Links, 3/25, and a Brief Note on C-Span

In other news – C-Span isn’t bad: it’s a collection of primary sources, some of which are good, and some of which are not so good. The big trouble is, in my experience of watching it, that many of the better speakers avoid detail. Last night I saw Frederick Kagan of AEI along with two gentlemen from Brookings talk about troop levels in Iraq. They did an excellent job of saying the argument “we shouldn’t be there in the first place and should pull troops out a brigade a month” is a recipe for disaster, given that at the rate of a brigade a month, US troops cannot be operational in the field. They showed the Iraqis have made political progress – the benchmarks Congress passed were used as a sort of “scorecard,” and it was noted that the Iraqis have accomplished many of the benchmarks.

The gentlemen also talked about the biggest danger Iraq faces, which is civil war, and how the Surge has stopped that and probably crippled AQI. Civil war can still be a problem if the violence picks up again, given that there are ground forces from Iran still in Iraq and fighting hard to try to get sects to overreact, and there are plenty of militias around too.

But what they didn’t do was absolutely crucial – they kept saying over and over that 20 brigades was the best for keeping Iraq stable and building on the Surge. And they said 15 brigades, which would be what the US is cutting down to as the Surge ends, is a bit of a problem. But they didn’t detail combat operations that the US has done or could do that would require more brigades, they didn’t go into detail about particular functions the military does in Iraq (Kagan at one point said that through the US military many Iraqis are able to first relate to their central government, would that he expanded on that). In fact, when it was all said and done, it felt like they just kinda took on a lot of crappy “we shouldn’t be there in the first place”-sort arguments, trashed them, and then reiterated the trashing in a way even in their policy recommendations.

In other words: what does it mean when the primary sources are too general, even at their best, to be of the use we need for political discourse? There’s no way I can say the AEI/Brookings panel was bad: they really did a good job presenting a lot of facts and even talked about their experiences visting Iraq.

Someone could say that I’m pushing this question too much – maybe I want too many facts, too many details. But consider what C-Span is trying to do: either a primary source gives you the information you need, or it is acting, no matter how well-argued or thoughtful or interesting, as a press release of sorts.

Ultimately, I think I’ve picked a bad case regarding Iraq policy, because a war is not something that really can be discussed so openly. But I urge you to consider how we conduct debates about priorities and what we can/can’t afford domestically. If the best we can get is telling the other side they’re wrong, how will we ever know for sure we’re doing what’s right?

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