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Post With Two Topics.

Did I not tell you here? Daily Kos is slipping. You can find the facts at, um, DailyKos:

Traffic peaked in August of this year at 16.8 million visits (not to be confused with visitors) and has headed south from there. Looks like December will end up around 12.5 million visits. Here we are a week away from one of the biggest votes the Democrats have faced in a quite some time and this site is on a downward trend. Now this will be approximately the same number of visits as in Dec 2006 so its not a year over year decline (the data only goes back to 12/06). But last December we weren't about to "Pick a President" as Hillary is saying these days.

I find it interesting. Perhaps its because there isn't one common problem (e.g. Bush/Cheney). Perhaps people are buying into the myth that no Republican can win this year. Perhaps people have political fatigue (I do). Perhaps people have more blogging options? Candidate diary fatigue? Has Dkos peaked? Anyway, I thought it was interesting. But I like numbers.

As pointed to in my original post, Atrios and Americablog are heading the same direction. Why?

I still don't know. I suspect -- just a guess, clearly labeled -- it's that the heat has gone out of the Iraq war. The surge is seen as working.

I say "seen as working" for a reason. The surge combined with the Anbar Awakening have reduced casualties. The anti-war folks have been casualty-fixated from the start. It's a convenient metric, and as a rule they know dick-all about war, so they count casualties and that's it. But casualty rates have not a lot to do with the success or failure of American policy in Iraq. We weren't losing Iraq because we were taking casualties. We took a hell of a lot of casualties at Cold Harbor, at Okinawa, at Inchon, but we weren't losing.

Winning or losing is a question of whether we are attaining our strategic goals. In 1782 were we loosening Britain's hold or not? In 1847 were we separating California from Mexico or not? Casualties only matter strategically when they reduce your capacity to project power. In those terms -- only in those terms, not in human terms, obviously -- the number of casualties in Iraq was irrelevant.

We don't know yet whether we are appreciably closer to our goals in Iraq. We know we're losing fewer men. But are we closer to turning Iraq into a sort of "democracy virus" that can eventually cause a benign infection to transform the middle east? There is very little reason to believe that's the case.

There is no meaningful democracy in Iraq. There exists no system to define or protect human rights. If you're a non-political Iraqi woman who wanted an education, or maybe just a little sunshine, you were probably better off under Saddam than you are in much of Iraq today. The idea that a Saudi, an Iranian or a Syrian is gazing longingly at the life of an Iraqi is laughable. Jordanians thank Allah that they are not Iraqis.

On the other hand we may have hit a bit of a bank shot, discrediting Al Qaeda by the novel tactic of first creating the conditions for terrorism in Iraq, negligently allowing an Al Qaeda franchise to set up shop, and standing by helplessly while they revealed themselves to be such crude, despicable monsters that even other terrorists rejected them.

Strategically Iraq is at best a question mark. Right now, today, five years in, we are worse off strategically than we were with Saddam in power. That may change. Our military learns and adapts. Occasionally our civilian leadership also staggers uncertainly toward the light. I suppose it's even theoretically possible that the Iraqi leadership may learn. But right now? This minute? We're in a worse position than we were when we started.

I suspect the heat has gone out of the anti-war Left because they never understood the problem to begin with and now have the queasy feeling that they were wrong. They were not wrong that the war was a mess: they just never understood the nature of the mess. There's a slight bit of irony: the anti-war side during Vietnam knew enough to sneer at the irrelevance of the US military's ridiculous body count of Viet Cong and NVA. The current anti-war crowd let itself be defined by the US body count. I'd say they took their eyes off the ball, but they never saw the ball to begin with.

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“Post With Two Topics.”

  1. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    Right now, today, five years in, we are worse off strategically than we were with Saddam in power. Think so? I'm not so sure about that. Iraq is still a mess, but according to the NIE, the Iranians ceased making any substantial progress with their nuje program in 2003. If Saddam were still in power, they would definitely have not paused. Libya caved on its program - probably not going very far anyway, but a public "I give up" is worth its weight in gold. ALL of the surrounding countries are terrified the Kurds might really end up with their own state and that is seriously destabilizing to all of them. Syria's policies since 2003 are extremely inconsistent, indicating a severe loss of confidence broken by occasional short-term bouts of arrogance. The Saudis are in a near-panic but definitely making glacially slow movements to liberalization. The Palestinians are so busy with their resulting internecine warfare that Israel has had some degree of respite from what were fast becoming daily suicide bombings. What had become the Israeli "PR disaster-of-the-week" organized by the Palestinian Authority with the cooperation of a sympathetic press rarely occurs these days.

    So, strategically speaking, given our national interests, I'm not convinced that we are really worse off than before the invasion, we are probably better off than had Saddam survived in power (because there is no doubt the UN sanctions would have been in tatters within the year). The Russians were well on their way to "making nice" with the Iranians anyway, and we bought a few years hesitation on their part as a result of our actions. They also backed down in a couple of other places (Georgia and the Ukraine, for example) that they probably would not have before (particularly Georgia). And they still might (in both). When you realize that our troops are going to be there manning bases in substantial numbers for another 50 years or so, whether the pseudo-democratic government of Iraq likes it or not, then we are pretty-well positioned militarily to respond quickly if we wish throughout the area without the problems we have had with our Turkish bases for the past decade. Not saying it is all going to come out right, but I'm less than convinced that we are strategically worse off in that area today than in 2003. Just a random thought.

  2. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    It's a pretty good "random thought." I think your argument has a lot of weight. And I wouldn't disagree much of the detail, except perhaps in emphasis.

    I don't know for sure about the Iranian nuke program. They certainly seem to be enriching, which is the core (ahem) of the problem. I agree we intimidated Libya into standing down, and that's a good thing all the way around.

    I wouldn't consider Syria to have been humbled in any meaningful way. They continue to kill whoever irritates them in Lebanon, and let's not forget that mysterious Israeli raid that may or may not have destroyed a Syrian nuclear effort of some type.

    On the other side of the equation we have a worn-out army, now substantially locked into fixed positions in an unstable country. The Iranians are clearly more influential in Iraq than before, and Iraq is no longer the anti-Iranian bulwark it was under Saddam.

    We graphically demonstrated the limits of our power. Sort of like letting the other players see your hand in poker, not a good thing. We are still the greatest power on earth, but we displayed our limitations -- physical, psychological, intellectual.

    On balance I'd rather be holding an intact army, freedom of action, an intact Iraq, and the soft power we had in 2002. But we're getting awfully close to writing alternate histories at this point, and we both know that's pointless.

  3. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Blogger Randy (Internet Ronin) Says:

    On balance I'd rather be holding an intact army, freedom of action, an intact Iraq, and the soft power we had in 2002. But we're getting awfully close to writing alternate histories at this point, and we both know that's pointless.

    I agree with both sentiments (although I'll be obstinate and note there wasn't a genuinely intact Iraq in 2003 - the northern 1/3 of the country was relatively autonomous and the international sanctions were collapsing, which is why we discovered so many Russian and French military goods after the invasion).

    Be that as it may, I'm not disagreeing so much as thinking we are marginally strategically better off, provided the gains made during our escalation last through the de-escalation (which has already begun). What I failed to clearly state is that what I perceive to be an admittedly marginal improvement was obtained at tremendous cost to our national reputation, the lives of our soldiers (particularly our reserves still living), our tax dollars, and our ability to project power. You already pointed most of that out, and I agree with you there. Whether it was worth it all or not we shall probably never know. But what's done is done, so I think, looking at the possibilities in the lemonade market today, I find a bit less rotten fruit than you do, and am a bit more hopeful about our ability to produce acceptable, if not originally desirable, results.

    [Prior comment, now deleted, was the same as this one, just lacking a few key words like "to" in just the right places as to render it almost unintelligible. Not that it is necessarily intelligible at the moment to anyone but me.]

  5. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    I think an argument can be made either way. Inevitably we end up looking ahead and trying to suss out the next stage, and wondering how that will inform our current situation. I'm waiting with breath bated for the slump as we draw down the surge. If somehow Iraq holds together and the tiny bit of momentum we have continues, I think I'll come to agree with your slightly more positive assessment. But I worry that Iran is able to play the long game while we inevitably play an abbreviated version. I think it will take more than just a Friedman Unit (6 months) before we know.

  6. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    Great post, btw- I think you're exactly right about Kos' declining readership. I've made a similar argument that the presidential election have been reshaped by Petraeus' surge success. There's much less Iraq hand-wringing going on right now, and it's a function of reduced body counts. (The Surge's success surprised everyone- myself included. But I recall MR arguing persuasively years ago that we needed more boots on the ground. I thought the Surge numbers were too little, too late).

    We're far from out of the woods in Iraq, but this is the first major breather we've had since 2003. And it has taken some wind out of the far left's sails.

    A far as the question of the relative US advantage post 2003, I'll have to reread and weigh in. But it does remind me of Walter Russell Mead's argument that even when we fail, we tend to fail upwards, almost in spite of ourselves. Yay.

  7. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Kreiz:
    The "failing upward" line is one I used when arguing with Europeans. I would agree that our voters are ignorant and our leaders a bunch of boobs. Then I'd point out that they've been saying the same things about us for 200 years. And yet, somehow, we're the superpower, and not Spain or France.

  8. Blogger fabius.maximus.cunctator Says:

    michael reynolds:

    If that s what you say to Europeans (I am one of these) you are using a rather weak argument - weak in comparison to you vy interesting post above and the general excellent quality of yr blog.

    Tocqueville predicted the rise of "America" and Russia in the 1830s if I remember correctly.

    Incidentially I wd argue that a French, Belgian, German or Austrian voter isn`t any better informed let alone smarter than his counterpart in the USA (I name these countries because I know them suffiently and understand the lingo). The one difference may be the unwillingness of Anglo Saxons to learn foreign languages.

  9. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Fabius:
    At one point or another I've used every argument with Europeans. I filmed a documentary (it's in post-production) which amounted, to a great extent of arguing with Europeans about various issues. I've used some strong arguments, and some weak arguments.