August 24, 2007

What's Really "Inexcusable" Here?

I decided to read O'Hanlon & Pollack's full trip report to see if it provided more nuance, as they say, than the (now infamous) op-ed. Beyond being disappointed, I was frankly stunned by the report. Let me point out a few howlers. First, a couple quotes so risible they read like parody:

Ramadi is, to be sure, a badly damaged city. There has been hard fighting there for years, culminating in a major defeat for al-Qa’ida this March. But even in its bleakness, there were important signs of progress. For instance, the devastation requires legions of cleanup workers that American troops (though not yet the Iraqi government) have been able to hire and pay.

and;

Successful U.S. tactics have gone well beyond classic military measures. For example, coalition forces are now trying to remove nitric acid and urea from stores, since these are the ingredients for homemade explosives. As a result, when many car and truck bombs are detonated these days, they are often less powerful than before, further helping to explain the reduction in casualties (which appears to amount to roughly a one-third decline in the monthly rate since just before the surge began—meaning that while Iraq remains very violent, trends are clearly in the right direction at the moment).

I'm sorry, but when progress is being highlighted by showcasing the existence of large-scale clean-up crews to tidy up the devastation (and, mind you, crews the central government refuses to pay, as they employ Sunnis, so it's on Uncle Sam's dime!), or needing to rush about local stores to get the nitric acid off the shelves so the bombings aren't as gory (alas, this didn't help the Yezidis much), boy, you're really scraping the barrel I'm afraid.

But it gets worse, if you can believe it. In one passage (hold on to your seats), the duo actually chastise the Pentagon for not highlighting the good news enough:

The Pentagon has done a poor job to date of explaining our progress in its major documents. For example, its latest Quarterly Report to Congress on the war, released June 15, stated that civilian fatalities for the spring had not declined at all relative to the winter. That was probably inaccurate even at the time, according to DoD data we saw in Iraq, and in any event the situation this late spring/summer has improved substantially. Overall levels of violence against civilians in Iraq have declined by about one-third relative to their pre-surge winter levels. This is not nearly enough progress of course. It means Iraq is still witnessing perhaps 2,000 deaths a month from all forms of violence, comparable to the levels of 2004 and 2005 before the civil war really heated up. But things are finally headed in the right direction, to be sure. Nevertheless, the inability of the Pentagon (and the rest of the U.S. government) to disseminate relevant—and realistic—information to the American people is both part of the reason that the Bush Administration has lost credibility with the American people, and why so few Americans are even aware of the modest but important progress being made in Iraq, especially in the security sector. In a democracy, in the information age, this failing is inexcusable.

After all the Administration spin, distortions and, yes, lies, of the past half-decade, Pollack and O'Hanlon are upset the Government isn't better highlighting "modest but important progress", calling this shortcoming "inexcusable". Talk about a whopper! How about instead, Michael and Kenneth, greater doses of skepticism, such as Tony Cordesman's finding that the surge would have failed if it were not for the 'luck' of the Sunni tribal so-called 'awakening', and that sectarian killings continue apace, with rates of internally displaced actually increasing?

There's much more. Pollack and O'Hanlon, in a fit of Beltway-speak banality, allow: "Success is not guaranteed, and some measure of failure is still possible if not likely." First, of course success isn't guaranteed, second, to say failure is unlikely at this vantage point shows that Pollack and O'Hanlon are veering deeply into unreality. Success is still extremely low on the probability curve, I'm afraid, however judiciously defined, this type of airily aspirational gibberish aside. But O'Hanlon and Pollack insist on hammering away with such claptrap. Elsewhere, they write: "(h)owever, we caution that the U.S. is not yet irrevocably headed for success in Iraq, so the Administration and Congress should remain vigilant." The Administration should remain vigilant? Gee, you think? After the thousands dead and billions squandered the Administration, say, shouldn't just punt to a third-tier war tsar and hope for the best? You don't say....

More substantively, there are other significant issues with their trip report. Most alarmingly, and without even a Michael Gordon-like stab at sourcing, Pollack and O'Hanlon write:

There are other new tactics associated with the surge as well. As one case in point, we are now controlling more access points into Baghdad from the southeast. Doing so complicates Iran’s ability to supply al-Qa’ida as well as Shi’i militia forces with sophisticated deadly weaponry such as explosively formed penetrator devices. [emphasis added]

OK, well let's posit that Iran is helping procure EFPs for JAM and other renegade Shi'a militias. But al-Qaeda too? One can certainly be less than naive, and assume the Iranians are hedging their bets and occasionally assisting radical Sunni elements in Iraq too, but A) this hasn't been conclusively established, at least as far as I'm aware and B) even if assistance by Iran to Sunni radicals operating in Iraq is firmly established beyond a reasonable doubt, Pollack and O'Hanlon display an alarming tendency to conflate varied Sunni radicals under the al-Qaeda banner, in very Joe Lieberman-esque fashion, shall we say.

In addition, Pollack and O'Hanlon's contention run contra the NIE, which states:

Over the next year Tehran, concerned about a Sunni reemergence in Iraq and US efforts to limit Iranian influence, will continue to provide funding, weaponry, and training to Iraqi Shia militants. Iran has been intensifying aspects of its lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants, particularly the JAM, since at least the beginning of 2006.

The NIE finds the Iranians "concerned about a Sunni reemergence in Iraq" and thus arming and funding Shi'a bad actors, while Pollack and O'Hanlon, without deigning to source or otherwise buttress their contention, breezily let fly that Iran has supplied al-Qaeda with EFPs. If there are rumblings of discontent with the (too cozy) foreign policy fraternity, this type of casual group-think, given the real risks this disgraced Administration will stumble to war with Iran with catastrophic consequences, might be a leading Exhibit A.

Beyond this, Pollack and O'Hanlon display other egregious errors of basic judgment. Despondent about the lack of progress at the national level regarding reconciliation, they declare:

Consequently, it is a mistake for the United States to be focusing its main efforts and resources on the national government in Baghdad. It is badly deadlocked and the U.S. strategy should be to try to minimize the central government’s influence and meddling throughout the country. The U.S. government must make a maximal effort to push resources and authority out or away from the central government in Baghdad and out to provincial and local level governments where smart, flexible American military and civilian personnel are generally able to identify competent Iraqi partners and fashion specific responses to local needs.

The fatal flaw in this prescription is blindingly clear, as well as the reason Pollack and O'Hanlon make such a clumsy error. Regarding the latter, they were taken around on an 8-day dog and pony show, and so became overly credulous that progress in places like Ramadi and Mosul (which they are more bullish about than I) can be replicated throughout the country. Regarding the former, if "maximal effort(s) to push resources and authority out...from the central government" are made in Basra, say, or Najaf, or Karbala (where Shi'a militias predominate), or parts of Anbar (Haditha, say) or Baqubah or Ninawa or the southern 'belts' of Baghdad (still quite infiltrated by al-Qaeda and other assorted Sunni radical groups) , this will not lead to a spirited 'bottom-up' process of greater Iraqi cohesiveness, but rather greater atomization, local militiazation, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, town-by-town, region-by-region protection rackets--a Hobbesian hell of competing sub-factional and sub-ethnic rivalries, beyond the larger engulfing Sunni-Shi'a tension-- playing out throughout the country.

Pollack and O'Hanlon compound this flawed reasoning in their report, taking the example of the police. They write:

One solution increasingly being embraced across central, northern, and western Iraq is to try to stand up local police forces (called Iraqi Police, IPs) instead of relying on the NPs [national police]. In many sectors, this has been a very effective solution because the IPs are made up of people from the town or neighborhood, who know the people and the streets and are committed to working with the Americans and the Iraqi Army to provide security for their people.

This approach is akin, say before the Bosnia war broke out in earnest, to having U.S. military forces arm Fikrit Abdic's forces near Velika Kladusha, mujaheedin-affiliated Bosniaks operating near Zenica, Izetbegovic's main-line Bosniak forces in Sarajevo, Bosnian Serbs in Banja Luka under Karadzic, Mladic affiliated JNA operating near the border with Serbia proper, as well as Hercegovinian Croats in West Mostar, to then say, OK boys, have at it! It is a recipe for a massive debacle, likely well worse than if we gradually re-deploy and let the Iraqis (however painful the process may prove) sort through their power-sharing modalities, as at least then we'll not have pumped additional armaments and training into the local mix, and can instead focus on ensuring less regional meddling by better concentrating on border areas and/or comprehensive diplomatic efforts.

Pollack and O'Hanlon write:

Finally, the utter stagnation of the “top-down” political process is made more obvious and more inexcusable by the relative progress being made from the “bottom-up” security and local economic/political processes.

"Inexcusable" is a word they toss around a few times in their report, whether because the US Government hasn't deigned to propagandize effectively enough for them, or because the USG isn't pursuing a 'bottom-up' strategy, and so on. But what is really "inexcusable" is that soi disant serious think-tankers would return from a Potemkin exercise through 'Awakened' Anbar and set-piece portions of Baghdad, to then splashily announce in the pages of the New York Times that victory may well be nigh, if only our men keep dying in a simmering civil war that is not related to protecting the American homeland in any material way, and then slapping together a trip report full of flawed recommendations, unproven contentions that could prove to have tremendously dangerous ramifications (war with Iran, say), and other such haberdashery. That's inexcusable, all right.

P.S. Don't miss this revealing part of the report either: "Over the long term, the United States must be looking to draw down its force levels in Iraq overall—probably to 100,000 or fewer troops--by about 2010/2011." I don't know about you, but do you think it's a reasonable use of the American armed forces to have 100,000 of our men still in Mesopotamia 4-5 years from now?


Posted by Gregory at August 24, 2007 07:24 PM
Comments

Excellent deconstruction of Pollack and O'Hanlon. Long long ago, I had a reasonable amount of respect for each of these gentlemen. Don't quite now how they lost their way and graduated from drinking the KoolAid dished out by this administration to spiking it and setting up their very own KoolAid stand. Can't quite understand what could possibly account for their inability to see reality...and quite sad that it is necessary to debunk their arguments lest they become fodder for the Deadenders supporting Bush & Co.

Posted by: Rajen Parekh at August 24, 2007 10:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm entertained that the US is making wonderful progress because it is successfully chasing around cleaning up the devastation wrought freely and continually by the insurgents, in this country the US destroyed.

Posted by: Joe Slaveryman at August 24, 2007 10:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does Mike Schueuer's Imperial Hubris extend,ultimately, to this class of
dillentantes? In Pollack's case, sorry to say and likely be banned for saying, such is the air of unreality juxtaposed with real power-brokering in America....dual loyalty is in play.

Posted by: Ken Hoop at August 25, 2007 12:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I too was dismayed that the "8-day dog-and-pony show" Messrs. Pollack and O'Hanlon did not afford them anything close to the full immersion in the Iraq experience Greg undertook during his own most recent trip to Baghdad.

But I was more interested in hearing his views on exactly how far away the recommendations of these two gentlemen were from those of Anthony Cordesman, who was on the same trip. I found Cordesman's reporting and analysis more penetrating, or at least more persuasive, and he did not have the poor judgment to try to cram his thinking into a New York Times Op-Ed (to the headline writer of which, rather than Pollack and O'Hanlon, evidently belongs the responsibility for "The War We Just Might Win" phrase). Having said that, his recommendations and theirs appeared not all that far apart. Both reflect a fear of what would happen to Iraq if the American army left greater than any concern about the strain on the American army and its personnel if it stayed in Iraq indefinitely. Both also appear to accept that Iraq not only is but ought to remain the preeminent American foreign policy priority for, as the expression goes, "as long as it takes."

For my part, I don't know what would happen to Iraq if the American army left. We should be very clear that things there could, very possibly, get very bad. They could get much worse than they are now. If that happens, it happens. I'm not anxious to see a regional war, and since most of the neighboring states are (rightly) deathly afraid of this very thing it should be possible to avoid it. There are other things we might be able to do by way of damage control as well.

The bottom line, though, is that this is not the spring of 2003 any more. The future of Iraq, if it ever mattered enough to sacrifice American lives, pour out (borrowed) American funds as if from a firehose, and absorb the entire attention of the American government for, doesn't now. There are still lots of things we should do in Iraq, but the one thing we must do is to liquidate the American military commitment there.

I doubt I'll have much to argue with Gen. Petraeus about, with respect to his analysis of the tactical situation in Iraq. No amount of progress he could report in September, or that we could last January have expected him to report, will bear on the relevant political questions -- not Iraq's political questions, but our own. For how much longer is one, mid-sized Arab country going to be America's top foreign policy priority? For how long will it absorb more of our resources and attention than every other part of the world combined?

I understand the myriad tactical and logistical questions surrounding an American withdrawal are difficult; they will not become less so over time. The politics of the region could head in the wrong direction as our army withdraws from Iraq; this is happening now. Analysts respected and reviled both lament that "we have no good options." That is not a prescription for refusing to pick one.

It appears the political world in this country has fully taken on the idea that it is Gen. Petraeus' judgment of the tactical situation that will indicate the path forward in Iraq. The idea is completely wrong, not only because Petraeus' report will necessarily be ambiguous but because it will not address the essential issue facing the United States. Gen. Petraeus at least can excuse himself by pointing out that doing so would be inconsistent with his position as an officer on active duty. No one in the administration or Congress has that excuse.

Posted by: Zathras at August 25, 2007 01:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

hoop,
How dare you suggest that the egyptian born israeli, Haim Saban who funds Brookings,pollack and ohanlon would not be only concerned with US interests!

Posted by: pereetz at August 25, 2007 01:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

zathras:

"For my part, I don't know what would happen to Iraq if the American army left. We should be very clear that things there could, very possibly, get very bad. They could get much worse than they are now. If that happens, it happens. I'm not anxious to see a regional war, and since most of the neighboring states are (rightly) deathly afraid of this very thing it should be possible to avoid it. There are other things we might be able to do by way of damage control as well.

The bottom line, though, is that this is not the spring of 2003 any more. The future of Iraq, if it ever mattered enough to sacrifice American lives, pour out (borrowed) American funds as if from a firehose, and absorb the entire attention of the American government for, doesn't now. There are still lots of things we should do in Iraq, but the one thing we must do is to liquidate the American military commitment there."


so we're all in agreement that we should abandon friends and allies in the most strategically important region of the world, which is also the home of the largest and currently most militant religion in the world, to a genocidal bloodbath.

and this makes the world safer for liberal democracy.....how?

Posted by: neill at August 25, 2007 03:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Shiites and Sunni Arabs of Iraq are not our friends, any region's "strategic importance" is rendered ambiguous in the absence of a stretegy, and the liberal democracy that matters is our own. There is nothing like it in the environs of Baghdad or Basra, and there isn't going to be.

Americans who think we ought to be paralyzed by the fear of catastrophe into staying on the Iraq treadmill can take heart that one of their own sits behind the big desk in the Oval Office. Which catastrophe ought to paralyze us varies from day to day: one day Iraqi terrorists in Kansas City, the next a genocide that could threaten these same terrorists' families. Taking counsel of one's fears in this way has not traditionally been thought Presidential, but in George W. Bush's Washington the traditional rules have changed.

Posted by: Zathras at August 25, 2007 05:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

duh.

anyone with a lick of sense knows shrub ginned up 9-11 for political gain.

stretegery.

Posted by: neill at August 25, 2007 06:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The Shiites and Sunni Arabs of Iraq are not our friends, any region's "strategic importance" is rendered ambiguous in the absence of a stretegy, and the liberal democracy that matters is our own. There is nothing like it in the environs of Baghdad or Basra, and there isn't going to be....."


btw zathras, that "strategic importance" I highlighted to refers to the region containing two-thirds of known petroleum reserves and 40% of natural gas worldwide.

which I'm sure you're aware of already.

sure you're not a republican, circa 1939?

Posted by: neill at August 25, 2007 11:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: you have done a great deconstruction and it makes depressing reading. Our academics and politicians have demonstrated, once again, how they have lost their way because the conclusions don't come out of the evidence and analyses but are written into it because of their dependence on others to get such work done. The great curse in Washington is the think tanks. Funded by men and women with political agendas, which includes maintaining support for Israel and domestic right-wing and left wing causes, these places are filled with individuals whose first allegiance is to their peers and funding sources. Scholarship and integrity have given way to propaganda and group think.

Posted by: Alan at August 25, 2007 01:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I want to know why (if it's true) Zathras doesn't have a regular blog. Would he/she/it/them respond to a draft?

Posted by: CharleyCarp at August 25, 2007 01:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

so we're all in agreement that we should abandon friends and allies in the most strategically important region of the world, which is also the home of the largest and currently most militant religion in the world, to a genocidal bloodbath.

The train's left the barn on that one. It's also gained a full head of steam and is about halfway to Sarajevo by now. What you talk about is already occuring, and the only question remains is how many American troops will get killed in the process.

Posted by: Doug H. at August 25, 2007 02:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't understand one thing -- what would prompt such ostensibly intelligent men to drink the Kool-Aid at this late stage? In his book, Pollack, while in favor of taking Saddam out, suggested a timeline for that project lasting several years -- he was never more gung-ho on this stuff than e.g. Cheney. I don't doubt that their report is riddled with mistakes and sloppy reasoning.

The question is why.

Posted by: Martin at August 25, 2007 03:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is not 1939. There is nothing remotely in the air (except the desperation resulting from disastrous policy choices implemented in criminally incompetent fashion)that would lead one to think there was a resemblance between now and then.

Getting out of Iraq now will offer us the best chance to positively influence a region whose strategic importance----while wildly over hyped by those ignorant of history, and entities that want to use the American military as their cat's paw-----is of some interest to us. Staying in Iraq will weaken us, and our allies, in the region. As it has already. But getting out means admitting that Bush, Cheney, Kristol, et al, and the vast majority of the American people were wrong. Dead wrong. Interestingly, and objectively, it seems to me that the American people have had little problem admitting their mistake/s and changing their minds. It is the politicians, and their cheerleaders, who have resisted facing reality the most. Indeed, one might call them the true dead enders. And they have the power to keep us there, and keep us there they will.....American interests be damned. And those who disagree with them are, essentially, called traitors. That's your Bush.

Posted by: jonst at August 25, 2007 03:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I thank CharleyCarp for his very kind words upthread. If he goes back in Greg's archives to April and May of 2005 he will discover a period during which Greg turned this blog over to me; so, at various times, have Dan Drezner, Pejman Yousefzadeh and Eric Umansky. And back in 1939 there was just no stopping me.

Guest blogging is one thing; permanent blogging under my own name would, I fear, create complications for me and the organizations I work for and with, sooner or later. My professional life is mostly about public policy, and requires in my judgment a restrained and amiable public profile to which my writing style does not always contribute. I don't value notoriety, and know how limited are the opportunities for bloggers to influence public policy; also, the time required to research and source regular blog posts is considerable, much more than the time required to spin up comments as I do now. So permanent blogging will have to remain a path not taken as far as I am concerned.

Posted by: Zathras at August 25, 2007 08:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

for the record, my allusion to republicans in 1939 referred only to their isolationism.

yet, there is a parallel of sorts to 1939 for those with a modicum of imagination -- something in rather short supply around here.

Europe's fearful appeasement of Hitler, rather than confronting him before he had assembled the power to run roughshod over the continent, led directly to the virtual destruction of the continent by war's end. It was a tragic failure of imagination on the part of european leadership.

The lcurrent iberal portrayal of a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq as a "solution" to the conflict there, rather than throwing gasoline or rather dynamite on a fire and then running away, is criminal.

Few in the 30's foresaw the horrific destruction of the impending conflict. Few liberals now are willing to contemplate the potential chaos of their desired actions. Another failure of imagination.

and as we know, al quaeda thrives on chaos.

Posted by: neill at August 25, 2007 09:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

to continue the analogy, liberals urging an immediate cut-off of aid to South Vietnam in 1975 had no clue to the bloodbath that would ensue, a la statements at the time from John Kerry, Chris Dodd and many others.

How's that for a failure of imagination?

Is it a coincidence that Shiite militants toppled our another ally just four years later in Iran, just the beginning of a nightmarish continuum in which we are still embroiled today and will be for decades at least?

I think not.

Posted by: neill at August 25, 2007 10:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Re: the comment above where a commenter suggested he might get banned, I'm too much of a luddite to ban commenters and such (which is perhaps, along with time limitations, why i've had to tolerate mindless trolls spamming comments w/ abandon too often here), but please, no 'dual loyalty' canards in this space, ok? Ken Pollack might be wrong as hell re: the state of Iraq, but he's calling it like he sees it, however misguidedly, but in terms of the American national interest. Period. Re: another commenter, sure, let's by all means discuss who is funding what think-tank (Saban, etc), but let's not lob incendiary accusations of dual loyalty around, willy-nilly, about individuals w/out any plausible evidencing of same. thanks in advance.

Posted by: greg djerejian at August 25, 2007 11:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agreed. Let's not accuse Pollard of double loyalty.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 26, 2007 05:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, I for one, must admit to a lack of imagination when compared to the neo cons whose imagination, regarding the end/s they desire, seems boundless, to me.

That said, I do have, I believe, enough imagination to guess what the weary people of Europe (those still alive after the slaughter of WWI/flu epidemic) must have thought when confronting 'leaders' warning that it was better to stop the old, and recent, foe (read, go to war) sooner than later. They, the survivors, were not looking towards the future. They were looking at the recent past. And they not going to risk that kind of past again unless it was on their front door. Unfortunately, it came to their front door. But they, the survivors of WWI/flu epidemic, should be sympathized with...instead of the scorn they so often receive for not 'standing up sooner'. In any event, I repeat my opinion that the situation in 1939 offers nothing for us to learn from now. The isolationism the Americans felt, given what they had witnessed in Europe during the War and the post War years, made their isolationism logical and understandable, if wrong, in the long run.

Today the question is not "isolationism" or not. Would that it was, from my vantage point. It is what kind of involvement. It is not practical to be an 'isolationist' today and get elected; and neocons, for all their employment of the word, and the metaphor, are hard pressed to find an isolationist in the Dem party. At least in the Congress. The issue now is the following: is involvement to be American dominated, or multinational dominated. I think we know where the Bolton/Kristol crowd stands on this. And I think it fair to say we know where the Pelosi types stand. That is a caricaturization of the split. But I believe it fairly accurate.

But neocons can't resist the argument because it (in their minds...and to a lessor extent with the media)makes their opponents out to be Neville Chamberlain and them to Winston.

As to 1975....given the chronology it is tempting to say 'we left, massacres happened' therefore our leaving caused the massacres. You could just as soon make an argument that our (colonial powers) being there made that kind of thing, if not inevitable, highly likely. And I do make that argument.

Finally, as to AQ (to the severely limited extent that that term has any general, agreed upon meaning any more) "thriving in chaos".....I would be cautious there. Lets see how they do in Iraq as events, chaotically, I suspect, unfold there. I think that no matter what happens..... AQ's days, at least in Iraq, are limited.

Posted by: jonst at August 26, 2007 12:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg: since I raised the issue of who is funding what and dual loyalty let me just put this out and take any heat if needed. The funding of think tanks, a relatively recent thing in Washington has given rise to the kind of report which only see daylight if they conform to the supporting norms of the tt. Now O'Hanlon and Pollack are absolutely free to take money from any source, but when I see that and the objectives of the tt I can make a judgemnt of their writing accordingly. As for dual loyalty: sure let us leave that out because it goes to questioning the credibility and integrity of individuals and can be unfair at best. But I hope you are not suggesting that foreign forces don't influence Washington policy all the time. The most recent disclosures about the Ayad Allawi lobbying should make us want to know what other forces influence policy in Washington besides the positions taken by American interests.

Posted by: Alan at August 26, 2007 01:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

guys: let's not make a mountain of a molehill here. j thomas (perhaps inadvertently) makes the point well. pollard is a bona fide traitor, and as such, human pond scum. Pollack, not. Thus floating the dual loyalty charge vis a vis Ken P is a canard, in my view, as there's absolutely not one iota of evidence of that, at least as far as I'm aware.

That said, however, and per Alan's last, I'm open to people looking under the hood of think-tank funding sources and seeing how it might impact general lines of inquiry, overarching orientations etc. etc. in terms of policy recommendations.

heck, come to think of it, i'm open to thinking (pun intended) about whether think tanks really serve as a 'value-add' in terms of the policy debates with any real frequency, or whether the vast majority of the time it's mostly quasi-masturbatory drivel of no real utility (of course, same could be said of the cyber-reams of blog-output churned out by some like yours truly).

i mean, think-tanks (at least in the large number we have here in the u.s.) appear to be something of a peculiarily U.S. phenomenon, and our greatest diplomats (think George Kennan, say) certainly didn't need to rely on think-tank output in crafting the foreign policy of these United States.

but who knows, perhaps we're dealing with such a quality/talent deficit all around it's just all hands on deck and hope the best policy comes out of on the other end...though that certainly hasn't been these case these past years...

Posted by: greg djerejian at August 26, 2007 02:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

EFP factories HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED IN IRAQ - THEY DON'T NEED IRAN'S HELP ferchrissakes! This is ANCIENT technology - used everywhere from Ireland and Algeria to the oil industry IN IRAQ.

http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/get_the_facts_straight_on_iran.php

http://www.iranaffairs.com

Posted by: hass at August 26, 2007 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It might be helpful on this point to step back and consider that people in the United States have only thought about an international environment that did not pose some kind of existential threat for a relatively brief period.

For obvious reasons American thinking about foreign affairs revolved around the, threat of the Axis Powers during the war, and about the Soviet Union afterward (prior to World War II, of course, foreign affairs had been of intermittent interest only to most Americans). The period between the Soviet collapse and 9/11 was almost exactly ten years: historically, the blink of an eye. During this time Americans chose two successive Presidents whose entire careers had been spent dealing with matters other than international relations -- and during this time, as well, the agencies that had traditionally implemented American foreign policy in areas from foreign aid to public diplomacy were starved of funding, reorganized out of existence, or both.

So the question -- what is the American national interest? -- is a question without the context most Americans had grown familiar with, and that finds the government less equipped to help answer than it had been previously. In one sense, as we have seen, 9/11 helped some people get around this problem by creating the prospect of a new, at least potentially existential threat in the form of Islamist terrorism. This, however, is not much help with respect to all the other issues facing the United States in foreign and national security affairs.

Concerning these there has been something of a vacuum in American thinking on foreign policy, a vacuum which some people have been tempted to fill by interpreting the agendas of other countries (and even of political movements within other countries) as not only consistent with but integral to America's own interests. Even Americans with credentials testifying to their expertise, or at least to their connections, in the field are apt to evaluate situations overseas in terms of what is important to the people there rather than what is important to the United States.

It is obvious, at least to me, that this risks putting the United States in positions of disadvantage in all sorts of ways. Several of these relate to Israel; to cite only the most important one, the United States has no national interest whatever in who governs what part of the West Bank of the Jordan River, yet it has been drawn willy-nilly into being widely associated with the expansion of Israeli settlements there.

Some of the bitterest critics of this situation object to it only because they would prefer the United States to favor the Palestinians, which further illustrates my point. The problem I'm describing arises, for the most part, not from dual loyalties but rather from a certain immaturity in the way Americans look at foreign affairs. Americans believe deeply in our values; they care about our security. They are often at sea when called upon to consider our interests, and so can find themselves responding to the certainty and passion with which other people approach other people's causes.

Posted by: Zathras at August 26, 2007 06:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whilst it is true that few US chickenhawks saw the horrific destruction which would arise from their attempt to seize the oil of Iraq, and the chaos that would ensue when due to their own fear they repeated Stalin's mistake of firing anyone competent who dared speak truth to power, those are mistakes gone past by fools long proven incompetent.

Posted by: Howard Stern at August 26, 2007 06:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras,

I have wondered myself, from time to time, why it is worth a good deal of blood and hatred for the US to strongly support the Israeli settlement expansion? What in the world is the US getting out of this?

It does not appear to be getting Israeli military support out of it -- I don't see any Israeli soldiers dieing in place of US soldiers as a payback, either in the past or near future?

I don't see the US getting oil out of Israel either -- in fact, it tends to cause quite a negative effect on US oil supplies?

Posted by: Howard Stern at August 26, 2007 06:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

jonst,

don't get me wrong about europe in the 30s. I understand why they reacted as they did to Hitler's aggression. But their inability to correctly read the writing on the wall repeatedly and take appropriate action I cannot sympathize with. The cost of their failure was just too staggering. I mean, it is what it is.

That's why given the choice to either hand al quaeda a historic propaganda victory in their david/goliath/God-is-on-our side narrative, or absolutely humiliate them before the world and their homies (1.2 billion muslims) -- there is no choice in my mind. The Congress will make that choice in the next month or so.

As to Vietnam, it's a chicken-egg thing. We cut off funding, the South fell, slaughterhouse. Do you think that when the Soviets and the Chinese opened their newspapers and read the news about our pulling the plug, they immediately said 'oh yeah we should do that too'?

Colonialism caused the slaughter? We created a power vacuum and then disenabled the South Vietnamese from filling it. The commies were ready and enabled, and filled it. And then did what they wanted. it ain't rocket science.

The world noticed. Khomeini noticed. Al-Zawahiri noticed, and taunts us to this day about what pussies we were and are. A message that resonates, especially in the muslim world.

The world watches our every move, carefully.

Posted by: neill at August 26, 2007 07:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are a couple of factors. One is that the high level of American aid to Israel (and Egypt) is a legacy of the time over three decades ago when the aid was seen as a lubricant in peace negotiations. Not incidentally, this was during the Cold War, when the radical Arab cause in the Mideast that is now championed by ostentatiously pious Muslims was being sponsored by the officially atheistic Soviet Union and aggressively secular Arab regimes. Israel was a valuable Cold War ally, and Washington sought as well to confirm the turn away from the Soviets and toward the West that Egypt had made under Sadat.

Another is that American administrations before the current one had always argued against Israeli settlements on the West Bank. They wanted to reduce the number of Israeli-Arab flashpoints, not increase it. But they underestimated how serious a problem large and expanding settlements would prove to be, and they were always hamstrung by Congressional opposition when it came to exerting effective pressure on the Israeli government to stop them. Then and later, Congressmen and Senators working on Middle Eastern issues tended to see them in terms of threats to Israel's survival, something the Israeli government did not discourage.

So simple inertia is a factor here, as in everything else. But it is also true that within the United States the people who feel most strongly about West Bank settlements tend to be for them -- some because of family connections, but more because lacking a strong sense of what America's interests in the region are, they defer to the passionate conviction of those who see settlements and Israel as indistinguishable.

Posted by: Zathras at August 26, 2007 07:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill,

We handed AQ, in general, and AQ in Iraq (again, to the limited extent that latter term has any meaning) a propaganda victory a long, long, long, time ago by our idiotic plan to invade a Muslim nation. The propaganda victory was cemented by our failure to pull off the invasion in a sucessful manner. And perhaps anticipating you, please spare me the 'well the initial invasion worked but the subsequent occupation failed' argument. You may think the two are separable, I don't. Its akin to saying that the surgery was a success but the patient died.

I am much less concerned with (not unconcerned, but "less concerned") with propaganda defeats than I am with on the ground strategic defeats. That is what I believe we risk in Iraq if we stay. This scope and depth of the defeat is exponentially increased if we attack Iran.

Fall back...reorganize, and protect our remaining 'allies' in the region. Clean out the stables in the military and produce leaders that will not be intimated by ideologues. See the Col Paul Yingling article (among many others) for more a knowledgeable and specific discussion of what I refer to.

http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/06/2799053

As to the looking like pussies.....it makes no sense to me. You may be correct.....however I simply find that perspective incomprehensible. It would have us 'cashing endless supplies of checks' for fear that we would look like paupers. I believe AQ has us where they want us. In a land war in a Muslim nation. I believe it is decimating our ground forces and dangerously weakening the military in general. To say nothing of the huge and costly loss of 'soft power' that we employed so skillfully in the Cold War. It's not being PERCEIVED as a 'pussy' I fear. Its being a god damn strategic incompetent who suffers defeat after defeat that would keep me up at night.

Posted by: jonst at August 26, 2007 07:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

jonst:

"I think that no matter what happens..... AQ's days, at least in Iraq, are limited."

"I believe AQ has us where they want us. In a land war in a Muslim nation."

???

If the US is ultimately successful in standing up an Iraq that can sustain and protect itself as a non-threatening muslim nation, and we can leave, I don't think muslims will have a problem with that by and large. That would be a tremendous boost for the US and the West. And the fat lady hasn't sung on that one yet.

I also think aqi is not happy to be in its shoes right now, and won't be for much longer.

I also think that Iraq without aqi will be a MUCH calmer place.

When I say pussy, I refer specifically to the biggest guy in the room who gets into a brawl and then midway thru cuts and runs, leaving his friends at the mercy of the other side. Also known as a 'weak horse'.

I think the Thirld World was absolutely shocked to see the all-powerful victor of WW2 run from a fight, abandoning an ally. It was all too clear to many that this was not your father's America. The past quarter centry has borne the very bitter fruit of that.

Posted by: neill at August 26, 2007 08:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have a distinct memory from before the war began in 2002 of Michael O'Hanlon arguing for the war, on several occasions. Then following the war, he came on shows like the Today Show to argue against the war. I remember distinctly that I knew he was not one to be trusted. Why did the producers of the Today Show allow him on, I thought.

This is such a sad period in our history.

Posted by: Dan at August 26, 2007 08:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill,

The following sentences are not contradictory to me:

"I think that no matter what happens..... AQ's days, at least in Iraq, are limited."

"I believe AQ has us where they want us. In a land war in a Muslim nation."

AQ has made a tactical mistake and will be slaughtered, is in the process of being slaughtered, by the indigenous forces in Iraq. This process began before the so called Surge began. The tribal Sunni forces, the Shia forces, and the Kurds all hate them. The Syrians are, at best, suspicious of them, and the Iranians hate them. Their days are numbered. In the mean time they have US, not themselves, where they want us....trying to occupy a Muslim nation.

Muslims in Iraq will not be grateful to us if we 'stand up' Iraq. They want the infidel out. Period. Once they have used us for their own ends that is.

You think the world was stunned to see the 'winner of WWII' get run out of a nation, run from a fight, as you say. I think the world was stunned to see us waste ourselves on a hopeless cause. Again, you are implying they were saying 'how cowardly could they be' and I think they were saying 'how stupid to fail to see that the days of colonial wars was over'. Ike saw it....he feared a land war in Asia. Hell, go back to the LBJ phone call file that Greg posted..... LBJ knew it well enough. But he kept 'cashing the check'.

Once we were out of Vietnam the Mao decided to side with the so called paper tiger.....not with the Soviets. As did Vietnam itself...eventually. Again, not with the Soviets or Chinese. Again, they seemed to want this 'pussy' paper tiger to be their ally. Japan stayed with us and doubled their bets in fact. So did the rest of our allies. And Egypt seemed to think we were no 'pussies'. They sided with us after 1973. As did Europe in the confrontation with the Soviets regarding the placement of nuclear weapons in the 1980s. The world sided with us in 1990 in the Gulf. And in the Balkans (leaving aside the Russians) in the late 90s. I repeat...I just don't get this 'pussy' stuff. Because we got the hell out of Somalia? Hell, we never should have been there. The world sided with us when we ran the Taliban out of Afghanistan. But none of that seems to have impacted your view....we are perceived as 'pussies'. Makes me wonder.

Posted by: jonst at August 26, 2007 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg--
simple comment: Hilary Bok spells her first name with one 'l', not two.

tell your other fellow guest-bloggers, okay?

Posted by: kid bitzer at August 26, 2007 09:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill:

Are you implying that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were not being killed until we pulled out? How stupid is that?

You also need to stop with the World War II era analogies. They have no relationship to what is going on today. As the US has been demonstrating for the last five years, it is difficult to win a war of ideas and ideologies militarily. Al Qaeda has conquered no countries and does not pose a conventional threat to the US. Or since you insist on analogies from that era, what the US has done in response to 9/11 is analogous to going to war with Brazil after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Posted by: Tom S at August 26, 2007 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, AQ has managed to eliminate Saddam, perhaps their most dangerous anti-Wahabbi enemy near their Saudi base. Granted, they didn't do it militarily, rather they tricked some dupe (Bush) into doing it for them, but nonetheless, they did destroy that enemy quite effectively.

Posted by: Jose Maria at August 26, 2007 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Muslims in Iraq will not be grateful to us if we 'stand up' Iraq. They want the infidel out. Period. Once they have used us for their own ends that is.

You think the world was stunned to see the 'winner of WWII' get run out of a nation, run from a fight, as you say. I think the world was stunned to see us waste ourselves on a hopeless cause. Again, you are implying they were saying 'how cowardly could they be' and I think they were saying 'how stupid to fail to see that the days of colonial wars was over'."


I think your first statement is simplistic nonsense. Have you read bloggers like Michael Totten and Bill Roggio with reports from Iraq? The monolithic public opinion you portray doesnt exist over there.

We didn't 'get run out' of Vietnam, we ran out of our own volition. Big difference. Largely because of Tet, a military success portrayed by our media and the loud Left as a military disaster. (aqi is struggling to come up with their own Tet, but hopefully they won't be able to manage it).

Hopeless cause? Liberals seem to have a rigid attachment to the idea of pre-destination, the march of progress that is pre-determined which finds its roots in Stalinist propaganda.

Nothing is pre-determined, especially war, where often the most important elements are sheer endurance and making less mistakes than the other side.

Posted by: neill at August 26, 2007 11:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I enjoyed your dissecton of O'Hanlon & Pollack's full trip report, but there seems to still be an assumption on your part that if "The Surge" were somehow to be successful, this would be a good thing. I disagree with your unspoken premise, and here is why:

The best way to dissuade future administrations from this sort of opportunistic adventurism is for the United States to be thoroughly humiliated and discredited, most importantly at home, but also abroad. This will in effect save thousands of lives by forestalling this sort of behavior. It's called "The Vietnam Syndrome", the unwillingness to support agression against those unlucky enough to live in the rest of the world. What we do in the Third World is mostly evil, exploitative and wrong, and our defeat will give our victims some respite. I realize that the United States is too powerful to be thoroughly defeated, but even 20 years of inhibition will save countless lives. Losing wars can be a very good thing for nations; we don't worry about the Germans or Japanese anymore, do we? I know there are good aspects to our foreign policy, but it is mostly tainted by considerations of self-interest, and it does not outweigh, in my opinion, the harm we do. The important thing is to walk that fine line between a defeat that sours America on further agression and a defeat that provokes fantasies of revenge against "stabs in the back" and the like. That is why the current situation is desirable: a slow, grinding descent into futility, untainted by delusions of nobilty in defeat. It's for our own (and the rest of the world's) good, believe me.

Posted by: spike at August 26, 2007 11:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

following the invitation to comment from Andrewsullivan.com... re 'Iran funding al-Qaeda'...

I have not been following the latest diplomatic issues regarding Iran, except to not that it is a semi-totalitarian society without a unitary source of power. Rather, there are a few power networks (Mullahs, civil administration, two or more military structures) that are allies in the project of controlling Iran and advancing Iran's interest, but each having its own foreign policy, as it were. This makes it a murky question as to what Iran's foreign policy is, really.

Setting aside that issue, is there any evidence of any part of the Iranian power structures supporting al-Qaeda? Support for Hamas, sure. Support for Hezbollah, of course. Support for the Iraqi Shia politicians and strongmen who it protected in Iran over the last 20 years, absolutely.

But al-Qaeda? The al-Qaeda who acted as Taliban muscle and murdered Iranian diplomats? The al-Qaeda that wants the US out of the middle east so that it can proceed with a civil war against Arab shi'ites?

Aside from a White House that deliberately mixes up and conflates various factions and sects in order bamboozle the American public, is there any evidence that any part of the Iranian government is supporting al-Qaeda? How can O'Pollock (or whoever it was) breezily assert such a thing? Or have I missed some really major tectonic shifts in the middle east over the last few years?

Posted by: Xenos at August 27, 2007 01:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Muslims in Iraq will not be grateful to us if we 'stand up' Iraq. They want the infidel out. Period. Once they have used us for their own ends that is.

You think the world was stunned to see the 'winner of WWII' get run out of a nation, run from a fight, as you say. I think the world was stunned to see us waste ourselves on a hopeless cause. Again, you are implying they were saying 'how cowardly could they be' and I think they were saying 'how stupid to fail to see that the days of colonial wars was over'."


I think your first statement is simplistic nonsense. Have you read bloggers like Michael Totten and Bill Roggio with reports from Iraq? The monolithic public opinion you portray doesnt exist over there.

We didn't 'get run out' of Vietnam, we ran out of our own volition. Big difference. Largely because of Tet, a military success portrayed by our media and the loud Left as a military disaster. (aqi is struggling to come up with their own Tet, but hopefully they won't be able to manage it).

Hopeless cause? Liberals seem to have a rigid attachment to the idea of pre-destination, the march of progress that is pre-determined (which finds its roots in Bolshevik and Stalinist propaganda).

Nothing is pre-determined, especially war, where often the most important elements are sheer endurance and making less mistakes than the other side.

Posted by: neill at August 27, 2007 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

oops

Posted by: neill at August 27, 2007 01:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill:

The reason Tet was such such a shock was that for the previous two years, there had been nothing but happy talk on the number of Vietcong killed from MACV. Some waggish analyst allegedly claimed that according to the military figures the Vietcong had ceased to exist well before Tet.

Tet exposed the happy talk as a tissue of lies. Forces from a reportedly "defeated" enemy were able to launch attacks in Saigon (penetrating the US embassy compound, in fact); fight US Marines to a standstill in Hue for almost a month; and carry out offensive operations throughout South Vietnam.

Yes, the North Vietnamese suffered a military defeat (although one result of Tet was that it brought smaller counterinsurgency programs in the countryside to an end, allowing the NLF to reestablish itself throughout rural South Vietnam). But its political victory was devastating.

The press lost its rose-colored sunglasses and began report what was happening in Vietnam as opposed to what the MACV wanted them to know. General Westmorland didn't help matters, when after such a large victory he requested a troop increase of over 200,000 (40%).

If you must blame anyone for the political disaster that was Tet, Neill, you must blame MACV. Against repeated and urgent warnings, they presented a false picture of what was happening in Vietnam. Does any of this sound remotely similar to what is going on in Iraq?

Posted by: Tom S at August 27, 2007 02:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i think greg's attitude towards so-called (and highly loaded denotatively) "dual-loyalty" is naive. there are many people working in DC who take their commitment to Israel's existence and success very seriously. it matters to them on levels both visceral and intellectual (and often but certainly not always religious as well). that this needs stating over and over is its own kind of harsh truth.

point two: it is a fact that there is exists a kind of DC groupthink that is expressed to those of us outside the beltway as "consensus" on our teevees every sunday. and not everyone reads blogs, so that consensus filters out into the world and many people think "oh, what ken pollack said on NBC is a centrist non-ideological non-partisan view of facts on the ground."

surely people who seem to be commenting on this blog (most of whom i suspect are either members of the "clerisy" or close enough to being so) know that the consensus in DC is anything but non-ideological, that underlying or unspoken positions or groupthink assumptions can be the governing memes behind any consensus opinion.

or to put it another way: greg, the answer to your question about the value-add of thinktanks is that they help generate groupthink, and that groupthink moves towards what the elites of our country think is best, and that this is a predictable set of beliefs. they will reflect a pro-war, pro-free trade, pro-israel policy in such thinktanks because to do so assures the thinktankee of continued employment, plus a better chance to get their kids into sidwell friends or whatever. it is a sad but true fact that people are venal and blind to their own prejudice, and nowhere is that more obvious to those of us with brains on the outside looking in than in DC foreign policy circles.

Posted by: Robert Green at August 27, 2007 11:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Since the topic of who was responsible for the messy aftermath of our Vietnam withdrawal seems to be on the minds of many, I would strongly urge everyone here to read the Larry Bienhart article on the subject posted on the Truthout website today. I lived through that era, but Bienhart provides many facts hitherto unknown to me, and frankly, they blew me away. For example, he asserts that our bombing killed 750,000 in Cambodia, and that we actually supported the Khmer Rouge after 1975, and that it was the Vietnameses Communists who finally stopped the Khmer Rouge.

Absolutely breathtaking, the way we are being manipulated in our ignorance.

Posted by: toby at August 28, 2007 01:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Overall levels of violence against civilians in Iraq have declined by about one-third relative to their pre-surge winter levels.

Anybody who has followed violence and casualties in Iraq know that they generally ebb in the summer. This just might have something to do with the searing triple digit heat. Only comparisons to last year's summer months are really valid.

If O'Hanlon and Pollack can't grasp that, they should just shut up.

Posted by: LFC at August 29, 2007 06:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

An illuminating look at the tribal revolt against aqi from Dave Kilcullen, until very recently senior coin adviser to Petraeus.

http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2007/08/anatomy-of-a-tribal-revolt/

Posted by: neill at August 31, 2007 02:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, 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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