IRAQ UDPATE….We’re apparently making a big push to regain control of rebel strongholds in Iraq, but so far the story is more depressing than anything else:

“This is a significant step forward where the good people of Samarra are taking control of their destiny,” said Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. His troops entered the city for less than 24 hours, oversaw the selection of new civic leaders, and declared the military’s intention to return to help staff checkpoints in coming days.

….”We will never give up our right to maneuver in any of our areas,” said Maj. Neal O’Brien of the 1st Infantry Division, which patrols four provinces north of Baghdad.

….U.S. troops pulled out at the end of the day for lack of a secure base at which to spend the night.

Even to a military non-expert like me this seems ridiculous. We’re not going to win a guerrilla war by bombing cities and then hopping in for a few hours to put on a show of electing new civic leaders. If this is the plan, we’re in big trouble.

Put this together with the recent CSIS report, which appears to be pretty authoritative, and the situation in Iraq just looks grimmer and grimmer. It’s not so much that things are bad in iraq, it’s that things are getting worse. CSIS measured five different areas and produced charts that look like the one on the right, all of which show that things are moving in the direction of more danger, not less.

(The vertical axis is “public perception” and the horizontal axis is “events.” The Viable Zone is where things are in good shape and the Iraqi public perceives them to be in good shape. The Danger Zone is where things are in bad shape and the Iraqi public perceives them to be in bad shape.)

In all five areas they studied ? security, governance, economic opportunity, services, and social well-being ? the trend was negative in both directions. That is, the reality is getting worse and public perception is getting worse.

So why is President Bush still ahead in the polls? Two reasons: first, most people don’t yet understand how bad things are in Iraq. Second, because John Kerry hasn’t said anything to make people believe he can handle the situation any better. I really wish he’d get a handle on this.

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