Islamists Losing Hearts and Minds In Iraq

Abe Greenwald is right to note  that it is "extraordinary" that the NY Times would run an  article documenting that young Iraqis are turning away from religious extremism after years of experiencing the violence and strict rules associated with radical Islam firsthand.

One of the arguments made by war critics  has been  that the U.S. invasion made Americans less safe, because it only embolded extremists and made it easier for them to recruit.  That may have been true at one point, but if this article is accurate, that  could  be an outdated  narrative.  First in Anbar, Sunnis allied themselves with with infidel Americans against their co-religionists in al Qaeda once they were forced to live under Islamist rule. Critics said such a development was isolated and could not be seen as a model for the rest of Iraq. Now  we are getting reports of similar trends  throughout Iraq of local populations rejecting radicalism.

Among some of the remarkable developments noted in the article:

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

"I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us," said Sara, a high school student in Basra. "Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers."â€_.

While religious extremists are admired by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied. Fingers caught in the act of smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its wearer. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold…

In Falluja, a Sunni city west of Baghdad that had been overrun by Al Qaeda, Sheik Khalid al-Mahamedie, a moderate cleric, said fathers now came with their sons to mosques to meet the instructors of Koran courses. Families used to worry most about their daughters in adolescence, but now, the sheik said, they worry more about their sons.

"Before, parents warned their sons not to smoke or drink," said Mohammed Ali al-Jumaili, a Falluja father with a 20-year-old son. "Now all their energy is concentrated on not letting them be involved with terrorism."

I wouldn't necessarily go as far as Greenwald, who seems confident that we are seeing "the realization of the most ambitious goal of the Iraq War: the de-radicalization of Muslim citizens." Too many smart people have been too wrong about Iraq for too long for me to conclude, based on this article, that America is winning the battle for hearts and minds. But it is certainly encouraging that there are average Iraqis who, given the choice between freedom and radical Islam, are choosing freedom. And it is especially  encouraging that evidence of such a shift is abundant enough for even the Times to take notice.

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A Late Night

Polls in Texas close at 7 p.m. local time for the primary, but starting at 7:15 p.m., there will be a caucus, so all voting will not conclude until 9. Because parts of western Texas are in the mountain time zone, that translates into 11 p.m. eastern. Given the closelessness of the race, it will probably take a long time to project a winner. In other words, expect a late night/early morning ordeal.

Clinton Campaign Presses Rezko Issue

With the Tony Rezko trial starting today, the Clinton campaign is holding a conference call right now to demand that Barack Obama answer more questions about his relationship and dealings with the defendant.

Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s communications director, blasted Obama for his “ongoing refusal to answer basic questions about his longtime relationship with indicted fixer Tony Rezko.”

Wolfson later referred to Rezko as Obama’s “political mentor and patron” and suggested his efforts to downplay their relationship were “quite comical” and he said they “don’t pass the smell test.”

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer also noted that in view of the fact that the Obama campaign has said they weren’t concerned about the Rezko matter, he thought it was “rather curious that they were concerned enough about it to send a staffer” to the trial to take notes. He said it “should set off alarms in newsrooms across America.”

As for tonight, Wolfson said he was “bullish” on Clinton’s prospects in Ohio and Texas, and believes that Clinton has closed well with the focus on the economy and who is prepared to be commander in chief, and that Obama is first now coming under scrutiny. He said that one of the reasons Obama has had trouble closing the deal is that “Democrats know he hasn’t been vetted.”

All of this, in my view, raises the likelyhood that Clinton will continue on after tonight, even were she to lose Texas. With Rezko on trial and the media finally grilling Obama, she’ll likely want to hang on a bit longer to see how he weathers the storm.

A Win Win

If Hillary wins both Ohio and Texas and stays in the race, the Democrats keep bludgeoning each other for another few months. If Obama knocks her out of the race tonight, the Clinton era is over. Sounds like a win win to me.

Clinton Camp Hopes to Reset The Clock Tomorrow

Despite Bill Richardson’s suggestion yesterday that whoever has the most delegates after Tuesday’s voting should be considered the Democratic nominee, on a recently concluded conference call, Clinton campaign officials said that any victory by Clinton in Ohio and Texas tomorrow would provide justification for staying in the race.

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn, her chief strategist, made the case for Clinton staying in the race, even while acknowledging that she was unlikely to end the evening close to tied with Obama in the delegate race.

The rationale for staying in the race would be multifaced. The Clinton camp would argue that with wins in Ohio and Texas, Clinton will have won most of the largest states, including New York, New Jersey, California and Massachusetts. In addition, they would point out that Obama has lost momentum and suggest that voters are having “buyers remorse” over whether he is ready to be commander in chief and “steward of the economy.” Ultimately, they hope that if they can prolong the race another few months, Obama will fold under media scrutiny, especially with Tony Rezko going to trial and what they referred to as “NAFTA-gate.”

“If Senator Obama can’t win in Ohio and Texas with all the resource advantages he has, with all of the good press that he has, with the constant reminders from his campaign that the race is essentially over, then I think Democrats are going to take a second look at this,” Wolfson said on the call. “I think, you know, we wake up on Wednesday and the newspaper headline says that ‘Clinton Wins Ohio and Texas,’ we have a whole new ballgame here.”

Penn said that if Obama loses both states, it will mean his momentum is “seriously blunted.” He hammered Obama on questions raised by his 17-year relationship with Rezko, as well as NAFTA-gate, and said Obama was “first going through the vetting.”

Wolfson also attacked the Obama campaign over whether his top economic advisor privately told Canadians that his anti-NAFTA protectionist rhetoric was just campaign trail talk that did not reflect his true thoughts on the matter.

“At this point what we have is a lot of statements from the Obama campaign that have been proven to have been demonstrably false,” Wolfson said. “Flat denials that are clearly no longer operative; people saying that there was no contact whatsoever and clearly contact; no discussions on NAFTA, clearly discussions on NAFTA. So, I think that from our perspective, the benefit of the doubt goes to the Canadians who have been very consistent throughout this process in suggesting that conversations did occur.”

Clinton, clearly, will not go quietly. Though even coming close to her in Ohio and Texas would represent a huge surge for Obama given Clinton’s 20-point lead in the states a few weeks ago, and though he would still maintain a comfortable delegate lead, if he can’t win one of the states, he’s leaving a lot to chance.

Clinton Strategist Inadvertently Praises McCain

On an ongoing Clinton campaign conference call, chief strategist Mark Penn just said:

“If Senator Obama can’t seem to be commander in chief against Senator Clinton, how could he possibly expect to be seen as someone who could win the commander in chief argument against John McCain?”

That sounds to me like an accidental confession by the Clinton camp that McCain is the far more credible commander in chief.

Change vs. Experience

Should Barack Obama go on to win the Democratic nomination, the key reason is that in the overriding debate in the race, Obama was able to convincingly argue that he was an agent of change, but Hillary Clinton’s case for why she has so much experience was rather weak, or at least way oversold. When her face comes on at the end of the “red phone” ad about who you want answering the phone at 3am, it could almost be the punchline of a joke. Only in her own mind is she the person you’d want answering that phone. Obama pretty effectively responded:

“We’re still waiting to hear Senator Clinton tell us what precise foreign policy experience that she is claiming that makes her prepared to answer that phone call at 3 in the morning,” Obama said, to cheers at a town hall meeting…

With that said, while Obama may be riding high now, he wouldn’t be able to lob the same criticism at John McCain in the general.