Sunday, April 17, 2005

Changing the Narrative in Iraq

From the Times of London, Andrew Sullivan on how the corner has been turned in Iraq:
Yes, his former apparatchiks continue to intimidate and murder. But they appear to be weakening under steady assault from coalition forces and better intelligence from local Iraqis now convinced they have a democratic future. Attacks on allied forces are at new lows; and the hideous and often incompetent murders of Iraqi civilians — close to 30 dead in a couple of days last week — are becoming more insights into the nihilism of the insurgency than their brandishing of potential victory.

Why? Because the elections worked. They worked not by showing that Iraq is free of insurgents. The country was in a virtual military lockdown that day. They worked by changing the narrative, what American military leaders call the “IO” — the information operation. Until then, the scenario — brilliantly deployed by the insurgents and stupidly reinforced by the often-disastrous leadership of Paul Bremer — was that of resistance to western occupation.

After January 30, the scenario was that of a nascent democracy being strangled at birth by reactionary forces from within and terrorist forces from outside. That shift in narrative meant that there was little question that the US would stay the course — a critical element in persuading Iraqis to support the new government and in cajoling Americans to keep paying in money and blood for others’ freedom.
Sullivan admits that supporters of the war were badly mistaken on some issues:
It isn’t the success war-supporters like me wanted. We drastically underestimated the potential for a Ba’athist-jihadist insurgency; we got the WMD issue grotesquely wrong. Nostra culpa.
But war supporters got the most important issues right. We were right about the evils of Saddam’s regime. We were right about the ability of Arabs to have a democratic state. We were right to want the elections held in January and not delayed.

We will happily settle for being wrong on the secondary issues, but right on the primary ones.

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