June 28, 2006

Out of Pocket

Sorry I've been rather out of pocket of late. I've had no time to post given work demands. Next week I'll be in China for a stretch, so blogging won't be on the agenda then either given a tight schedule. Check back in the mid-July timeframe, but don't waste too much time coming around before then. Frankly we're hoping to re-design this site somewhat to make it appear less of a "blog" (fewer timestamps and such, that seem to beg daily updating, not to mention frequent insta-polemics and the like), as meaningful posting going forward will probably be more of a once or twice a week event, typically clustered around the weekends. If anyone can help with recommendations identifying a talented site re-designer, please drop an E-mail at belgraviadispatchAThotmail.com.

P.S. I've made my way through most of Hamdan, and am obviously very gratified by the ruling. Once I get back to posting here, I'll hope to comment on the Supreme Court's decision in some detail. It strikes me as very important, although Yooists like David Addington will of course be assiduously enlisting Congressional mediocrities like Bill Frist, in very short order, to reengage in the predictable shenanigans with regard to all the key issues on the table. Oh, I should say too, I also found Justice Thomas' dissent rather on the remarkable side, to use a word making the rounds. As I said, more later.

Posted by Gregory at 12:41 PM

June 23, 2006

North Korea

Ashton Carter/Bill Perry:

Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not. The Bush administration has unwisely ballyhooed the doctrine of "preemption," which all previous presidents have sustained as an option rather than a dogma. It has applied the doctrine to Iraq, where the intelligence pointed to a threat from weapons of mass destruction that was much smaller than the risk North Korea poses. (The actual threat from Saddam Hussein was, we now know, even smaller than believed at the time of the invasion.) But intervening before mortal threats to U.S. security can develop is surely a prudent policy.

Therefore, if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead. The blast would be similar to the one that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. But the effect on the Taepodong would be devastating. The multi-story, thin-skinned missile filled with high-energy fuel is itself explosive -- the U.S. airstrike would puncture the missile and probably cause it to explode. The carefully engineered test bed for North Korea's nascent nuclear missile force would be destroyed, and its attempt to retrogress to Cold War threats thwarted. There would be no damage to North Korea outside the immediate vicinity of the missile gantry...

...In addition to warning our allies and partners of our determination to take out the Taepodong before it can be launched, we should warn the North Koreans. There is nothing they could do with such warning to defend the bulky, vulnerable missile on its launch pad, but they could evacuate personnel who might otherwise be harmed. The United States should emphasize that the strike, if mounted, would not be an attack on the entire country, or even its military, but only on the missile that North Korea pledged not to launch -- one designed to carry nuclear weapons. We should sharply warn North Korea against further escalation.

North Korea could respond to U.S. resolve by taking the drastic step of threatening all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. But it is unlikely to act on that threat. Why attack South Korea, which has been working to improve North-South relations (sometimes at odds with the United States) and which was openly opposing the U.S. action? An invasion of South Korea would bring about the certain end of Kim Jong Il's regime within a few bloody weeks of war, as surely he knows. Though war is unlikely, it would be prudent for the United States to enhance deterrence by introducing U.S. air and naval forces into the region at the same time it made its threat to strike the Taepodong. If North Korea opted for such a suicidal course, these extra forces would make its defeat swifter and less costly in lives -- American, South Korean and North Korean.

This is a hard measure for President Bush to take. It undoubtedly carries risk. But the risk of continuing inaction in the face of North Korea's race to threaten this country would be greater. Creative diplomacy might have avoided the need to choose between these two unattractive alternatives. Indeed, in earlier years the two of us were directly involved in negotiations with North Korea, coupled with military planning, to prevent just such an outcome. We believe diplomacy might have precluded the current situation. But diplomacy has failed, and we cannot sit by and let this deadly threat mature. A successful Taepodong launch, unopposed by the United States, its intended victim, would only embolden North Korea even further. The result would be more nuclear warheads atop more and more missiles.

I lean more towards trying to use interceptors to strike the missile once it's airborne, rather than taking out the Taepodong on North Korean territory, I think. I guess I'm a tad less sanguine than Perry and Carter that Kim Jong, a notoriously erratic ruler, might not strike out at Seoul in a manner that could lead to immense carnage. It's hard to imagine, for sure, but a direct hit on a crown jewel of his nuclear program might lead him to behave very irrationally indeed. Still, Carter and Perry are pros, and their op-ed is very solid. But, for now, count me with Dick Cheney on this one. I'm open to counter-arguments, however, as there are no easy answers here to what is a very dicey situation. Developing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 04:36 AM

Another Defense Lawyer Bites the Dust...

John Burns:

Saddam Hussein's trial on crimes against humanity was struck by new violence on Wednesday when a senior lawyer on his defense team was abducted, beaten and shot to death. The defense lawyer was the third to be killed since the trial began in October, and the 10th person associated with the court trying Mr. Hussein to be killed in the last 18 months.

According to his widow, the lawyer, Khamis al-Obeidi, 39, was asleep when at least 10 gunmen in civilian clothes stormed their home in the mostly Sunni Arab district of Slaikh at 7 a.m. and pulled him from bed within view of his three school-age children.

Witnesses said men linked to a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, drove the lawyer through the streets of the Shiite slum of Sadr City shouting, "Terrorist!" before shooting him on a stretch of wasteland, then gathered around his corpse shouting, "Let Saddam save him now if he can!" and, "This is the fate of those who defend Saddam Hussein!"

Yes, and it is also the fate of those who put their trust in American and Iraqi authorities to provide basic security so that such court proceedings could take place amidst conditions of convincing order. Let's be clear. Saddam should have been packed off to the Hague, like other odious genocidaires such as Charles Johnson and Slobodan Milosevic, to stand trial for war crimes there. The thought that this inept spectacle constitutes some form of national reconciliation exercise is unconvincing in the extreme. To be sure, there will be a lot of chest-thumping Shi'a (not to mention Kurds, and even many Sunni) who will be thrilled as peach when Saddam gets the death penalty, of course. And, make no mistake, there's not the slightest smidgen of Saddam sympathy to be inferred in any of what I write above. What I was after, however, was a serious legal investigation and thorough vetting of the entire panoply of war crimes Saddam committed over the decades. We might have gotten that in the Hague. We're not in Baghdad, where his defense lawyers get slaughtered, willy-nilly, as they're dragged through the streets of Sadr City, medieval style.

Correction: Yes, yes; I meant Charles Taylor! Thanks for your E-mails....

Posted by Gregory at 03:55 AM

WMD Found!


It's almost poignant to see the way in which some are seizing on this story as a way to reassure themselves that the Bush (and Clinton) administrations didn't gravely misjudge Saddam's WMD programs in the five years before the invasion.

Poignant is a quietly devastating way to put it. Profoundly risible, however, is more to the point. C'mon people: these are depleted pre '91 stocks. Get real, and stop peddling such piffle, or your credibility will continue to erode amidst the burlesque buffoonery. It's almost painful to watch...

Posted by Gregory at 02:57 AM

June 22, 2006

One of the Great Public Servants of Our Time...

...our Secretary of Defense is one of the great public servants of our time, Donald Rumsfeld. I've heard it suggested on occasion that Don might even be the best Secretary of Defense we've ever had. Well, he's pretty close. (Laughter.) But without question Don does hold a very special distinction because, after all, he is the only man to serve as Secretary of Defense in two different centuries. (Laughter.)

Everyone here knows I've worked closely with Don for many years, and that my career would not have been the same but for the confidence he placed in me a long time ago. I have always considered him to be the very ideal of a public servant -- a man of rectitude, loyalty, and integrity. He asks a great deal of those who work for him, but never more than he demands of himself. Throughout the military and indeed throughout the country, you'll find people who have never met Don Rumsfeld, but who look to him as a role model. And those of us who know Don are extremely fortunate to have his friendship and all that goes with it -- the wisdom, the humor, and the great personal decency in the man.

Not long ago, Gerald Ford himself said that President Bush made a wise choice in Don Rumsfeld, because he was, "extremely well suited to take on this challenge and contend with a bureaucracy that has a built-in resistance to change." President Ford continued, "Successfully carrying out these missions, against stiff resistance takes someone with a certain amount of steel."

That "certain amount of steel" is exactly what we've needed in the E Ring of the Pentagon these last five years as the United States of America is a stronger and safer nation thanks to the intellect, the judgment, and the character of Secretary Rumsfeld. With that, I am pleased to present him now. And I give you a great American: Our colleague, our friend, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Vice President Dick Cheney, introducing Don Rumsfeld on June 19th.

This intra-St. Michaels stroking is quite charming, if rather on the effusive side. More seriously, however, Don Rumsfeld may well have been remembered as "one of the great public servants of our time", that is, before the Iraq war. Now all his impressive prior service will be but a footnote, and his abysmal bungling of the Iraq conflict will be front and center of any historical treatment of his career. Rumsfeld is likely too hubris-ridden to understand this, and Cheney too blind (and/or perhaps guilty of too enthusiastic Ford-era nostalgia). But history will bring a keener lens to it all. And it won't be pretty.

UPDATE: Reader JEB writes in:

I really think study of Sec. Rumsfeld's previous tenure at the Pentagon is worthwhile for those seeking to understand his performance over the last few years. Where you see hubris influencing the substance of policy, I see a focus on controlling the making of policy. What counts for Rumsfeld is primarily the bureaucratic battle, not the policy that results from its aftermath -- which could be a radical policy, or no policy, depending on the circumstances. Cheney thinks the same way. This has all happened before. Rumsfeld's famous clash with Henry Kissinger some 30 years ago was not fundamentally about their different views of the Soviet Union; it was about a policy process that Kissinger had dominated during the Watergate period, a dominance Rumsfeld was determined to end. The substantive result -- which was that the most important aspects of American foreign policy ground to a halt during 1976 -- was secondary. So has been the ongoing battle against the Iraqi insurgency, and the marching in place with regard to Afghanistan too for that matter. Rumsfeld got engaged in moving the intelligence community outside the Pentagon to the sidelines in the campaign against terrorism, and was willing to battle to keep State (and the UN, which goes without saying) on the sidelines in Iraq. The mission was accomplished as far as he was concerned when those battles were won. So also has the struggle over how to handle detainees been from Rumsfeld's point of view a matter of holding onto bureaucratic turf, and only secondarily about anything else. If, say, the CIA had had control of all detainees from the beginning and been accused of abuses, I have not the slightest doubt that Rumsfeld would from the Pentagon have been making all the arguments you have about American honor and the rule of law. Realistically, the preoccupation with position and control is as central to the lives of appointed officials as the preoccupation with ensuring reelection is to elected officials. It just goes with the territory. If it is the main thing that goes with the territory, though, you can wind up with an official unworthy of public confidence -- which, I agree with you, is what we have in Rumsfeld now. It is also what we had 30 years ago.
An equally damning assessment, albeit from a different vantage point. Don't get me wrong. No self-respecting Washington policy baron isn't going to care about expanding and protecting his turf. That goes without saying. But when that becomes the end all and be all, you lose perspective. And you risk doing the public (in Rumsfeld's case not only all of us, but also millions of Iraqis and Afghanis), a huge disservice. In the single-minded pursuit of bureaucratic omnipotence, particularly when your policy predilections are misguided to begin with, you can cause great harm. (One quibble with JEB's note. I disagree that, had the CIA been in charge of detainee policy, Rumsfeld would have been making arguments to preserve Geneva-compliance across all classes of combatants. This wouldn't gel well with the Princeton jock Jacksonian schtick he's carefully cultivated over the years, you know, standing 8 hours a day and all that cool, manly stuff).
Posted by Gregory at 02:41 AM

June 21, 2006

Bainbridge and Sullivan

They're both right on this one, of course. Bainbridge is right that Islamic terrorists, very obviously, would keep on beheading and/or mutilating U.S. forces (or whomever) whether or not Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and all the rest of it had happened. They are nihilistic fanatics and thugs, and they couldn't care less whether we abide by the Geneva Conventions or not. But that's not really the point, is it? Sullivan obviously agrees with the above, but makes a far more important point, in the process standing up for America's bedrock values (in the face of heaping doses of blogospheric diarrhea hurled at him by myriad juveniles, I feel compelled to add, although I am certainly not speaking of Bainbridge here, whose talents as a blogger I respect). As Sullivan writes about the aftermath of the apparent odious death by torture of the two U.S. soldiers: "What was once a difference in kind between us and our enemy is now a difference in degree. That fact profoundly weakens our moral standing in the world, the power of our cause, and impedes the long-run success in the war of ideas that the war on terror involves." Indeed. And no, it doesn't matter how big a difference in degree. You either torture, or you don't torture. As the English Law Lords have previously written:

That word honour, the deep note which Blackstone strikes twice in one sentence, is what underlies the legal technicalities of this appeal. The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. When judicial torture was routine all over Europe, its rejection by the common law was a source of national pride and the admiration of enlightened foreign writers such as Voltaire and Beccaria. In our own century, many people in the United States, heirs to that common law tradition, have felt their country dishonoured by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal "rendition" of suspects to countries where they would be tortured: see Jeremy Waldron, Torture and Positive Law: Jurisprudence for the White House 105 Columbia Law Review 1681-1750 (October, 2005)

83. Just as the writ of habeas corpus is not only a special (and nowadays infrequent) remedy for challenging unlawful detention but also carries a symbolic significance as a touchstone of English liberty which influences the rest of our law, so the rejection of torture by the common law has a special iconic importance as the touchstone of a humane and civilised legal system. Not only that: the abolition of torture, which was used by the state in Elizabethan and Jacobean times to obtain evidence admitted in trials before the court of Star Chamber, was achieved as part of the great constitutional struggle and civil war which made the government subject to the law. Its rejection has a constitutional resonance for the English people which cannot be overestimated...

...The law will not lend its support to the use of torture for any purpose whatever. It has no place in the defence of freedom and democracy, whose very existence depends on the denial of the use of such methods to the executive.

113. Once torture has become acclimatised in a legal system it spreads like an infectious disease, hardening and brutalising those who have become accustomed to its use: Holdsworth, A History of English Law, vol v, p 194. As Jackson J in his dissenting opinion in Korematsu v United States, 323 US 214 (1944), 246 declared, once judicial approval is given to such conduct, it lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. A single instance, if approved to meet the threat of international terrorism, would establish a principle with the power to grow and expand so that everything that falls within it would be regarded as acceptable. [emphasis added]

It's just that simple, no matter the dangerously misguided new paradigmists (Yoo, Krauthammer etc) who would have us discard centuries of Enlightenment values for one KSM waterboarding hypo. As many Democrats appear to be largely mute on this issue, perhaps John McCain is our only real hope to right the blight that Bush has wrought on torture policy in the next Administration, though I'm open to hearing about Hillary's passionate advocacy on the subject, or such.

All this aside, and in the face of the horrific fate our two men in uniform just suffered in Iraq, we'd all do better to not use their ghastly deaths as fodder for blog debates on torture policy--at least not the very day their deaths are confirmed. But that would be fighting well against the tide of this medium, wouldn't it? We'd be acting with dignity, and the blogosphere, which is many things, is not a medium that has often distinguished itself by its dignity, I dare say.

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM

Ahmadi-Nejad's Primitivism

Even conservative Iranian intellectuals feel the chill...

Posted by Gregory at 05:07 AM

Axis of Evil Two-Step?

Is it just me, or does the timing of North Korea's potential missile test come at a pretty good time for the Iranians? "Regime insiders" have recently told Gareth Smyth in Teheran that they are "ready to limit" Iran's "nuclear programme but will not suspend uranium enrichment as a condition for talks", doubtless a tactic to peel the Russians and Chinese away from Condi's quite deft recent orchestrations that provided, however fleetingly, for a sense of international unity among the major powers re: Iran. While I'm not sure this Iranian maneuvering will work (dividing the Big 5), and there are of course several more weeks for all this to play out regardless, it's certainly safe to say that a North Korean missile test would change the international community's focus for a spell, no? The "axis of evil" at work, you might say. Kim Jong distracts attention from Ahmadi-Nejad, the better for the latter to purchase North Korean missiles in the future, tested ones, to boot....

Posted by Gregory at 04:49 AM

Superficiality, Madness and Cowardice!


Even by the unruly standards of the French National Assembly, Tuesday's session was exceptional.

When François Hollande, the Socialist Party leader, berated the French government for its handling of the crisis at Europe's leading aerospace company, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin lost control.

In an outburst that was both highly personal and filled with rage, Mr. de Villepin shouted: "I denounce, Mr. Hollande, your superficiality, and I would even say, looking at you, cowardice! Cowardice! There is in your attitude, I say it again, cowardice!"

Socialist members of the Assembly tried to drown out Mr. de Villepin with cries of "Resign! Resign!" Some deputies moved forward, toward the prime minister, before storming out of the chamber.

Henri Emmanuelli, a Socialist deputy and a former president of the National Assembly, shouted, "He's mad!"

The session — the regularly scheduled Tuesday hearing with Mr. de Villepin and other ministers — came to an abrupt end.

This smells more of Zhirinovsky clowning around the Duma than the comme il faut precincts of the French National Assembly, non? It's getting very ugly in France. According to a piece in yesterday's FT, some 85% of the public think the country is on the wrong path. Such pitiable antics won't help.

Posted by Gregory at 04:29 AM | TrackBack

June 20, 2006

Outside the Green Zone...

An absolute must-read from US Embassy-Baghdad. The situation outside the Green Zone is very, very dire. We knew this, of course, but the details here ring so very true in their vivid detail, and so force us to grapple with the reality of Baghdad's anguish anew. I'm particularly concerned about reports of woman being forced to dress in full abayas, and with their heads covered, or men not being able to wear jeans or shorts (this last particularly unfortunate in 115 degree weather, with the power working intermittently, isn't it?). I'm very concerned to hear about ethnic discord rising even within so-called mixed families (always painful to witness, as I did not infrequently during my time in the Balkans in the mid-90s). The sense that people traveling between neighborhoods are attempting to adopt the 'local' mores of the specific neighborhoods they are passing through, so as to survive, is quite sinister--as is the reality that security depends now on "neighborhood" governments, rather than the central government, which is commonly viewed as mostly irrelevant. There is also the passing reference that some Iraqis, many of them conspiratorially minded to begin with, believe the US is purposefully keeping Iraq in this chaos (how could the world's sole superpower not do better, they must wonder?!?)--the better to oppress Sunnis and poor Shia. Outrageous, of course, until you think about the gross insouciance of some of our policymakers, the denialists in the commentariat, the cheap din occasioned by those more interested in keeping score than grappling with the immense imbroglio we find ourselves in in Iraq. To have a prayer of prevailing we must understand the forces we've unleashed, how powerful these historical currents are, what a mammoth task awaits us. Save Zalmay Khalilzad and a handful of others currently serving in the government, I sincerely wonder how many people get it. Needless to say too, to take one random example, if it requires US Embassy local employees to clue us in to the fact that Mansur, say (the equivalent of Baghdad's Upper East Side, and a former bastion of Sunni privilege), has become something of a "ghost town" one can't help wondering, who in our government really understands the current state of play, really, in cities like Kirkuk, Basra, Mosul, Ramadi and Baghdad?

Posted by Gregory at 03:29 AM | TrackBack

June 15, 2006

Comments Down, Again...

I'm very sorry they're down, and I wish I knew how to make them work. I'll try to fix soon--the better to allow for the distinct privilege of myriad anonymous persons hurling insults at me in comments as per the usual--but I can't seem to track down my software design guy just now. Anyone out there who can help? I'm happy to pay someone who knows what they're doing a fee for fixing B.D.'s MT comments feature--so if anyone with that skill-set is out there reading this--please E-mail me at belgraviadispatchAThotmail.com, if interested and available. Thanks in advance.

Posted by Gregory at 10:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2006

Iraq in the Late Autumn of Bush's Presidency

Lately I've not been shy to suggest that President Bush's situational awareness of the state of play in Iraq is not where it needs to be. A couple days back came an Elisabeth Bumiller piece about the woman ostensibly charged with giving him his daily Iraq policy brief, Meghan O'Sullivan, pictured below.


(Photo Credit: Stephen Crowley)


Although Ms. O'Sullivan does not make major decisions — the administration's policy is run by Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — she is important because of her closeness to the president and her role in helping to form his thinking.

"She's able to go to the president and say, 'Look, here's what's happening,' and distill a complex mass of developments into something more penetrable," said Larry Diamond, a former senior adviser to Mr. Bremer.

Ms. O'Sullivan, who was crisp and wary in a recent interview in her office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, would say little more about her conversations with Mr. Bush. But people who have seen her brief the president say she has been succinct, unpretentious, full of facts and cheerful — exactly what Mr. Bush likes.

Colleagues say that Ms. O'Sullivan holds to the view, reflected in the president's public statements, that rebuilding Iraq's civic institutions and persuading Iraqis to accommodate one another politically is a way out of the sectarian violence. She is more optimistic about the political process than others in the administration.

In Baghdad, Ms. O'Sullivan is remembered as a pragmatic centrist who had a guarded but tenacious confidence that the United States would eventually prevail. "That doesn't mean that I don't see all the difficulties there on a daily basis," she said.

The question that even her supporters raise is whether she is too close to see the landscape of problems. "I do think she is so into this that she sees it from the inside out," Mr. Diamond said.

He added, "And I'm not sure she adequately grasps all the mistakes we have made."

In Baghdad, American Embassy officials sometimes use the phrase, "Let's not Meghan-ize the problem," meaning, let's not try to impose order on the chaos of Iraq with one of her five-point presentations. Her supporters counter that she is more aware of the reality on the ground than many others in the administration.

The point isn't to cast aspersions at either Bush or O'Sullivan. I'm not in the briefing room, and for all I know perhaps Bush is aware that parts of Baghdad are just god-awful and reminiscent of Beirut in the late 70s. I just don't know. Relatedly, perhaps O'Sullivan is giving him the good, the bad, and the ugly--and so not engaging in any major sugar-coating. Again, I don't know, though there does reportedly appear to be some griping at US Embassy-Baghdad that O'Sullivan's synopses of the situation tend towards the somewhat overly sanitized.

But the above is merely be way of background to point out there are some potentially positive indications in the air that the Presidential bubble is being pierced a bit more efficaciously than in hubris-ridden yester-year (woefully belatedly, but still...). The sheer scope of previous mismanagement of the war effort, not to mention the immense challenges that remain ahead, appear to have finally prodded Bush to get independent advice from serious war critics over the weekend at Camp David, where he convened his top advisors.


(Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski)

For instance, aside from trotting out the Amir Taheris of the world to the White House, Bush has been reaching out to more, shall we say, credible personages like Barry McCaffrey, Eliot Cohen and Frederick Kagan (Hat Tip: Laura).

I'm particularly pleased to see that Bush has reached out to Frederick Kagan, as he proves a strong counterpoint to the phoney 'Goldilocks' approach of Rumsfeld--that is to say, the disingenuous contention that we have not so many troops in theater so as to create too much of a foreign presence that will overly alienate the locals, and not too little so as to constitute an ineffective force. Soi disant, per Rumsfeld, just right, if your will, a la Goldilocks. But somewhat ironically, in my view, the 'just enough troops to lose' Rumsfeldian School has unintentionally 'accomplished' both goals he claims to have avoided, which is to say, we've nevertheless been in theater in enough number to alienate some locals, while also proving to have too few troops in theater to persuasively establish order and defeat insurgents (not to mention also too few troops, or inadequately trained ones, contributing to horrific debacles like Abu Ghraib). Fred Kagan, contra this faux Goldilocks approach, has been one of the most perceptive critics of the Pentagon's (so far failed) strategy in Iraq.

Kagan, pictured here



Establishing security throughout Iraq has always been a stated goal of the coalition forces, but it has never been their clear priority. Operations against insurgents have consisted mostly of raids and isolated sweeps, apparently divorced from any larger strategic aim. The coalition has never devised a deployment, or planned an operation, aimed at establishing security in the unstable areas of Iraq on a large scale. Coalition strategy has tended to focus instead on minimizing the role of coalition troops in handling the insurgency and pushing indigenous forces into the front of the fight, sometimes even when they were unprepared for such a role. The Bush administration did articulate the strategy of "clear-hold-build" in late 2005, declaring it a "strategy for victory." But U.S. forces have not, on the whole, been ordered or permitted to execute that strategy, and do not currently seem to intend to do so.

One of the reasons for this reluctance is the conviction, reinforced by the first battle of Falluja in early 2004, that coalition forces cannot really perform such missions. Generals John Abizaid, George Casey, and many others have argued that the mere presence of U.S. forces is an irritant, and their active operations against insurgents alienate more Iraqis than they win over. Yet a number of developments in 2005 should have called this assumption sharply into question.

Coalition forces partnered with Iraqi units were able to put down an uprising in Sadr City, a huge predominantly Shiite district of Baghdad, in early 2005 and then clear out a major insurgent stronghold in Tal Afar in September. In both cases, skillful preparation, the intelligent and discriminate use of force, and attention to vital "nonkinetic" parts of the operation (efforts to change local attitudes by improving water and sewer systems, building schools and clinics, handing out military rations, and so on) led to great and lasting success. These operations seriously undermine the argument that only the Iraqis can successfully prosecute such clear-and-hold missions, though they also show that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) will not be ready to conduct them on their own for the foreseeable future. In fact, the present course of "muddling through" while attempting to draw down as rapidly as possible is almost certain to prolong the insurgency, and with it the American troop presence in Iraq...

Kagan goes on:

Today, the Sunni Arab insurgency is the single most powerful force for disorder and violence in Iraq. Shiite militias, present since the beginning of the occupation, have grown in power in response to the spectacular bombings conducted by Islamist terrorists. Those terrorists, some of them foreigners, rely on the Sunni Arab community for safe havens, supplies, and other necessary assistance. They receive that support primarily because fear and disorder prevail. The breakdown of law and order in parts of the country reflects the difficulty of establishing a robust Iraqi police force in the face of the insurgents' continuous attacks...One of the most common arguments against directly attacking the Sunni insurgency is that it can't be done. It would require the entire U.S. Army and Marine Corps, some say, to replicate throughout the country the success in Tal Afar. This argument is never presented in any detail, but rests on vague extrapolations of force ratios in Tal Afar to the entire population of Iraq or of Baghdad. In truth, it is quite possible to design a campaign to attack the Sunni insurgency using few more troops than the United States has already had in Iraq.

Extrapolations from the force ratios in Tal Afar to either the country as a whole or the capital are irrelevant. The Sunni Arab insurgency exists in particular regions, dispersed among discrete cities and villages. Baghdad and Mosul, the two large cities wracked by insurgent violence, are ethnically mixed and broken into neighborhoods. Not all neighborhoods are hostile; not all are violent. Nor is the insurgency likely to spread beyond its current limits. Sunni Arab insurgents who venture into the Kurdish-held north are likely to die very quickly. They are unlikely to find a welcome among the Shiite tribes in the south, or in heavily Shiite Sadr City. In 2004 it was possible to imagine some "national front" uniting Sunni Arab and Shiite rebels, but the rise of sectarian violence and the integration of Moktada al-Sadr into the political process dim the prospects for such an occurrence. The challenge today resides primarily, therefore, among 6 million or so Sunni Arabs, not 27 million Iraqis.

Amidst these notes of optimism, Kagan wants us to temporarily bulk up our forces by a half dozen or so brigades, and then pursue counter-insurgency actions in varied areas simultaneously, so that the insurgents cannot easily flee to neighboring locales where, because of our chronic dearth of troops, they can find rest and refuge. This has been the woeful pattern for over three years now, one that Administration apologists still appear incapable of admitting to themselves given their Pavlovian tendency to spin away as but defeatist or MSM carping the fact that we never had enough troops in theater.

More Kagan:

It should be possible to increase the available combat power in Iraq by about 7 brigades in the following manner. U.S. forces are in the middle of another rotation. In the past, CENTCOM has delayed the departure of units to achieve temporary increases in deployed combat forces as new forces arrive. This technique could be used again to generate an additional 6 brigades or so (about 21,000 soldiers--similar to the increase maintained through the election cycle). Committing the rest of the reserve brigade now stationed in Kuwait (and leaving the battalion already called forward into Iraq in country) generates an additional brigade. These 7 brigades (about 24,500 combat troops and a similar number of support troops) would join the 15 brigades already in Iraq, many of which are deployed in or near areas designated for active operations in the plan outlined below...

....U.S. forces have shown a marked reluctance to plan large-scale operations in several regions at once. One result has been to allow insurgents to melt away during a single large operation and move to new areas, destabilizing those areas and establishing new safe havens. Simultaneous operations in several of the problem areas would mitigate this effect, driving the insurgents out of the major population centers of the Sunni Arab lands.

It is not possible, however, to conduct such operations in the three river valleys and Baghdad at the same time with the forces available. It would be necessary to develop a campaign plan in two phases, with forces moving from the first operation to the second as rapidly as possible in order to prevent the insurgents from using any pause to regroup.

Each of these two operations would itself be broken down into three phases, as were the successful operations in Tal Afar, Sadr City, and elsewhere. In the first phase, small advance parties would move into the area. They (or U.S. forces already present) would collect intelligence about the local population and the nature of the insurgent threat. They also would begin to shape the situation in their area to prepare for operations. This might include work with local Iraqi troops and police, the building of relationships with local leaders, targeted strikes against known resistance leaders, and other kinetic and nonkinetic operations designed to create favorable conditions for the next phase.

In phase two, reinforcements would surge into the area and conduct large-scale cordon-and-sweep operations. For river valley towns and cities, part of the force would "screen" the population center, establishing observation posts, checkpoints, and other measures to isolate the population, while a joint force of U.S. troops and Iraqis would conduct a house-to-house search for insurgents. In Tal Afar, Iraqi troops were normally the ones interacting directly with the local population, while Americans provided support from armored vehicles and the air.

In phase three, the reinforcements would move out, leaving behind a robust contingent of Iraqi troops leavened by a substantial U.S. presence. The rule of thumb based on Tal Afar and other successful operations is that the "leave-behind" forces should be at about the ratio of one U.S. battalion for every Iraqi brigade. The American presence helps sustain the ISF, overawe any insurgents who might try to undo the effects of the operation, and restrain the Iraqi soldiers from reprisal attacks or other misbehavior that would undermine the initial successes. Only in this third phase, after basic security has been established, is it possible to recruit into the local police force and begin the transition from military to civilian rule. The first two phases normally last about 90 days each; phase three could last 12 months or more. [emphasis added throughout]

There are many quibbles one can have with Kagan's recommendations. One could argue his phased 'surge' approach still falls short of Powell's "overwhelming force" doctrine, and won't get the job done regardless. One could argue he somewhat ignores or is overly sanguine about the perils presented by Kurdish and Shi'a militias. There is little talk of the particular difficulties presented by dense urban conflict in the Baghdads and Ramadis, which he glosses over somewhat. Nor are we clued in in any detail to the challenges that await us still in Mosul, Kirkuk or Basra. Still, too, perhaps events have simply overtaken Kagan's prescriptions. Perhaps the continuing middle class exodus from Baghdad (yes, it's happening, despite expressions of doubt from the likely quarters...), the continuing descent into brutish tribalism, perhaps all are conspiring to force Iraq through a bloody and protracted 'Time of Troubles'--even in the face of a more persuasive US force posture, so powerful the proverbial 'furies' that have been unleashed. So, no, I'm not saying any of the above lengthy passages I've excerpted from Kagan's ouevre constitute some grand panacea to nobly and successfully extricate us, after another 12-18 months of hard slogging, from the Mesopotamian morass.

Whatever the way forward, and whether Kagan's prescriptions lead to any material change in our force posture/tactics is still unclear, it's quite clear to me that we are at something of a watershed moment in the prosecution of the Iraq war. The American public, not particularly reknown for protracted patience when it comes to difficult overseas engagements, finds itself increasingly keen to pull U.S. forces from Iraq. They are fatigued, and they want to see movement towards a convincing exit. This is a political reality that we cannot blame on any one factor. Apologists on the right say it is all the MSM's fault, and that by concentrating on the bad news the media have worn down the American will to see the effort through. I don't buy this narrative, in the main, and find it increasingly tiresome, but it's out there, and it's not going anywhere. In my view, the biggest problem was that, too often, the war was billed as a conflict that could be fought on the relatively cheap. This is unfortunate, because I think Americans are capable of great sacrifice, but only when real sacrifice is asked of them, only when the stakes are cogently spelled out, and most important, only when the political leaders treat them like adults by being serious and honest with them (meaning, among many other examples, not glib 'stuff happens', not disingenuous 'last throes', not breezy numbers tossed about that reek of BS about how many Iraq troops have been 'trained' after having a uniform thrown at them and a few weeks of running around in them, not the constant recitation of inaccurate, empty bromides that 'we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here'). To me, more straight talk from the get-go about this war likely needing to last 5-10 years, a sense of a nation needing to sacrifice more than figuring out whether or not to put a 'Freedom Isn't Free' bumper sticker on their SUVs, less arrogance generally among Administration players, not least a willingness to accept that the war plan had gone tremendously awry--all would have helped keep support higher than it has proven.

But here we are. And now it falls to a President, one whose famous obstinacy (rock-ribbed consistency or bull-headed stubborness, depending on your view of him) has been somewhat chastened by the massive challenges presented by Iraq that have threatened to consume his entire Presidency. Now, in the late autumn of his time in office, he is trying, perhaps one last time, to turn it around.


(Photo Credit: Andrew Councill)

A single weekend at Camp David listening, finally, to people like Fred Kagan isn't going to change the general direction of the war, of course. But we've seen what might be described as a confluence of events that give one renewed hope, even if just a little, that the Iraq project is not yet ready to be declared a failure. Zarqawi is dead. Maliki's government has now been formed, with key security ministers now appointed (more important than Zarqawi's passing from the scene, all told). Bush, in a carefully choreographed visit, has now dramatically lent the prestige and power of his office to Maliki's new government (on the heels of Tony Blair's visit). There is talk of a joint US-Iraqi attempt to assert control over Baghdad, and some indications preliminaries on this score are going OK, so far.


(Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I remain hugely concerned about our prospects for success in Iraq, and that I've been deeply shaken by the basic lack of competency of some of Bush's key players (chiefly among them, of course, Donald Rumsfeld). I know well how fraught with peril the road ahead is, and I know too there is a real chance our earlier blunders might have already determinatively spoiled our hopes for ultimate success there. But, given all the efforts expended to date, is it not incumbent upon us to try to pursue a robust 12-24 month effort to attempt to belatedly secure Iraq--the better to put some wind in Maliki's sails as he tries to forge ahead with the creation of some form of convincing central authority in Iraq? Is it not possible that greater security, married to increasing Sunni buy-in to the political process (helped along perhaps by a weakening al-Qaeda, whilst remaining cognizant of the existence of hard-line nationalist Sunnis, residual al-Qaeda, and neo-Baathists), and methodical disarming of Kurdish and Shi'a militias--just might allow over the next several years for the emergence of a nascent unitary, democratic and viable state in Iraq?

Having come this far, can we really say every man who dies here on out will have died for a mistake, or is there hope that the project can still be salvaged? This is not an easy question for those of us who haven't already made up our minds either way, and the burden is high on either side of the question given the immense human stakes involved (more American deaths if we stay, and likely even greater horrors for Iraqis if we precipitously leave). I have no easy answer, and it's somewhat glib to suggest we simply hope for the best, and soldier on. But still, mightn't this not be the most responsible policy decision, all told, if we are finally beginning to move our policy in more intelligent directions? Yes, of course, I would be more confident if Rumsfeld were fired, as he should have been on repeated occasions already. But I continue to sense his influence is waning, and I hear more outside voices getting to the President, to Abizaid, to Casey, not to mention the voices of Rice and Khalilzad, among others, from the inside. All this to say, I think we owe our fallen soldiers, and the Iraqi people, a more serious prosecution of the war effort, with the added benefit of some very painful lessons learned, over the next year or two. Can our leadership deliver a materially enhanced strategy that moves us forward in Iraq in more convincing fashion? I'm not sure. But I think we have to agree, as a nation, to try to give them a chance. I'm not hankering for some bipartisan consenus on national security issues writ large, as I well know our politics have become too poisonous for that. But perhaps, in a long-winded way, I'm asking for a little more patience, despite the anger, the frustrations, the deceptions, that, in different ways and for different reasons, we've all felt at various junctures these past years.

UPDATE: Comments appear down, I'm very sorry. Details and a plea for help here...

Posted by Gregory at 04:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tales from the Tropics

Time is tight these days, but sometimes another blogger writes it up just like you would have so you don't need to....

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June 08, 2006

Zarqawi's Death

Wonderful news for the Iraq war effort. I agree with John Burns that his death appears "to mark a major watershed in the war." But that is different, of course, than winning the war--which remains a hugely elusive goal given our seeming reliance on too hastily trained Iraqi forces, the mushrooming of sectarian militias, and our still unconvincing force posture in country, among many other factors. Still, today is a major positive development, one that will likely open up further opportunities to continue to moderate Sunni behavior (in conjunction with prisoner releases and other such 'national reconciliation' efforts). This said, the Sunni insurgency will still very much present real perils to our forces, and we will have to continue to grapple, of course, with irregular Shi'a (and Kurdish) forces in the days and months ahead who will cause varied trouble in terms of ensuring centralized, national authority. Let us now see also, with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki 's belated appointment of his key security ministers, if the US and Iraq can swiftly build on the momentum afforded by Zarqawi's death to work to finally effectuate a convincing plan to assert order and control over Baghdad (not to mention Basra, Ramadi, and other cities). Regardless, and amidst all the gloom, we should be grateful for the hope afforded by the death of this grotesque, fanatical thug--and Maliki's so difficult moves to firm up his government better. A day of major good news from Iraq, in contrast to so many difficult ones these past months and years, for which we should be grateful.

Posted by Gregory at 12:53 PM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

"Doing Something Like 50"

Rumsfeld, in Singapore, June 4th:

Clearly it’s our desire to draw down forces. It’s clearly the Iraqi people’s desire to have foreign forces drawn down. And, on the other hand, no one wants to do it in a manner that allows any instability. We’ll see. But I don’t see any reason why -- as the Iraqi security forces continue to grow in size -- that they’re not going to be able to take over more responsibility. We’ve already passed over, I don’t know, thirty bases to the Iraqis. We’ve passed over three or four provinces to the Iraqis. They’re currently doing something like fifty percent of Baghdad. [emphasis added]

An American friend of David Ignatius currently in Baghdad:

The civil war rages in Baghdad, regardless of what the PC word currently being used in Washington to describe the killing is these days. Each morning when the sun comes up, the bodies of the killings from the night before are gathered up and sent to the hospitals where they try to figure out who they are. While the new government, all of the ministries, the coalition and the bloated embassy bureaucracy all sit frozen in the Green Zone, this civil war rages on just outside the wire and concrete barriers.

But Iraqi forces are "currently doing something like fifty percent of Baghdad" says our Secretary of Defense. The battlespace is under control! So what of Ignatiuses correspondent? Well, perhaps all the stuff happening must be happening in the other 50% of town? Or something like that. Meantime, one wonders, is the Decider even aware that Baghdad is capsizing into tribalistic anarchy? One fears not, particularly if the Browniesque situational awareness manifested by his Secretary of Defense is any indication.

Posted by Gregory at 03:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 07, 2006

Sacrifice, and "Cakewalks"

--with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq

Amid the flames and smoke and smell of burning diesel, there was little left of the Humvee but a blackened knot of scalding, twisted steel.

It looked bad — what troops call a "K-Kill" — a catastrophic event that claims the life of everyone on board.

The bomb, a cluster of artillery shells buried under the pavement, had strewn smoldering debris across the road. Almost nothing was recognizable. A tire. A smashed engine transmission. A gun-shield turret blown onto a rooftop. One of the Iraqi flags the Marines sometimes hand out while on patrol was thrown across the face of a building.

There had been five men in Sgt. Eric A. "Mac" McIntosh's truck. Four died instantly.

Marines rushed toward them.

The body of Navy medic Geovani Padilla-Aleman, 20, lay near the center of the road. McIntosh, 29, and Cpl. Scott J. Procopio, 20, were still in the wreckage of the burning vehicle. Lance Cpl. Yun Y. Kim, 20, was found later — blown 60 feet onto the far side of the street.

The fifth man aboard, Lance Cpl. Rex McKnight, 19, of Panama City, Fla., lay on the ground beside the blazing truck, convulsing in shock and blood with a broken arm and a severely injured leg.

Marines dragged him away from the fire, took a tourniquet out of his pocket and wrapped it around his arm. Others dragged Padilla-Aleman's body by the back of his flak vest to Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio's truck and loaded him into the trunk.

Somewhere up the road, beyond the acrid billows of smoke, insurgents had been watching — and now they opened fire.

Rounds pinged off the ground, off the trucks, but in the chaos, few noticed.

"It was all so surreal," 2nd Lt. Brian Wilson, 24, said. "I didn't realize we were getting shot at until we were about to leave. It didn't matter."

The priority was to get McKnight to "Charlie Med," the main U.S. medical facility on a large U.S. Army base nearby.

"Don't you die, don't you die," Wilson recalled telling McKnight. "If you let me get you to Charlie Med, you'll live, I promise you."

McKnight survived, and was eventually flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Del Gaudio stayed behind to protect the blast site with three other Marines, including Cpl. Jason Hunt, 24, until help could arrive.

As ammunition and grenades in the burning Humvee exploded, Del Gaudio tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher. His own Humvee was behind him, moving back and forth to make itself a harder target for rocket-propelled grenades.

"I wanted to believe they were alive, but I knew they were all dead," Del Gaudio said. "It was just the principle of not leaving them alone. I wouldn't leave them, couldn't leave them. I wouldn't leave my boys."

He remembered images of the four dead U.S. contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah in 2004.

"I said, I'll be goddamned if I'm gonna let anybody . . . take my boys, I'll be goddamned. It's one thing for you to lose your husband, or lose your son. But to have 'em freaking used by the enemy as propaganda, and disrespect that family, disrespect their service?"

From buildings somewhere down the road came more volleys of machine-gun fire.

Rounds slammed into the wreckage, and Del Gaudio kneeled for cover behind what was left of McIntosh's truck.

Squinting through the scope on his M-4 carbine, he saw a dozen gunmen through the smoke in jumpsuits and civilian clothes. One was filming the burning Humvee with a video camera. Others, he said, were holding onto several children by the shoulders, using them as shields in case the Marines fired back.

Del Gaudio did not fire, but a piece of shrapnel, perhaps a bullet fragment, sliced through the edge of his forefinger and struck his rifle.

Adrenaline pumping, he ignored the wound, looked through his scope again and saw the children had fled. He shot back, but couldn't tell if he hit anything.

Seconds later, back at his truck, Del Gaudio saw other Marine Humvees pulling up, followed by Army wreckers and tanks.

As the two sides traded sporadic fire, they recovered Kim's body from the other side of the road.

Marines pulled McIntosh and Procopio out of the wreckage, and loaded them into body bags. Their flesh was so hot it burned Del Gaudio's fingers.

"We policed everything up. We took all their gear. We took every last thing that was on the ground out there," Del Gaudio said. "We made sure we left the enemy nothing, like nothing ever happened."

When Marines die, field commanders cut communications for the troops until next of kin can be notified. No phones, no Internet. They call it "River City," a Cold War-era Navy code name for electronic silence.

After the attack, Kilo Company's 3rd Platoon returned to Hurricane Point. They sorted what remained of the fallen men's gear. They took jugs of water and cleaned blood from their trucks.

They were in shock. They were angry. Some shed tears. Some didn't want to eat.

Guys like McIntosh, they seemed invincible. How could they be dead? How could they be gone?

These were the first Marines Kilo Company had lost in Iraq since arriving the month before.

Del Gaudio went rack to rack, speaking briefly to his men, followed by a chaplain.

Jason Hunt, the vehicle commander, remembered seeing each of the four dead Marines during the briefing that morning. The images contrasted sharply with what he saw hours later.

"It wasn't them. They were just shells," Hunt said. "You look at this body that was once filled with life and movement and color and an aura of a human being, and then it's just . . ." His voiced trailed off.


There would be no goodbyes. No final salutes — not here, anyway. The plane that carried their four comrades home lifted off early.

Del Gaudio left his platoon at Hurricane Point and spent the rest of the day at Government Center, where he stepped outside and called his wife as sporadic gunfire crackled outside.

That night, he did not sleep.

Please remember these sacrifices when people speak of "cakewalks." Please remember them when prominent right-wing bloggers--many of whom appear to know very little about foreign policy generally--breezily link to myriad sources that imbibe every last bromide supplied by the very same crowd that promised such "cakewalks". And, last but not least, please also keep these sacrifices in mind when people--indeed some of them the very same individuals who promised Iraq would be a breeze--suggest a military conflict with Iran would be "easy" or a "cakewalk" or "no biggie" too.

Posted by Gregory at 04:50 AM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

June 06, 2006

Army Field Manual: It's Carve-Out Time!

The McCain Amendment (selected portion):


(a) IN GENERAL.--No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.

(b) APPLICABILITY.--Subsection (a) shall not apply to with respect to any person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense pursuant to a criminal law or immigration law of the United States.

(c) CONSTRUCTION.--Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the rights under the United States Constitution of any person in the custody or under the physical jurisdiction of the United States.

Julian Barnes, in the LAT:

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards...

...The detainee directive was due to be released in late April along with the Army Field Manual on interrogation. But objections from several senators on other Field Manual issues forced a delay. The senators objected to provisions allowing harsher interrogation techniques for those considered unlawful combatants, such as suspected terrorists, as opposed to traditional prisoners of war.

The lawmakers say that differing standards of treatment allowed by the Field Manual would violate a broadly supported anti-torture measure advanced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain last year pushed Congress to ban torture and cruel treatment and to establish the Army Field Manual as the standard for treatment of all detainees. Despite administration opposition, the measure passed and became law.

For decades, it had been the official policy of the U.S. military to follow the minimum standards for treating all detainees as laid out in the Geneva Convention. But, in 2002, Bush suspended portions of the Geneva Convention for captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Bush's order superseded military policy at the time, touching off a wide debate over U.S. obligations under the Geneva accord, a debate that intensified after reports of detainee abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Among the directives being rewritten following Bush's 2002 order is one governing U.S. detention operations. Military lawyers and other defense officials wanted the redrawn version of the document known as DoD Directive 2310, to again embrace Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

That provision — known as a "common" article because it is part of each of the four Geneva pacts approved in 1949 — bans torture and cruel treatment. Unlike other Geneva provisions, Article 3 covers all detainees — whether they are held as unlawful combatants or traditional prisoners of war. The protections for detainees in Article 3 go beyond the McCain amendment by specifically prohibiting humiliation, treatment that falls short of cruelty or torture.

The move to restore U.S. adherence to Article 3 was opposed by officials from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said. David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen A. Cambone, Defense undersecretary for intelligence, said it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.

The Pentagon tried to satisfy some of the military lawyers' concerns by including some protections of Article 3 in the new policy, most notably a ban on inhumane treatment, but refused to embrace the actual Geneva standard in the directive it planned to issue.

The military lawyers, known as judge advocates general, or JAGs, have concluded that they will have to wait for a new administration before mounting another push to link Pentagon policy to the standards of Geneva.

So let's see. John McCain fights the good fight to have the Executive Branch comply with Army Field Manual detainee treatment and interrogation doctrine that has stood this country in good stead for decades through various major conflicts. Cheney's reaction? After it was clear that arm-twisting even the dimmer Senatorial and Congressional players wouldn't work (given that even they realized what the Administration was proposing flew in the face of decades of best practices on these fronts), add a signing statement to the McCain Amendment (that the Administration so reluctantly agreed to, kicking and screaming really) to allow for 'flexibility' if necessity so required (a la best practices of the execrable John Yoo, the signing statement read that the McCain Amendment was to be interpreted in a "manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch").

But, of course, this didn't go quite far enough. We're playing for keeps here, and wouldn't want to rely on just a wobbly signing statement or such penumbra type interpretative guidance. So cometh Act II, to try to make things a bit more, shall we say, permanent. What, you say? Well, change the manual itself! Of course I'm not surprised. This is standard Cheney/Addington/Rumsfeld/Cambone MO. But hey, most of the masses seem happy to torture (sorry, 'humiliate') the brownie towel-heads anyway, most of the people who could call B.S. are in Manhattan too busy money-making to really care, and the legislative branch is supine in the extreme (save certain noble exceptions like McCain). So it's another lay-up for Cheney and Co., save a few nettlesome JAGs and Foggy Bottom folk!

Yep, another depressingly poor decision by the White House, in a long string of them, when it comes to detainee policy. I can assure you the further sullying of our reputation in the international community because of Geneva Convention carve-outs in the Manual will greatly outweigh any supposed intelligence gains we will be able to secure because we'll be able to 'humiliate' or 'degrade' better. But, blogospheric eminences protest, we are dealing with an Arab male honor code/system here. If we can't humiliate Mohamed and Ahmed and gang, we won't be able to extract any good intelligence, and next thing you know, my Colorado condo is going to be blown to smithereens because some weenie intellectual, America-hating, anti-panty-hose-on-head-during-interrogation-cowardly-defeatist wanted to be soft with the terrorists.

Really? But the pre-existing Army Field Manual, which has served us well for decades, allows for tactics such as "Fear Up Harsh", "Pride and Ego Up," and "Futility"--all of which would allow for a US interrogator to call an Iraqi insurgent a girlie-man, or such, for not having the balls to have really planted an IED, to use a hypo making the rounds. The point is that our pre-existing doctrine is wholly up to the task of extracting actionable intelligence. And it had the benefit of providing clear standards to potential interrogators. As the (old?) Army Field Manual put it, very well:

While using legitimate interrogation techniques, certain applications of approaches and techniques may approach the line between lawful actions and unlawful actions. It may often be difficult to determine where lawful actions end and unlawful actions begin. In attempting to determine if a contemplated approach or technique would be considered unlawful, consider these two tests: 1) Given all the surrounding facts and circumstances, would a reasonable person in the place of the person being interrogated believe that his rights, as guaranteed under both international and US law, are being violated or withheld, or will be violated or withheld if he fails to cooperate; [and] 2) If your contemplated actions were perpetrated by the enemy against US PWs, you would believe such actions violate international or US law. If you answer yes to either of these two tests, do not engage in the contemplated action. If a doubt still remains as to the legality of a proposed action, seek a legal opinion from your servicing judge advocate.

This is America. A reasonable person test. A do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And if in doubt, don't do it. Or ask a lawyer. These are the kind of clean, bright lines needed near emotion fraught battle-zones where young men and women entrusted with our national security must gather intelligence amidst the exigencies of wartime. This makes pragmatic sense. This preserves our leading (if rapidly diminishing) role as avatar of international human rights, so critical, as who else will step up and do so on the international stage? Not the farcical UN Rights Commissions, that, in positively Orwellian fashion, fete Syrians or Libyans or such, and not the Indians or Italians or Romanians or Russians either. No, only we have the credibility, but we are squandering it. And for what? So we can "humiliate"? When we can already use "Pride and Ego Up" and "Fear Up Harsh" and other tried and true tactics? Instead we are in a brave new world of paradigm shifts, where the Geneva Conventions are quaint, and Rumstud manfully avers that he stands 8 hours a day, in the margins of a note documenting interrogation tactics at Gitmo. As Fareed Zakaria memorably wrote:

....when Rumsfeld read a report documenting some of the new interrogation procedures at Guantanamo in November 2002, including having detainees stand for four hours, he scribbled a note in the margin, "Why is standing limited to 4 hours?... I stand for 8 hours a day." (Rumsfeld probably does not stand for eight hours, scarcely clad and barely fed, with bright lights, prison guards and attack dogs trained on him.) The signal Rumsfeld was sending was clear: "Get tougher." No one at the top was outlining what soldiers should not do, which lines they should not cross, which laws they should remember to adhere to strictly. The Pentagon's own report after investigating Abu Ghraib, by Gen. George Fay, speaks of "doctrinal confusion ... a lack of doctrine ... [and] systemic failures" as the causes for the incidents of torture. In a 2 million-person bureaucracy, such calculated ambiguities will inevitably lead to something like Abu Ghraib [emphasis added]

We are now repeating the same errors, astonishing as this may seem, even after Abu Ghraib, and Camp Mercury, and Bagram, and Guantanamo. Yes, it beggars belief, although, it is true, we are no longer capable of being shocked. Yes, the Cambones and Addingtons and Cheneys and Rumsfelds are again contributing to the doctrinal confusion Zakaria describes, as compared to the bright lines of current Army Field Manual interrogation techniques, bright lines which are perfectly adequate to the task at hand, and have the added benefit of preserving our moral standing and public image. Are Addington and Co. bad, evil men? No, probably not, at the end of the day. As Alberto Mora, the former Navy GC, memorably put it:

These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals,” he said. “When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values.”

No, these are not necessarily the actions of malicious rogues hell-bent on imperiling US democracy, but rather of short-sighted men overwhelmed by events--to the point of jeopardizing some of our bedrock values by their over-reactions. It's small, in a way. Regardless, I suspect this LAT story was purposefully leaked so that an eleventh hour action can be waged against it, and I'd be particularly curious to know if one of the Senators complaining has been McCain. But you know what? These are lame ducks now. Yes, they are clutching to their ill-advised policies, but I am hopeful the next Administration (as some military JAGs evidently hope too) will overturn these so misguided, unfortunate decisions. I guess we've got a bit over two years before the Field Manual is put back into shape, if they prevail this round. So let the lame ducks scurry with their cheap, dangerous games. The country will do the right thing in 2009, I am cautiously optimistic, whether a Republican or Democratic President comes into power.

As for the President, lest I be castigated for just beating up on the Tsar's attendants, let us recall he stood next to Tony Blair just several weeks ago and declared: "...the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time." But this man is not a leader capable of putting serious, remedial action behind his sentiments. He is, ultimately, a mediocrity elevated to great power via dynastic politics, and his leading advisors scurry behind his back in rear-guard actions that give the lie to the broad direction of his pronouncements, some of them apparently merely designed for public consumption. This too, is sad. For him, and for us. So yes, we desperately need today in this country, political leaders endowed with real courage married to high intelligence. But where are they?

MORE: As often, Zathras in comments puts it better than I:

The elder Bush, a lifelong ticket-puncher who before being chosen to ride on Ronald Reagan's coattails had filled a number of prominent posts just long enough to say he had been there, was a mediocrity. Except at personal networking, at which he was a whiz. Otherwise he was better than some, worse than others, ordinary, so-so, mediocre.

People are always doing this, using "mediocrity" to describe someone completely out of his depth. In fact, the younger Bush is an exceptionally talented and disciplined campaigner, not only (or even primarily) because of he has the traditional politician's people skills but also because he has mastered the mechanics of the modern American campaign. It is remarkable how seldom, during one of his campaigns for public office in the last 12 years, he has put a foot wrong; he has nearly always known what he had to do, when he had to do it. No national politician I can think of has gotten more electoral success relative to his skill at statecraft than Bush has. You can't call him (or, really, anyone who serves two terms in the White House) a mediocre politician.

On the other hand history will record Bush as a wretched President: ignorant, lazy, unprincipled, deeply entitled, careless of the dignity of the office, easily rattled and anxious to hide it, disrespectful of those outside his circle, helplessly dependent on an exceptionally small group of subordinates on whom he relies not to accomplish specific tasks but to just to keep his administration functioning, contemptuous of all who preceeded him in the White House and indifferent to all who will come after -- and, of course, much more interested in campaigning than governing. For over 200 years no American President ever let his Vice President be much more than a respectable ornament; this President can allow his Vice President to block efforts to rationalize policy on detainee treatment just so he won't have to surrender any previously-won bureaucratic turf. I would never use the word "mediocre" to describe George W. Bush as a statesman.

Yes, mediocrity was likely the wrong word. Read Z's entire comment, here.

Posted by Gregory at 04:05 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Mogadishu Blues

Hey, more flypaper!

Posted by Gregory at 03:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Barry McCaffrey on Iran


U.S. public diplomacy and rhetoric about confronting Iranian nuclear weapons is scaring neighbors in the Gulf. They will not support another war. They have no integrated missile and interceptor air defense. They have no credible maritime coastal defense system to protect their ports and oil production facilities. Our Mid-East allies believe correctly that they are ill-equipped to deal with Iranian strikes to close the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. They do not think they can handle politically or militarily a terrorist threat nested in their domestic Shia populations. A U.S. military confrontation with Iran could result in Sadr attacking our forces in Baghdad - or along our 400 mile line of communications out of Iraq to the sea. The Iranian people have collectively decided to go nuclear. The Chinese and the Russians will not in the end support serious collective action against Iran. The Iranians will achieve their nuclear weapon purpose within 5-10 years. Now is the time for us to create the asymmetrical alliances and defensive capabilities to hedge the Iranian nuclear threat without pre-emptive warfare. We can bankrupt and isolate the Iranians as we did the Soviet Union and create a stronger Gulf Alliance that will effectively deter this menace to our security.

I know, not quite as exciting as the Hewittian 'rapture' approach, but still. Sometimes a dose of brass tacks reality is worth throwing into the Iran debate, just to keep the temperature down a tad.

Posted by Gregory at 12:29 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 04, 2006

Afghanistan Update

Barnett Rubin:

During his visit to Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan from March 1 to March 5, 2006, President George W. Bush praised Afghan successes, telling President Karzai,“You are inspiring others, and the inspiration will cause others to demand their freedom.” He did so the day after the administration’s own intelligence chiefs reported that the antigovernment insurgency in Afghanistan is growing and presents a greater threat “than at any point since late 2001.” Some Afghan officials say the world thus far has put Afghanistan on life support, rather than investing in a cure. The following conditions make it clear that Afghanistan has the potential to be a disastrous situation if intelligent, measured steps are not taken:

• An ever-more deadly insurgency with sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, where leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have found refuge;

• A corrupt and ineffective administration without resources and a potentially dysfunctional parliament;

• Levels of poverty, hunger, ill health, illiteracy, and gender inequality that put Afghanistan near the bottom of every global ranking;

• Levels of aid that have only recently expanded above a fraction of that accorded to other post-conflict countries;

• An economy and administration heavily influenced by drug traffickers;

• Massive arms stocks despite the demobilization of many militias;

• A potential denial of the Islamic legitimacy of the Afghan government by a clergy that feels marginalized;

• Ethnic tensions exacerbated by competition for resources and power;

• Interference by neighboring states, all of which oppose a long-term U.S. presence in the region;

• Well-trained and well-equipped security forces that the government may not be able to pay when aid declines in a few years;

• Constitutional requirements to hold more national elections (at least six per decade) than the government may be able to afford or conduct;

• An exchange rate inflated by aid and drug money that subsidizes cheap imports and hinders economic growth; and

• Future generations of unemployed, frustrated graduates and dropouts from the rapidly expanding school system.

Read the whole report, which is well worth reading.

And don't miss this portion either:

The United States, with aid from France and the United Kingdom, has been training a new national army, which has now reached about 26,000 troops. The ANA was designed by the Department of Defense, and it deploys troops with embedded U.S. trainers. The U.S. model of an army, however, has a high price tag. According to the World Bank, the ANA cost 13 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal year 2004–2005, and total security sector spending topped 17 percent.20 Currently, the ANA depends on U.S. trainers for air support, logistics, and medical evacuation. Transferring the ownership of these functions to the ANA will cost even more. The Coalition has slowed ANA growth. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld informed the Afghan government that the United States will expect it to pay the military’s salaries from its budget in 2006–2007. According to Afghan sources, he also told Kabul that the ceiling for the ANA would be 45,000 men, compared to the 70,000 that the Afghan Ministry of Defense thinks it needs. Although the belated concern for fiscal sustainability is welcome, this unilateral decision has placed the Afghans in a difficult position. The United States, not Afghanistan, determined the salary levels of the ANA, and now the United States is insisting that this impoverished, insecure country, just embarking on a major development strategy, take on this fiscal burden. Secretary Rumsfeld has reportedly assured the Afghans that the United States will ensure Afghanistan’s external security, but the failure of the United States to neutralize the Taliban and al-Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan has made the Afghans skeptical of such guarantees. Because Afghanistan cannot have a foreign-supported army for long, some adjustment of the quantity or quality of the force is inevitable. Besides simply making the ANA smaller, the Afghan government could move away from the U.S.-inspired structure toward a more cost-effective, if less professional, army, such as one based on conscription and compensation in kind (housing and other facilities) rather than cash. Similar adjustments must be made for the Afghan National Police (ANP). Current plans to raise police salaries to a level comparable to that of the ANA will further inflate the budget beyond the country’s means. Because of the insufficiency of both international and national security forces, the Afghan government continues to raise informal militias, mostly in Pashtun areas, where the Taliban are active. This has created some anxiety among non-Pashtuns, who have seen their much larger militias disbanded. The need for regional and ethnic equity must be taken into account in the structure of the security forces.

Rumsfeld's legacy, a very poor one indeed, will not only be felt in Iraq. But let's put Rumsfeld aside, lest I be accused of Ahab-like monomania. More generally, we need to recall Afghanistan's continuing fragility (putting it delicately) before we get too carried away planning an Iran campaign, not to mention while Iraq's capital city continues to plunge into chaos. Real progress has been made there, but real perils remain. I think key policy-makers need to appreciate that better in coming weeks and months. This isn't just about neo-Talib offensives hotting up every spring/early summer--there's much more here--and we need to be paying very close attention to it indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 09:32 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Fundamentalist Encroachments in Baghdad


Baghdadis are reporting that radical Islamists have taken control over the Dora, Amiriya and Ghazaliya districts of Baghdad, where they operate in broad daylight. They have near full control of Saidiya, Jihad, Jami’a, Khadhraa’ and Adil. And their area of influence has spread over the last few weeks to Mansour, Yarmouk, Harthiya, and very recently, to Adhamiya.

All of these districts, with the exception of Adhamiya, are more or less mixed or Sunni majority areas. They make up the western part of the capital, or what is known as the Karkh sector (the eastern half of Baghdad is called Rusafa). These areas also witnessed an influx of families displaced by the violence in the Anbar governorate, since many residents of the western part of Baghdad have roots in western areas of the country, such as Fallujah and Ramadi.

People who live in the mentioned districts claim that unknown groups have distributed leaflets (often handwritten), warning residents of several practices, ranging from instructions on dress codes to the prohibition of selling or dealing with certain goods.

The instructions vary between neighbourhoods. Amiriya and Ghazaliya have the full menu, while others stress only 2 or more of them. So far, enforcing the hijab for women and a ban on shorts for men are consistent in most districts of western Baghdad. In other areas, women are not allowed to drive, to go out without a chaperone, and to use cell phones in public; men are not allowed to dress in jeans, shave their beards, wear goatees, put styling hair gel, or to wear necklaces; it is forbidden to sell ice, to sell cigarettes at street stands, to sell Iranian merchandise, to sell newspapers, and to sell ring tones, CDs, and DVDs. Butchers are not allowed to slaughter during certain religious anniversaries. Municipality workers will be killed if they try to collect garbage from certain areas. Private neighbourhood generators are banned in a few areas. And the last I heard is that they are threatening Internet cafés and wireless providers.

What is our plan to control (I was going to write re-assert control, but we never really did) Baghdad Mr. Rumsfeld? And please don't say, "as they stand up, we'll stand down," or recite how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Army and Police have been "trained". Cuz that's not gonna cut it.

P.S. By the way, I've had various Syria-watchers tell me there is something of a religious ressentiment taking place there (various individuals have mentioned Aleppo, for instance). Can others confirm? Meantime, the Israelis have been known to speculate, if usually quietly, about the Hashemite monarchy's stability. We've seen what has happened of late in Palestine with Hamas, of course. And we all know open ballots in Egypt would have the Muslim Brotherhood gaining greater market share. In my darker moments, I wonder whether a major Islamic resurgence is, like the dissolution of the Soviet Union or 9/11, an 800-pound gorrilla mega-development that will similarly catch the CIA and US government mostly unawares. As I said, in my darker moments, because I do believe there are more progressive and secular currents coursing through the Arab world too, not to mention demographic trends that in theory should be helpful. But still...

P.P.S. Comments in the thread noted. I think I wrote up this P.S. poorly, and permit me to conveniently chalk it up to a bad flu. I didn't mean to leave the impression that this is some zero-sum game, with secularists good, and Islamists bad. I am also keenly aware, as Lounsbury puts it, that there "are Islamists and there are Islamists". Put somewhat differently, I've never considered, as more breathless commentators routinely do here in the States, Islamism writ large to be the next Big "ism" confronting the US after, say, fascism and communism. This said, it's undeniable that radical Islamists present a clear and present danger, and when I spoke of a potential mega-resurgence of Islamism, I guess I was speaking mostly of the relatively benign more moderate variety, but I suppose it's not a stretch to imagine that radical Islamists will find a more hospitable environment in 'moderate' Islamist states than secularist ones (even the repressive variety), so there are real risks with such scenarios too. As for the 'coursing' comment, I guess I meant I see a good deal of more secularist types in places like Beirut, Teheran and Dubai, and to a lesser extent even places like Amman, Casablanca and Tunis, and combined with demographic trends and the spread of satellite and Internet, think there are windows of opportunity to capitalize on such possible trends in the future. That is, if we did things like raze Abu Ghraib (not now, but at the moment of the scandal, when it would have had a real impact), close Guantanamo, push for a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and start providing basic order and security in an Iraq that is rapidly radicalizing amidst increasing anarchy. But perhaps, maybe all that's "magical", to quote Lounsbury again.

Posted by Gregory at 02:20 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Cartoons, Then and Now...

It's somewhat bemusing to see various bloggers (such as Glenn Reynolds) get rather on the excited side about protests in Iran triggered by the so-called 'cockroach cartoon' (more background here). If memory serves, Glenn a few months back thought protesting over something as trivial as cartoons was pretty on the lame side. Now he routinely links to updates from the revolution-to-be in Iran from a blog-site whose proprieter seems to be, with all due apologies, a bit on the under-informed side as to what it all means. Still, it makes for a fun show, what with the innocent Pyle-like exuberances, links to often biased news sources taken as gospel, and myriad exclamation marks!

The reality, of course, is that the Azeri minority in the north of Iran has long felt repressed by Teheran, and the cockroach cartoon lit a fuse of sorts. But before we start mindlessly cheerleading the protests ("Bloody clashes in Tabriz! 4 Protesters were killed in prison!" Like, cool!), we might stop a second and think about the implications some. First, while fanning the flames might seem like the right thing to do (if it's bad for the Mullahs, it's gotta be good for us!), we are currently in no position to protect any of these protestors if matters take a more violent turn. There are also regional security implications. For instance, the government in Baku is being very careful indeed not to be seen to be supporting the protestors, lest Iran potentially think about retaliatory moves to destabilize Azerbaijan. Regardless, is our next chapter in the war on terror (now that some appear to have gotten bored with the Mesopotamian bog, which appears so 2005....) now going to be about supporting Azeri, or Kurdish or Arab irredentists in northern and southern Iran and such? Glenn recently linked to this "analysis" and approvingly declared: "I think that's pretty much the strategy". To quote from all the strategerizing:

Finally, Politically (…by other means…) Iran’s regime is vulnerable. They sit on an ethnically diverse populace that while a majority is Shia Persian, there is a significant, and militant, minority of Kurds in the West, and Arabs in the south (who conveniently sit on a good chunk of the country’s oil fields.) In the vein of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” perhaps we should start fomenting a Kurdish nationalist revolt across Iraq’s border –as Iran seems to be just as willing to foment a Shia revolt in Iraq. The Kurds would love weapons and money to fight “the man,” and as long as we make it clear that they can’t carry out their revolution in Turkey, it would cause significant problems for the image-conscious Iranian regime. In the south, significant across-the-border Information Operation campaigns targeting the Arabs in Iran should simply say: “look across the border, where the Iraqis are getting a cut of their oil wealth –how much are you getting from your regime?”

Alas, our erstwhile strategist forgot that the disgruntled Azeris also are ready to fight "the man." But perhaps this post was cobbled together before the 'cockroach riots', so that the analysis neglected to mention Iran's largest and arguably most disgruntled ethnic minority (in a post about, you know, large and disgruntled ethnic minorities in Iran). As for Iraqis enjoying the fruits of their oil wealth serving as inspiration for Iranian Arabs (the blog Glenn links to appears unawares that ethnic Arabs are only 3% of the population there) to take up arms, I feel our earnest strategist is flying a tad blind on some hard realities there as well, no?

Regardless, do we want, per chance, a fourth or fifth civil war (whether low-grade or otherwise) in the region (Iraq! Afghanistan! Sudan! Hamas-Fatah! Persians vs. Azeris, and throw in the Kurds too!) Are we all good Wilsonians now, keen to ensure all Middle Eastern minorities have their own homeland? Perhaps soon we will be advocating for Turkomen and Assyrian and Baluchi homelands as well. It all smells like some form of Schumpeterian 'creative destruction', no? No one appears to have a clue where the chips would all end up falling, but full speed ahead (cue exclamation points aplenty), and if it's trouble for the Mullahs, or those god-awful Sunnis, or whomever the Bad Guys du jour are, it must be a good thing. Or something like that.

Look, it's certainly true that some of Iran ethnic minorities have been feeling more emboldened of late given Iran's greater isolation in the international community. In time, a more enlightened government in Iran should be coaxed and persuaded to grant greater autonomy, linguistic rights, etcetera to some of them. But let's not conflate our noble sentiments with freedom exportation expeditions along the lines of training and equipping Azeri and Baloch and Kurdish and Arab separatists to establish Free Iran 'safe havens' or some such, whilst ferreting out the Persian Ahmad Chalabi to air-drop in and lead the disgruntled tribes to Damascus (read: Teheran). We're not watching Lawrence of Arabia re-runs here, are we? Have we learned nothing? And have we already forgotten Iraq, amidst all this breathless arm-chair banter about Iran? I like to finish a job I've started, rather than to half-ass it, move on to the next debacle, even whilst the train wreck still smolders next door. What say you?

Posted by Gregory at 02:28 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

June 03, 2006

Condi's Moment

In orchestrating the latest Iran diplomacy happenings, Condeleeza Rice showed herself not only to be reality-based, to use the blogospheric jargon, but also a quite skilled and adept tactician. I say reality-based because she understood that the existing policy of sub-contracting out to the Euro-troika (while refusing to talk directly to Iran) was becoming increasingly dysfunctional and on the verge of capsizing into basic irrelevance. The Iranians were basically outmaneuvering us and we appeared to be content to let the process continue to disintegrate towards greater and greater ineffectiveness. Unlike a Donald Rumsfeld, say, Condi Rice wasn't content to stagger deeper on towards known unknowns like a reckless arrogant. On the tactician side, not only did Ms. Rice corral all the key Administration players towards agreeing these major steps, she also deftly orchestrated the roll-out of the dramatic new policy to maximum effect. For instance, the quite dramatic concession of agreeing to potentially talk to the Iranians could easily have appeared to look like we were kow-towing to them. But, save for the rabid Krauthammer types (always ready to call for varied blitzkriegs from the comfort of their increasingly yawn-inducing Fox green room rounds), I think it is fair to say the manner by which Condi Rice spearheaded the announcement of the policy did not appear weak-kneed. Indeed, there is a general feeling that the U.S. firmly placed the ball in the Iranian court, in a relatively reasonable manner, with key allies in support, so that the episode doesn't look like some cheaply ginned up disingenuous diktat.

Balanced against this, of course, is whether the preliminary conditionality to talks (suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities) could nevertheless ultimately be viewed as something of a ploy to force an Iranian rejection of the offer to talk, the better to move towards a more classic Bush Administration M.O., namely rapid resort to punitive actions. But to have had each of the Chinese, Russians, and Europeans agree to a package of carrots means there were some meaningful ones proferred (notably, for instance, a light-water reactor is reportedly being offered up), and despite initial Iranian rumblings that talks cannot take place unless pre-conditions are dropped, at very least, it is clear that Teheran will have to analyze very assiduously the package of incentives (and possible sanctions) presented to them. Getting this kind of buy-in on a package that met with the approval of capitals as varied as Moscow, Beijing and Washington was no small feat.

Ditto, also, getting the President and hard-liners on his team to sign on. There are conflicting rumors about whether Cheney was on board with Condi's policy (this Glenn Kessler piece says he was, this NYT piece indicates he was opposed). Whether one of Cheney's aides is leaking to Kessler to make it look like he had bought into the strategy merely to save face, or whether it's true he supported Condeleeza's Rice's approach, what's clear is that the U.S. for the first time in well over two decades is allowing for the prospect of high level public negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is obviously a very big deal. But Cheney is a smart and savvy man, and I still think he is influencing a good deal of the President's thoughts on this matter, in tandem with Condi Rice too, of course. He reportedly appears to have stressed a cautionary note amidst all this diplomacy-making--a 'red-line', if you will--whereby a 'slippery slope' allowing the requirement for a freezing of enrichment to go by the way-side cannot be permitted, at least in the context of an American willingness to negotiate. Putting aside the merits of such a stance, for the time being, it's clear that this could short-circuit the US offer to talk and give it not much of a shelf life to speak of.

Regardless all this is highly significant, as I said, but in a way, it was the easy part. The going will only get tougher now going forward. Reportedly, while the Chinese and Russians and Europeans and Americans could all agree the carrots, it appears matters are much more vague with regard to the sticks, if the Iranians end up balking. Yes, a 'menu' has been agreed, with escalating penalties, but aside from agreeing to the menu in toto, the Russians and Chinese certainly haven't confirmed that they are on board for the tougher punitive actions (the carefully parsed language speaking of "negative disincentives" or neutral 'steps', rather than sanctions, speaks to how sensitive these discussions doubtless were). In the short term, Condi will have a bit of wind at her back to get more robust action out of the UNSC, but it's not hard to see even some of the Europeans peel away from particularly draconian actions.

Also, of course, while the ball has been deftly placed in the Iranian court, they are going to respond not unintelligently. They will likely think about how to peel off the Russians and Chinese from the Americans and Europeans, perhaps by agreeing to suspend the installation of new enrichment systems or letting U.N. inspectors back in to conduct inspections (without advance notice) during the negotiations. There is also the risk they will pretend to agree to a suspension of enrichment, but continue it in secret, although this would be a very high risk strategy indeed. Were they caught out, even the Chinese would be hard-pressed to not sign on to, at least, robust sanctions.

All this said, Condi's done what discredited figures in this Administration (like Rumsfeld) haven't been able to do. Recognize that a policy was failing. Methodically orchestrate an intelligent way to re-energize and re-direct said failed policy, with many allies (at least initially) in tow. Get buy-in from the entire Administration and move forward to try to effectuate it. A very good show, all told. But, as I said, it's only going to get tougher from here on out. I think this moment of allied unananimity vis-a-vis Iran might well prove pretty short-lived. And then every one will have to go back to their respective drawing-boards and question fundamental 'red-lines' and other assumptions yet again. Still, there is hope this process could bear some positive fruit, and I am obviously happy to see that we've opened the door to direct discussions with Iran, as I've been advocating for them in the pages of this blog since at least 2004.

Posted by Gregory at 10:16 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

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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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