How to judge progress?

I saw the NY Times Letters Page today (2 Aug 07) that commented on the now-infamous O'Hanlon & Pollock op-ed in which they describe themselves, falsely, as war critics. Naturally, the letters the NY Times chose to print either did not breathe a word of this particular controversy or had their comments edited out.

What I found especially interesting was that all of the conservative/pro-war letters accused liberals of not wishing to recognize progress when it happened. They ascribed this liberal hesitation to various factors, mostly having to do with denial and with the wish to see the US lose the Iraq War.

Well, pardon me, but I was going through some old papers today and happened across one from 9 Jun 06.

Naturally, everybody remembers the glorious day before that? What? No one recalls the glorious, decisive turning point of the Iraq War? That magnificent day when just as all seemed lost, that marvelous victory was achieved? Granted, the front-page headline "How big a blow?" was appropriately skeptical, but with around six newspaper pages of coverage, the US had clearly struck a mighty blow indeed.

That was the famous day that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed! What? No one remembers the terrible scourge of the leader of "al Qaeda in Iraq" and his awful end?

Problem is, there's really no reason people should remember. Even though that day's paper showed the dead Zarqawi, even though it showed a happy, joyous President Bush dashing through the halls, even though the lead editorial featured the title "Now that the beast is slain," the effect of Zarqawi's death in the following weeks and months was pretty hard to even detect.

Not surprising, really. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count showed a very slight dip, May06 - 69, Jun06 - 61, Jul06 - 43, but Aug06 shot right back up to 65 and Sep06 was 72. If Zarqawis death had any effect, it was a very short-lived one. The losses suffered by American soldiers and Marines were in the triple digits from April to June. Sure the number fell to 82 in July, but is that a temporary lull or is it a significant drop?

Why are progressives skeptical of reports that Iraq is solving its problems? Why do they always take a "wait and see" attitude? Why can they never simply celebrate when a success has been obtained? I think the Bush Administration's overselling of each and every drop in the casualty rate, each and every glimmer of potential success and each and every possibility of breakthrough has thoroughly drained us of any enthusiasm that the more progressive, anti-war segments of the population might ever feel.

I agree with the pro-war partisans whose letters were printed in the NY Times, we progressives are quite skeptical of any victory announcements and we're quite slow to celebrate any "good news." The problem lies in our news. We have a propaganda service, not a news service. We're being told over and over that O'Hanlon & Pollock are "critics" of the Iraq War. They're no such thing. We progressives are catching on or have long since caught on. As Germans told us after World War II "We could tell the war was lost because the 'Glorious Victories' kept occurring closer and closer to home."

Update: Juan Cole explains how the pro-war people were viewing things and how things actually are. He confirms the skeptic's point of view.

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