Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Increased Iraq Violence = Success

No, you didn't read the title wrong -- Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell really did say that the new fighting in Basra, in which US-backed government forces are battling Shiite militias, "looks as though it is a by-product of the success of the surge."

I suppose the description isn't surprising. After all, President Bush himself (or a speechwriter similarly unafflicted by a sense of irony) has the dubious distinction of having coined the term "catastrophic success" to describe the invasion of Iraq.

Presumably, were there no new fighting in Basra, the Pentagon would acknowledge the reduced violence was a sign of failure (insert facetious emoticon here). But of course, the Pentagon has previously claimed the opposite -- that reduced Shiite violence was a sign of success. In fact, "surge" supporters have so frequently trumpeted the success of the strategy precisely on reduced violence grounds that it's not even worth offering a link -- just Google "surge is working."

So here's the problem. If reduced violence = success and increased violence = success, then anything that happens in Iraq is success. If all this success meant we were going to leave Iraq, the doublespeak might have a silver lining. But of course it's intended to have the opposite effect. William Saletan pointed this out all the way back in 2004 in Slate.

What would happen to a CEO who told her board of directors that increased sales and decreased sales were both signs of success? To a doctor who assured a patient that both improving and worsening symptoms were signs of a return to health? To a stockbroker who counseled a client that he was getting richer whether his portfolio was up or down? And yet this is precisely the argument war proponents repeatedly make.

The irony is, a refusal to articulate actual and logical metrics by which success and failure can be measured is a certain prescription for... well, for failure. The double irony is that when the inevitable failure occurs, the people who caused and supported it will blame everyone but themselves.


Anonymous said...

Love your Blogs Barry. Always great to read your perspective on these things. Makes alot of sense.

Anonymous said...

Me too, i love your blog.
Very good talk!
You show us the incoherence of this war!
Many thanks.

Anonymous said...


Jackie said...

With this post I am also revealing my own little secret. LOL...I too am a blogger. Therefore the name Shinade......translation in Gaelic...Graciousness of God.

Hi Barry,
This is jackie from Myspace. I currently have my blog on a little vacation. Actually I am quite proud of it though. Believe it or not, my blog is in the top 5k with Technorati and I have PR rank of 4 with Google. Now, you know one of my secrets. Just Google

Now, my response to your post. Are any of us truly surprised? This plays right into Bush, McCain and the Republican's party's plan. I am very much the liberal and very cynical about the Bush/Cheney administration. In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the violience has a direct link to orders generated under cover within our own government.

But, statements like these and my investigation of Skull and Bones put my first and now deleted political blog under goverment scrutiny. I actually began receiving calls...caller ID=U.S. Government within 15 minutes of each new post. It is imperative that my husband hold an F.B.i. clearance to do his job. So I was effectively forced to shut-up.

So you may want to think twice before you post my views. As I am almost positive to be on a list somewhere as a non- friendly to this current administration.

Great post,

DarkSteven said...

The sickening fact is that the Iraq war, hopeless as it is, is easier to tout as a success than the economy.

Bush's legacy will be the least justifiable war in history, and the worst economic debacle in decades.

The Clinton era prosperity was built on a balanced budget. Bush has squandered that and created a massive deficit, while at the same time allowing the mortgage fraud to prop up the economy.

The next few years ain't gonna be pretty.

And the Iraq war will go down in history as an abysmal failure. The question is, when future generations ask us why we did nothing to stop this loony, what will we answer?

PBI said...


I couldn't agree more. In fact, the ludicrous standards you cite are a continuation of what I called Policy by Underpants Gnome in a post I wrote back in 2006. (Only my 4th post ever as a blogger!) It is incredible to me that 5 years after our invasion - not to mention nearly two years since my post - we're still dealing with the same complete failure to define concrete goals.

Sensen No Sen

Congrats on the movie deal! Please, please, PLEASE tell me you still have some creative control!

Anonymous said...

some social scientists ought to measure how much how much violence increased post-surge-tactic-whatever in the recent week from previous levels of violence (under the assumption that it was continually decreasing due to the surge tactic).

if the deviation is negligible than it could...and this isn't could honestly be construed as a by-product. maybe the extremists felt that their morale had been dealt some blows and decided to give their team something to rally about. it wouldn't be the first time that this type of action was observed...

as for the Clinton era, apparently it's not peaches and cream as most people remember it seeing as how Obama's party been digging up some rather interesting tidbits lately. personally i think Bill just got lucky, his term coinciding with the dot-com/internet business/computer tech boom. he didn't do diddly squat to start that.

Barry Eisler said...

Paul, policy by Underpants Gnome! Great concept, great post.

As for the movie... well, they bought my script, so hopefully we have a good foundation. But that's not exactly creative control... so keep your fingers crossed!


Anonymous said...

I am new, so I missed this when you came out with this. I only wanted to add that it appears to me that success=control. That is the main objective. Once we can control the nation economically with our coporate powers, our military powers will finally be finished. That is usually the key to ending the conflicts that the U.S. is involved in, by infusing our opponent with our capitalist system that is regulated and operated by our corporations. :)

@piplzchoice said...

"What would happen to a CEO who told her board of directors that increased sales and decreased sales were both signs of success?" - the answer is millions of dollars in bonuses ironically named "performance bonus". Just look at executives of Countrywide, Citi, etc. So our bullshit political system is completely in synch with our bullshit economy. Capitalist system is long dead - this is something completely different.

Anonymous said...

Capitalism is most certainly alive a strong, and it is still in the process of global proliferation. All nations are touched by it but not all have incorporated it fully into their system, but the interconnected and interdependent relationship that has developed globally is based on capitalism. Global conflicts, oftentimes, are cause by and result in capitalist structures and motivations. Most of our political and military actions and policies are somewhat based on capitalist ideology. Economics and the desires of the elite help determine what our country does.

Toby Tate said...

I find it ironic that in the 1990's, those screaming for Bush, Sr. to 'Finish the job in Iraq' by toppling Hussein are the same people today screaming 'Get out of Iraq now!' More cognitive dissonance, perhaps? Americans no longer have the stomach to fight in aid of our fellow man as we did in WWII, unless it's sexy or politically correct (Darfur, anyone?) There are more important issues facing us, such as getting more free stuff from the government, making sure our gays can marry and euthanizing our unborn children. I fear for our national character - it seems to be sliding down a dark path.
On a lighter note, I am a novelist, as well, working on my first novel. (Hey, one must be optimistic, right?) I enjoy reading both the action/adventure genre and the horror genre and have combined the two in my novel (think James Rollins or Steve Alten), which is nearly complete. I find doing the research to be the most tedious aspect of writing. I'm sure finding a publisher and marketing will fall a close second and third, right? Good luck on the movie rights - you're where I would love to be! I enjoy your posts on MySpace. Keep it up.