March 31, 2006
Baghdad's Detiorating Security Situation
From The Mesopotamian blog:
The situation in Baghdad is deteriorating from day to day. I have warned about this long ago. The "insurrection" is lead by the Baathists, without any doubt, and they are converging on Baghdad and seriously bent on taking over [ed. note: I'd only say that I believe the narrative is much more complex than this, and that the Shi'a cannot escape blame for much of the difficulty underway in Baghdad too, and further that I'm not sure to what exact degree we have neo-Baathist trouble-making at work in Baghdad, relative to Sunni insurgents writ large and/or Zarqawi elements as well, recalling, of course that they are allies fighting, at least to some degree, collaboratively). They are creating havoc in the capital. Very soon, if this situation continues like this the city is going to be brought to a complete standstill and paralysis. The confusion and conflict between the Americans, the army and the Ministry of interior is producing a situation where the citizens don't know anymore whether the security personel in the street are friends, enemies, terrorists or simply criminals and thieves. Everybody is wearing the same uniforms. Whole sections of the city have virtually fallen to gangs and terrorists, and this is especially true for the "Sunni" dominated neighborhoods. People and businesses are being robbed and the employees kidnapped en masse in broad daylight and with complete ease as though security forces are non-existent, although we see them everwhere.
Tom Friedman, who writes today he found the Mesopotamian blog via Andrew Sullivan, adds in today's New York Times:
Donald Rumsfeld's criminally negligent decision not to deploy enough troops in Iraq to begin with created this security vacuum. But the insecurity was compounded by the unique enemy that emerged to take advantage of that vacuum — Sunni Islamo-nihilists. These are a disparate collection of groups with one common agenda: America and its Iraqi allies must fail; they must not be allowed to build Iraq into a Western-style, democratizing society. When you are up against an enemy whose only goal is that you must fail, and which does not care about how much death and destruction it inflicts on its own people, let alone on others, it is extremely difficult to establish order.
Fire Donald Rumsfeld, and replace him with John Warner or Richard Armitage or someone else qualified soonest. Bulk up our troop presence in Baghdad asap, even if it means rotating some troops out of places like Anbar (especially in locations where we are still more in whack-a-mole posture than clear, build, hold). Let's have a major show of strength, including large amounts of U.S. troops, in the most problematic neighborhoods (US troops are critical, as confidence in the integrity of Iraqi Army units as impartial arbitrers or plausible peacekeepers simply doesn't exist yet among much of the Iraqi public. This is why under-informed blather about the Iraqi Army being "solid", or the militias being simply "pesky", is just crap, and it's quite sad prominent right wing bloggers link to such hokum as offering soi disant serious perspective).
Order. Order. Order. It's desperately needed in the capital, the very linchpin of a stable Iraq, if we mean for the country to remain a unitary state. So we need someone at the Pentagon who, at the very least, definitively comprehends said order doesn't exist today, alas, and that the battle-space in places like Sadr City is most definitively not under control by non-militia infested forces (as Rumsfeld disingenuously claimed a couple weeks back). Nothing is more important at this hour than beating back the cycle of sectarian violence, as Friedman well explains in the context of his Beirut experience (read his whole op-ed, Times Select subscribers), especially given that a situation already fraught with such immense danger is even more so, with formation of a cohesive national government still elusive.
The prospects of chaos are obviously enhanced by such a vacuum, so all efforts to stave off further sectarian mayhem must be pursued with maximum drive. Stabilizing the situation will require, not only a real show of force on the streets, to provide for enhanced ground up security, but also more efforts from the top-down, where Ambassador Khalilzhad's interventions to form a government need to become even more urgent. (This might include, if necessary, calibrated series of higher-level interventions by the Secretary of State, President (he's made such calls in the past) and other very senior Administration officials, perhaps even other interested Foreign Ministers from major powers. Unfortunately, the Arab League continues to wallow in irrelevance, more worried about rising Iranian influence than doing anything even remotely helpful, which is painfully pitiable but woefully predictable, of course).
To recap: I'm afraid it's US troops that must take the lead, supplemented by Iraqi forces wherever this can be plausibly achieved (but not merely for show when it would otherwise prove ineffective), as the Iraqi troops simply aren't trusted by large swaths of the people whom they are meant to protect, and many units, regardless, and particularly among the police (but also the Army, you T&E cheerleaders out there) are not ready for primetime. Also, Sunnis distrust much of the nascent Iraqi Army as but some attempt at erecting a Shia-Kurdish militia-heavy condominium, falsely masquerading as pan-national force. And, inversely, and perhaps somewhat ironically, too rapid Iraqification, particularly in Sunni populated areas (with Sunnis understandably often hastily recruited, so as to try to mitigate this very negative perception that the national army is being developed largely as a force that will be arrayed against them), will likely lead to an increase in infiltration by insurgent forces, criminal elements, and other bad eggs. This process of Iraqification has to take place very methodically, very cooly, not at an artificial blitzkrieg pace so that the 240,000 odd forces number gets to go up by 5,000 every few weeks, so people can pretend things are hunky-dory from the Pentagon podium.
Put simply, a major show of force by American forces is needed in Baghdad to finally, once and for all, put an end to the Stuff Happens approach to nation-building, and get in tune with the Overwhelming Force side of things. In other words, it's time to get serious, rather than continue to half-ass it as we've been doing too often. In tandem, massive diplomatic efforts needs to be pursued to ensure key ministries are run by individuals, or cross-party committees with workable power-sharing arrangements, or some other innovative modalities--and they must be monitored and held accountable to at least some modicum of best practices in terms of melding together effective national institutions over the coming years. This requires both an effective American military presence, as well as the turning over of every single rock and opportunity Zalmay Khalilzad can think of to keep the political situation afloat, and for a long while yet.
Neither task is impossible, but we need the will, the intelligence, the patience, the perseverance, and, not least, a good deal of luck. Unlike Tom Friedman, I'm not sure it's 5 minutes to midnight just yet. But it's not tea time either, it's well into the late evening indeed, and this potentially dismal failure is not the media's fault, or Nancy Pelosi's, so we might as well stop chiming on moronically along those lines. The failure is rather the product of a variety of factors, of which any list must include an astonishing degree of ignorance about what nation-building entails, an abysmal lack of post-war planning, hubris of epic proportions at the helm of the Defense Department, and much more. Of course it would be a huge boon if our so-called Commander in Chief, you know, 'commanded', by holding a failed Defense Secretary to account and getting urgently needed new blood and fresh thinking into the E-Ring soonest. The better so as to preside over the next critical years of the Iraq conflict, so as to help somehow secure an acceptable outcome. Yes, yes, of course commenters are right that sacking Rumsfeld is no panacea, not by a long shot. But, believe me, it may well start to make a difference. He's largely been an unmitigated disaster on Iraq, and needs to go. Even the Fred Barnes of the world think so. Let's get it done. And soon.
In today's WSJ, James Webb, Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration, recalls Cap Weinberger warmly:
In this town of inflated egos and ruthless ambition, I have never met a more gracious man...This was a man--rare in government circles--who was not afraid of strong personalities, who encouraged debate, who brought out the creative energies of people with a wide array of backgrounds and policy interests. Unlike so many government leaders who do not want to hear bad news, or who wish only to direct their subordinates from the top, Cap wanted to know, and the country was better off for it.
Would that we had someone like Cap Weinberger at the helm of the Pentagon today. Instead, we have Don Rumsfeld, and the country is the worse for it. Not to mention Iraq.
UPDATE: Think the Sunni insurgency is dead? It's not, my analysis of an ICG report here.
March 29, 2006
Population Transfers Growing....
Sectarian violence has displaced more than 25,000 Iraqis since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine, a U.N.-affiliated agency said Tuesday, and shelters and tent cities are springing up across central and southern Iraq to house homeless Sunni and Shiite families.
Guess Ralph Peters missed this part of the story during his Baghdad rounds....
By the way, does anyone think I'm happy to post these pessimistic accounts here? Of course not. It's tragic, and it's depressing. But until we understand the real narrative underway in Iraq, we won't fall into the right policy, if that's even still possible. Many readers castigate me for always bitching and rarely having solutions. I'll grant you there is a lot of complaining that goes on here, but there's also a lot of truly good faith attempts to suggest strategic adjustments (any fair reader would agree, and if they don't, I'd invite them to E-mail me and I will send them posts where I put a lot of effort into trying to make constructive criticisms on our counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, rather than just wailing on and on about Rumsfeld).
But my point is this. It's adult time. It's time to stop complaining about the evil MSM, as if they are the reason ethnic cleansing is underway in Iraq. It's time to stop pretending your favorite right wing blogger, who thinks all is pretty hunky-dory in Iraq, has got a monopoly on truth (for instance, if someone has declared the war won, like some bloggers have, how can they be taken seriously anymore? They would be laughed out of any serious policy debate in Washington, but still the readers come and chime on in comments about how the left wing and MSM are losing this war for us). No, it's high time to wake up and smell the coffee. It's time to truly, seriously, sincerely ponder whether Donald Rumsfeld, after the colossal missteps he's made, deserves to keep his job. It's time to stop letting people get away with idiotic inferences that the Sunni insurgency has been defeated, and that's the main reason a new disingenuous 'theme' that civil war is nigh has arisen among swaths of the dastardly MSM (the insurgency remains rather robust, despite some improvements in parts of the Sunni Triangle). It's time to stop inflating the numbers of Iraqi Army that we say are really ready to wage battle, and stop inflating our claims about the amount of battlespace they truly control. It's time to recognize, instead, that our problems in Iraq are increasing, not decreasing, as U.S. relations with some Shi'a segments detiorate, as sectarian conflict intensifies, as the Sunni insurgents continue to remain a real threat, if somewhat diminished.
Yes, the time for sobriety and seriousness and the end to the spin and bullshit is now, before it's too late. Again, the hackery and triumphalist imbecility must cease, and the sooner the better, so we can move forward clear-eyed about the real situation at hand, rather than laboring under rosy-lensed misconceptions like blind, hyper-Panglossian cretins. Or maybe people aren't blind, but worse, talk radio like partisans who have gotten accustomed to their cheery little echo-chambers, to their jingo-on-the-go adoring commenters, and to the juicy partisan traffic that comes their way as a result. But it's a sad, deluded little party, and they're the real losers, because they are lying to their readers, and they are lying to themselves.
A person whom I respect tremendously once told me, whatever you do on this blog, the most important thing is to always write what you believe, what you really believe. Have I always done this? I think so, I hope so, I believe so. But we are all imperfect, and I've committed as many errors as the next guy. Do I preen excitably at times? Do I get overly pessimistic? Of course. We're all immensely fallible, especially writing as much as we do in this unedited, free-flowing medium. But I do try to call it like I see it, to be true to my convictions and the most reasoned world-view I can muster up on any given day. So I leave it to you to judge if the sites that declared this war won months and even years ago, who call the major sectarian violence but the "Arab" way of politics, who have deified month after month the civilian war leaders at the Pentagon, I leave it to your discretion who best is trying to be as honest as possible about this so difficult Iraq situation, and who isn't.
My conscience is often troubled by many of the things I've written here (was I too optimistic myself about the war? was I too hard on people like Josh Marshall and their view on the Niger/uranium story? or Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies"? And so on). So be it. The bottom line, to be very honest, is that I've lost more and more respect for many bloggers, many of them on the Right, and I guess it's fair to say the proverbial thrill is gone, in large part, re: my little Belgravian adventure in cyber-space. This blog isn't going anywhere, and I'm not hanging up my gloves, but I guess I owe my readers the courtesy of letting them know how I feel. I'm underwhelmed by much of the output in the blogosphere, I'm saddened and distressed by seemingly dozens of things I see on a daily basis, and, frankly, I wonder whether I should spend as much time as I do writing in this space, given some of these reservations and dissapointments. My point? I'm not really sure I have one, save to let you know the frame of mind of the guy who is putting up posts in this space, as and when able. Maybe of interest, maybe boring, but I felt I needed to get it off my chest. So there it is.
March 28, 2006
Card Steps Down
Particularly if this is a harbinger of more staffing changes to come, it's certainly a positive development. Regular readers doubtless know very well another key Administration player I think is ripe for a similar step-down. It's the one who recently appears to have given Karen Hughes, albeit indirectly, a D to D plus on her job performance. Even if he's right, I'd take the criticism much more seriously if he had provided a few shreds of plausible constructive suggestions as alternative approach. After all, aside from repeatedly telling us that al-Qaeda has a media committee and such, he hasn't mustered up much. Quite the contrary. He is partly responsible, via many of the policies he has personally cheer-led these past years, for why we are faring so badly in the ideological struggle against terrorism.
P.S. I was pushing for Bush to consider appointing a new Chief of Staff way back in October in the pages of this blog. This is nothing personal to Andrew Card, who strikes me as a very decent man who served his country now some five and a half years in what is doubtless one of the half dozen or so most demanding jobs in Washington. But this is an exceedingly long time period for this exhausting post, particularly in the crushing constant media cycles and ginned up 'crises' modern White Houses are subjected to it seems weekly, and so today's decision (albeit a belated one) should be welcomed. Especially, as I said, if it leads to further staffing changes.
Continuing our mini-Fukuyama love-fest chez B.D., be sure to read this entire op-ed. It makes a lot of sense, and I certainly hope people at the White House and State Department are reading it. Carefully.
UPDATE: Fukuyama responds to Krauthammer, here. I trust there will be more back and forths before it's over...
March 27, 2006
Louis Menand on Francis Fukuyama, in the New Yorker.
The End of History and the Last Man” is a deeply interesting book (“scandalously brilliant,” Krauthammer says on the back cover, in a blurb evidently written when the marriage was still good). It is a meditation on world history—via the influential lectures of the French-Russian philosopher Alexandre Kojève, given in Paris in the nineteen-thirties—in the tradition of Hegel, Marx, and Weber. Because the original article appeared the year the Berlin Wall came down, and because the book appeared right after the formal demise of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama’s thesis about the “end of history” was taken to be a kind of celebratory meta-historical frosting on America’s victory in the Cold War. History (in Hegelian terms) had realized its Idea, and the Idea was us. Fukuyama has spent a great deal of time since 1989 explaining that this was not what he meant. His book was not about America or even about democratic ideals. It was about modernization, a subject on which his take is closer to Marx’s and Weber’s than to John Locke’s or Adam Smith’s.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
I should note, somewhat relatedly, and in case it isn't already blindingly obvious, that as between the Krauthammer and Fukuyama wings--I am squarely in the latter. Particularly given the stunning spectacle of late among some in the former wing who, rather than be chastened by the massive difficulties we've confronted in Iraq, clamor as panacea for more robust intervention in Syria or Iran. This is not the time for gung-ho under-informed adventurism, but an all out effort to salvage the situation in Iraq and continue to patiently move to further stabilize Afghanistan (in itself a massive challenge). An Iranian bomb, at least from the intelligence assessments reported in public, is likely some 10 years away yet. The Ahmadi-Nejad government will almost certainly no longer be in power, and it's hard to imagine a worse government coming to power.
Regardless, Administration rhetoric on Iran is uneven, with different Administration actors saying different things. Sometimes Iran will never be allowed the bomb, we hear. Other times, it is this regime specifically than cannot be allowed the bomb. (And with John Bolton, let us recall, Iran policy is: "whatever happens at the State Department, the President knows what he needs to do".) Let us at least start by rationalizing the rhetoric, so as to speak with a unitary voice. And let us, by all means, pursue the UNSC track on the Iran portfolio, where we already have our hands full getting Russian FM Lavrov on board with our (and soi disant the Euro-3's) desired language. But let's be very careful not to get hysterical that a Hitler like madman is about to get the bomb in two weeks and lob it at Tel Aviv. We live in a time when, at least from what I read written by prominent op-ed writers, think-tankers and bloggers (re: this last even, nay, especially those who are viewed as major opinion leaders on the right side of the 'sphere), Iran represents an existential threat to these United States. There is a whiff of pervasive hysteria in the air, still very present in the post 9/11 polity. Now is the time for sober statecraft, comandeered by seasoned adults, not idealogues careening sloppily forth in an atmosphere of mass hysteria--that they themselves encourage via their exuberant analyses (Iran bombed the Golden Shrine!) Color me concerned, at least somewhat. Given the dearth of competence in this Administration and the imbecility that has gripped large swaths of the commentariat, it is not impossible to espy another ill-fated perfect storm of hyped intel, mass fear spurred on by varied hyperbole, evangelical fervor etc. conspiring to force another potential geopolitical misstep upon us.
Hey, Zhou Enlai Is In Vogue!
Recall Zhou Enlai's near unsurpassed quip? Queried by Henry Kissinger on the consequences of the French Revolution, he is said to have replied: "It's too early to say". Well, I'm a little late to the party, but this memorable utterance came to mind as I read Donald Rumsfeld's op-ed in the Washington Post last weekend.
Check out this snippet:
The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq. I believe that history will show that to be the case.
Fair enough. But let's put things in proper perspective, shall we? The war in Iraq, important as it is, is not a massive historical pivot point on par with the French Revolution. When the regicide occurred amidst the Jacobinian fervor, the world literally moved from the pre-modern to the modern era--with the pre-ordained system of aristocratic privileges born of heriditary status torn asunder forever. Much like trying to game the moment we moved from the modern to the post-modern (was it the horrific massive killing fields of the 'lost generation' of World War I? Or was it the most supremely cruel irony presented by the sign that hung above Auschwitz: "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "Labor Will Make You Free", that moved us into cynical post-modernity?), these are enormously complex questions that will occupy historians for decades if not centuries more.
But Iraq, much like the war in Vietnam, say, I believe is less complex to analyze. Things, at this juncture, could probably go down a few main paths. Iraq could, as the talking points have it, have looked into the proverbial "abyss" after the Golden Shrine bombing and, if a cohesive government can take root, and an Army loyal to the central state grows in power, somehow cobble together an imperfect, unitary democracy in the coming years. Alternately, perhaps, a de facto loose confederation could (relatively peacefully) arise, albeit with some nevertheless significant ethnic cleansing in major cities and mixed population areas. Or, alas, a full-blown civil war could erupt, a la Lebanon, with Baghdad and other major population centers enduring agony for years, and large-scale ethnic cleansing occurring in significant swaths of the country. There are variations and degrees to all these scenarios, of course. For instance, more direct foreign intervention by neighbors is likelier if full-blown civil war erupts.
But this much is clear, Iraq will either inch towards relatively democratic stability, and perhaps the region will, over the years, carve out more political space lessening the allure of radical jihadism and proving a strategic triumph, in hindsight, for the U.S. Or, it won't, and we'll have a cluster-eff of significant proportions, and after the parties exhaust themselves killing each other, some vaguely authoritarian government will likely arise, and life will go on, albeit not for the thousands who died because of the grossly ill-fated adventure.
But here's the point. Unlike the French Revolution, we're going to have a pretty good sense about all this in the next 2-5 years, if not sooner. Much like Vietnam, when the North Vietnamese swooped into Saigon, a victory of, say, radicalized, revanchist Shi'a (more Sadr than Sistani), with Turkish-Kurdish tension and Sunni-Shi'a bloodbaths, well, this would prove a major defeat for the United States on a strategic and moral level. Or, alternately, as I said, sustainable Iraqi governance structures and forces will, just somehow, turn the corner and move Iraq towards unitary stability.
So, no, history isn't made on blog pages or the daily front pages of the New York Times. But Rummy, even though he's a good 73 years old, can rest assured he'll still be around when the first major historical retrospective/verdict is written on this Iraq War. And, not least given his piss-poor stewardship of it, the narrative is likely not going to look too good.
A final point. Rumsfeld also writes, in his rather underwhelming op-ed:
Consider that if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum -- and the free world might not have the will to face them again. Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis. [emphasis added]
I dealt with the Hitler hyperbole in a previous post. But "postwar Iraq"!?! Speaking of historical judgment, anyone who thinks Iraq is in a post-war stage (I'm not speaking of blogospheric buffoons who declared the Iraq War over sometime around March of '03, but serious policymakers, or what passes as such these days) is really smoking something funky, eh? Sounds like Happy Days in the E-Ring, and Pass the Pipe! Too bad there is a war raging in the field, with Americans and Iraqis dying daily. But no less an estimable personage than our Secretary of Defense thinks we are in a post-war phase! On this score, read Kagan/Kristol too.
Iraq is at a critical turning point, and U.S. forces are essential to helping the Iraqis get past it. Reducing the U.S. presence in the near future makes no sense, and constantly talking about reducing our forces is counterproductive and enervating. If U.S. force levels are (at least) kept steady while reliable Iraqi forces continue to increase--and the U.S. Army and Marines continue to join with the Iraqis in aggressively fighting the insurgents--the overall level of force that can be brought to bear against the insurgency, and in support of a political process that can hold the country together, will increase. And victory will then be achievable.
Mssrs. Kagan and Kristol are right to be concerned, of course. If our Secretary of Defense thinks we are in a "post-war" stage, why not scale back the troops? Game over, no? Mission Accomplished (again)! And History marches nobly forth, but for the querulous nay-sayers, bloggers, and other defeatist pansies who don't get the Long War is going OK, but for the cheap carping from those who have become but dreary chroniclers of the low-grade ethnic cleansing underway in the very capital of the country that we must secure if we mean to create a stable Iraq.
March 26, 2006
Senor Smug: Vacationing in Iraq
Reading Josh Marshall a few days back, I saw he had a rather uncharitable take on one Dan Senor, former Iraq CPA spokesman and aide to Paul Bremer. This jogged my memory some, and I remembered a bit of fluffery on Senor's part that I had briefly blogged a few moons back here from an appearance on O'Reilly's show. And then, by coincidence, my television was on Comedy Central, and I happened upon an interview of him on the Colbert Report. You should take a second, and check it out (the link is here).
I was immediately struck by Senor's smugness and his total lack of remorse for some of the woeful missteps taken by this Administration in Iraq. At least 30,000 Iraqis, and likely many more, have died not least because we were never able to establish real order in the country. But Senor begins the interview by assuring us all is "great" and "right on target", "right on plan" in Iraq. Later, talk gets a tad more serious. Senor tells the audience he is not "totally delusional" and that he gets that "there are real problems in Iraq", that things have not gone "exactly to plan" (his emphasis, listen to the audio). He trots out the administration lines about tens of thousands agitating for freedom in Egypt and Lebanon (the situation in each of these countries hugely more complex than this glossy narrative, of course). That 14 of 18 provinces are a-OK (Iranian influence in southern Iraq, and the growth of radical militias there, of course, not mentioned--ditto the often brutish reverse Arabization taking place under peshmerga auspices in the North). He then says that, in the other four provinces, the situation is "a little ehheehh", which he accompanies by a hand gesture indicating 'comme ci, comme ca'. You have to go to the video clip to see the sound I am trying to replicate by the "ehheehh". It kind of evokes, I guess, a feeling that it ain't all swell, but you know, it's kinda OK..." (there's about 1:27 left in the tape if you want to go hear it).
Given the horrific sectarian murders underway in many parts of Iraq, I found this glibness rather astounding and nausea-inducing. It is cheap in its gross insouciance, and disingenuous in its breezy optimism. And, of course, it's simply inaccurate (read Zeyad's recent account of the situation in Baghdad, for instance, to feel the fear and pain and anguish thinking Iraqis are grappling with at this so perilous juncture). Later, Senor breathlessly tells Colbert that he has "actually vacationed" in northern Iraq, and recounts how Suleimaniya is a swell town and that the "kids will love it" (even Colbert can't keep the game face up for this one, and snickers a bit at the absurdity. After all, this is a bit like, during the Balkan wars, exclaiming that the islands of Brac and Hvar off the Dalmatian Coast are a great place for a dreamy Adriatic honeymoon, but shit, things in Zenica, Tuzla, Bihac, Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde and Sarajevo aren't quite as grand).
Yes, it was a cheap spectacle, all told. Senor will fit in well at Fox News, doubtless. But I don't mean to personalize this too much to Senor. He is, in many ways, just a sign of the times. He plays a certain kind of Washington game well, and he will likely have other opportunities to play a role in the national security field going forward, revolving out from the Fox gig at a convenient juncture, one surmises. It is a pity that such personages fit a certain Washington zeitgeist, of sorts, these days. But, and not to sound too hoity-toity, I can certainly say, for my part, that it's not a milieu I'd like to be associated with. Not now, and not later. Not if these are the rules of the game if you wanna play ball so as to move up the ranks....
UPDATE: Much more from one of the most honest bloggers in the biz here.
Please don’t ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war yet or not. I have never experienced a civil war before, only regular ones. All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynchings and summary executions. I see governmental forces openly taking sides or stepping aside. I see an occupation force that is clueless about what is going on in the country. I see politicians that distrust each other and continue to flame the situation for their own personal interests. I see Islamic clerics delivering fiery sermons against each other, then smile and hug each other at the end of the day in staged PR stunts. I see the country breaking into pieces. The frontlines between different districts of Baghdad are already clearly demarked and ready for the battle. I was stopped in my own neighbourhood yesterday by a watch team and questioned where I live and what I was doing in that area. I see other people curiously staring in each other’s faces on the street. I see hundreds of people disappearing in the middle of the night and their corpses surfacing next day with electric drill holes in them. I see people blown up to smithereens because a brainwashed virgin seeker targeted a crowded market or café. I see all that and more.
And don't miss Zeyad's so appropriate dig at Ralph Peters: "Perhaps Ralph Peters will happen to drive by with an American army patrol and enjoy the scene of children cheering for the troops, while wondering where his civil war is, dude."
Funny, its been a little while since, say, Glenn Reynolds has linked to a Zeyad dispatch (maybe I'm being unfair to Glenn, he linked back at the beginning of March, and why the hell should he have some pre-ordained 'acceptable' number of Zeyad-links? But still....). Regardless, however, perhaps talk of possible civil war and corpses with electric drill holes embedded in them isn't appropriately conducive to the desired party-like, echo-chamber conditions whereby all the varied difficulties in Mesopotamia can be blamed on the dastardly MSM or odious Sunnis. We Americans like happy endings, after all, and if we're not going to get one--let's blame the Sunnis and/or media, no? But never ourselves, or God forbid, the Administration. It's too painful, likely not good for traffic stats either, and puts the lie to the desired Hollywood type ending.
UPDATE: To Glenn's credit, he links to the Zeyad post in question here. Which does make my post above seem more a cheap shot...
March 25, 2006
Cordesman on Iraq
There are still a few adults around not in constant spin-mode on Iraq. Here's some sobering straight-talk from Anthony Cordesman, laced with occasional cautious optimism.
But again, we need to be much more honest with what we're doing. First, we're issuing numbers about the amount of space the Iraqi forces occupy, which I think everybody understands in the real world are little more than rubbish. We're not talking to the American people honestly about the problems with the Ministry of the Interior forces, and particularly the police. We talk about 240,000 or more trained and equipped Iraqi forces, but half of them are in the Ministry of Interior. They present serious problems in terms of quality, and they become associated, in some cases, with death squads and Shiite causes. We've exaggerated how quickly the Iraqi forces are coming on line in the army. There's progress there, but very large numbers of those units are not really units with significant capability. They depend on U.S. air power, mobility, support, armor, and artillery, and they will [continue to depend on that support] well into 2007 or 2008 at the earliest. There's going to be a painful problem, later this year at some point, when the Congress has to be asked for the money to give Iraqi forces what they need by way of equipment to be truly independent.
March 21, 2006
Defining Hitler Down
Donald Rumsfeld's gone a bit overboard of late with the Hitler rhetoric, hasn't he? Check out this blogger's compendium of the latest and greatest. Zarq is Hitler. UBL is Hitler. Ahmadi-Nejad is Hitler. Chavez is Hitler. If we leave Iraq, it would be tantamount to abandoning Europe to the Fourth Reich (this is grossly exaggerated, even for someone like B.D. who wants us to see the Iraq effort through). Why all this rhetorical overkill, which occasionally smacks of rank fear-mongering?
Funny (scary?) thing is, when you read the latest version of the National Security Strategy, you see that policymakers appear particularly keen to latch on to a Big Idea, and the fight against radical Islamists (certainly in terms of specific mentions of a perverted, perilous Islamist ideology) is much more present in the '06 iteration (than the original '02 one). Jim Hoagland writes:
The White House has struggled since Sept. 11, 2001, to define with precision both the enemy that Americans confront and the path to victory they must take in the war on terrorism. The Bush team gets closer with this exercise, which portrays the long war as a global ideological struggle that hinges on a battle of ideas within and about Islam.
I agree that specific mention of luring moderate Islamists away from the al-Qaeda types is critical. Still, one can't help feeling Islam (sorry, insert "radical" before...) has now become the new "ism" stalking the West, the heir to Fascism and Communism, the new Big Idea that the American Empire is meant to battle for decades hence.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't exactly a news flash for many. And, certainly, people like Rummy seem to have bought into this, what with all the Hitler-talk. But I'm not sure this is convincing grand strategy, much more than merely conveniently subbing in "radical Islam" for "communism" and "fascism". Further, and worrisomely, the rhetoric is getting more and more uneven (coming soon, POTUS's recent public statements on Iran...), hyperbole is peppering public utterances more and more frequently (the war on terror is critical, but not necessarily the dominant paradigm for the next half century, no?), and new thinking is seriously needed at the highest policy-making levels (I wonder that Bob Zoellick thinks about all this, in private moments?).
To stress, we have, in the main, a very tired policy-making circle at the helm, some leading conservatives would even say largely discredited. Who is to say China's economic growth will not have more far-reaching impact than international terror on the international system three or four decades hence? How far do we tolerate Putin's back-tracking on political and economic liberalization, a free pass arguably granted mostly on the basis he is a (nominal, too often) ally in the war on terror? And while the Monroe Doctine is not dead, as the Chomsky's prattle on, we have certainly been losing influence in the southern hemisphere (Big Time, as Last Throes would put it), not only in hearty perennials like Cuba, but also in Bolivia, in Venezuela, and to a lesser extent, in Mexico and Brazil too.
I could go on, but you get my point, keeping in mind I'm just scratching the surface here in terms of an analysis of the National Security Strategy (as I say so often, more detailed treatment to come). Heavy on importance of freedom pronunciamentos with the breathtaking goal of eliminating tyranny from this fair planet, writ large, heavy on the War Against Islamic Terror, but short on historical transformations underway in China, in Russia, in Latin America, short on what kind of dialogue we should be having in places like Asia and the southern Hemisphere where the war on terror elicits less interests than, say, it does with our European allies.
Make no mistake, the Middle East is a critical front, as it is currently the main flashpoint for the intersection of rogue regimes, international terror, and WMD (though like George Will, I note we've been hearing more about Denmark than North Korea of late). We have to be involved there, and in a major way. Our involvement, however, needs to be pursued much more intelligently than currently, if we mean to move more moderate Muslims to our corner while still standing by allies of long standing (see Dubai Ports, Israel-Palestine policy, among others). But let's not get too myopic, too tunnel-vision in our analysis of the international situation. It's a big world out there, folks. Zarqawi, brutish thug that he is, is no Hitler. Nor will us pulling out of Iraq hand over large swaths of the Eurasian landmass to a genocidal thug bent on world dominion (another of Rummy's Hitler analogies). Yes, it would be a grevious blow to the region's stability, shatter U.S. credibility, and leave Iraq very likely in the midst of brutish sectarian conflict for many years. Thus my argument that troops levels must remain high there for years yet, at last given current dynamics as I best see them. But this isn't the time for rhetorical overkill and ginning up the masses for the Long War (not to mention fear-mongering re: the increasingly recycled flypaper crapola), but rather straight, sober talk about the state of play in Iraq. The stakes are already high, very high, without needing to make them sound artificially apocalpyptic in scope. This rhetorical overdrive by the Secretary of Defense and Vice President, among others, is not doing them any favors vis-a-vis their already deeply wounded credibility, at least in the view of this little patch of cyberspace.
March 20, 2006
Sorry about the light blogging. There's something of a perfect storm conspiring to keep me from putting up fresh content, namely: 1) a bad flu, 2) travel, and 3) non-stop work meetings. I'm particularly keen to get back asap, not least because there are a lot of topics I'm itching to blog about, but I fear I might not be able to until next weekend. Still, I'll try to get something up sooner if at all possible. As ever, thanks for your patience.
March 19, 2006
Nasty Ass Military Area...
...otherwise known as Camp Nama. The NYT has the details here.
Task Force 6-26 was a creation of the Pentagon's post-Sept. 11 campaign against terrorism, and it quickly became the model for how the military would gain intelligence and battle insurgents in the future. Originally known as Task Force 121, it was formed in the summer of 2003, when the military merged two existing Special Operations units, one hunting Osama bin Laden in and around Afghanistan, and the other tracking Mr. Hussein in Iraq. (Its current name is Task Force 145.)
Vomit, a few kicks in the stomach, and a spot of fainting due to gentle spinal taps, shall we call them? John Yoo would be proud. No organ failure, you see. And regardless, "military necessity" would have allowed for a lost kidney or two, if need be. Remember, this was an elite unit of Rumsfeld's post 9/11 Pentagon meant to be a model for intelligence gathering units. Guess the brutish tactics employed weren't that effective, however. Zarqawi, like UBL, is still on the loose.
On June 26th 04, Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, wrote his deputy William Boykin:
Get to the bottom of this immediately. This is not acceptable. I want a fuller report of action taken, etc., by Wednesday. In particular I want to know if this is part of a pattern of behavior by TF6-26. SC
What did William Boykin report back to HQ? (The same Boykin who once memorably recounted his confrontation with a Muslim Somali warlord thus: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this"). Well, with gung-ho, primitive evangelical fervor of this stripe, one suspects he'd err on the side of an all-clear for his merry band of Christian warriors, no? And so, drum-roll please...surprise! He told Cambone he had found no pattern of behavior of misconduct at TF 6-26.
A couple things to point out. This was after Abu Ghraib, which probably explains Cambone's so urgent note (before Abu Ghraib, one suspects, Cambone likely wouldn't have shown so much concern, eh?...) 34 troops have been disciplined, nine of whom received "written or oral counseling". How about Court martials? Just five Army Rangers, who received jail time of 30 days to 6 months, and reduction in rank. Two of these will be discharged after serving their sentences.
But here's the thing, gang. These guys are mostly scapegoats, who thought because of the wink-and-nods from higher ups that they were using authorized techniques ("No Blood, No Foul", went the Paintball 'Regulations' at Nama, that well encapsulate the grunt on the ground's view of acceptable tactics). Conditions were so bad at this camp that DIA's Defense Human Intelligence Sevice pulled out their personnel, and as early as December of 2003 Colonel Stuart Herrington, a retired Army intelligence officer, warned in a confidential memo that medical personnel reported that prisoners at Camp Nama had injuries consistent with beatings. He concluded: "It seems clear that TF 121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees."
But nothing happened, for months and months. Why? Because the Pentagon exerted no leadership on such matters until forced to under the weight of the international opprobium resulting from the media maelstrom post the Abu Ghraib disclosures. Let's recap: this Task Force was specifically formed after 9/11 as an elite force meant to gain intelligence from HVT's and engage in sophisticated counter-insurgency against key insurgents and terrorists. These guys were to be the best of the best, the guys chasing Osama and Zarq. Because of John Yoo's legal memoranda, and the laissez-faire posture from civilian and military higher-ups, people went all cowboy in the field, and the result were mega-embarrasments like these.
Meantime, the Nasty Ass Military Area (cute) was relocated to Balad in the summer of '04, as the Cambone's of the world, post-Abu Ghraib, probably decided it was best to close it down. DIA is sending "deployable Humint teams" to supplement Special Ops efforts, and the CIA is conducting debriefs with the task force again, so one hopes interrogation techniques have improved. But does anyone really know? Does anyone have any faith people are still not being crudely and covertly beaten, under the imprimatur of authority of President "We Do Not Torture" Bush--in part given the watered-down signing statement accompanying the McCain Amendment?
We don't, really. And so, among other reasons, these are very sad times. We have a Secretary of Defense who has brought dishonor on our Armed Forces, as the Gitmo interrogation tactics he personally approved migrated to war theaters where thing got, well, nastier. Meantime, John Yoo gets feted doing the rounds of think tanks like AEI and Heritage, which is, quite frankly, stunning (yet another one for the time capsule). Only the grunts suffer, for the purposeful sins of people like Yoo and Rumsfeld, or the sins of omission of people like Bush (ie, his apparent cluelessness about what occurs under his Commander in Chief authority). Just a few more bad eggs, you see, these not on the night shift at Abu Ghraib, but rather the day shift at Camp Nasty, it appears.
And still no accountability from on high. Make no mistake, this is an immense disgrace, and one of the darkest chapters in U.S. military history. And the person who directly presided over it remains in office. Rumsfeld must resign, or be pushed out. And soon. Of course, I'm not alone in this. For Christ's sake, if Fred Barnes is pushing for Rummy to step down, who else is left (save uber-apologists like Hugh Hewitt or sad, rabid nutters like Charles Johnson?). And don't miss this must-read call for his resignation either from retired Major General Paul Eaton, who was charged with training of the Iraqi Army from '03--04. Read the whole thing, as they say.
March 15, 2006
Rumsfeld, today: "Iraqi security forces control the battle space currently for about 60 percent of Baghdad, including areas such as Haifa Street, Sadr City and the airport road." [emphasis added]
In Sadr City, the Shia slum in northeast Baghdad, four men were found hanged, and three others had been tied to pylons and shot in the head, bearing “traitor” signs.
But Iraqi Forces "control the battle space" in Sadr City. So sayeth Don "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld. By the way, it's no secret that U.S. commanders in Iraq are under tremendous pressure to keep U.S. casualties down. Our force posture in country has become more and more conservative of late, and, yes, this has helped save coalition lives. But let's not kid ourselves about the result. Ralph Peters can drive around for an afternoon and report to the know-nothings at home that all is swell, but the reality is that we are too often relinquishing the battle space to militias, terrorists, neo-Baathists, and others. Yes, it's true, we've made some headway of late these past 12 or so months and gotten smarter about counter-insurgency in places like Tal Afar, or Samarra, or Ramadi (though the situation still ranges from tense to still perilous in these towns). And we've put insurgents under real pressure through most of Anbar province these past months too. But never with overwhelming force, the fundamental precept of the Powell Doctrine. Never convincingly enough to keep them from moving to another area of operations, resting, regrouping--the better to allow them to continue to mount a resilient insurgency. And, of course, there has been the rise in strength of Shi'a militias (not to mention Kurdish ones), albeit the gates of hell haven't opened yet as Sistani continues to call for restraint (god help us if he loses his patience, or succumbs to the pressure borne of the "Sistani is Sleeping" grafitti being spotted on Baghdad streets). But with a Secretary of Defense who thinks the Iraqi Army is currently handling Sadr City adequately, what can we do? Hope Abizaid and Zalmay Khalilzad persuade POTUS to bulk up back to 150,000 or so, and go and show the flag in places like Sadr City? Or continue to piss along bullshitting ourselves that the momentum is on our side, hoping that events move in our direction in the face of massive sectarian hatred, a determined insurgency, growing militia strength, the status of Kirkuk still so problematic, and so on.
In good time, I will write my personal mea culpa in this tragic affair. I had greater faith in this Administration, and they have let us down time and again. But it's too easy to say it would all have been OK but for the dumbies who effed up the show. People who supported the war, and there were many of us (on both sides of the aisle, lest we forget), had to keep in mind the abilities of those charged with prosecuting it, and the resources that would be brought to bear. We knew the Powell Doctrine had been shunted aside in favor of utopic transformationalist nostrums, and we knew that some who were listened to in the leading counsels of power had memorably declared the effort would be a cakewalk. We should have smelled the danger signals better, and we deserve the scorn of those who were against this effort from the get-go, at least those who honestly believed we were doing the wrong thing rather than just opposing anything the horrible Bushies would bring to the plate. Also, it should be said, war is a tremendously complex endeavor, and while it's a cliche to state, it's very true that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. We can beat up on the war-planners, and their arrogance and reluctance to admit mistakes makes it feel good, but their jobs are never easy ones, and those of us brandishing laptops to castigate all and sundry do well to recall this now and again.
Still, whatever you make of the lack of WMD, of the bungled first two years of the occupation, of Rumsfeld's immense hubris and ignorance, it's now all spilt milk. Now we have to move forward and salvage the situation. We need a new War Secretary, of course, but our President appears too bovinely stubborn to realize this. We also need to stay in country, and continue to view this as a generational committment. If we leave Iraq tomorrow, or scale back to well below 100,000, the country will explode. We will see savagery and mass killings on a horrific scale, and it is not clear that any of the parties will be able to decisively conquer the other in some tense , exhausted Mearsheimeresque entente post killing fields. It could go on for years, allowing for fecund conditions for international terror groups to take root, and all kinds of troublemaking by neighbors. Our democratization strategy will lie in tatters, with only a few die-hards at faux-think tanks in Washington delusionally playing pretend that all is well, but for those brutish Sunni Arabs (they have a "genius" for failure, Ralph Peters informs us) who couldn't appreciate the fruits of freedom we had bestowed upon them (the more civilized Persians will understand better, of course, so on to Teheran!). What is needed now is fresh leadership and renewed committment to this fight.
Suzanne Nossel has recently written that the only thing worse than a civil war in Iraq is a civil war in Iraq with 130,000 plus US forces in country. I'm not so sure. I heard George Packer (author of the superb Assassin's Gate) last night here in NYC convincingly sketch out just how rapacious the deep hatred many Shi'a harbor for their heretofore Sunni oppressors. It will be ugly, very ugly, if the Americans go. The U.S., under Ambassador Khalilzad's leadership, at least acts to monitor the behavior of Ministries for varied cronyism and ethnic favoritism, acts to link funds disbursement to ensuring militias don't overly infiltrate Iraqi Army and (now increasingly) Police units, and other such carrot and stick juggling. And, most important, the US leads the efforts to put together a cohesive national government, the very polity the new Iraqi Army is meant to defend. This nascent government, if it can even be convincingly formed, will have to survive myriad crises in the coming months and years. True, there have been halfway successful constitutional referendum exercises albeit the deal-breaker issues often get punted for another day. There have also been decently run elections, all told, ones the insurgents were largely powerless to stop. But let's not kid ourselves. Any gains to date are eminently reversible, and huge American involvement will remain critical, especially by Ambassador Khalilzad's team on the ground. And, of course, his main currency is the 130,000 forces in theater, for if they leave, Zalmay, however talented a diplomat, will be revealed a shadow proconsul left ingloriously without clothes. So I'm sorry to be so very dreary, but I see no option but for the US to stay in country likely through the end of Bush's term and beyond at troop levels likely above 80,000 even in late '08/early '09. Otherwise we will have made a mockery of our policy objectives in that country and indeed the region. We will have betrayed our own ideals, the lives of our lost soldiers, and countless Iraqis as well. We will have failed, dismally. Can not the world's leading superpower do better?
March 14, 2006
Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush's plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don't need, warning that mere announcement of the U.S. program endangers human rights advocates by tainting them as American agents...
Anyone who thinks 50MM for a radio station and 15MM each for independent media and NGOs an Iran policy makes (in conjunction w/ the long road ahead at the UNSC) needs to get a reality check. Aside from Chalabi clones in LA, many in the real Iranian opposition to the mullahcracy (to use a term in vogue in comme il faut precincts of the Beltway) will not necessarily welcome US cash--unless very subtlely and intelligently disbursed indeed (covertly, really). Can the current team walk through this complex minefield? Who knows, but I'm dubious much good will really come of this 'Riga in the UAE' democracy exportation initiative, frankly.
Meantime, note the Iranians are deviously teeing up their own 15MM, aimed to "probe and defuse" nefarious foreign intervention. Not a bad counter-move, all told, in terms of facilitating propagandistically portraying democracy activists now as US agents. All this should be going on covertly, in the main, and not getting publicized merely so POTUS can point to concrete policies to back up his SOTU rhetoric, or State can claim we have a sophisticated two-track Iran policy or such (radio-led democratization, and sanctions at Turtle Bay!). And if students and workers gets beat up or imprisoned because they can now be more easily framed as collaboraters of the Great Satan? What are we gonna do about it? Airdrop Michael Ledeen into downtown Teheran for a spot of liberationist fun (or perhaps some diaspora Angelenos a la Chalabi/Nasariya Keystone Kops routine)? Or, more likely were this to come to pass, stay on the sidelines as mere witnesses, rather helplessly fuming on about the savagery of the Mullah's and so on from points Washington?
Folks, there is no real Iran policy here. My gut tells me we need to speak to these people, at least at some point, and on some issues (like Zalmay Khalilzad's Iraq track, or cooperation we had with them on Afghanistan earlier). Iran is the rising power in the Middle East, like it or not, not least because of some of the forces we've set off in Iraq. A radio station isn't going to change that, methinks. Or aggressively peddling funds to local NGOs. In fact, it might even hurt. Long-term trends are with us in Iran, I think, given the youthful demographic. But let's at least cobble together a policy that works to make the dynamics better sooner, rather than delay and make even more difficult the road ahead. Worth noting too, of course, we're spending about 1B a week in Iraq these days, yes? How far is this 70MM going to take us in Iran? It's a drop in the bucket really, and not even an intelligently thought through one, I fear.
PS. More detailed analysis of the state of our Iran policy to come in these pages, when time allows.
March 13, 2006
Photo: (Tomislav Peternek/Polaris)
Having served two years in the Balkans with a humanitarian group in the mid-90s, and so having witnessed close hand the massive devastation that resulted from Slobodan Milosevic's crude use of nationalism to retain power in a post-communist Yugoslavia, it is fair to say his death in a cell room in the Hague leaves me little moved. Of course, I regret that he will not receive in person the likely harsh verdict of the international tribunal for his genocidal crimes.
P.S. Pictured above, by the way, the seminal moment in Milosevic's political transformation into nationalist demagogue, briefly sketched out in the NYT obit.
In that spring of 1987, Mr. Stambolic, the new Communist party leader in Serbia, dispatched Mr. Milosevic to Kosovo, the region in southern Serbia treasured by all Serbs as the heart of their medieval empire but which had by then fallen under the control of ethnic Albanians who made up some 90 percent of Kosovo's population.
The rest, as they say, was history. A grim and tragic one indeed. And let us not forget that Milosevic's savagery was of a particularly reprehensible strain, as it was very conscious, very methodical, very focused--all in the pursuit of really one thing in the main--his own self-preservation. Thus a rather dour, charisma-challenged apparatchik (though like many a self-respecting thug, he was capable of charming some of his Western interlocuters on occasion, when necessary), having discovered a mechanism to achieve and consolidate maximum power, and in the process falling wholly for the intoxications of a cult of personality, unleashed vicious ethnic cleansing and destabilized large portions of the Balkans for a decade plus. Hannah Arendt's phrase about the "banality of evil" seems somewhat of an apropos epitaph for Slobo too.
March 12, 2006
"If this was a European parliamentary system, it would have been a vote of no-confidence."
Old Reagan hand Ed Rollins, on Bush post-Dubai debacle.
What a sad, sad episode. To say I've lost respect for Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer because of their so naked pandering through the Dubai ports deal imbroglio would be an understatement. To express mere dissapointment at the Lou Dobbs style nativist rumblings that engulfed large swaths of the Republican Party would be an understatement. And to declare sub-par the Bush Administration's bungled handling of the matter would be an understatement. Just an awful show all around, pretty much, though I note some like Chuck Hagel and John McCain supported the deal, but not in a manner that impacted the final outcome, alas.
Worth noting, this episode struck me as somewhow different qualitatively than previous nationalist frenzies occasioned by, say, the Japanese buying Rockefeller Center or the more recent ill-fated CNOOC bid for Unocal. In a veritable stampede of ignorance and hysteria, our political 'leadership' failed us dismally, causing us something of a strategic setback in a region critical to our national interest. Particularly in the context of a global conflict where winning the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims is of high import, one can be sure that this sorry episode negatively impacted our interests in the global campaign aganst radical Islamism.
In the end, it was the UAE that--sagely bowing to political realities--pulled away from the deal likely calculating that material impairment of their strategic relationship with the US was at stake amidst all the mass hysteria. Probably a smart move by the Emirates, all told. The UAE and Washington can better maintain their strategic relationship going forward, the US military presence will continue there, and, yes, even trade negotiations and the like will end up, all told, likely ending up pretty much status quo ante, if I had to guess. But this sad, naseauting display of rank xenophobia (enhanced by a major dose of barely veiled Islamophobia) certainly presents one of the grimmest chapters in recent U.S. history. Perhaps most depressing to me is how this episode well showcases Washington's (on both sides of the aisle) continuing spiraling downwards into worrisome cretinization (not to mention large swaths of the media and blogosphere).
Any self-respecting Iran watcher needs to read Connie Bruck's major piece in the March 6th New Yorker. Read this too (note the Dubai as Riga comparison!). And this is worth a gander too (warning: PDF). Analysis as soon as time allows, but for now, read the Bruck piece (no link available) and the click-thrus here...
The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations?
I love the India trip and the nuke deal. This is Bush at his best--realistic and imaginative. The realism is acknowledging that sanctions weren't going to get India to give up its nukes. The imagination is breaking out of the old architecture of non-proliferation in this instance, since India is so obviously different from Iran and North Korea. And also realizing long ago--Bush talked about the importance of a closer relationship to India back in 1999--that India should be an important strategic partner of the US. Now, he is making it happen. Bravo.
March 07, 2006
The Specter of Growing US-Shi'a Tension?
As the US increasingly (and rightly) engages in quasi-affirmative action programs for Arab Sunni Iraq police units and the like--it is not hard to sense the trend I cautioned about months ago continue to accelerate--namely, a (very relative) rapprochment between the U.S. and Sunni, and a growing chill/ distancing between the US and Shi'a. Analogize, say, to the Kosovo situation. When the Kosovars (Shi'a) were liberated, they were ecstatic/grateful to their NATO liberators (US Army). When NATO then had to focus more on protecting a Serbian (Sunni) minority increasingly being persecuted by revanchist majoritarian Kosovars (Shi'a militias), the Kosovars/Shi'a quickly turned into something of ingrates, growing increasingly hostile towards foreign forces that had so recently liberated them.
Zalmay Khalilzad, for one, is more and more going to have to grapple with this dynamic, one senses:
Two days before the Feb. 22 attack on the shrine, Khalilzad publicly delivered an unusually blunt warning to Iraq's Shiite political leadership: They must yield control of the powerful security ministries or risk losing U.S. funding.
Meantime, I prefer to steer clear of breezy quasi-triumphalist declarations such as "Dude, Where's My Civil War" and instead continue to monitor the very real concerns of residents on the ground. No, I don't think civil war is inevitable. But it's still very much a real possibility. And, frankly, blaming the horrible MSM, in the main, for this sorry state of affairs strikes me as the height of idiocy. Breathtakingly so. Did so awful MoDo fail to insert sufficient troops to maintain order after the fall of Saddam? Did Nick Kristof fail to adequately secure the Syrian border from foreign infiltrators? Did Paul Krugman drop the ball on adequacy of detention facilities/interrogation tactics and the first year or so of the training and equipping effort? And was it, I forget, Bob Herbert who failed to anticipate or game-plan an Iraqi insurgency? Look, have I reached George Will and William Buckley levels of frustration, ie. that the project is inevitably doomed to failure whatever we do? No, I haven't. But we are currently engaged in an effort fraught with massive difficulty and peril, one where I continue to be concerned that fresh thinking and leadership is urgently needed at the Pentagon. Focusing on the actual war leadership, rather than beating up on the media like fooolish hysterics, might just get us somewhere....
MORE: More on the state of train and equip from points MIT.
Bolton on Iran
Hard to imagine Adlai Stevenson, or Daniel Patrick Moynihan, or George Ball or Jeanne Kirkpatrick giving this kind of guffaw-inducing interview. More seriously however, did Bolton (whom I supported in the pages of this blog for the USUN job--albeit with some reticence) actually say as follows:
Back to Iran.............
One of the main hang-ups people had about Bolton was the so-called insubordination angle, ie. there had been rumblings he'd tried to circumvent policy objectives of the likes of Colin Powell and Richard Armitage (there was even at least one press account of similar machinations aimed at Condeleeza Rice, one that, funnily enough perhaps, reportedly also involved Iran policy). In this vein, it's hard not to read the language "whatever happens at the State Department" as a not insignificant dig at whatever Iran policy might emit from Condi Rice, Robert Zoellick, and Nicholas Burns. If I were advising John Bolton, I'd politely suggest he be a tad more circumspect, particularly in his public utterances. And yes, even in the odd ribald circumstances that can arise now and again on the purlieus of conferences, and especially on matters as sensitive as Iran policy.
March 05, 2006
Barry Posen: Disengage in Iraq over 18 Months
...I disagree with the author on various points, including his overall conclusion, but this is by far the most sophisticated argument I've yet seen on why/how to withdraw from Iraq....I hope to address some of my issues with Posen's analysis soon. Until then, however, I'd recommend all Iraq watchers take the time to read his piece.
March 04, 2006
Abizaid Fingers Al-Qaeda for Shrine Bombing
Iraq can expect more bombings like the one at a Shiite Muslim shrine that set off fighting between Shiites and Sunnis, the chief of the U.S. Central Command said Saturday.
I agree with Abizaid that Zarqawi and his fellow-travellers (likely including various hard-core Baathists) were probably somewhat surprised how significant the uptick in sectarian violence was. And that therefore, as Abizaid predicts, that they will be very focused on pulling off similar attacks on (mostly Shi'a) religious shrines in the coming weeks and months. That said, at least according to General Casey (hat tip: Michael Pecherer, one of B.D.s most insightful commenters), it appears accounts of around 1,300 killed in the aftermath of the shrine bombing may have been inflated. (Note to commenters: I'm not saying the death of some 350 civilians wasn't an immense tragedy and a very significant event in terms of the growing sectarian tension in Iraq. But it does appear accounts of the extent of the loss of life may have been inflated somewhat, as were reports about how many mosques were damaged by militia attacks and the like).
Does this mean the Iraqi Army stepped up to bat in a big way, and proved their stripes some? Frankly, I think Abizaid and Casey are (very understandably) putting the best gloss on that issue by saying, as they do, that the Iraqi Army put in a pretty good show all told. This is arguably true, but only to a fashion. American backup was critical in places like Baghdad, and some predominately Shi'a Iraqi Army units did let Mahdi militia types pretty much have their way at certain junctures. Regardless, I suppose regular readers know that I'm still pretty skeptical of the state of the Iraqi Army all told. Putting aside the 'wholly independent' nonsense (the faux story/outrage of a few weeks back that the one Iraqi Army unit declared capable of operating fully independently, ie. at Level I, could no longer do so), I continue to be concerned about the realer issue: that the state of play re: Level II/III (ie, can take the lead with some manner of U.S. back-up, or operate well jointly with US forces) is significantly more fragile than some bloggers and Pentagon sources would have it. This major training and equipping effort, if it is done right, really right, will likely take 3-5 years yet.
UPDATE: Somewhat related (albeit re: Iraqi police forces, rather than army), a poignant query here.
March 03, 2006
Re: The Execrable David Irving
Peter Singer, writing in the Jerusalem Post:
The timing of Austria's conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the Holocaust could not have been worse. Coming after the deaths of at least 30 people in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria and other Islamic countries during protests against cartoons ridiculing Muhammad, the Irving verdict makes a mockery of the claim that in democratic countries freedom of expression is a basic right.
Spot on. Read the whole thing.
March 02, 2006
Train and Equip
Greg Dussaq E-mails in, re: Iraq:
Greg, correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know the Iraq army and police are primarily composed of Shiites and Kurds. This fact alone does absolutely nothing to appease the Sunnis who live in permanent fear of retribution from both these groups. While I don't think the US should shy away from building these forces, I am a little hesitant as to the degree of priority we place them in. I am a little worried that in transferring control over sooner than later we are allowing these separate factions to muscle a lot of their differences onto the negotiating table. The hearts and minds will be won by directly influencing the quality of life of the population at large via infrastructure improvements and crisis control, not through the build up of security forces that have been know to commit atrocities of their own against the same people they are supposed to protect.
Are we emphasizing T&E too much, and paying too little attention to infrastructure protection and the like? Maybe, but what's certain is that a multi-ethnic, cohesive Iraqi Army (and police forces) are desparately needed--if we mean to have any hope of Iraq being a viable, unitary state with democratic governance structures. We've made a lot of progress on T&E, but I'd bet you if US troops went down below, say, 80,000-100,000 anytime soon well, we'd see that Army splinter into militias might quick.
Iran and the Shrine
I note there is something of a nascent blogospheric movement afoot to finger Iran as culpable party for the shrine bombing in Iraq. Look, the chances of Iran being involved in the Samarra attack are somewhere between zero and less than zero. It’s almost as absurd as Ahmadi-Nejad blaming the evil Zionists and Americans for it. I’ll be blogging about this soon, but wanted to give you a head’s up that I think those inclined to go on about Iranian fingerprints on this attack are way, way off. The audit trail is much simpler. It goes to al-Qaeda in Iraq, namely Zarqawi. Details to come...
Can you compare the media coverage of the march to war in Iraq and the subsequent events there to other wars that have occurred during your time in the press room?
Good ol' Helen...
Sistani's Influence Waning?
Ayatollah Sistani's calming influence during the massive historical flux coarsing through Iraq has been one of the great under-reported stories of the war. Some have suggested he be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, only partly in jest, given his frequent calls for restraint to the legions of Shi'a doubtless very tempted to engage in acts of revenge against Sunnis and others in Iraq. So it is concerning, of course, to think that his influence may be in decline. From a recent ICG report:
...in the face of continuing car bombs and other attacks causing mass casualties, and now also attacks against major Shiite shrines, such as the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra on 22 February 2006, Sistani’s influence seems to be diminishing. Two principal factors account for this. One is that the attacks have become so frequent and massive, and occur during a political process that is so inflamed, that Shiites in general, and Shiite tribal elders in particular, have started pressing hard for the right to retaliate. “Sistani is sleeping”, warned a slogan daubed on the wall of a Baghdad secondary school. “Where is the red line”? Much of Sistani’s support rests on Shiite tribes in the south; ignoring them could be politically costly. “I hope the criminals will receive the death penalty”, said the bereaved father of a victim of a sectarian attack in May 2005, referring to the suspected killers who were arrested shortly afterwards. “If not, I plan to resolve the matter via my tribe. I will have my tribe kill members of theirs if the government doesn’t do anything”.
What do commenters think, any agreement that Sistani's influence is waning? It should be noted, in this context, that Moktada Sadr's influence seems to have been on a general uptick of late. Doubtless those of the ilk who scrawl grafitti along the lines that "Sistani is Sleeping" in the back alleys of Baghdad are increasingly joining the Sadrite camp...
P.S. On another front, note Jaafari is under increasing pressure too...
March 01, 2006
From a new ICG report on the growing sectarianism in Iraq:
“Sunnis and Shiites are not yet in an all-out fight”, asserted an Iraqi journalist, “because the Americans are still there. A huge part of the insurgency is fuelled by the American presence. If the Americans leave, or announce a timetable for their withdrawal, the insurgents will start an all-out fight with the Shiites. And the Shiites will know they no longer have the Americans to protect them”. Left without their protectors, the Shiite parties will have no choice but to face the insurgents directly – with the aim to crush them. “We will take care of the problem” once U.S. forces leave, a member of the Sadr movement predicted confidently. A prolonged presence, of course, is not cost-free, as it mobilises anti-American sentiment and support for the insurgency. Indeed, some Iraqis argue that the Bush administration is using the threat of civil war as an excuse to maintain its troops. Having found no weapons of mass destruction and unable to prove a link between the Baathist regime and al-Qaeda, “what alternative argument do the Americans have for not leaving?”, asked Wamidh Nadhmi. “This is why they are using the pretext of civil war to stay”. Nonetheless, there is every reason to fear that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal, or a withdrawal before establishment of an inclusive government and creation of a largely self-sustaining, non-sectarian military and police force, likely would unleash a full scale civil war. In the end, the question of a troop drawdown is likely to be determined by domestic U.S. concerns. But any assessment of the consequences that can reasonably be expected from such a move should take into account the risk of an all-out civil war.
Feels like a Catch-22 sometimes, doesn't it? But if U.S. forces stay, there is at least a chance that an Iraqi Army with a multi-ethnic officer corps can take root--over several more years yet--and provide stability to a nascent Iraqi polity. And Zalmay Khalilzad's fervent attempts at consensus building require continued American commitment, both in terms of troops and funds (or denying funds to parts of the Army that become overly influenced by militias). If U.S. forces withdraw in large numbers, it is certain Khalilzad's influence will wane along with departing service-members. My point? Continued U.S. involvement will be problematic, difficult, often tragic. On the other hand, a precipitous U.S. withdrawal all but guarantees Iraq capsizing into large scale civil war. So what's the right call? I think one must conclude standing firm is the order of the day, at least at this juncture. The trickier question, perhaps, is this: what if Iraq degenerates into full-blown civil war despite a continued American presence? More on that soon.
About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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