January 31, 2007

Revenge?

Might Karbala have been a response to Irbil?

UPDATE: Well yes, we'd need to hear much more than 'the Iraqis aren't sophisticated enough' to persuasively evidence any direct Iranian involvement in the operation itself (for the time being it appears likeliest "rogue JAM" were behind the actual attack--and while Mahdi Militia and varied off-shoots get some support from Iran--that is different than a bunch of Iranian operatives killing U.S. troops and than making a bee-line towards Iran or such). On a related note, don't miss Zbigniew Brzezinski:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

(Hat Tip: Steve C)

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (23)

January 30, 2007

Another Casualty of Detainee Policies: Diminished Standing to Pressure China

Victor Mallet:

The militarisation of space is only the latest area in which an increasingly assertive China has taken advantage of the typical US approach to critical issues of global importance since the end of the cold war. The US is so protective of its sovereignty and complacent about its power that it often refuses to adhere to accepted international norms or contemplate an international regime that might constrain its room for manoeuvre.

There are at least three areas in which China is happy to ride on America's coat-tails and the first is human rights. Until the US began detaining people without trial at Guantánamo Bay five years ago, it was possible for US politicians, without hypocrisy, to criticise Chinese Communist leaders for jailing their political opponents. The US could exert real influence on Chinese behaviour. Exchanges of presidential visits between the two countries were in those days preceded by the ritual release of Chinese dissidents into US care; today such visits are more likely to be marked by the ritual purchase of Boeing aircraft as part of China's efforts to reduce the US trade deficit.

Chinese officials are not shy to point out Washington's selective approach to human rights. They do not see why resource-hungry China should not support dictatorships in Burma and Zimbabwe if the US does the same in Pakistan, central Asia and west Africa. Nor is there any obvious reason why China should not use its United Nations Security Council veto to protect allies such as Sudan from sanctions when the US does the same for its protégés, including Israel.

The second issue is economic nationalism. China, along with several other Asian nations, is rightly accused of using dubious stratagems - including peculiar product standards and health and safety scares - to protect its domestic market from foreign competitors. Yet whenever this issue is raised, China has only to recall a two-year-old dispute that still rankles with Chinese officials: CNOOC, the state-controlled oil group, was stopped from buying Unocal, the US oil company, on spurious national security grounds.

Third is the environment. True, air pollution from China has been detected on the US side of the Pacific and Chinese industrialisation threatens the global environment. But why should China take action when the US, still the world's biggest contributor to global warming, has refused to adopt the Kyoto protocol on climate change and has barely begun to take the matter seriously?

Notwithstanding Mr Bush's call for lower US petrol consumption in his state of the nation address on Tuesday, fuel economy standards for new vehicles are more stringent in China than in the much wealthier US.

If China is to be held to account for its actions - whether in polluting the world, persecuting its dissidents, supporting dictators or disturbing the peace in space by blowing up satellites - the US must re-arm itself with credibility, moral conviction and a willingness to help craft and then submit to international law.

It staggers the mind what we've squandered by way of moral leadership these past years. And increasingly, it's having a very real impact in our relations with rising powers like China, as Mallet ably points out. Hank Paulson will doubtless do a superb job on the economic track with Beijing, but on issues like human rights, our standing to protest has diminished mightily in the eyes of much of the world community. That's what happens when the planet's leading democracy does things like legalize torture for certain categories of detainees in its captivity. It loses the moral high-ground, and thus its standing to convincingly protest the abuses of others goes into something of a free-fall.

Relatedly, it is astounding to me that a "Cully" Stimson (he of the profoundly cretinous statements about Gitmo counsel) is still managing detainee affairs for the Pentagon and, much more important, that Guantanamo remains open. Any intelligence that has been gathered there in the past pales in benefit to the massive costs to our international standing the existence of Guantanamo has inflicted on our nation (regardless with many of the detainees there now for years there is little to no fresh intelligence to be gained anymore). Meantime, the images of Muslim males being carted about in wheel-barrows amidst the razor-wire of the "tropics" (Cheney's memorable phrase) has doubtless proven one of the very best recruiting sergeants al-Qaeda has had at its disposal this past half-decade.

Guanatanamo must be 'phased-out', with detainees speedily tried (though improvements to the Potemkin justice likely to be meted out need to be urgently implemented), sent to home or third countries, etc, as soon as a new Administration comes into power (this reckless Administration seems incapable of it). Its continued existence remains an unmitigated disgrace, a propanganda boon to our enemies, and a grevious blight on our nation's history. In many ways, it will serve as a key symbol of the terrible judgments and blunders we've witnessed during the Bush years when historians look back to analyze this shameful period in our nation's history.

Posted by Gregory at 06:20 AM | Comments (34)

Things Fall Apart

Dinmore:

Iraq is rapidly sliding into an all-out civil war that is likely to spill over into neighbouring countries, resulting in mass deaths and refugee flows, serious disruption of Gulf oil supplies and a drastic decline in US influence in the region.

This grim forecast is set out in Things Fall Apart (pdf.), a 130-page report released today by the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which also recommends how the US might contain the disastrous consequences of "spillover".

The Washington think-tank distils what it says are the lessons learned from other civil wars, laying out the case histories of Afghanistan, Congo, Lebanon, Somalia and Yugoslavia.

Kenneth Pollack, a former Clinton administration official and CIA analyst who co-authored the report with Daniel Byman, told the Financial Times they were looking for a "Goldilocks solution" - somewhere between "stay the course" and "getting all out".

"It was arrogance in the face of history that led us to blithely assume we could invade without preparing for an occupation, and we would do well to show greater humility when assimilating its lessons about what we fear will be the next step in Iraq's tragic history," the report says.

Brookings identifies six patterns from other civil wars that are already manifesting themselves in Iraq: large refugee flows, the breeding ground of new terrorist groups, radicalisation of neighbouring populations, the spread of secessionism, regional economic losses, and intervention by neighbours. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey are said to be "scrambling to catch up" with rival Iran.

Among the report's recommendations are "don't try to pick winners", as proxies often fail or turn against their masters; avoid active support for partition; "don't dump the problem on the United Nations"; pull back from Iraqi population centres despite the horrific consequences; bolster regional stability by revitalising the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; set up an international contact group including Syria and Iran; and consider setting up "safe havens" for refugees along Iraq's borders.

Brookings estimates that 50,000 to 150,000 Iraqis have died already since the US invasion in 2003 and cites United Nations figures of 1m Iraqis who have subsequently fled their country.

Mr Pollack, who previously was an outspoken proponent of the invasion, says the lessons of past full-blown civil wars reveal nearly all efforts by states to minimise or contain spillover have failed.

The report will be read with deep concern by the US administration, which is projecting an increasingly discordant picture of how it evaluates Iraq, even while speaking of the serious consequences of failure...

...Analysts outside Brookings say officials are working on "what next?" strategies in the event that the 21,500 troop reinforcements announced this month fail to halt the sectarian chaos.

Mr Bush has conceded that the US is not winning the war. In contrast, Dick Cheney, his vice-president, asserted last week that the US had achieved "enormous successes" in Iraq. Both reject assertions that Iraq is in a state of civil war.

Mr Cheney told Newsweek that by sending a second aircraft carrier group to the Gulf, the US demonstrated to its allies it would stay in the region and had the capabilities, working with international organisations, "to deal with the Iranian threat".

But Mr Pollack is concerned that the US is stoking a wider conflict and is "careening" into provoking a war with Iran. Even in his "best-case scenario" for Iraq, Mr Pollack fears hundreds of thousands of deaths.

I haven't had a chance to read the entire report yet, but I note (like the ISG) that Pollack comes out against Gelb-Biden:

Avoid active support for partition. . . for now. Eventually, after years of bloody civil war, Iraq may be ready for a stable partition. However, a major U.S. effort to enact secession or partition today would be likely to trigger even more massacres and ethnic cleansing. Other than the Kurds, few Iraqis want their country divided, nor do they want to leave their homes. While many are doing so out of necessity, and some are even moving pre-emptively, this is not diminishing the impetus towards warfare. For the most part it is doing the opposite: causing many of those fleeing their homes to join vicious sectarian militias like Muqtada as-Sadr’s Jaysh al- Mahdi (Army of the Mahdi) in hope of regaining their property or at least exacting revenge on whoever drove them out. Other than the Kurds, few of Iraq’s leaders favor partition, instead wanting to control as much (or all) of it as they can. Nor is it clear that a move to partition would result in a neat division of Iraq into three smaller states. As noted above, the Sunnis and the Shi’ah are badly fragmented among dozens of different militias of widely varying sizes, but none of them are large enough to quickly or easily unite their community. Thus far more likely than creating a new Sunni state and a new Shi’i state, Mesopotamian Iraq would splinter into chaotic warfare and warlordism. Partition would be practical only if there were a political agreement to do so that was then enforced by adequate numbers of foreign forces. This would likely require at least 450,000 troops, the same concentration as was needed to enforce the Dayton Accords in Bosnia. Moreover, the situation would be worse in the near term because the Iraqis will see the United States as imposing a highly unpopular partition on them, as opposed to Dayton where the key parties accepted the peace agreement. In short, trying to partition Iraq as a way of containing or ending a civil war is unlikely to succeed absent years of slaughter, a peace agreement among the parties, and a much greater American military commitment.
Partition is no panacea, to say the least.

In the main body of the report (parts of which I've very rapidly skimmed) there is this related passage too:

Finally, the United States needs to keep in mind that any American actions in Iraq depend on the support of its neighbors. It is not just that the United States requires basing and logistical support from Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia, but that any plan the United States tries to implement can be undermined by the active opposition of Iraq’s neighbors. None of Iraq’s neighbors support partition in any form. In late October 2006, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faysal announced that “Since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited,” and he argued that partitioning Iraq would result in “ethnic cleansing on a massive scale.” Only a few days later, Turkish Foreign Minister declared that “There are those who think that dividing Iraq might be better, that this chaos might end. This is what we say: Don’t even think of such an alternative because that would lead Iraq toward new chaos.”

Frankly, I suspect the only neighbor that might welcome partition (albeit with various reservations) would perhaps be Iran, as large swaths of southern and central Iran would become unfettered Shi'a lebensraum. More on this and related topics soon.

Posted by Gregory at 05:49 AM | Comments (10)

January 29, 2007

Iran: "Kill or Capture", But w/ "Oversight Guarantees"

More "augmentation", as they say:

The new "kill or capture" program was authorized by President Bush in a meeting of his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut and, ultimately, to shake Iran's commitment to its nuclear efforts. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, but the United States and other nations say it is aimed at developing weapons.

The administration's plans contain five "theaters of interest," as one senior official put it, with military, intelligence, political and diplomatic strategies designed to target Iranian interests across the Middle East.

The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the "Blue Game Matrix" -- a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al-Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran's funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan.

In Iraq, U.S. troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority.

The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war.

Senior administration officials said the policy is based on the theory that Tehran will back down from its nuclear ambitions if the United States hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders. But if Iran responds with escalation, it has the means to put U.S. citizens and national interests at greater risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Officials said Hayden counseled the president and his advisers to consider a list of potential consequences, including the possibility that the Iranians might seek to retaliate by kidnapping or killing U.S. personnel in Iraq.

Two officials said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though a supporter of the strategy, is concerned about the potential for errors [ed. note: you don't say?], as well as the ramifications of a military confrontation between U.S. and Iranian troops on the Iraqi battlefield.

In meetings with Bush's other senior advisers, officials said, Rice insisted that the defense secretary appoint a senior official to personally oversee the program to prevent it from expanding into a full-scale conflict. Rice got the oversight guarantees she sought, though it remains unclear whether senior Pentagon officials must approve targets on a case-by-case basis or whether the oversight is more general...

...The decision to use lethal force against Iranians inside Iraq began taking shape last summer, when Israel was at war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials said a group of senior Bush administration officials who regularly attend the highest-level counterterrorism meetings agreed that the conflict provided an opening [ed. note: "birth pangs"!] to portray Iran as a nuclear-ambitious link between al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the death squads in Iraq.

Among those involved in the discussions, beginning in August, were deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, NSC counterterrorism adviser Juan Zarate, the head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, representatives from the Pentagon and the vice president's office, and outgoing State Department counterterrorism chief Henry A. Crumpton.

Condi has "oversight guarantees", does she? Feeling safer this "policy" won't spin out of control? Don't get me wrong. I understand where people like Bob Gates are coming from. As he recently stated: "Our forces are authorized to go after those who are trying to kill them, and we are trying to uproot these networks that are planting (improvised explosive devices) that are causing 70 percent of our casualties...If you’re in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target". Fair enough.

And beyond this, the thinking goes, bolster the U.S. military presence in Iraq and the Gulf, put "kill or capture" on the record loudly, try to better get Sunni powers in the region 're-aligned' against Iran--basically tee up a series of moves meant to signal to the Iranians our resolve is not flagging, and our presence in theatre will remain robust. All well and good, the Administration seems to think, and doubtless some surmise it might even facilitate possible discussions w/ the Iranians going forward--but with the U.S. coming to the table not in weakness but more from a position of strength.

But mightn't this all be hogwash, to use a word in vogue? The Iranians are all over southern and central Iraq, not to mention Baghdad, and our much ballyhooed roll-out of "kill or capture" isn't going to change that materially, I fear. Meantime, unless we end up protecting Sunnis in Baghdad to the extent we end up in fire-fights w/ Shi'a militias (likely probable over a 12 month time horizon), the flip side is that, if we don't protect Sunnis vigorously, our (in)actions will likely end up facilitating Shi'a hegemony in Baghdad (likely Sciri and Dawa-centric, ironically players tighter with the Iranians arguably than the Sadrists), so that this supposedly new "kill or capture" policy could well prove an exercise in futility.

Further, and maybe it's just me (as one of those cursed Scowcroft types), but I would be careful escalating thusly with Iran. The region cannot handle another war at this juncture, as it's already capsizing under the weight of various civil wars, whether potential, accelerating, or full-blown. Palestine could fall into civil war any day (though a Saudi mediation-type intervention will likely stave off Hamas and Fatah going at it full bore), Lebanon teeters on the cusp of one, Iraq is cascading deeper into one, Afghanistan/Pakistan remain hugely problematic, and another two civil wars are live and cracking (Somalia, Sudan). Is this really the best time to throw another match on the fire (that is, if you're not one of those mad-cap 'creative destructionist' types)?

I know, I know. "Stability" is so boring in this era of Transformational Diplomacy, and "Kill or Capture" is only meant to help get Iraq under better control while also better protecting our troops. Fat chance. This policy is likelier to lead to more American soldiers dying in the streets of Baghdad fighting Shi'a militias increasingly radicalized, not only because American forces will be forced to take on some of the Shi'a death-squads in a show of even-handedness, but also because the Iranians will respond to these American pressure tactics by intensifying the actions of various proxies in theater to show they won't be cowed. And then, what next? Indeed, we appear to be edging towards creating something of a self-fulfilling prophecy here, one perilously close to flirting with open conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran. As I've said in the past, this would be the height of folly. But with this Administration, as we've learned, just about anything is possible.

Posted by Gregory at 06:51 AM | Comments (28)

Haifa Street

Damien Cave:

“Help!” came the shout. “Man down."

“Sergeant Leija got hit in the head,” yelled Specialist Evan Woollis, 25, his voice carrying into the apartment with the Iraqi family. The soldiers from the sergeant’s platoon, part of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, rushed from one apartment to the other.

In the narrow kitchen, a single bullet hole could be seen in a tinted glass window facing north.

The platoon’s leader, Sgt. First Class Marc Biletski, ordered his men to get down, away from every window, and to pull Sergeant Leija out of the kitchen and into the living room.

“O.K., everybody, let’s relax,” Sergeant Biletski said. But he was shaking from his shoulder to his hand.

Relaxing was just not possible. Fifteen feet of floor and a three-inch-high metal doorjamb stood between where Sergeant Leija fell and the living room, out of the line of fire. Gunshots popped in bursts, their source obscured by echoes off the concrete buildings.

“Don’t freak out on me, Doc,” Sergeant Biletski shouted to the platoon medic, Pfc. Aaron Barnum, who was frantically yanking at Sergeant Leija’s flak jacket to take the weight off his chest. “Don’t freak out.”

Two minutes later, three soldiers rushed to help, dragging the sergeant from the kitchen. A medevac team then rushed in and carried him to a Stryker armored vehicle outside, around 9:20. He moaned as they carried him down the stairs on a stretcher.

The men of the platoon remained in the living room, frozen in shock. They had a problem. Sergeant Leija’s helmet, flak jacket, gear and weapon, along with that of at least one other soldier, were still in the exposed area of the kitchen. They needed to be recovered. But how...?

...An Iraqi soldier rushed in and then stopped, seemingly surprised by the Americans sitting around him. He stood in the middle of the darkened living room, inches away from bloody bandages on the carpet.

“Get away from the window!”

The soldiers yelled at their interpreter, a masked Iraqi whom they called Santana. Between their shouts and his urgent Arabic, the Iraqi soldier got the message. He slowly walked away.

A few minutes later it happened again. This time, the Iraqi lingered.

“What part of ‘sniper’ don’t you understand?” Sergeant Biletski yelled. The other soldiers cursed and called the Iraqis idiots. They were still not sure whether an Iraqi soldier was responsible for Sergeant Leija’s wound, but they said the last thing they wanted was another casualty. In a moment of emotion, Private Barnum said, “I won’t treat him if he’s hit.”

When the second Iraqi left, an airless silence returned. The dark left people alone to grieve. “You O.K.? ” Sergeant B asked each soldier. A few nods. A few yeses.

Private Barnum stood up, facing the kitchen, eager to bring back the gear left. One foot back, the other forward, he stood like a sprinter. “I can get that stuff, Sergeant,” he said. “I can get it.”

The building next door had still not been cleared by Americans. The answer was no.

“I can’t lose another man,” Sergeant B said. “If I did, I failed. I already failed once. I’m not going to fail again.”

The room went quiet. Faces turned away. “You didn’t fail, sir,” said one of the men, his voice disguised by the sound of fighting back tears. “You didn’t fail.”..

...With more than an hour elapsed since the attack, and after no signs of another shot through the kitchen window, Sergeant B agreed to let Private Barnum make a mad dash for the equipment.

Private Barnum waited for several minutes in the doorway, peeking around the corner, stalling. Then he dove forward, pushing himself up against the wall near the window to cut down the angle, pausing, then darting back to the camouflaged kit.

Crack — a single gunshot. Private Barnum looked back at the kitchen window, his eyes squeezed with fear. His pace quickened. He cleared the weapons’ chambers and tossed them to the living room. Then he threw the flak jackets and bolt cutters.

He picked up Sergeant Leija’s helmet, cradled it in his arms, then made the final dangerous move back to the living room, his fatigues indelibly stained with his friend’s blood. There were no cheers to greet him. It was a brave act borne of horror, and the men seemed eager to go.

As Private Barnum gingerly wrapped the helmet in a towel, it tipped and blood spilled out.

As more of the 17,500 men getting surged into Baghdad get killed in such senseless fashion, we will need to check back in with the "17th Street Surgers" frequently to query them re: what strategic goals such men's ultimate sacrifice is meant to achieve. Facilitating Shi'a hegemony in Baghdad? Or, alternately, repopulating increasingly empty Sunni neighborhoods with Sunni internally displaced persons who have fled to relative safe havens like Fallujah? Stoking Kurdish-Sunni Arab tensions when peshmerga get enlisted to clear predominately Sunni Arab neighborhoods? Expanding Iranian influence by helping Dawa and Sciri, many of whose party officials fall, to varying degrees, well within Teheran's orbit?

They will tell us, of course, that we need to establish security to allow 'moderates' to be emboldened so as to make the necessary political compromises that will allow us to turn the corner in Iraq. They will tell us how can we stand by during the humanitarian catastrophe to come, without pausing to think whether a surge-lite can really materially impact the cycle of vicious ethnic cleansing. They will tell us that if we withdraw Iran will move in, but they don't seriously contend with alternatives like redeploying U.S. forces to border regions (to contain Syrian and Iranian ambitions), a maximal emphasis on full-blown, accelerated efforts to train and equip Iraq forces, and more proactive regional diplomacy (beyond "they know what they need to do").

Regardless, I've yet to hear someone persuasively broach why American blood and treasure should be expended in a ghastly urban civil war pitting Shi'a against Sunni, or internecine Sh'a squabbles, or Kurds vs. Arabs. Perhaps someone can assist in comments, with special attention paid to how specifically Iranian influence will be lessened (the New Big Goal) by a surge in Baghdad, assuming it's even half-way successful (the only way to convincingly diminish Iranian influence in the near term would be if we restored Sunni primacy, of course, but then we'd have a war on our hands with the Badr Organization, as well as Sadr's Mahdi militia, not to mention other Shi'a groups). Put differently, who are the "moderate" Shi'a we are seeking to protect, and to what aim? Surge-defenders in comments should be specific, though (this means no B.S. Lieberman-like generalities about "victory")...


Posted by Gregory at 05:19 AM | Comments (29)

Hagel

Hagel interviewed in GQ (Hat Tip: Frank Rich):

Q: Do you wish you’d voted differently in October of 2002, when Congress had a chance to authorize or not authorize the invasion?

A: Have you read that resolution?

Q: I have.

A: It’s not quite the way it’s been framed by a lot of people, as a resolution to go to war. That’s not quite what the resolution said.

Q: It said, “to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq.”

A: In the event that all other options failed. So it’s not as simple as “I voted for the war.” That wasn’t the resolution.

Q:But there was a decision whether to grant the president that authority or not.

A: Exactly right. And if you recall, the White House had announced that they didn’t need that authority from Congress.

Q: Which they seem to say about a lot of things.

A: That’s right. Mr. [Alberto] Gonzales was the president’s counsel at that time, and he wrote a memo to the president saying, “You have all the powers that you need.” So I called Andy Card, who was then the chief of staff, and said, “Andy, I don’t think you have a shred of ground to stand on, but more to the point, why would a president seriously consider taking a nation to war without Congress being with him?” So a few of us—Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I—were invited into discussions with the White House.

Q: It’s incredible that you had to ask for that.

A: It is incredible. That’s what I said to Andy Card. Said it to Powell, said it to Rice. Might have even said it to the president. And finally, begrudgingly, they sent over a resolution for Congress to approve. Well, it was astounding. It said they could go anywhere in the region.

Q: It wasn’t specific to Iraq?

A: Oh no. It said the whole region! They could go into Greece or anywhere. I mean, is Central Asia in the region? I suppose! Sure as hell it was clear they meant the whole Middle East. It was anything they wanted. It was literally anything. No boundaries. No restrictions.

Q: They expected Congress to let them start a war anywhere they wanted in the Middle East?

A: Yes. Yes. Wide open. We had to rewrite it. Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, and I stripped the language that the White House had set up, and put our language in it. [emphasis in original]

Bottom line: If Iraq hadn't turned into a massive debacle, this Administration would have marched us into Iran and Syria in a New York minute, real consultations with Congress or allies be damned.

P.S. Readers may be interested in this Charlie Rose interview of Chuck Hagel (Hat Tip: JH). Don't miss the 6:30 mark when Hagel is asked to compare Iraq to Vietnam--a war Hagel served in and where he won two Purple Hearts. (Note the YouTube segment embedded above is only the second half of the interview, the first half can be found here).

Posted by Gregory at 04:31 AM | Comments (32)

Warner

WaPo:

Virginia Sen. John W. Warner's words betray the guilt he still carries about the Vietnam War and help explain why this pillar of the Republican establishment is leading a bipartisan revolt against the war plans of a president in his own party.

"I regret that I was not more outspoken" during the Vietnam War, the former Navy secretary said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. "The Army generals would come in, 'Just send in another five or ten thousand.' You know, month after month. Another ten or fifteen thousand. They thought they could win it. We kept surging in those years. It didn't work."

Is that a lesson for what's going on in Iraq?

"Well, you don't forget something like that," he answers. There is a long pause, he closes his eyes and his voice gets softer. "No. You don't forget those things."

More:

Warner's resolution gives some of his Republican colleagues a politically safe position to take on a war that is increasingly unpopular with the American public. "When John Warner decides that these issues have seriousness . . . there are a number of people who come with him," said Warner's new Virginia colleague, Sen. James Webb (D).

But to conservatives, the effort is nothing but folly.

William Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard, calls both resolutions "wrong, foolish and irresponsible."

Kristol is careful to say of Warner that "I think he's sincere." But he said the effect of the resolution passing will be to weaken Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was confirmed Friday as the top U.S. commander in Iraq and will implement Bush's surge.

"John Warner can be a patriot and still do something foolish that hurts our foreign policy," Kristol said.

Few criticisms aimed at Warner seem to have much effect on him these days.

But one has.

At an Armed Services hearing last week, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) prompted Petraeus to express concern about the passage of a Senate resolution.

"A resolution -- a Senate-passed resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq -- would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that, well, some clear expression that the American people are divided?" Lieberman asked.

"That's correct, sir," Petraeus replied.

When it was Warner's turn to speak, he was clearly upset. He called the exchange "personal" for him and said forcefully that support for the resolution should never be taken as a lack of support for soldiers in the field.

"We're not a division here of patriots who support the troops and those who are making statements and working on resolutions that could be translated as aiding and abetting the enemy," Warner told Petraeus and his colleagues. "I hope that this colloquy has not trapped you into some responses that you might later regret."

A few days later, in his office, Warner made it clear that he's unwilling to give in.

"Those who say we're not doing the right thing, tell me, what is the obligation of the Senate?" he asked. "Do nothing?"

Question to commenters: Does John Warner give the slightest damn whether Bill Kristol thinks he's sincere or not? [Yes, that's a rhetorical Q].

Posted by Gregory at 04:22 AM | Comments (8)

January 25, 2007

Cheney: "Enormous Successes"

From the WaPo, a summary of Blitzer's interview:

When Blitzer asked whether the administration's credibility had been hurt by "the blunders and the failures" in Iraq, Cheney interjected: "Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash."

In fact, Cheney said, the operation in Iraq has achieved its original mission. "What we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do," he said. "The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone."

"If he were still there today," Cheney added, "we'd have a terrible situation."

"But there is," Blitzer said.

"No, there is not," Cheney retorted. "There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have in fact accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that's been here for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off." He added: "Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes."

Cheney said Blitzer was advocating retreat. "What you're recommending, or at least what you seem to believe the right course is, is to bail out," the vice president said.

"I'm just asking," Blitzer objected.

"No, you're not asking."

Meantime, an Eaglebrook-era friend of Scooter's wonders what happened to his old friend. Doubtless, many long-time friends of Cheney's are similarly mulling over what transformed a responsible Secretary of Defense to Bush 41 into an increasingly pugnacious Vice President whose utterances about Iraq ("last throes", "remarkably well", "enormous successes") display a woeful denialism that can only be described as profoundly unserious (not to mention dangerously deceptive).

Posted by Gregory at 05:31 AM | Comments (47)

January 24, 2007

Dead Man Walking

This SOTU felt like something of a requiem. It was almost painful to watch. Like, say, Jacques Chirac, the President seemed a dead man walking. The domestic policy part, despite some initiatives of arguable import (energy conservation, health insurance), reeked of half-hearted delivery, a sense that little of it would come to fruition, in short, that is was mere filler/prologue. Put simply, Bush's heart wasn't in the domestic policy section (and Cheney even mischievously winked to the gallery during one of the reduction in energy usage parts). None of it was truly convincing, in the least.

Then Bush transitioned to foreign policy (after the obligatory homeland security boiler-plate), the linch-pin of his Presidency, and how his legacy will largely be determined. And of this section, what can one say? His tactical political goal was clear, stop the hemorrhaging in support of Republicans on the Hill. Might he have swayed a Norm Coleman, say, to stay on the reservation and support Plus-Up? Maybe, but it was weak fare, a recitation of much that had been said before, and nothing I heard tonight gave any additional faith that injection of 17,500 troops into a raging civil war in the capital city of Iraq will change the direction of the conflict absent massive crisis management with all the key neighbors via a diplomatic offensive led by a chief diplomat of real caliber (if one were available).

There was also the obnoxious trotting out of thinly veiled 'flypaper' fear mongering, and the equally obnoxious presentation to Congress of something of a fait accompli with regard to the so-called "surge" ("Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq - and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field - and those on their way.") We also heard the "victory" word, a Panglossian fantasy at this stage. And worrisome, we saw more hyper-simplistic narratives being bandied about (the Middle East reduced to an evil duo of Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda, and Shi'a extremists managed out of Mullah Central in Teheran), showcasing yet again this Administration's gross inability to grapple with the complexities and ambiguities of the region (for instance, Sadr is not but an Iranian agent, as most regional specialists well realize, given his Iraqi nationalist stripes).

True, there was the typical SOTU theater that was somehow moving, despite the abject debacles we find ourselves mired in. The Dikembe Mutombo moment was touching, and for someone who lives in and loves New York City with passion (and rides the subway daily), it was a nice surprise to see a tip of the hat extended to Wesley Autrey. But however moving, these asides are but applause lines , and any SOTU of import must rise or fall on whether the American people can trust and feel genuinely inspired by their President on matters of utmost gravity like the war in Iraq. And here, as I said, we heard nothing new, rather recycled hyperbole, gross over-simplifications, and yet another appeal to faith. It is a mark of how weak the speech was that the Democrat (sorry, Democratic) response, by James Webb, was much more powerful (the somewhat ill-defined economic populism aside), despite the lack of pomp and circumstance afforded by POTUS' venue in Congress. To wit:

I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, as we waited for him, back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues ­ those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death ­ we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us­ sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable ­ and predicted ­ disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

That bolded portion sums up why the Bush Presidency is dead. His Administration violated this basic duty, and can no longer be afforded our trust, our faith, our support. The Bush Presidency is something of a damage control exercise now, as we run out the clock to January 2009. It's over, in short (the risk of an epoch-shaping blunder in Iran aside), though as an American praying for us to salvage something from the Iraq wreckage, I can only hope against hope that Petraeus can work a miracle against all odds, despite my massive doubts about whether our surge-lite strategy in Baghdad can succeed.


Posted by Gregory at 02:54 AM | Comments (49)

January 23, 2007

The Sad State of McCain

Quick note on McCain, whom I caught on MTP this Sunday. It was a depressing performance. Various portions jumped out at me:

MR. RUSSERT: One of the things the American people do remember, September 11th, 2001, the Taliban had harbored al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and then they read this from the Baltimore Sun: “A U.S. Army infantry battalion fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks in order to deploy to Iraq. According to Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata and other senior U.S. commanders [there], that will happen just as the Taliban is expected to unleash a major campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar.” Should we be moving troops from Afghanistan, at this delicate stage in that war, to Iraq?

SEN. McCAIN: I’m not aware of that, and on its face I would be very concerned. A recent trip that we made to Afghanistan, it’s clear to one and all that the Taliban has been reconstituted, particularly in safe area in Pakistan just across the Afghan border, and there will be increased attacks on U.S. and coalition forces. So, as I say, I’ve—had not seen the report, but I would be concerned about it.

With all due respect to this storied Senator--one who has proven his courage and patriotism during long, hellish years in Vietnam--as a leading proponent of the so-called "surge" who sits on the Armed Services Committee of the United States Senate, shouldn't he know exactly where the troops are coming from, and whether or not some forces are being diverted from Afghanistan or not?

I've seen conflicting reports, but I'm just a financial industry type who blogs in stolen hours late at night to scratch a foreign policy itch. Leading proponents of the policy, however, particularly those in positions of key authority, must be in better command of such details. Such ignorance smells too much of the casual swagger that has marked this Iraq fiasco from the get-go. Put simply, leading proponents of escalation need to have such data at their fingertips, especially if they mean to persuade us that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are both part and parcel of the very same global war on terror, one that is billed as being of such immense existential import.

Then there was this snippet:

Senator, welcome. I want to raise first The Economist magazine, this is The Economist’s intelligence unit. They say this: “Unless their mission is very well-defined, 20,000 troops are probably too few to make a significant difference - and may be too few under any circumstances. ... Adding around 20,000 to the 132,000 currently there will increase U.S. capabilities, but not enough to stabilize the country.” You agree with that?

SEN. McCAIN: I am concerned about it, whether it is sufficient numbers or not. I would have like to have seen more. I looked General Petraeus in the eye and said, “Is that sufficient for you to do the job?” He assured me that he thought it was and that he had been told that if he needed more he would receive them. I have great confidence in General Petraeus. I think he’s one of the finest generals that our military’s ever produced, and he has a proven record on that. He wrote the new Army counterinsurgency manual. But do I believe that if it had been up to me would there have been more? Yes, but one of the keys to this is get them over there quickly rather than feed them in piecemeal as some in the Pentagon would like to do today.

I don't know about you, but I'm sick of people looking at each other in the eyes for varied comfort and soul-bonding reverie. We're dealing with life and death decisions here. We need to do better, and deal in hard facts and empirical data. Petraeus "assured" McCain he'd get more troops if he needed them? Oh yeah? From where? When? How? After all, everyone serious knows we were barely able to cobble together the 21.5K getting sent into theatre. Meantime, we've got 3,050 dead Americans and $400B squandered in the sands of Mesopotamia to date. We have to better get on top of such pesky details when we're advocating throwing together a half-assed mini-surge hail-mary, I'm afraid.

And last, I heard McCain make some statement that only 15% of Americans supported ejecting Iraq from Kuwait during Gulf War I (his point was to hold tough in the face of capsizing support for a President whose Iraq policy has him reaching Nixonian levels of unpopularity). I smelled something fishy immediately, as I didn't recall the number being even remotely that low, and indeed Cunning has the goods here.

In short, McCain's performance was dismal. I say this w/ sadness, because I thought I'd be supporting him in '08. It's too early to make any definitive judgements, of course, but I have to mostly agree with Cunning when he writes:

I’ve been waiting to vote for McCain in a presidential election since the mid-90’s. But on the single issue (Iraq) one might have expected the perspective and wisdom of his formative life experience to matter, he’s been a reckless disaster. I’ve completely lost faith in his judgment, and the prospect of him sitting in the Oval Office gets more and more disturbing.

Indeed. A few years back, I would have bet you a decent chunk of change that--as between John McCain and Hillary Clinton--there wasn't the slightest chance I'd vote HRC. Hard to believe, perhaps, now I'm strongly leaning voting for her over McCain. The blunders have simply been too catastrophic, and I'm not persuaded McCain will repair, rather than intensify, them.

Posted by Gregory at 04:13 AM | Comments (30)

The No-Brainer Caucus

Couldn't agree more w/ Steve here, but re: this post he should note that Kissinger has been on the public record calling for talks w/ Iran since (at very least) May 16th '06 (more here). It's nothing new.

Frankly, I've lost track of how many leading Republican foreign policy players are calling for us to have a go at trying to 'flip' the Syrians, while testing the Iranians to see if they'd reject coming to the table w/ us for high-level direct talks (they'd thereby risk showcasing their rejectionism at a sensitive time on the UNSC front, risking even greater isolation if they refuse sincere entreaties for genuine dialogue). But our Secretary of State doesn't know how to combine strategy w/ deal-making, it seems, so no go on these no-brainer fronts.

P.S. And no, it's not just Lugar, and Kissinger, and Hagel, and Haass, and Armitage, and James Baker, and so on and on among thinking Republicans. Our Kurdish friend Talabani is urging us to talk to Damascus too:

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in remarks aired on Sunday he will push for dialogue between the United States and neighbouring Syria, which he said was helping Baghdad clamp down on terrorism.

Talabani, who paid a landmark visit to Syria earlier this month, said he had not received any request to mediate between Damascus and Washington from either nation.

But, "I personally will seek to give a true picture about Syria's intentions and policy to the U.S. administration and I will seek to encourage our American friends to have a dialogue with Syria," he told Al Arabiya television.

But Condi sez diplomacy isn't deal-making....

Posted by Gregory at 03:46 AM | Comments (3)

Diplomacy 101

Condi Rice:

"You aren't going to be successful as a diplomat if you don't understand the strategic context in which you are actually negotiating," she said Tuesday. "It is not deal-making. It's not. There are a set of underlying relationships, underlying balance of power, leverage on different sides, and you have to recognize when you are in a position to then, on top of that, find a solution given the underlying balance."

Penetrating fare.

Posted by Gregory at 03:34 AM | Comments (9)

January 22, 2007

Help Wanted

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I got a print of the above picture as a present over the holidays and was wondering where exactly the shot was taken within Bosnia. If anyone knows, please drop a comment or send an E-mail to belgraviadispatch@hotmail.com. Alternately, if anyone has E-mail contact information for the photographer who took it (Paul Lowe), please send on so I can query him directly. Many thanks in advance for any help.

Posted by Gregory at 03:44 AM | Comments (8)

January 21, 2007

Lieberman to Bush: "Be Bold"

"Mr. President, I have two words for you...Be bold. "

Is a barely convincing "surge", one likely doomed to failure, what passes for boldness these days? I find this kind of intellectual enablement of POTUS rather shabby, I'm afraid. Joe Lieberman seems to be auditioning for the history books as some Arthur Vandenberg in reverse (politics stopping at the water's edge, etc etc). But someone should clue him in that he's falling well short. Vandenberg was assisting Truman in erecting a soberly constructed multilateral order based on policy initiatives like forging the NATO Alliance and pursuing the Marshall Plan. Lieberman is casually conflating al-Qaeda with Iran, providing "independent" cover for a dangerous unilateral escalation of the Iraq conflict, and pooh-poohing the urgent need for diplomacy in the region with our adversaries. His policies, unlike Vandenberg's which were non-indulgent, cautious, and methodical, are instead likelier to stoke further chaos in the region. History will not treat the Senator from Connecticut kindly, unless this 'hail mary pass' accomplishes miracles, the chances of which are slim indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 05:17 PM | Comments (55)

Gettin' Giggly at the Standard

On the same day that Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan team up for an article juvenilely titled: All We Are Saying...Is Give Petraeus a Chance (cute, huh?), some 21 American soldiers have died in Iraq (including five in Karbala, likely a harbinger of carnage to come between Shi'a militias and American soldiers getting "surged" in, not least because of Kagan's almost certainly fatally flawed policy prescriptions). But at least it's good to see that Kagan and Kristol can cleverly turn the lyrics to a 70's era anti-war song into the title of a TWS piece that calls for escalation of a conflict, one that has already cost some 3,040 lives. Funny, guys! And hopefully good for a chuckle around the water-cooler too...

As for the piece itself, mightn't they spare us the intimations that we prostrate ourselves at Great Savior Petraeus' lap? After all, such a plea coming from them is rather ironic given all the flak they gave Abizaid and Casey back in the day (as Greenwald aptly reminds).

Then there is this dishonest passage:

It's a far cry from the Democratic party that insisted on sending American forces to stop ethnic cleansing in war-torn Bosnia in the 1990s, to the one that now declares an Iraqi bloodbath no concern of ours.

It's actually mostly Republicans who were dismayed by Warren Christopher's ineffectual approach to the Balkans imbroglio during the Clinton Administration (it later took Dick Holbrooke to save the day after three years of carnage in '95 at Dayton). Republican Bob Dole was one of the key individuals on the Hill calling for us to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims, and use NATO to strike Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing "safe havens" like Gorazde, Zepa, Sarajevo, Bihac and Srebrenica (the so-called "lift and strike" option).

My point? I don't remember anyone, Republican or Democrat, advocating maintaining 160,000 men in Bosnia, certainly before a peace settlement was struck, and in the middle of a raging civil war. But this article is chock-full of such cheap, straw-man arguments. Can't say I'm surprised, though...

Meantime, here's Fred K back in the day when 50K was all the rage...(go to the 2:30 mark).

UPDATE: Fred Kagan: "The guy who is most committed to winning and finding a way to win is the president. He always has been; he's the only reason we are still in this fight."

Posted by Gregory at 04:25 AM | Comments (10)

Lickspittle, Meet Leahy

It's good to see Leahy manhandle the "legal lickspittle" Alberto Gonzalez in Congressional hearings (go to the 1:07 mark for the righteous rant). Our dimly servile Beltway crew can't have it both ways, after all. If Syria is such an odious regime, well, when you send someone there via rendition, you damn well know it's so they can be tortured, no? Gonzalez pitiably punted, and Leahy promised hearings on the Maher Arar matter if convincing answers aren't forthcoming w/in the week. More of this, please.

P.S. For a brief second, Gonzalez looked shamed. Good.

Posted by Gregory at 03:52 AM | Comments (58)

January 20, 2007

How High The Risks of Sparking a Wider Regional War w/ Iran?

What is current U.S. policy towards Iran, and where might it be heading? Of late, we seem to be sensing Ahmadi-Nejad has been over-playing his hand (correctly, to some extent, as note even Supreme Leader Khamenei has reportedly recently expressed some discontent re: Ahmadi-Nejad). Meantime, there is quite a bit of anti-Shia feeling brewing from Cairo to Riyadh, born of the fear of a rising Iran our Iraq intervention helped trigger, and so Condi Rice appears to have been cobbling together something of an anti-Iranian coalition (with Bob Gates making a coordinated trip where his message, in so many words, was basically that the US remains a major power in the region, no matter the controversy and deep pain of the Iraq War, that we have vital interests in the Gulf, and that we're not leaving the region anytime soon).

Frankly, I'd be much more comfortable with some of this muscle-flexing and formation of (supposed) anti-Iranian bulwarks in the region if they were being accompanied by serious offers to talk with the Iranians as well. In the absence of that linkage, while we are importantly telegraphing to the Iranians we have national resolve and staying power, we also seem to be achieving two other, and less favorable, things, in the main: 1) we are risking a confrontation with Iran born of a combination of recklessness, miscalculation, and hysteria and 2) we are further giving the lie to the supposed Bush Doctrine of democracy exportatation (right now we are mostly relying on Sunni type strong men and satrapies to counter the rising popularity among many on the Arab Street for Iran's hard-line rejectionist stances vis-a-vis the U.S. and Israel, not to mention of course Sheikh Nasrallah and Hezbollah's immense popularity resulting from the bungled Israeli War in Lebanon, and Hamas' alliance of convenience with Iran).

Indeed many people's sympathies in the region lie with Iran or Iran-backed forces (despite growing Shi'a-phobia, given the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict), and in response we seem to be asking the Saudis, Egyptians, Fatah-aligned Palestinians and Jordanians to hang tough, perhaps not be shy about fanning some additional anti-Shia sentiment, and basically not worry any if at all about democratization in those countries right now (just don't look for anyone in the Administration to even begin to admit this massive disconnect between our rhetoric and actions on the democracy-promotion front).

Also important to note, and we've been doing it somewhat ham-handedly and clumsily, we appear to be falling into the trap of playing the regional game Iranian style (they arm Hezbollah, we get money that will go to the Lebanese military via Siniora, they get some cash to Hamas, we gets funds to Fatah (again, some will go to Abbas' security forces). Can this various tit-for-tat ratcheting up of arming proxies really play to our long-term advantage, in the absence of diplomatic efforts at conflict resolution (won't many of the groups we support end up looking like U.S. puppets to too many, absent broader progress at resolving issues of region-wide consequence like the Arab-Israeli conflict?)

In short, this cycle of reaction and counter-reaction strikes me as rather Pavlovian and simplistic, not to mention quite dangerous. This is particularly true too given various U.S. military moves that have taken place in the context of the above general background. Another carrier strike group is on its way to the Gulf, and Patriot anti-missile defense systems are being deployed there too. Reportedly also some naval clearing assets have been moved to the region, and as a possible disincentive to the North Koreans, F-117s are being sent to Korea to warn the North against trouble-making--so that they don't calculate we're distracted while we ratchet up our military presence near and around Iran.

While it's good to remind key players in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that we intend to protect our vital interests with utmost seriousness, one must also be concerned (this being the Bush White House) that the Administration might be planning an attack on Iran. Could this be, given the fiasco that is Iraq, and the very troubled situation in Afghanistan? I don't think so (of course I can't be sure, though I do derive some comfort from Bob Gates being at the Pentagon rather than a grossly reckless Rumsfeld). Instead, I believe the general picture is that we are very frustrated by the situation in Iraq, but at the same time (somewhat artificially) comforted some that Mubarak and the Saudis and others are getting increasingly concerned about the Iranians, while also noting that some in the conservative ruling elites in Iran believe Ahmadi-Nejad is show-boating too much with gratuitous imbecilities like the Holocaust-denial conference and other such despicable hate-mongering.

Given some of the above therefore, perhaps some in the Administration are calculating the time is right to send a message to Teheran: we're sending more troops to Iraq to counter some of the militias you support (though ironically we will be doing everything to avoid a firefight with the Badr Organization, I suspect, which is somewhat allied with Iran), we are sending military assets to protect Gulf allies, we are getting cash to non-Iran aligned groups in Palestine and Lebanon and perhaps Syria, and so on. In other words, no hard and fast intent to attack Iran, one hopes.

Some of all this may be smart, some of it flawed, but regardless, my biggest concern is that none of it is being accompanied by a real offer of direct talks with Iran short of them agreeing (which they won't, at least at this juncture) to stop uranium production. So while I am not sure anyone is purposefully attempting to gin up a war in Iran among key Administration policymakers, I do nevertheless see a real 'Guns of August' style risk here, meaning spillover throwing us into a conflict with Iran because of missteps, misunderstandings, miscalculations (see the raids on Iranian liason offices in places like Irbil, the enhanced post 'surge-lite' risk of getting dragged into fights with Iranian-backed Shi'a militias, the possibility of an Iranian provocation in the Gulf via, say, too aggressive military exercises, in turn causing a U.S. response, and so on).

Such an eventuality could have dire consequences leading to a wider regional war, one which would leave many U.S. troops in Iraq dangerously exposed (there are many other very alarming consequences too numerous to list here now). However, we aren't there yet, and again, I derive much comfort from Gates having replaced Rumseld. (Note also we'd need to see more military assets moved into the region, such as additional USAF assets to Iraq and perhaps Afghanistan, as well as tankers to help refuel B-2s being positioned in Eastern Europe, and more).

Still, make no mistake, we're forging an anti-Iranian alliance of sorts with countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we're moving more military assets into the region, we're funding proxies that, in turn, are arrayed against Iranian proxies from Ramallah to Beirut to points beyond likely, and we're about to get increasingly aggressive with de facto Shi'a allies of the Iranians in Iraq. These are all danger signals, especially when not accompanied by a diplomatic track, and especially given the track record of bungling this Administration has showcased for six long years. (In addition, Cheney's continued presence at the White House is worrisome, not to mention Bush's hyper-simplistic brand of Crawford messianism).

For the time being, at least, I predict most of the anti-Iranian moves will remain centered within the territorial boundaries of Iraq (save some saber-rattling around the Gulf), but we must be very vigilant indeed given this White House's track record. (Speaking of anti-Iranian efforts likely being centered on Iraq, there is an ultimate irony here too, perhaps worth noting, in that all these anti-Iranian moves of late will prove mostly futile should the "surge" end up--rather than stabilizing Iraq in multi-confessional, pan-sectarian fashion--instead helping better establish Shi'a hegemony in Baghdad so as basically to provide the Iranians with a somewhat pliable quasi-client state, because no so-called "moderates" end up emerging from the woodwork). More on all this soon, but related to all the above, don't miss this interesting piece either.

Posted by Gregory at 05:02 PM | Comments (29)

Kissinger: Two-Pronged Diplomatic Approach Necessary

Henry Kissinger, yet again, recommends we talk to Iran:

As the comprehensive strategy evolves, a repositioning of American forces from the cities into enclaves should be undertaken so that they can separate themselves from the civil war and concentrate on the threats described above.

The principal mission would be to protect the borders against infiltration, to prevent the establishment of terrorist training areas or Taliban-type control over significant regions. At that point, too, significant reductions of American forces should be possible.

Such a strategy would make withdrawals depend on conditions on the ground instead of the other way around. It could also provide the time to elaborate a cooperative diplomacy for rebuilding the region, including progress towards a settlement of the Palestine issue.

Few diplomatic challenges are as complex as that surrounding Iraq. Diplomacy must mediate between Iraqi sects which, though in many respects mortal enemies, are assembled in a common governmental structure. It needs to relate that process to an international concept involving both Iraq's neighbors and countries further away that have a significant interest in the outcome.

Two levels of diplomatic effort are necessary:

The creation of a contact group, assembling neighboring countries whose interests are directly affected and which rely on American support. This group should include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Its function should be to advise on ending the internal conflict and to create a united front against outside domination.

Parallel negotiations should be conducted with Syria and Iran, which now appear as adversaries, to give them an opportunity to participate in a peaceful regional order.

Both categories of consultations should lead to an international conference including all countries that will have to play a stabilizing role in the eventual outcome, specifically the permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as such countries as Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

A balance of risks and opportunities needs to be created so that Iran is obliged to choose between a significant but not dominant role or riding the crest of Shia fundamentalism. In the latter case, it must pay a serious, not a rhetorical, price for choosing the militant option. [emphasis added]

But luminaries like Hugh Hewitt and assorted legions of right Bolshevik fantasists are opposed, Dr. Kissinger! So no go just now, alas.

Posted by Gregory at 04:50 PM | Comments (2)

January 19, 2007

Boot's Way Forward: Plus Up + Biometeric IDs!

Max Boot shares his thoughts on what to do next in Iraq:

Perhaps the objection now is that 21,500 troops won't make much difference. It's true that, according to the new Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Manual, effective operations generally require at least one soldier or police officer per 40 or 50 inhabitants. That would suggest doubling our current force of 132,000 to secure Baghdad and the entire Sunni Triangle (population 13 million). But it would be difficult to find that many soldiers in the overstretched and undersized U.S. armed forces.

That doesn't mean, however, that the reinforcements Bush is sending are useless. As called for under a plan formulated by military historian Frederick Kagan and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, the five newly arriving brigades should be deployed alongside Iraqi units to live in Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. This is a classic counterinsurgency approach focused on securing the populace, and it has never really been tried before in the capital. It could work, especially if the surge is long lasting and if it's coupled with other vital steps — such as increasing the number of American advisors in the Iraqi security forces, instituting a biometric identity card to make it easier to detain terrorism suspects and enhancing the capacity of the Iraqi legal system to incarcerate more violent offenders.

If everything goes right, large swathes of Baghdad could gradually be brought under control. Then American and Iraqi units could pursue a "spreading inkblot" strategy — another classic counterinsurgency concept — to increase the pacified zone outward.

Of course that's a big if. It may be that we still don't have enough troops to successfully carry out this strategy. It may be that we don't have the will to see it through. It may be that we don't have enough reliable Iraqi partners. But considering the massive investment we have already made in Iraq, and the lack of good alternatives, it seems worth one final effort to see if we can salvage something from this dire situation. [my emphasis]

Max is right that we need to "salvage something from this dire situation". But lemme clue you in, it's not a "biometric identity card" that's going to do it for us, nor "enhancing the capacity of the Iraqi legal system" (let's dust off the civ pro chapter on service of process, OK, and by the way, whassup with all those brutish hangings, guys?!?). Meantime, note the potential understatment of the year in the above passage, where Boot cogitates about how it would be great if we could double the amount of troops in theatre: "(b)ut it would be difficult to find that many soldiers in the overstretched and undersized U.S. armed forces." Really, you think? No problemo, let's just surge away anyhow, OK, and hope "everything goes right." But Max, one query: will you support Kagan's surge even if no "biometric identity" cards are issued in Sadr City, or Doura, or Mansour, or Ghaziliyah and so on? Pray tell, as it appears an important component of your "strategy"?

Posted by Gregory at 12:34 AM | Comments (9)

January 17, 2007

Surgin' Lowry, and Kagan's Latest

(UPDATED BELOW)

(Sigh).

Shorter Rich Lowry: The Administration is basically lying about the number of troops heading to Iraq, perhaps purposefully low-balling the number. No, really. Lowry: "Interesingly [sic], in this case, it is critics of the Bush administration who are buying the administration's spin by believing that 17,500 is a hard and fast number." Frankly, I've hesitated to respond to Rich’s latest (as his arguments were rather on the pitiable/disingenuous side), but for the arithmetically challenged, let’s try this yet another time. The President of the United States has announced we are sending 21,500 fresh troops to Iraq, 17,500 of them to Baghdad, and the remainder to Anbar. Or alternately, per Rich L, CINC is essentially a liar, and we're sending more than that, but Rich can't say that too loud (because then Team NRO would be calling Glorious Leader a dissembler). Regardless Lowry loses, as either a Bushie water-carrier extraordinaire (here's the latest example of his dutiful passing on of Admin talking points) is calling 43 a fibber (quelle horreur!), or Beltway buddy Fred Kagan (that Rich defends with such alacrity) de facto signed on (during the McCain/Lieberman festivities on 17th Street) for a surge-lite of 21.5K-- where originally he said we needed a minimum of 30,000 in late December, and in early December, 50,000-80,000, as Frank Rich pointed out (much more on Kagan's number games below).

Lowry begins by charging:

80,000 was a ballpark of what it would take to secure Baghdad all at once. 50,000 was a ballpark of what it would take to begin to secure it in phases.That's clear, it's all in black-and-white. Djerejian prefers to skip over all that to make the "speculative" smear that Kagan "might have bowed to AEI elders hoping to get the think-tank a good shot at preening that an in-house plan became that of POTUS."

Rich, let me be real plain. I haven't skipped over sh*t. I said Kagan went from 80,000 (on 12/4) to 30,000 (on 12/27). It was the diminution from 80K (or 50K, I flagged this variance in my original piece) to 30K that I thought smacked some of helping facilitate Danielle Pletka emcee'ing another joke event at AEI w/ Joe Lieberman and John McCain--not the 80K to 50K (that's just a cheap strawman Rich constructs, pretending I'm erroneously missing the difference between Kagan's number-crunching for clearing and holding all of Baghdad, versus just part of Baghdad).

Lowry then writes about Kagan that he was just "(f)loating his ballpark figure of 50,000" (Kagan's figure if we mean to just clear and hold select neighborhoods of Baghdad) but later, Fred K sat down with "various military experts and came up with a more detailed plan". Let's translate that, shall we, from Lowry speak to plain English: Kagan was initially mostly talking out of his arse, pulling numbers willy-nilly, and Keane baby-sat some to reconnect neo-con fancy with, so boring I know, Planet Earth.

Or, as Kagan later tells it in a TWS piece from yesterday: "I then put together a team of military planning and regional experts in an attempt to determine with more accuracy exactly how many forces would be required." [ed. note: Better late than never!]). Meantime, the Standard was (displaying cautious editorial control, as is their wont, of course) printing all of Fred K's pre-"expert" consultation cogitations, as they sounded the right chest-beating timarchic notes, you know, the kind that get non-girlie men like Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol excited and out of the shower in the A.M.

But let's leave aside all the Weekly Standard articles which, all told, aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Let's go straight to the source, the Keane-Kagan plan itself. The link is here (click through to the PDF). And, for convenience, here's all the relevant text, at pp. 16-20, and note all emphasis is mine:

Having identified Baghdad as the main effort, we can then consider the problem of securing that city in more detail. There is considerable theory and historical evidence about the numbers of troops required to provide security to a given population in a counterinsurgency. The military’s counterinsurgency manual concludes that a ratio of one soldier for every forty or fifty inhabitants provides a good rule of thumb for such calculations. Colonel H. R. McMaster and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment used a ratio of about one soldier per every forty inhabitants to secure Tall Afar in 2005. American soldiers and Marines in Ramadi have made considerable progress in securing that city, although much lower force ratios have slowed and limited that progress. Major General Peter Chiarelli put down the Sadrist uprising in Sadr City in mid-2004, on the other hand, with one division (under 20,000 soldiers) in a population of over 2 million.The population of Baghdad is around 6 million, which would require, in theory, around 150,000 counterinsurgents to maintain security. It is neither necessary nor wise to try to clear and hold the entire city all at once, however. The Jaysh al Mahdi based in Sadr City has demonstrated its reluctance to engage in a full-scale conflict with American forces, ever since coalition forces defeated Moqtada al-Sadr and his army in Najaf in the summer of 2004. Rather, the Jaysh al Mahdi now needs to preserve its fighters in order to maintain its strength against the Badr Corps in the struggle for control of postcoalition Iraq. Attempting to clear Sadr City at this moment would almost certainly force the Jaysh al Mahdi into precisely such a confrontation with American troops, however. It would also do enormous damage to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al Maliki’s political base and would probably lead to the collapse of the Iraqi government. Clearing Sadr City is both unwise and unnecessary at this time.

Many attacks against Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad emanate from Sadr City. There are two ways to resolve that problem. The first is to attack Sadr City by targeting known militia bases and concentrations with discrete strikes. This option initially requires the fewest number of forces. But such operations would almost certainly provoke a massive political and military conflagration. They ultimately will demand high force concentrations and generate instability in the current Iraqi government, as described above. This option is therefore extremely risky. It would be better, instead, to secure the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods by deploying American and Iraqi forces into them and protecting their inhabitants from all violent attacks coming from any area. This second approach also accords with sound counterinsurgency practice, which favors defensive strategies aimed at protecting the population over offensive strategies aimed at killing insurgents. The first phase of this plan, therefore, excludes military operations within Sadr City and focuses on securing the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods around the Green Zone and between that area and Baghdad International Airport/Camp Victory. This approach establishes security among a population of perhaps 2 million people, which would require, according to historical norms, between 40,000 and 50,000 counterinsurgent troops. Generating proper force ratios to secure the population in these neighborhoods is much more feasible than generating the force ratios to confront the Jaysh al Mahdi in Sadr City or to secure the entire population of Baghdad at once. Yet securing the population in these neighborhoods is likely to reduce levels of violence elsewhere in Baghdad.

The working group also calculated the forces required for this operation in another way. The area we have identified as being the “critical terrain” in Baghdad (because of its mixed ethnicity and its geographic centrality) consists of about twenty-three districts. Clearing and holding a city district in Baghdad requires an American force of about one battalion (approximately 600 soldiers organized into four companies of about 150 soldiers each). We have considerable evidence about what force levels are necessary for such operations because of recent and current operations in Baghdad. There is now about one battalion deployed in the district of Dora (the area south of the Karadah peninsula just south of the Green Zone). Dora is a very dangerous neighborhood that is difficult to control, and the troops there are barely managing. Dora would benefit from reinforcements or from having the adjoining areas brought more securely under control. Many other neighborhoods that would be cleared under this proposal would require fewer troops because they are less violent and large; some might require more. On balance, current operations suggest that one battalion per district would provide a sufficient overall force level to bring the violence in these twenty-three districts under control.

There are three battalions in an Army brigade combat team or BCT, which, together with all of its supporting elements, numbers around 5,000 soldiers. Twenty-three districts would require eight BCTs (which would leave one battalion to spare as a reserve), or around 40,000 soldiers. Since operations would be going on around the Green Zone and Camp Victory, it would be necessary to maintain additional forces to guard and garrison those areas, amounting to perhaps another BCT, for a total of nine (around 45,000 troops total).

Whether we calculate the forces necessary based on historical ratios or on units engaged in current
operations, the results are very similar: we can reasonably expect that between 40,000 and 50,000 soldiers
could establish and maintain security in the twenty-three critical Sunni and mixed districts in the center of Baghdad in the first phase of an operation aimed at ending violence in the city, securing its population, and securing Iraq
.

The United States currently has approximately 140,000 troops in Iraq, including about 70,000 in thirteen Army Brigade Combat Teams and two Marine Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs—the Marines’ slightly smaller equivalent of brigades). Of the remaining 70,000 soldiers, many are engaged in the enormous task of providing supplies to coalition soldiers and to the 134,000 soldiers in the Iraqi Army, who are almost entirely dependent on American logistics to survive and operate. A large number of American troops are engaged in securing the long lines of communication from Kuwait to Baghdad (600 miles) and from there to U.S. forward operating bases (FOBs) around the country. Around 6,000 soldiers are now involved in training Iraqi Army and police units as well. The BCTs and RCTs are the forces that would be used in clearing and holding Baghdad, so the rest of this report will focus on them, recognizing that the number of these units significantly underrepresents the total size of the American combat presence in Iraq.

Seven BCTs, the largest concentration of the BCTs and RCTs now in Iraq, operate in and around Baghdad. Five BCTs operate within the city itself (although they mostly live on FOBs in the city’s suburbs and drive to their areas of operations to conduct patrols). One BCT operates in the insurgent belts to the north around Taji and the remaining BCT operates in the belts to the south around Iskandariyah (the so-called Triangle of Death). Two Marine RCTs and one Army BCT operate in Anbar. Their bases are located in Ramadi, Fallujah, and al Asad. The remaining five Army BCTs operate mostly to the north of Baghdad in Ninewah, Salahuddin, and Diyala provinces in cities like Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, and Baquba.

An Army National Guard brigade is stationed in a static defensive position in Kuwait guarding the enormous supply and training areas there. Recent news reports suggest that a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division has been ordered to Kuwait as well, although the purpose of that deployment is not clear at the time that this report is being written. The BCT of the 82nd Airborne Division might be deployed to Iraq to engage in combat missions there in the near future; the National Guard brigade could not leave Kuwait without endangering the security of U.S. supply lines and bases.

The current deployment of U.S. forces in and around Baghdad, therefore, provides approximately four BCTs (twelve battalions or about 20,000 troops in all) for conducting combat operations in the city. The equivalent of one BCT is required for base security. Such a force level is evidently inadequate for clearing and holding any sizable portion of Baghdad. The Army and Marine presence in Anbar is inadequate to maintain even the most basic security in that province. The situation in Diyala is almost as dire. Pulling troops from either province to reinforce operations in Baghdad would almost surely lead to the further collapse of those regions. Salahuddin is similarly problematic, while security in Ninewah is extremely precarious. Any attempt to concentrate forces in Baghdad by moving them from elsewhere in Iraq would precipitate greater violence in the outlying areas. Such violence would eventually move down the river valleys to Baghdad and undermine attempts to succeed in the capital, as occurred in 2004. This plan will therefore require a deployment of at least four Army Brigade Combat Teams (approximately 20,000 soldiers) into Baghdad from outside Iraq.

Because of the close relationship between the insurgency in Anbar and the violence in Baghdad, it would be desirable to address both areas at once. In reality, the United States simply cannot make available enough forces to bring Anbar under control at the same time as it tries to secure the critical neighborhoods of Baghdad. A deployment of additional troops into Baghdad will nevertheless both generate and suffer from spillover effects in Anbar. This very real risk calls for a preplanned response. This report therefore proposes to add two additional Marine RCTs to the two RCTs and one Army BCT that are already in Anbar. This force (five brigade-equivalents, or about 18,000 soldiers and Marines) is too small to secure the major cities in Anbar, let alone the entire province. Five brigade-equivalents would, however, suffice to cover the roads from Anbar to Baghdad, intercept insurgents, and prevent the establishment operations would properly support the main effort in Baghdad by controlling spillover effects.

The commander on the ground in Iraq could use the two additional RCTs designated for Anbar elsewhere, of course. It might prove more important to interdict movement between Diyala and Baghdad than to reinforce American troops now in Anbar. In the worst case, the commander could move these regiments into the capital if unexpectedly high violence erupted in Baghdad itself during the clear-and-hold operation there. By deploying these two additional RCTs into Iraq, the commander on the ground will gain the flexibility to respond to unforeseen difficulties or opportunities in and around Baghdad without having to accept any additional risk in outlying areas.

The Army brigade in Anbar, finally, was initially deployed to Iraq in January 2006. By the time the recommended operations would begin, it will have been in Iraq for nearly fifteen months. This plan therefore proposes to send a fresh Army BCT into Anbar to replace that unit, which has already had its tour extended. It would require a total deployment of five Army BCTs and two Marine RCTs on top of the forces already in Iraq. In an emergency, of course, the commander in Iraq could keep the existing brigade in Anbar and use the brigade designated to replace it as a further reserve for deployment in Baghdad or elsewhere. The plan therefore commits four additional BCTs into Baghdad, designates two RCTs for Anbar but makes them available elsewhere if necessary, and designates one BCT that could be used as a reserve in an emergency.

The bottom line here (it's rather confusingly and poorly drafted) is that Kagan calls for 5 BCTs (which he counts as 5,000 each) and two RCTs (which in Kagan's latest TWS piece he counts as "perhaps" 4,000) to be sent to Iraq in addition to the troops presently in theatre. In addition, he wants one BCT scheduled to rotate out to perhaps have its tour extended (quite exhausting after 15 months in theater, but likely to occur in case of an emergency). In other words, per Kagan's very own published plan, he wants a surge of at least 33,000-38,000 new men. Instead, what we're getting is a surge-lite of 21,500--well below what Kagan has repped in his "victory" plan by an order of thousands of men.

Still, let's give credit where it's due. Kagan doesn't give up easy with all the number juggling obfuscation. In his TWS piece yesterday, he goes straight to the Lowry playbook, basically echoing Rich that the Administration is low-balling the public about how many troops are heading into the Big Sandy:

In reality, the U.S. Army does not simply deploy brigades into combat, but instead sends Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs). A BCT includes a brigade as described above, but also additional support elements such as engineers, military police, additional logistics elements, and so on, which are necessary to the functioning of the brigade in combat. In a counter-insurgency operation such as Iraq, these additional forces are fully as important to the overall success of the mission as the combat troops. Sizes of BCTs also vary, of course, but they average more like 5,000 soldiers. Since these are the formations that will actually be deployed to Iraq and used there, I have been estimating deployments on this basis: five brigade combat teams include around 25,000 soldiers; one Marine Regimental Combat Team (RCTs are somewhat smaller than Army brigades) includes perhaps 4,000. So the surge being briefed by the Bush administration now is much more likely to be around 29,000 troops than 22,000--in other words, close to the number of combat troops the IPG recommended, and, when necessary support troops are added, close to the overall numbers I had estimated before the IPG met.

Translation: The Administration is pretty much lying to the American public that the surge will number only 21,500, it's more likely to be 29,000 (which I very much doubt, by the way, given it'll be quite a strain even to scrape up the 21.5K). Or, alternately, if POTUS isn't dissembling: the 21.5K troops being sent are 11,500 short of Kagan's supposed minimum (and if the BCT in Anbar is scheduled out on its normal rotation, we're 16,500 short in case of emergency).

Regardless, and worth noting, Kagan simply isn't pitching straight w/ this passage. He says with the "necessary support troops" added we will get beyond the 29,000 number (again, already inflated in my view, given Kagan's spin). But that's hard to believe. Why? Because BCTs already contemplate some non-combat/logistical support etc. within them, so the number is not likely to increase much if at all, contra his airy floating of same meant to convince underinformed readers that the daylight between his plan and that of the President is de minimis. Again folks, like it or not, the number is likely going to be what the President said it's going to be, some 21.5K for both Baghdad and Anbar. And that's over 11,500 short, as compared to the supposed Keane-Kagan minimum.

So I repeat my question: is Frederick Kagan in support of this surge lite or isn't he? Let me be clear. My intent is not to "smear" Fred Kagan. My intent, however, is to point out that the centerpiece of the Administration's surge plan for supposed "victory" in Iraq was concocted mostly by 30-somethings tossing numbers around somewhat haphazardly, and that the President of the United States has promised troop levels in theatre far below what was recommended even by these supposed policy mavens, who themselves were stretching to get the number down to bow to the grim reality that we simply don't have sufficient troops to get the job done right (meaning "overwhelming force" a la Powell Doctrine, though with 100,000 plus even it's nevertheless likely too late now given Rumsfeld's disastrous bungling for 4 long years). Now the question to them is, how can you support a plan thousands of men short, per your own estimations? Stop fudging, and stop ass-covering. Just answer the question.

But we already know the likely response, don't we? It's embedded in their glorious victory plan at p. 33 in the section entitled "What If? What Next?" (the equivalent of the so-called "Risk Factors" in a SEC filing, for any fellow corporate lawyers out there, except in its far too optimistic prognostications it wouldn't even begin to pass muster at any serious law firm as constituting adequate disclosure). It says, among other things:

--Attacking into Sadr City in the event of an unplanned major confrontation with Shiite militias (although this plan stresses the desirability of avoiding such a confrontation as much as possible [ed. note: Cool, let's hope!])

--Conducting operations against the Badr Corps in southern Iraq in the event of a major confrontation with SCIRI (Again, this can result only from great misfortune or ineptitude on the part of the coalition, since its aim should be to avoid such a confrontation.) [emphasis added]

You heard it here first! When our too few troops get surged in because a gaggle of youngish think-tankers at AEI thought it was a good idea, and Joe Lieberman, Bush and McCain subsequently blessed it, when they likely get enmeshed in fighting with Mahdi or even the Badr Organization (after all, stabilizing Baghdad in large part will mean protecting Sunnis in mixed neighborhoods where Shi'a revanchism is running rough-shod (and vice-versa, in some parts of town), so it's a pretty safe bet we're going to end up in fire-fights with some of these militias and/or related groups in the Baghdad cauldron), Fred and Co. will tell us that it was the result of "ineptitude on the part of the coalition". Or as David Rieff once put it to me, in an E-mail: "Like the Trotskyists of yore, these people are never wrong IF ONLY they had been listened to and allowed to follow their mad utopian schemes to their limit." Yep, that about sums it up. Well, no thanks this time guys. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!

Meantime, worth noting, the collective work product of seasoned professionals in the ISG got mostly ignored, in favor of this (mostly) amateurish folly (though Keane improved Kagan's sophomorically amorphous musings some, but again, we don't have the resources to 'do' Keane right, Petraeus' enormous talents aside), and just as important, the chances of sparking a new conflagration with Shi'a militias is going to ratchet up, not to mention Guns of August style spillover with Iran. Some at AEI would be thrilled, of course, if this is how it played out--but make no mistake--it would compound the massive blunder that has occurred in Iraq to date into an unmitigated catastrophe of historic proportions, with significant ramifications for decades to come for the United States' strategic position in the Middle East, not to mention elsewhere around the globe.

This time, however, if it comes to all this, let's be sure to ascribe blame in the right quarters, to the maximalists who continued to promise us victory, when instead intense region-wide damage control initiatives (many of them diplomatic) should have been the priority. Let's remember who helped drive us over the cliff, in other words, if the faith-based adventurism we're seeing w/ Kagan et al. ends up, as is so very likely, not working as intended by the breezily cocksure authors of this half-baked plan. In the meantime, even if we have to drag them along kicking and screaming, let's also try to keep them just a wee bit honest--by showcasing that we don't have enough resources to do the job right--so as to try to avoid more lives getting sacrificed in vain for a victory that is not achievable in the manner they contemplate--not least by reminding them of the details of their very own plan.

P.S. And don't miss this piece. "Fool's errand". "Too little and too late". Etc.

UPDATE: An informed reader says I'm being too tough on the Keane-Kagan plan because I'm getting a bit hysterical in my denunications of the neo-cons. Perhaps. Putting aside the AEI/NRO etc crew, he asks me to keep in mind that Keane is no idealogue, Odierno is on board, Petraeus too obviously, and that many mid-level officers in the Baghdad area may support a "surge" too. He also says that, if I'm allowed to change my mind on the merits of a "surge", Kagan is entitled to change his mind on troop levels.

I guess these are all fair points, but let me just say for the record that, for the past many months, my position on the surge was that it would only make sense in the context of a coherent overarching plan, to include diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran (the latter likely to fail, the former more likely to bear fruit) and absent that, I continue to have exceedingly low expectations for this surge, especially as it's basically under-manned--we don't have enough troops to go about it per best counter-insurgency doctrine.

Indeed Kagan himself always complained we were never sending enough troops into Iraq, as insurgents often retreated from areas where troops were sent to those where our presence was lighter, so that we needed to send more troops to blanket larger areas so as to prevent such (ultimately futile) whack-a-mole. But isn't that what his 'phased' plan allows for in Baghdad, as why won't insurgents cluster/retreat to neighborhoods where U.S. troops aren't, when not mounting ambush style attacks on our forces, that is (plus there are many additional perils presented by such dense urban combat, there is the reality that Iraq now ultimately requires more a political solution than a military one, that chains of commands will be muddied, that Iraqi forces aren't up to it, and relatedly that injection of Kurdish peshmerga forces is troublesome, that a conflagration with Shi'a militias is likely, that previous counter-insurgency operations in Iraq have involved de-populating cities which is not really feasible in Baghdad, and so on and on).

Anyway, why the obvious frustration and anger? Ultimately, perhaps it's the fact that AEI would pull out the pom-poms and host an event asking the American people to think in terms of victory, based on a too thinly-manned surge, and at this tremendously late hour, when it's far likelier in my view to prove another debacle. I found this rather offensive, given the disaster that has unfolded to date, and given the previous dubious policy recommendations of many of those present. And I still can't help thinking Kagan compromised his better instincts regarding how this so-called "surge" is more likely going to turn into a sad continuation of the Rumsfeld "just enough troops to lose" doctrine, so that AEI and the White House would better appear in alignment, by not more loudly decrying the obvious fact that he'd prefer in the neighborhood of 35,000-45,000 troops surged in, and it looks like we're going to get not much more that about half of that (frankly 35-000-45,000 wouldn't do it either, as Richard Haass has recently quipped, a "surge is not a strategy", certainly not at this stage in this conflict with Iraq in a state of civil war).

Still, if and when the troops go in, we can only hope against hope for their success. And I will try to monitor the progress of the surge with judiciousness, despite my opposition to it. Ultimately we must all still hope and pray for some form of ultimate "success" in Iraq, as a deepening of the debacle runs directly contra our national interest, of course. It's just that I fear this plan will make a tremendously bad situation even worse.


Posted by Gregory at 03:32 AM | Comments (82)

Dear Mr. Gates,

Why is "Cully" still in charge of detainee affairs?

(More here and here).

Posted by Gregory at 03:15 AM | Comments (15)

January 16, 2007

Mailbag

A Ph.D candidate in polysci at MIT writes in:

Note on Kagan - I’m dubious of the numbers he uses for his surge estimate in the 12/04/06 Weekly Standard piece (the only one that outlines anything close to a methodology), and, moreover, the Bush surge plan comes nowhere close to meeting the already-suspect requirements of the 12/04 article. To begin with, despite Kagan’s confident claims, there is no consensus on what force-population ratios are necessary for stability. Examples like Bosnia and Kosovo are so obviously dissimilar to Iraq it’s hard to know where to begin. The Dobbins RAND study and Quinlivan’s 1995 Parameters piece are at very very best mildly suggestive; there has been no rigorous test of the ratio arguments.

Kagan’s comparative method within Iraq focuses on the Tal Afar and Sadr City clashes to use as force size baselines. Last I checked, both of these places are in real bad shape now, so unless we can sustain the 1:40 force-population ratio used in Tal Afar (assuming with great faith this is somehow the right number) indefinitely, the Baghdad surge will also have no lasting effect. The bad guys are just going to slip away, as the Shiite militias already are, unless we’re credibly there forever.

Things get really problematic when we get to Kagan’s specific recommendations in the 12/04 piece. The 80,000 surge is contingent on “concentrating all available forces in the area” (i.e. 70,000 American combat forces already in Iraq). This obviously isn’t happening. Note the next steps – first, he correctly notes that of the 150,000 American troops in Iraq, only 70,000 are combat troops. But Kagan goes on to say that “there are currently about 100,000 Iraqi army troops that the U.S. command considers trained and ready.” He assumes all 100,000 are combat forces (unlike the Americans, who have less than 50% combat personnel out of their forces). And then goes on to assume 1) that they can be concentrated entirely in Baghdad, and 2) are equal to American forces in their competence and loyalty, both claims I am highly dubious of. [ed. note: You don't say?]

So to summarize the brilliant plan - by assuming that every combat-ready American in Iraq (70,000) goes to Baghdad, every combat-ready Iraqi (supposedly 100,000, or roughly 100% of Iraq’s army) goes to Baghdad, and that we add 80,000 more combat-ready Americans, we get to the 1:40 force-population ratio that worked temporarily in Tal Afar, with 250,000 troops for the 10 million people in greater Baghdad. This is already impossible, since it would totally denude the rest of the country of soldiers, makes almost certainly wrong assumptions about Iraqi forces, and demands a level of surged troops that is unsustainable.

But then as of 12/27/06 somehow 20-30,000 surged troops is OK. This despite the resultant ratio being vastly lower than the level Kagan previously claimed was necessary (since obviously not every single American and Iraqi will be going to Baghdad, and the surge is far smaller than called for). God knows how many competent and non-sectarian Iraqis will actually show up (certainly not 100,000), but it’s crystal clear the Bush plan comes absolutely nowhere close to achieving the supposedly correct stability ratios. I guess a new AEI method has been developed, though the slideshow has no specifics of any sort about where their recommendations come from.

The whole thing is just a shellgame of unsupported, malleable assumptions and assertions hiding behind a veneer of “military planning.” It’s more than inconsistency on surge numbers – at least from what I can tell, there’s no real methodology at all behind the madness. I can’t believe this kind of crap is the basis for major policy decisions.

Neither can I friend. And your arguments leave aside little variables like the fate of this expedition, among other worrisome variables to be detailed another day. But with this crew, Kagan passes for something of high-brow fare. The incompetents running the country are very easily impressed, it would appear.

Posted by Gregory at 04:36 AM | Comments (14)

Unofficial Jaw Jaw?

Why, isn't this interesting? And just imagine how much easier such talks would be if the Americans were pushing them along, rather than helping dissuade the Israelis from pursuing them. But careful, Condi would be displeased!

Posted by Gregory at 03:58 AM | Comments (18)

January 15, 2007

Question of the Day

Why is Charles "Cully" Stimson still the senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees? Mr. Gates should fire him promptly. This kind of trash talk was par w/ the course at Rumsfeld's Pentagon, but should have no place in Bob Gates' (at least I'd hope). Fire (or rotate him out of his detainee supervisory brief) without delay, I say. I don't know about you, but I've had it up to here w/ this banana republic ludicrousness...

Posted by Gregory at 05:52 PM | Comments (25)

January 14, 2007

"Surge" Math

(UPDATED BELOW)

Fred Kagan, writing on 12/04/06:

Conducting Tal Afar-type operations across the entire capital region all at once would require concentrating all available forces in the area and a "surge" of about 80,000 U.S. soldiers--a large number, to be sure, but very far from the "hundreds of thousands" or even "millions" generated by the use of specious historical examples.

Fred Kagan (w/ Keane) writing on 12/27/06:

REPORTS ON the Bush administration's efforts to craft a new strategy in Iraq often use the term "surge" but rarely define it. Estimates of the number of troops to be added in Baghdad range from fewer than 10,000 to more than 30,000. Some "surges" would last a few months, others a few years.

We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad--the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development--is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

Just around 3 weeks between the two articles, and Kagan goes from 80,000 (or 50,000*, see below) to 30,000 as to what's needed to secure Baghdad (as Frank Rich quips in today's NYT, "whatever")! What changed? Might Kagan have bowed to AEI elders hoping to get the think-tank a good shot at preening that an in-house plan became that of POTUS, and so the Republic's? Speculative, but what else explains the drop of 50,000 (or, at very least, 20,000) in under a month? After all, it's nice PR to have Joe Lieberman and John McCain drop by 17th St., no, for the victory roll-out festivities? (Another explanation, of course, is that these numbers are getting pulled somewhat out of thin air, but think-tankers would never be so unserious, right?)

Regardless, the actual surge is, as we all know, going to be well below 30,000, Kagan's (supposed) drop-dead minimum. In addition, Secretary of Defense Gates is on the record stating: "I don't think anybody has a definite idea of how long a surge would last..I think for most of us in our minds we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years." So much for Kagan's minimum of 18 months, though he probably calculates once the boots are on the ground--Gates' current intentions notwithstanding--they'll likely end up remaining in theatre for his minimum of 18-24 months.

Given this background, doesn't someone need to ask this gaggle of discredited neo-cons at AEI the following: do they support the President's plan for the so-called "surge," as it's currently, specifically envisioned? And, if so, how do they reconcile it with their recent writings? Let me guess, something is better than nothing, right (even if too little, too late)? After all, it's not their lives on the line--so why not breezily make policy recommendations that could end up sacrificing a few more thousand men to, in reality, only achieve the "minimum necessary not to lose"?

Meantime, check out this slap-dash power-point (click through the PDF "interim report"), meant to sketch out the broad brush-strokes of Keane-Kagan, the plan that McCain and Lieberman have de facto blessed by crossing town for the "V" is for Victory jubilee. Go to p. 44, and enjoy the all CAPS (always a dead-ringer for striking juvenilia to come): "WE CAN WIN IN IRAQ, AND WE MUST". Ah, if it were only so easy.

Oh, and meantime, don't miss the p. 56 slide listing the "participants". Feeling confident this is a serious plan? Let's be sure to remember these estimable authors though, particularly as this disaster gets worse because of yet more escalatory bravado born of casual swagger, namely, sending 17,500 young American men and women into a maelstrom of urban conflict pitting Sunni vs Shia--with some peshmerga thrown in for good measure--without being accompanied by a serious region-wide crisis management initiative (the ISG's so-called diplomatic offensive), and without any real assurances that the currently constituted Iraqi government can "deliver" or "step up", or "pull up their socks" or whatever the dumbed-down Beltway locution du jour. And, worst, knowing full well the main authors of the surge themselves believed (or at least did as of early December) that we'd need some 50,000-80,000 U.S. soldiers to really begin to have a real go of securing Baghdad (putting aside Anbar and the Iranian border), numbers that are simply not available.

Isn't it long past time to put aside utopic visions of victory, and pursue a realizable plan rather than have more Americans die for a plan all but doomed to failure? Those doing the fighting won't have the luxury of passing the popcorn from afar to see how it all plays out, after all...

*Kagan, not even sure of his 80,000 number back in early December, writes later in the same 12/04 piece linked above: "It is impossible to estimate precisely how many more U.S. troops would be needed in the capital area, or in Iraq, without proposing a detailed military plan. But since the high end of estimates for doing the whole area at once produced the requirement for a surge of 80,000 or so, it is very likely that a surge of 50,000 American troops would be sufficient to stabilize the capital."

"Very likely". 80,000. 50,000. 30,000. Whatevs! Roll the die on the craps table, ok, cuz it's gonna be 17,500 (barely half of Kagan's supposed drop-dead minimum requirement for Baghdad, and that's charitably construing his number-juggling, of course)! I repeat, does Fred Kagan support the President's "surge-lite"? If so, based on what rationale? A hail mary, or reality? Or is this just a Potemkin, souped-up version of Rumsfeld's "just enough troops to lose" doctrine? Have we learned nothing these past four years?

The only "surge" that, just arguably, might have made sense was one meant to back-up regional crisis diplomacy. Of course, that's not what we got. So I'm dubious in the extreme, obviously, that this half-baked plan has a snowball's chance in hell, and therefore agree with Chuck Hagel that we're careening towards an even greater blunder within Iraq (putting aside, at least for now, the even more troublesome specter of miscalculation dragging the Iranians in more forcefully, not as improbable as one might hope). More soon.

UPDATE: Rich Lowry, well practiced Beltway water-carrier that he is, is nevertheless going to have to do a bit better than this effort, I'm afraid: "Bush has proposed sending five brigades and a regiment to Baghdad and Anbar, almost precisely what Kagan/Keane proposed. The difference comes in the way the brigades are being counted. The Bush administration is low-balling them as 3,500 troops each, so it comes up with a lower total number. None of this is to suggest that all is well with the Bush surge plan or that it exactly mimics Kagan/Keane, but it is unfair to charge Kagan with inconsistency on the numbers."

Cute. Let's cut through this transparent spin, shall we? And I'll make it harder for myself, by not focusing on Kagan's early December call for 50,000-80,000 men, but rather his late December article putting the drop-dead minimum at 30,000. Here's what Kagan wrote in the later piece:

Clearing and holding the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the center of Baghdad, which are the keys to getting the overall levels of violence down, will require around nine American combat brigades (27 battalions, in partnership with Iraqi forces, divided among some 23 districts). Since there are about five brigades in Baghdad now, achieving this level would require a surge of at least four additional combat brigades--some 20,000 combat troops. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to send precisely as many troops as we think we need. Sound planning requires a reserve of at least one brigade (5,000 soldiers) to respond to unexpected developments. The insurgents have bases beyond Baghdad, especially in Anbar province. Securing Baghdad requires addressing these bases--a task that would necessitate at least two more Marine regiments (around 7,000 Marines). It is difficult to imagine a responsible plan for getting the violence in and around Baghdad under control that could succeed with fewer than 30,000 combat troops beyond the forces already in Iraq.

Bush is reportedly sending only 17,500 troops to Baghdad, and 4,000 separately to Anbar. 'Late December' Kagan says that we need for the "surge" at least 25,000 in Baghdad, and 7,000 in Anbar. So that's 7,500 short in Baghdad, and 3,000 short in Anbar--and that's playing with kid gloves--by not boring into the detail of Fred K's early December piece that spoke of the need for 50,000-80,000 fresh troops, before he dramatically (and so conveniently) reduced the bid/ask.

Contra Rich, this isn't about whether you count a brigade as 3,000 or 5,000. It's about this surge-lite being half-assed, even with a very talented guy like Petraeus at the helm, because we simply don't have the troops (in large because a lot on the dumbed-down NRO Right these past years were carrying water for Rumsfeld's incredibly misguided, troop-lite transformationalist nostrums). The surge is also likely to fail as it will be relying on confusing chains of command, because Kurdish peshmerga are going to be thrown in the mix, and because the Shi'a force being brought in from the south won't fight radical Shi'a militias, but only Sunnis--thus exacerbating the civil war (sorry, sectarian tensions, in NRO-speak). And, in the middle of course, will be G.I.s from places like Idaho and Indiana--getting killed to fight al-Qaeda and those evil Iranian mullahs, we're being led to believe, presumably--rather than, more likely, ultimately proving powerless to prevent Shi'a hegemony in Baghdad (you know, some of those friendly folks doling out the Nick Berg treatment these days).

P.S. Memo to Rich: before casually accusing me of a "smear", take a good hard look at what's shovelled around NRO day in, day out. The aspersions, juvenile belittling and denigrations bandied about the sand-box you call home come pretty fast and often, truth be told, so careful tossing around the "S" word, -k?


Posted by Gregory at 03:04 PM | Comments (40)

Kurd Sell-Out Watch?

Jeff Weintraub is right to write that my tone was off in this earlier post. It's just that I'm tired of maximalist agendas, whether on the Potomac, in Kurdistan, in Ankara, in Baghdad, in Teheran, and on and on. Thus the frustration. Words like "petrified" and such were inappopriate, however, in that they sounded somewhat heartless and/or overly cavalier. Apologies. This said, do note I still don't think a large-scale basing of U.S. troops in Kurdistan, unless perhaps coordinated in exacting detail with the Turks (and simultaneously in a manner that doesn't alienate Talabani and Barzani, quite a tall order), would end up proving sound policy.

Posted by Gregory at 05:09 AM | Comments (1)

Young Pound

20040705111725.jpg

(Photo Credit: by Elliott and Fry, courtesy of Mrs. Donald Wing, via "collected early poems of Ezra Pound)

Ezra Pound, during his early career, writing a poem entitled "Revolt against the Crepuscular Spirit in Modern Poetry":

I would shake off the lethargy of this our time,
and give
For shadows – shapes of power
For dreams–men.

"It is better to dream than to do"?
Aye! and, No!

Aye! if we dream great deeds, strong men,

Hearts hot, thoughts mighty.

No! if we dream pale flowers,

Slow-moving pageantry of hours that languidly

Drop as o’er-ripened fruit from sallow trees.

If so we live and die not life but dreams,

Great God, grant life in dreams,

Not dalliance, but life!

Let us be men that dream,

Not cowards, dabblers, waiters

For dead Time to reawaken and grant balm

For ills unnamed.

Great God, if we be damn’d to be not men but only dreams,

Then let us be such dreams the world shall tremble at

And know we be its rulers though but dreams!

Then let us be such shadows as the world shall tremble at

And know we be its masters though but shadow!

Great God, if men are grown but pale sick phantoms

That must live only in those mists and tempered lights

And tremble for dim hours that knock o’er loud

Or tread too violent in passing them;

Great God, if these thy sons are grown such thin ephemera,

I bid thee grapple chaos and beget

Some new titanic spawn to pile the hills and stir

This earth again.

While I very much enjoy early Pound, of late I can't help re-reading him and shuddering to think such hotted up adolescent thoughts, while making for superb poetry, too often pass for policymaking in certain faith-based adventurist quarters of Washington these past years (imagine VDH's audiences w/ Cheney, for example).

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (7)

Valor and Sacrifice

Amidst all the many cheap firefights occupying us keyboardists sitting about New York, L.A. and Chicago, it bears mentioning most of us haven't begun to face anything resembling real stakes through this nasty war. Here's the story of one who did, jumping on a grenade to save two of his mates. May he rest in peace. More here.

Posted by Gregory at 03:49 AM | Comments (10)

"We Don't Feel Any Pressure"

This excellent Rajiv Chandrasekaran piece actually provides some glimmers of hope, but you really shouldn't miss the last 4-5 grafs. They're pretty priceless.

Posted by Gregory at 03:38 AM | Comments (1)

January 13, 2007

Oh My...

David Rieff sends this article, and quips via E-mail: "So that's it, then: the conquest of Baghdad."

An Iraqi army brigade based in the northern Kurdish region is undergoing intensive training in urban combat and will be dispatched to Baghdad as part of a new joint U.S.-Iraqi security drive in the sprawling and violence-ridden city, the commander said Saturday. The brigade is one of two coming from the Kurdish region and a third brigade will come from southern Iraq. The second Kurdish brigade will come from the northern city of Sulaimaniyah.

"We will head to Baghdad soon. We have 3,000 soldiers who are currently undergoing intensive training especially in urban combat and how the army should act inside a city," said Brig. Gen. Nazir Assem Korran, commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division of the Iraqi army that is based in the city of Irbil. [emphasis added]

Anyone else feeling dread at the thought of peshmerga running loose through Baghdad (despite all the training on how one "should act inside a city")? This will probably blow-back and explode in the Kurds face, don't you think? And ultimately, the U.S. won't be there to protect them. Le plus ca change....

MORE: Somewhat related:

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday reaffirmed Turkey's right to send troops into Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there and chided U.S. officials for questioning it.

"The Turkish Republic will do whatever is necessary to combat the terrorists when the time comes, but it will not announce its plans in advance," Erdogan told a news conference after a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

"We say we are ready to take concrete steps with the Iraqi government and we also say these steps must be taken now."

In sharp language underscoring Turkish anxiety about the chaos in Iraq, Erdogan said it was wrong for Washington -- "our supposed strategic ally" -- to tell Turkey, with its historic and cultural ties in the region, to stay out of Iraq.

"We have a 350 km border with Iraq. We have historic relations ... the United States is 10,000 km away from Iraq, and yet is it not intervening in Iraq's internal affairs?" he said.

Maybe the Kurds shouldn't send too many forces down to Baghdad!

Posted by Gregory at 09:08 PM | Comments (6)

Shearman, Cleary, Etc: New Enemies of the State!

NYT:

The senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees suspected of terrorism said in an interview this week that he was dismayed that lawyers at many of the nation’s top firms were representing prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the firms’ corporate clients should consider ending their business ties.

The comments by Charles D. Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, produced an instant torrent of anger from lawyers, legal ethics specialists and bar association officials, who said Friday that his comments were repellent and displayed an ignorance of the duties of lawyers to represent people in legal trouble...

...In his radio interview, Mr. Stimson said: “I think the news story that you’re really going to start seeing in the next couple of weeks is this: As a result of a FOIA request through a major news organization, somebody asked, ‘Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?’ and you know what, it’s shocking.” The F.O.I.A. reference was to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Monica Crowley, a conservative syndicated talk show host, asking for the names of all the lawyers and law firms representing Guantánamo detainees in federal court cases.

Mr. Stimson, who is himself a lawyer, then went on to name more than a dozen of the firms listed on the 14-page report provided to Ms. Crowley, describing them as “the major law firms in this country.” He said, “I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

Wow. What depths won't this Administration stoop too? Will the President renounce these comments? Will this dirty whiff of McCarthyism be condemned at the highest levels? Repugnant.

P.S. The notion that CEOs will steer business away from storied firms like Cleary Gottlieb and Shearman & Sterling is absurd, of course, per Stimson's ridiculous talk of law firms having to make a 'choice' between "representing terrorists or representing reputable [clients]". It's not these firms' bottom lines I'm worried about, of course (they'll keep doing just fine, no fear), but that the senior official responsible for detainee affairs, himself a lawyer, would think it permissible to make such an incredibly irresponsible (not to mention incredibly stupid) statement. Staggering stuff, really--even given all we've witnessed these past five or so years.

UPDATE: Hilzoy has much more on this.

AND MORE: Heh, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 04:51 PM | Comments (80)

Getcha Mullah Death Watch Here!

Pajamas Media has always struck me as something of a sad train-wreck, so I've tried to just stand clear from the scene of the wreckage and ignore the veritable carnival of lameness as much as possible. After all, the entire underlying schtick appears inherently contradictory (to me at least): on the one hand there's the constant drum-beat of bashing the dastardly MSM, but on the other, the cloying attempts to lure MSM talent to the Pajamas collective, or landing pitiable interviews with MSM types like Tony Blankley in their (so fascinatingly real!) newsrooms.

Now, 'tis true, Pajamas datelines come in from far-flung spots like Sydney and Tel Aviv and such, where 'editors' ostensibly land hard news stories that are meant to rival the New York Times, Washington Post and other so passe enemy encampments. It's all rather exciting, I suppose, and the giddy citizen journalist bravado apparently contagious, as quite a number of bloggers have signed up for the ride. Still, someone with more time than me (and courage, given the anguishing ennui that would doubtless result) should compile a ratio of actual "news" posted by said "editors", rather than simply, say, relying on MSM stories for the 'scoop' or re-telling of the news, as then accompanied by links to (mostly) ribald commentary re: same. (In fairness, this is symptomatic of the blogosphere in large part, of course, but at least many of us don't pretend we're running bona fide news operations and such, replete with mega-scoops and other titillating fare.)

Anyway, I felt compelled today to break my silence about Pajamas given the (how shall I put this?) excessively enthusiastic reportage surrounding Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei's supposed demise (via Glenn Reynolds, who noticed oil prices were heading south in trading a week or so back, perhaps because (sarcasm alert), hedge fund managers in New York City and Greenwich heard tell that PJM's Santa Monica correspondent (nice touch!) was reporting Khamenei's death). Meantime, one could almost hear Michael Ledeen's joyful ululations miles away, as one of his "sources" (that evidently make, by comparison, the '02-'03 era Pentagon OSP into something of a paragon of sober reliability) relayed the Mother of All (Post-Khomenei) Mullahs was dead. It might have been the scoop that rocked the world, and feverish updates were dutifully posted keeping readers abreast of the world-shaking story.

For those wishing, as Saturday merriment, to delve more deeply into this comical spectacle, Wolcott has the initial goods here. And then Greenwald finishes the job. Sigh. As Paul Fussell has written, there is the "bad", but then there is the "BAD". Pajamas fits well in the latter category, I fear.

Posted by Gregory at 04:29 PM | Comments (2)

Revolving Dynasticism Watch

"This is a solid statement that hits the right notes" Right, you are Steve. Just a guess, but I think Hillary's chances against McCain just went up by a very significant factor these past few days. What do readers think?

Posted by Gregory at 03:30 PM | Comments (5)

Department of Cascading Blunders

The FT editorializes (more wisely than any American paper appears capable):

Mr Bush’s body language in the speech bespoke a chastened man. Yet, caught in a wilfully spun web of delusion and denial, he seems still unable to comprehend the depths of the debacle he has caused in Iraq.

Iraq has reached advanced societal breakdown, with ethnic cleansing on a regional, neighbourhood and even street-by-street basis. There has been a mass exodus of its professionals and managers, civil servants and entrepreneurs, a haemorrhage of its future. The time for the occupying authorities to have surged was 2003, after the fall of Baghdad; like everything they have tried since, this is far too little, much too late. The US deployed a similar number of troops last summer to “lock down” Baghdad, since when the number of killed in the capital alone has rocketed to more than 100 a day, while on average an attack occurs against Anglo-American forces every 10 minutes, and this in a fight now mainly between the minority Sunni deposed from power and the hitherto dispossessed Shia majority drunk with it.

It is hard, even for ardent democrats, to see this Iraq as a young democracy fighting for its life, as Mr Bush’s discourse of good guys against bad guys would have it. The invasion has solidified a system divided into sects and operating on the basis of patronage and intimidation. The composition of parliament is nearly two thirds Islamist. There are no institutions. Ministries are sectarian booty and factional bastions. The one institution that did more or less survive Saddam Hussein, the national army, was disbanded by the occupation and current attempts to reconstitute it have failed to move beyond rebadged militia. The three brigades the Shia-dominated government of Nuri al-Maliki has promised to add to the five extra US brigades are mostly Peshmerga – Kurdish militiamen – adding another account to be settled once the Americans withdraw.

What is still, in spite of Mr Bush’s attempts to dress it up, an essentially military strategy is just not credible. The US army is not designed to deal with insurgency and, in any case, does not have the troops to master one on this scale – especially if its own masters are planning to open a new front.

It has failed to control the insurgency in the Sunni triangle – a rebellion by a minority of the minority. Now it aims to confront Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia radical, and his 60,000-strong Mahdi army, in a fight that could set fire to east Baghdad and south Iraq, where British troops could easily be enveloped in the flames.

The contradiction at the heart of the US approach, however, is this: after casually overturning the Sunni order in Iraq and empowering the Shia in an Arab heartland country for the first time in nearly a millennium, Washington took fright at the way this had enlarged the power of the Shia Islamist regime in Iran. Now, while dependent on Tehran-aligned forces in Baghdad, and unable to dismantle the Sunni Jihadistan it has created in western Iraq, the US is trying to put together an Arab Sunni alliance against Iran. This is a fiasco with the fuel to combust into a region-wide conflagration.

The only feasible way forward is the approach of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission – which the new US Congress should embrace and insist on.

This would make support for the Iraqi government and army conditional on their real effort to promote national reconciliation, which would in turn, as it progressed, be rewarded with billions of dollars in long-term aid from the US and Iraq’s neighbours. This external support – from Turkey to Saudi Arabia and Iran to Syria – would be built up within a wide-ranging diplomatic offensive in the region that would include Tehran and Damascus. Mr Bush is instead threatening to expand the war.

“Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops” he said on Wednesday. “We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria.” The Iraq surge is beginning to look like the Vietnam escalation, spilling over into Iran and Syria the way that one did into Cambodia and Laos. [my emphasis]

How did the world's leading nation, 300 million strong, end up with a national security team this myopically mediocre, one that risks compounding blunder upon blunder? And what now can be done, with the ISG's attempted intervention having (mostly) failed?

Posted by Gregory at 03:11 PM | Comments (14)

The Sad State of Rice

Condi Rice: "I am not coming with a proposal. I am not coming with a plan.

We knew that already Mrs. Secretary. So please don't waste any time defining expectations down for your impending trip to the region. Our expectations already now, truth be told, couldn't be any lower.

P.S. More from Novak:

Republicans in Congress who do not want to be quoted tell me that the State Department under Condoleezza Rice is a mess. This comes at a time when the U.S. global position is precarious. While attention is focused on Iraq, American diplomacy is being tested worldwide -- in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Korea and Sudan. The judgment by thoughtful Republicans is that Rice has failed to manage that endeavor.

And it's sad to think one of the sub-plots we are now meant to follow with interest is the bureaucratic rivalry Novak expects between Deputy Secretary Negroponte and Under Secretary for Political Affairs (the #3 slot at State) Nick Burns. The state of American diplomacy has come to this? How underwhelming. In the extreme.

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 PM | Comments (5)

January 12, 2007

ISG Statement on Bush's Speech

PDF statement here, with text below:

We are pleased that the president reviewed the report of the Iraq Study Group carefully and seriously. Some of our recommendations are reflected in the new approach that he outlined Wednesday, while others have not been adopted.

We agree with President Bush that, "the situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people," the consequences of failure are severe, and "only the Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people." As the president said, "the essential U.S. security mission" in Iraq is the training of Iraqi forces. We support increasing the number of American advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units with the goal that the Iraq government will assume control of security in all provinces in Iraq by November 2007. We recommended many of the benchmarks President Bush outlined for Iraq, and agree that now is the time for the Iraqi government to act.

We hope the president and his administration will further consider other recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. The president did not suggest the possibility of a transition that could enable U.S. combat forces to begin to leave Iraq. The president did not state that political, military or economic support for Iraq would be conditional on the Iraqi government's ability to meet benchmarks. Within the region, the president did not announce an international support group for Iraq, including all of Iraq's neighbors, nor mention measures we suggested to reach a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement.

The Iraq Study Group indicated that it could "support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad" complemented by comprehensive political, economic and diplomatic efforts. Questions, of course, remain about the nature of the surge. We are encouraged by the president's statement that "America's commitment is not open-ended" and Secretary Gates' statement that the addition of 21,000 troops would be viewed as a temporary surge. The violence in Baghdad will not end without national reconciliation.

America's political leaders have a responsibility to seek a bipartisan consensus on issues of war and peace. We want to be helpful in forging that unity of effort. We welcome President Bush's commitment to form a working group with congressional leaders that will work across party lines in pursuit of a common policy. [emphasis added]

The obvious 'damning w/ faint praise' aspect of the above aside, I guess this is really the ISG's way of saying they feel they can't really support a surge (at least as currently envisioned), as it's not persuasively being accompanied by "comprehensive political, economic and diplomatic efforts" (especially the last prong). That, in a nutshell (and also that fact that even Keane/Kagan thought a surge needed at very least 30,000 men), leaves me opposed to the surge. Too little, too late-and without even the semblance of a serious diplomatic approach regionally (another major shortcoming is that Bush's plan places far too much faith in Maliki's government). So, in the end, Bush treated the ISG like a "fruit salad", I'm afraid, and if I were one of the co-chairs or other members of the panel I'd feel very let down, to say the least.

Posted by Gregory at 05:16 PM | Comments (2)

January 11, 2007

Bush Speech (VII)

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region. [emphasis added]

What does some of this highlighted language mean? That we are going to crack down on the Mahdi Militia? The Badr Organization? Some in Maliki's Dawa who will likely be getting increasingly alienated by U.S. forces restraining Shi'a revanchism? That we're going to make the borders with Iran and Syria convincingly less porous (with 4,000 more troops to Anbar, what a joke!). That we're going to disrupt the rat-lines between Iraq and Syria, as well as between Iraq and Iran? That we're going after Iran's al-Quds Islamic Revolutionary Guards? Any hot pursuit ROE across borders (I can smell the Ledeens salivating from up here in Manhattan)?

Folks, this is really either (more likely) a bunch of hot air (additional carrier strike group, destroying "networks", etc), masquerading as resolve (as Teheran and Damascus will likely smell out), or the beginning of a collosal blunder of epic proportions well beyond the very significant fiasco and disaster we've already witnessed in Iraq. With this team one can't really ever know, of course, a fearful reality indeed as we run out the clock until January '09.

Given political realities, however, not to mention capacity constraints (putting it mildly) I'm still putting my chips on hot air rather than 'go wide.' Still, there are real risks here, not least the increased likelihood that we'll be finding ourselves pitted against the Mahdi Army in brutal urban combat in relatively short order, which Tom Ricks broaches here, and which via miscalculation and escalation could lead to some very unsavory outcomes. More on that soon.

Posted by Gregory at 02:24 PM | Comments (36)

Brooks

Did David Brooks really write today: "(s)o we are stuck with the Bush proposal as the only serious plan on offer." Sorry David, but that just beggars belief. Are you saying the ISG plan was unserious, simply on the basis (best I can tell, at least) that you believe they never explained how their plan "wouldn't be like pulling a tooth slowly"? Come now....

Posted by Gregory at 02:16 PM | Comments (8)

Bush Speech (VI)

Bush, concluding his speech: "We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours. Thank you and good night."

Well, that about sums it up. Bush has chosen (surprise!) more faith-based adventurism. Sorry, but count me out of this Hail Mary. As someone who was clamoring for troop increases through '04 and '05, the irony is that now I can only say: too little, too late--certainly without being accompanied by a serious attempt at diplomatic crisis management through the region. So I cannot support this "surge", because I don't believe it will comprehensively move us closer to our strategic objectives (even if we eke out some temporary improvements in the security situation in Baghdad and Anbar, as I believe they will prove ultimately fleeting and unconvincing). We'll simply be spilling more American blood on a plan that is transparently aspirational more than strategically sound. And I must also say that the President's rhetoric regarding Iran and Syria was very irresponsible tonight, even dangerous. More on that in coming days.

MORE: Gordon, writing in the NYT, today:

Everybody raises a question about the intentions and capability of this government,” a senior American official said, referring to the Iraqi government. “Is this a government that really is a unity government or is it in fact pursuing, either explicitly or implicitly, a Shia hegemony agenda?”

Is this not meant as a rhetorical Q?


Posted by Gregory at 04:22 AM | Comments (20)

Bush's Speech (V)

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity ­ and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We are also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence sharing ­ and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

Guess we won't be seeing a New Diplomatic Offensive, eh? Instead, empty saber-rattling. How sad.

P.S. Note this portion:

We will use America's full diplomatic resources to rally support for Iraq from nations throughout the Middle East. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists ­and a strategic threat to their survival. These nations have a stake in a successful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors ­and they must step up their support for Iraq's unity government. We endorse the Iraqi government's call to finalize an International Compact that will bring new economic assistance in exchange for greater economic reform. And on Friday, Secretary Rice will leave for the region ­ to build support for Iraq, and continue the urgent diplomacy required to help bring peace to the Middle East.

Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and varied Gulf States "need to understand" that an American defeat in Iraq would be bad for their interests? They "must step up their support" for Maliki's government? What pitiable and empty little pseudo-diktats! Meantime Bush can't even bring himself to mention the critical import of the Arab-Israeli conflict, instead referring generally to "peace" in the "Middle East". While Eliott Abrams and Dick Cheney will be cheered, doubtless, anyone hoping for serious region-wide crisis management and deal-making must be very let-down. To say the least.

P.P.S.

From Afghanistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian Territories, millions of ordinary people are sick of the violence, and want a future of peace and opportunity for their children. And they are looking at Iraq. They want to know: Will America withdraw and yield the future of that country to the extremists ­or will we stand with the Iraqis who have made the choice for freedom?

No mention of Palestine, but just the "Palestinian Territories". Interesting! And I'm sure "ordinary people" in Beirut, Ramallah, Gaza City, and Kabul are "looking at Iraq", but not quite as Bush appears to think!

Posted by Gregory at 04:11 AM | Comments (9)

Bush Speech (IV)

So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to step up the pressure on the terrorists. America's men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan ­ and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq.

Memo to POTUS: Al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan has not been taken away, rather it's more clustered in portions of the southeast and now in Pakistani provinces. And while we've made some progress of late in places like Ramadi, its been halting and not convincing, and 4,000 more troops in Anbar won't make the difference. Indeed, one can't help wondering if they'd be better deployed in Afghanistan, so we can at least try to succeed in one of these two conflicts!

Posted by Gregory at 04:06 AM | Comments (2)

Bush Speech (III)

Re: benchmarks:

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

How, exactly? Bush goes on:

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend 10 billion dollars of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws ­ and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution. [emphasis added throughout]

All well and good, but again, what are the benchmarks, precisely? Further, the notion that the Iraqi government will be able to "take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November" is just risible.

Posted by Gregory at 03:48 AM | Comments (2)

Bush Speech (II)

Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Here are the differences: In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents ­ but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared. In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods ­ and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

Do peshmerga in the Iraqi Army or "National Police Brigades" count towards the supposed requisite force levels? Do we have a "green light" from Maliki to "enter" neighborhoods like Sadr City? Did Bush peer into Maliki's soul and espy new resolve? Boy this is thin gruel!

Posted by Gregory at 03:43 AM | Comments (1)

Bush's Speech, Insta-Analysis

No sale, I'm afraid. The "surge" isn't large enough even if one were open to bolstering our forces in theater (it will be interesting to see if Kagan types admit this, or instead hide behind the play pretend of Iraqi troops/police to be paired with U.S. forces), nor did I see any serious reckoning w/r/t the overall regional situation. He's still mostly in denial, spouting platitudes. In short, not a serious speech. Did it really take months to come up with this? More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 02:36 AM | Comments (4)

January 05, 2007

Surge=Escalation, No?

Roger Algase writes in to the FT:

Sir, While both Gideon Rachman ("The president's dilemma: to soldier on or manage defeat", January 2) and your editorial ("An indecent end to a reign of infamy", January 2) wisely put the word "surge" in quotation marks in discussing the possibility that the Bush administration may send additional troops to Iraq, few - if any - US commentators have questioned the administration's use of this Orwellian term.

"Surge" implies that any troop increase will be temporary, if not momentary, as is the case with electrical power. The reality, of course, is that once any additional troops are sent in, President Bush will almost certainly tell us, as he has up to now, that they too will stay until the "job is finished".

At least during the Vietnam war, whenever more US troops were sent in, the increase was more accurately described as an "escalation". Unquestioning acceptance of administration slogans by the media and public was what got the US into the Iraq war in the first place. Continuing to let the administration get away with distorted language is not the way to get us out.

Powerful points, these. Still, regular readers know that B.D. might support a "surge", at least if it's one that doesn't smell like a total 'hail-mary' (tamping down utopic "victory" talk wouldn't hurt), meaning many of the ISG's 79 recommendations are taken, infrastructure build-out and mass job scheme initiatives are pursued, the troop increase is also meant to back-stop serious regional crisis management initiatives (with people like Khalilzad and Negroponte heavily involved), and, apart from security stabilization operations, there is an even more accelerated emphasis on training and equipping the Iraqi Army, one aimed at doing everything humanely possible to achieve major troop reductions by, say, early '08 (yes, I know, two Friedman Units).

But, as I said, this letter is right that a surge is really semantic fudge for escalation, and no one knows how such an escalation would turn out, save it's pretty clear it will mean more American deaths in theater. We therefore have to be very careful indeed that the President's plan for these additional troops includes detail regarding their specific mission, that it is one that appears genuinely realizable (at very least arguably, with the burden of proof on the Administration), and that the increased troop strength fits in coherently within a larger strategic context and overall plan that strikes sane observers (this doesn't include the Vice Presidents office) as credible. We have little choice but to wait for the plan, another week it seems, unpardonably slow and late in coming, I know (mostly because Rumsfeld wasn't fired before), but that's where we are, like it or not.

Posted by Gregory at 05:03 AM | Comments (88)

Sanity from Zakheim

After stifling a giggle upon reading this cretinous fare (dudes, like, let's "go wide"!)--of course being kicked around and tried on for size by the usual suspects at the so dumbed-down NRO-- it was pleasing to see adults like Dov Zakheim adding yet another voice to the sanity brigade:

As the US administration has made very clear, the report of the Iraq Study Group will in no way represent the final word on American strategy in Iraq. The White House accepts that there has to be a change in approach. But its underlying premises – that Iraq’s sectarian strife is not a civil war and that the keys to a stable Iraq are a stable Baghdad and Anbar province – are the same as before. These assumptions need to be revisited, fast.

As government has followed government in Baghdad, the promise of strength has been succeeded by the reality of weakness, incompetence and corruption. Meanwhile, too many Americans are being maimed or dying in a war that seems to have no end and no clear path to victory. It is not enough for government officials to mourn the dead or to hand out medals and personalised coins to the wounded. We must give our forces a fighting chance to succeed in their mission. This is not the case at present.

There is no doubt that Iraq is enmeshed in a bitter civil war. The US has had minimal impact on the course of that war. Iraqi casualties continue to mount, as do the number of Iraqis who have decided to kill their fellow citizens. Americans are caught in the crossfire. They cannot stop the sectarian forces that are determined to kill one another. The US could not do so in Lebanon during the 1980s and cannot do so today in Iraq.

It is equally clear that democracy, as it is understood in the west in general and in Washington in particular, is nowhere in sight in Iraq. It is hardly the highest priority for most Iraqis. What they want is stability. So do their neighbours throughout the region.

Continuing to rely on the Iraqi government to provide stability throughout the country is doomed. But pulling out of Iraq would further undermine stability in the region as a whole. Thus the US objective should be framed in terms of the wider region: stopping Iraq from launching attacks against its neighbours, preventing any invasion by Turkey in the north and barring Iranian domination in the south.

The first step is recognising that primary responsibility for pacifying Baghdad, where we are having minimal success and suffering the most casualties, lies with the Iraqi army and police. Efforts to train the Iraqis to cope with the civil war that has ravaged their capital must be stepped up. But why train them while they are in harm’s way? Only when they are truly ready for combat should they be deployed to Baghdad or other violent areas.

Then the US must reposition its forces to foster regional stability and minimise casualties. Up to two brigades should be devoted to Kurdistan and a roughly equal number to the far west of Anbar province.

The forces in Kurdistan would help forestall a Kurdish declaration of independence that would prompt a Turkish invasion. The troops in western Iraq would help prevent both terrorist infiltration into Jordan and serious incursions from Syria. They would also indicate to Damascus that it should not misinterpret a readiness to talk as a concession.

The Pentagon should also move a division-sized force to the south, with a significant presence on the border with Iran. Tehran must understand that the US will not tolerate its domination of Iraq’s south. Nor, as with Syria, would Washington’s willingness to talk mean a readiness to appease.

Zakheim can't quite bring himself to say it, but he seems much closer to the ISG's 'contain the fire' regional approach than, not only the laughable "go wide" crew, but also the "V" is for Victory Keane/Kagan/McCain/Lieberman caucus. Note too Zakheim's got a somewhat different view than me on the feasibility of placing U.S. troops in Kurdistan, but all things considered, it's likely possible that a deal could get cut with the Turks on positioning a relatively modest number of U.S. forces in Kurdistan, if accompanied by guarantees that U.S. forces would serve as prophylactic preventing a Kurdish bid for independence, as well as other inducements (but make no mistake, all this will be hugely controversial and sensitive with the Turks, and there is also the risk we must make so many assurances to Ankara that, assuming we honor them, the Peshmerga start coming after us after a few years, but that's another story for another day...)

Posted by Gregory at 04:04 AM | Comments (18)

January 04, 2007

U.S. Troops In Kurdistan?

Its become something of an article of faith among a certain bien pensant foreign policy set that we should pull out of Iraq, save leave U.S. troops in Kurdistan. This includes observers whose views on Iraq I typically respect, like Andrew Sullivan, who writes:

I'll wait to hear what the president has to offer in detail before making a clear decision in my own mind. But my view right now is that we should withdraw most combat troops by the middle of this year; and leave a remaining force in the Kurdish region and along the Iraq-Turkey border. Protecting the fledgling democracy in Kurdistan and reassuring Turkey should be our top priorities.

But here's the rub folks. The Turks don't want us to put troops up in Kurdistan, or near their border. It won't "reassure" them at all. Quite the opposite, in fact, especially talk of NATO'izing a foreign troop presence there (the Turks will panic this is a precursor to an independent Kurdish state).

Meantime, and frankly, is Kurdistan really a "fledgling democracy", as Andrew writes? I suspect one of the great under-reported stories of this war is all the reverse Arabization going on up in the North of the country. It's not all peachy clean up there, truth be told, and Kirkuk of course remains a mega tinderbox. It's likely about as "fledgling" a democracy as the rest of Iraq, all told, albeit of course enjoying less endemically poor security conditions.

The reality is that the Kurds (who were petrified by the ISG report, which calls for more equitable sharing of oil revenue, and less federalism than Gelb-Biden)--must swallow painful concessions, or the risk of Turkey militarily intervening will likely become at least as high (probably higher) than Saudi and Iranian cross-border military meddling on behalf of their Sunni and Shi'a, respectively, proxies. (And, as I said, U.S. troops garrisoned in Kurdistan are no panacea, indeed they would likely cause a major crisis, worse than the '02-'03 one, in Turkish-American relations, probably unacceptably high tensions).

Again, all this is no longer about "victory", but containing the damage from what could yet prove the biggest blunder in U.S. foreign policy history (if it hasn't already). And sure, let's call containing the worst spill-over, if this team is capable of it, "success", if that makes POTUS happier. But let's keep focused now on realistic goals, not Alice in Wonderland stuff, OK? This means we won't be presiding over some glorious trinity of Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish "moderates" singing kumbaya simply because we "surge" into Baghdad--whilst slaying the Iranian Beast for good measure on our off hours. Indeed, any surge, if it comes to that, must be viewed not as some Grand Push to Victory, but as a way to provide critical breathing space for intensive diplomatic and political efforts to somehow allow for an imperfect settlement to be broached that avoids A) a massive, full-blown civil war in Iraq, and B) major interventions in Iraq by regional players like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey.

Our goal in Iraq, put simply, is to douse the raging fire our hubris and ineptitude set alight, as best and cleverly and forcefully (given our limited resources) that we can, hoping and praying our efforts at damage control can make some difference at this advanced hour, and keeping in mind we're stuck with a national security team that has distinguished itself by its manifold blunders (save Gates). Important to keep in mind, as well, the reason the ISG is recommending a massive region-wide diplomatic crisis management effort involving Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Riyadh, Cairo, Teheran, and Amman, among other capitals, is because the region is in such a state of brewing chaos that any sources of further instability and conflict must be dampened down to keep the regional temperature under control, wherever and however possible. Yes, the situation is this bad.

MORE: An excellent read from Scowcroft here. Remember, he called all this correctly initially. Let's now take very seriously the advice of those who were on the right side of this debacle, not the wrong one, no?

Posted by Gregory at 05:06 AM | Comments (50)

Talk of the Town: Disaggregation in Vogue

Dear Eric,

Are we all Kilcullenian disaggregators now?

Best, Greg

Excerpt from George Packer's excellent piece on Kilcullen:

One night earlier this year, Kilcullen sat down with a bottle of single-malt Scotch and wrote out a series of tips for company commanders about to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an energetic writer who avoids military and social-science jargon, and he addressed himself intimately to young captains who have had to become familiar with exotica such as “The Battle of Algiers,” the 1966 film documenting the insurgency against French colonists. “What does all the theory mean, at the company level?” he asked. “How do the principles translate into action—at night, with the G.P.S. down, the media criticizing you, the locals complaining in a language you don’t understand, and an unseen enemy killing your people by ones and twos? How does counterinsurgency actually happen? There are no universal answers, and insurgents are among the most adaptive opponents you will ever face. Countering them will demand every ounce of your intellect.” The first tip is “Know Your Turf”: “Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.” “Twenty-eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency”—the title riffs on a T. E. Lawrence insurgency manual from the First World War—was disseminated via e-mail to junior officers in the field, and was avidly read.

Last year, in an influential article in the Journal of Strategic Studies, Kilcullen redefined the war on terror as a “global counterinsurgency.” The change in terminology has large implications. A terrorist is “a kook in a room,” Kilcullen told me, and beyond persuasion; an insurgent has a mass base whose support can be won or lost through politics. The notion of a “war on terror” has led the U.S. government to focus overwhelmingly on military responses. In a counterinsurgency, according to the classical doctrine, which was first laid out by the British general Sir Gerald Templar during the Malayan Emergency, armed force is only a quarter of the effort; political, economic, and informational operations are also required. A war on terror suggests an undifferentiated enemy. Kilcullen speaks of the need to “disaggregate” insurgencies: finding ways to address local grievances in Pakistan’s tribal areas or along the Thai-Malay border so that they aren’t mapped onto the ambitions of the global jihad. Kilcullen writes, “Just as the Containment strategy was central to the Cold War, likewise a Disaggregation strategy would provide a unifying strategic conception for the war—something that has been lacking to date.” As an example of disaggregation, Kilcullen cited the Indonesian province of Aceh, where, after the 2004 tsunami, a radical Islamist organization tried to set up an office and convert a local separatist movement to its ideological agenda. Resentment toward the outsiders, combined with the swift humanitarian action of American and Australian warships, helped to prevent the Acehnese rebellion from becoming part of the global jihad. As for America, this success had more to do with luck than with strategy. Crumpton, Kilcullen’s boss, told me that American foreign policy traditionally operates on two levels, the global and the national; today, however, the battlefields are also regional and local, where the U.S. government has less knowledge and where it is not institutionally organized to act. In half a dozen critical regions, Crumpton has organized meetings among American diplomats, intelligence officials, and combat commanders, so that information about cross-border terrorist threats is shared. “It’s really important that we define the enemy in narrow terms,” Crumpton said. “The thing we should not do is let our fears grow and then inflate the threat. The threat is big enough without us having to exaggerate it.”

By speaking of Saddam Hussein, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the Taliban, the Iranian government, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda in terms of one big war, Administration officials and ideologues have made Osama bin Laden’s job much easier. “You don’t play to the enemy’s global information strategy of making it all one fight,” Kilcullen said. He pointedly avoided describing this as the Administration’s approach. “You say, ‘Actually, there are sixty different groups in sixty different countries who all have different objectives. Let’s not talk about bin Laden’s objectives—let’s talk about your objectives. How do we solve that problem?’ ” In other words, the global ambitions of the enemy don’t automatically demand a monolithic response.[my emphasis]

More on this soon.


Posted by Gregory at 04:12 AM | Comments (7)

Department of 'I Need Help, And Badly!'

Kessler:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has persuaded John D. Negroponte to leave his post as director of national intelligence and come to the State Department as her deputy, government officials said last night.

Negroponte's move would fill a crucial hole on Rice's team. She has been without a deputy since Robert B. Zoellick left in July for a Wall Street firm. It also comes as President Bush plans to announce a new Iraq strategy; as former Iraq envoy, Negroponte would be expected to play a major role in implementing that plan in his new role.

Negroponte's decision to step down as the nation's top spy for a sub-Cabinet position marks a sudden reversal. Rice had earlier sought to recruit Negroponte -- as well as other high-profile figures -- for the job, but last month he insisted he was staying at his post.

"In my own mind at least, I visualize staying . . . through the end of this administration, and then I think probably that'll be about the right time to pack it in," he told C-SPAN in an interview broadcast Dec. 3. "I've pulled together a very good team, and they've stayed with me for the past 18 months," he said, "and I hope they'll stay with me as long as I'm in the job."

He reiterated that commitment in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters on Dec. 14. Negroponte is the first person to hold the post of intelligence czar, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks...

...Observers have been puzzled at how long it has taken Rice to fill the deputy position in a period of intense diplomatic activity.

Rice gave Zoellick wide berth as her deputy. He had primary responsibility for relations with China, the crisis in Sudan, Latin America, economic affairs and Southeast Asia. In a first for a deputy secretary of state, he frequently allowed reporters on his plane when he traveled abroad.

Zoellick left a Cabinet post -- U.S. trade representative -- to take the job as Rice's deputy.

The likely reason Cabinet level people like Zoellick and now, Negroponte, will take a Deputy slot is because, in reality, they know they will often be serving as quasi-Secretaries of State given how weak their boss has proven (Zoellick on Sudan, China etc, Negroponte on a to be determined portfolio, very likely to include Iraq). Sorry to be so plain about it, but there it is, no?

So let's hazard a guess, Rice tries (probably feebly) to resuscitate the Middle East Peace Process (but no talks with Syria or Iran!), and Negroponte focuses on Iraq (see, peace in Palestine and Iraq are, like, totally separate issues!)? Meantime Chris Hill keeps rolling on NoKo, and much of the rest of the world gets mostly ignored (Africa, China--though Paulson is picking up some of the slack--Russia, Caucasus, Balkans etc etc.).

Posted by Gregory at 03:22 AM | Comments (4)

January 03, 2007

Stop Saying Nyet to Talks, Condi!

Q&A w/ Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:

QUESTION: One of the other recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report was the idea that the United States should talk to Syria and Iran. Now, you've dealt with this -- I've heard your language on this before, but I -- part of the argument is that during the worse period of the Cold War, the United States talked at very high levels with the Soviet Union, even when the Soviet Union was engaged in all sorts of proxy wars against the United States throughout the world. And yet we've not had a figure of your stature talk to the Syrians for a long time. I think I was there when Powell went in 2003. In Iran it's been, you know, it went back when I was in college. So what is the --

SECRETARY RICE: You're that young Glenn -- (laughter) --

QUESTION: Yes, I think so. Anyway, what is the roadblock there? What is the difficulty with simply sitting down and talking with them and making -- in the way that we did with the Soviet Union?

SECRETARY RICE: Okay. Well, let me make three points. The first is that on Syria, you're right, Colin Powell talked to them. When the President was reelected Rich Armitage talked to them. It's not a matter of not talking to them; it's a matter that they never act.

QUESTION: I think they would say that you've lectured them and there was no real good --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are certain things that about which there should be no give and take, like stop supporting terrorists is a kind of non-negotiable demand. So, yes, I think we have talked to the Syrians. On the Iranians, well, we would have ended 27 years of policy. I think I put it very, very -- I thought in fairly colorful language. I'd meet my counterpart any place, any time. All they have to do is suspend their enrichment -- which has been, by the way, a demand of the international system going back a couple of years – that’s so that the talks don't become a cover for continued enrichment activity that just practices how to resolve the engineering difficulties that would then allow you to go industrial-scale production. So the offer is there. And by the way, we didn't say you could talk only about the nuclear issue; we said we could talk about anything. But they couldn't take up that offer.

Now in the current context, I think the problem is that you have to ask if Iran and Syria are, in fact, have decided that it's in their interest to have an Iraq that is more stable than the one now, even if it's not full stable -- more stable than the one now, I assume they'll act. I assume they'll do it. And that we aren't the ones who have to tell them to do it.

The other explanation is they're looking for compensation to do that and that's a problem. Because when you go to the table, particularly in the circumstances now where you're going and saying, please, help us with the stability of Iraq, the potential that what they're really looking for is compensation. And then you have to ask -- it's very high -- and they you have to say, what is that compensation? Well, on the Syrian side, I suspect that the highest priorities are being played out in the streets of Lebanon including about the tribunal, including about Syrian power in Lebanon. And on the Iranian side, the Iranians have been pretty upfront about it. They're not going to talk about Iraq over here and their nuclear program over there. And so do you really want get yourself into a situation in which you're talking about allowing the Iranians to continue to acquire the nuclear technology that will allow them to build a nuclear weapon to try and achieve or try to get their support in Iraq where, if they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they'll do it anyway. So I just -- I think we have to come down from the level of talk to them and ask what's really going on here.

QUESTION: But some people would say the situation in Iraq is really bad and isn't the U.S. in a position where you may have to start paying the price.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that -- first of all, that the solutions to what is happening in Iraq lie in Baghdad and principally with Iraqis and their national reconciliation and their ability to deal with their own political differences not in Iran and not in Syria. There's no doubt that Syrian and Iran are exacerbating those tensions, but I think it's really principally in Iraq. And do I really want to pay the price of an Iranian nuclear weapon? No. That's not a price that is worth paying.

But let me just go to what I think is a rather facile and if I must say so, Glenn, not you -- I've heard it from many people -- a rather facile but empty comparison, which is to the Soviet Union.

QUESTION: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't ever remember sitting down and talking to the Soviet Union about how they could help us secure stability in Western Europe, you know, defending Western Europe. That's not the conversation we had with the Soviet Union. We talked mostly to the Soviet Union about how not to annihilate each other because we were both in a position with large nuclear arsenals where there was a reason to try and work out some modus vivendi so that you didn't have a nuclear war. And to be fair it went a lot better as the Soviet Union got weaker. So there was a reason that those summits between American presidents and general secretaries of the Communist Party always reached their culmination with the signing of an arms control agreement because that was really the centerpiece of the relationship.

Now, we also talked to the Soviet Union in a particular context. Glenn, is looking because I gave this answer the other day and he was there, so he must be just trying to put it on the record. The Soviet Union -- we had a context for talking to the Soviet Union. We had a military alliance of democratic states that were committed to resisting Soviet aggression, like-minded states. We had the most extensive set of sanctions ever to be against a state, the system was called CoCom. And we effectively denied to the Soviet Union not just military technology but civilian technology to the point that the economy was the third world by the time the Soviet Union collapsed. We also talked to other people. We talked to refuseniks. We talked to dissidents. We talked to a lot of people who were trying to bring the system down. And so if you put the question of who do you talk to and under what circumstances in that context it looks a bit different than just to say, well, you talked to them during the worse days. We had a lot of leverage and a lot of arrows in our quiver in those days.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to what Fred asked. That as you see the situation in Iraq deteriorating -- if one wants to use the word (inaudible). You said that one of the reasons for not talking to Iran is that it would give them coverage to continue their nuclear program. I'm not sure I understand.

SECRETARY RICE: No, I said I think -- I didn't say -- look, the cover I think would come from just continuous talks which is why we had insisted on suspension for the nuclear talks.

QUESTION: Right. But the fact is they are continuing with their nuclear plans.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. What I don't want --

QUESTION: What do we get out of it and why -- in keeping our goal, our goal of getting them to suspend their nuclear plan and, secondarily, to do something in Iran -- in Iraq, why can we not change our tactics because the tactics that we're using now don't appear to be working? They're continuing to interfere in Iraq and they're continuing with their nuclear program.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all I don't want to link what we do on the nuclear program to what they do in Iraq; that's the real point here. Because we are on a track on the nuclear program -- you're right, they haven't suspended yet but we have international agreement that they have to suspend and go back to negotiate. Now, the day that the United States suddenly, because we want to make a deal about something, says, oh, by the way, we don't really have to -- you don't really have to suspend and the nuclear issues becomes a part of talks that I am quite certain will not be kept separate -- Iraq over here and nuclear over here. We've also blown up the international consensus that if we have a chance to have diplomacy work on the nuclear program is our only chance to make that diplomacy work.

We do have -- I think we will get a resolution in the Security Council that is a Chapter 7 resolution on Iran. A Chapter 7 resolution has its own collateral effects on a state. They'll be in a pretty specialized category along with North Korea as states that are under Chapter 7 resolutions. And so we have to continue -- we're engaged in increasingly tough financial measures against the Iranians. We have to continue that course because an Iranian nuclear weapon really, really will destabilize the Middle East in major ways. And I don't think we can afford any confusion about what we are prepared to do on the nuclear side in order to gain somehow support for something that they should do.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I won't belabor it, but you said we don't want to allow them to lead the issues. But it seems to me that we are the ones that will bring the issue. The President got up the other day and said -- when he was asked about the recommendation in the report to talk to them, he said, we will only talk to them about -- if they get rid of their nuclear program. So we're the ones that are linking it. We're saying unless that happens nothing else is happening.

SECRETARY RICE: The President was saying that we've offered the opportunity to talk because of the nuclear program. But I'm speaking to this hypothetical set of discussions with the Iranians that somehow not -- doesn't come from their accepting our offer to talk after suspension. This is a hypothetical set of talks and I think that that hypothetical set of talks goes in a very bad direction, which is that the Iranians come to the table, if they're prepared to talk about Iraq in any way, certainly wanting to link that to their nuclear program, they've been clear about it. Actually they've been saying, well, you know, we would have to talk about the nuclear program. And I don't think they mean they just want to talk about the nuclear program; they want a deal on the nuclear program and that's very dangerous.

It's all here, isn't it? The likely reality that we have a Secretary of State painfully insecure about her negotiating skills--apparently scared she'd be outfoxed by either Damascus or Teheran into forking over too much by way of "compensation", to use her (odd) verbiage, insecurities evidently heightened by her complaint she doesn't have enough "leverage" to bring to bear, or that negotiations w/ the Soviets got easier as the USSR weakened. (Can you imagine Henry Kissinger or James Baker or Dean Acheson whining so?) See too the equally painful portrayal, in its sophomoric inanity, that any approach to Iran or Syria would have to take place on limp-wristed, bended knee ("please, help us with the stability of Iraq", goes her laughable caricature). After all, we've got 140,000 troops there, no (and perhaps more soon)?

Then there's the sad resort to the Soviet analogy, used as a crutch from her old speciality area, to argue unpersuasively that, while dialogue with the Soviet Union made sense, talks with Iran and Syria would be a thoroughly different kettle of fish. Her defensiveness on this point (arguing that her predecessors speaking with Moscow and Beijing in no way can be construed as persuasive precedent to urge talks with Iran or Syria) is highlighted by her description of said argument as "facile" (it's anything but, after all, can anyone with a straight face argue we didn't have wide-ranging discussions at various levels with the Soviets on issues aside from nuclear disarmament, to include regional stabilization, indeed not least with regard to the Middle East?).

Most alarming, perhaps, there is the rhetorical uneveness ("international system" for the UNSC) and confusion surrounding the state of play with respect to potential negotiations with Iran. The correspondent from the Washington Post is almost apologetic (as the media, even the best of them, are rather supine in such settings), as he attempts to drag out from the Secretary some recognition of the blatant contradiction at play: she claims it's the Iranians who are linking the nuclear issue to Iraq, while it's actually the U.S. that has made it a non-negotiable condition that uranium enrichment be suspended before talks can begin on other issues, including Iraq. So who's doing the linking, friends?

But you protest. The Iranians will link too, and the "compensation" they will demand for, say, helping disarm the Mahdi militia (or Badr Organization, for that matter) is a nuclear weapon. Let's put aside that that's a grossly over-simplified view of how the prospective negotiation would proceed, let's put aside that we could try to keep the nuclear issue contained on the UNSC track (as the ISG recommends, though note Rice, without the least bit convincing explanation, says she's "quite certain" the issues couldn't be kept separate in such manner, thus basically creating a self-fulfilling prophecy on this point), let's put aside such linkage concerns didn't stop us from cooperating directly with Iran on Afghanistan, and let's further put aside that clever negotiating is all about getting the concessions you care about most without providing the other side carte blanche for their maximalist demands (translation: you don't have to give them a "deal" on the nuclear program, Mrs. Secretary, just because you start talking with them)--here's the obvious rub, regardless: right now the Iranians have the best of both worlds--they're full speed ahead on the enrichment and nuclear development front, and under no pressure to play ball on Iraq.

Could this policy be any more stupid, I am compelled to ask? Well, I'll hazard a response, and it's a resounding no. After all, there's a reason serious people like Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar, James Baker, Dennis Ross, Richard Haass, Richard Armitage, Chuck Hagel and, yes, back in '04 at least, Bob Gates-all have been in favor of direct talks, with varying emphases and approaches, with the Islamic Republic of Iran. And these are all Republicans (save perhaps Ross)! Isn't it time to step up and get similarly serious? (I wonder, deep down, what guys on the 6th Floor and in the field, say David Satterfield, David Welch, etc, think, really think, about this policy? And I'm pretty sure I know what Bob Zeollick and Phil Zelikow thought of it, before their departures from State. I suspect they weren't fans, and thought it misguided, to say the least, though this is admitedly speculative).

So here's the deal: is Condoleeza Rice going to step up, educate the President and wean him away from Dick Cheney's Hobbesian mantras and Manichean worldview, or is she going to act more like a family retainer playing to her boss' simplistic worldview and biases? Which is it going to be, one wonders, and with great concern, given the unfolding disaster in the region requiring urgent crisis management with all the key players, which in case you hadn't noticed, most assuredly include Syria and Iran.

P.S. Commenter Zathras has a sad review of Condoleeza Rice here. Sadly, I'm afraid I have to agree with most of it.

P.P.S. Just for the record, it's very possible the Iranians would say no to direct, bilateral Foreign Minister level talks with the US (even without preconditions), as James Baker has pointed out. But it's obvious that would only strengthen our hand on the diplomatic front at the UNSC, in terms of bolstering Chapter VII related activity, as Iran would then look to be acting (even more so than before) in bad faith. People, how do you spell no-brainer?

Posted by Gregory at 04:33 AM | Comments (27)

Floridly Vulgarized By Power

With apologies for posting these pieces well after they originally appeared, but I'd still urge readers to read both this Martin Amis piece (lengthy, even by B.D standards), as well as this response from Pankaj Mishra. And while I'm more with Pankaj M., I think, can I just say that this portion of the Amis essay is just priceless:

It is by now not too difficult to trace what went wrong, psychologically, with the Iraq War. The fatal turn, the fatal forfeiture of legitimacy, came not with the mistaken but also cynical emphasis on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction: the intelligence agencies of every country on earth, Iraq included, believed that he had them. The fatal turn was the American President's all too palpable submission to the intoxicant of power. His walk, his voice, his idiom, right up to his mortifying appearance in the flight suit on the aircraft-carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln ('Mission Accomplished') - every dash and comma in his body language betrayed the unscrupulous confidence of the power surge.

We should parenthetically add that Tony Blair succumbed to it too - with a difference. In 'old' Europe, as Rumsfeld insolently called it, the idea of a political class was predicated on the inculcation of checks and balances, of psychic surge-breakers, to limit the corruption that personal paramountcy always entrains. It was not a matter of mental hygiene; everyone understood that a rotting mind will make rotten decisions. Blair knew this. He also knew that his trump was not a high one: the need of the American people to hear approval for the war in an English accent. Yet there he was, helplessly caught up in the slipstream turbulence of George Bush. Rumsfeld, too, visibly succumbed to it. On television, at this time, he looked as though he had just worked his way through a snowball of cocaine. 'Stuff happens,' he said, when asked about the looting of the Mesopotamian heritage in Baghdad - the remark of a man not just corrupted but floridly vulgarised by power. As well as the body language, at this time, there was also the language, the power language, all the way from Bush's 'I want to kick ass' to his 'Bring it on' - a rather blithe incitement, some may now feel, to the armed insurgency.

Contemplating this, one's aversion was very far from being confined to the aesthetic. Much followed from it. And we now know that an atmosphere of boosterist unanimity, of prewar triumphalism, had gathered around the President, an atmosphere in which any counter-argument, any hint of circumspection, was seen as a whimper of weakness or disloyalty. If she were alive, Barbara Tuchman would be chafing to write a long addendum to The March of Folly; but not even she could have foreseen a president who, 'going into this period', 'was praying for strength to do the Lord's will'. A power rush blessed by God - no, not a good ambience for precautions and doubts. At that time, the invasion of Iraq was presented as a 'self-financing' preventive war to enforce disarmament and regime change. Three and a half years later, it is an adventurist and proselytising war, and its remaining goal is the promotion of democracy.

The Iraq project was foredoomed by three intrinsic historical realities. First, the Middle East is clearly unable, for now, to sustain democratic rule - for the simple reason that its peoples will vote against it. Did no one whisper the words, in the Situation Room - did no one say what the scholars have been saying for years? The 'electoral policy' of the fundamentalists, writes Lewis, 'has been classically summarised as "One man (men only), one vote, once."' Or, in Harris's trope, democracy will be 'little more than a gangplank to theocracy'; and that theocracy will be Islamist. Now the polls have closed, and the results are coming in, region-wide. In Lebanon, gains for Hizbollah; in Egypt, gains for Sayyid Qutb's fraternity, the Muslim Brothers; in Palestine, victory for Hamas; in Iran, victory for the soapbox rabble-rouser and primitive anti-semite, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the Iraqi election, Bush and Blair, pathetically, both 'hoped' for Allawi, whose return was 14 per cent.

Second, Iraq is not a real country. It was cobbled together, by Winston Churchill, in the early Twenties; it consists of three separate (Ottoman) provinces, Sunni, Shia, Kurd - a disposition which looks set to resume. Among the words not listened to by the US Administration, we can include those of Saddam Hussein. Even with an apparatus of terror as savage as any in history, even with chemical weapons, helicopter gunships, and mass killings, even with a proven readiness to cleanse, to displace, and to destroy whole ecosystems, Hussein modestly conceded that he found Iraq a difficult country to keep in one piece. As a Sunni military man put it, Iraqis hate Iraq - or 'Iraq', a concept that has brought them nothing but suffering. There is no nationalist instinct; the instinct is for atomisation.

Third, only the sack of Mecca or Medina would have caused more pain to the Islamic heart than the taking, and befouling, of the Iraqi capital, the seat of the Caliphate. We have not heard any discussion, at home, about the creedal significance of Baghdad. But we have had some intimations from the jihadis' front line. In pronouncements that vibrate with historic afflatus, they speak of their joyful embrace of the chance to meet the infidel in the Land Between the Rivers. And, of course, beyond - in Madrid, in Bali (again), in London. It may be that the Coalition adventure has given the enemy a casus belli that will burn for a generation. [emphasis added]

I wish I had written the phrase "not just corrupted but floridly vulgarised by power", I really do. Maybe some day. More seriously, however, Amis is spot on about Dubya's "palpable submission to the intoxicant of power," with all that has entailed in terms of the attendant faith based adventurism we've witnessed these past five odd years. As for Amis's "three intrinsic historical realities" he contends foredoomed the Iraq project, I suppose each is debatable and we can question degree and whether Amis gets a tad hyperbolic, but certainly the first two points must be very well taken (the real perils presented by 'one man, one vote, one time', Iraqi society's tendency towards atomization). As for the singular importance of Baghdad (versus Cairo or Damascus, say), I'd defer to expert historians of the region, but it doesn't seem particularly implausible a contention to me.


Posted by Gregory at 12:12 AM | Comments (21)

Brief Note on Comments

I've been getting pretty significant traffic from Google these past days since Saddam's execution, as it seems that if you type in Google searches like this one, Belgravia Dispatch is the top hit (very odd, but there it is). So if you see a lot of new screen names and, frankly, odder (than usual!) commentary--blame it on being ranked too high on Google's search engine. Again, random traffic is pouring in very steadily from all over the globe, so it's fair to say it's not the usual crowd. Just an FYI for anyone chagrined or befuddled by it all (it's pretty obvious what threads have been impacted). OK, back to regularly scheduled business (though I'll likely be bugging people with another 'in-house' type note soon...).

Posted by Gregory at 12:03 AM | Comments (1)

January 01, 2007

More on Saddam's Hanging

Adnan Pachachi, speaking of Saddam's execution: “Either it’s terrible incompetence or it’s an act of revenge--a vendetta." Well, no, it was both Mr. Pachachi. It was terrible incompetence by the American overseers (is anyone surprised, after all, this was a Bush 43 supervised event?). And, too, it gave more the appearance of an act of revenge/vendetta than application of deliberate justice (see the guards chanting praise to Moktada al Sadr moments before Saddam was hung). Put simply, another major setback to Iraqi national reconciliation, it would appear, not to mention the U.S. national interest.

As I recently wrote, this trial should have taken place in The Hague, or the U.S. should have better strived to recreate a more South African style Truth and Reconciliation Commission in tandem with the Iraqi authorities (yes, I know, this last easier said than done given the revanchist spirit among Iraq's Shi'a, especially post-Samarra mosque bombing, but that's yet another reason to have convened a properly constituted international tribunal where the proceedings wouldn't reek of victor's justice). Instead, as Glenn Greenwald aptly quips, "we can't even get a hanging right."

Yes, this latest blunder frustrates immensely, with the grainy cell phone video footage of a vigilante-style execution in dark, dungeon-looking surroundings causing yet another body blow to America's repute in the (non-Kuwaiti) Arab world (can someone please dispense with the sad joke that is Karen Hughes' supposed stewardship of her public diplomacy outfit, for where is the damage control after Condi Rice's description of cluster munitions littering southern Lebanon as constituting the "birth pangs" of a New Middle East, or now, Hughes' silence after this latest fiasco?).

But, in fairness, there is another grim reality here too, which is that spiraling events are overtaking us in Iraq at breakneck speed (while POTUS inexcusably dithers: "It's my job to listen to a lot of opinions and come up with a strategy that says we have a plan"). Much like the Iranian "diplomats" we handed back (apprehended at one of Mr. 80% Solution Abdul Aziz Hakim's complexes, reportedly specifically at Hadi al-Ameri's house, a leader of the Badr Organization, Hakim's militia!) because Maliki's government so insisted (though realistically we had little choice in the matter, all told), we were similarly barely able to exert control over the execution process, having apparently to fight to persuade Maliki's government to allow Saddam to be buried near his hometown, for instance, rather than in an unmarked grave.

(Incidentally, is it just me, or are tensions increasingly likely to explode between the U.S. and Iraqi Shi'a--arguably further exacerbated if we try a "surge" that, not least, will be aimed at securing mixed and Sunni quarters of Baghdad from Shi'a killing squads (this concern is a debatable proposition, but let's at least be sure to consider it before pulling the trigger on a surge)? More on this troubling trend here).

Finally, and related, don't miss Nir Rosen (excerpted below):

Saddam Hussein became the first modern Arab dictator to die violently since Egypt's Anwar Sadat in 1981. Saddam's hanging at the hands of chubby Iraqi men wearing ski masks is likely to be perceived by many as an American execution and as part of a trend of American missteps contributing to sectarian tensions in Iraq and the region. The trial of Saddam was viewed by detractors as an event stage-managed by the Americans. According to Human Rights Watch, the Iraqi judges and lawyers involved in prosecuting Saddam were ill prepared and relied on their American advisers. American minders shut off the microphones and ordered the translators to halt whenever they disapproved of what was being said by the defendants.

The important Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha was due to begin over the weekend. For Sunnis it began on Saturday the 30th of December. For Shias it begins on Sunday the 31st. According to tradition in Mecca, battles are suspended during the Hajj period so that pilgrims can safely march to Mecca. This practice even predated Islam and Muslims preserved this tradition, calling this period 'Al Ashur al Hurm,' or the months of truce. By hanging Saddam on the Sunni Eid the Americans and the Iraqi government were in effect saying that only the Shia Eid had legitimacy. Sunnis were irate that Shia traditions were given primacy (as they are more and more in Iraq these days) and that Shias disrespected the tradition and killed Saddam on this day. Because the Iraqi constitution itself prohibits executions from being carried out on Eid, the Iraqi government had to officially declare that Eid did not begin until Sunday the 31st. It was a striking decision, virtually declaring that Iraq is now a Shia state. Eid al Adha is the festival of the sacrifice of the sheep. Some may perceive it as the day Saddam was sacrificed.

Saddam had been in American custody and was handed over to Iraqis just before his execution. It is therefore hard to dismiss the perception that the Americans could have waited, because in the end it is they who have the final say over such events in Iraq. Iraqi officials have consistently publicly complained that they have no authority and the Americans control the Iraqi police and the Army. It is therefore unusual that Iraqis would suddenly regain sovereignty for this important event. For many Sunnis and Arabs in the region, this appears to be one president ordering the death of another president. It was possibly a message to Sunnis, a warning. The Americans often equated Saddam with the Sunni resistance to the occupation. By killing Saddam they were killing what they believed was the symbol of the Sunni resistance, expecting them to realize their cause was hopeless. Sunnis could perceive the execution, and its timing, as a message to them: "We are killing you." But Saddam's death might now liberate the Sunni resistance from association with Saddam and the Baathists. They can now more plausibly claim that they are fighting for national liberation and not out of support for the former regime as their American and Iraqi government opponents have so often claimed...

...The unofficial video of the execution, filmed on the mobile cell phone of one of the officials present is sure to further inflame sectarianism, because it is clearly a Shia execution. Men are heard talking, one of them is called Ali. As the executioners argue over how to best position the rope on his neck Saddam calls out to god, saying, "ya Allah." Referring to Shias, one official says "those who pray for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad have won!" Others triumphantly respond in the Shia chant: "Our God prays for Muhamad and the family of Muhamad." Others then add the part chanted by supporters of Muqtada al Sadr: "And speed his (the Mahdi's) return! And damn his enemies! And make his son victorious! Muqtada! Muqtada! Muqtada!"

Saddam then smiles and says something mocking about Muqtada. "Muqtada! It is this..." but the rest is blocked by the voices of officials saying "ila jahanam," or "go to Hell." Saddam looks down and says "Is this your manhood...?" As the rope is put around Saddam's neck somebody shouts "long live Muhamad Baqir al Sadr!" referring to an important Shia cleric who founded the Dawa Party and was also Muqtada's relative. Baqir al Sadr was executed by Saddam in 1980. He is venerated by all three major Shia movements in Iraq, the Dawa, the Sadrists and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Others insult Saddam. One man asks them to stop: "I beg you, I beg you, the man is being executed!" Saddam then says the Shahada, or testimony, that there is no god but Allah and Muhamad is his prophet. When he tries to say it again the trap door opens and he falls through to be hung. One man then shouts that "the tyranny has ended!" and others call out triumphal Shia chants. [emphasis added]

Yep, yet another blunder. Amateur hour, yet again, with this country's international position, national security, and related vital interests continuing to take a hammering globally.


Posted by Gregory at 04:49 PM | Comments (12)

"Surge" Query

The Keane/Kagan duo write in the Weekly Standard that a meaningful "surge" has to consist of at least 30,000 men and for at least 18 months. OK, nothing surprising there, this has been a Fred Kagan type outlook for many moons now. What caught my eye, however, was this snippet at the concluding graf:

The United States faces a dire situation in Iraq because of a history of half-measures. We have always sent "just enough" force to succeed if everything went according to plan. So far nothing has, and there's no reason to believe that it will. Sound military planning doesn't work this way. The only "surge" option that makes sense is both long and large. [emphasis added]

So here's a sincere question, not meant snarkily or to spur on polemics, but rather to foster constructive debate (after all, I'm someone who has supported the idea of a surge, albeit likely only if accompanied by an ISG style bona fide "diplomatic offensive", for reasons I'll detail further soon, but had initially broached at the link immediately above and here): Aren't Keane/Kagan very likely avoiding the painful reality that even 30,000 men for 18 months is in itself a "half-measure"? Isn't perhaps the force needed on the ground likely well above that figure, and don't we simply not have the men available in numbers of, say, 80,000-100,000 or more troops, so as to convincingly try to stem the tide of horrific sectarian violence via a massive insertion of soldiers that make for true overwhelming force, rather than a Potemkin display of same? (I am not a military expert, by any stretch, and would welcome informed views suggesting that 30,000 troops could really change the dynamic in Baghdad, but regardless, it's certainly an important debate to be having, one would think). This is a very topical question too, of course, as the ISG itself left the door open to a surge, and even Democratic politicans like Harry Reid have stated they could support it (though Lieberman appears the only Democrat, sorry "independent" Democrat, really cheerleading this one out front, and rather airily, I might add).

But here's another question worth considering seriously: if we insert 30,000 men, and instead of 5-6 soldiers getting killed every couple of days we start losing 12-15, say, and with no material, sustainable, convincing improvement in the strategic direction of the war--how long will the American public (not to mention Republicans up for re-election in '08) support such a move? As Novak writes here, there is much discomfort at a surge even in the reddest of red states like Mississippi. People should tread very, very carefully on this one, to say the least. Lives are at stake, perhaps many (we're already at the 3,000 mark), which is much more important than the reputations of cheap charlatans at Washington "think tanks" and newly minted "counterterrorism experts" getting ready to recycle their "stabbed in the back" myths and talking points.

P.S. Don't miss Chuck Hagel to Novak on the "surge" option: "It's Alice in Wonderland. I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly." Tough words from one of the Republicans I have the greatest respect for on the Hill. One thing is for sure, if the President expects to get real support for a surge, it better damn well be a surge that's part and parcel of a convincing larger strategy, and it better involve major moves on the regional diplomatic front, or it may well be dead on arrival in terms of real Hill and other support.


Posted by Gregory at 02:00 PM | Comments (31)

The Freshman

Deborah Solomon interviewed James Webb last Saturday over at the NYT Magazine. A couple excerpts, in case you missed:

Q: You previously belonged to the Republican Party and held two big positions — assistant secretary of defense and, later, secretary of the Navy — under President Reagan.

A: I am very proud to have served in the Reagan administration. He had the ability to inspire people in this country in terms of how they viewed themselves as Americans.

Q: Why did you decide to switch and become a Democrat?

A: A lot of people have left the Republican Party because they went over there like me on national-security issues and were never comfortable on other issues — social issues or issues of economic fairness — and now are beginning to see that the Democrats can have a stronger position on foreign policy.

And:

Q: As a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, do you have a timetable in mind for getting us out of Iraq?

A: I have a totally different view of timetables than most people. What we need before we start withdrawing large numbers of troops is some sort of a diplomatic environment in which we can decide how to withdraw our troops.

Q: Right, most Americans seem to agree that we need to involve other countries.

A: What has been missing for the last couple of years is the aggressive diplomatic approach that would then allow you to withdraw your troops. We have been doing this backward by putting the cart before the horse. [emphasis added]

Keep a close eye on Webb. I suspect he's going to be one of the very best pols we've got in the Senate--at least if you prefer independent thinkers to the goose-stepping herds that too often pass as legislators.

P.S. It's good to see some Senators like Dodd and Specter (who like Webb understand the critical importance of a region-wide diplomatic approach) ditching the Crawford variant of the Führerprinzip and traveling to places like Damascus to (unthinkable!) actually dialogue with leaders with whom relations are strained. Sacrilege for bovine true-believers, I know, but increasingly critical as the regional situation continues to dangerously deteriorate.

Posted by Gregory at 12:48 AM | Comments (7)

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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