December 27, 2007

Pakistan On the Brink Post-Bhutto Assassination


The assassination of Benazir Bhutto comes at a terrible time for Pakistan, not least given the country was already lurching towards increasing instability. And for the Bush Administration--which had pinned its hopes for greater democratization and stability in Pakistan on an unlikely alliance between General Musharraf and Bhutto--it's high time to go back to the drawing board regarding Pakistan policy (and beyond simply trying to substitute Nawaz Sharif for Bhutto).

A few things, however, are now clear. Musharraf's position in Pakistan is increasingly untenable. While the assassination was very likely the work of al-Qaeda and/or allied parties, there is a widespread belief within Pakistan that, at best, Musharraf's government provided lackluster security to Bhutto, and at worst, that elements of the ISI (in cahoots w/ Musharraf) might have turned the other eye. I don't believe the latter, but the symbolism of the assassination occuring in Rawalpindi (the main garrison city for the Pakistani Army) certainly doesn't help. Bhutto's partisans (and others besides) are outraged at Musharraf, and this will not prove but a 24 hour phenomenon. Critical will be the reaction of the new Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiyani. While ostensibly a Musharraf loyalist, Kiyani will be observing very closely how Musharraf handles events in the coming weeks. If he declares another state of emergency and pushes back the elections currently slated for January 8th, Kiyani will be scrutinizing how Musharraf handles the inevitable disquiet that will result. On the other hand, if elections go forward--with the PPP (Bhutto's Party) casting about for a replacement leader (likely Ameen Fahim), and Nawaz Sharif threatening to boycott them--even a decision to proceed looks to be fraught with dangerous uncertainty.

What is also clear is that Pakistan is in desperate need of some measure of stability, as greater chaos will only serve to continue to strengthen Islamist radicals (including al-Qaeda, who as Bob Gates recently put it has increasingly of late "turned its face toward Pakistan and attacks on the Pakistani government and Pakistan people." Rather than solely focus on the criticality of elections and look to politick on behalf of perceived friendly proxies (likely the Pavlovian response of many "experts" in Washington), we should instead be scouring the ranks of high-ranking Pakistani Army brass for mostly secular (or moderately Islamist) personnel reasonably sympathetic to the West, so as to at least identify possible replacements to an increasingly discredited Musharraf as prophylactic measure (in case orderly elections in the near term prove impossible or lead to bouts of violence). If the Army ends up having to step in more forcefully, and after an appropriate caretaker period (hopefully relatively short), the U.S. could then more effectively use its good offices to push for a coherent electoral process once reliable replacements to Bhutto emerge (or at least the massive flux currently consuming Pakistani politics steadies itself some), with Sharif's position better understood as well.

All this said, and despite the obvious fact that much of the U.S. aid going to Pakistan meant to be directed towards the war on terror (that increasingly asinine phrase, as empty as the "war on drugs" or "war on poverty") is actually in material fashion being used to back-stop Pakistan's position vis-a-vis India and Kashmir, it's nonetheless not the time to pull the rug out from under Musharraf whole-sale, but rather put out discreet, if serious, feelers to other players in the military that they may need to step in the lurch if popular anger at the current Government (as embodied by Musharraf) becomes untenable.

One last thing (I've been on a forced blog hiatus and time is very limited, though I do hope to catch up and discuss the Iran NIE, Annapolis, Iowa etc. and more in coming weeks), this type of 'village' idiocy, which reads like post-adolescent masturbatory drivel (sorry...), does need to be kept to a minimum in coming weeks, lest our policy-making class get carried away again towards other epic blunders. More soon, time permitting.

UPDATE: Via an E-mail from Nikolas Gvosdev (who blogs at the informative Washington Realist), comes this piece from Anatol Lieven.

For the moment, though, it may not be too cynical to suggest—and cynicism in analyzing Pakistani politics is rarely misplaced—that none of the possible successors to Ms Bhutto as PPP leader want to burn their bridges to the military, and thereby destroy the possibility that they will replace Ms Bhutto as Washington’s candidate for Prime Minister in an alliance with Musharraf or a military successor.

For if mass violence does spread, then sooner or later the senior generals will form a delegation and politely and respectfully ask Musharraf to step down as president, just as they did with General Ayub Khan forty years ago. The military will then conduct a “transition to democracy”, and will almost certainly have already decided in private to whom the government should in fact be transferred. With Musharraf and his hostility to Nawaz Sharif out of the way, that could well be Sharif, but it could equally be some PPP leader.

Whatever happens, however, the army will remain the most important force in the Pakistani state, and a key factor in every future Pakistani administration. And as long as the army sticks together, it will fight successfully to prevent both Islamist revolution and ethnic secession. Only if the army splits will Pakistan be in danger of disintegration, as opposed to violent unrest....the U.S. needs to develop a strategy based on an understanding of the limitations on any Pakistani government’s support for the U.S. in Afghanistan, given the feelings of the Pakistani population and much of the army. Ms Bhutto’s rule would not have provided a magic key to solve this dilemma, and nor will any future “return to democracy”. Trying to force a Pakistani government too far down this road will only increase the chances of Islamist unrest spreading to the Pakistani military.

As I said, focusing discreetly on key Pakistani Army actors in the weeks and months ahead seems prudent.

Posted by Gregory at December 27, 2007 09:46 PM

you and Larry Johnson make the same important points about stability over democracy in the short-to-medium term. The question for me is, "Who in this Administration could carry out this policy?". The CIA could ID the moderates, but then a National Command Authority would have to finesse the implementation.
I don't see that happening, with the OVP astride our diplomacy.

Also, how about "adolescent post-masturbatory drivel", instead (sorry...)?

Larry's post is at:


ps I have missed your voice. Sorry it took this horrible turn of affairs to get to hear it again.

Posted by: Poicephalus at December 27, 2007 11:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

in summary:


very nervously.

yer genious, gd.

so inventive.

Posted by: neill at December 28, 2007 01:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

what a CANDID photo...

Posted by: neill at December 28, 2007 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I probably trust your judgement on this more than mine, but it seems like Musharraf could pull out of this in a superior position. If he's able to turn the people's outrage against AQ (who has apparently taken responsibility for the attack), he'd shore up his political support at home and abroad while giving himself a pretext for retaining power, no?

You do have to wonder where AQ is coming from with this, though. Does Musharraf have an option but to pursue them more aggressively now? As per the above, it's possible that's his best/only way out of this. So either AQ doesn't care... or they really do have allies high enough in the military/intelligence services to protect them. Likewise, if Musharraf downplays their role and doesn't engage, that certainly suggests something about their relationship.

Posted by: Matt at December 28, 2007 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

didn't take to long for the troll to come out from under the bridge, did it?

neill, you're still an idiot

Posted by: anti-neill at December 28, 2007 11:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The security thing is a red herring, I think.
1. Bhutto absconded (twice!) from Pakistan with sufficient billions to buy the entire Blackwater operation lock stock and barrel,
2. but rather than provide her own security she demands it from Musharraf who does does not provide it so
3. she goes ahead anyway with a public appearance scheduled long in advance with inadequate security
4. and takes outrageous risks by standing up in her car in the open.
She was plainly acting suicidal. Whether or not the Musharraf regime orchestrated the murder, they are playing Keystone Kops on drugs either way.
It makes no sense. There are lots more pieces to this than we will ever discover.

Posted by: Tamquam Leo Rugiens at December 28, 2007 01:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


From what I've read, that sort of behaviour was not atypical for her. Someone or another posted a bunch of links to recent quotes/commentaries from various folks about how "brave" she was for so often doing w/out proper security. Could just be she underestimated the risk.

Posted by: Matt at December 28, 2007 03:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Tam...

so 2 months ago at an open-air political political rally, al quaeda blows up over a hudred innocents and barely misses bhutto...

so 2 months later, 2 weeks short of a historic election, she does the same damn thing, and doesnt get missed this time.

at this point, the big M, and as gd points out, possible sensible successors, are our future in Pak-land...

Posted by: neill at December 28, 2007 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1)Glad you are back and sharing your thoughts with us.
2)I think the interests of the US and of Pakistan would best be served if the US gradually disengages from direct involvement in Pakistan's internal affairs. We should definitely not put out feelers (however subtle) to potential military successors to Musharraf. Do we really want to solve the crisis by promoting another military coup? Not to mention the degree of suspicion this would set off within the moderate camp in the military: Are you a pro-Musharraf moderate general? Are you a moderate general ready to support a coup against Musharraf?, etc.

We should try to develop some contingency plans to minimize the risk of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands.

Beyond that we should let them manage their own affairs. We should reduce military aid and other subsidies which allow the government to pursue unpopular policies unresponsive to the needs and desires of the vast majority of the population.

We are currently part of the problem in Pakistan. The best thing to do would be to slowly disengage.

Once again, thanks for sharing your thoughts and welcome back.

Posted by: Rajen Parekh at December 29, 2007 11:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not that we'll do it, but honestly, the best course for the U.S. is to admit that it has ZERO competence in this affair, and then keep the hell out, and let events play out as they will. It's unsatisfying, it goes against our reflex to "do something", but it's long past time that we recognized that we no longer have mature adult institution builders like Marshall and Acheson and Eisenhower. What we have for "leaders" nowadays are nepotists, myopic ticket-punchers, weaklings.

P.S. Anti-neill above is correct.

Posted by: sglover at December 29, 2007 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


'It's unsatisfying, it goes against our reflex to "do something", but it's long past time that we recognized that we no longer have mature adult institution builders like Marshall and Acheson and Eisenhower.'

What does this have to do with Pakistan?

No one in their right mind is contemplating anything approaching 'nation-building', or what would necessarily have to precede that.

FYI, events ARE playing out as they will.

Are you proposing a slow disengagement a la rajen?

If so, a discussion of the likely pro- and con-sequences of that would be a responsible starting point, instead of mewling once again about the administration's incompetence (which I suppose also caused the downward spiral represented by calming tensions between Pakistan and India, and greatly strengthening a traditionally tenuous relationship with emerging power India).

But calling the administration names is so much easier, and allows you to evade the responsibilty of formulating and standing by a coherent policy prescription.

Two birds with one stone.

Posted by: neill at December 29, 2007 07:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The best thing we could do policy-wise where Pakistan is concerned is something that neither party seems interested in at all -- namely, lifting our ban on Pakistani textiles to a degree contingent on how well that country behaves, thus providing both a powerful carrot and a powerful stick: the only possible ones we have in this situation, in fact. Ah, but that would risk offending textile workers in the South Carolina primary, and we can't have that. Much better to risk Armageddon.

As for the Bush Administration "calming tensions between Pakistan and India, and greatly strengthening a traditionally tenuous relationship with emerging power India": please. The Administration's deal to give India an escape route from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of course, further enraged Pakistan. The calming of India-Pakistani tensions -- to the extent that it's actually happened, which is still not much -- is in spite of, not because of, Bush's nuclear deal with India.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 29, 2007 08:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

the pakistani textile ban idea seems like a good one (though one could say it represents neo-colonial INTERVENTIONISM), but in the run-up to the South Carolina primary and general election, it's safe to say that nothing will happen on that front til after the election.

"...The calming of India-Pakistani tensions -- to the extent that it's actually happened, which is still not much...."

So, the little eensy-weensy calming is due to the incompetent Bushies, in the context of regional turmoil and decades of enmity between the two nations.

As to the strengthening of relations with the Indians which of course INCLUDES the nuclear deal: in an era in which both China and Russia are increasingly muscle-bound and opposed to our interests throughout Asia (what 1/3 of the world?), the Bush strengthening of of relations with a DEMOCRATIC India is a further demonstration of the incompetence of the Chimp-In-Chief?

And as such will not be continued and further development on these HISTORIC, INITIAL steps will not will not be followed up by a Dem administrattion?

Posted by: neill at December 29, 2007 09:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


As 2007 comes to a close, the Taliban has dismissed its senior military commander in southern Afghanistan. Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a senior military commander, was relieved of his command by Mullah Omar, according to a statement. Dadullah was accused of insubordination.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - William Kristol, a prominent conservative pundit and magazine editor, has signed on as a columnist for The New York Times, a publication he has often sharply criticized, the newspaper announced on Saturday.

Kristol, 55, is the editor and co-founder of The Weekly Standard, a Washington political magazine with a strongly conservative viewpoint.

Posted by: neill at December 29, 2007 11:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Given that India and Pakistan came within a few days of a nuclear war in 1998, providing major new assistance to India's nuclear program strikes me as a rather counterproductive way to reduce the influence of Russia and China in the region. Especially, of course, since they're perfectly free to respond by increasing their support of Pakistan (a nation in which China already has major influence). I repeat my earlier comment: to the extent that Indian-Pakistani tensions HAVE eased (which, let's remember, happened mostly before the new US deal with India was announced), it was not due to the TenThumbs Administration.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 30, 2007 02:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for William Kristol, I wouldn't worry too much: if things were starting to turn topsy-turvy and we're actually winning (at least in some places), his advice will put us safely back on the losing side fast enough. :

"I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America, that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni, or the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq has always been very secular." (Kristol, April 2003)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 30, 2007 03:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink : "Two years ago [mid-2005], my colleague Lawrence Kaplan--who once co-authored, with Kristol, a book arguing for the war--wrote a poignant cover story describing how the dream of creating a liberal Arab state had died. Kristol, naturally, denounced his inconvenient observation. 'The fact remains that it is today more possible than ever before to envision a future in which the Middle East and the Muslim world truly are transformed,' he insisted. 'For this, no one will deserve more credit than George W. Bush.' " See the rest of Chait's article for a fascinating -- if rather obvious -- look at Kristol's equally confident assurance that the New Republic only printed Scott Beauchamp's last column because TNR Hates America And Wants Al-Qaeda To Win.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 30, 2007 03:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"I repeat my earlier comment: to the extent that Indian-Pakistani tensions HAVE eased (which, let's remember, happened mostly before the new US deal with India was announced), it was not due to the TenThumbs Administration."

Who was it due to then?

Posted by: neill at December 30, 2007 11:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great to have you back, gregory; sorry the circumstances were so horrific...excellent recipe for semi-stability you offer, methinks.

Too bad there's not a soul in this incompetent, myopic, delusional Administration who has the foggiest notion of how to chart a foreign-policy course. 386 more days of the inmates running the asylum; can OUR democracy survive?

"War on terror." As you say, the hinge upon which the entire fraud of the Bush 2 years swiveled. How did Poppy let this happen? Couldn't he/they have kept the Decider from running for re-election?

Posted by: KRN at December 30, 2007 01:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Indian intelligence agencies provided the U.S. with significant information on Al-Qaeda and related groups' activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. India's extensive contribution to the War on Terrorism has helped India's diplomatic relations with several countries. Over the past three years, India has held numerous joint military exercises with U.S and European nations that have resulted in a strengthened U.S.-India and E.U.-India bilateral relationship. India's bilateral trade with Europe and U.S. has more than doubled in the last five years.

However, India has yet to sign the CTBT, or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, claiming the discriminatory nature of the treaty that allows the five declared nuclear countries of the world to keep their nuclear arsenal and develop it using computer simulation testing. Prior to its nuclear testing, India had pressed for a comprehensive destruction of nuclear weapons by all countries of the world in a time-bound frame. This was not acceptable to the US and other countries. Presently, India has declared its policy of "no-first use of nuclear weapons" and the maintenance of a "credible nuclear deterrence".

The US, under President George W. Bush has also lifted most of its sanctions on India and has resumed military co-operation. Relations with US have considerably improved in the recent years, with the two countries taking part in joint naval exercises off the coast of India and joint air exercises both in India as well as in the United States[33][34][35].

India has been pushing for reforms in the UN and WTO with mixed results. India's candidature for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is currently backed by several countries including United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Brazil and African Union nations. In 2005, the United States signed a nuclear co-operation agreement with India even though the latter is not a part of the NPT. The US argued that India's strong nuclear non-proliferation record made it an exception and persuaded other NSG members to sign similar deals with India.

United States Congress, hitherto a staunch defender of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and all it stands for, is poised to allow America's laws to be amended to accommodate civilian nuclear trade with India, despite that country's bomb-building. There will then be pressure on the Nuclear Suppliers Group to carve an India-shaped hole in its global nuclear export restrictions and on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to agree to “India-specific” safeguards on any nuclear materials or technology sold. The Bush administration defends its India deal as good for combating Global warming, good for friendship with the world's biggest democracy and good for jobs in America. By lifting restrictions on India's ability to buy nuclear technology and fuel from abroad, America will be helping it out of a uranium squeeze: its usable stocks of the enriched stuff (lower enriched for power generation, higher for weapons) have been dwindling fast. If the NSG goes along, and makes an exception to its rule that nuclear exports can go only to countries with all their nuclear facilities under safeguards, India will no longer have to eke out its nuclear materials. It will be able to use foreign uranium for power generation.


Pakistan moved decisively to ally itself with the United States in its war against Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. It provided the U.S. a number of military airports and bases, for its attack on Afghanistan. It has arrested over five hundred Al-Qaeda members and handed them over to the United States; senior U.S. officers have been lavish in their praise of Pakistani efforts. Since this strategic re-alignment towards U.S. policy, economic and military assistance has been flowing from the U.S. to Pakistan and sanctions have been lifted. In the three years before the attacks of September 11, Pakistan received approximately $9 million in American military aid. In the three years after, the number increased to $4.2 billion[2].

In June 2004, President Bush designated Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, making it eligible, among other things, to purchase advanced American military technology. In May, 2006, The Bush administration announced a major sale of missiles to Pakistan, valued at $370 Million USD.


Violent activities in the region declined in 2004. There are two main reasons for this: warming of relations between New Delhi and Pakistan which consequently lead to a ceasefire between the two countries in 2003 and the fencing of the LOC being carried out by the Indian Army. Moreover, coming under intense international pressure, Islamabad was compelled to take actions against the militant's training camps on its territory. In 2004, the two countries also agreed upon decreasing the number of troops present in the region.

Under pressure, Kashmiri terrorist organisations have made an offer for talks and negotiations with New Delhi, something which India has rightfully welcomed.

India's Border Security Force blamed the Pakistani military for providing cover-fire for the terrorists whenever they infiltrated into Indian territory from Pakistan. However, ever since ceasefire has come into action, the terrorists get no back-up from Pakistani Military which has contributed significantly to the decline in cross-border terrorism in the state.

In a recent development, Pakistan's interior minister, Sheikh Rashid, was alleged to have run a terrorist training camp in N.W. Frontier, Pakistan. Islamabad dismissed the charges against its minister as an attempt to hamper the ongoing peace process between the two neighbours.

Both India and Pakistan have launched several mutual confidence-building measures (CBMs) to ease tensions between the two. These include, more high-level talks, easing visa restrictions, restarting of cricket matches between the two. The new bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad has also helped bring the two sides closer. Pakistan and India have also decided to co-operate on economic fronts.

A major clash between Indian Security Forces and terrorists occurred when a group of insurgents tried to infiltrate into the Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan in July 2005. The same month, also saw Kashmiri terrorist attack on Ayodhya and Srinagar. However, these developments had little impact on the peace process. The mood on both sides of the border finally seems to be moving beyond a half-century of confrontations.

Some improvements in the relations are seen with the re-opening of a series of transportation networks near the India-Pakistan border, with the most important being bus routes and railway lines

The Chimp has had nothing to do with this, though, absolutely nothing.......

Posted by: neill at December 30, 2007 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great neill, let Chimpy take credit for it. The problem is the blowback that happens whenever the Administration and their apologists like you chest thump in public the great good things the US is doing for our little brown brothers. All very well and good for domestic consumption, which probably all you really give a shit about, but unseemly and counterproductive in the extreme for those we are trying to help.

That is, if we are actually trying to help them in the first place, which is a matter of some debate, because let's face it neill, you and yours don't really give a rat's ass about India or Pakistan per se, do you? Hey, realpolitik, even empire building, is not necessarily a naughty word, when adults are minding the store. When 24% Our Gangers like neill over here are, that's a different flavor of cotton candy altogether.

Posted by: anti-neill at December 30, 2007 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So what's your point about Kristol and NYT neill? That you'll be able to read the Grey Lady again, neocon fanboy?

BTW--I'm sure the candid photo of Bennie is nothing compared to the dp scene you shot with Tricky Dicky and D. Add-a-Ton. I doubt it would make it through the Berkeley firewall, though.

Posted by: anti-neill at December 30, 2007 06:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BDS, or Bush Derangement Syndrome:

A condition which renders one incapable of rationally discussing any issue involving George W. Bush, a common symptom being a pronounced aversion to fact-based argument. Sufferers tend to cluster in groups, happy to partake among them of the nearly fact-free Bush arguments they so prize.

Sufferers also have been known to irrationally presume to characterize non-sufferers whom they have never met and know nothing about, as if they did. They also call non-sufferers names if their aversion to fact-based argument is pointed out, apparently believing this shows them to have prevailed.

There is no known cure for this disorder.

Posted by: neill at December 30, 2007 07:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, my new stroll through the hallways of Google suggests strongly that I DID underestimate the extent to which the Bush Administration -- or, more precisely, Bush and Armitage -- helped follow the footsteps of Bill Clinton's energetic efforts to damp down India-Pakistani border crises in the wake of the Kargil War. Strobe Talbott, for instance, gives them a good deal of credit for it:

Note, however, that China apparently also played a significant role, that Rumsfeld (according to Nayak and Krepon) played virtually no useful role, and that the lion's share of the credit may belong to Vajpayee for backing down radically -- and apprently to a considerable degree on his own -- from confrontationism with Pakistan. (In that connection, see also .)

Note -- a lot more importantly -- that at the same time the Bush Administration DE-emphasized attempts to restrain nuclear proliferation on the part of both India and Pakistan ( ). And so to the sudden deal with India, which appears to be a flat-out disaster where provoking Pakistan is concerned (how could it not be?) -- as well, perhaps as busting up whatever was left of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which leaves us with the little question of what the hell can be set up to replace it:

Indeed as Robert Farley points out, the Administration gave India such a one-sided blank check that the Prime Minister had trouble convincing opponents that the deal didn't have some kind of hidden hook in it. He assured them that the Bushites really were gullible enough to provide such a deal:

And so -- returning to Yglesias' entry -- to the central problem: "Pakistan's sense of beseigement vis-a-vis its largest neighbor is like an acid that keeps eating away at our efforts to convince them to prioritize a fight against radical groups. And understandably so -- as long as Pakistan is adjacent to a larger, richer, nuclear-armed hostile country that fact is going to be the defense establishment's top priority. It's obviously not something we can wish away with a magic wand, but it's worth putting some effort into since the payoff would be very large and absent progress on that front it's hard for any incentive package to be cleverly-designed enough to really work. " Our ability to actually improve that situation is very limited and maybe totally nonexistent, but it would have been nice if the Bushites hadn't managed to make it a good deal worse -- a move which neutralizes any credit they may deserve for dealing with the Twin Peaks border conflict in 2002.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 30, 2007 08:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's not forget its twin brother, Bush Delirium Syndrome, whose sufferers have strikingly similar characteristics: .

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 30, 2007 08:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I don't provide too many links, but thought you'd appreciate this one from the boys over at NRO.

As to our need to romance Pakistan's military, I thought Kiyani was already our boy?

Posted by: resh at December 30, 2007 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While we're on the subject of "Bush Derangement Syndrome", I think it's appropriate to quote from one of Sullivan's readers tonight ( ):

"I have a hard time listening to Republicans say that the Democrats cannot transcend their anger. They use stupid catch phrases like 'Bush Derangement Syndrome' to discredit people (not just Democrats; according to most pundits, you too suffer from BDS, Andrew). There is a special amount of irony in the party that spent over 200 congressional hours investigating Clinton’s Christmas card list, and less than 10 hours investigating how we got into the Iraq war, accusing the opposition of being driven by blind hatred.

"I now live in a country where the president and vice president have the power to detain an American citizen off the street, send him to a secret prison, torture him, and detain him indefinitely without him ever hearing the charges against him. We have been lied into a war that was executed with criminal incompetence, our economy has been devastated because of lax oversight of banks giving out bad loans, we have lost a major city, and the list goes on and on.

"My anger isn’t driven by irrational hatred. In 2000, I considered myself a Republican. But now that party stands as an affront to everything that America stands for. I have every right to be angry."

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 30, 2007 11:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Actually, my new stroll through the hallways of Google suggests strongly that I DID underestimate the extent to which the Bush Administration -- or, more precisely, Bush and Armitage -- helped follow the footsteps of Bill Clinton's energetic efforts to damp down India-Pakistani border crises in the wake of the Kargil War."

While I appreciate your seemingly well-researched effort, Bruce, your apology seems rather back-handed -- exceedingly so actually. You can't complete a sentence without dissing Bush. Seems like some kind of disorder.....

As to all that about nukes, and the completely de-valued treaty you refer to (not by us, by the way), aren't nukes rated "dangerous" by who can activate them?

Is Israel a target for anihiliation because the possess nukes? Why or why not?

Is Pakistan now? Why or why not?

Is Pakistant after it's been over-run by jihadis? Why or why not?

Seems like you're a bit pre- 9/11, nest-ce pas?

Posted by: neill at December 30, 2007 11:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

They are indeed rated "dangerous by who can activate them" -- but they're also rated dangerous to the extent to which they're acquired by additional countries, particularly dictatorships and shaky states. And the US cannot prevent the steady spread of nuclear-weapon technology by itself -- it will need international help, and that means that playing personal favorites in nuclear nonproliferation efforts as blatantly as we did in the case of India is asking for trouble. (Particularly given that Pakistan sits next door fuming and trembling -- which, of course, makes India an unusually dangerous case for nuclear assistance even as a democracy.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 31, 2007 12:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neill, the universe will eventually (not soon enough, but eventually) reward you with the Darwin award.

But in the meantime, you're still an idiot.


Posted by: neill n00b at December 31, 2007 09:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

back atcha nimrod.

I think there's ample evidence that non-prolif is an abject failure, not for lack of striving on our part. North Korea being example A, Pakistan B, and Iran C.

Anyway, those nukes in south asia are a lot less likely to be used now thanks to Bushco.

Posted by: neill at December 31, 2007 11:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The problem, of course, is that anything that Bushco does at this point will backfire, because of the enormous antipathy toward the US in Pakistan.

The smartest thing the US can do right now is support/mimic whatever China/Russia is doing --- let them take the lead in Pakistan for a while. Both nations have a great deal at stake in Pakistan stability, and while this path won't help the US much in its "war on terror" in the short term, we're far better off with a stable Pakistan under the influence of Asian powers than we are with a Pakistan in chaos.

Posted by: p_lukasiak at December 31, 2007 05:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Anyway, those nukes in south asia are a lot less likely to be used now thanks to Bushco."

Including the nukes in Pakistan now that Bushco has decided to provide massive assistance to India's nuclear assembly line? Right...

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at December 31, 2007 09:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


neill is still an idiot.

Posted by: anti-neill at December 31, 2007 11:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Shorter neill:

The sky is green in my world, so all you Bush-haters suck.

Posted by: neill n00b at December 31, 2007 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The problem, of course, is that anything that Bushco does at this point will backfire, because of the enormous antipathy toward the US in Pakistan.

The smartest thing the US can do right now is support/mimic whatever China/Russia is doing --- let them take the lead in Pakistan for a while. Both nations have a great deal at stake in Pakistan stability, and while this path won't help the US much in its "war on terror" in the short term, we're far better off with a stable Pakistan under the influence of Asian powers than we are with a Pakistan in chaos."

Better yet, if they can administer Pakistan better, I think they might they might well administer better here in the States as well -- better than Bush certainly.

Why not?

Posted by: neill at January 1, 2008 01:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - On New Year's Eve Ridaa al-Azzawi squeezed into his pointy snakeskin boots, his tight black sweater and his snazzy corduroy flared jeans, hustled down to a Baghdad hotel ballroom and partied for peace.

2008 arrived in a less-violent Baghdad, and residents said it was the first real party they had seen in years.

At the stroke of midnight, exuberant locals fired into the air with automatic rifles, sending red tracer fire streaking over the city, as fireworks lit up the sky.

While the city is still far from peaceful and many of the festive gatherings had a tentative feel, many said it was a happier occasion than they could have dared to hope just a few months ago.

"The security has changed and it took us by surprise. We're very happy. Especially us young people," said al-Azzawi, a 22-year-old student taking a break from dancing to a traditional Iraqi band in the ballroom of the Palestine Hotel.

"I haven't seen a happy place like this in so long. I wanted to see if I could maybe meet a few girls!" he said. "I only hope the Iraqi people can enjoy more happy times like this."

Salah al-Lami, 27, the singer who performed at the Palestine ballroom and then for another New Year's Eve crowd at the Sheraton Hotel across the street, said it was the first time he had sung before a live audience in four years.

"This will be the year that we take our freedom!" he told Reuters after singing through a boisterous set in front of a packed dancefloor.

"When I went up on the stage and started singing I felt like I was performing for my family."

Belly dancers also took the stage, and revelers showered a female singer with dinar notes, the Iraqi audience's ultimate sign of approval.


Violence in Iraq has declined dramatically in the past few months. U.S. forces say attacks are down 60 percent since June.

Although 2007 was the deadliest year of the war for U.S. troops, December was the least deadly month for the U.S.-led coalition since the war began. Just 22 U.S. and allied soldiers were killed in December, compared with 131 in May.

No, this is not happening, and we don't support it even if it is.

Signed, BDers.

Posted by: neill at January 1, 2008 01:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Imagine how many US deaths there would be in Iraq if we hadn't invaded Iraq.

Imagine how much more progress we could have made in the War on Terrorism (TM) if we had concentrated on fighting the terrorists, you know, where they actually were--like in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But why let these little notions trouble your Bizarro world.

You're the only one with Bush Derangement Syndrome here neill, you dumbass. Regardless of what reality imposes on the rest of us, you're constantly inclined to spin it. So, yeah, that's why everyone thinks you're a jackass.

Posted by: anti-neill at January 1, 2008 09:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is a curious think that during the height of death in invaded Iraq-when innocents and Shia and Sunni; when kids and women and old men; when soldiers from around the globe and from every state in the union; when all of them were dodging bullets and fighting for their lives with a morbid regularity-that all we heard was how Armageddon was around the proverbial corner. Blood had a way of attracting, like vultures, the opponents of war.

The geopolitical axioms, sang the chorus, were no longer in doubt: civil war was unfolding and immutable; bin Ladenism was increasing and would prevail upon the planet; Iraq would become the vortex of a Syrian-Iranian-Saudi implosion; and, finally, that the neocon, Bushco democratists committed the worst blunder in history.

But as Neill correctly implies, there's suddenly a conspicuous silence. CNN and Al Jazeera and The NYT and the E-prophets of gloom and doom appear to have bitten their tongues and swallowed their spit. It's as if that without the violence and absent the viscera, they have no voice.

Something is clearly happening in Iraq that appears contradistinctive to the end-of-the-world prognostications. From here, it looks an awful lot like progress. It looks like a country moving forward. It looks like life has returned.

Posted by: resh at January 1, 2008 01:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is a curious THING (even...)

Posted by: resh at January 1, 2008 01:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What it looks like is that peace has returned to Baghdad primarily because (A) the US has concentrated most of its troops there; (B) the city has now been pretty much partitioned, with a majority of the Sunnis being driven out of it (and the US putting up high concrete walls between many of the remaining Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods); and (C) both the Sunnis and the Shiites have decided to follow the sensible strategy of waiting until the US starts pulling out to initiate that civil war that they can still hardly wait to begin. (There is no sign whatsoever that they are reconciling with each other politically -- which, you'll recall, was supposed to be the entire purpose of the Surge and the reason we focused it in Baghdad.) Note that the "Anbar Awakening" consists of the local Sunni sheikhs awakening to the fact that getting us to actually arm them for the coming civil war is a lot smarter than shooting at us -- especially given the fact that they discovered they could gull us into it simply by giving the boot to al-Qaeda, which had become on balance a nuisance to them rather than an asset. The "Anbar Rude Awakening" will not, I think, be far behind, and I imagine we'll see it (along with a lot else) this year, when we have to pull down our troop presence no matter what happens afterwards, simply because we don't have the manpower to sustain it.

What we're almost inevitably going to end up with -- after whatever degree of bloodshed -- is the replacement of Saddam's Sunni dictatorship with a Shiite dictatorship (probably allied with Iran), perhaps with a smaller Sunni dictatorship attached to its north flank. A rather small return for several thousand lives and several trillion dollars. (I can hardly wait for Ridaa al-Azzawi to try flaunting those "pointy snakeskin boots, tight black sweater and snazzy corduroy flared jeans" after the Shiites take over Baghdad; quite a few Baghdadis have already fallen very seriously afoul of their roving morality squads for lesser clothing violations than that. Especially women.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at January 1, 2008 05:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Monday, December 31, 2007

Baghdad Is One Big Party Tonight

I landed not too long ago after flying in a Blackhawk for nearly an hour back and forth across Baghdad tonight. I've flown across Baghdad at night many times before, but this time was different. The city was alive.

Most of the city had electricity, every main street and boulevard was jam-packed with cars, stretching as far as I could see. Fireworks were shooting up from every major intersection, and I could see outdoor markets and restaurants brightly lit up and filled with people. It's like a black cloud has been lifted off the residents of Baghdad, and they're finally able to do what they want to.

Sure, flying low over the city in a helicopter while people are shootings fireworks and weapons into the air isn't the greatest place to be, but the beauty and energy coming up from the streets far outweighed my fears. I feel lucky to have been a part of it all.

After I landed I made my way back to my office to catch up on some last minute email before dinner ended, and this Drudge headline caught my attention.

"For hopeful Iraqis, New Year's parties at last"

For once, Reuters got it right.

I'm leaving for home soon. My tour is only 6 months long, and I'm days away from ending my best job, my greatest achievement, as an Air Force Officer. I watched as the multiple rocket and mortar attacks nearly disappeared as October and November rolled along. I listened as Iraqi friends and coworkers commented every week on how much better things were getting.

One night in Amman Jordan last September I sat at an Iraqi owned outdoor restaurant and drank tea with 3 Iraqi Air Force Officers. The 2-Star General, one of the most intelligent IqAF Officers I've met and someone I have the honor of calling a good friend, described to me how wonderful and calm Baghdad used to be. He pointed at the city life in Amman, and to the people relaxing and enjoying themselves, and said that Baghdad used to be this way. Two weeks ago this same friend described to me how he had dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant the night before. He said that many restaurants were opening up throughout Baghdad. When I asked him if it was like the place we ate at in Amman, he said it was just like it.


I've watched the Iraqi Air Force grow from less than 90 sorties a week to over 300 since July. I celebrated along side of them as they received new aircraft, and I watched in awe at the videos and photographs my coworkers captured of IqAF Enlisted and Officer graduation ceremonies. Since my arrival, our organization started the IqAF pilot training school in October, set up tech schools, Enlisted Basic Training, helped them set up better methods of purchasing and maintaining their aircraft and helicopters, flew combat missions with them, along side of them, and then watched from the Air Operations Center as they flew those missions on their own with great success. The good stories of capturing oil pipeline thieves, supporting large civic events with coverage from the air, flying around dignitaries, guiding Iraqi Soldiers to the locations where they spotted IEDs being placed. The Iraqi Air Force has come a long way since July.

So have I.

The CENTAF Commander, Lieutenant General North, stopped by last week to chat with us. After walking around and talking to people in our office individually, he hosted an Airman's call to speak to everyone. Of all the things he said during that Airman's Call, one item stood out the most. He warned us that when we get back home we're going to be bored, and maybe disappointed. Not with our families or friends, but with our jobs. He's 100% right. How can anyone top this in a career? We're building an Air Force from the bottom up, and we're doing one hell of a job so far.

Today my Commander, Brigadier General Robert Allardice, shared with us something he wrote to his family. I want to share it with you because it puts everything we've done into perspective.

"The best way to summarize what we've accomplished this year came to me yesterday during a ceremony at a place we call ****.

In the morning I flew to the Iraqi Military Academy for the semi-annual graduation. The school produces second lieutenants in a one year course. I have about eight Air Force folks at this school teaching future Iraqi Air Force Officers. This school has been very violent for most of the year. In fact, I presented one of my Officers working at this school with a Purple Heart for wounds he received during a fire fight on the base a few months ago.

Besides the direct danger of this specific location, the mood of the place seemed to reflect the mood of all the Iraqi people during my first six months: despondent, dark, tired, sad. In May, people weren't really thinking about the future, they were trying to survive day to day. Where I lived and worked, we often got attacked 3-6 times a day, 5-7 days a week... in June, Iraq appeared to be in trouble. Six months ago, in July, the school held their last graduation. I saw pictures of it yesterday, and almost nobody came even though the Prime Minister was the guest speaker. Yesterday, 30 December, was different.

Yesterday, the guest speaker was "only" a four star general, but the place was packed. the Cadets stood proud, they marched straight, the band planed loud, the crowd... yes, it was a very large crowd, cheered and threw candy. They cheered Iraqi celebratory chants and clapped and danced. When the ceremony finished, the crowd stormed the floor, much like when I graduated from the Air Force Academy. Families stormed the floor, mothers and fathers hugged their child who'd become a man, tears streaming down their cheeks. Yesterday, I saw a proud people!

You have no idea how proud I felt. We are making a difference!"

I was unable to attend that graduation ceremony because of another commitment, but I will hold onto those pictures and videos forever. The fathers beaming with pride, the mothers with tears of joy, and the smiles on the faces of the new Lieutenants as their parents and family slide their new ranks on their shoulders mean a lot to us all.

Today I was on the outskirts of Baghdad on an Iraqi Air Base working with one of our teams that is helping the Iraqi Air Force train helicopter pilots, as well as fly and maintain their helicopter fleets. This place has changed. The buildings are cleaner, painted, and organized. The generators spread around the base are getting fueled on time, so power was constant. I watched a team of Iraqis working on the engine and transmission on a Huey helicopter, something that takes a lot of training and expertise. US and Russian built helicopters with student pilots were flying around the pattern, and maintainers were working on the flight line. It looked like a real air base, and I couldn't hide the pride that I felt.

I also can't hide how tough it's going to be leaving the Iraqi Air Force behind. These people risk their lives doing what we take for granted, and they do it with a level of dedication and pride I could only dream of seeing back home. Don't get me wrong, they have decades to go before they'll achieve their past glory of being one of the most powerful and respected Air Powers in the world, but En Sha'ala (God Willing), that power will always be used for the good of the people rather than the whims of a madman.

The Iraqi Air Force, like the Iraqi People, have a very long road ahead of them, but they are moving forward and growing stronger every day. I'm just lucky to have been allowed to play a small part of the history of this ancient and proud culture.

This quote from the article I mentioned earlier sums up the growing stability and hope here in Iraq.

Some shops decorated their front windows with cotton wool, writing: "Welcome 2008" or "Happy New Year". Others had Santa Claus decorations and Christmas trees.

In a flower shop Iyad Issa, 42, was buying a New Year's Eve bouquet for his wife.

"Since we see things are getting better, I am trying to make my family happy. I decided to bring my wife flowers for New Year's Eve to bring happiness and renewal," he said while browsing among the blossoms.

In another street, Abu Wisam, 42, was buying party hats from a street vendor: "I wish the best to all Iraqis," he said.

A group of women in a nearby boutique were out shopping together for outfits to see in the New Year.

"Tonight I am invited to a wedding party. Then I will go with my husband to our friend's house to celebrate," said Azhar, 35, who was looking for a new dress suit.

"I wish peace to prevail, and nothing else."

I couldn't agree more.

Happy New Year!

Update: Flag Gazer found an actual photo of last night's festivities in Baghdad. I was right, they were getting wild out here.

Posted by: neill at January 1, 2008 06:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"There is no sign whatsoever that they are reconciling with each other politically...."

"....The Iraqi parliament's recent passage of a law extending pension rights to ``tens of thousands'' of people denied benefits after the U.S. invasion in 2003 is an example of progress, Petraeus said in the Fox interview. The law's passage ``was little noted but is quite significant,'' he said.

He also pointed to Iraq's 2008 budget, which he said ``distributes revenue very, very equitably, and very much in line with the draft oil revenue distribution law.''

Though the law itself has not passed, oil revenue is currently flowing to the provinces.....

You could even argue that their legislature had a more productive 2007 than ours.

Posted by: neill at January 1, 2008 07:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"....The Iraqi parliament's recent passage of a law extending pension rights to ``tens of thousands'' of people denied benefits after the U.S. invasion in 2003 is an example of progress, Petraeus said in the Fox interview. The law's passage ``was little noted but is quite significant,'' he said.

This is from an interview given to Fox news on December 21.

Now,the retirement law was passed two and a half months earlier -- and wasn't that big a deal. (and here's a clue... the primary reason the bill was passed was to ensure that the new Shiite civil servants get retirement benefits. Some former Iraqi army officials will also be eligible for some benefits. And oh yeah, the IMF said it was a waste of Iraqi funds). If this is what Petraeus thinks is significant progress -- and if this is the best that Petraeus can do in terms of "recent" progress, well, lets just say that there has been no real progress, shall we?

As to the budget -- as you note it was never passed by parliament. It never even came close to being passed by the Iraqi parliament. Its just a piece of paper that Maliki has handed to Petraeus that he can wave around, but has no impact on the actual distribution of funds whatsoever.

As for "oil revenue flowing to the provinces" please provide some evidence of that there has been anything like a per capita distribution of Iraq's oil revenues.

Posted by: p_lukasiak at January 1, 2008 08:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I never claimed anything in regard to a 'per capita distribution'. I was responding to Moomaw's claim that there was "no sign whatsoever of political reconciliation".

And BTW, interesting FACTS below regarding pensions. The White House has a great website full of all kinds of interesting FACTS.

white house benchmark report 09-14-07:

While key national legislation has not yet passed, the objectives of such laws are in some ways already being achieved. For example: there is no revenue sharing law, and yet significant oil revenues are being distributed by the central government to the provinces in an equitable manner. There is no provincial powers law, and yet the provincial governors and councils are making decisions on budget expenditures through engagement with the central government and ministries and are providing essential services for their constituents. There is no amnesty law, and yet immunity is being granted to many former insurgents, who in turn are being recruited to join legitimate security institutions. There is no de-Ba’athification reform law, and yet more than 45,000 former Ba’athist members of the old armed services have been granted pensions or even restored to active duty or Iraqi government service. Amnesty or de-Ba’athification laws were assumed necessary to drive a wedge between nationalist elements of the largely Sunni insurgency and al-Qaida. In fact, Sunnis in record numbers are turning against al-Qaida, reclaiming their communities, and turning towards the central government for additional resources. These are precisely the “effects” the benchmarks were intended to produce, even if the formal benchmarks themselves have not been met. In the coming months, our strategy will increasingly focus on helping the Iraqis knit together this new “bottom-up” progress with the “top-down” political process. It will still remain vital for Iraq’s national government to codify what is happening in practice through formal legislation over time.

On that point, political progress at the national level has still been disappointing. The natural tension between groups has been exacerbated by political blocs threatening to withdraw support from the government. These threats were not fully carried out in most cases, but they have contributed to an environment of mistrust and gridlock. It became clear in July that the fundamental problem at the national level was not the failure to pass legislation but that the principal political groups -- Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurd -- could not agree on a set of decision-making processes and power sharing arrangements. Consequently, Iraq’s leadership (represented by the Prime Minister, Presidency Council, and the President of the Kurdish Region) met in Baghdad in August to address these more fundamental issues of executive branch decision-making.

These leaders on August 26 -- following 8 days of meetings -- announced a basic agreement on key benchmarks legislation on provincial powers and de-Ba’athification. They also formalized the use of the “3 plus 1 group”, or the Prime Minister and the three-member Presidency Council, for collective decision-making on sensitive and strategic matters. The leaders agreed to streamline executive branch activities to facilitate swift decision-making through an “inner-cabinet” consisting of core ministers, including Oil, Electricity, Defense, and Interior. And, for the first time, they “affirmed the necessity of a long-term relationship with the United States” based on common interests for the future of Iraq. The communiqué issued by these leaders has not solved Iraq’s serious problems at the national level, but it does represent an important step forward in the ongoing struggle to overcome the fear and mistrust now dividing Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities. The leaders’ August 26 agreement is a necessary building block to meaningful political progress -- which begins with all major communities coming together for dialogue on resolving key differences.

Posted by: neill at January 1, 2008 10:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The White House also has a great website full of all kinds of interesting LIES -- which, you'll recall, is how we got into this mess in the first place.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at January 1, 2008 10:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neil, you're right, excellent progress in Iraq.

So when can we leave?

Posted by: Joel at January 2, 2008 12:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The White House has a great website full of all kinds of interesting FACTS.

Hilarious. Nobody does a better send-up of lickspittle thinking than the lickspittles themselves.

Keep it up, Comrade Neill!

Posted by: sglover at January 2, 2008 12:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What a striking and rather beautiful picture of Bhutto; I've never seen it before.

I honestly don't know enough about her- those troublesome corruption charges- but this photo is a striking piece of iconography. Staged or not (probably), it fascinates me.

She has an affect of thoughtfulness and depth, combined with her garb (the hajib?) that would not be unfamiliar to admirers of Catholic saints. The flowers are symbols of her femininity.

The room , of Western design, and the watch on her wrist, seem to point to modernity.

The tapestry behind her seems to depict a sort of Muslim idea of paradise; perhaps sexist (3 women to one man!) but nonetheless a scene of peace, tranquility, plentiful food and wine, a scene of gorgeous hospitality and happiness.
Is this the dream she is working for?

I do feel for the followers of Bhutto whose hopes have been dashed; in photos, many of them are obviously women, but for all of them I feel a distinct empathy. Pakistan is rather advanced as Muslim country where women are concerned, happily. I can see how a female figure of power (Dhurga? No, that's Hindu..) could symbolize an alternative to military junta and creeping Talibanism, both distinctly masculine in their unpleasant resistance to democratic principles.


Posted by: Deschanel at January 2, 2008 03:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


That was a rather poignant, liminal overview of Bhutto's photo; but, for an eerie moment, I had the feeling you were longingly describing The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Posted by: resh at January 2, 2008 06:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've been considering the evidence for the last couple of days as to whether Neill and Resh might be right about a Bright New Day dawning in Iraq, and I am still totally unconvinced -- on good evidence. The single best summary of that evidence, however, just came out a few minutes ago from Sullivan ( ):

" 'There's nobody in uniform who is doing victory dances in the end zone. Success in Iraq is not akin ... to flipping on a light switch. Rather it emerges slowly and fitfully with reverses as well as advances. There will inevitably still be tough days and perhaps tough weeks ahead, but fewer of them over time, inshallah,' - General David Petraeus, earlier this month.

"The goal of the surge -- according to Hugh Hewitt and George W. Bush -- was to create a breathing space for the various factions in Iraq to forge a national agreement and end the sectarian divide. The Pentagon just issued its own report on these criteria ( ), saying that there have been 'minimal advances in the delivery of essential services to the people of Iraq, mainly due to sectarian bias in targeting and execution of remedial programs.' More worryingly:

" 'The American military has recruited about 69,000 mostly Sunni volunteers to help secure Iraq. The United States would like the Iraqi government to institutionalize the arrangement by hiring many of the volunteers as policemen or soldiers. But the Pentagon report said that such efforts are "moving slowly" because of "fears by the Maliki government that those forces may return to violence or form new militias." '

"The drop in violence has been considerable and is a fantastic achievement by the U.S., but it's worth reminding ourselves that this 'victory' still means 600 civilian deaths a month. That's roughly two 9/11s a month, when adjusting for population size -- but more terrifying because more random. It reduces violence to the levels of 2005 -- a period when almost every observer saw the war as a catastrophe. There has been no oil law, no provincial agreement, no deal on Kirkuk, and Baghdad is a myriad different Berlins in the Cold War." [Note also that Sullivan doesn't here list the reasons why that decline in violence is likely a temporary thing that will fade as our mandatory troop shrinkage occurs last year -- although he's mentioned them elsewhere, as have many others.]

"Anyone who can all this precarious situation 'victory' rules himself out as a serious commentator. He's a propagandist. And he does no service to the troops or the American people by lying to them for cheap and temporary partisan gain. Maybe I should reiterate what I wrote [on Dec. 17], or ask readers to show how I'm wrong:

" 'Let's be clear: we have lost this war. We have lost because the initial, central goals of the invasion have all failed: we have not secured WMDS from terrorists because those WMDs did not exist. We have not stymied Islamist terror -- at best we have finally stymied some of the terror we helped create. We have not constructed a democratic model for the Middle East -- we have instead destroyed a totalitarian government and a phony country, only to create a permanently unstable, fractious, chaotic failed state, where the mere avoidance of genocide is a cause for celebration. We have, moreover, helped solder a new truth in the Arab mind: that democracy means chaos, anarchy, mass-murder, national disintegration and sectarian warfare. And we have also empowered the Iranian regime and made a wider Sunni-Shiite regional war more likely than it was in 2003. Apart from that, Mr Bush, how did you enjoy your presidency?' "

More on this shortly.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at January 3, 2008 01:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


'the glass is half empty, so let's break the glass before it's totally empty!'

improvement has been declared, not victory.

the man is terrified by the mere prospect of partial success....

Posted by: neill at January 3, 2008 04:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neill, I was completely serious about my question: when can we leave? What would have to happen before you would agree that it's time to go?

Posted by: Joel at January 3, 2008 10:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


A decent reply. Still, you're bordering on begging-the-question type analyses-i.e., any "real victory" in Iraq must forever comport to the itemized standards of victory, to the levels of success, that only you get to define.

Let's use a different scenario to illuminate the point. Suppose the issue was the end of slavery, rather than success in Iraq. Exactly when would you have thumb-printed the former as actually occurring? The Emancipation Proclamation? The end of the civil war? Separate but Equal clause (Plessy v.)? Due process via the 14th amendment extending to the various states? The end of Separate but Equal (Brown v.)? The 1960s civil rights legislation? The March on Washington? King's "Dream" speech? The nomination of Barack Obama to POTUS?

Talk to me.

The answer, say I, rests in one's definition of slavery or in the case of Iraq, of success. Also, history is the great interloper in these matters. To my mind, success is simply the objective test of whether Iraq is manifesting a level of sustained change on a humanitarian level that any reasonable person would consider a good thing, and I'd couple that test with asking whether those changes inure to our geopolitical advantages. Briefly, is the fight worth it?

I think the former is clear; the question of Iraq today v. Hussein of yesterday satisfies the humanitarian question. That is not to cavalierly dismiss the @ 250k deaths that the Iraq invasion (regime change) catalyzed, but I'd measure those deaths by asking you-to return to the slavery comparison-whether the half-million deaths in the civil war and beyond were worth the price of slavery's halt? In short, would you prefer to bring back the lives of 250k dead Iraqis in exchange for Hussein's dominion? I think that question can suitably be answered by examining what Hussein's regime, his legacy, did for his 25 million other countrymen, just as examining what slavery did in perpetuity to countless African Americans. No one in their right mind would seek a return to either, save the dead.

As to the latter question, the answer is less clear. I'm less convinced that the invasion has inured, up to this point, to our geopolitical advantage. I'm willing to concede, even, that the immediate, post-invasion landscape was a total clusterfuck. BushCos' manifest incompetence in this war has overwhelmingly been about tactical disorders. And what made those tactical mistakes all the more unacceptable was that too many of them, certainly the initial ones, were inspired and triggered by an ideological lobotomy. The neocons, of whom I am one still, got him drunk with the self-deluding grandeur and imperialism of aggressive democracy. Then they threw in god's blessing, as if they alone might profit by it, to further legitimate their crusade. We got to witness, ultimately, one devil chasing another.

Fortunately, this is a marathon and not a sprint. And it's not the road to heaven. Even Bush's (read Rumsfeld's) tactical buffoonery and Tamerlanesque, messianic approach is not enough to dissolve the longterm merit of creating democratic foundations in Iraq and, as critically, in the mideast and beyond. Some things are inherently transcendent. Thus, with the slavery's halt, the signposts of success in Iraq will happen imperceptibly and necessarily transcend the day's battle-and Iraq's borders. (That is not to say a decent 4-star General or two would hurt the cause.)

Still, I happen to think that freedom and democracy keenly account for Iraq's increasing metamorphosis. And, yes, Bruce, it remains a finite awakening. We haven't yet achieved a Jeffersonian template. So what. The dark ages of Hussein and the darker ages of bin Ladenism (that make a non-democratic Iraq all the more foreboding) have had years to cultivate their dystopia. What say we get a five-year plan before you declare the sky falling?

I don't believe Sullivan's skepticism or yours with respect to our Iraq gains is enough to prevail upon a more promising, inevitable reality.

Posted by: resh at January 3, 2008 12:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We're going to find out a lot sooner than "5 years" from now whether there's any chance of recovering the situation; we are going to have to start shrinking our troop presence there in a major way by July at the absolute latest simply because the Army is exhausted, and after we're going to discover pretty quickly whether there's any evidence that the mice are willing to play together nicely while the cat's away.

As for Iraq evolving into a democracy; all the evidence is that the absolute most we can hope for for the next decade or two is a partitioned state with both parts as "democratic" as Pakistan currently is. I repeat that -- since Saddam had no nuclear program -- this is a very small return for several thousand US lives and several trillion US dollars, especially given the threats elsewhere. Right now, if a sudden crisis was produced by the fact that Pakistan or North Korea already has the Bomb, we would be near-powerless to respond to it adequately militarily. We have also been very seriously drained of both our military and (thanks to the Wolf-crying and general duplicity of the Bushites) diplomatic ability to try to prevent Iran from acquiring the Bomb.

(The latter is hardly surprising, since the Bush Neocons -- which, in my own experience, was damn near ALL the Neocons at the start of this war -- placed all of their [limited] marbles on the assumption that not only would the invasion, occupation and reform of Iraq into a democratic [and pro-American, which would naturally be the same thing] nation be a Cakewalk, but that Iraq could then serve as the staging area for equally Cakewalky invasions and reforms of Iran and Syria. Remember that popular slogan of theirs? "Men go to Baghdad; REAL men go to Teheran and Damascus." Well, everyone makes mistakes, but Eisenhower would have been roused to uncharacteristic obscenity by this crew's failure to devise ANY backup plan in case the Cake fell --a failure which, you'll recall, Rumsfeld actually declared to be a virtue at one of his press conferences. And the two klutzes primarily responsible for this horrendous error in central strategy -- which is entirely unlike Lincoln's long-time inability to find a general willing to actually try to carry out his strategy -- are still squarely ensconced in power as President and VP of the United States.)

And if nuclear terrorism does become a possibility -- anywhere, from any country -- the fact that we "won" in Iraq (or Afghanistan) is going to count for precisely nothing. It is the overwhelming first-order issue of our time. (An additional danger of the Iraq War is that all its sound and fury is distrating people from focusing properly intellectually on that fact -- look how blindsided the America people were by the sudden crisis in Pakistan, which they should have been thrinking about for years.)

Time, I think, to quote someone else, namely Hilzoy of "Obsidian Wings" on Dec. 19 ( ):

"People sometimes talk about 'doing what it takes in Iraq', or 'giving the surge a chance', as though such choices had no actual downside; as though letting George W. Bush have his way on Iraq policy was like letting your child pursue some wildly improbable but ultimately harmless dream. 'Why not let him try?', they say, as though he were a teenager hoping to become a movie star, or me trying to make the NBA. This is obviously crazy: nothing about Iraq is harmless. Our soldiers are dying in Iraq; our money is being spent there; our resources are being diverted away from places like Afghanistan, where they might have done a lot more good. And, to top it all off, we are doing damage to our Army that will take decades to undo, and that might prevent us from responding adequately the next time we face a real threat, rather than one that exists only in Bush and Cheney's imaginations." (The previous section of her very lengthy entry is devoted to describing in detail just how Iraq is degrading our military -- specifically, the fact that the number of high-quality would-be officers is dropping like a rock.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at January 3, 2008 03:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The trite phrase, time will tell, I suppose is true for Iraq. Only the next several years will we see whether it is Neil & Resh or Bruce, Greg and anti-Neil who are correct. One warning, do not attempt to draw many parrallels between current-day Iraq and Vietnam in 1968. The situations on the ground are too different.

Back to orginal subject of post: A good, short commentary on Benazir Bhutto covering both her positives and negatives by Christopher Hitchens can be found at

Posted by: David All at January 4, 2008 05:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Please lay out for us all the rose-laden path that Bush disregarded in 2002-03.

In as much exquisite detail as you can muster.

Posted by: neill at January 4, 2008 10:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

especially in regard to Saddam's relationship to the jihadist movement.....

Posted by: neill at January 4, 2008 10:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

some FACTS from long war journal:

On December 14, the quarterly report to congress was released. The details have been addressed in "Iraqi Security Forces continue to surge" and only updates or changes to that report will be addressed in this update.

On December 15, the ninth of 18 Iraqi provinces transferred to Iraqi control. Basrah marked the halfway point in the turnover of Iraqi provinces and a major shift in Iraqi forces to cover the southern provinces. According to previous reporting, Ninewa Province is due to transfer to Iraqi control in the February or March timeframe and Anbar is speculated to transfer in the April or May timeframe. Baghdad Province is planned for Provincial Iraqi Control in August 2008. Baghdad is expected to be the last province to transfer to Iraqi control.

Iraqi Ground Forces Command (IGFC)

IGFC Division manning and addendum notes. Basic data from DoD.

While the latest Government Accounting Office report had flaws, it did note the formation of the Wheeled Vehicle Repair Depot, Tracked Vehicle Repair Depot, and Small Arms Repair Facility at Taji. On December 30, 2007 maintainers for 6th Iraqi Division graduated from the vehicle maintenance course at Old Muthanna. These events represent the Iraqi Army's progress towards maintenance self-sufficiency.

During the month of December, the Iraqi Army increased in support troops by over 3,000 personnel. According to the commander of the US 1st Brigade-1st Cavalry Division, the three Iraqi Army (IA) brigades he has worked with could be logistically independent in three to eight months, twelve months at most. He worked with the IA 2-9 Tank Brigade, the 3-6 Infantry Brigade, and the young 4-9 (wheeled) Mechanized Brigade. The biggest problem is a shortage of heavy transporters and tanker trucks.

ISF Manning. Data from State.

The Iraqi Army continues to receive more armored vehicles. On December 11, a press conference to "announce the delivery of more than 200 HMMWVs, 40 five-ton cargo trucks and five Rough Terrain Container Handlers and other types of support equipment that were purchased though the Foreign Military Sales program was held. "This is only a small portion of the equipment that is flowing into Iraq through the Foreign Military Sales program." Those vehicles were destined for the Baghdad-based 6th and 11th Divisions only. The other divisions would receive their vehicles and equipment from other IA facilities.

The 2nd Division received 33 Iraqi Light Armored Vehicles (ILAV). This vehicle is a 4x4 version of the Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) used for engineering route clearance. "This is the second to last mass issue of Badgers, with 40 more being prepared for another Iraqi Army division." This means that 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th Divisions have ILAVs for route clearance. The 8th Division uses DZIK3s armored personnel carriers and Bozena mine clearance vehicles for route clearance while the 9th and 3rd Divisions are using M113s. This indicates 3rd Division is planned to become mechanized. The 1st, 7th, 10th, and 14th Divisions have not been confirmed with route clearance vehicles.

The integration of Kurdish Regional Force into the Iraqi Army continues largely under the radar of press reporting. While two IA battalions (3-1-3 and 3-2-3) returned to Ninewa from their Baghdad deployment, negotiations for the transfer of two Peshmerga Divisions to the IA started. The Peshmerga and Badr Brigades have been authorized to join Iraqi security forces while Jaish Al-Mahdi has been specifically banned from joining. Also in the north, the former Strategic Infrastructure Battalions are planned to finish retraining and re-equipping by the end of 2008.

Besmaya received 110 BMP1s for issue to units going through the Brigade Unit Set Fielding program. The first battalion to receive these BMP1s was the 3-3-11, however, the 11th Division is not to be mechanized. The 3-3-11 Battalion based in Sadr City is to be the only mechanized battalion in 11th Division.

To the south, 50 more members of the 4-6 Brigade graduated the "Commando Course". Some graduates were transferred to the local Iraqi Special Operations Force commando Company while others returned to their parent units. This indicates an upgrade program for the 4-6 "Baghdad Eagles" Brigade and probably means that they have been tapped to be the basis of the new forming Presidential Guard Brigade.

The IA has yet to form and organized reserve. In response to a request for information concerning the possibility of concerned local citizens (CLCs) being integrated and trained as an IA local reserve, the Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq's (MNSTC-I) Public Affairs Officer (PAO) replied:

"For now there is no consideration given to a Reserve Force. Not that it isn't going to eventually be a reality but for now the focus is on the fight and filling the security forces into the critical areas of Baghdad, filling the leadership shortages, and continuing to fill the ranks of the IA to 120%. CLCs are joining security forces but most are going into the police forces. The CLCs are really local and the police forces are the best fit for these groups. The CLC ranks are totaling over 77,000 right now and not all are able to join and there are not enough police jobs for all to join. Those who are joining may not stay over the long haul but those who are joining are doing very well."
Iraqi Ministry of Interior

The Iraqi National Police's (INP) Sustainment Brigade continues to develop. The fifth of seven planned medical clinics was turned over to the commander of INP's "Sustainment Battalion," indicating that component is standing up. Additionally, the INP's "Sustainment Brigade" supported the deployment of new INP recruits to Sulimaniyah Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) Training Facility via the Iraqi Air Force's 23rd Squadron (C130).

The DBE is assisting in correcting the training backlog of INP personnel since the INP has priority. This action indicates the initial operations of the INP Sustainment Brigade's Special Troops Battalion and the Sustainment Battalion. The status of the Maintenance Battalion and the Transport Battalion is undetermined. The INP had its basic joint combined operations qualifications checked off with that deployment. INP recruits, supported by the INP Sustainment Brigade, transported to a DBE training facility via an Iraqi Air Force C130.

On December 19, the first class graduated from INP Phase III training. Of the 450 students that started this "Carabinieri" training, 430 members of the INP Quick Reaction Battalion (Emergency Response Unit) actually graduated (as opposed to the 700 reported by AP). A new class was to start at the end of December. Additionally, the INP Emergency Response Unit gained a new 125 man company. This indicates that they are fully manning the graduating battalions of Phase III training as part of the program.

On December 18, the Iraqi National Police Al Askaryn Brigade of Samarra received more than 80 vehicles. This means they are now a motorized brigade and is the first time the Al Askaryn Brigade was officially acknowledged as under INP command. This brigade was deployed to Samarra after the second attack that destroyed the minarets of the Al Askaria mosque in early 2007.

INP Brigade and Battalions formed and forming. Chart from DoD.

The Ministry of Interior's response to the various Washington think tanks' recommendations to disband the INP has been received, and rejected. Nine new INP battalions have been added since mid-September for a total of a division's worth of new INP units in 2007. In response to an request for information to clarify the nine INP battalion increase in the December quarterly report, (per Multi-National Corps-Iraq J5) a correction to the INP section of the "Iraqi Security Forces continue to surge" needs to be made. The quarterly report only lists combat formations of the INP. The new INP Sustainment Brigade is in addition to the 11 brigades and 39 battalions listed. In September the INP was listed as having 10 brigades and 30 battalions. This included the already operational nine INP brigades (27 battalions) plus the Al Askaryn Brigade (3 battalions) ordered formed last spring. The brigade and nine new INP battalions added since September are:

• The Emergency Response Unit is being counted as a battalion.
• The Justice Battalion.
• The Unity Battalion.
• The Seyafeah Battalion.
• The Basrah Palace Protection Force (two battalions).
• The newly forming Abu-Risha Brigade planned for Anbar Province (three battalions).
The five specialty units referred to in the quarterly report are the INP Emergency Response Unit, the Basrah Palace Protection Force, the Justice Battalion, the Unity Battalion, and the Seyafeah Battalion.

During December north Wasit Province IP added a new 800 man Emergency Response Battalion. This would be the 57th Emergency Response Battalion formed nationwide. In Basrah, the Iraqi Police has reorganized into "Emergency Regiments" as part of its reformation.

The Interior Ministry appears to be addressing concerns of corruption, particularly related to the personnel rolls. On December 8, a planned hiring freeze of Iraqi Police for 2008 was announced. This freeze is for retaining and reappraisal of the force. So far, the Ministry of Interior has found 48,000 "ghost" employees since they started taking over the Facilities Protection Service from their original 24 parent ministries.

Note: Organizational wiring diagrams have been added to the order of battle page since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Posted by: neill at January 4, 2008 11:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

so, please Bruce, lay out IN DETAIL the alternate path on which we should be travelling.....

Posted by: neill at January 4, 2008 11:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill's quote from Long War Journal is a perfect example of the "Garbage In, Garbage Out" principle well known to computer programmers -- that is, no matter how detailed the analysis you make, if it's irrelevant to the actual problem it is valueless. In that connection, see Spencer Ackerman's look at the overall situation -- which concerns not just the (current) military success of the (unsustainable) Surge, but whether it is actually doing anything to permanently improve the political unification of Iraq, which of course is the absolutely crucial thing it was initially created to provide some chance of -- if the Iraqis were interested in taking advantage of an American-forced decrease in military violence. It was one tool necessary -- but nowhere near adequate -- to achieve the hoped-for goal, and at the moment the Iraq Optimists are proclaiming that the Tool IS the same thing as the Goal. It isn't.

(See also his footnote tonight on one of those listed elements of the upcoming disaster -- namely, that the Kurds have confirmed that by mid-2008 they intend to take control of Kirkuk and Mosul from the Sunnis by [rigged election] hook or by [violent] crook: .)

Oh, and my advice as to what to do in Iraq? Bail out, as fast as possible. We have nothing more to gain by remaining there --particularly since Iraq's Sunnis have now confirmed that, left to themselves, they will have no more tolerance of an al-Qaeda presence than Iraq's Shiites would. And, as Hilzoy pointed out, we have a hell of a lot to lose ELSEWHERE by staying there. Initially I had hoped that we might be able to retain a sizable presence in the Kurdish section, but even this is looking more and more problematic. (Apologies for the lack of further detail; but then Neill's own idea of "detail" turns out to consist of reciting White House propaganda bulletins word for word, which serves only to remind us again that the fact that parrots imitate human speech doesn't mean that they actually understand it.)

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at January 5, 2008 12:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It was one tool necessary -- but nowhere near adequate -- to achieve the hoped-for goal, and at the moment the Iraq Optimists are proclaiming that the Tool IS the same thing as the Goal."

No one is doing this. More fact-free musings from BM. Have you no shame?

And if I use falsehoods myself, or those I quote do, call me on it.


Posted by: neilll at January 5, 2008 06:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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

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