April 26, 2006
Brian Urquhart, writing in the NYRB:
Sands is equally concerned with the violation of international laws in connection with the conduct of the war. In the Guantánamo prison hundreds of alleged "killers," "terrorists," or "unlawful combatants," as they have been variously designated by the United States, have been deliberately put, he writes, into a "legal black hole," from which most of them are unlikely to emerge anytime soon. The basic principle of habeas corpus has seldom if ever taken such a beating at the hands of a leading democracy. The atrocities at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere are plainly in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention against Torture. They also set a terrible precedent for the future treatment of captured Americans.
The "tropics". Yeah, I remember that one. Up there in the annals of contemporary Vice Presidential disingenuousness with "last throes".
Put this one in the 'rubbing their noses in it' department...
Ahmadi-Nejad, at least it seems these days, is finding a new shocker daily, isn't he?
UPDATE: More on this very much worth reading via Laura.
(Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse-Getty Images)
Chris Suellentrop, over at the New York Times blog "The Opinionator", describes me as among the "hawks-turned-doves who engage in counterfactual daydreams about how the war they supported could have gone differently." Well, he's got a point, doesn't he? But yes, I do think it could have been different, and I'm not alone in thinking so, but that's a story for another day. But let me say this too. At some point the handwringing about the past needs to end, and we have to focus anew on forging a success strategy in Iraq, as I don't think the war is necessarily inexorably lost, and avoiding a dismal failure is important indeed. I will continue to call for Rumsfeld's resignation, if only because I think that is a major component of any convincing success strategy, but I'll point to concrete measures, specific policies, different emphases in strategy too--apart from personnel adjustments. Coming soon, I hope.
April 25, 2006
The State of the Bush White House
In a White House known for both defiance and optimism, yesterday's senior staff changes represent a frank acknowledgment of the trouble in which President Bush now finds himself. They are also a signal of how starkly Bush's second-term ambitions have shifted after a year of persistent problems at home and abroad.
I wish Josh Bolten great things, but am profoundly skeptical that he will be able to turn around this White House. To me Bush's utterance ("I'm the decider, and I decide what's best"), in many ways, spelled something of an epitaph for the Bush Presidency. Its mulish obduracy spoke volumes. This is an Administration that would need to hive off Rumsfeld (even Cheney, perhaps), to really make a fresh go of it. And it appears neither move is in the offing, to say the least. I mean, just look at how tired the rhetoric is, and ask yourself why this Administration is languishing in the low 30s in polling:
Since September the 11th, 2001, the men and women of our military have overthrown a cruel regime in Afghanistan, captured or killed many al Qaeda terrorists, liberated Iraq, and made America more secure from terrorist dangers. We're fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. By taking the fight to the terrorists and bringing liberty and hope to a troubled region, our courageous troops are making the world a safer place.
-- From Bush's radio address, last Saturday.
Keep it up with these disingenuous, empty platitudes Mr. President. Glibly declare Iraq "liberated". Recycle the flypaper lies. Before long, you'll be in Jacques Chirac territory with your numbers in the 20s.
"I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things that I think are true...One, I believe there's an Almighty. And, secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free."
What does this mean, really, but a perfect encapsulation of Bush's faith-based approach to war-making and nation-building, which bespeaks a hugely simplistic, messianic view of the complexities such efforts are fraught with?
Or, still, think about how many times Don Rumsfeld has spouted lines such as these:
The thought of that country being turned over to the Zarqawis of the world, the terrorists who behead people, and the Saddamists who fill up mass graves with hundreds of thousands of people and use the money and the oil money and the water money to breed terrorists and send them around the world to kill free people is just a terrible thought. We can't let that happen.
No talk of the specter of civil war, of phenomenon like Sadr militia flowing into Kirkuk, or so many other fast-moving developments besides. For the old dead-enders and terrorists, he's now substituted Saddamists and Zarqawis. It's empty, it's a crutch, it's a broken record. It yells out: we need fresh thinking and new blood urgently at the Pentagon, someone seized by the urgency of the sectarian violence underway, the mushrooming of militias, the resilient insurgency that has proven quite immune to whack-a-mole and the latest announcement of yet another Zarqawi 'lieutenant' felled, the importance of serious nation-building, the critical need for order in Baghdad and other key areas. But, unfortunately, the Decider-in-Chief has decided this is not necessary.
Even with regard to immigration issues, where I think Bush's heart is in the right place, he can't hit the right notes: ''Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic -- it's just not going to work,'' Bush said. ''You know, you can hear people out there hollering it's going to work. It's not going to work.''
The hell with such utilitarian arguments against deportation. All but the Derbs and such realize you can't, seriously, move to deport 11 million people from this country. How about the morality of it? How about what this country has historically stood for, serving as global beacon for the politically oppressed or economically disadvantaged for centuries now? Why not muster up some political courage and deliver a major speech shaming the Republicans in the House for their know-nothing nativism? No, instead meek whimpers and the same old. Little wonder this Presidency is careening into impotence.
April 24, 2006
We Have (Too Many) Opinions: When Will Iran Have the Bomb?
Rumsfeld, on Laura Ingraham's radio show:
INGRAHAM: Are you confident that that estimate of a few days ago of being five years or perhaps even ten years away is realistic and accurate given the fact that in the past we've certainly underestimated nuclear capabilities?
Now Negroponte, in a Q&A at the National Press Club on April 20th.
MR. SALANT: How far along is Iran in its nuclear program? Are you troubled about the recent announcements? And has the intelligence community analyzed the impact of military action against Iran's nuclear facilities?
Then, from Knight-Ridder:
Should Iran quickly overcome the numerous technical obstacles to operating the test network, known as a cascade, it could accelerate the installation of an industrial-scale plant and begin producing highly enriched uranium much sooner than currently forecast, the U.S. officials and the diplomat said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue.
Now, Robert Joseph, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security:
Iran is approaching the "point of no-return" in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, a prospect that presents an intolerable strategic threat to the United States and the international community, according to Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph.
Then we have the U.S. government National Intelligence Estimate, which is meant to summarize the consensus view of America's intelligence agencies which judges Iran about 10 years from obtaining a nuclear weapon as of last year. [my emphasis throughout]
Now, intelligence is an imperfect art. And independent experts like Albright that are eminently respectable and credible, unlike many others whom shall we say--have a more activist agenda--appear to think there is a material acceleration in Iran's race to get a bomb. That may well be true, and it's certainly cause for concern.
But let's sum up here. Rumsfeld doesn't hazard a guess on exact timeline (smart devil that he is!), but intimates that with foreign help (North Korea and Iran have a significant history of collaboration, for instance) Iran could be very close indeed to a bomb. Negroponte, more cautious, says we're a "number of years off before they are likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade." Albright, who appears to be gaming this pretty closely to Negroponte, puts a "worst case scenario" at 2009, not quite in the "next decade", but pretty close, especially as we're talking a worst case here. The NIE remains the consensus intelligence view, at least for the time being, putting us more around 2015. And Joseph, also like Rumsfeld, avoids a time frame, and instead states that: "(w)e are very close to that point of no return", with regard to enriching uranium on an industrial scale, if not a weaponized nuclear weapon until some point thereafter (a time frame he appears, reading somewhat between the lines, to put on a faster track than Negroponte and/or Albright).
So, where does this leave us? I'd put smart money that 2009 is very aggressive, but that 2015 is now likely too sanguine, at least in my personal view (Ahmadi-Nejad has become increasingly emboldened by the imbroglio underway next store, and is gunning full speed ahead, so that the original NIE is likely getting outdated). I'd also bet if you got Negroponte and Albright in a closed room, and asked them to put their money with their mouth is and tell us when, in their hearts of hearts, they think Iran, at the current (now somewhat accelerated) pace, would likely get the bomb--they'd likely put it at 2011 (which is, according to Knight-Ridder, the public USG view, albeit this conflicts with the NIE). More hawkish players like Rumsfeld and Joseph don't want to give a rough date, ie. put some marker down, and prefer instead to intimate that with third-party help the Iranians could have a nuclear weapon capacity very, very soon indeed (Rumsfeld) or use phraseology that, while likely strictly accurate (Iran may well be near the "point of no return" vis-a-vis industrial enrichment of uranium) still rings a tad hyperbolic, all told, as it ignores the added time required for the uranium production to produce the requisite amounts of weaponized quality uranium (Joseph).
Commenters are invited to weigh in on their views re: all the above, but first a little editorializing from the proprieter. After the clustereff of the Iraq WMD intel, after almost 2,500 American dead in Iraq, many tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead, and hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars or so in the red and counting, let me politely suggest I don't think the American people are in the mood for another Keystone Kops routine with various Departments bickering about the intel, for instance with Rumsfeld patronizingly, and oozing disingenuousness, telling us the intel folks are "fine people" that "work hard," with State going one way (with some rogue elements within Foggy Bottom siding with Defense), and Defense another (with rogue elements there creating stand-alone intel shops spinning the raw intel like litigators making a fevered case), and Langley yet a third direction, with the NSC somewhat asleep at the wheel in terms of providing a credible consensus view, and with a shadow Veep-NSC busily going about cherry-picking whatever suits best through all the agencies. Put simply, we want transparency, and we want no bullshit bureaucratic intrigues, or at least, to the extent possible, far fewer of them. We want straight talk, a consensus view from the President, cohesively organized by an inter-agency process legitimately umpired by the NSC, one that all his Cabinet members can (really) support--especially if this Administration is going to have us believe Iran will be able to go nuclear before or around January 20th, 2009. The stakes are too high, and we're tired, and disgusted, and fed up, and we suspect this team is tired too, and discredited, and quite incompetent. So the "fine people" who "work hard" and 'Rumstud' are going to have to get on the same page this time Mr. President. We desperately need responsible, intelligent and cautious leadership on this matter, and for starters, said leadership requires that the inter-agency process doesn't break-down again, the better so that the public doesn't hear too many disparate views emitting from Washington on matters of such tremendous import. We're watching and, I guess, hoping. Frankly, my expectations are low.
April 23, 2006
"I think the intellectual poverty of the administration's approach to Iran is only mirrored by the intellectual poverty in their planning of the war in Iraq." -- Ray Takeyh
Meantime, don't miss Richard Haass on Iran, writing in the FT last week.
These are the rationales for contemplating a preventive attack. The problem is that the likely costs of carrying out such an attack substantially outweigh probable benefits.
More on potential diplomatic alternatives in this space in the coming days.
The Decider's Foolish Decision
The normally quite sober Lexington puts its rather succinctly in the current Economist: "George Bush is a fool for keeping Donald Rumsfeld in his job."
Meantime, Peter Beinart in TNR suggests a "shock pick" to replace Rumsfeld: Brent Scowcroft. Fat chance! The merits of Scowcroft specifically aside, his piece is still worth reading in full, as is Lex this week.
But if you do think there's hope for Iraq, Rumsfeld must be fired immediately. And, since Bush presumably still does, it is amazing that he can't see the political logic staring him in the face. Bush prides himself on his loyalty. And, in certain circumstances, it is indeed admirable. One of Bush's finest moments came after he was walloped in the 2000 New Hampshire primary by John McCain, when he assembled his top advisers in a room and told them that he took all the blame, and no one would be fired. If Kerry or Al Gore had shown that kind of loyalty to the people who ran their campaigns, they might have gotten some in return--and one or both might have become president.
As I said, fat chance...
P.S. Don't miss this interview w/ Les Gelb either:
I think the generals, on balance, did a courageous thing. They spoke up and they broke that wall of silence that had been protecting President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, who were making it look as if the military were really happy with their decisions. That had always been their defense. They said they gave the military whatever the military wanted. Well, that just wasn't correct. So that story has been largely shattered. And even though you haven't had more than six generals come forward to support it, and even though you haven't had resignations of active duty generals, I think the public understands that these people who have spoken out represent only the tip of the iceberg. It will make them think even harder and more critically about where the president is leading us in Iraq.
April 21, 2006
The Tragedy of George W. Bush
"Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq...If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of his jam.''
William F. Buckley, in an interview with Judy Woodruff for Bloomberg several weeks back.
Mr. Bush's Presidency has now mostly run aground amidst the harsh wilds of Mesopotamia. Iraq will likely be viewed by historians as a foolhardy over-reaching that put the lie to Bush's forward democratization strategy (and perhaps the Bush doctrine too, of which more below), indeed left it largely eviscerated, cast brutally against the rocky shoals of too grim realities. No, the war is not lost, and perhaps, just, some 'peace with honor' style settlement might still be salvaged from the wreckage. But the time has come for deep sobriety indeed about the state of the so-called global war on terror. Now, almost five years since approximately 3,000 Americans were brutally killed literally inside the very symbols of our national power, it is time for some serious reckonings.
The main perpetrator of these ghastly attacks, Osama bin Laden, remains at large. This in itself bespeaks a massive failure (albeit many key al-Qaeda figures have been brought to justice despite this woeful shortcoming, and al-Qaeda has not been able to strike the American homeland since 9/11, worth noting). America remains immensely distrusted through vast swaths of the Islamic world, so that it continues to serve as ready incubator for fanatical terrorists hell-bent on conjuring ways to maim and kill millions of Americans, if and when they can find their window of opportunity. Parts of Afghanistan and, increasingly, Pakistan, are serving as reconstituted safe-haven for neo-Talibs and other assorted al-Qaeda sympathizers that are stealthfully regrouping every day. And, in Iraq, we struggle to form even the semblance of a unitary government, an insurgency rages through Anbar Province (alone the size of Belgium), militias are multiplying, and American soldiers and Iraqis continue to bleed amidst a veritable epidemic of continuing violence. The capital and geographical lodestone of establishing a successful democracy in Iraq, Baghdad, resembles the Beirut of the late '70s more and more every day, or at least it seems so to this far-away observer.
But there is more. The global war on terror, after all, is nothing if it is not a global counter-insurgency campaign. We are meant to win hearts and minds, to lessen the anti-American animus that, fairly or unfairly, animates large swaths of the globe, from Caracas to Jakarta; from Lagos to Ankara. But we've done a very poor job of this indeed. America has shunted aside bedrock civilizational values stemming from way back to the Magna Carta, such as the concept of habeus corpus, with the detainee facility at Guantanamo (Article 39 of the Magna Carta, written in 1215: "No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor will we send upon him except upon the lawful judgement of his peers or the law of the land.") In addition, the American military suffered its worse moral disgrace since My Lai with the revelations of torture and abuse from Bagram to Abu Ghraib.
America, very unfortunately, is no longer seen as undisptuted avatar and protector of human rights on the world stage. Putting aside hyperbole about gulags, putting aside the varied hypocrisies of UN Human Rights Commisions run by the Syrians or related manifest absurdities, the simple reality is that America no longer automatically stands for, say, preservation of a relatively magnanimous post-war Achesonian order. It is viewed too often as an overly militaristic, indulgent, brash power. (For instance, its chattering classes of late breezily speak of new adventures in neighboring Iran, whilst two major projects to its East and West remain in, respectively, alarming and crisis-ridden state). Put simply, America is no longer seen often enough, as it should be especially among our friends at least, as a responsible power that moves, strongly and with resolve when need be, but always deliberately, with maturity, with steadiness.
The Bush Doctrine posited that those who harbor terrorists would be held to account as much as the terrorist themselves. But, 'blog-swarms' ferreting out Iraq-al Qaeda links, rapt sophomoric communion with Iraqi intelligence files or, still, the Weekly Standards hyperbole aside, our first post-Afghanistan target was likely ill-chosen, as Saddam's ties to international terror were relatively de minimis. Yes, he was a monster, a genocidaire, a perilous presence in the neighborhood. But now disabused of the erroneous information about WMD, in hindsight, mightn't we have preferred to contain this beast rather than expend the lives of now almost as many Americans who died on 9/11 to unseat him, not to mention the almost 20,000 wounded, likely 35,000 and up Iraqis killed, coalition forces felled, hundreds of billions of dollars spent (though we forget containment was not cost-free either, not by a long shot), and other assorted gruesome pain and expenditure?
We Americans are meant to be pragmatists, after all, and so we look at things through a prism of cost and benefits. And so now as the Iraq war languishes along and begins to approach WWII in duration, we wonder, was it worth it? Was it worth this blood and treasure to put into power Shi'a political parties, to varying degrees close to Iran, that will likely visit, some day, crude Shi'a majoritarian revanchism on Sunnis in their midst, setting off a cycle of violence that will go on for years until the parties exhaust themselves, while meantime the Kurds will perhaps, someday, precipitate some crisis with Turkey if they over-play their hand with their new quasi-state in the north? As I said above, the war isn't lost, and rosier outcomes remain possible. But still, but still.
George Ball, during another war, once famously advised LBJ: "You know, once on the tiger's back, we can't pick the time to dismount. You're going to lose control of this situation, and this could be very serious." Once again, we are at a very serious juncture indeed. Unlike Vietnam, we are not escalating in Iraq, and it seems all but pre-ordained that troop levels will go down, not up. The question remains, however, is the team currently in office even capable of disengaging competently, or will they make a hash of that too? Will they be too confident of the Iraqi Armies capabilities? Will it be too little too late to restore order in Baghdad? Will Anbar remain so problematic because we still don't have convincing amounts of troops, whether American or truly trained Iraqi ones, to provide order so as to win hearts and minds and then clear, build and hold? And do we have a convincing diplomatic strategy, in terms of intelligently ensuring Iraq's neighbors minimize their nefarious meddling, or will we continue, as is our wont too often, to hyper-ventilate and issue empty diktats hither dither to assorted 'bad guys'? Do we have the sleeper issue of Kurdish federalism fully gauged? Have we planned for contingencies like a serious resumption of the Shi'a insurgency, or an Iranian land-grab in the south, near Basra?
As I said, it is time for some reckonings. So here are some, in no particular order. Mr. Bush never understood the complex history of Iraq (particularly the epic ethnic tensions he was walking into), the massive nation-building task that would be necessary, or, put simply, that democracy in pre-Enlightenment societies in regions convulsed with geopolitical tension are not created on the breezy fly. Saddam was so demonized as the new Adolf Hitler, that policy-makers apparently believed he was so loathed (true) that his unseating would lead to petals being thrown at the feet of the conquering heroes (untrue). Mr. Bush, unfortunately, was ill-served by his instincts. He appeared to gravitate towards what he saw as the no-nonsense machismo of the Rumsfelds and Cheneys, and poo-pooed the cautionary notes of men who had seen war up close and personal, like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage. Rumsfeld and Cheney, in turn, were advised by men like Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith and Scooter Libby, men who, whatever their intellectual bona fides, displayed an appalling lack of judgment in thinking that an Ahmad Chalabi, say, a man with no grass-roots support among the Shi'a, and wanted by Jordan for alleged financial chicanery, could be somehow airdropped into Nasariya to spark the Great Iraqi Revolution, allowing for troops to be drawn down with utmost speed, and that this liberationist love-fest would then (voila!) all be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues. No one apparently gave sustained thought to how quickly the ostensibly 'liberated' become ingrates to their heretofore saviors, to the specter of a resilient insurgency (sorry, 'dead-enders'), to the worrisome prospects of ethnic conflagration and the dissolution of the country into three sectarian or ethnically homogenous para-states. These were errors born of utopic over-enthusiams, of hubris, of short-sightedness. Tragic ones. (Yes, this is all well covered ground, and not the real tragedy in all this, finally. Yet it bears remembering, not because it is fun to beat up on anyone, as many of us including this blogger supported this war knowing the above-described team was at the helm, but rather as cautionary note to attempt to at least tone down some in this very same crowd who today, not yet appropriately chastened apparently, tell us Iran, say, wouldn't be too hard either. How soon we forget, how the hubris and faith-based confidence and arrogance are so pervasive, how memories are so short!)
But the more painful tragedy is that Bush could have changed course, really changed course (more than small-scale tactical adjustments), at various junctures. Mr. Bush could have held his failed Defense Secretary to account after the Abu Ghraib debacle or, more recently, after two of the key generals leading the Iraq War on the ground (Swannack and Batiste) fingered him for a spent, discredited force that rendered even harder the prosecution of the Iraq war effort. He could have finally surmised the critical importance of establishing order in Iraq, rather than allowing his advisors to breezily contend the 'battlespace' was increasingly under control, and that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Forces were at the ready to protect the nation from all nefarious comers. He could have recognized that 'whack-a-mole' needed to be replaced by 'ink-spotting' and 'clear, build, hold' much earlier. He could have realized that the dangers of appearing too much the 'foreign occupier', or of fostering Iraqi 'dependency,' were necessarily high class problems, if you will, concerns to be given more weight once the country was at least better stabilized. He could have realized that no serious war leader says "stuff happens" or "freedom is messy" about massive looting that convinced the majority of Iraqis that the Americans were not serious about protecting their security, at least apart from the Oil Ministry, thus losing the Coalition reservoirs of good will at a critical juncture. He could have realized that the approach of a CEO hell-bent on boosting shareholder value, looking to cut inventory and boost profits wherever possible (off-ramp the First Cavalry prematurely, based on erroneous assumptions and ignorance about troop to population ratios need for effective nation-building, so as to minimize resource-spend in Iraq, the better to prove that troop-lite worked so more funds could be budgeted for modernization rather than expanding the size of the Army). Mr. Bush could have muted his Defense Secretary who free-lanced as a Secretary of State too, with talk of "Old Europe", or the "so-called Occupied Territories", or that the British weren't really needed either push come to shove. As Chuck Hagel has noted, "we need friends". So why did we so purposefully allow major Cabinet officers to needlessly alienate many of them, even those we rightly considered rather frequently perfidious or otherwise nettlesome? We were in a position of strength, the better to rise above the fray and not get nasty in the sand-box.
But, no. No major course corrections appear afoot. This would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, you see, and this is not the way of the Bush White House. So no top down truly independent investigation, say, with Congressional involvement, of the scandals surrounding detainee policy are in the offing. No true recognition of how perilous Iraq remains, as Michael Yon passionately explains in the immediately preceding post. No thought to whether all the resources diverted from the Afghan effort are materially impacting our effort there, including the capture of Zawahiri and UBL. Instead, continuing easy bromides that 'freedom is on the march', as chaos reigns in Iraq, as Egypt and Russia and Pakistan and Uzbekistan remain mightily authoritarian (who lost Russia, the seemingly perennial question for foreign policy groupies, appears to loom large again). At the same time, our diplomats prattle on endlessly about terror and freedom to East Asian and other audiences, who in turn are more interested in sketching out a new security infrastructure in that neighborhood, or are busily attempting to outflank us via localized trading and other arrangements, with less hands-on U.S. involvement than is advisable. As for South America, our influence is on the wane, with populists gaining power in Bolivia, and demagogues in Venezuela and Cuba continuing to gain marketshare in the battleplace of ideas about what should lie in store for the future of the South American continent.
In the Holy Land, we seem to have abdicated any real role as the proverbial 'honest broker' in the Arab-Israeli dispute, pretty much agreeing to allow the Israelis (somewhat understandably, of course) to pursue a strategy of unilateral disengagement so as to present the Palestinians with something of a fait accompli on the shape of going forward borders and status of Jerusalem. No adult supervision there, but rather a sense that our policy has run adrift and that the roadmap, while still ostensibly official American policy, is something of a dead plan walking. And while commentators vacuously cheerlead a too infantile version of democracy (presto, elections!), when the results seem to run against the grain of our national interest (or that of important allies), as with the Hamas victory, we do not really follow through with the courage of our convictions. A major experiment in democracy in Palestine is greeted with, well, cutting off aid to the democratically elected victors. Meantime, the Muslim Brotherhood gains in Egypt (and reportedly more than we realize, covertly, in Jordan and Syria), and religious parties are still strong in Lebanon.
What has our democratization strategy really wrought in the Middle East, especially with Iraq still in chaos? At least arguably, it has made us look more hypocritical (Palestine), or very sloppy (Iraq), or increased Islamist influence (Egypt). Does this mean this policy makes no sense, at all? No, of course not. Creating political space in an atrophying political environment like the Middle East is critical, but it must be pursued with much greater caution. If securing a Middle East peace settlement is critical to our national interest, two states living side by side, why would we allow for conditions whereby an irredentist terror group would take power? Wouldn't it make sense to let progress on the peace process moderate Palestinian behavior, rather than rush to elections whatever the consequences, and then alienate them even further by denying them the same quantum of aid as had previously been bestowed? Is this intelligent policy?
A man with a deeper world-view would sense this veritable maelstrom of contradictions, and shades of gray, and pitfalls and perils--and perhaps challenge original assumptions, adapt policies to changing circumstances in more fundamental fashion, inject new blood into policymaking circles, not at the press secretary level in some pitiably irrelevant re-juggle, but among the very highest players of his national security team. Rather than bovine loyalty, even to proven incompetents, a man of strength and conviction and high intelligence would seek to make a new start of it, to improve our posture on the international stage, one so problematic in so many respects as sketched above. But such a man is not in power. George Bush is not that man. Mr. Bush is a man who mistakes stubborness for resolve, absolutist aims for high moral bearing, blindly staying an erroneously charted course for rock-ribbed Crawford fortitude. Thus, we stumble along and continue to endanger the national interest.
Like his father, Bush wished to put to bed forever the Vietnam syndrome, and restore a warrior ethos to our armed forces that, as some experts believed, were suffering under the effete obligations to perform such tasks as building kindergartens in Kosovo. Like a parody of some ennobled timarchic leader, Mr. Bush strode onto the Abraham Lincoln, festooned in martial, cock-sure gear, and declared Mission Accomplished, surely a moment that showcased imperial decadence and delusion if there ever was one. Instead, without realizing it, Mr. Bush created even larger peacemaking obligations for the armed forces, by never establishing order in Iraq because of trying to wage war there on the cheap. His Army is under real pressure in Iraq, and it is hurting, with some soldiers on their third or even fourth tours. Still, there is no serious talk of expanding the Army and Marines, still we err more towards transformation than established military doctrine and the manpower and troop mix requirements necessary for successful counter-insurgency, still it's heckuva job Rummie.
No, the tragedy of George Bush is ultimately one of his own making, and one that he cannot readily extricate himself from, because rigid absolutism and an overly simplistic worldview seem deeply embedded in his character. It is meant to be tough. It is meant to show resolve. It is meant to project national strength and purpose. But, no, the too often utopic aspirations instead lead to myopia. It is actually stubborn, actually short-sighted, actually too often negatively impacting the American national interest. So he (and we) are in a jam, all right, as Bill Buckley said. Yes, even if he invented the Bill of Rights, let alone went a good way towards sullying our human rights record instead. Iraq, and the continuing real risk of failure there, are tragic, of course. But it is perhaps an even more painful tragedy that, per chance, it might have been very different, were it not for profound shortcomings of Mr. Bush's character, the advisors he chose to place his trust in and rely on, and the resulting strategic and tactical blunders that were the result of the interplay of these factors, among others.
Some Straight Talk on Iraq
Every now and again, you stumble across a post that shatters through all the easy soundbites, and transparent posturing, and cheap hustles, and, you know, tries to really tell it like it is. Go read here.
P.S. This is not to say that I don't have minor quibbles, here and there, with some of the author's analysis. But the general thrust of the piece, which reads like a spirited clarion call for straight talk and shunting aside all the tiresome spin, both by the Right and the Left (the Right: there is an epidemic of Iranian-made IEDs in Iraq! Iraq's violence isn't any worse than a bad couple of weeks in ye olde Detroit! Civil war will be averted if only Jaafari steps aside! The Left: Training and equipping of the Iraqi Army is making no progress and doomed to failure! The US must withdraw its forces by May 15th if no cohesive government is in the offing!) is very refreshing indeed. (Hat Tip: RCP)
April 18, 2006
Let the Swift-Boating of the Generals Begin
We live in low, dishonest times, where spurious charges come fast and furious daily, but few can trump the cheapness of the recent attacks directed at some of the retired Generals that recently came out against Don Rumsfeld's stewardship of the war effort. Witness, for instance, Glenn Reynolds approvingly linking to this treatment from Judith Klinghoffer:
The American army in Iraq does not have a single general with enough guts to respond to the president's question with "depends on what you want us to do?" Sorry, guys, civil control of the military is not our problem. Gutless military leadership is.
To which Glenn comments: "Ouch". Ouch what? That someone sitting at the Political Science Department of Rutgers has the gall to speak of these men as "gutless"? Critics like these are not fit to shine, say, Major General Swannack's boots, let alone call him "gutless". It was the 82nd Airborne, after all, under the command of Charles Swannack, that took the lead on some of the most critical missions of the Iraq War, like establishing a training post for both Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps under very difficult conditions in Ramadi around September of 2003. In addition, the 82nd was involved in some of the most difficult battles of the Iraq war, like that of Fallujah, in case anyone is keeping score, as we scandalously go about accusing people of being cowards. From a rapporteur's note of an appearance by Swannack at the Washington Insititute for Near East Policy:
Like other coalition forces, the 82nd Airborne had to deal with insurgent attacks on a daily basis, often involving AK-47 and RPK rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The insurgents also attacked coalition positions with mortar fire and rockets; U.S. troops used precision artillery strikes in retaliation. Not even aircraft were safe; several coalition helicopters were shot down in the Fallujah area by surface-to-air missiles. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) proved particularly dangerous; they are inexpensive to make, easy to conceal, and can be detonated remotely, allowing the attackers to escape. The most difficult of these devices are vehicle-borne IEDs. Even shooting the drivers before they reach their targets may not prevent them from accomplishing their objective. In addition, recurring attacks on military convoys led the 82nd Airborne to reinforce its vehicles. Steel plating was added to the doors of Humvees, and Kevlar blankets were used to line the floors. When the division was deployed out of Iraq, it left this material behind for the relieving unit. Surgical combat operations were the hallmark of the 82nd Airborne, which conducted over 600 such actions. These operations are very different in scope and technique from conventional warfare. Through them, the division was able to capture 3,800 individuals, including 37 high-value targets and 50 foreign fighters.
Indeed, Swannack personally escaped injury, when the convoy he was traveling in was attacked in Fallujah. Remember, all of you now, Judith Klinghoffer has described the man who led these men into battle, on the ground in Iraq under perilous circumstances, as being "gutless." Incroyable mais vrai, as the French say!
But there's more, much more. Let us not forget Major General Batiste, who commanded the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004-2005. The U.S. First Infantry Division is very storied indeed, the oldest continuously serving division in the U.S. Army. The 1st "successfully fought battles against Iraqi insurgents in Baquba, Najaf, and Samarra and joined the Marines in the second successful assault on Falluja" (see here). Many of these campaigns occurred under General Batiste's leadership, causing him doubtless frequently to grieve when troops under his command died. "Gutless" leadership, per Klinghoffer. Again, critics who dare to question these men's guts are not fit to shine their shoes, let alone castigate them for cowardice.
To hear two and three star generals whine that Rumsfeld is too intimidating causes one to ask who else can so easily intimidate them? Are we talking perhaps of the insurgents, Ahmadinejad, Assad Fils, the North Korean or China? Imagine being a soldier who has served under the command of so easily intimidated a general.
"Imagine being a soldier who has served under the command of so easily intimidated a general."
Stop and think about that sentence for a second of two.
To which Glenn Reynolds adds:
If things were so bad before, they should have resigned in protest instead of complaining publicly once they were safely in retirement and, in some cases, had books to promote.
How disgusting. These Generals are not "whining" because Rumsfeld is "too intimidating". That's prima facie absurd. They're up in arms because they were too often facing conditions or fighting an enemy materially different than the one that was war-gamed, and to add insult to injury, Rumsfeld has often been too stubborn to make serious adjustments that run against the grain of his utopic transformationalist nostrums.
Regardless, the reasons they didn't resign in protest before are many. Because they have been wrestling with their consciences for years now, because they believe in this mission, because they wanted and still want to see it through, because they felt duty-bound to do so at the time they were leading their men into battle. Make no mistake, these are men of real character, in stark contrast to those who would so breezily impugn their motives. Glenn might have book promotion on his mind of late, but it is very low indeed to describe men like Swannack and Batiste as waiting until they were "safely in retirement" to come out and then intimate, wink-wink, that they might cash in on their criticisms of Rumsfeld, just because Zinni or such has a book out. I mean, General Batiste passed up a third star rather than continue to serve under Don Rumsfeld's command.
Doesn't this speak volumes? As he explained on Diane Sawyer's show:
MS. SAWYER: But this raises a question, General, about speaking out now now that you're retired and not speaking out then when you were on active duty, as the historian just said to us, when you were participating in the plans. Why not speak out then if you felt so strongly?
Batiste chose to stand and fight, to the best of his abilities where the command often didn't want to listen to his views, and now people like Glenn and Klinghoffer cheaply piss on him. If I sound angry and revolted, well, it's because I am.
There are also the varied straw-men being trotted out that these are but disgruntled Generals who are up in arms about Rummy's transformation initiatives, or that this is all about more boots on the ground that we don't have, or that they have some political agenda (Zinni some Arabist Clintonite buffoon, in this narrative), and so on. But this is hogwash. Look, there are two main issues here. Why did these Generals come out now? And why?
Why now? I believe part of the reason is the publication of Cobra II, which in painstaking detail spells out some of the collossal errors of judgment the civilian leadership of the Pentagon made in Iraq (aided by some of the senior brass like the too supine (Dick Myers), or the too dismissive of post war planning (Tommy Franks)). This detailed exposition of the massive missteps committed helped precipitate something of a bursting point, I suspect, rendering memories fresher and the continuing perils to the mission more real, and when added to Zinni's call for Rumsfeld's resignation on Meet the Press a few weeks back, and Eaton's NYT op-ed being published around the same time, four more Generals (not counting Wes Clark, lest I too easily tee up another straw man) decided they just couldn't take it any more and had to raise their concerns in public. But make no mistake, these concerns have been around for years already, and finally reached a boiling point over these past weeks. From a Washington Post article way back in May of 2004:
Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."
Klinghoffer and Reynolds are, in a way, channeling Wolfowitz (a man incidentally I respect, in some ways, more than many of the dimmer neo-cons) as saying the Generals are "gutless" cowards because they didn't raise their concerns more loudly or fall on their swords and resign. But these men felt a sense of duty, born of decades of service, to stand and fight and see the mission through. They also knew that Rumsfeld had surrounded himself with compliant 'team-players' (read: yes men, if well intentioned ones) like Dick Myers (and now increasingly Pete Pace), the better to block attempts to fundamentally reappraise the war strategy Rumsfeld had put together with Tommy Franks (one that involved little input from other hugely qualified brass, and thus more serious attention to post-war planning). My point? They figured that too often their efforts to register protests might prove futile regardless. Most important, I suspect, they were keenly aware of respecting civilian supremacy of the armed forces, which acted as a powerful brake to mute their airing of frustrations in the too public open, when private dissent reaped few results. And so they kept on keeping on, retaking towns like Fallujah, making the best of a very difficult situation on the ground. Can we fault them the human tendency, on the ground leading men into battle, to make the best of a horrid situation and try to make it better? I suspect if they had quit back then, as Glenn suggests today, he would hardly have been throwing laurels at their feet for their principle and courage back then, eh? No, he'd be attacking them for cowardice and failure of will, likely.
But enough about why now, what about why generally? What has these Generals so up in arms? Many things, really, but the epilogue to Cobra II puts it best, in describing "five grievous errors":
They underestimated their opponent and failed to understand the welter of ethnic groups and tribes that is Iraq. They did not bring the right tools to the fight and put too much confidence in technology. They failed to adapt to developments on the ground and remained wedded to their prewar analysis even after Iraqis showed their penchant for guerrilla tactics in the first days of the war. They presided over a system in which differing military and political perspectives were discouraged. Finally, they turned their back on the nation-building lessons from the Balkans and other crisis zones and fashioned a plan that unrealistically sought to shift much of the burden onto a defeated and ethnically diverse population and allied nations that were enormously ambivalent about the invasion. (Cobra II, p. 497)
I write all this with pain in my heart and deep sadness. I supported this war, and still believe, hoping against hope, that it can be won. But we are at a perilous juncture. We have a stubborn, spent force running the Pentagon, a man who is immensely discredited, and not only in chi-chi quarters of the 8th arrondissment, Mayfair and Manhattan, but also where it matters most--among many of the troops and officers under his own command, where they believe he has and is violating basic principles of war doctrine, and with alarming frequency. Unlike Dick Holbrooke, I disagree many other officers will now come out. Bush's real purpose in issuing rapid support of Rumsfeld from Camp David on Friday (reiterated quite vociferously today) was to issue a shot across the bow to other senior officers considering going public that the Commander in Chief was going to stand by his man. This will serve to silence many Generals that care deeply about ensuring civilian control of the military (as they, of course, should). This is particularly true as many of these Generals have been genuinely tortured by the real dangers presented, even when they are retired, of challenging the primacy of civilian authority over the military, even indirectly by simply criticizing war tactics rather than the principle itself. I cannot imagine how difficult a decision it was for people like Batiste and Swannack and Newbold to go public with their criticisms. Regardless, Bush's salvo will likely keep the mutiny from turning into a full-blown mega-revolt. This is good, at least in the context of the future of military-civilian relations, as this WaPo editorial points out.
But Bush's inability to relieve Rumsfeld of his duties is deeply problematic for the future prosecution of the war effort. At a time when Bosnia-style protection of Sunni and Shi'a being ethnically cleansed (there are 65,000 internally displaced in Iraq and counting) will become more and more critical, we have a Defense Secretary who doesn't care a whit about nation-building. At a time when a complex counter-insurgency needs to be waged, we have a man who still can barely let the "I" word pass his lips. At a time when a less conservative force posture is needed, and more troops need to be shifted primarily to secure the capital and Anbar (where almost 50 Americans have died this month so far, despite the nonsense you read that the Sunni insurgency is defeated), we have a Secretary who is worried about too much Iraq "dependency" on Americans (first you establish basic order Mr. Rumsfeld, then you worry about "dependency").
But, most tragic, we have a President too meek and strategically short-sighted to see the deep problems that Rumsfeld continues to present, and we have in Cheney a changed man who might have appreciated this many years back when he served the President's father, so that he could counsel the current occupant of the Oval Office to relieve Rumsfeld, but today alas appears incapable of giving the President such wise counsel. Instead it's a bunker-mentality, where the criticism of the Generals is seen as a direct challenge to POTUS, and so it's always a default posture of 'circle the wagons'. I understand this basic human instinct, and I understand too the real bonds that Bush has formed with Rumsfeld through the 9/11 attacks, and now two wars (I recall Rumsfeld, as portions of the Pentagon lay in ruins, helping the injured on the grounds of the very department he runs. Yes, these have been historic, painful, difficult years).
So I understand that there is much blame to go around, whether to war supporters like me, to the CIA, to the NSC, to State, as well as Defense, and many other precincts besides. But, amidst all this, I feel deeply that, more than any other group of policymakers, the civilian leadership at DoD has failed us, and replacing Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith didn't fix the problem. The problem is at the very top of the Pentagon, it is Don Rumsfeld, and if the President cannot replace him, he will no longer be able to count on any real support from conservatives like me who support this war still, and knew Kerry would scale us back too precipitously, but cannot countenance anymore the total lack of accountability and the lack of strategic leadership emitting from the White House. We too have reached our bursting-point. Bush must somehow realize the depth of the problem and crisis of confidence his keeping Rumsfeld on board is causing the armed forces under his command and the public.
As David Broder reports:
Several months ago, when Rep. John Murtha, the Marine Corps veteran and longtime Democratic advocate for military preparedness, spoke out on the Iraq war, I received an interesting phone call from the Pentagon. When Murtha advocated a fundamental reassessment of American strategy in the war, including an early redeployment of U.S. troops to neighboring countries, I noted that he had spent many hours visiting wounded veterans of that war at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval hospitals. A warmhearted, emotional man, Murtha was responding, I suggested, to what he had experienced in those hospital wards.
Our Congress is a supine and pitiable entity, in the main. Congressional oversight sounds great, but it's likely no solution, really, even if the Democrats were to retake control. What is needed is very simple. Rumsfeld has become a totally discredited figure and needs to go. We can desparately hope that deep down, despite his brave face on Rush Limbaugh last night, he is beginning to understand this. After all, it's one of the better known Rumsfeld's Rules: "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance." Mr. Rumsfeld, by all accounts in person, is a decent, caring, patriotic man. I harbor no ill will to him, not that he would care if I did.
But he's helped make an abject bungle of the Iraq War. He must face this reality, and grapple with it honestly however painful it is, and draw the obvious conclusion. To preserve any semblance of accountability in this government, he must step aside and allow new blood to take over the helm of this war effort for the remainder of this President's term, for the good of the country, for the good of the war effort, and to allow desparately needed fresh-thinking into the building. The alternative is detiorating civilian-military relations, a barely concealed deep anger of his failed leadership among many of the forces under his command, and a steadying intensification of pressure on the White House to abandon Iraq (only one in four Americans think the war can still be won, according to recent polls).
As Chuck Hagel put it today: "The concern I’ve had is, at a very dangerous time, (the) secretary of defense does not command the respect and confidence of our men and women in uniform...There is a real question about his capacity to lead at this critical time..." The time has come. Rumsfeld must go. Without delay. This has become much bigger than anyone man and bureaucratic gotcha. Major national interests are directly at play, both domestically and abroad. Who can carry this message to the President, and have him listen? No one, it seems, and what a profound pity that is. But at least let us not be silent when cheap critics rush to attack the courage of the men charged with prosecuting the war on our behalf in theater these past years. It's too insulting and obnoxious to them, and we shouldn't let it pass without comment.
MORE: Glenn writes:
Greg Djerejian -- whose hostility toward Rumsfeld is intense these days -- thinks I'm unfair to the generals by linking this. Yes, they've served in combat. But as JFK noted in Profiles in Courage, physical courage is far more common than political courage, and it is their political courage that is in question here.
Glenn tends to tune a lot out these days, I'd think. Recently he linked to some 'good news' from Iraq that featured some B.S. about beauty pageants in Baghdad, whilst remaining mute about dozens of American soldiers dead in Anbar this month, tens of thousands of Iraqis internally displaced due to sectarian discord, and the failure of U.S. forces to even provide for basic order in Baghdad, which must be accomplished, or else Iraq will disintegrate. He thinks the biggest problem in Iraq is corruption, not a country careening towards civil war, or a still resilient insurgency. Corruption is lousy Glenn, and none of us like it, but anyone who thinks that's the biggest problem in Iraq now is just totally divorced from reality.
Look, if I thought it would make a difference, I'd buy Glenn Cobra II, and FedEx it to his faculty office down in Tennessee, all on my dime. But it wouldn't make one iota of difference, I fear. Glenn can claim all he wants people like me haven't explained what a new Defense Secretary would bring to the table. That's just not true, but Glenn simply doesn't want to hear it, and like the torture issue, decides to "tune out". He's made up his mind: Rummy good, and Rummy-dissent is but Kos commenter-style proxy-bashing of POTUS. It's not serious.
Meantime, read Tom Friedman today, who sounds a lot like B.D. of late:
If these are our only choices, which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran's nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team, with Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon's helm?
Yes, Don Rumsfeld has become a "real strategic liability" as serious foreign policy experts from Boston to Washington, from LA to San Francisco, from Houston to Chicago, well realize. Friedman (and B.D.) might feel differently if Ahmadi-Nejad were actually in a position to wield a weapon by the end of Bush's term (which I don't think is at all likely) and so bite the bullet, and consider military action, even with Rummy at the helm. But, make no mistake, having spoiled goods running the Pentagon at this critical time is a real problem, not only in Iraq, but for other looming crises too. But Glenn doesn't seem to be bothered much. That's his business, and he's entitled to his views. But he's just way wrong on this one. Friedman is absolutely correct, Rumsfeld has become a major strategic liability. Too bad the Decider-in Chief, who sounded more like a cantankerous, indignant child yesterday, than a serious Commander in Chief concerned about the strategic position of this country, doesn't get this. And too bad Glenn doesn't either.
April 17, 2006
Trust But Verify
From Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's must-read Cobra II--The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq:
In late May [of 2002], Bush sought to repair ties with Europe and promised a deliberate response to the terrorist threat, one that would not be purely military and would enlist the help of the U.S. allies. In a May 23 press conference in Berlin, Bush asserted that Iraq's WMD programs were a serious threat but that he had not prepared an invasion strategy. "I told the Chancellor that I have no war plans on my desk, which is the truth, and that we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein." The president made a similar comment in Paris three days later. [Ed. note: See here too for a third example of the 'no attack plans on my desk' stump response. Clearly this was language the President had decided to go with purposefully, in other words, it was not a slip of the tongue at a single press conference].
On August 21, Rumsfeld visited Bush at his Crawford ranch to discuss a range of military issues. In a brief appearance before the press afterward, the president complained that the media seemed to be focusing on the possibility of military action in Iraq. There was, he said, too much "churning" about the subject. Rumsfeld agreed. There seemed to be some kind of media "frenzy". All the activity at CENTCOM, Bush said, merely involved contingency planning, and no decision to go to war had been made. Eight days later, Bush signed the classified statement of objectives for the Iraq mission. (Cobra II p. 73)
Fast-forward to the present, re: Iran.
Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon press gaggle on April 11th, pouring cold water on Iran attack talk post-Sy Hersh piece:
Q That may be. What planning, if any has the Pentagon been undertaking for the possibility of military action involving Iran? And has the nuclear strike option been ruled out?
And here's President Bush last week as well:
Q Mr. President, thanks very much for your visit today. We're honored by your visit. You mentioned the confluence of terror and weapons of mass destruction as the greatest threat to American security. Will the United States allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons?
Wild speculation, huh? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me! You'll forgive me given, shall we say, rather disingenuous remarks made about the chances of war in Iraq back in the day, that I take protestations that an attack on Iran are "fantasy land" or "wild speculation" with a tad more skepticism than I might have in yesteryear. Not to mention the media climate generally! The New Republic is featuring a cover illustration of a demonic Ahmadi-Nejad as gruesome apparition complete with monstrous fangs made of nuclear missiles, the Weekly Standard has turned over its current issue to something of a 'Target-Iran!' extravaganza, the National Review recently editorialized that Something Be Done, Mark Steyn is busily planning the Great Persian Campaign (no occupation, this time, mind you!), and bloggers are leaping on this story to shorten the time frame for Iran to get nukes from the National Intelligence Estimate of approximately 10 years to, don seatbelts please, some 16 days! [ed. note: the 16 days crapola aside, note there is some legitimate concern that the Iranian nuclear program could be on a faster-track than the initial NIE anticipated.]
Yeah, methinks it could all happen again, even with so much unfinished business on the Administration's plate. Iraq is in a hugely perilous state and the situation in Afghanistan (and parts of Pakistan) is very problematic (by the way, where are Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri?). So please be patient with me, over the coming weeks, as I seek to bring the temperature down on Iran policy musings a degree or two. Look, a military strike on Iran might ultimately prove necessary, especially if Ahmadi-Nejad is in power at the time Iran is actually about to get a nuclear weapon. His aggressive rhetoric must be taken seriously, and we very likely cannot risk a nuclear Iran led by such an unstable leader. But an Iran led by another less radical regime could be a different story, especially given positive demographic trends that point to a more moderate generation in the wings.
The bottom line is that military action against Iran, if it comes, must be pursued only after the situation in neighboring countries is more stable (Iraq, Afghanistan), only after diplomatic avenues (and non-military punitive actions like freezing the assets of regime leaders and blocking key regime figures travel) have been pursued to the utmost, only when we have unimpeachable intelligence that Iran is truly on the cusp of wielding a nuclear weapon, and always, with all due consideration being given to the nature of the regime that is actually in power at the time the country is about to go nuclear. Until then, look for this blog to be concerned about the chances of another ill-considered, overly precipitous action in the region, especially given the incompetent civilian leadership currently in place at the Pentagon. And, no, I don't derive too much comfort from the Administration's protests that such an attack is not in the offing. Better to monitor going-ons rather closely, I'd think. As the old saying goes, trust but verify...with emphasis on the verification prong.
UPDATE: More nettlesome realities courtesy of Zvi Bar'el:
The military option may be very exciting; and in some places, there are already people stroking the buttons that launch the ICBMs - but Ahmadinejad can relax. A military assault on Iran, they worry in Washington, could instigate an Iranian double-pronged attack on Iraq - one, a missile attack against military targets, and the other, an attack by activists - terrorists or political agents - aimed at turning Iraq into adjunct Iranian territory. An attack on Iran would unite the Iranian people, including those opposed to the ayatollahs, and thus even further strengthen their regime; and the vision of regime change there would evaporate.
More on Iran policy soon.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Let's not forget the below-quoted snippet from an interview, if we can call it that, with US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton: "whatever happens at the State Department, the President knows what he needs to do."
Another Battle for Baghdad?
So says the Times (UK).
Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell at the State Department, said a crackdown in Baghdad was one of the few ways in which a fresh Iraqi government could bind the new national army and prove its mettle.
Yes, Baghdad is a mess, and control over it needs to be re-asserted. Pity Don Rumsfeld will likely be at the helm of such a prospective operation, as that would significantly reduce our chances of success.
April 16, 2006
Holbrooke on the Revolt of the Generals
The calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In that epic drama, Truman was unquestionably correct -- MacArthur, the commanding general in Korea and a towering World War II hero, publicly challenged Truman's authority and had to be removed. Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different.
More from David Brooks:
Rumsfeld the reformer never adjusted to the circumstances of wartime. Once the initiator of new ideas, he now strangles ideas. Once the modernizer, he's now the dinosaur. Amid the war on terror, he has unleashed a reign of terror on his subordinates.
Meantime, Mike DeLong defends Rummy in today's NYT. Among other things, he says:
We also — collectively — made some decisions in the wake of the war that could have been better. We banned the entire Baath Party, which ended up slowing reconstruction (we should probably have banned only high-level officials); we dissolved the entire Iraqi Army (we probably should have retained a small cadre help to rebuild it more quickly). We relied too much on the supposed expertise of the Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi who assured us that once Saddam Hussein was gone, Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds would unite in harmony.
But Rumsfeld won't even admit the tactical errors DeLong at least does in this half-hearted support of Rumsfeld (one he probably felt compelled to write at least partly given the alarming gulf that has burst into public view as between our civilian war 'leaders' and the uniformed military). As for the sufficiency of planning for Phase IV, let's just say we'll have much more on that here in coming days. But let me point readers to Chapter 8 of Cobra II. Below please find some key passages that put something of the lie to DeLong's mostly bogus spin that adequate planning had occurred for Phase IV, and trust me when I tell you they are by no means 'cherry-picked', but representative of the overall state of play re: Phase IV planning, at least per this rather judicious treatment.
Zinni had organized the war game Desert Crossing, intended to integrate the civilian agencies--from the Agency for International Development to the Treasury Department--that would help to govern [Iraq]. As there was little interest in forcing regime change in Iraq during the Clinton years, Desert Crossing did not get very far. Zinni's effort was preliminary and focused more on solving short-term humanitarian problems than on designing a new U.S.-led organization to run the country after the war and before the installation of a new Iraqi government. Franks had done little to pick up where his predecessor left off...When Zinni had later called Mike DeLong, Frank's Tampa-based deputy and fellow Marine, to ask if the command was trying to build on Desert Crossing, DeLong indicated that he had never heard of it...Unlike many of his subordinates, Franks had no experience in Bosnia or Kosovo and was inclined to think of nation-consolidating efforts as an afterthought...It was not until August...when the Joint Staff instructed CENTCOM that it would have to support the administration of [Iraq]. By then, the planners were consumed with planning the war and preparing Franks for his meetings with the president and top administration officials. CENTCOM's team had been told to get cracking on Phase IV, but at a difficult time. "The ability to focus on it was very difficult at the command perspective...you had a lot of energy focused on the tactical piece, again Phase I through III. There wasn't a whole lot of intellectual energy being focused on Phase IV". (Cobra II, p. 139-140)
After the Pentagon established its primacy in postwar Iraq [ed. note: meaning the bureaucratic battle to wrest control from the State Department before the war], the Phase IV planning effort slowed to a crawl. Rumsfeld did not seem anxious about the lack of momentum. His assumption was that he and his department would not be organizing a massive nation-building program, but facilitating Iraqi efforts to secure and reconstruct their own country using their oil exports to finance whatever was needed. Doug Feith...described Rumsfeld's approach as 'enabling'. It was intended to reduce the U.S. burden in postwar Iraq and facilitate the quick departure of the bulk of U.S. forces. At the White House, there was intuitive support for the 'enabling' strategy, which would allow the United States to dispose of its foe, quickly withdraw many, if not most, of its troops, and avoid the decade-long commitment Clinton had initiated in the Balkans...For the Joint Staff, however, the projected reliance on the Iraqis did not obviate the need to set up the U.S. organizations that were to oversee the occupation. Since mid-October, there had been no additional guidance or input from the civilians on Rumsfeld's staff on how to turn their plan into reality, prompting one senior officer on the Joint Staff to propose a new nickname for Rumsfeld's policy team: 'the black hole'. (Cobra II, p. 142)[UPDATE: I was boarding a flight when I initially posted this, and have added some text and cleaned up nits now having touched down].
Rumsfeld's stewardship of Phase IV will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American national security policy. No, blame cannot reside with him alone. A weak-kneed NSC infected by great skepticism about 'doing kindergartens' and such played a role, and there were many other factors too (Powell should have rung the alarm bells more loudly, probably). But, and with regard to the Pentagon's role, something of a perfect storm of hubris, insouciance, strategic and tactical blundering, total lack of understanding regarding nation-building, micro-management and stubborness all conspired to put us in the dire straits we find ourselves in today. Were it not for all the blood shed, it would be but an immense farce that Rumsfeld has not yet been fired. Instead it is a bona fide scandal, something evocative of a fraud being perpetrated on the American public, one that has, to boot, resulted in a not insignificant crisis in the history of civilian-military relations in the post-Vietnam era.
Holbrooke is absolutely right. There will be no meaningful change in Iraq policy until Rumsfeld goes. And the current strategy is leading us towards failure. Thus the anger of our Generals. The cheap attempts to discredit said Generals are grotesque, especially attacks lobbed at those who actually led men into battle in Iraq, but of course woefully predictable. All we can do now is stand firm, share facts, and hope sanity prevails. But the President is now tottering, his Administration increasingly defunct and discredited, as his dependency on Rumsfeld and lack of strategic leadership is now being unmasked for all to see. And, incidentally, how dare Rumsfeld waste our time, and time away from salvaging the war effort, quibbling with Condeleeza Rice in public about whether mistakes were made in Iraq? Of course mistakes were made, many of them (both strategic and tactical), and he should be eating massive servings of humble pie instead of showboating on radio interviews so as to avoid even a smidgen of accountability. Not to mention serving up letters of resignation (yes, once again, and really meaning it this time) to POTUS. To quote a golden oldie, have you no shame Sir?
A Barghouti-Pollard Deal?
April 15, 2006
Myers, Rumsfeld and 'Mind Meld'
I note that Dick Myers has been trotted out to make his pro-Rummy rounds on Fox News. This will doubtless get passed down the echo-chamber food chain to the cultish sites like Powerline and such. In this context, it's worth mentioning this delicious little tidbit from Michael Gordon's and Bernard Trainor's Cobra II, which I'm reading over Easter.
At p. 46:
Myers once jested during a Pentagon briefing for the press that he and Rumsfeld shared a "mind meld," but there were those who had a less charitable view. After hearing Rumsfeld testify on troops levels around the world, Senator John McCain...said cuttingly there was no need to hear from Myers as well since he knew the chairman was incapable of expressing an independent view.
A footnote to the main text give McCain's exact verbiage: After listening to Rumsfeld, McCain said: "I don't need General Myers' response. I know it will be exactly the same as yours. I would like the personal opinions--I would--and I don't mean that as in any way a criticism, General Myers. I would like the personal opinion of the other CINC's, if I could, since my time has expired."
Not meant in any way as a criticism....Ah-hah, sure...
UPDATE: Speaking of McCain, he commented on Rumsfeld too today:
I was asked a long time ago, I think a year and a half or two years ago, if I had confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld. I was asked that directly. I said, ‘No.'
Saving the Presidency?
From a recent WaPo editorial:
Can this Presidency be saved? President Bush's approval rating has plummeted to a dismal 38 percent, according to the latest Post-ABC News poll. Democrats will rejoice at their improving prospects of recovering a majority in Congress. But a damaged president governing for nearly three more years in a dangerous world is no cause for rejoicing. With that in mind, we offer Mr. Bush, at no charge, some advice on a fresh start.
One piece of advice they give:
Or imagine the positive shock he could deliver by announcing that he would no longer tolerate the scandal of U.S. abuse of detainees, eight of whom have been tortured to death and at least 98 of whom have died in custody. Acknowledging the long-term damage done to the nation by the mistreatment, and by the refusal to punish any but the lowest-level servicemen, Mr. Bush could promise to reform the system, allow the Red Cross into his secret prisons, and work with Congress to provide a legal framework for detention, interrogation and trials.
Yeah, wouldn't that be swell? But witness this pitiable recent exchange (thanks to AE for the link):
Q Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to have you here. I'm a first-year student in South Asia studies. My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.
Interactions like these too often reveal the President as a profoundly unserious man, one who apparently lacks the intelligence, dignity or moral integrity to pursue real reform of detainee policy along the lines the WaPo editorial sketches out. So as POTUS giggles away in blessed ignorance, we continue to fritter away our national prestige, moral authority, and international image regarding such matters. With no real opposition party to speak of worth its salt, and a somnolent Congress that provides little real oversight function, it's all a rather depressing spectacle. How can this veritable crisis of leadership across Washington be improved? I used to think some Wise Men style intervention might be possible. But there aren't any left, it seems.
April 14, 2006
Bush on Rumsfeld
Earlier today I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the Global War on Terror. I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our Nation.
Another depressing low point for an increasingly discredited, out-of-touch Adminstration stumbling from blunder to blunder. These are underwhelming times. In John Kerry, we have a man who would hold a gun against the heads of the Iraqis--so that if they cannot form a government in the midst of unprecedented crises (ones stemming from a war he supported too, lest we forget)--not to mention the added pressure such an ultimatum creates, he would have us pull out by May 15th, leaving Iraq to a doubtless grim fate. And in Bush, we have a deep mediocrity incapable of seeing that the war effort has been prosecuted in bungled fashion by an arrogant and failed Secretary of Defense, who so urgently needs to be replaced. But alas, Bush is likely dependent on the man, and so too meek to replace him. In short, we have no leaders of the requisite vision, strength, moral integrity, intelligence or character to bring to the fore. It's a sad, and even rather scary, time. Perhaps John McCain might prove a salvation, of sorts, but we've got 1000 days to go yet, and that's rather a long time to have proven incompetents at the helm. But the alternative in 2004, at least with regard to Iraq policy, was at least equally grim. As I said, worrisome times.
N.B. A shout-out to Generals who may not yet have spoken out re: Rumsfeld. Please don't let the President's so unfortunate statement today deter you from adding your voice to the mix. Let the record become increasingly clear: our uniformed military, both current and retired, are deeply opposed to this failed war leader and angry he remains in office. And, no, as Tom Maguire correctly states, it's not because they are all peeved, crusty old-Guard types pissed at Rumsfeld's attempt to 'transform' the military. Increasingly, and very clearly, it's because they believe he's botched and is still botching the Iraq war. That's what has got them, and people like B.D., up in arms. Which makes posts like these just disgusting in their manifest intellectual dishonesty. Disgusting, but not surprising. Glenn Greenwald has more.
P.S. Don't miss Ignatius, today. Some excerpts:
Rumsfeld has lost the support of the uniformed military officers who work for him. Make no mistake: The retired generals who are speaking out against Rumsfeld in interviews and op-ed pieces express the views of hundreds of other officers on active duty. When I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent. Based on my own conversations with senior officers over the past three years, I suspect that figure may be low...Rumsfeld is a stubborn man, and I suspect the parade of retired generals calling for his head has only made him more determined to hold on. But by staying in his job, Rumsfeld is hurting the cause he presumably cares most about. The president, even more stubborn than his Pentagon chief, is said to have rejected his offer to resign. If that's so, it's time for Rumsfeld to take the matter out of Bush's hands. The administration needs to look this one clearly in the eye: Without changes that shore up public support in America, it risks losing the war in Iraq.
Ignatius might be identifying our last hope. Rumsfeld taking it out of Bush's hands and forcing the matter of his resignation. But I put the odds of that below 5%, given Rumsfeld's arrogance, Cheney's desire for him to stay on, and Bush's vote of confidence today. Let's say it yet again...how very sad.
April 13, 2006
More on Iran
As the war drums beat, it's worth remembering that it's not five minutes to midnight. And likely won't be for the duration of the Bush Administration. I still see this as ultimately a challenge for the next Administration that comes in to power in 2009. That's not to say there won't be complicated diplomacy in and around the UNSC, and perhaps major sanctions and other robust tactics that will be necessary to wield by 2008, say. But I do not see a responsible use of military power before 2009, meaning a strictly necessary one, unless there is a secret (meaning, you know, secret, secret) program the Iranians have fast-tracked, and we have unimpeachable evidence of same, meaning their ability to wield a nuclear weapon within 1000 or so days. I don't see it, and have yet to see any responsible intelligence analyst argue otherwise.
Western nuclear analysts said yesterday that Tehran lacked the skills, materials and equipment to make good on its immediate nuclear ambitions, even as a senior Iranian official said Iran would defy international pressure and rapidly expand its ability to enrich uranium for fuel.
The Fallacy of Dependency Theory
From a Greg Jaffe piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
Though political gridlock and waves of sectarian violence continue to afflict Iraq, clear signs are emerging that the U.S. is gearing up plans to reduce the number of its troops in the country. No firm decisions or formal announcements on a reduction are likely before Iraqi leaders form a government -- a process that has already taken several months and stoked civil disorder. Moreover, military officials in Iraq and Washington worry that pulling U.S. troops back from Iraqi cities or bringing them home could further escalate sectarian fighting that Iraqi forces would be unable to quell on their own.
First Rumsfeld bungled with imposing his fantastical transformationalist nostrums on the Iraq war theater. Instead of Overwhelming Force, we got Troop Lite. Troop Lite led to Stuff Happens. Now Rumsfeld is all caught up on "dependency" theory. The Iraqis will become dependent, you see, if we actually were to have a more proactive force posture and attempted to create conditions of order in Iraq. Hogwash, at least at this juncture. Rather than artificially inflate the numbers of trained and equipped Iraqi Forces, and be concerned about fostering too much "dependency", we should be re-doubling efforts to control the battle-space, not least in Baghdad, but of course in key areas like Anbar too. It's far too early to be fretting about dependency, as this war could still be lost, especially if we retrench too much into big bases and leave the battle-space to ineffective Iraq forces that may not prove a real match to the insurgents or, equally important, the militias. Rumsfeld's (and so Bush's) legacy in Iraq may well be chaotic civil war or large-scale inter-communal friction or whatever euphemism we want to use to describe the bloody emergence of three para-states, but there is still hope to stave off this horrific outcome. Fresh leadership, of course, would help--that isn't beholden to dependency theory nostrums, and the like, but rather sees clearly how immensely turbulent the current situation remains, and therefore the attendant continuing need for major American involvement. But I'm sounding like a broken record, aren't I?
P.S. In fairness to Rumsfeld, and to state the obvious, it bears noting that the retrenchments and more conservative force posture are not only a result of his personal concerns about dependency, but also a recognition of political realities at home. There is, of course, major political pressure to reduce casualties, and bring U.S. forces home. All these varied variables are conspiring together to make our presence in Iraq less effective, and risk the outcome of the war. A strong President who understood this risk, and could use the bully pulpit to rally the American public to his side, by stressing the need for real sacrifice (for instance, a war tax would remind people, you know, that we are at war), could make a difference. But we don't have such leadership. We are still trying to do it on the cheap. And so risking failure.
The Rumsfeld Mutiny
First there was Zinni, but we were not surprised, really. Second there was Eaton, and we took note. Third there was Newbold, and, you know, we really started sensing a pattern here. And then, today, there was John Batiste, and we thought, holy shit, this is really a mutiny, of sorts.
Batiste's comments resonate especially within the Army: It is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld. Also, before going to Iraq, he worked at the highest level of the Pentagon, serving as the senior military assistant to Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense.
But there's more:
Another retired officer, Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, said he believes that his peer group is "a pretty closemouthed bunch" but that, even so, his sense is "everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out. He emphatically agrees, Riggs said, explaining that he believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have "made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict."
Yep, they just can't take it anymore.
Pete Pace today put a brave face on all these votes of no confidence:
As far as Pete Pace is concerned, this country is exceptionally well-served by the man standing on my left. Nobody, nobody works harder than he does to take care of the PFCs and lance corporals and lieutenants and the captains. He does his homework. He works weekends, he works nights. People can question my judgment or his judgment, but they should never question the dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary Rumsfeld.
But no one is questioning Rumsfeld's work ethic, or dedication, or patriotism, or anything like that. People are questioning his basic competence to wage the complex struggle we find ourselves in, one that he's proven manifestly unfit to prosecute with the requisite skill and professionalism. But don't take my word for it. Take it from: 1) a former Commander in Chief of United States Central Command (Zinni); 2) a Major General in charge of training the Iraqi Army (Eaton); 3) a Lt. General and Director for Operations of the Joint Staff (Newbold); and 4) a Major General in command of the First Infantry Division in Iraq from '04-05 (Batiste).
Are we going to listen to these men, serious men with multiple stars on their lapels who all want us to prevail in this war, or are we going to listen to hack bloggers and pundits and court attendants who continue to prostrate themselves in front of the Secretary of Defense like toadies and lick-spittles? Well, I'm with the former, big time.
Someone must pull the President aside, once and for all, and snap him into reality on this issue. It's urgent, and he's losing a lot of support, even from those like B.D. who supported him rather than Kerry because we felt he would prove better on the Iraq issue. We're furious Mr. President, by your inability to recognize reality and fire this disgraced Secretary. We just can't take it anymore either. How someone who went to Andover, Yale and HBS, even as a somewhat breezy legacy, can't at least recognize that he is sinking, and that staff changes are urgently needed to resuscitate his Presidency, is beyond me. And it's not just Andy Card and John Snow. The biggest albatross around POTUS neck is Don Rumsfeld. Bush must step up to bat, prove he's not dependent on him, and ask him for his resignation. There is no other choice. Legions of rank and file military, not to mention us citizens, have had it up to here with his hubris-ridden bungling about, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Bush's numbers crater into Chirac territory if he can't, somehow, summon the gumption to start leading his Administration out of this morass. To do so, again, he desperately needs new leadership at the Pentagon. I nominate Sam Nunn, but am open to other suggestions in comments.
UPDATE: And then there were five. Count 'em.
April 12, 2006
The Perils of Over-Optimism
David Rieff, reviewing Cobra II in TNR:
The problem of optimism lies at the heart of what went wrong both in the planning stages for the war and subsequently on the ground in Iraq. Recently, the U.S. Army journal Military Review published an essay by Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British officer who had served in Iraq alongside U.S. forces. His criticism was sharp, and for the most part it concerned strictly military matters. But he, too, came back again and again to this question of what he called "damaging optimism"--the refusal of American commanders to accept the possibility that things might go wrong. And lest this seem simply like the usual British sour grapes about America (Greece to their Rome and all that jazz), the worry about overly optimistic thinking is one of the key recommendations of a recent Department of Defense study cautioning that the tendency of U.S. officers to take their wishes for reality has created huge problems for the American effort in Iraq.
Read the whole thing.
P.S. For a telling example of the sycophantic world-view Rumsfeld evidently likes to surround himself with, read this account (prominently displayed at the Pentagon's website) about how Iraq is on the "cusp of greatness." I harbor no ill-will to the Colonel who believes Iraq is on the cusp of such auspicious things. He is there, it is his right and prerogative to so feel, and his sentiments are doubtless heartfelt and genuine. But it showcases a deep ignorance about the historical forces that have been unleashed in Iraq, and the many pitfalls that await. It's not serious, but rather evocative of the over-optimism Rieff highlights in the passage I quote above. Anyway, put this little example in the time capsule too, for another small window into the delusional, faith-based war-making that Donald Rumsfeld is presiding over. Fantasy-land, as Fareed Zakaria put it Sunday on This Week.
So Steely Steyn!
Mark Steyn, doubtless writing in from some fortified New Hampshire cabin or such, concludes after a rather prodigious disquisition on Iran:
Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no “surgical” strike in any meaningful sense: Iran’s clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country’s allegedly “pro-American” youth. This shouldn’t be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment—and incarceration. It’s up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime—but no occupation.
This is scandalously absurd tommyrot to the nth degree. But in some bien pensant quarters, I gather, such musings pass for high-brow "Jacksonian"-style foreign policy deep-think, and quite apart from being met with protracted guffaws and sniggers, are instead greeted with furrowed brows and hearty, if appropriately resigned, nods of agreement. Let's be more plain: if this is the future direction that some in the Republican Party plan to cheer-lead regarding security policy matters like Iran--'blow up the whole bloody place, mate, and we'll see where the chips fall later'--please count the proprieter of this humble little site out of the fiery festivities. Truth be told, my tolerance for such devastatingly juvenile B.S. being beamed in from the still wintry outlands of New Hampshire, ostensibly for eager and ready consumption by legions of newbie foreign policy mavens spinnin'-it-steely-Steyn-style-in-the-'sphere, is growing pretty thin. But, hey, maybe that's just me. It's Munich again, see, and the times require gumption and spine and fortitude--not the cowardice of the Eastern Establishment say, or Kofi's kleptocracy granting Kojo the run of the mill, or some other bastion of weak-kneedness, one too far removed from the pure, virgin northern woods, where a man can live and breath free, and see the great challenges of the time in starker, more cogent relief.
Oh, as for, per Steyn, "extraterritorial nuttiness" having to be "shown not to pay" (mais oui, bien sur!), dare I refer Mark to Messrs. Will, Gingrich, Buckley, among others, who would be happy to share some views on said topic, though perhaps from an altogether different perspective than our recently minted Marechal Steyn had in mind, albeit a deliciously ironic one, under the circumstances, it must be said. Let's clue him in without too much delay though, lest planning for the Great Persian Campaign get too far underway New Hampshire way. Come downs from euphoric lofty heights can be somewhat cruel amid all the early excitements, so better to inject a cautionary portent or two by way of brotherly admonition every now and again. Frankly, I would have thought the Mesopotamian morass might have served as some rough bodement, a harbinger of sorts, for those moving so swiftly on to Battle No. 3 of the GWOT. Evidently, not, alas.
P.S. Sanity, for now, appears to be prevailing in the Administration:
Some officials, from a range of agencies including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, said there was none of the feverish planning that took place in the prelude to the Iraq war, and no indication that the White House was seeking an explanation of its military options.
Here are some of Tehran's retaliatory options, as quoted directly from the Cordesman report:
• Retaliate against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan overtly using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads
Not to mention, just about the entire Iranian nation will be hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons as soon as the bombing ceases, not just the nutters, but most of the reformers too. Has Mark Steyn thought about any of these consequences with any seriousness? I doubt it.
P.P.S.: From Ignatius:
Allison argues that Bush's dilemma is similar to the one that confronted Kennedy in 1962. His advisers are telling him that he may face a stark choice -- either to acquiesce in the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a dangerous adversary, or risk war to stop that nuclear fait accompli . Hard-liners warned JFK that alternative courses of action would only delay the inevitable day of reckoning, and Bush is probably hearing similar advice now.
God damn right, re: this last bolded part. FYI, I'll have more on Iran in coming days, less of a Steyn-roast, and more on what I think our policy needs to be. I hope you'll find it worth reading, when it's up live. No, the military option can never be taken wholly off the table, but there's a lot we can and indeed must try to do before we get there, Steyn's hyperbole aside. As I said, more soon.
The 83rd Floor
April 11, 2006
The Emperor Has No Clothes
Fareed Zakaria, on George Stephanopouloses show Sunday:
Look what the report seems to suggest is what we've always really known is that the accounts that the mainstream media are providing are not selective, that Iraq is not doing well....the media and everybody whose ever been to Iraq has pointed out that there is a real problem in the heart of the country comprising about 30-35% of the population at the very least, and when you read this you begin to wonder are Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney really seeing the same world out there in some kind of fantasy land of their own?
Meantime, Scott McClellan today:
Q Okay, one other question on Secretary Rumsfeld, when you were talking before. This is now the second or third retired general to come out in recent weeks and say that he should step down. Does the President still have confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld? And if so, why, given all of these top military officials saying that he mishandled the war?
Look, like Dan Drezner "I think I'm at the point where I don't want any more legacies from the Bush administration". Because, among other things, any sentient adult who would describe Rumsfeld's stewardship of the Iraq War as "outstanding" or a "great job" is unfit to be anywhere near the Oval Office, and certainly not planning a major operation in Iran.
Or, of course, hiding behind his incompetence. As commenter Joseph Britt put it very well in comments recently in this blog:
Cabinet members get fired or are pressed into resigning in every administration, sometimes because they are ineffective or have become political liabilities, occasionally because the policy direction they represent is one in which the President has lost interest. Rarely do their departures change significantly the character of any President's administration, for the very good reason that in most administrations a Cabinet member's influence is directly related to the quality of his relationship with the President. The Cabinet member's departure follows the decline of that relationship and the waning of his influence; it does not precede it. Because of this, other players in an administration have time to position themselves to fill the vacuum of authority that can result when a department head leaves.
The Emperor has no clothes.
"Dead and Buried"
This is how Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the leftist union Force Ouvrière, pronounced something of a requiem for the ill-fated labor law amendment meant to make the French labor market less rigid. But he might as well have been describing Chirac's Presidency, which is not only "dead and buried", but well 10 feet under now. All this is an outrageously depressing spectacle that one wishes, just somehow, could be fast forwarded along 14 months so as to get to the (potentially) providential arms of the next election. As John Vinocur suggests, it's not even that this proposed reform even began to seriously address the structural causes of France's economic malaise. But, to a fashion, it was at least a modest start to address France's endemic youth unemployment.
No matter, like Chirac, dead man walking that he is, this rather piddling attempt at modest labor reform has been buried under the weight of grotesque cowardice (by the government) and myopia (among the public). Yes, it is hard to recall such a show of profoundly abject weakness as Chirac's inglorious retreat today. But, perhaps, his meekness is equalled, if not bested, by that of large swaths of France's center to center-left, and its unions, and most depressingly, its youth (most of France's bright young, of course, have long since decamped to places like Manhattan and South Ken, where labor markets function much more efficiently).
Where does all this leave us? French economist Jacques Marseille, during an interview in Le Monde, was asked whether France was an impossible country to reform. He answered, and I translate: "Yes. Or in any case, it's immensely difficult. I've searched desperately through history moments during which France was capable of instituting big reforms which would have changed her destiny, calmly, through dialogue, via Parliament. I couldn't find such moments." He believes some "rupture", a revolutionary or quasi-revolutionary turning point, is the only way France has historically found her way forward, and that this legacy remains very relevant to the present day. He may be right, and such a 'rupture' is the strong medicine that will finally force France into some effective accommodation with the realities of the 21st Century.
What form the next 'revolution', we can only guess and ponder, at this juncture. Still, I harbor hopes the so canny Sarkozy, if he can prevail against a potentially resurgent left (arguably somewhat strengthened after this so sad labor reform debacle), might just be able to bring France peaceably forward sans rupture. But who knows. Perhaps, instead, France will continue to limp sadly along, in a state of almost decadent decay--it can still be a charming place, after all, if you are lucky enough to just be a visitor passing through. As Adam Gopnik has previously written, about the "Venetian Temptation".
For the past twenty years, many people in Paris have been talking in fear about the “Venetian Temptation”—the possibility that France, and Paris in particular, could become another Venice, a perfectly preserved citadel of past glory. What seems in play now is the Italian Interpretation, the possibility of seeing France as Italy has long been seen, as a country that, however misgoverned, thrives through culture, clan, commerce, and clandestine understanding.
More likely, all told, a rupture of some kind awaits, save, as I said, if Sarkozy can act the savior and forge deliberative, methodical reform. More on what directions such a rupture could take down the road a bit, in these pages. One wishes for a quasi-miracle, of course, some form of rational progress, new direction, measured optimism, freshness and light new step. But amidst all the sour mood, one detects instead, at least to some degree, the real risks of France's Old Demons being resurrected. As Gopnik quotes an observer of the French scene:
“France is the victim of her two demons,” he explains, “the left neo-Bolshevism that derives from the egalitarianism of the Revolution and still dreams of a great night of anti-capitalist massacre, and the right-wing xenophobic nationalism that was nourished by a long modern tradition running from Boulanger”—the French reactionary general who nearly took power in the late nineteenth century—“to Le Pen.
We must all hope something better emerges. It is not in anyone's interests for utopic egalitarian follies or some variant of neo-fascism to rear its head again in a Europe meant to already allegedly be in some post-historical, post-Kantian moment of 'perpetual peace'. Even perennial decay and increasing irrelevancy would be better, but I wonder when France's frustrations might erupt more violently than they have over these past difficult years. This is especially true if the political class remains woefully ineffective and hamstrung, in the face of such degrees of protracted and painful drift. Yes, even if there are few urban strolls more beautiful than an April walkabout in the Jardins de Luxembourg, and Paris does increasingly become some Potemkin-like above-water version of Venice. These are real consolations, it must be said (if only sensory ones), but despite them one detects an ever-increasing visceral anger in the French polity. Perhaps a true boiling-point moment will be price of securing effective change, assuming the perils of extremist temptations, be they of the Left or the Right, are avoided when and if the so-called next 'rupture' comes. Or perhaps I'm being a tad hyperbolic, and normal party politics, moored to the rough center, will steer France towards a better future in coming years. I'm not sure, really, but perhaps commenters have a view?
April 10, 2006
"Anxiety About Arrogance"
Leon Wieseltier: "I told you, I have nothing useful to say."
I feel the same way, rather often, of late.
April 09, 2006
"The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels...Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it's going to be very difficult to do."
One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete...
Developing, as they say. For now, however, note I think this kind of talk about use of nuclear bunker-busters is more by way of psy-ops, meant to supplement so-called 'coercive diplomacy' style efforts to focus minds in Teheran. But let's steer clear of polemics in comments below, and analyze as soberly as possible, how far, really, people believe Iran is from wielding a nuclear weapon? To get debate going, see this excerpt from the Hersh story:
While almost no one disputes Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is intense debate over how soon it could get the bomb, and what to do about that. Robert Gallucci, a former government expert on nonproliferation who is now the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, told me, “Based on what I know, Iran could be eight to ten years away” from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon. Gallucci added, “If they had a covert nuclear program and we could prove it, and we could not stop it by negotiation, diplomacy, or the threat of sanctions, I’d be in favor of taking it out. But if you do it”—bomb Iran—“without being able to show there’s a secret program, you’re in trouble.”
So, the question on the table is, how far away is Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? Two months? One year? Three years? Half a decade? A decade? Longer? I'm more with Gallucci than Khan, by the way, and it appears our National Intelligence Assessment also is on the record estimating an approximately ten year time frame. I'm willing to be persuaded it's closer to five years, perhaps, but I certainly don't see an Iranian bomb by the end of Bush's term. So let's put the below excerpt from Hersh's piece in perspective, keeping in mind Sy Hersh, shall we say, has a tendency to be a tad hyperbolic:
Bush and others in the White House view him [Ahmadi-Nejad] as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”
Let's put aside, at least for now, whether what Hersh writes is true--that Bush views an attack on Iran as his ultimate legacy. Let's ask instead, if an Iranian bomb is at least 5 years away, and we don't even know who will be in power in Iran half a decade or a decade hence (it's hard to imagine Ahmadi-Nejad lasting that long, that is, unless we attack), why rush and risk another massive blunder planned by the very same team that, at least to date, has rendered Iraq something of a shambles? Frankly, I'd rather push the diplomatic track to the maximum through Bush's term and see, say, a McCain Administration better address this looming crisis, at least if we have the luxury of time, which I believe we do.
Why? Because I have no faith in the basic competence of the current Administration (particularly with the current leadership at the Pentagon still in place) to mount an operation this complex (keeping in mind the likely spill-over effects of major airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan), sadly. Maybe I'm being unfair. But my musings at least have the benefit of being sincere. Other reasons to wait several more years before taking serious military action? Airstrikes in my view will cause a massive nationalist backlash in Iran. If we mean to create conditions whereby a more moderate, rational government can emerge there, air strikes will have the opposite impact. It will become a matter of urgent national pride for the Iranians to develop a weapon, across the political spectrum, to include many reformists. Also, the gates of hell will open in southern Iraq too, where the Iranians will likely swoop into Basra in a major land-grab play. And with Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan still so unstable--I believe that the regional situation could truly implode in disasterous fashion if a military option were pursued in Iran too hastily (look for major Iranian trouble-making post-air strikes in Herat province too). By 2010 or 2011, say, Iraq might be on firmer footing, as well as Afghanistan (or not, but we can hope...). Diplomatic avenues will have been pursued to the absolute maximum. Iran might actually truly be on the cusp of having a bomb. A new President with more credibility will be in the Oval Office, not suffering as direct a credibility issue as Bush given the Iraq WMD fiasco. For all these reasons and more that I'll detail in coming days, it is of critical importance that the Iran situation be approached with utmost caution, coherence, and responsibility--not in a climate of ginned up hysteria about a new Hitler wielding a nuke within the year.
April 08, 2006
Bombing at the Baratha Mosque
At least another 71 Shi'a worshippers were blown to death yesterday as coalition and Iraqi forces continue to fail to provide basic security in the capital city of the country that was meant to serve as model to the region of a new Arab democracy created by U.S. intervention. Surfing through the blogosphere yesterday evening, I feel it necessary to debunk a few myths I'm seeing propagated in the usual bogus quarters.
1) No, the Iranians didn't do this one either. People forget it is not in the Iranian national interest to stoke a full-blown civil war in Iraq, as this would mean different Shi'a factions would likely get dragged into internecine fighting. Yes, the Iranian objective is to ensure continuing instability, so that Americans remain bogged down and can't pursue another adventure in the neighborhood, but this does not mean the Iranians seek total chaos either. This is why Zalmay Khalilzad and others believe an Iranian negotiation track on Iraq could at least provide some benefit, if very limited, as there are some common objectives that can be espied here and there. For instance, to stress, it is neither in the Iranian nor U.S. interest to see full-blown civil war in Iraq. The Iranians do want to see the Americans continue to be slowly bled, but they do not want to see a massive conflagration that might scuttle a more methodically effective Shi'a ascendancy (one that would be largely sympathethic to Iran).
After all, the Sunni insurgency does remain somewhat resilient (again, despite the hollow and vacuous declarations of victory), and whatever headway the U.S. has made peeling some moderate Sunni tribes away from hard-core insurgents will disappear if Shi'a death squads start operating in Sunni areas more frequently. Then all Sunni hearts and minds will swing firmly back to primal tribal instinct, and the Sunni insurgents will prove a more formidable foe as they regain more unanimous support from their ethnic kin in the population at large. Look for elements in Syria and Saudi Arabia too, if Shi'a gangs are committing major atrocities, to let more jihadists over the border later (currently the numbers are more, shall we say, carefully calibrated). So, no, Iran doesn't want such a full-blown fight on its hands, I'd wager. Put simply, they don't want to see intra-Shi'a squabbling get out of control, which presents too many opportunities to Sunnis and even Kurds to take advantage of such discord, and could lead to unpredictable results unhelpful to Teheran's ultimate interests.
2) To stress for clarity' sake, the Baratha mosque was attacked by Sunni radicals, doubtless some combination of al-Qaeda elements with, perhaps, some collaboration and/or facilitation role by neo-Baathists and old-school Saddamists. Not a Shi'a faction, not Iran, even if such speculation allows various dim commenters to get all wet about those nasty Iranians that are gonna get the next whacking from Uncle Sam.
3) It is not just Baghdad that is insecure at this juncture, and the insurgents are not just putting on a "show" (what a "show" for the families of those brutally slaughtered, eh?), as some have written, for easy consumption and hyperbolic treatment by those cowardly MSM hacks that are fearful of emerging from their wetbars stock full of mini-bottles of Johnnie Walker Black in their cozy Green Zone hotel rooms (of so many lame blogospheric memes I've seen of late, this has got to be one of the candidates for dumbest of 'em all). But, for argument's sake, let's assume the rest of Iraq, all but Baghdad, is doing swell. When people talk of the Lebanese Civil War, that wracked that country from 1975-1991, what are they really talking about? They are talking about the hell and anguish that Beirut suffered for a decade plus. Make no mistake, if Baghdad is not stabilized, there is no effing Iraq. The country will disintegrate and splinter into sectarian enclaves. So we need to effectively control the battle-space in said city. We don't. Nor does the Iraqi Army. And certainly the Iraqi police doesn't. We're largely failing there, put simply--especially given the difficulties in putting together a national, cohesive government--which remains elusive despite Rice and Straw's intervention (which some say back-fired as appearing high-handed, I say more of it!) and Zalmay Khalilzad's yeoman's efforts.
4) Regardless, as a new report points out, the situation in Anbar, despite some improvements in the past year, remains "critical". Lest we forget amidst the dreary, empty spin that 14 of 18 provinces are doing great, Anbar alone is the size of Belgium, and is the largest province in Iraq. It also borders the rat-lines of Syria, as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It's a very strategic province, in a word. Just today, an attack in Ramadi serious enough to warrant U.S. use of F-18 jets occurred. Alas, the insurgency is not "fundamentally finished" as ignorant hacks have written. But there's more. Basra is becoming increasingly influenced by Iranian friendly militias and criminal elements. And the situation in each of Salahuddin and Diyala remains very problematic, and could erupt any day if large scale sectarian killings intensify (among other provinces too). As for the Kurdish areas, it is true they remain stable, and I note bloggers are E-mailing in pretty pictures from their trek-throughs to wide acclaim. But Kurdish federalism remains a real sleeper issue that could imperil the Iraq project later, and the status of cities like Kirkuk, not to mention reverse Arabization underway, will cause continuing low-grade tensions. My point? Don't believe the buffoonishly naive narrative being peddled by some that all the problems of Iraq are now centered on Baghdad, so that all is swell elsewhere. And, even if you feel compelled to swallow this dumbed-down swill, don't minimize the absolutely critical import of Baghdad generally regardless.
5) Finally, for today on Iraq at least, another snippet from Zinni's MTP appearance last Sunday, to close:
MR. RUSSERT: In your book, and I’ll quote from it, “The Battle For Peace,” it says, “Our current war in Iraq may be turning into a repetition of Vietnam. The military out there goes from operation to operation, our leaders in Washington assure us we are powering ahead from success to success; yet our young nineteen or twenty-year-old soldiers are now asking hard questions: ‘I can win any battle; but am I winning this war?’
Yes, there are heroic Captains and Sergeants and Colonels in places like Ramadi and Tal Afar and Qaim that deserve the deepest respect and encouragement, especially from those like me blogging from so far away New York City. My criticisms are not meant to take anything away from their noble efforts. But the fish rots from the head. Until we admit the scale of our problems in Iraq, until we re-intensify our efforts to control Baghdad and somehow forge a national compact, until we stop speaking about draw-downs (Kerry's plan for a May 15th withdrawal if an Iraqi government is not in place is the very height of folly), until the President better grasps the perils we are presented with at the present hour in Iraq, we will continue to bumble along. And the momentum is with chaos and disintegration, not order let alone some unitary, viable democracy. We must do better, and to start doing better, we must recognize the scale of our problem, and the myriad errors committed to date. Does anyone believe our current war leaders, putting aside those who have been cowed by the civilian leadership and otherwise muzzled and so are too often irrelevant, are strong and wise and frank and honest enough to play it straight with us?
Newbold Speaks Out
In 1971, the rock group The Who released the antiwar anthem Won't Get Fooled Again. To most in my generation, the song conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam. To those of us who were truly counterculture—who became career members of the military during those rough times—the song conveyed a very different message. To us, its lyrics evoked a feeling that we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it. Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again. From 2000 until October 2002, I was a Marine Corps lieutenant general and director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq—an unnecessary war. Inside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots' rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I've been silent long enough.
As you read this, recall this absurd little hubbub between Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld:
HENNEN: Dr. Condoleezza Rice, our Secretary of State, speaking figuratively suggested recently we've made thousands of tactical errors; also suggested the important test was making the right strategic decisions and that would be the test of history.
As General Newbold writes, major strategic errors were, at least arguably, committed. But Secretary Rumsfeld won't even admit to tactical errors! This breathtaking arrogance and failure to admit any missteps is an abject farce--were it not for the daily tragedies occurring in Iraq--that are the result not least of such tactical errors. Bush's inability to fire the Secretary of Defense is nothing short of an international embarrasment of the highest order. Despite my recent note to readers indicating I'd be moving on to other topics, I must repeat my plea here: Mr. President, fire Donald Rumsfeld without delay. Look, I understand the notions of loyalty the President feels from his time at Andover, and his Skull & Bones pass-through at Yale. But the President must realize that basic competence must trump residual feelings of loyalty, even having gone through the trauma of 9/11, and Afghanistan, and Iraq with his current Secretary of Defense. As Tony Zinni put it last week on Meet the Press:
I, I think the president of the United States ought to certainly say that there were mistakes made at each of those levels. In some cases, these were presented to him. It may not be necessarily the case that he was wrong. He was given bad information. Every president in history has held people accountable and moved on. Look at President Lincoln in the conduct of the war. He went through every general till he found Grant. Senator McCain mentioned Douglas MacArthur. Well, when he screwed up, the president relieved him. You know, you have to make tough choices. You know, integrity and getting on with the mission and doing it right is more important than loyalty. Both are great traits, but integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.
Integrity. Honesty. Performance. Competence. Do any but the most die-hard apologists associate these traits with our failed Secretary of Defense?
April 07, 2006
"Pass the Popcorn"
Many Iraqis became interested in buying weapons more than other things. People are saying the prices of weapons are incredibly increasing due to the increasing demand by the people and criminals as well.
Stuff happens. So pass the popcorn and grab a Bud, as a commenter at the linked website suggests, about the news of the Baratha Mosque bombing. The thread is an amusing insight into the inanity of what passes for serious commentary on Iraq among some these days, including the risible musings of the proprieter who speculates (somewhat cluelessly, it must be said) that the bombing may have been a "signal to Addin al-Sagheer [ed. note: a prominent Shi'a cleric and politician who was the imam at the bombed mosque] that it's bad for his health not to play along with the Sadrists...like leaving a horse's head in his bedroom..." Heh. Is Richard Fernandez suggesting the Mahdi militia was behind this bombing (or Iran!)? That's funny (my latest Iraq analysis here, btw). But enough of these quibbles! Pass the popcorn and a Foster's, grab the remote, and let's do all three Godfather films tonight, OK kiddies (pause and cue special chug-fest when the guy finds the horse's head, OK)? It's gonna be a party! And an extra 6-pack for the stupidest conspiracy-mongering of the night! I know where I'd put my money...
Bush on the Palestinian Elections
Bush in Charlotte NC, today:
Q Thinking about our children's children, if the all-powerful granter of the presidential request were to visit you this evening and give you one of these three, of ongoing economic growth and security for America, ridding the world of the security threat now posed by North Korea and Iran, or establishing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which one --
Note Roger Cohen, no Bush cheerleader, seems somewhat sympathetic to the view enunciated by Bush here. Key grafs, for those who can't get past the Times Select firewall:
But is Bush wrong to place democratization front and center and act boldly to change a dysfunctional and autocratic Middle East? Brzezinski says he is, and counsels the pursuit of "human rights" as a more effective option that is "moral and pragmatic at the same time."
More of my personal take soon, hopefully over the weekend.
April 05, 2006
I'm getting a good deal of complaints of late that I'm focusing too much on Iraq--day in, day out--and not enough on other foreign policy topics. Yes, 'tis true, it's a big world out there, and sometimes it might appear this has become something of an Iraq blog, or something. I'll try to reach out a bit in coming days, for instance, I've been meaning to do a 'state of Russia' kind of post, but haven't found the time (or get sucked into Iraq analysis instead when I find a spare hour). Also, I gather, the calls for Rumsfeld's head are fatiguing some as well, the mail-bag reveals. I guess everyone and their mother knows by now that I've been wanting Rumsfeld out for years now, and I can see how its gotten tiresome for some to have to wade through another Rummy diatribe. So...I'm not making any promises, but I'll try to span out a bit in coming days to other topics, and focus less often on Rumsfeld. Incidentally, when I check now and again, it does seem I have a decent amount of readers from the Pentagon, some even from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (at least that's what I gather the osd.mil means?), and while I don't know if they're reading me with disdain, or are secretly supporting me, they do seem to come around rather often. We'll see if they still come around with less Rumsfeld blogging, that is, if I'm capable of slowing it down!
P.S. Evidently others are somewhat unhappy too. I had missed this Reynoldsian epingle of a few days back: "Greg Djerejian, meanwhile, is less positive, though of late he seems to be more and more interested in intra-right-wing-punditry battles." Heh, as they say. More on this soon, likely involving, sorry to say, more "intra-right-wing" navel-gazing. With large swaths of conservative commentators increasingly veering in unfortunate directions on a variety of issues, one has to stand up and differ now and again, if you feel they've got it wrong. For instance, unlike Glenn channeling Mark Steyn recently, I don't think now is the time to go all Jacksonian on people's asses so as to secure some final victory in the GWOT, but maybe that's just me. Glenn's a blog-pal, I enjoy corresponding with him via E-mail, and I appreciate his usually gentlemanly treatment of me even when we disagree. But it's true, more and more, we seem to view the world through largely different lens. That's too bad, but there's no sense hiding it. It kinda is what it is, I guess. Who knows, maybe it's somewhat of a cyclical thing, and we'll circle back to viewing more issues similarly going forward? But recently, rarely a day goes by when I'm not in stark disagreement with his take on an issue of the day. More on this soon...
April 04, 2006
The Iraqi Police
An in depth look at the state of the Iraqi police, courtesy of Kevin Whitelaw, writing in US News & World Report. Read the whole thing (and thanks to KW for sending it in).
RUSSERT: The president’s dream is democracy, around the world and the Middle East. What happens to countries like Iraq, countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or in the Palestine area when Hamas is elected? Does democracy necessarily bring about a desired result from America’s security interests?
Yes, it's not just wagging purple fingers around, alas. Don't get me wrong. I believe the elections in Iraq were important coalition successes, and the Iraqis who participated were deeply courageous. But there's so much more involved in creating a successful democracy, as Zinni reminds us.
April 02, 2006
Less Hubris, More Humility
MS. WOODRUFF: You mentioned that we’ve seen this neoconservative Wilsonian tendency embracing--wanting to export American values around the world, and this has been adopted by the Bush administration. Is this a conservative--
More, on George W. Bush:
MR. BUCKLEY: Well, Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq. If he discovered the--if he’d invented the Bill of Rights, it wouldn’t get him out of his jam. If the Iraq venture fails, so also will he fail in terms of the ranking of his administration. Because there is nothing conceivable, in my judgment, that could rescue him if we proceed towards disaster in Iraq.
I want to stress that there are aspects of neo-conservative doctrine that cannot be dismissed out of hand. The world has seen impressive waves of democratization through the 19th and 20th Centuries, and it's not implausible in the least to hope for further progress on this score, as many neo-conservatives hope and trust. But we have to move forward keenly aware of the resources available to bring to the fore, and we have to inject common sense and realism into our liberty exportation exercises. Spouting on about ending tyranny in the world, in toto, and arrogantly assuming people are clamoring for the American way of life in Damascus and Teheran and Caracas and Le Paz, strikes me as idiotic in the extreme. Let me be plainer: people who are chanting off the roof-tops for another regime change adventure (they know who they are) need to, quite simply, and put somewhat crudely, STFU. And not a moment too soon.
Some serious folk like George Will and William Buckley and Henry Kissinger understand this, but others, like, say, the merry gang of profoundly unserious commentators (a select few aside) at places like The Corner are still in la-la land, where the big issues of the day are enshrining an American right to torture, or buying Danish ham, or talking about the rice pilaf at Gitmo, or so very cheaply beating up on Jill Carroll's supposed Stockholm syndrome, and other such low-brow fare. WFB is above this inanity, and privately is likely embarrassed, to the extent he even pays attention, when the likes of Derbyshire revel in alerting us that he doesn't give a damn that 1,000 Egyptians are dead in a ferry disaster. But there are not many left like WFB around to chide, let alone develop, the next generation of conservative commentators, who have become increasingly cretinized in a climate rife with Coulterisms and obscenely dim clowns like Sean Hannity, so as to regain the sobriety and seriousness this country needs in elite policymaking and other opinion-making circles (perhaps George Kennan's elitism, often derided, isn't as unworthy as it may appear given this sorry state of affairs). We are in desperate need of advice that isn't but warmed-over faux Churchillianism a la VDH, or screw the A-rabs, all of 'em, a la Frank Gaffney/Charles Johnson types (Gaffney's stance on the Dubai ports deal was woefully hysterical), or the oft-exuberant kinda Brit-style neo-colonialist fervor of the Fergusons and Hitchenses (this last too often revealing the excessive zeal of the convert, when it comes to Mesopotamian happenings, anyway).
Let's be clear, a full-blown, overly gung-ho democratization strategy in the Middle East is likely destined for failure at this juncture. While I can cautiously advocate for elections in places like the West Bank and Gaza, even if it means a Hamas victory, as we can hope norms of democratic governance and accountability are thereby nurtured--we also have to think about all this in the context of the global counter-insurgency campaign we are waging against terrorists who seek to destroy the American way of life. And our enemies are using our thinly veiled hypocrisy (Hamas wins, we declare core components of their platform total non-starters and move to cut off aid), they are using propaganda from P.R. debacles like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (which needs to be closed in the next several years, the costs of keeping it open far outweigh any benefits), they take advantage of (often appropriate) inconsistencies whereby we rather warmly treat despotic satrapies like the Saudis or Kuwaits, at the same time we issue diktats to the Syrians and Palestinians.
Fukuyama is right. The time has come to, at least to some extent, decouple the war against terrorism from our forward democratization strategy. This doesn't mean that neo-Wilsonian instincts must be wholly shunted aside. Democracy exportation is part and parcel of a good deal of America's foreign policy history, and a strain of American exceptionalism that isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But the democratization strategy has to be better understood as a very long generational effort, undertaken soberly and methodically with allies, and not over the barrel of a gun, or via short-term, hastily organized attempts at rather clumsily stoking revolutions via a few dollars disbursed hither dither and the like. The situation in the Middle East is very delicate at the present hour, and Islamists in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and points beyond are in the ascendancy, at least at the present time. Therefore order and stability, at least in the short term, need to trump fanciful talk of moving the entire broader Middle East region into post-Enlightenment democratic governance modalities. The Islamic world is not yet necessarily ready for a steady diet of Jefferson and Montesquieu, yes, even if we open up consulates in remote parts of Indonesia or near the corniche in Alexandria in some essay at 'transformational' diplomacy. This does not mean, as the easy straw man argument goes, that Arabs are not constitutionally capable of democracy, much like some said Confucians in Asia weren't after WWII. But the teeming Cairene masses, say, are likelier to gravitate towards the Muslim Brotherhood than Ayman Nour, alas, at least at this juncture. Let's be cognizant of such nettlesome realities, yes?
So rather than speak of Krauthammerian democratic globalism as some universalist panacea, we have to instead focus like a laser on fighting the most ruthless of the global terrorists, marshalling efforts on coordinating and obtaining intelligence to find and kill them, drying up their financing, and ensuring they no longer have quasi-sanctuaries in places like southeastern Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, or portions of Iraq. Meantime, we need to continue to work to resolve the regional conflicts that contribute to a, yes, poisonous atmosphere in the region, foster economic development via increased trade ties and liberalization of economies (great job on Dubai!), and better employ 'soft power' through the region by better explicating the objectives of US foreign policy in the region to a very skeptical neighborhood. This is the kernel of our current struggle, not ensuring that everyone has the right to vote for Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, at this very moment, in Lebanon and Egypt and Palestine.
Frankly, I don't give a damn about calling this some spring-time for realism, or sounding the death-knell for neo-conservative nostrums. We need ideas from both schools now, but more reasonably fused together and acted upon more soberly, whilst ensuring Jacksonian and/or isolationist trends (whether via paleo-cons, nationalist primitives, or various variants of leftist provenance) are kept in abeyance. But, if I can make one plea, it is for more sobriety, more humility, and less arrogance, less hubris. Not least, this means understanding that winning a war on terror means ensuring that our actions are viewed as legitimate by more key actors on the global stage, for instance, by continuing the trend of attempting to resolve critical national security challenges via multilateral efforts as we're doing with Iran and North Korea.
Charles Krauthammer, in his speech that he now derides Fukuyama for exaggerating as some "road to Damascus" moment in Fukuyama's disenchantment with neo-conservatism, said, in part:
Today, post-9/11, we find ourselves in a similar existential struggle but with a different enemy: not Soviet communism, but Arab-Islamic totalitarianism, both secular and religious. Bush and Blair are similarly attacked for naïvely and crudely casting this struggle as one of freedom versus unfreedom, good versus evil.
Mr. Krauthammer, what are we leaving behind in Iraq currently? What has your "democratic globalism", a vaguely Trotskyite turn of phrase, it should be said, wrought in the Middle East? In Iraq? Substituting Saddamist totalitarian tribalism for quasi-anarchic variegated clannish despotisms in regional pockets of said country? How do you plan on implanting democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan's "neighbors", by which I take it you mean Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, when the Palestinian problem continues to fester (and, to many in the region, gives the lie to our democracy exercise), when Iraq is perhaps on the cusp of civil war, when Lebanon remains so fragile, when the Muslim Brotherhood gathers strength from Alexandria to Alleppo, and when many of your neo-conservative allies positively spit in the face of moderate Arab countries like the UAE?
Do you perhaps better understand that Fukuyama listened to your speech, and marvelled as to how little you pondered the near shambles our Iraq strategy finds itself in, the fact that you barely consider how to ensure international legitimacy for your maximalist vision of a democratic globalism unmoored from multilateral cooperation, the fact that you mostly ignore the massive intelligence failure of no WMD at the same time that you begin to cheerlead for the next great adventure in Iran? Or how about the reality, that apparently escapes you, that when (as we must) use harder forms of power, that we should do it more discreetly, to camouflage it, if we really mean to support democrats in Damascus and Teheran, rather than scream on endlessly from the bully-pulpits about the maniacal Mullahs and evil opthamologist Boy Asad, and ostentatiously and too openly pour money towards 'reformers' there (many of whom might will be tarred as foreign agents and discredited while you are giving your next rah-rah address at AEI to rally the Washington lumpenproletariat to the next great existential challenge in our midst)? Or, still, how about the fact that we should be more careful to scream on and on about airstrikes, so as to risk the unintended effect of bolstering rather than weakening Ahmadi-Nejad in Iran, by stoking patriotic sentiment in Iran, and so mute a bit the militarist bravado you emit week after week in your heated op-eds? Where is your humility sir, in the face of the immense difficulties and manifest unreality your strategy of democratic globalism has achieved to date?
Fukuyama is only sketching out a responsible Thermidor, of sorts, after the gross excesses of the past years. He deserves much better treatment than he has been accorded by many in the blogosphere, but of course, I'm not surprised to see what is being dished out. To stop and reassess, after all, would mean pausing and thinking. And this is much harder than, instead, choosing to spout inanities and blare on about weak-kneed cowardice and unmanliness and failure of will and how Fukuyama has been wrong about everything everywhere always since he first picked up the pen. Or something like that.
The State of the Iraqi Insurgency
First, the insurgents’ perspective has undergone a remarkable evolution. Initially, they perceived and presented the U.S. presence as an enduring one that would be extremely difficult to dislodge; they saw their struggle as a long-term, open-ended jihad, whose success was measured by the very fact that it was taking place. That no longer is the case. Today, the prospect of an outright victory and a swift withdrawal of foreign forces has crystallised, bolstered by the U.S.’s perceived loss of legitimacy and apparent vacillation, its periodic announcements of troop redeployments, the precipitous decline in domestic support for the war and heightened calls by prominent politicians for a rapid withdrawal. When the U.S. leaves, the insurgents do not doubt that Iraq’s security forces and institutions would quickly collapse [ed. note: There is some insurgent bravura in this last contention, as post-Tal Afar especially, I believe the insurgents have some real concerns about the growing abilities of the Iraqi Army, but said concerns are nevertheless mitigated by various circumstances, of which more below]...
This last bolded portion, while ostensibly good news, of course (that Iraqi forces are developing in a manner that has insurgents genuinely concerned), is only so to a fashion. Insurgents are calculating that the trend-line is running towards diminishing U.S involvement, that U.S. force posture is increasingly so conservative as to render taking on U.S. forces directly of less import, and that greater progress towards stoking chaos, sectarianism, and fostering further fealty to militias is better stoked by attacking 'softer' nascent Iraqi Army/Police forces rather than focusing primarily on U.S. troops, although continuing attrition like forays are still being mounted on this front too.
...The current anti-insurgency approach does not appear to be working. To date, it has centred on three core pillars: the enemy’s destruction (elimination of the largest possible number of fighters), decapitation (suppression of insurgent leaders and leadership structures) and dislocation (recovery of their sanctuaries and disruption of their lines of communication). Yet the armed opposition has been able to replenish its ranks and mobilise necessary (albeit limited) popular support. Even Tandhim al-Qa’ida, a prime target for both coalition and Iraqi security forces, has not displayed any sign of exhaustion.
Needless to say, the Iraqi insurgency is not defeated. Equally needless to say, their chances of victory will be exponentially enhanced if a too speedy U.S. withdrawal is pursued. This was one of the very key reasons I supported Bush, as I judged him much more likely than Kerry to keep our forces in theater for the duration. We can quibble about that, and my disgust at this Administration's frequent incompetence has been blogged frequently in this space, but I still believe we'd have well fewer than 133,000 or so troops in theater today if Kerry had prevailed, based on his campaign utterances and the view among rank and file Democrats about the Iraq war. This would likely mean that sectarian violence would today be even more intense than it has been to date, as fewer U.S. forces would be available to attempt to keep a lid on the nascent civil war. Further, I believe we've made significant headway, of late, in peeling off some moderate Sunnis away from the insurgency. I know too that coalition authorities have, on occasion, attempted to raid Shi'a-run detention centers, or have, of late, more proactively monitored other abuses of power by nascent Iraqi police units or Interior Ministry authorities, so as to attempt to ensure gross abuses are reined in.
In short, we're already doing some of the things the ICG report calls for. But the situation in Baghdad today showcases how we've failed in establishing a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, as the ICG report puts it. And one of the reasons I'm so keen to see Rumsfeld step down or be fired is that he doesn't appear to understand that one of the key prongs of defeating the insurgency means denying the insurgents legitimacy. And, of course, the insurgents derive legitimacy in Sunni areas by, say, arguing that Shi'a death squads are operating with impunity and torturing detainees. Recall the press conference where Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, showed some rare back-bone, standing at the podium with Rumsfeld, and differed with the Defense Secretary on what U.S. forces should do if they witnessed Iraq Army forces mistreating detainees? Pace said that U.S. forces had a duty to intervene, but Rumsfeld said no, they just need to report it to their superiors.
General Eaton (whom a Pentagon website describes as the "father of the Iraqi Army", as he was in charge of training and equipping the Iraqi Army in '04) describes this incident in his recent NYT op-ed:
In the five years Mr. Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon, I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership.
Rumsfeld doesn't appear to understand that to further defang the Sunni insurgents of legitimacy, he cannot describe credibly the national Iraq Army as controlling the battlespace in Sadr City (infested with Mehdi militia), that he cannot wash his hands of the behavior of Interior Ministry or other forces mistreating detainees, that he cannot say that a civil war in Iraq will meet with U.S. forces pulling back to their bases or otherwise over the horizon, providing further fodder to Sunnis fearful of revanchist Shi'a death squads that they need insurgent protection going forward. Otherwise, no matter how many key 'Zarqawi lieutenants' Pentagon mouthpiece bloggers inform their breathless readership have been captured or killed, the insurgent ranks will continue to replenish, and we'll therefore continue to face two main perils in Iraq: not only the specter of large scale sectarian violence or even full-fledged civil war, but also the continued existence of a resilient insurgency.
This war is simply crying out for new leadership at the Pentagon, but the President is too blind to see this and belatedly accept Rumsfeld's resignation. But I haven't given up hope yet, as I know that Rumsfeld's fate is not as certain as he would have us believe with his cocksure manner. He's in large part damaged goods (William Buckley rather damningly called him a "failed executor" of the Iraq War in a Bloomberg interview over the weekend), and increasingly a political liability for Bush. There is still hope the President will come to realize this in coming months, and as it will have a material (albeit admitedly not determinative impact) on the course of the war, I believe a positive one, I will continue to push for his dismissal or resignation in these pages, even if this inevitably has me appearing a tad Ahab-like on this front.
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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