September 09, 2004

What to do in Iraq?

Andrew Sullivan writes, in post entitled "Going Backward in Iraq?":

That's part of the extremely depressing message from the latest CSIS report on the liberation. Reconstruction is pitiful; the Shi'a and Sunni insurgencies remain intact; there is growing restlessness in the north. I don't think CSIS has an ax to grind; and their report is chock-full of data and interviews and on-the-ground reporting. It seems to me that the question of how we turn things around should be the most important question of the campaign. And yet it's barely mentioned.
[emphasis added]

He's absolutely right--the biggest question of the campaign isn't even close to being adequately addressed by either campaign. Let's take a closer look--starting with Kerry's plan:

John Kerry and John Edwards will make the creation of a stable and secure environment in Iraq our immediate priority in order to lay the foundations for sustainable democracy. They will:

Persuade NATO to Make the Security of Iraq one of its Global Missions and to deploy a significant portion of the force needed to secure and win the peace in Iraq. NATO participation will in turn open the door to greater international involvement from non-NATO countries.

Internationalize the Non-Iraqi Reconstruction Personnel in Iraq, to share the costs and burdens, end the continuing perception of a U.S. occupation, and help coordinate reconstruction efforts, draft the constitution and organize elections.

Launch a Massive and Accelerated Training Effort to Build Iraqi Security Forces that can provide real security for the Iraqi people, including a major role for NATO. This is not a task for America alone; we must join as a partner with other nations.

Plan for Iraq’s Future by working with our allies to forgive Iraq’s multi-billion dollar debts and by supporting the development of a new Iraqi constitution and the political arrangements needed to protect minority rights. We will also convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors in order to secure a pledge of respect for Iraq's borders and non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

All this sounds swell. But there are lots of problems with it. The biggest one, in my view, is that nearly all of this is already being done by Bush. Bush has already reached out to NATO most recently during the Istanbul summit this past summer. An initial NATO mission is already on the ground analyzing how best to assist the 'train and equip' effort. Yes, it's pretty de minimis fare. But why should we believe John Kerry will be able to secure massive German and, particularly, French participation in a NATO-led 'train and equip' effort (let alone providing large troop contingents)? Simply because he isn't Bush and Berlin and Paris will like the smell of him better? Or because he will dangle a few more reconstruction contracts there way? Sorry, but I'm not buying.

And regardless, how will a more significant NATO presence really help us in Iraq vis-a-vis quashing the insurgency? Will more largely Christian, European soldiers change the dynamics of the war underway? Would it allow us to withdraw troops? Probably not, as we are already thin so new contingents would be more by way of supplementing forces already on the ground. Kerry also suggests a bigger NATO role would, in turn, allow for greater international involvement for non-NATO countries. But Powell has already been working on getting Islamic nations to contribute. Again, what will Kerry do differently here? Will Joe Biden wave a magic wand so that Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Bangladesh and Malaysia will be rushing to line up to send in contingents?

Kerry also talks about internationalizing the reconstruction personnel (more Nepalese perhaps?), forgiving Iraqi debt (James Baker III is already working this issue), and calling for a regional conference to secure a plege of non-interference by neighboring countries (a Les Gelb idea, largely a good one, but would Iranian (the country of most concern on porous border issues, at least currently) pledges of non-interference really be worth the paper they were written on?).

Bottom line: Kerry offers little new--and is now, post-Clinton sick bed consultation, talking more about the squandered $200 billion (with Deanesque touches of how wrong it all was to go in and how we have to get out of there as quickly as possible).

So would you forgive me that I'm a skeptic on Kerry and Iraq? He's proposing ideas that are largely already being implemented by Bush and screaming on about getting out of Iraq within four years. It doesn't sound to me like a man who has the will, perseverance or desire to see Iraq through.

And yet, as Fareed Zakaria reminds us, perseverance (Bush's strong suit) has its limits:

Bush's attitude is partly responsible for the problems in Iraq. Perseverance is a good quality, but one can sometimes persevere in error. Months into the occupation, the administration stubbornly insisted that there was no insurgency, that no more troops were necessary, that the Governing Council had widespread support and that disbanding the Army was the right thing to do. It could not accept the inconvenient facts.

I've defended Bush from such criticisms in the past--most recently in the context of Andew Sullivan describing him as something of a stubborn, bull-headed "religious visionary". And yet, talk of seeing Iraq through--devoid of greater detail--is pretty empty talk. Still, make no mistake, it's better to talk in vague terms about seeing Iraq through (Bush)-- than increasingly engage in barely concealed talk of cutting and running (Kerry).

Yet Bush can and must do better. Right now, the January elections are in deep peril of being judged illegitimate because large swaths of Sunni Iraq are no-go areas. This may not concern many Shi'a or Kurds--but would render the electoral results highly problematic. If population centers like Samarra, Falluja and Ramadi simply can't vote--well, Sunnis will be forgiven for thinking that they have now been disenfranchised not only figuratively but literally too. Such an outcome will allow for even riper conditions for insurgency to develop in large swaths of the Sunni triangle.

And yet, the answer is not to flatten Fallujah so as to set up a heavily guarded polling station there. You can't destroy the village to save it. You can't kill hundreds and hundreds of Fallujans so that shattered, grieving families can then 'vote.' That's, of course, dumb policy.

So, what to do? The first step is to better understand just exactly who you are fighting. On that score, check out this primer:

The insurgency is now driven mainly by Islamists,” says Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service. “There are some foreign fighters, but the engine of this is Iraqi Islamists mirroring the tactics of al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah.” The Islamists kidnap and behead Americans, Iraqis, and foreigners working with them; detonate suicide car bombs; and set off roadside explosives. They have instituted “Taliban-like rule” in Falluja, according to The New York Times. Also active in the insurgency are Baathists, who a year ago were believed to be leading the effort, but “are in a subordinate position right now,” Katzman says. Overall, the insurgency in Anbar is growing in strength and resourcefulness. “The enemy is becoming more sophisticated in his efforts to destabilize the country,” said General Richard Myers, commander of the joint chiefs of staff, at a press briefing September 7.

So this is no surprise. Islamists and Baathists are the enemy, right? It's like Rummy and Bush have been saying all along--we are merely fighting terrorists (read: beheading Islamists) and 'dead-enders' (unseated Baathists and their closest sympathizers).

Well, not quite (and here is where an opportunity exists for us to mount a more intelligent counter-insurgency operation). Also fighting us:

A broad mix of fighters who resent the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Pamela Hess, reporting for United Press International from Ramadi, wrote that among the insurgents were “smugglers whose economic lines are getting severed by coalition patrols; tribal sheiks angry over their loss of power with the ouster of their patron Saddam Hussein; jihadists of various nationalities who flock to Ramadi ’to get their war on’; nationalists who resent the occupation; citizens who lost friends or relatives in the war or post-war and are seeking revenge; and mercenaries—desperately poor Iraqis who have no hope of jobs in the shattered economy who get paid $50 or $100 to shoot at Americans.”

Check out the motley crew I've bolded. Aggrieved families, mercenaries, tribal sheiks, smugglers, Iraqi nationalists. These are the constituencies that we must have, if not out and out falling in love with us, at least not actively combatting us. As I've argued before, what we need to do when fighting terror and terror-enablers is foster conditions that leave all but the die-hards (in Iraq: Zarqawi's crowd, foreign jihadists, and ex-Baathists) to confront. We need to methodically and ruthlessly isolate our real existential enemy and then confront him head on.

So how to make these other constituencies like us more? Two things, in the main. Security Security Security. And Reconstruction Reconstruction Reconstruction.

Security means different things in different places. In Fallujah--it means not having your house mistaken for a Zarqawi safe-house and bombarded from the air. In Baghdad (outside of Sadr City) it means not being blown up by an errant car bomb. In Sadr City--it means not getting caught up in the cross-fire between U.S. forces and Mahdi Army types. In Mosul and Kirkuk--it means police stations not getting routinely blown up.

Regular readers of my blog know that I've complained a lot about us never having sufficient troops in theater to create secure conditions. This remains true, in my view. That said, that debate has, to large extent, become stale now. We have a pretty conservative force posture in country and are massively involved (did Kerry hear?) in training and equipping new Iraqi forces. There won't be a GI on every street corner now. So we must, at least, get smarter in terms of ensuring security in conjunction with our new Iraqi allies.

For instance, check out this part of a (even more Kurdophile than usual!) Peter Galbraith piece in the NYRB:

Allawi's tough-guy approach has won him admiration not just in official Washington but in Iraq as well. Many Iraqis are fed up with the insurgencies, and citizens of Baghdad appreciate his efforts to deal with that city's kidnappings and armed robberies, which have gone out of control. (Allawi rounded up more than five hundred known criminals, a move that apparently never occurred to the American occupation authorities, since crime was not a problem in the highly fortified Green Zone.)

Well, that's dumb. The fact that many Iraqis are fed up with insurgencies is a major opportunity. So, with the limited resources we have available, let's be smarter about providing security (you know, get off our duffs, before Allawi had to do it, and go and apprehend known criminals enjoying free rein in Baghdad).

The other major part to all of this is the flailing reconstruction effort:

U.S. authorities are planning to shift about $3 billion of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds granted by Congress last fall away from major reconstruction projects and to programs designed to build Iraqi security forces and create short-term jobs. As of September 1, $886 million of those funds had been spent. Iraqi unemployment currently stands at between 30 percent and 40 percent.

Unemployment was 25% at the height of the Great Depression in the U.S. Is it any surprise that a country with 40% unemployment will provide succor to myriad insurgents?

So, how likely it is that more short-term jobs (many of them military) will prove helpful in giving Iyad Alawi something to work with to get the tribal shieks, smugglers, nationalists, and so on to give up their arms (or at least stop helping those that won't give them up--the die-hard Baathists with nothing to lose and the fanatical Islamists).

It’s unclear. General William Nash, the director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that the United States and Iraq have to succeed in “the long, slow battle of economic and political reconstruction.” His long-term strategy for ending the insurgency includes giving more authority and resources to the Iraqi government so it’s clear that it is in charge, and waging an information campaign to convince the Iraqi public that the insurgents “are not fighting the Americans, they’re fighting Iraq.” The focus of Nash’s plan—and the “hearts and minds” strategy being pursued by U.S. military commanders—is to win over the majority of Iraqis by showing them they can have a future in the new Iraqi state. A September 2 International Crisis Group report also emphasizes the importance of reconstruction. “Iraq desperately needs an economic recovery strategy to escape its vicious circle of hardship, discontent, and violence,” it says.

It's time to stop the Rumsfeldian-Politburo style recitations about how many schools or hospitals are being built. Let's be plain Mr. Rumsfeld. Large parts of the country remain in dismal shape.

The ICG, as is typical, makes some very smart recommendations, including:

"Address immediate socio-economic needs by:

(a) designing projects with a visible, direct impact and significant employment potential, such as street cleaning, garbage collection, sewage systems repair and local byroads repair;

(b) retraining former members of the Iraqi armed forces and employing them in state-owned enterprises;

(c) offering credit facilities for housing construction and repair;

(d) providing farmers with subsidised agricultural inputs; and

(e) generally consulting with Iraqis, in particular associations, labour unions, and groups representing the unemployed, on the design and implementation of projects."

And also:

1. Produce, in cooperation with the donor community, a comprehensive plan for reconstruction, including:

(a) a strategy for economic diversification that gradually steers the country away from its dependence on oil revenues;

(b) active support for the industrial and agricultural sectors; and

(c) postponed privatisation of state companies until market conditions and institution-building show considerable improvement.

I've bolded this last portion of an ICG recommendation because it reminds us how utopic people like Ken 'Cakewalk' Adleman were before this war. Privatize large industry Polish 'shock therapy' style! Get the oil on tap to pay for all the reconstruction soonest! Free and fair elections under the aegis of Great Leader Ahmad!

Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!

Look, there is a lot of blame to go around and hindsight is 20-20. But as someone who has worked for some of the neo-cons now working in or around the Pentagon (in the context of the morally justifiable and critical 'training and equipping' effort of the Bosnian Federation Army), I have to say (with genuine regret because I sometimes share their idealism and moral neo-Reaganite shadings) too many critical errors of judgment were made. Errors that, finally, showcase a dismal lack of understanding of the full complexities of both nation-building generally, and the region and Iraq specifically. For me to feel more comfortable supporting George Bush--I need to know that new policymakers are going to be in lead positions on Iraq policy in any Bush II (I'll be following that issue very closely here over the next couple of months). Early indications are that's the case--which makes it easier for me to support Dubya over what appears to increasingly be a 'cut and run' Kerry Iraq policy largely staffed with Clinton alums that I find underwhelming as foreign policy practitioners.

(Note: I've written this in great haste before a full day of meetings. Forgive me awkward sentences and typos!). More soon.

Posted by Gregory at September 9, 2004 10:55 AM

This is yet another extremely insightful posting. B.D.'s ideas are excellent (and grounded in real-world experience) so I wish B.D. worked for the Bush Administration.

Unfortunately, B.D. doesn't work for the Bush Administration, and after reading the Fareed Zakaria column referenced in the posting, I feel that my recent decision to vote for Mr. Kerry was absolutely correct. According to Mr. Zakaria, the Bush Administration's bellicose bluster has reduced the world's estimation of the U.S., and thereby crippled our ability to promote liberal democracy.

Regrettably, I have to agree with Mr. Zakaria's final sentence, about the Republican Party: "This is the party's dilemma -- it wishes to spread liberty to people it doesn't really like."

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 12:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

However (flip-flop! flip-flop!), I agree with B.D.'s criticisms of Mr. Kerry's Iraq plan.

As for Mr. Kerry's complaint about the loss of $200 billion, it is worthless. We'd all be better off if we had spent $300 billion instead of $200 billion in Iraq by now.

I hope President Kerry will allow General David Petraeus to continue his important work. As President Bush said, "Nobody likes to be occupied." Also, the Iraqis know their own country better than any foreigners. Therefore, Iraqification is a far more practical approach than internationalization.

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 01:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with all these points but think they are also pointless. To me, the truth is that democracy in Iraq is such a long-term project that it is a meaningless goal. Our constitution was ratified in 1788 and the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. A total of 176 years before we had a decently working democracy for all citizens. (Decently working inasmuch as Affirmative Action is non-democatic.) And let's not forget a bloody Civil War right in the middle. And we STARTED as a group fo people who believed in individual freedom!!! So, let's see a raise of hands that Iraq can be a working democracy in 5 years? 25? 100? 200? To me, Bush's biggest mistake was in not confining himself to one goal. Kill as many Islamic fanatics as possible in a short time and get out. If Hussein was the threat he was represented to be, we solve that issue for about 5 years while the Iraqis fight among themselves over who the next dictator is. If they become an issue again, we go in and kill as many as posible and get out. Nation building by an external country does not work. Only Iraqis can build their nation. And they are not likely to build a democracy any time soon.

Posted by: Jack at September 9, 2004 02:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mostly good stuff, Greg.

As for this:
"And yet, the answer is not to flatten Fallujah so as to set up a heavily guarded polling station there. You can't destroy the village to save it. You can't kill hundreds and hundreds of Fallujans so that shattered, grieving families can then 'vote.' That's, of course, dumb policy."

Unfortunately, this appears to be our policy at the moment.

Posted by: praktike at September 9, 2004 03:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think the Bush Administration has a very good policy in Iraq, but to be fair, it has a much better policy than it had in April and May. The U.S. is not going to flatten Fallujah, nor should we. Any aggressive operation there or anywhere else in Iraq should and will include the full cooperation and participation of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces.

I live in an area of the U.S. where a surprisingly large number of people still profess admiration for and pride in a violent anti-American rebellion which was motivated by an evil ideology and which later spawned a large-scale campaign of domestic terrorism. Yet these same people have somehow been able to "get over it" -- they don't commit acts of violence or take up arms against the U.S. Is it possible for Iraq to acheive the same result in the Sunni triangle?

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 03:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Thank you for touching (albeit briefly) on a somewhat forgotten component of the grandiose naivete of the neo-con experiment: the extreme attachment to radical free marketism privativastion and supply side economics. You are right to highlight these recommendations from the ICG report:

(c) postponed privatisation of state companies until market conditions and institution-building show considerable improvement.

(e) generally consulting with Iraqis, in particular associations, labour unions, and groups representing the unemployed, on the design and implementation of projects.

The reason these recommendations are salient has to do with the fact that the neo-cons were intent on making Iraq the proving ground for a whole host of theories, not only democratization through invasion. In addition, Iraq was going to legitimize and prove correct the economic theories listed above. In pursuing these goals, the economic team showed, not surprisingly, a large degree of myopic hubris, and the results have been, predictably, disastrous.

Here is a recap of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's take from the Washington Post:

"Several current and former CPA officials contended that key decisions by Bremer favored a grandiose vision over Iraqi realities and reflected the perceived prerogatives of a military victor. Critics within the CPA also faulted Bremer for working to advance a conservative economic agenda of tax cuts and free trade instead of focusing on the delivery of basic services."

According to a Washington Post reporter who shared a flight with him last June, "Bremer discussed the need to privatize government-run factories with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold." That was in the context of a nation that had no leadership (the Baathists having been removed from power), had a crumbling infrastructure with vital services such as water, electricity, healthcare and oil production all severely disrupted, the security situation was in shambles with rampant looting and crime, and the inattention to these pressing problems was providing fertile ground for the insurgency which took root in those crucial first months.

Nor does it appear that Bremer and his administration allies have lost sight of their economic priorities, "as he prepared to leave Iraq, Mr. Bremer listed reduced tax rates, reduced tariffs and the liberalization of foreign-investment laws as among his major accomplishments. Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time - but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics."

Another example of how the macro approach was ignoring the needs of ordinary Iraqis is that as we were trying to create a robust economic life in Iraq, we were doing very little to engage the Iraqi populace in the process. As Chandrasekaran points out, "CPA specialists had virtually no resources to fund projects on their own to create much-needed local employment in the months after the war. Instead, they relied on two U.S. firms, Halliburton Co. and Bechtel Corp., which were awarded large contracts to patch Iraq's infrastructure."

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 9, 2004 04:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun, I'm just going by what Metz said the other day:
A U.S. assault on one or more of Iraq's three main "no-go" areas — including Fallujah — is likely in the next four months as the Iraqi government prepares to extend control before elections slated for January, the U.S. land-forces commander said yesterday.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the No. 2 American military leader in Iraq, said the U.S. military will work to regain control of rebel strongholds and turn them over to Iraq's fledgling security forces so elections will be seen by Iraqis — and the world — as free and fair.

"I don't think today you could hold elections," Metz said. "But I do have about four months where I want to get to local control. And then I've got the rest of January to help the Iraqis to put the mechanisms in place."

A U.S. military offensive will be needed to bring the toughest places to heel, Metz said.

The rebel-held western city of Fallujah is the biggest obstacle, he said. The next biggest problem, in U.S. military terms, is Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad and also in guerrilla hands.

Posted by: praktike at September 9, 2004 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I stand corrected by your posting above, and I thank you. There is no reference whatsoever to permission from, cooperation with, or participation from the Iraqis in the General's statement. That is pretty disturbing.

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 06:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've ended my bitter criticism of Mr. Bremer, the happily former chairman of the happily former CPA, but after reading about the request to shove University of Chicago economics (I'm an alumnus, but not a fan of the laissez-faire philosophy) down the Iraqis' throats without their permission and under the worst possible circumstances, I'm tempted to begin that bitter criticism again.

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 06:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If population centers like Samarra, Falluja and Ramadi simply can't vote--well, Sunnis will be forgiven thinking that they have now been disenfranchised not only figuratively but literally too. Such an outcome will allow for even riper conditions for insurgency to develop in large swaths of the Sunni triangle."

Not necessarily.

I think the Iraqi government should begin reaching out to the Sunni no-go zones, explaining that elections in those areas will proceed as soon as the security situation improves. Meanwhile the rest of the country will go about the business of democratic self-government, thank you very much.

If the residents and tribal leaders of Fallujah and Ramadi feel that the violence is shutting them out of what could otherwise be a legitimate, gainful process, they will be less inclined to harbor the insurgents. This seems like be best way to depict the insurgents as fighting against Iraqis and to divide the hard-core terrorists from the disgruntled but hopefully pragmatic Sunni tribal leaders.

Mickey Kaus has been hawking this "rolling election" theme for a while now, but I see frustratingly little endorsement of it elsewhere.

Posted by: Matt at September 9, 2004 08:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Interesting theory Matt. It could work as an incentive for moderates and tribal leaders to self-police areas of insurgency, but it could also blow up in the face of those who try it.

If the moderates do not have the will, or power, to eject the insurgents, then it could lead to a greater sense of alienation from the process and this could lead to more suspicion and anger, among the population in general, not less.

As for the rest of the country going about the business of democratic self-government, if this Sunni triangle hotbed is not brought into the fold somehow, their actions will disrupt that democratic self government. There is a good chance they will be at least somewhat successful.

Maybe your solution is the best way to bring them in, I'm not sure. Fine mess it is.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 9, 2004 08:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Although I hate to agree with Mickey Kaus about Iraq, after Mr. Kaus wondered aloud about the possible benefits of "a short Sunni-Shi'a civil war" ("Just askin'!" he wrote), maybe Matt is right.

For example, India holds national elections which are rightly viewed as legitimate by India's Muslim citizens even though free and fair elections were only recently extended to the terrorism-plagued mostly Muslim state where my parents grew up.

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 08:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I miss the 2000 election, when I was enthuastic about my favored candidate, Mr. Gore. But despite my lack of enthusiasm I will do my duty and vote for Mr. Kerry.

Here's why I hate hate hate Mr. Kerry's implied disparagement of vital and steadfast allies like the current governments of Britain, Australia, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Japan, and South Korea: because hardly anyone in America seems to appreciate what these allies are doing for us. The Bush Administration mentions them occasionally, for its own political purposes, but does the Bush Administration ever actually expend any political capital in order to show these allies the gratitude they deserve?

Many soldiers from these nations have lost their lives fighting on our side. Shouldn't we extend to these allies our sympathy for their losses, and our gratitude for their sacrifices?

Of lesser importance (since so-called "political courage" is far less admirable than the real, physical courage of soldiers, sailors, and airmen), Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar lost his job for supporting the U.S. against the will of his people, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard is about to lose his job for the same reason. Shouldn't we be grateful to Prime Minister Aznar and Prime Minister Howard?

Posted by: Arjun at September 9, 2004 11:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've seen plenty of gratitude shown towards both those men from the White House.

Likewise, the Bush administration extends to our allies its sympathy and gratitude over and over, usually in response to every time that John Kerry belittes them.

There is no shortage of gratitude among those war supporters whose blogs I read.

Posted by: Joseph Cutler at September 10, 2004 04:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Then the Democrats asked to convert the $18 billion into loans"

How would the U.S. be able to convince other countries to forgive Iraq's debt if the U.S. itself won't do it?

Posted by: john marzan at September 10, 2004 06:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think that the forces in Fallujah (jihadis, Baathists, insurgents) are going to be conciliatory (participate any way in the official Iraqi government and civic society) until they are beaten badly.

How that can come about, with U.S. military action in Fallujah and elsewhere being (apparently) so politically constrained, I have no idea.

By the way, putting a GI on every streetcorner (at this point) might or might not be helpful, but one thing that would certainly be helpful is enough GI's to guard the borders (as well as pipelines.)

So being militarily constrained by politics doesn't mean that more troops would not be useful.

the wesson

Posted by: The Wesson at September 10, 2004 10:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think Kerry should say, "We're going to do something about Iraq, by either withdrawing or by committing massive manpower and resolving security completely once and for all."

This doesn't give much away to our enemies in Iraq, and also provides a plan for doing *something* - moving forwards - besides floundering.

I think it would be a fine thing for America to play the "mad dog" in Iraq, in which Allawi demanded cooperation or "would be unable to hold back those Americans."

Maybe that's just a juvenile perspective. But always being reasonable has a drawback - your adversary can predict what you are going to do, and can control your actions by providing the stimulus which will get the 'reasonable' response that he desires.

That is the downfall of the "send a message" kind of reasoning. To avoid that situation, the CinC should roll dice and if they come up snake eyes, then do the completely unreasonable response, not the measured one.

Only parties which cooperate (and continue to cooperate) in the game should be afforded control over ones actions.

And, no, one move (like Sadr negotiating to a truce after he's been beaten down again) doth not cooperation make.

the wesson

Posted by: The Wesson at September 10, 2004 10:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink had a newspaper advertisement in the New York Times featuring a bunch of people who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000. I don't know why we should even listen to such people, since they made the wrong choice last time, but thinks we should be very impressed with the fact that these geniuses are now voting for Mr. Kerry.

One of the featured geniuses complains that Mr. Bush is spending U.S. taxpayer dollars "liberating people" instead of feeding starving Americans.

I'm voting for Mr. Kerry in part because I want to reduce the appeal of this kind of "America first" demagoguery, but I regret Mr. Kerry's apparent need to pander to this demagoguery -- as when he complains that the $200 billion allegedly wasted in Iraq should have been spent instead, not in Afghanistan, not for our military, not for homeland security, but for our schools and our health care.

I agree with Mr. Kerry that the U.S. needs to use its economic power, not just its military power, to win the war on al Qaeda terrorism. Doesn't that require spending U.S. taxpayer dollars on things that don't have much appeal for U.S. taxpayers?

Posted by: Arjun at September 10, 2004 11:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No battle plan ever survived contact with the enemy. That is ten times more true for a plan of occupation. It was arrogant to believe that a country like Iraq, which Saddam has savaged and corrupted for over 20 years, could be turned into a thriving muslim democracy in a matter of months.
Plans for occupying muslim lands should take into account Israel's bloody occupation of Palestine. The same brutal terrorism is bound to take place whenever a muslim country is occupied by outsiders, regardless of money spent for reconstruction, or number of soldiers for pacification.
Arabs may not be capable of democracy, and until a proof of concept exists, one may be forgiven for suspecting that. Darfur may just be the pinnacle of arab achievement.

Posted by: Barfon at September 11, 2004 02:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What to do about iraq? Let's look at the box we're in politically.

1. We can support a strongman who will prevent fair elections. This is what we did in vietnam and it will leave us with dispirited native troops "supporting" us. It isn't really viable.

2. We can allow an elected government to take power. How likely is it that a representative government would fail to ask the US military to leave very soon?

They would need to establish that they are a real honest-to-goodness representative government. If they don't get the US military out of there, most iraqis will not believe they are for real. It isn't certain they'll tell us to leave, but it's the way to bet.

If they tell us to go in front of TV cameras, we'll go.

What plans should we make in this context? Sure, we should train an iraqi military. With us gone they'll be needed. Sure, we should get reconstruction going. IF Congress is willing to keep funding iraqi reconstruction without our military, it might do some good for iraq.

If we allow democracy in iraq we lose our military option early in 2005. But if we don't allow democracy, what are we fighting for?

Posted by: J Thomas at September 11, 2004 04:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Please see today's Weekly Standard column by Gerard Baker of the Times, who makes my point better than I did above: our allies in Iraq deserve our appreciation and our gratitude, not our scorn.

One point not mentioned by the article is that Australia's praiseworthy Prime Minister John Howard will soon lose his job for helping us.

It is utterly bizarre for a candidate, whose Iraq strategy is to get more help from our allies, to insult those allies that are actually helping, despite tremendous risk and tremendous sacrifice. I'm still voting for you, Mr. Kerry, but shame on you.

Posted by: Arjun at September 11, 2004 04:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A couple of points I'd like to pose in response to your excellent piece:

You point to the dismal lack of understanding for the full complexities of Iraq.

1) I think the neocons (who I in general support) did not understand the complexities of dealing with George Bush. I never would have thought Bush would try to pursue Wilsonian ideals with Coolidge-like frugality, at the risk of US lives and the success of the enterprise.

2) We never promised to turn the country into Santa Barbara, California in 18 months. We went in to remove a bloodthirsty madman and we did it. Even assuming the worst case scenario comes to pass and we leave under Kerry without really doing all we should, I would hold my head up and still consider this a qualified success.

3) Despite the media's obsession on portraying our efforts as a failure, I wonder what is the true tipping point is -- are our efforts at training a national guard progressing faster than the deterioration in the tactical situation. I am reminded of the recent film version of the battle of the Alamo. Every day the defenders held off was another day Houston had to train a Texas army. I know this analogy would not be too appealing to the mothers losing their sons to car bombs right now, but in the geopolitical sense that's the situation we are confronted with. I wish someone would try to frame the issue in those terms.

Posted by: wayneseib at September 11, 2004 10:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If the government dropped 200 or 300 extra billion on the public schools tomorrow, the principal results would be:

1. Lower ratio of teachers to pupils
2. Higher teacher salaries and pensions
3. Lower ratio of administrators to teachers
4. Lower ratio of bus drivers to pupils
5. Higher administator salaries and pensions
6. New fringes like free dentistry & legal help
7. Shorter workdays
8. Longer vacations and more holidays
9. Lavish new buildings and grounds
10. Bigger and better Halloween parties, more
school nurses and psychologists, improved
parking lot signage, free breakfasts,
more and better football fields, swimming
pools, etc., and more adult night schools
to rescue those who were not taught
to read and write during their first 13 years
in the public schools.
11. Test scores lower to unchanged.

All in all, I think it would be better to spend the money trying to bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East.

Posted by: exguru at September 12, 2004 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I couldn't agree with you less, but that is for another website.

My point was simply that the WOT is important, and we should be willing to spend lots of money on it.

Posted by: Arjun at September 13, 2004 01:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Exguru said:

"All in all, I think it would be better to spend the money trying to bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East."

I agree with the goal. Shame we invaded Iraq instead. Here is an excerpt from James Fallows' latest piece in the Atlantic Monthly:

"Over the past two years I have been talking with a group of people at the working level of America's anti-terrorism efforts. Most are in the military, the intelligence agencies, and the diplomatic service; some are in think tanks and nongovernmental agencies. I have come to trust them, because most of them have no partisan ax to grind with the Administration (in the nature of things, soldiers and spies are mainly Republicans), and because they have so far been proved right. In the year before combat started in Iraq, they warned that occupying the country would be far harder than conquering it. As the occupation began, they pointed out the existence of plans and warnings the Administration seemed determined to ignore.

As a political matter, whether the United States is now safer or more vulnerable is of course ferociously controversial. That the war was necessary - and beneficial - is the Bush Administration's central claim. That it was not is the central claim of its critics. But among national-security professionals there is surprisingly little controversy. Except for those in government and in the opinion industries whose job it is to defend the Administration's record, they tend to see America's response to 9/11 as a catastrophe. I have sat through arguments among soldiers and scholars about whether the invasion of Iraq should be considered the worst strategic error in American history - or only the worst since Vietnam. Some of these people argue that the United States had no choice but to fight, given a pre-war consensus among its intelligence agencies that Iraq actually had WMD supplies. Many say that things in Iraq will eventually look much better than they do now. But about the conduct and effect of the war in Iraq one view prevails: it has increased the threats America faces, and has reduced the military, financial, and diplomatic tools with which we can respond."

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 13, 2004 07:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I noticed yesterday that Barnes and Noble is selling the Star Spangled Mirror by Richard Kerry. I didn't have the inclination to buy it or the time to read it, though -- but I wasn't satisfied with Franklin Foer's or Philip Gourevitch's summary of this 1990 book.

Belgravia Dispatch has a learned readership -- did anyone get a chance to read this book?

Posted by: Arjun at September 13, 2004 08:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One thing we didn't expect was exactly how whiny and helpless most Iraqis are. That's what happens after 40 years of oppression, but you wouldn't know it from what we heard before the war. Iraqis were supposed to jump at the chance to rebuild their country.

Turns out they stand around waiting for us to do it for them. Every move we make is twisted until it fits into some conspiracy against Iraqis, truth be damned. Rumors are repeated as fact, unless they have a basis in fact. Then they are Coalition propaganda.

Certainly we can point a big finger at the dorks in the White House who failed to anticipate how difficult this would be, but the blame for how difficult this is goes squarely on the Iraqi people.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 13, 2004 09:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I feel disappointed when I look at the results of Iraqi opinion polls: Iraqi Kurds notably excepted, Iraqis have an overwhelmingly negative view of the U.S. I'm American, and pro-American, so I obviously don't agree with the Iraqi people on this point. I also don't think that celebrating around a burning Bradley fighting vehicle, while throwing stones at the vehicle's occupants, qualifies as a "peaceful demonstration">

Nevertheless, I'm also pro-Arab, pro-Muslim, and pro-Iraqi, so I'm grateful for any opportunity to defend the Iraqi people.

1) The Iraqi people did try to liberate themselves in 1991 after the Gulf War (as recounted in an article by Zainab al-Suwaij in The New Republic in January 2003 entitled "The Fire Last Time").

2) Countless pronouncements aside, the Iraqi people are not "free". They are not free until they are safe from retribution at the hands of the violent armed factions, including ancien regime loyalists, Mr. al-Sadr's organization, and worst of all, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organization.

3) Iraqis line up every day to join the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police. These lines have been an attractive target for suicide car bombs, and hundreds of applicants have died. After each attack, the lines form again.

4) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has never condoned violence against the multinational forces, he repeatedly describes the Iraqi Police rather than the al-Sadr militia as the legitimate security forces, and his main demand has always been democratic elections.

Posted by: Arjun at September 13, 2004 11:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You said: "Certainly we can point a big finger at the dorks in the White House who failed to anticipate how difficult this would be, but the blame for how difficult this is goes squarely on the Iraqi people."

I don't disagree completely, but there were so many people saying just how difficult it would be, and how the Iraqi people would react, that at a certain point you have to hold the leaders accountable for ignoring the warnings (said warnings coming from the CIA, the State Department, the Army, etc).

Its like if you were warned that if you try to give a tiger a shot of needed antibiotics it would likely bite you, and continue to attack you, but you proceed to attempt to administer the shot anyway. Then, after you are met with the predictable response, you blame the tiger for biting you. Yes, the tiger is responsible for biting you, but you kind've should've known better.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 13, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yesterday, in a column in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Biden proposed a "Democratic Foreign Policy" which explicitly includes the option of unilateral violence. (So did Mr. Kerry's nomination acceptance speech, of course. But I was looking forward to hearing that important line, and then Mr. Kerry rushed through it, without any emphasis, as if he feared that reserving the option of unilateral violence wouldn't please his immediate audience.)

Mr. Biden's column came too late to influence my voting decision (I'm already voting for Mr. Kerry, "quelles que soient les circonstances" as Jacques Chirac might say) but I really liked the ideas Mr. Biden expressed.

Posted by: Arjun at September 14, 2004 01:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"1) The Iraqi people did try to liberate themselves in 1991 after the Gulf War (as recounted in an article by Zainab al-Suwaij in The New Republic in January 2003 entitled "The Fire Last Time")."


"2) Countless pronouncements aside, the Iraqi people are not "free". They are not free until they are safe from retribution at the hands of the violent armed factions, including ancien regime loyalists, Mr. al-Sadr's organization, and worst of all, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organization."

Also safe from US airstrikes and artillery strikes and tank rounds etc. It could be argued whether we've saved more iraqis from terrorists than we've killed for ourselves. I'd say the answer is probably no, probably we've killed more than we've saved, but we aren't keeping statistice in either case.

"3) Iraqis line up every day to join the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police. These lines have been an attractive target for suicide car bombs, and hundreds of applicants have died. After each attack, the lines form again."

What was that unemployment rate again? And what pay are we offering? The last time I looked it was something like 6 times the average income. The average family income in the USA is something like $36,000. (If I have that wrong, sorry, I bet the point will stand whatever the real number is.) If we offered close to $200,000 a year for people to be police and the entrance requirements were very low, we'd have a whole bunch of losers standing in line too.

"4) Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has never condoned violence against the multinational forces, he repeatedly describes the Iraqi Police rather than the al-Sadr militia as the legitimate security forces, and his main demand has always been democratic elections."

Yes, he has tried to force democracy on everybody including Bremer. Best wishes to him.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 14, 2004 01:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I also don't think that celebrating around a burning Bradley fighting vehicle, while throwing stones at the vehicle's occupants, qualifies as a "peaceful demonstration""

The media tend to take it unkindly when airstrikes kill media guys. They figure that almost by definition they are noncombatants. It's plausible that when we attack the newsmen we are also attacking various other noncombatants.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 14, 2004 01:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I acknowledge that Iraqis frequently sign up for the Iraqi Army / Police for reasons of economic survival. I also acknowledge that Iraqi soldiers and policemen are well paid, thank God. I agree that the economic situation in Iraq is abysmal (so if we've really spent $200 billion there, then I wish we had spent $300 billion there).

Still, I would not describe the Iraqi Army / Police recruits as "losers". At least some of them are brave men motivated in large part by Iraqi patriotism. (What incentive would the recruits have to lie to NPR?)

Isn't training and equipping (and for Iraqis, joining) the Iraqi Army / Police the best way to end American military actions and American military presence in Iraq?

Posted by: Arjun at September 14, 2004 02:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun, the ones I'm describing as "losers" are the ones who stand in long lines outside recruiting stations hoping to get to the head of the line and have a chance to sign up.

In iraq (as elsewhere) you get sinecures, jobs, grants etc through patronage. If you don't know anybody who can get you in without standing in line, your chances are slim.

This is probably why there is still no protection for those guys who stand in line waiting. If anybody cared about them, they'd have a place to stand in line behind blast walls. But nobody who has any resources cares about the guys who stand in line. If a few hundred of them get killed every now and then, there are plenty more where those came from, far more clueless guys with no connections than the recruiting stations need.

And no, we haven't spent $200 billion in iraq. We have however spent $200 billion *on* iraq. Like, remember the spectacular fireworks we had the first fiew days of the shooting war, with the cruise missiles and the bombing? Those PGMs were real expensive, but the iraqis didn't get any of the money. We spent some billions of dollars trucking in gasoline from kuwait. Yes, one Halliburton subsidiary bought billions of dollars of expensive gasoline from another Halliburton subsidiary and trucked it into iraq, and every time one of those trucks got blown up we paid Halliburton for it. There was a rumor that they didn't carry spare tires or any method to change a tire, that if they got flats they were supposed to abandon the truck and charge it to the government. That isn't as silly as it sounds. Say you're in a convoy and your gasoline truck has to stop, is the convoy going to wait for you to change a flat? Are you going to change the flat by yourself and drive off alone? No, you're going to run for some other vehicle and leave the truck. And if the chance of your truck getting blown up is so much larger than the chance you'll get flat tires someplace safe enough to change them, then it's cheaper not to carry them than to see them get blown up unused with the truck.

We shipped in a whole lot of construction materials and paid a Halliburton subsidiary to build military housing and prisons and such. In both cases security is better if you hire people who don't know arabic from some third world country to do the work, rather than hiring iraqis.

The CPS decided to set up iraq as a free trade zone. The theory here is that, according to the rule of comparative advantage, whatever iraqis can produce more efficiently in a war zone with crippled infrastructure will get exported in sufficient quantity to balance all the things iraq imports. In the short run a lot of what got exported was scrap metal -- any metal that could be ripped off and scrapped.

When security got to be a problem, pretty quickly the cost for hired security guys was $1000/man/day. That's a million dollars for three of them for a year, a billion dollars for 3000 of them for a year, etc. How many thousands of them were there? More of them than british soldiers.

Mostly we didn't spend that much money in iraq. We spent money on bombs to drop on iraqis, on soldiers to shoot iraqis, on prisons to put iraqis in, on fortified camps to keep iraqis out of, on body armor to ward off iraqi bullets, etc. Even the $18 billion that we said we were going to spend on iraqis (partly to buy US equipment to install in iraq) mostly didn't get spent, instead we spent the $20 billion in iraqi oil money.

IF we'd actually spent an extra $100 billion paying iraqis to do things, that might have done a lot of good. For $30 billion they could greatly improve their oil equipment and pump faster -- bringing in more money. For another $20 billion they could run a decent government for a year. A few billion here and there would do wonders for getting their power plants and water works and sewage systems etc working, particularly if we let the guys who're actually running the plants choose how to spend the money. The Halliburton subsidiary that had that job spent about a year figuring out what needed to be done, and then the security got so bad they didn't do much.

There's the problem that in iraq "trickle-down" mostly works as "trickle-out". What can you make in iraq cheaper than you can make elsewhere and ship in? With unreliable electricity, unreliable fuel oil, gangs demanding protection money, no police protection, etc?

An extra $100 billion for Halliburton probably wouldn't have done iraq much good at all.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 14, 2004 04:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nice summary JT. More on the economic debacle:

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 14, 2004 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's no fun to argue with folks like J. Thomas and Eric Martin -- each of them is smarter and more knowledgable than I am. That's not fair!

Anyway, I don't entirely disagree with J. Thomas and Eric Martin: I'm voting for the same candidate for U.S. President, and I agree that the Iraq debacle has been a "miserable failure", as Richard Gephardt said. However, I blame the Bush Administration, not the Iraqi people.

I still think that $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer money was a very small amount to allocate for Iraqi reconstruction, given the magnitude of the task. It is too bad that some of this money has been wasted, and most of this money has never even been spent. The recent decision to shift funds from water purification to oil production is unfortunate, in my view. Sure, more money is needed for security, but why shouldn't President Bush ask Congress for more money overall? Don't Iraqis deserve water that's safe to drink?

I am still angry that every true Democrat voting in the U.S. Senate (except for Joseph Biden and Maria Cantwell, God bless them) voted to convert the $18 billion from grants into compulsory loans, guaranteed by Iraqi oil money. As I've said before, No Blood for Oil. It's not right to lend people money without their permission, and Iraq's oil belongs to Iraqis, not to the United States.

J'accuse: I contend that this vote for compulsory loans represented a shameful, demagogic attempt by the Democrats to exploit longstanding and widespread American resentment of "foreigners" and "foreign aid". Senator Kennedy can grouse about helping Basra instead of Boston, but the simple solution is to help both Basra and Boston by raising Senator Kennedy's taxes.

The Democrats' demagoguery reminded me of Senator Tom Harkin's statement denouncing U.S. aid to Russia when Mr. Harkin was running for U.S. President in 1992: "I keep seeing all these pictures of Russians. I haven't seen a skinny one yet."

Posted by: Arjun at September 15, 2004 02:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I felt profoundly pessimistic about Iraq in April and May, but my optimism returned in June and July. I rejoiced at the end of the L. Paul Bremer regime, at the ceasefire agreements in Najaf and Fallujah, and at apparent Iraqi popular support for the interim government led by President al-Yawer and Prime Minister Allawi.

Of course, it now appears that my optimism was utterly unwarranted.

Still, it's not enough to admit that things aren't going well. Where do we go from here? What do we do now?

I don't know the answer, obviously, but think the best "exit strategy" is neither victory nor defeat, but Iraqification: that is, training the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police, and thereby enabling the legitimate Iraqi authorities to continue the fight against Iraq's enemies.

On the political side, Fareed Zakaria is smarter and more knowledgable than I am, but my guess is Mr. Zakaria's latest column is exactly wrong: the interim government should adopt a "Shi'a strategy" designed to appeal to Iraq's majority. Elections should be held on schedule in January wherever feasible, because delaying elections will foster more instability than holding elections, and hopefully a moderate Shi'a Islamist like current Vice President Ibrahim Jafari, or now former National Security Advisor Muwaffek al-Rubaie, or SCIRI's Abdelaziz al-Hakim will emerge as the next Prime Minister of Iraq and continue the process of political development and pacification.

Posted by: Arjun at September 15, 2004 04:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Thanks for the kind words, but I think you give me too much credit. I also don't really think we're debating because I agree with 95% of what you write.

I cannot say that either optimism or pessimism is more aligned with reality, but the situation is a grim one, and that sentiment was echoed in the recently released CSIS report, the Chatham House Report, and the ICG report (to name a few of the non-partisan think tanks that have been analyzing the situation).

I remain hopeful that elections can proceed as scheduled, and that if held, a moderate Shiia can emerge (such as the candidates you listed) but that possibility appears to be increasingly cast in doubt.

It is yet another Iraq based Catch-22: hold elections and risk further alienating the Sunnis, or don't and risk giving rise to unrest in the Shiia corners of the country.

Reminds me of the power sharing compromises in the future Constitution: keep the Kurdish veto that was inserted in the TAL and risk the Shiia walking away from the process, or delete it and risk the Kurds seceding from Iraq.

Or the insurgency issue: storm Fallujah and level the place, thus eradicating the intransigent and burgeoning Sunni/Islamist insurgency but in the process alienating the rest of the Sunnis Muslim world (in Iraq and ex-Iraq), or let the insurgency continue to control Fallujah and use it as a command center to plan and launch attacks further destabilizing the country. (similar Catch-22 choices can be applied to other cities in the Sunni triangle, and Shiite hotspots like Sadr city).

Fine mess it is.

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 15, 2004 04:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

An idea I've been developing, apropos internationalizing the operations in Iraq/assistance in the WoT.

Everyone I've read seems to be addressing international cooperation in the sense of "boots on the ground" and/or actual $$$ spent (not pledged). These are important, but both Bush and Kerry know there isn't a snowball's chance in hell either will be forthcoming.

However, what about covert assistance? A huge part of counter-terrorism is following the money. That needs the cooperation of in-country police, law enforcement, non-military government resources (i.e. finance/treasury ministries). You need forensic accountants, people who speak the language, local computer geeks, low-level bureaucratic functionaries.

I can't see that such people would ever comply with an American request for info or assistance without explicit directives from above. In the current poisonous atmosphere, those directives are simply not going to be issued, regardless of the threats to the local countries involved. The French would rather have Osama drop a Concorde on the Eiffel Tower than help out George Bush.

Given how much of the oil-for-food money ended up in the hands of France/Germany/Russia companies & gov't officials, it's clear they have access to networks (licit and illicit) that we don't. And I don't see how we can plug into those networks in the next 5 years; not enough olive-skinned, Arabic-speaking, loyalty-vetted agents to start with, and you can't just parachute a guy into Damascus and expect instant results.

Is it possible that the election of Kerry would thaw the ice just a bit, enough for us to start getting meaningful counter-intelligence cooperation? Or do the posters here think such intelligence-sharing is happening behind the scenes?

I truly haven't decided who I'm voting for yet. I'm trying to look long-term, big picture, and decide what's best for the USA. The first decision I've made is that no one is expendable, and that includes George Bush. The second decision is that however much we don't want to admit it, we can't do it all by ourselves, at least not yet. We'll need discreet, tacit cooperation from - well, they're not allies - non-active enemies. How do we get it?


Posted by: Tina at September 16, 2004 03:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tina, I haven't followed the ol-for-food scandal in detail, but it appears that most of the info about that has come from Chalabi, the same guy who gave us the forgeries and liars about iraqi WMDs.

Various people have said that it's an open secret that there was a whole lot of corruption in that system but all the specifics were coming from Chalabi (who apparently got sole access to Saddam's files about it, except he also is good at forgery). Chalabi has been too busy to pursue that since the USA started trying to arrest him for giving intelligence secrets to iran, while he's trying to campaign for public office in iraq.

I don't know how that will come out; at this point it looks kind of murky. If it's true that there was a lot of bad stuff with french, german, and russian companies and officials, it isn't clear what we could do about it or how it would help us to try to do anything about it. If US companies and officials were also implicit that's even less promising, unless they were democrats.

Probably what will happen is that our government and its sympathisers will trot out the accusations whenever it's convenient, but otherwise do nothing. The scandal is useful. An actual investigation that established guilt or innocence would not be useful whichever it established.

It appears pretty much everybody has been cooperating against al qaeda. Al qaeda has done an extremely poor job of making friends with western or arab governments.

It isn't obvious there's much counterintelligence to do about the iraqi resistance. If somebody starts sending them advanced weapons we can find out who did it. At this point the obvious candidates are turkey and iran, but russia, china, north korea etc might send them stuff through jordan or possibly syria, or they might smuggle things through iran or turkey without the local governments' knowledge.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 16, 2004 05:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Whenever I disagree with J Thomas, I end up regretting it, but I disagree with J Thomas. As an until recently undecided voter, I think that John Kerry's election is advisable for many reasons, and one of these is the reason you've identified: the U.S. will get better international cooperation in the global war on terror (which is not to say that our allies aren't helping us plenty already, just that some countries would find it easier to help us more).

Posted by: Arjun at September 16, 2004 07:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Arjun & Tina,

I think you are on to something. Not only would covert assitance increase, but so would the overt variety. Getting non-coalition nations to contribute troops to Iraq is probably a lost cause, but any chance would be greater for Kerry rather than Bush, for reasons I will discuss below.

More importantly, getting countries that are already in Iraq to stay put, and possibly even increase support, would be easier under a Kerry administration, and this is becoming an important contingency to be planning for considering how long the occupation will apparently last.

The reason that Kerry will have an easier time than Bush is basic: the people of the world prefer Kerry, an overwhelming majority have a strong animosity for Bush, and the will of the people matters in democracies. Although many leaders also show a strong aversion to helping Bush, even the ones that do want to help him out (vis a vis support in Iraq and elsewhere) face strong opposition from a majority of the population in their own countries.

Aznar already faced the wrath of Spain's electorate, and Blair in Britain, John Howard in Australia, and Berlusconi in Italy have seen their once proud popular mandates erode to the level of potential defeat at the polls (to name but a few). At the end of the day, you cannot ignore the opinions of your constituency and act against them.

As evidence of Kerry's popularity compared to Bush, see these poll results:

[A recent] poll of 34,330 people older than 15 from all regions of the world found that the majority or plurality of people from 32 countries prefer Kerry to Bush. "It is rather striking that just one in five people surveyed around the world support the re-election of President Bush," said Steve Kull, director of The Program on International Policy Attitudes of the University of Maryland, a co-sponsor of the survey...

Most traditional U.S. allies came out strongly favoring Kerry, while only those polled in Nigeria, Poland and the Philippines preferred Bush. Polling among some traditional U.S. allies found strongly negative attitudes toward Bush [such as Britain, Italy, Germany and Mexico].

"Even where the president does beat John Kerry, there is no enthusiasm apparent from the numbers," Kull said. "Those countries that support him for re-election also tend not to like his foreign policy."

The sample size, running from 500 to 1,800 people per country polled through a variety of means including face-to-face interviews, telephone or Internet was a fair measure of public sentiment, Kull said. Even when adjusted by weight of population in each country, results remained nearly identical, Kull said.

"Our average sample size per country of about 1,000 people is nearly double the number used by Gallup International for their annual Voice-of-the-People Poll," Kull said. "With numbers this robust it would be difficult to conclude anything but a broad feeling of dissatisfaction with Bush and his foreign policy."

Posted by: Eric Martin at September 16, 2004 09:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I mostly agree with all of you about this.

I'm claiming that iraq has very little if anything to do with al qaeda; that most nations of the world are cooperating with us about al qaeda. Al qaeda has done bombing in various nations, arab and not arab, moslem and not moslem; any government that doesn't have an explicit agreement with them can figure there might be an al qaeda attack inside their borders.

The obvious exception is pakistan. They wre the main backer for the taliban, and when we went after taliban the paks naturally tried to smooth things over and satisfy both sides. So the paks are shielding former taliban members (or current members, take your pick, what's in a name) and the taliban may still be shielding al qaeda. Every now and then maybe we offer the paks a particularly large reward for al qaeda members, and the paks offer a particularly large reward to taliban, and maybe they cash in on one of their al qaeda guys -- whether al qaeda chooses to give up somebody for a reward I couldn't guess.

I strongly disagree that all arab terrorism is the same. Some cooperate, some oppose each other, it's like saying all american survivalists are the same. What arab terrorists have in common is they're willing to use violence against civilians for political purposes and they aren't under government orders. The terrorists who're going after the algerian government have very little to do with the militant wing of Hamas, which has little or nothing to do with al qaeda.

"Forget advanced weapons, where are they getting their guns and RPGs from now? "

Saddam had vast quantities of such stuff. We spent months destroying warehouses full as we found it. Figure that iraqi criminals found it before we did and carted stuff off as fast as they could. Are they running out yet? I dunno. Maybe it's reached the point they need more ammo and more RPGs from outside. For a long time we weren't patrolling the borders at all effectively. Maybe we're better at it now, I dunno.

"They have safe houses set up - who owns the houses?"

Whoever. All it takes is a sympathiser or somebody who can be intimidated.

"They use the Internet - can we hack in?"

Sure. The ones that they use to communicate with probably are disguised as porn sites. And when they send messages to members it's probably disguised as spam. "Instant credit. You can get your back taxes annulled and also buy viagra at this site! Come see our MILFs!" When I look at my spam I see a lot of messages that only superficially look like traditional spam. Read the header and it's one spam, the first sentence is different spam, the second sentence another etc. They're designed to be caught by spam filters. And at the bottom is a list of random-looking words.

You can't tell who the message was supposed to go to, it goes to a long spam list. Probably the sender is different each time and nominally from a different country.

We can monitor it but we need a break like the guy the paks got last month, that we announced too quick.

"We keep hearing about "foreign fighters" - who dispatches them? Names & addresses, please, not "Teheran." How do we get that information?"

When we catch one alive we send him to abu Ghraib or to Gitmo and we ask him those questions. I don't know what results we're getting.

Anyway, I think the world is mostly cooperating with us about al qaeda. But they aren't cooperating with us much about much else. Kerry has a chance to get a lot more cooperation, but in return he'd have to listen to them and cooperate on their concerns too.

Between Bush and Kerry, I figure if you believe the neocons then Bush is the only choice. And in that case we need to get rid of a whole lot of government officials who aren't neocons, who aren't enthusiasticly cooperating with the neocons. If we replace roughly 30% of the State Department and senior military officers and CIA etc with true believers, then we'll be fully ready to follow the neocon agenda once the believers have learned how to do the work.

If you don't believe the neocons then you'd do better to vote against Bush.

Posted by: J Thomas at September 17, 2004 04:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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