrated visually by the inapt metaphor of the “water balloon” of our current surge efforts in Iraq, Biden wears only a lip gloss deep comprehension of the situation in Iraq. Here’s the full package of Biden’s ignorance, summarized by Kagan:

* As violence has gone down in Baghdad, it is rising in the belt around Baghdad: "when we squeeze the water balloon in one place, it bulges somewhere else."

* Muqtada al Sadr, leader of the extremist Mahdi Army, has not been seen, but "he has been heard, rallying his followers with anti-American messages and encouraging his thugs to take on American troops in the south. Intelligence experts believe his militia is simply waiting out the surge."

* Closing markets has precluded some car bombs, but terrorists have simply changed tactics and now use suicide vests.

* In Tal Afar, a truck bomb hit the Shiite community and sparked retaliatory Shiite attacks.

Kagan takes on these “misperceptions” point by point.

Biden fails, or chooses not to recognize that bringing a fight more directly to an enemy will necessarily increase the intensity of the fighting. (That’s okay, Joe, you and most of your colleagues haven’t served in the military, and may not really get all that fightin’ business.) What Biden sees as the “bulge of the balloon,” Kagan rightly identifies as expanding areas of operations, into which GEN Petraeus and his commanders are immediately sending forces to exploit what are acknowledged as initial successes.

Kagan summarizes for the military-challenged:

Attacking the enemy increases violence in war. Indeed, it's often the only way to attain an important objective like defeating al Qaeda, an objective that seems to be, for the first time, coming nearer to our grasp.

Posturing critics like Biden profess the goal of fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq as not just critical, but the only objective justified for our military presence in the country. And yet, when we do just what the critics have called for, guess what? We’re still not doing it right.

In responding to Biden’s much belated aggrandizement of al Sadr, Kagan notes the marked change in Sadr’s status among his purported followers, and the (relatively) weak response of his recent call to protest – the majority of the several thousand protesters were of the “rent a mob” variety, bussed in by Sadr from elsewhere.

Kagan refutes Biden’s claim that the Mahdi Army is “biden’” their time (apologies to Greyhawk, I couldn’t resist it either):

Biden's "intelligence experts" are also wrong that the Mahdi Army is simply lying low. Aggressive U.S. operations throughout Baghdad, including Sadr City, have capture or killed more than 700 Mahdi Army fighters, including many key figures. U.S. forces have swept repeatedly through Sadr-dominated neighborhoods in Baghdad, collecting weapons and intelligence and establishing a Joint Security Station in the middle of Sadr City. That's not lying low. It's losing--losing power, cohesion, and credibility.

No military reader of MILBLOGS would need any reminder that enemies change tactics, especially when their objectives are thwarted or they are defeated with ones used previously. So to Biden’s point about changed tactics, Kagan states dismissively:

The terrorists do, indeed, change their tactics constantly. That's what enemies do. It is the most naïve possible view of war to say that because the enemy has changed his approach in response to effective actions we have taken, we are being defeated.

Biden notes a recent attack in Tal Afar and what he sees as sectarian reprisals, yet reveals himself entirely unknowing of the true significance of recent changes in tribal, ethnic, and faction allegiances.

Here’s Kagan’s response in its entirety:

The story of Tal Afar that Biden presents is incomplete. Yes, there was a horrific truck bomb intended to re-spark sectarian violence that, the senator's beliefs notwithstanding, had been kept at a very low simmer despite the withdrawal of most U.S. forces. In response, some Shiites, including members of the local police, carried out reprisal attacks. But the violence did not cycle out of control. Instead, the local Iraqi Army and other police units rapidly intervened to bring it under control. The Iraqi government acted promptly and effectively and prevented Tal Afar, or Ninewah province in general, from exploding in response to this terrible tragedy. Ninewah is, in fact, quite an astonishing success story despite this attack. A single American combat brigade holds the entire province with the help of around 18,000 Iraqi Police and 20,000 Iraqi Army soldiers. A sole U.S. battalion is in Mosul, the provincial capital and a city of 1.8 million people. When violence flared in Tal Afar, Mosul did not explode either, despite the paucity of U.S. forces. The Iraqis are increasingly, if imperfectly, controlling even dangerous areas in their own land, supported in some cases by very small numbers of Americans. Why does Senator Biden think that's a bad thing?

Biden wants anything in Iraq other than what most obviously scares him. He shares the same fear with the rest of the Surrender Democrats, and even a couple of Republicans.

These same have spent 4 years indulging themselves in incessant, partisan, unhelpful, and anything but constructive politicking against this President and his “war of choice.” Finally, a chastened President Bush, his new Secretary of Defense, and new (capable and aggressive) military leaders on the ground, undertake the Counterinsurgency fight long urged by critics and demanded by Democrats.

At this critical turning point, I wonder if the possibility of success wakes anyone up at night in cold sweats?

As anyone will tell you, squeeze hard enough on that water balloon, it’s sure to explode. And then you’ll likely end up all wet.

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