December 30, 2004
Iraq: Ripple Effects in Northeastern Syria
People often mock Dubya's "freedom is on the march" locutions. True, they often do ring quite hollow given the immense complexities we face in Iraq and democracy roll-backs in soi disant GWOT allied countries like Uzbekistan and Russia. That said, his statements can't simply be dismissed out of hand completely. Check out this NYT dispatch from northeastern Syria re: one example of democratic stirrings caused by American involvement in Iraq.
The Iraqi election next month may be evoking skepticism in much of the world, but here in northeastern Syria, home to concentrations of several ethnic minorities, it is evoking a kind of earnest hope.
There are cautionary notes, however:
Bachir Isaac Saadi, the chairman of the political bureau of the Assyrian Democratic Organization, said that throughout Syria, anger over the American presence in Iraq had set off a sharp rise in Islamist sentiment, which was creating difficulties for Syria's Christian minority.
I've also heard first-hand reports that mosque attendance, in the face of wide-spread feelings of Arab "humiliation," is up significantly in parts of Syria.
Still, if policies are put in place that ease such democratization along, rather than brutishly force it down people's throats (risking nationalistic and/or Islamic backlashes in the process), it is possible to see (particularly in conjunction with an Arab-Israeli peace) the beginnings of a New Middle East ten or so years hence. Rosy Shimon Peres-like dreamy talk? Yes, to a fashion. But at least something is happening in the region to stir movement--and the catalyst is Iraq, of course. What Richard Haas has called America's "democracy exception" policy in the Middle East (where we seemed content to allow autocrats to stay in power in that region while fighting much harder for democratization in places like Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America during the Cold War), while not necessarily having come to an end--is certainly undergoing reappraisal forced on, not only by events in Iraq, but also by more modest policy initiatives stemming from the watered-down Broader Middle East/N. Africa Partnership. And, if we believe democratic reform, economic liberalization, and a solution to regional conflicts can bring about peace and prosperty in this so critical region--well, isn't it nice to see an Administration really grappling with these issues rather than just status quo'ing along? Of course, it's a matter of degrees. Iraq, for reasons I have extensively detailed, was a worthy candidate for regime change. Marching into Iran, say, or Syria--would be a massive blunder that would lead too many in the region to think we were simply looking to occupy the entire Middle Eastern land mass. But strongly encouraging reformist agendas, ones calibrated so as to avoid nationalistic and/or religious backlashes, in conjuction with progress in Iraq, economic liberalization, the Palestine issue--all could lead us to a happier place than where we sit today.
After all, isn't it a happy event that this man simply hasn't been arrested or worse?
Mr. Kirakos, the Armenian activist, has even begun a bid for Syria's presidency, an astoundingly brazen gesture in a country where the Assad family has ruled unchallenged for more than 30 years.
Talk of equal citizenship and changing constitutions. This isn't Hafez al-Asad's Syria, is it?
Seth Green sends in a link to a non-partisan initiative he's involved with called Americans for Informed Democracy that seeks to ensure a robust U.S. response to the tsunami disaster. Check it out (UPDATE: Link fixed).
MORE: Some 116,000 human beings, it is now being reported, were slaughtered as the seas violently swallowed them up. Likely at least half of them, it might be mentioned, in Indonesia--the largest Muslim country in the world. Look, I find ridiculous some spinny press coverage that almost makes Dubya himself seem culpable for this unimaginably brutal natural disaster. And recall Bush, contra Clinton's tiresome theatrics, has always preferred not to ooze empathy in near-naseauting fashion (whilst carnage, in places like Kigali and Sarajevo proceeded ferociously apace). I must say too, I'm sick and tired of CNN's saccharine-infused and imbecilic coverage of some Swedish baby rescued from the 'killer waves'--the requisite 'miracle' baby (and he kinda looks like Aunt Molly's nephew to boot!) that serves to personalize the story for the oft dumbed-down American public--the better so they can espy hope amidst the massive human suffering so that there is a 'feel good' Hollywood ending to the coverage (not to mention the hyper-forced bonhomie of CNN's hugely lame morning shows--God, it's painfully bad with all the fake giggles--particularly the 'pop' culture intervals). Unfortunate too, relatedly, the media's heavy focus on the foreign tourists (read: a relative smattering of Americans and white Europeans who were mostly staying in up-scale resorts in Thailand--each of their deaths tragic too--but c'mon...)
Excuse the rant. And I'm not saying Bush needs to necessarily pull out of Crawford and rush to Aceh or such. Any visit by Bush to the region, of course, would cause major dislocations, would likely hamper relief efforts--indeed would likely prove a costly sideshow and be widely derided (you can almost already see the articles in places like the Guardian) as a cheap P.R. stunt to woo the Muslim masses back into his GWOT column. Still, however, this is a catastrophe of epic proportions. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be viewed (at least by any fair, judicious and sober observers) as doing too little, too late (see below, however, for some significant initiatives the U.S. has already taken-including use of not insignificant Pentagon resources to allow for critical water purification efforts to take place). Still, truth be told, our efforts, to date, haven't gotten my pulse racing. So let us grab this opportunity more forcefully--showing the world that all lives, whatever their religion or ethnic background--are cherished and honored by America, land of myriad creeds, ethnicities, beliefs (ed. note: er, did I just write this? Next I'll be quoting John Lennon's "Imagine" in the cyber-pages of this blog).
Amidst all our clamoring for something to be done, however, it's worth noting that it appears a real outpouring of aid is on its way (some of the money coming from 'new' sources like the Gulf States, ie. not typical humanitarian aid donor nation leaders. Incidentally, we might consider, resources permitting, matching such contributions dollar for dollar, if possible, counting 'in kind' donations, should that be necessitated once we see how the numbers play out). So, more than actual resources pledged or deployed, it's likely the coordination of such an effort that will be critical going forward--despite understandable cries that 'more needs to be done!'.
Jan Egeland, the United Nation emergency relief coordinator, said Wednesday that international assistance was now coming forward in such quantity that the challenge was shifting from attracting aid to coordinating it. "Coordination is now vital," he said.
Coordination of relief efforts will indeed be critical. Should the President appoint a distinguished American as lead coordinator for the U.S. to interface with the U.N. and other major donors? I'm sure Mark Grossman over at State would do a hugely admirable job--but doesn't a tragedy of this proportion call for a high-profile special Presidential Envoy? I think it may. Both on the merits given the sheer scale of both the disaster and the concommitant relief effort (Grossman's got too much other stuff on his plate too, doubtless, to really prioritize this effort like it deserves)--but also because this is an opportunity for the U.S. to remind the world we well realize horrific suffering doesn't only happen in NYC, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.
December 28, 2004
Berkeley Provincialism Watch
Bush administration policy in Iraq is driven by three "nots":
Brad thinks the world would be so much better if Simone Ledeen hadn't gotten a gig with the CPA, our taxes went up (always a splendid idea), and we "entice[d]" Jacques and Gerhard to play ball in Iraq (how exactly, mon cher Brad?). Toss in having varied potentates and satrapies of the Middle East send in their mukhabarat so as to better police restive Sunni areas like Tikrit and Fallujah. And, voila, all would be swell!
The good professor trots out all the predictable soundbites about how Republican loyalists are running Iraq (a quick look at the staff of Negroponte's Embassy would disprove such claptrap speedily), that France and Germany would have rushed to send in large contingents if we had played out Turtle Bay and hunkered down with Dominique and Joshka for a wee bit longer so as to "entice" (while, of course, 200,000 troops cooled their heels in Kuwait waiting for Dom to give us the all clear), and that more Arabic speakers in theater would prove some grand panacea. (Memo to Brad: We've been doing this last already--as the ICG report linked here makes clear).
His commenters obviously eat the slop he dishes out with alacrity. Bully for them. But they're shouting in an echo chamber going through ye olde talking points that get the crowds all chest-thumpy in precincts Berkeley and Cambridge. No one mentions, for instance, the good faith efforts to have NATO get more involved in Iraq. Not to mention the provision of greater authority to the U.N. in Iraq--witness the Brahimi-led electoral machinations. I agree with Brad, of course, that we never sent in enough troops to Iraq. The Pentagon's post-war assumptions proved risible indeed. And the lack of accountability for such abysmal misteps is just shy of FUBAR. But the Pentagon no longer control the process as much as they did before. Mid-course corrections have taken place with greater input from State and other agencies. More will doubtless follow.
Does De Long do any of us favors by resorting to Mooreian sound-bites to get his readers in an anti-Chimp-in-Chief frenzy? The reality is that we are beyond "enticing" Old Europe to send in divisions. This is our, and to a lesser extent, the U.K's problem for the foreseeable future. We are going to have to deal with it as best we can. Empty chatter about how all the plum CPA jobs have gone to Republican K Street meanies or how we flubbed the pre-war diplomacy (mostly untrue, in my view) doesn't really add much to the debate, does it?
CLARIFICATION and UPDATE: Some readers seems to have interpreted my mention of Simone Ledeen as a critique of her. For the record, and contra some of her cheap critics like Paul Krugman, let me state for the record that I respect her courage in serving her country under such dangerous conditions.
As for Brad's comment that my post is not "serious", let me say this. First, note I've agreed with Brad that we didn't send enough troops in theater. And, to be fair, my statement re: taxes was a tad flip (Brad has thrown some ribald epingles in my direction too of late). But all Brad's other points, and I say this with respect, display a sad lack of knowledge regarding the state of the European and Arab world's appetite to make real commitments in Iraq. Brad's notion of better 'enticements' to secure their participation is just shy of risible. To put all the blame on Bush for not having secured troop commitments from the likes of Germany and France misses the point. True, Cheney wanted to ditch the whole U.N. process surrounding Resolution 1441. But Bush, pursuant to Blair and Powell's advice, went down that road. And for real, not merely as theater. The French and Germans were more consumed by constraining U.S. power, at all costs, than any real judgement re: Iraq on the merits. Recall too, at that time, many of us believed Iraq did possess ("slam dunk"!) significant WMD stockpiles. Indeed, many smart people (Fareed Zakaria, Ken Pollack, Leon Wieseltier, Andrew Sullivan) thought that we had a valid casus belli in Iraq pursuant to a variety of U.N. resolutions, the changed strategic environment post 9/11, and Saddam's unique record of having used WMD against his own people and having consistently proven a more reckless strategic blunderer than, say, Kim Jong Il or the Iranian mullahs (witness his ill-fated Iranian and Kuwaiti adventures, the "Kurdish Hiroshima" of Halabja, to use Samantha Power's phrase, the genocidal-like rampages against Shi'a Marsh Arabs in the south). Brad, diplomat extraordinaire, perhaps can clue us in to how Powell might better have 'enticed' Old Europe to play ball in Iraq. I doubt he will come up with convincing fare, however. That's not too serious either. It's more by way of breezy carping from the sidelines.
Re: all this talk of military police coming from Arab countries, it's very much worth noting that it would be a terrible idea to have any states bordering Iraq provide troops. Regular readers know how vociferously I oppposed Turkish troops in theater. While non-Arab, and supposed to patrol Sunni areas, I was highly alarmed that a conflagration would result as they moved their troops through Kurdish areas. The Turks clearly would have been up to much mischief up and down their supply lines to consolidate Turkish influence, constrain Kurdish aspirations, protect the Turkomen. Ditto Saudis and Jordanians and Syrians would be highly distrusted by the Shi'a. Would non-neighboring Egyptian or, say, Morroccan or even Malaysian military police have been helpful? All told, the impact would have been minimal in my view. And it's not like the insurgents wouldn't have been just as happy to murder Egyptian 'collaborators' than U.S. or U.K. or Iraqi ones, of course.
Turning to Brad's contention that the CPA is being run by a bunch of mindless Republican loyalists, duds, cretins, and so on--sorry, but no sale. As even articles critical of the CPA on this score make clear:
The vast majority of the CPA's 2,500 employees are nonpartisan - mostly military personnel tasked to the operation, or ex-diplomats and civil service employees from a variety of countries.
The fact that Dan Senor worked at Carlyle for a spell or that Ari Fleischer's brother worked with the CPA doesn't make Brad's point. Besides, bodies were needed, weren't they? Should we have sent the Berkeley faculty in instead (only those with nation-building experience, bien sur)? Regardless, we Americans, always averse to talk of Empire, don't have a colonial administrative corps or such. Yes, regional experts at State should have gotten a bigger role from the get-go. But Garner got the heave-ho pretty quickly, and was replaced by a diplomat. And now Negroponte runs the show. Brad, please point me to the Republican loyalists in Negroponte's inner circle? Who are they?
Anyway, this is really all quibbling over spilt milk. My point, that Brad still hasn't deigned to address, was my contention that Bush was and remains, as compared to Kerry, more serious about seeing the Iraq project through. Kerry, throughout the campaign, displayed an, er, unseriousness about this monumental task that was extremely worrying. Bush might still eff it up; but at least he's giving it a real try. I was never convinced Kerry would; and Brad hasn't enlightened us to how he might have. After all, Joe Lockhart's comments that Allawi was a Bush "puppet" played right into the insurgent's handbook, as did all but announcing to the enemy that our troops would be pulled out within 4 years, or all the talk about "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" (great for the morale of our troops on the front-lines, eh!) For more on why I had doubts about Kerry, be sure to go here and here.
Is Islam the Next "Ism" Confronting the West?
"Islam has replaced Marxism as the ideology of contestation," says Olivier Roy, a French scholar of European Islam. "When the left collapsed, the Islamists stepped in."
--Craig Smith, in the NYT.
Abizaid believes that the Long War is only in its early stages. Victory will be hard to measure, he says, because the enemy won't wave a white flag and surrender one day. Success will instead be an incremental process of modernization of the Islamic world, which will gradually find its own accommodation with the global economy and open political systems.
David Ignatius, in the WaPo.
It's not really Islam writ large that is the next "ism" confronting the West. As Abizaid, and others have noted, it's radical Islamists like the Salafists. But the theater where this war will be fought will be the Islamic world writ large. And, worth noting, an "incremental process of modernization" is really, all told, the best tool in our arsenal. It's, of course, in Iraq where this effort has now been most fully joined.
This struggle will be on par, quite likely, with the Cold War struggle against Communism. So why haven't we gotten (much) more serious about our moribund public diplomacy efforts, for instance? Put differently, why haven't we better understood the ideological component of this struggle? Part of the reason, I suspect, is that we too easily assume that our caricature-like vision of Islam will hold no real appeal to right-thinking souls (unlike, say, what we feared might prove the overly tantalizing egalitarian utopias engendered in Marxist folkore--until such visions were unmasked to the world as more constitutive of an 'equality of poverty' than some bountiful paradise).
Why haven't we, more vigorously, described to the great European, Latin American, and Asian publics what is at stake in this struggle? Why, put differently, does the global war against terrorism too often look like some noxious, militaristic American adventure? For sure, there is great envy at the hyperpuissance so that assorted gaggles of neo-Gaullists, self-righteously pacifist German Greens, knee-jerk 'Yankee Go Home' Latin American leftists are all stock-full of the predictable and tired protestations. But can't we do better, nevertheless? After all, we must be able to persuade our fellow democratic societies of the justness of our cause if we are to win this long struggle. Is it that we have become so different than they in terms of value-sytems; or that we are reacting too irrationally to a gruesome one-off terror attack; or that, instead perhaps, our former allies in the Cold War have become asleep to the massive perils that gather in their and our midst? My money is on this last--but I nevertheless believe we are failing in making a better case as to why the neutral, "spectating" camp must get into the arena. It's true, of course, that countries like France or Brazil were not necessarily in the anti-communist vanguard, of course. There has always been a vague casting about for a "third way,' or a 'non-aligned movement,' or some other contrarian formulation doubtless often meant to dispel the image of too much servility to one or the other superpower.
This isn't about all the old circa 2003 battles about whether to go to war in Iraq. The French and Germans might say that, but for Iraq, they would have stood with us shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror. But this is too convenient and easy a retort. And, regardless, history has moved on. Fateful decisions were made. The Iraq project, which I still think may prove successful, is now at a critical juncture. A defeat there would have devastating ramifications vis-a-vis aiding radical Islamists that are the current enemy of all those who share Enlightenment values.
Why, say, can't the land of Diderot and Voltaire find more common cause with that of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson? Something is being lost in translation. A better meeting of the minds must be struck in Bush's second administration. I trust and suspect Condeleeza Rice, if she hopes to aim for success measured in historic terms, will realize that such a rapprochement, along with a better explanation (let's beat back all the hyperbole about the jingo-militarisic preemption a bit, no?) of what is meant by this war on terror to the international community, steadfast movement towards modernization of the Middle East, and a sustained, disciplined effort at forging an Israeli-Arab peace will be the keystones to a successful stewardship of our nation's foreign policy in the years ahead.
All this said, it is almost beyond contempt how paltry French and German offers of aid have been with regard to Iraq. When will responsible leaders in such countries realize that, whatever enjoyment they are deriving from America's travails in Iraq, it is manifestly not in their interests to see America flounder there? The sad truth, perhaps, is that we live in an era largely defined by underwhelming political leadership. From Asia to the Americas to Europe we see chancelleries, ministries and presidential retreats populated by mediocrities. Bush, if he were to preside over an Iraq that appears to be more democratic than not by '08, and can bring about a two-state solution in the Holy Land, could still arguably make a bid for greatness (though pulling those twin feats off is a long shot indeed). Blair too, has been admirable through this turbulent post 9/11 period. But the pettiness and short-sightedness of leaders like Chirac and Gerhard Schroder has been dismaying. The buffoonery of a Berloscuni, if predictable, quite sad too. There is little by way of leadership that gets the pulse racing in Asia or Latin America as well. It's little wonder that most of the best and brightest, even after an event of the historical magnitude of 9/11, head to the salt-mines of the private sector for their professional formations.
P.S. More on why, just maybe, a more pro-American shift may be in the offing in capitals like Berlin and Paris soon (hint: it's hip to be pro-American in French academia!).
NOTE: This post has been updated with some additions. Regular readers probably notice that I do this pretty often. I guess I should more routinely say "This post has been updated," or "clarifications to the intitial content have been made," and so on. I mostly write in stolen fits and spurts given significant time constraints. So please forgive me sometimes sloppy after the fact updates, awkward grammatical constructs, spelling errors. As well as surreptitious 'updates'. The objective is not stealthful--it's just about saving time.
MORE: The pithiest man on the web (and I mean that as a compliment!) has more. He espies shades of gray amidst the Salafist groupings.
Advantage Johnny (and CJ, Dee Dee, Tommy, Marky, Richie, Joey et al.)
Holiday words of wisdom, from Glenn.
When Green Day pens a song of this caliber--maybe we can talk again. But don't hold your breath. It's not gonna happen.
A Ghastly Toll
The mind struggles to comprehend the sheer scope of the staggering loss of life caused by the undersea earthquake and tsunamis in Southeast Asia. The latest count is some 25,000 dead with, doubtless, many more fatalities to come given the numbers still unaccounted for. We can only hope and pray for this number to not grow by too much more. This vast human tragedy has already been far too cruel for so many. But, alas, and aside from direct fatalities, the carry-on effects look to be grim indeed going forward too:
The International Red Cross and government officials here - and in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, the Maldives and as far away as Somalia - warned that with hundreds of thousands of people stranded in the open without clean drinking water, epidemics of cholera and other waterborne diseases could take as many lives as the initial waves.
Want to help somehow? Go here.
December 25, 2004
Iraq: What Next?
According to a Robin Wright/Thomas Ricks WaPo piece, we hear that Colin Powell recently stated, during a teleconference with Bush and Blair, that he believes we have (or had?) too few troops in the Iraq theater.
Accounts differ about the details of Powell's remarks. One U.S. official said that Powell flatly stated: "We don't have enough troops. We don't control the terrain."
In addition, Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, the official historian of Operation Iraqi Freedom, had this to say recently on the issue of troop levels:
"The scarcity of available 'combat power' . . . greatly complicated the situation," he states. Wilson contends that a lack of sufficient troops was a consequence of the earlier, larger problem of failing to understand that prevailing in Iraq involved more than just removing Hussein. "This overly simplistic conception of the 'war' led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies . . . and too little allotted time to achieve 'success,' " he writes.
Still, let's put the whole troop level question to the side for the moment. Frankly, I'm sick of arm-chair generaling (or, perhaps more apropos, of getting chastised by myriad commenters for arm-chair generaling). And one could make an argument that Colin Powell, (worth noting, perhaps, that despite the fact that he's oft-portrayed as some flower child-like, tree-hugger, he's got significantly more military experience than, say, Don Rumsfeld) is satisfied with the increase from 138,000 to 150,000 (though I doubt it, very much). As for the army historian, it's not necessarily clear he's talking about our current force posture. Maybe he thinks 150,000 troops is the right number now (though again, I doubt it strongly). Regardless, what I do think is virtually undeniable and widely accepted by serious observers is that, at least during the initial phase of the war, we never fielded the requisite overwhelming force to create, if even in the short to mid-term, secure conditions in Iraq. So much for 'shock and awe.'
A much harder question now, of course, is whether we have too few, the right number, or, even, too many troops in theater. Rather than guess-timate from the proverbial armchair, however, I'm going to instead describe what I view as the most pressing challenges that currently face us in Iraq--as well as some of what I think we have to potentially prepare for down the pike a little ways. Let's then have a more intelligent debate about what force posture is needed in theater assuming some of my assessments/observations are deemed credible, cogent, appropriate.
Let me preface the below with a few general thoughts. One, the challenges facing policy-makers in Iraq right now are immense. There are simply no quick fixes (more troops!) or easy answers (Iraqify!). Second, we must be immensely proud of the efforts and courage shown by the vast majority of U.S. military forces in Iraq. They have accomplished much in the face of tremendous adversity and hugely challenging circumstances. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. And third, contra much of the predictable hyperbole, this Administration has sometimes made mid-course corrections that show that they are well capable of learning from prior mistakes (increased Arabic speakers in the field, greater attention to cultural issues, seeking negotiated outcomes with Sadr's forces rather than simply going about flattening cities willy-nilly, fostering better policy-making coordination between State and Defense--ie., improving on the Bremer-Sanchez dynamic).
Unfortunately, however, an overly large dose of stubborness has too often been a hallmark of this Administration as well. There is simply too much by way of "stay on message"--ie. relax: elections are coming, Iraqi forces are being speedily trained, hospital construction is continuing apace, kindergarten attendance is on the rise, all will turn out swimmingly after the inevitable lil' bumps in the road. Don't get me wrong. Conviction and steadfastness are critical. But so is a more balanced and, yes, nuanced view of what is occurring on the ground. As this must-read International Crisis Group report on Iraq puts it (regarding Iraqi perceptions of the occupation):
It is not at all clear that senior administration officials have fully internalised the scope of the attitudunal shift. While privately acknowledging missteps and growing impatience with the presence of coalition troops, they also take solace in various indications that progress is being made and that the bulk of the population rejects violence, supports elections and is at worst a passive spectator of -- as opposed to an active sympathizer in -- the insurgents' campaign. Criticising the U.S. and international media's tendency to highlight all that goes wrong, they point in particular to polling results (suggesting, for instance, that some 88 per cent of the people plan to take part in the elections and roughly 76 per cent believe their results are "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to reflect the popular will); increased enrolment in Iraq's security forces; the apparently successful pacification of Najaf since late August and of Sadr City since mid-October; or the absence of popular demonstrations against the harsh military re-occupation of Falluja in late 2004.
Ah, the glass looks so full and sunny. But aren't there different narratives afoot? Put differently, isn't it time for the Administration to dampen down its too breezy recitations about hospitals rebuilt, schools re-opened, refugees "voting with their feet" by heading home? There is, of course, much good news. Admirable blogospheric personages like Arthur Chrenkoff point this out, in regular dispatches that are remarkable for their frequent non-trivialness and real import. Still, however, we need to focus on grappling with a fuller picture, no? So I offer the below observations in this, I hope, constructive vein. I look at our current problems in Iraq, as well as what might become problematic post-elections, with a view to what this might mean for our policies there.
1) We are failing in the battle to win the proverbial "hearts and minds" of many Iraqis, particularly in embattled Sunni areas (but not only there), because we cannot reconstruct areas quickly enough to showcase the prospective fruits of cooperation with the interim authority and coalition forces. There was recently an excellent WSJ article (no link available) describing this problem with regard to Fallujah. And this article helps sketch how complex the "hearts and minds" battle is in Shi'a Sadr City--despite all the valiant efforts underway there. This problem might get worse if security conditions cause more contractors to leave the country.
2) The insurgency does not merely consist of Baathist "dead-enders," on the one hand, and jihadists, Salafists, and other assorted radical Islamists (collectively, "terrorists") on the other. Unfortunately, our failure to better provide for secure conditions from the outset of the Iraq campaign has, not only emboldened these actors, but also led to more Iraqis supporting them (even if just passively) than might have been otherwise. From the aforementioned International Crisis Group report:
Of all the indicators touted by Washington, lack of support for the insurgency arguably is the most deceptive. Given the revolting methods to which militants have resorted, the insurgents' terribly damaging impact on reconstruction efforts, and their failure to articulate any realistic political program, popular passivity ought to be read as a worrisome rather than hopeful sign -- a symptom of resentment toward the U.S. and of lack of faith in the restoration of sovereignty.
Yes, most Iraqis are doubtless pragmatists who wish to exercise their vote, get on with some semblance of quotidian existence, and hold out hope for a better future for themselves, their families, and their country. There is probably still, all told, a silent majority that is not completely alienated by the American project (and certainly a majority that don't want the Americans out just yet given fears of the chaos that would ensue). But months upon months of lack of order have led to obvious disenchantment in many quarters so that the insurgency has clearly grown in depth over the past year. I count here those who are remaining neutral by not cooperating with American and interim authority intelligence-gathering efforts, as well as those assisting the insurgents in direct fashion (I should add that I don't think the ICG broaches what we might call the fear factor in all of this. While there is much distrust and dislike of the occupation per the above--there is also the fact that, through grisly footage of beheadings and the like, the insurgents have often been successful in cowing potential intelligence sources as well. Such people may wish to assist the Americans but are simply too scared to).
Turning to the post-election scene, add these as troublesome factors that merit serious consideration by policymakers and military planners too:
3) Moktada al-Sadr's militia, whilst relatively quiescent of late (cooling its heels pre-election), could rejoin the fight in the New Year should it feel muscled out of power arrangements by competing Shi'a factions in the elections. Put another way, we simply cannot assume that we will continue to wage a battle solely against Sunni elements in 2005. Yes, the Shi'a will be assuming power and will be very busy with assorted political machinations thereto. Yes, it is therefore perhaps likelier than not that the Shi'a will not resort to arms. But Sadr remains a definite wild card. Caution would suggest assuming Mahdi militia may take up arms again. So our going forward force structure should reflect that nettlesome contingency.
Here's more on this from the ICG report:
The October 2004 Sadr City disarmament campaign is another example. Celebrated by the administration, it is widely discredited in Iraq and the subject of heavy sarcasm: Sadr City inhabitants joked to Crisis Group about militants handing over old, damaged and often unusable material before turning around and purchasing higher quality arms on the black market. Only token searches appear to have been conducted, and militia seem to be waiting for the outcome of the January 2005 elections before deciding whether to resume their armed opposition.
4) Inter-communal strife could erupt in 2005 or 2006, forcing American intermediation of belligerents or an American role as guarantor of shaky inter-ethnic power arrangements. Such highly sensitive work cannot be done by airpower and light special forces alone, it's perhaps worth noting. As regular readers know, I've been slightly more optimistic than Les Gelb in thinking that a civil war in Iraq is not inexorably in the making. But, of course, such a scenario cannot be wholly discounted. Not by a long shot. We must be in a position to stave off hyper-nationalistic Kurdish irredentist aspirations, Shia revanchism (the Shi'a, er, have a few sour grapes to settle with assorted Sunnis) and/or Baathist restorationisism.
5) The state of the "train and equip" effort is not particularly inspiring--as the President, uncharacteristically, admitted recently. Rumsfeld likes to routinely quote and update the number of newly trained Iraqi soldiers. It's reminiscent of all the McNamara-esque, statistics-obsessed number dumps we've seen before. What good are these 100,000 troops if they do not feel a sense of national solidarity, or are conflicted between their allegiancies to the insurgency and the American-trained army, or have had some of their units infiltrated by Iranian, fundamentalist and/or Baathist agents, or are too heavily Kurdish peshmerga when sent into action in Sunni areas? From the ICG report (much more at p. 9 of this report re: the problems with "train and equip"):
Increased coalition casualties and growing impatience in the U.S. coupled with Iraqi resentment at the presence of foreign troops have built pressure to form an indigenous army expeditiously. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, debates about the numbers of trained Iraqi forces raged, each side endorsing the principle that this was an important barometer of success. Yet, as discussed above, while important, the sheer quantity of trained troops hardly constitutes a reliable measure of progress. The objective ought not to be to put an Iraqi face on coalition operations but rather to alter popular perceptions of those operations. Even assuming proper training, so long as Iraqi troops are being formed for the express purpose of supplementing coalition forces and alleviating their burden -- rather than as the expression of a nationally-defined project -- this will remain a serious problem. The U.S. "needs to get over the idea that one trained and equipped Iraqi soldier can replace one U.S. soldier....We need to support them rather than see them as supplementing or supplanting U.S. forces". Without an overarching cause to defend -- an independent and sovereign Iraqi state -- and faith in a better future, Iraqi troops are likely to advance their own parochial interests and evince at best an erratic sense of allegiance.
Indeed. This "train and equip" effort, in my view, needs to be measured over a three to five year time horizon--not six months or a year. B.D. will be investigating the quality of the train and equip effort in greater detail in coming weeks. Particularly as I sense Rumsfeld is very likely (given his recent comments in Mosul) to push a too hasty Iraqification process down our throats and declare that the job is done. It won't be. At least not if you care about forging a true, if imperfect, viable democracy in a unitary Iraq. Which Rumsfeld evidently doesn't. No, that doesn't mean he doesn't want us to "win." But how he apparently defines winning and how people more interested in a real, good faith effort at Iraqi democratization define victory are, shall we say, different animals.
This portion of the ICG report is worth highlighting too, with respect to the 'train and equip' effort:
Pressed by immediate security demands, the CPA sped up formation of Iraq's security forces and relied on politically-affiliated militias. As Crisis Group commented in late 2003, the rushed, haphazard and often improvised effort, dictated in large part by the urgency of showing progress in the "Iraqification" of security, ironically undermined any notion of a credible, legitimate national institution. Instead, Iraqis viewed their security forces as either subordinate to the U.S., atomised and politicised outgrowths of tribes and militias, or both. Crisis Group warned: A military viewed as neither credible nor national and that is poorly trained, divided along ethnic and sectarian lines and in which politicised militias play a part is not the ideal foundation upon which to construct a stable, legitimate political system. The CPA's relatively cavalier approach to the old and new armies and the security structure as a whole sends the wrong message as to how seriously it reads the transfer of sovereignty. The effects of costly decisions taken for reasons of short-term expediency continue to be felt. Defections from various security branches, particularly when Iraqis are confronted with insurgent assaults, continue at an alarming rate, whether in Falluja or Najaf during the mid-2004 battles, or more recently in Mosul. Over reliance on political party militias also has proceeded apace, driven by the perceived urgency of fielding more Iraqi forces. Resort to Kurdish peshmergas -- affiliated with the two principal Kurdish parties -- to fight in Arab areas has been particularly widespread, and acutely resented, most notably in Mosul where ethnic tensions already are raw. Following the deployment of Kurdish fighters as part of rudimentary Iraqi forces during the (aborted) assault on Falluja in April 2004, Kurdish residents of that city (who had been compelled to settle there by the Baathist regime after the collapse of Mulla Mustafa's Kurdish insurgency in 1975) were forced out. Separate units of Iraqi combatants also have been set up by the U.S., leading to situations in which exclusively Shiite forces, paid by the U.S. and wearing U.S. uniforms, are deployed against predominantly Sunni insurgents, with serious consequences for inter-sectarian relations.
Again folks, think years--not months--before an Iraqi Army will be ready for prime time.
So what to make of all this gloom and doom? The ICG'ers thinks a crisis of legitimacy is in the offing:
The Iraqi government is seen as a poor appendage to the occupation forces, lacking genuine security forces, institutional capacity, or independence. Ministers, rather than technocrats chosen on the basis of expertise, are seen as selected to perpetuate the distribution of power to former exile parties and allocate positions on a sectarian basis. Reports of rampant corruption further tarnish the new leadership, while a legacy of bureaucratic apathy, nepotism, and clientelism thwarts performance of ministries. Notwithstanding the formal end of the occupation, a series of decrees issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) remain in effect. In this context, the notion of sovereignty has rapidly lost credibility and the milestones on the path toward its achievement have lost meaning. The process of transition -- seen in theory as a cure to the U.S. lack of legitimacy in Iraqi eyes -- itself suffers from the same infirmity and, indeed, aggravates it.
So, what to do, if one agrees with this assessment? "Dual disengagement" opines the ICG (ed. note: a play on the old "dual containment" Iran/Iraq policies of yore?). ICG describes "dual disengagement" thus: "a gradual U.S. political and military disengagement from Iraq and, no less important, a clear Iraqi political disengagement from the U.S. The new Iraqi state must define itself at least partially in opposition to U.S. policies or it runs the risk of defining itself in opposition to many of its own citizens."
More on the merits (or demerits) of such a policy prescription soon. But my first take is, I think, no sale. On the U.S. military side, and basically, the ICG wants us to scale back our forces into garrisons so that we have less of an 'occupation footprint.' They would be 'over the horizon' and called in when sh*t hits the fan. Problem is, of course, won't it be more likely that more trouble will ensue if our units are retrenched into an overly conservative force posture? (The other side of the disengagement coin, of which more another day, is how the Iraqi government needs to disengage from the U.S.).
So, there is a lot to digest in this post. Bottom line: reconstruction is not proceeding quickly enough to show Iraqis the fruits of cooperating with the coalition; the insurgency derives support from a broader swath of the Iraqi polity than Washington lets on; 'train and equip' is in its very early stages so talk of near term Iraqification is B.S. (if you care about seeing this project through); plus contingencies (Sadr, ethnic tensions, etc) loom.
Given all this, what troop mix/number is the best? Frankly, sometimes I feel I just don't know anymore. On the one hand, I am tempted to say we need to get as many forces as we can back in theater to try to, once and for all, get a better handle on security (this is what Abizaid evidently thinks we need to do now in Mosul; but the extra troops he transfers there will make another spot vulnerable). Against this, however, is the ICG's "disengagement" theme. Pouring more soldiers into Iraq would send the wrong signal--playing into Iraq conspiracy think that we view Iraq as a permanent American garrison in Mesopotamia. But having our troops 'over the horizon' with Iraqi forces taking the lead--won't that provide the insurgents too many opportunities to scuttle the democratization project--given that Iraqi forces are simply not ready to take on these responsibilities? My head and my gut tell me we need more forces in Iraq, not less. Still, I could be wrong. And I'm not a military man (though I did work on the Bosnian Federation "train and equip" program--which took at least three-four years, it should be noted).
NB: On the whole 'do we have enough troops meme, don't miss this footnote from the ICG report:
We would have to do what we did in Falluja all across Iraq -- and we would need a U.S. soldier on every street corner". Crisis Group interview with U.S. official, Washington, November 2004. Evidence of insufficient numbers of troops abounds. Thus, the fighting in Najaf up to late August 2004 required participation of troops from as far away as Mosul, creating security vacuums in other areas, such as Latifiya, which armed insurgents quickly invested. A military analyst also remarked on the connection between troop levels and reconstruction efforts: "there are insufficient military resources to even keep contractors safe". Crisis Group interview, Washington, October 2004. The debate about the appropriate number of troops is a recurring one that began at the war's outset. General Shinseki, General Abizaid, and even Paul Bremer at one point or another stated their views that far more troops were necessary in the immediate post-war period. While objections often were couched in technical terms -- with some observers questioning whether enough troops were available -- military analysts tend to agree that at a minimum a more robust deployment coupled with some restructuring in existing deployments elsewhere was feasible.
In cogitating about required force levels, btw, we should also start thinking about shifting the methods and priorities of our counter-insurgency campaign. Fallujah, in my view, cannot really be said to have proven a clean victory.
Yet, while arguably necessary, the re-occupation of Falluja -- whose very establishment as a sanctuary derived in no small part from early U.S. mistakes -- also was essentially futile, as evidenced by the rash of deadly bombings that accompanied and followed an operation officially said to have "broken the back" of the insurgency. The offensive reflected once more the dominant notion of a numerically fixed and, in this case, territorially-confined, enemy that is inherently external to the population and whose physical destruction is equated with the insurgency's defeat. Instead, the devastation of city infrastructure, failure to immediately resettle and compensate civilians fleeing impending hostilities, the use of tactics reminiscent of Israeli ones to most Iraqi minds, and the indiscriminate handling of all men between the ages of fifteen and 55 during the offensive (denied exit, water, electricity and aid ) risk both further alienating the town's citizens (supposedly among the intended beneficiaries of the operation) and being used by insurgents as propaganda tools in the battle for hearts and minds (purportedly the principal target of any counter-insurgency war). To this day, food is missing in refugee camps where Fallujans experience scant governmental assistance, the relocation of those who fled has been delayed and hampered by draconian security measures, and Iraqi security forces initially meant to secure and police the city remain unprepared. What is more, thousands displaced from the city and camping out in Baghdad mosques have become prime targets for insurgent recruiters.Fallujah aside, and assuming more troops are deemed necessary, where will all these forces come from, you complain. As Frederick Kagan put it:
It was apparent to some as long ago as the mid-1990s that the American Army was too small. The urgency of that problem has been clear to many since September 11. The time lost in increasing the Army to proper strength cannot be regained, but we can mitigate the dangerous consequences for an uncertain future if we start now. President Bush should use the election mandate he received to take the next bold step in the war for democracy and against terrorism. He should insist upon an immediate and dramatic increase in the size of our armed forces to allow them to carry out his wise determination to prevail in Iraq and in the war on terror.
After all, this is going to be a "Long War."
P.S. Rumsfeld likes to push troop-lite by pointing to our relative success in Afghanistan with few boots on the ground. But he's not comparing apples to apples. In Afghanistan, warlords like Khan in Herat or Dostum in the North provide the security. In the southeast, troubles continue. There was a warlord in Iraq too, of course. Saddam and the Baath party. They're largely decapitated. Thus, we face a much larger security vacuum there. That we've never convincingly filled. Why is this so hard to get?
December 23, 2004
Scrambling to catch a flight this A.M. to Colorado for a little Christmas/ski break. Blogging should continue, if more intermittently, over the next couple of days.
Oh, thanks for the bit about B.D. being an "honest critic" Glenn. I know a lot of people vehemently disagree with me--on both the left and the right. But most are at least generous enough to concede I'm trying to call them as I see them over here (and, believe me, I'm not trying to preen about in this space as some wise and noble 'centrist'). I'm wrong, often perhaps, but I'm willing to concede error. In this vein, I promise a more in depth analysis about one of my big bugaboos (more troops!) soon. There are many compelling arguments on all sides of this issue and, really, no easy answers. Just like I've said the impending elections won't be a panacea, well, nor would more troops necessarily.
P.S. When Glenn recommends that people in the Administration read me I guess that really means something. Lynne Cheney was on the Chris Matthew's show a few nights back listing Instapundit (along with Powerline and another blog I forget) as her main blogospheric reads.
Back soon Lynne!
UPDATE: The other blog Cheney mentioned was Hugh Hewitt's. How could I forget! And she pondered whether Real Clear Politics is a blog. I don't think it is--but it's pretty indispensable regardless, imho. Ergo, I should blogroll it soon...(what is it about never updating blogrolls once they've been more or less set up)?
MORE: Merry Christmas to all. I'm working on a pretty comprehensive 'State of Iraq' kinda piece that should be up by tomorrow evening (the 26th). See you then.
Reader BE writes in:
I appreciate your comments with respect to increasing our troop strength and I agree with the need to replace Rummy. I particularly agree with your statement that “the Powell Doctrine is not dead!” My only question is: Where do we get the reinforcements in the short term? I would expect the Army to reactivate two or three light infantry divisions within the next few years, but the need for additional troop strength is immediate. The active duty troops stateside are recently back from their tour there and gearing up for their second or even third. The Marines are putting even more time in Iraq per capita. DOD’s solution is to extend tours and overlap units in Iraq for a few months. We have some Marines over there who are on their third tours. We are obviously not getting any more help from our coalition allies. I guess the only solution is to lean heavily on the National Guard, a force that is under-trained and ill equipped to handle counterinsurgency. I fear that we will be seeing a lot more casualties as a result.
I think there are other solutions aside from leaning more heavily on the National Guard. Including some peel-back from S.Korea and Germany. Readers are invited to suggest other ways by which to expeditiously (within 6-12 months) get another 40,000 or so non-Guard forces into Iraq.
December 22, 2004
The new documents include several incidents of threatened executions of teenage and adult Iraqi detainees. In one instance, a soldier in a unit that lacked any training in interrogation -- but was nonetheless assigned to process and question detainees -- acknowledged forcing two men to their knees, placing bullets in their mouths, ordering them to close their eyes, and telling them they would be shot unless they answered questions about a grenade incident. He then took the bullets, and a colleague pretended to load them in the chamber of his M-16 rifle.
Back in the Balkans in the mid-90s, I used to interview refugees to determine their eligibility for resettlement to the United States--many of them victims of brutish persecution by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries. Some of them had been subjected to these types of mock executions. Such mock executions are, not suprisingly, deeply scarring experiences. Employing such tactics, of course, is not worthy of our military's finest traditions. But it has now become increasingly routine to discover that American forces have been involved in such odiousness. No, it's not sawing off a head. But is that our new benchmark--anything less 'medieval' now kosher?
I am ashamed, of course. And profoundly saddened. Part of the reason this is happening too often? Untrained personnel, likely confused kids really, are being tasked with interrogations. But interrogators need to be trained to perform their tasks consistent with relevant law, convention, norms. They also need to be coached on best practices by which to extract information--mock executions not among them. Again, our force mix and too few troops in theater have, not only rendered securing victory harder, but also contributed to scandals like these because we never dedicated the proper quantum and mix of resources to the tasks at hand. Will someone ever be held accountable in the broad reaches above Brig. General Karpinski of Abu Ghraib notoriety? Don't hold your breath. For Rummy, after all, accountability means, well, non-accountability (Except for assorted slaps on the wrist or jail time for some of the 'bad apples.' Many of them less guilty, if not vis-a-vis direct culpability, in terms of the piss-poor post-war assumptions that have led to the hoisting of large numbers of untrained personnel into difficult, unfamiliar situations. Situations that lend themselves to precisely the human rights abuses we are again hearing about now. Am I saying there is legal liability that resides directly with Rumsfeld via the chain of command? No, not necessarily. But there is certainly a more general failure of leadership and moral direction that is part and parcel of all of this. And in significant manner).
Alas, contemporary White Houses have become citadels of 'stay on message'; bastions of spin. Where is the courage and intellectual honesty to call a spade a spade? Or torture torture? Yes, Bush made some of the right noises after Abu Ghraib. But it wasn't a hugely convincing show (Kerry, btw, watched the polls showing Rummy with 70% support after A.G. Result: He didn't condemn it as vociferously as he should have. Another sign of his meekness and lack of character). Bush has now secured victory in the election. What does he even have to lose? Does he not think such despicableness needs to be shouted down, more forcefully, from his huge bully pulpit? Indeed, should not the Commander-in-Chief, more loudly, decry these human rights abuses for the whole world to hear--rather than march over to the Pentagon to give Don Rumsfeld another bear-hug?
Hard Questions After Mosul
Mosul piece in the WaPo:
The major difference between the latest attack and the earlier incidents is that it was an attack on a U.S. base, rather than on troops in transit in vulnerable aircraft. That difference appears to reflect both the persistence of the insurgency and its growing sophistication, as experts noted that it seemed to be based on precise intelligence. Most disturbingly, some officers who have served in Iraq worried that the Mosul attack could mark the beginning of a period of even more intense violence preceding the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
In a word, no.
A private-sector security expert who recently left Baghdad after more than a year there agreed, noting that the United States originally put an entire division in the Mosul area, the 101st Airborne, but replaced it earlier this year with a force about half that size, only to see insurgent attacks increase. "We have replaced a division with a brigade and think we can offer the same amount of security," he said, insisting on anonymity because his opinions are so at odds with the official U.S. government view.
I supported Bush because I thought, as between his team and Kerry's, Dubya would be the better bet to continue seeing a major 5-10 year effort through. But Rumsfeld's policies, that the President and Dick Cheney don't appear to be forcefully re-appraising, are now beginning to imperil the war effort. Pas serieux. This is not panicky carping from the sidelines. Elections are not a panacea leading to stability. Ethnic tensions will mount and the post-election millieu will prove a period of great flux and danger. Talk of an exit strategy with trained Iraqi forces taking over by '06 is claptrap and farcical. Those forces, btw, will often be infiltrated by Iranian agents, Baathists restorationists, and other enemy groupings. Hell, such infiltrators might have had a hand in the Mosul attack. The quicker the rush to Iraqify--the more half-assed the effort will be. A real training and equipping effort will take place over years, with the insurgency pacified, and with post-electoral inter-communal relations set on a stable (as much as possible) course (this measured in years not months). American forces, and in large enough number to be credible, will have to act as guarantors of security during this exceedingly complex and lengthy transition period. Do enough people in the Administration get this? Not yet, I fear.
It's easy to beat up on me, as Brad DeLong does, for not stating that the buck stops with POTUS. Except that Kerry would have been even worse--all but guaranteeing that Iraqi democratization would not have been seriously pursued ("wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"; troops out w/in 4 years, interim authority head but a "puppet", the better to play into the insurgent's propaganda and handbook). Between arguably underwhelming options in elections, sometimes, hard decisions have to be made. But what's clear now is that it is in all of our interests that the Iraq project not flounder. This would prove the biggest American foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, perhaps worse even. It would allow radical jihadists to renew their momentum, render risible talk of Middle Eastern democratization, and make America appear a paper tiger again (as during the abdication-of-global-leadership-ridden Clinton years). These are critical times. Rumsfeld, if we're stuck with him, needs to be persuaded to rotate more troops into theater. It's not only Chuck Hagel and John McCain who need to raise the pressure. Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh, on the other side of the aisle, should consider doing so to. Better safe than sorry. Force matters. The Powell Doctrine is not dead. Rumsfeld must snap out of denial and get back to basics. Quickly.
More on the Torture Story Around the Blogosphere
Eric, Jon (from the right) and Praktike generously express support. Laura has more. And J. Bradford DeLong makes a little sport of B.D. Hey, it's the blogosphere. You reap what you sow. And payback is a bitch. Back later.
December 21, 2004
are fixed now. mt-comments.cgi was corrupt...
Posted by teberle at 03:58 PM
And Now...Some Good News...Kinda
David Brooks is finding his voice (didn't Safire tell him it would take a year or so?). An excellent op-ed well worth your time. All is not doom and gloom in the Middle East. The President's critics would have more credibility if they occasionally noted this, er, reality (to use a word in moronic vogue). They won't, of course, as mono-narratives are much easier to tiresomely chime on about. Anyway, you can fairly disagree with some of Brooks' points. And much of the new dynamics on the peace processing front were borne, not by some ingenious White House initiative, but by the simple fact of Arafat's death. But we appear to be coaxing the process along not unadeptly.
Meanwhile, Steve Menashi (writing over at Sully's space) is further explaining (for those who still don't get it) why some conservatives have had it with Rumsfeld. And, via Steve, it's worth pointing out Matt Yglesias is spot on re: why the Democrats should be loudly entering the fray. Except they won't, of course. The Kos-school will rule the day, likely. Rather than trying to come up with better ideas re: Iraq--there will be the predictable schandenfreude in various precincts that the effort is proving so difficult.
You know, rarely have we faced such mediocre political leadership around the globe, alas. Both sides of the aisle are consumed by so much group-think. Pelosi, Dean, Moore and Co. go on about how awful it all is and how the Chimp-in-Chief is taking us towards some quasi-fascist state and, basically, running around killing people for oil. And there is too rarely the appetite to confront square-on the full gamut of challenges Iraq presents in the amen corners of the self-congratulatory American right (though Bush did admit, more forcefully than before, some of the challenges in his press conclave of yesterday). Mavericks (how dare they disagree with the infallible and saintly Rumsfeld!) like Hagel and McCain are roundly derided as showboaters and worse. But perhaps arguably the best leader on the world stage today, Tony Blair, fits this more maverick mold. Who can imagine another Labour PM, faced with such a groundswell of public opposition, standing shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. through 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq?
I repeat: a morally defunct exit strategy, where we declare victory and leave a too hastily trained, under-qualified Iraqi "army" to be slaughtered like lemmings, will be the final straw for war supporters like me. I still believe Bush will see this through. But his Ljubljana-like 'sense of his soul' defense of Rummy yesterday doesn't give me comfort that the President fully gets it. Am I too pessimisic about the strength of the post-elections insurgency? Perhaps. I hope so. But we're probably lying to ourselves if we are making policy assumptions (again!) that are so overly rosy. I'm hearing that some in the Pentagon are, quite amazingly, contemplating troop draw-downs in '05. That is too premature and would likely prove a disaster.
Back Tuesday evening.
A Catalogue of Shame
Here is a brief summary of what I observed at GTMO. On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand a foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.
Perhaps the person pulling out his hair was mentally deranged. Perhaps the Israeli flag is some figment of an FBI agent's fevered neo-con conspiracy imaginings. Perhaps. But, of course, perhaps not.
Much more here...including the original Emails in PDF format (courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act).
Not convinced that unpretty things were going down and about to condemn me as a whiney wimp and too eager imbimber of the agenda-ridden ACLU Kool-aid? Look, your perogative. It's a free marketplace of ideas here. I report, you decide. But do read on a bit. Don't miss this report from ABC, for instance, that provides more detail.
A heavily redacted June 25 FBI memo titled "URGENT REPORT" to the FBI director, provided details from someone "who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees" in Iraq.
Many of these reports were sent by FBI agents to Valerie Caproni, the FBI's General Counsel. She sounds like a pretty cool woman:
If you were to run into Valerie Caproni at a party, you would never guess this 5-foot-tall, 49-year-old native of a small town on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia is one of the most hated general counsel in North America. During her 24 years of practicing law, she has managed to enrage the five Mafia families in New York, a host of Colombian drug dealers, heroin smugglers from Nigeria, white-collar criminals and just about every other lowlife living in New York. About a year ago, she added another group of thugs to her list_terrorists.
Looks like she's going to be busy indeed. Stuff happens, after all. And quite frequently, it appears. Still, war is an ugly business, of course. And Rumsfeld can't be held accountable for every last action of a private in some far-flung penal colony (though a different man, confronted with such dismaying torture scandals over the past odd year, might not have written last June: "(h)owever, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?") But anyone with half a brain who continues to insist that the torture (sorry, "abuse") story is about a few bad apples taking a frat hazing a tad too much to heart at Abu Ghraib alone are full of it and doing the country a disservice through their intellectual dishonesty. It's clear that, while not some God-awful American gulag archipelago--torture has manifestly occurred in detention facilities from Afghanistan to Iraq to Cuba. Likewise, it's time to say loud and clear that the fact that those tortured are Arab and South Asian detainees is noteworthy. Why? Because it's reminiscent of the different treatment afforded the Japanese enemy as compared to the German during WWII. Recall that the Japanese during WWII, above and beyond Korematsu, were more viciously dehumanized in the popular culture than their less offensive Kraut partners in crime. Put differently, race matters. Can anyone imagine the tortures that have taken place in places like Bagram, Gitmo and Abu Ghraib having been inflicted against, say, Bosnian Serbs in Brcko or Banja Luka? Highly doubtful indeed. 9/11 happened, of course. And Islam has too often been conflated in the popular imagination with the radical jihadists who would so gleefully kill thousands as they did in lower Manhattan that fateful day. Which explains polls like this one (though Orin Kerr of Volokh adds perspective). Still, it's time for intellectuals who care about the moral fiber of our polity, on both the Left and Right, to start speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends. America's better angels, and our more aspirational national narratives, simply demand it.
December 20, 2004
Not All Shi'a Are the Same
Tom Friedman reminds us that Iraqi Shi'a are Arabs and Iranian Shi'a, well, not. That's important. I suspect, deep down, that most Iraqis are well acquainted with that basic fact. Which is why some of this hyperbolic scare-mongering re: "Black Horde(s)" of nefarious Iranian interlopers looking for more Persian Shi'a lebensraum probably won't give Allawi and Co. any real legs as an electoral tactic. Martin Indyk has made this point in a different context as B.D. has previously blogged.
His Fame Grows!
Lest we forget, there is a blogger with a name that's an even greater tongue-twister than Djerejian. And, bless his doubtless beleaguered soul, he's a lawyer too!
Hitchens on the Hippies...
If you look back to the founding document of the 60's left, which was the Port Huron statement (also promulgated in Michigan), you will easily see that it was in essence a conservative manifesto. It spoke in vaguely Marxist terms of alienation, true, but it was reacting to bigness and anonymity and urbanization, and it betrayed a yearning for a lost agrarian simplicity. It forgot what Marx had said, about the dynamism of capitalism and ''the idiocy of rural life.'' Earlier 18th- and 19th-century American communards had often been fleeing or preparing for a coming Apocalypse, and their emulators in the 1960's and 1970's followed this trope as well, believing everything they read about the impending crash, or the exhaustion of the world's resources.
A not uninteresting contrarian take from Hitchens. In addition to this possible conservative influence, the Haight-Ashbury gaggles, as Hitchens suggests elsewhere in his piece, were infused with a very healthy dose of solipsism and narcism. Amidst all the tiresome clamor for 'rights rights rights!' there was very little by way of broaching responsibilities and the like. The legacy of much of the 60's movement, all told, has proven to be a net negative, imho. Political protest as carnival and entertainment, probably as much as anything else, has done its level best to dumb down our political discourse (but hey, much of the music was good!).
December 18, 2004
The Impending Iraqi Elections: A "Jungle of Ambiguity"
John Burns on the impending Iraqi elections.
With the candidates' lists closed and Iraq seemingly set on an irreversible course toward elections on Jan. 30, a senior Western official with decades of Middle East experience cast about Friday for the kind of optimistic forecast that the United States and its allies have offered at every important juncture in 20 turbulent months since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Don't miss this part either:
But the largest unknown is the effect insurgents will have on voting. After a protracted debate, American officials have ruled that security at the 9,000 polling stations will be provided by Iraq's 120,000-strong security forces, with units of the 150,000 American troops deployed across the country by the end of January "over the horizon," out of sight but close enough to intervene.
Over 2,000 Iraqi police and security forces have been slaughtered in Iraq by the insurgents. It's little wonder that the populace often has little fate in their ability to withstand attacks by insurgents. Will having U.S. forces 'over the horizon' be enough come polling day? I don't know, but it's certainly not ideal. And it's quite revealing that an option under discussion involved staggering the voting so that requisite forces could be concentrated at various polling stations. Doesn't this all smell of (sorry to keep hammering in on it) too few troops in theater? Look, I'm not, via Laphamization or such, prejudging what's going to happen on election day. And, even if we had 500,000 guys on the ground, certain polling stations would doubtless get hit. But I'm concerned that some commanders on the ground are expressing concern about having Iraqis guard the polling stations. Doubtless part of the issue was also that Negroponte and Co. didn't think having U.S. troops manning polling stations created the right 'image' regarding Iraq's sovereignty during this historic democratic exercise. But, all told, having some discreet outer cordon (why inner, per the article?) manned by Americans (with an inner Iraqi cordon) might have struck the right balance between ensuring better security but not having American forces millling about the polls with Allawi placards or such. I'm open to other views on this (it's a tough call between ensuring security and allowing the voting to appear an unfettered Iraqi exercise sans Americans); but I'm quite concerned.
MORE: If you're coming from Glenn, go to the final update of this (quite long) post for an explanation of why I have felt we always needed more troops in theater. Hint: it's not because I believe that each and every of the 9,000 polling stations need to be protected. It's more about having the requisite resources on the ground to better mount an overpowering counter-insurgency campaign. Thanks to Glenn for posting a clarification (he didn't need to necessarily) on his main page for all those who don't click-thru.
Another Rightist Anti-Rumsfeld Voice
Frederick Kagan, writing in the Weekly Standard. A must-read. Excerpts below--but do click through and read the whole thing.
The overall manpower situation of the American military, too, is grim. By increasing troop strength primarily by extending the tours of duty of American forces already in Iraq, and by steadfastly refusing to consider increasing the size of the Army in any meaningful way, the administration has committed itself to a risky policy. It effectively assumes that one of three things will happen after the Iraqi elections: (1) The violence and resistance to the establishment of secular democracy will suddenly and dramatically diminish; or (2) the American Army will be able to withstand indefinitely unprecedented strains and hardships; or (3) Iraq will somehow cease to be an American military problem once a democratically elected government has taken power in Baghdad. The first two possibilities are wishful thinking; the third is terrifying.
Be sure not to miss the part about why Kagan doesn't think we need a draft. I agree. If Americans are called upon, they will subsitute putting up yellow ribbons for volunteering to serve. But what is really needed now is leadership and straight talk--including an honest facing up regarding the resources we may need to ensure we get the job of Iraqi democratization done.
John Kerry, of course, would have most likely simply organized a cut and run from Iraq within 3 or so years--in time to declare a 'successful' Iraq exit for his '08 run so as to placate the Dean-wing of the party. Throughout his campaign, he manifested, and in spades, his basic disinterest and even contempt about the stakes surrounding the Iraq project. Bush, on the other hand, and to is immense credit, is trying to see this hugely difficult endeavour through, which is far and away the main reason why I supported him. But he seems to be hoping the elections (and a too hasty train and equip program) will prove panaceas of sorts. Put differently, and even beefing up to 150,000 (albeit too many of these overstretched, underqualified reserves), he's trying to do it on the cheap, with fingers crossed, hoping things will get better after January 30th.
But as Kagan and other adult, non-chest beating, non-breezily self-congratulatory conservatives are pointing out, that may not be the case. Look, few would be happier than B.D. if we were so lucky that all went swimmingly in Iraq post-elections. But we must plan for far more negative contingencies, as Kagan rightly points out. Don Rumsfeld doesn't seem capable of honestly reckoning with those contingencies (nor, it appears, do the other pet budget-interested, transformationalist cheerleaders around him). So in my view, and it's getting increasingly important, the President (whom I believe truly cares about the Iraq project and has the conviction to match--but doesn't appear to fully appreciate the quantum of prospective dangers ahead) needs to get better advice on the Iraq war than he is currently getting from the civilian leadership of the Pentagon.
Mitch McConnell, as is his wont (stolid party man to a tee!), is playing Rumsfeld defense (along with Bill Frist). Frist appears to believe some of the griping is more 'style over substance'--aggrieved lawmakers bitching because Rummy doesn't kiss their asses like they are accustomed to. Sorry, but that's mostly bullsh*t. Risking losing the war because we don't understand what force presence we may need if things get nasty isn't style. It's, um, a substantive matter. So let McConnell do his Rummy-defense rounds. But to Hagel, Kristol, McCain, Kagan, Donnelly, Collins, Coleman, and Lott I suspect more will add their voices regarding the need to push Rumsfeld out relatively soon. On the Senate side, I'm looking to Richard Lugar, Lindsey Graham and, yes (just maybe!), John Warner next: (LATE UPDATE: Yes, I saw Meet the Press today. More on that at end of this post. Note this post was originally written Saturday the 18th).
An embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cannot expect support from Sen. John Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who normally supports the Bush administration on military matters.
Robert Novak has, er, been known to inject his policy agendas into his copy here and there--it's probably not unfair to say. And he's no Rummy fan, of course. So take the above quoted piece with a grain of salt.
Still: "I've had it with him." You're not alone Senator! (See more below re: Warner coyly fielding a question from Tim Russert on whether he actually said this. Bottom line: he doesn't flat out deny saying it--instead opting for the oft-used Washington 'I have no recollection of it' non-answer answer).
An aside. The Bushes are well known for their loyalty. Poppy would likely have beaten Clinton in '92 if he had dumped Quayle and put in Powell, perhaps. This loyalty is an admirable quality, in my view. But it does sometimes make needed personnel adjustments, shall we say, difficult. So the pitch influential rightist commentators and congresspersons need to make to Bush is not 'hey, Don is not serving you well. You gotta throw him overboard'. That will backfire because Bush will feel he is being asked to do something disloyal.
The angle should be, rather, "Mr. President, Iraq is the fulcrum of the war on terror as you, more than anyone, state repeatedly and well realize. And your Secretary of Defense, as admirable and talented as he is, and as noble his past service, has become overly recalcitrant regarding grappling with some of the more difficult scenarios that may await us in 2005 and 2006 in Iraq. Some of these may mean readjusting our force posture there. This most likely means a larger standing army--particularly given that we may face additional challenges in other theaters during this period. Your Secretary of Defense appears unwilling to face up to this possibility. I would suggest, therefore, that you consider replacing him not too long after the Iraq elections with someone less beholden and married to transformationalist tenets that, in current form, are often too overblown. Don't get me wrong, Mr. President. Many of these ideas are critical, smart and need to be implemented. And Rummy's damn good at pushing tough reforms through a vast and difficult bureaucracy. But he's not indispensable. And, most important, he doesn't seem to understand well enough that trained, qualified, appropriate to the task boots on the ground still matter mightily. And we simply don't have enough of them at the ready. Unfortunately, your Defense Secretary doesn't realize this or, even worse, does but is simply unwilling to change course. Thus the pressing need for new leadership at the Pentagon. Please give it all due consideration..."
Or something less long-winded than that. But you get my point.
P.S. Don't miss more on Rummy at B.D. here, here, and here. Be sure to read the comments to these posts, both pro and contra B.D., which are (mostly) polite, sincere, and intelligently argued. Thanks for the feedback.
Oh, and Tom Maguire agrees with me! I mean, what else do you need to know, really? Now, if only Glenn would reconsider his staunch support of Rumsfeld...we'd start building up some right blogosphere momentum akin to some of what's going on in print media. Glenn, it's not just about the armored humvees or that the Secretary couldn't find the time to personally sign condolence letters to families of dead serviceman (recall there wasn't enough time to read the Taguba report in its entirety either, alas). The Rummy story is much bigger than any journalistic gotcha by proxy that got the predictable MSM blowhards in a big tizzy. It's about much deeper issues besides. Like whether our current military planning and force presence is the best suited to see Iraqi democratization through--a goal Glenn has tirelessly and admirably promoted. So why does Glenn so casually throw the whole issue over to the legislative branch? Shouldn't the Defense Secretary be taking the lead on issues like the size of our armed forces? Wouldn't a Secretary of Defense loudly opining that we needed to face up to possible manpower shortages have an impact on getting the requisite bills passed through Congress? Er, yes and yes, of course.
Late Sunday Update:
Some Lugar/Warner roll-back on Tim Russert's show. But it's pretty lukewarm fare. Sounds more by way of let's keep Rumsfeld through the elections and immediate aftermath than a ringing endorsement that he serve out a full second term.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Lugar, Senator Frist and Senator McConnell, the leaders of the Republican Party, both issued statements in support of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. John McCain said he has "no confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld." Trent Lott from Mississippi, Republican, says he's not a fan of the secretary: "I don't think he listens enough to his uniformed officials." Should Secretary Rumsfeld be held accountable for what's going on in Iraq? Should he stay in office?
As I said, pretty lukewarm fare (Lugar: Listen up! Warner: We should not, "at this point", entertain leadership changes at Pentagon. The so routine "let's all do our part to backstop POTUS' chosen principals" verbiage). Look, I completely agree that we are facing a hugely critical juncture in Iraq right now (at least through the elections and immediate aftermath) so that yes, we should not (especially with all the underwhelming Kerik shenanigans underway) be replacing the Secretary of Defense just now. It's in mid-'05 or '06 that I hope he gets the heave-ho. Incidentally, I'm still thinking it's even money that's going to happen. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But more of us who supported the Iraq war and want it to succeed, really succeed (not some morally defunct exit strategy involving leaving behind some mediocre, vulnerable Iraqi army prematurely declared ready for prime time), are feeling that new leadership is urgently needed at the Pentagon. Recall, Rumsfeld is not an Irving Kristol style neo-con (think Wolfowitz) or, alternately, a "national greatness" conservative (think McCain). He's pretty much an American nationalist of Jacksonian stripe and, deep down I suspect, he doesn't really care whether a true democracy takes root in Iraq. Indeed, his stewardship of the Pentagon is, increasingly, manifestly showing that.
MORE: Glenn writes: "Greg thinks we need enough American troops to physically protect all the polling places in a country the size of California." As I wrote to Glenn in an E-mail, I don't think anything I've written on this blog could fairly be construed as a call to have G.I.s man each and every of the approximately 9,000 polling stations in Iraq. So Glenn makes me look a bit silly, of course, by stating that's my position. But that's O.K., as Glenn is a blog-friend, generous linker and all around good guy. And he might fairly feel his sentence captures the 'spirit' of my 'more boots on the ground' argumentation.
This little blog-fracas aside, however, what I do know, for instance, is that we didn't have enough troops to take Fallujah while keeping sizable forces in the so called 'triangle of death' south of Baghdad. So we had to rotate the Brits in--and in quite small number. And so, of course, fleeing Fallujan insurgents went to areas south of Baghdad or points Mosul--and lived to fight another day. This is just one example among many regarding how we never brought overwhelming forces to bear during the counter-insurgency campaign. Yeah, I know some of this smells like Monday quarterbacking and that some commenters will beat me up about that. But as I've repeatedly argued in this blog, and piggy-backing on a phrase employed in a CFR report chaired by the very able Tom Pickering, security is the "critical enabler" in achieving all our other goals in Iraq (democratization, economic revitalization, reconstruction). And we've simply never had the resources in theater to make a real go at providing real security on the ground (including, importantly, the capital city). So yeah, I would have been happier with about double the troop deployment, about 300,000-350,000 men, devoted to this campaign. That might not be enough to protect each and every polling station in a country the size of California--but it might have been enough to better quash a insurgency that remains quite potent today.
STILL MORE: Andrew, who generously links this post, has more on Rumsfeld in the Sunday Times (UK) today. Teaser and best line from Sully's Times piece: "Getting Rumsfeld to admit that he is wrong is a little like expecting George Bush to become pregnant." It sure is.
A Man of Peace?
"As things stand, Sharon is the only one in Israel who can take the courageous step toward peace."
Hosni Mubarak, in a recent interview to Der Spiegel. He sees a Palestinian state by the end of Bush's second term in 2008.
December 17, 2004
Critical reading on the going forward rebasing of U.S. forces.
While the Bush administration’s proposed changes to the global force posture are a good start, they are far from complete. Most importantly, it does little to reassure both enemies and allies that the American presence in the Middle East is in proportion to the “long, hard slog” described by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. U.S. forces in Iraq, for instance, currently operate out of more than a dozen major sites. While continuing success in the counterinsurgency campaign may allow--and fairly soon--for a reduction of the 140,000-plus troops now in Iraq, no military commander counts on a full withdrawal. And even once the counterinsurgency inside Iraq is won, there will still be the matter of regional security. The American commitment to Iraq is growing as the country moves toward democracy.
We'll need more troops for this smart game-plan. But our Secretary of Defense doesn't get it. Glenn puts the blame squarely on McCain and assorted legislators. Hey, why expect the Secretary of Defense to deal with pressing manpower shortages (presently and going forward) in the military? Not his bag, right? Glenn (who knows better) links to this piece too:
The agenda of most of Rumsfeld's critics is clear: to wound the administration and discredit the war effort by taking the scalp of one of its architects. Some of those coming at Rumsfeld from the right have a more subtle concern. They can't bear to admit that Iraq has been more difficult than they ever dared imagine, because of the irreducible reality of political and social conditions on the ground. Remaking societies by military means can be harder, bloodier work than some neoconservatives care to acknowledge.
That's not B.D.'s agenda. I want to win this war. And I don't care about scalping any of its architects-as I supported the Iraq war and still do. But four more years of Rumsfeld, as I've said before, may well imperil our effort in Iraq. And, contra National Review's musings, people like me don't need lessons about Iraq being more difficult than we "dared imagine." I knew the post-war would be much harder than the major combat stage--and I've argued for more troops (and a better mix of forces) in theater since at least May of 2003 (it's all in the archives to the right). That still hasn't happened in sufficient number--over a year and a half out. So yeah, I'm frustrated. Yeah, I want new leadership at the Pentagon. Yeah I don't think Don Rumsfeld is some infallible higher being. Is this some vendetta? Do I hate him, on some personal level? No, not at all. I hear, in person, that's he's quite affable, almost a Mr. Rogers kinda guy walking around the office in cardigan sweaters and, er, slippers (perhaps he has a future as a blogger?). I will never forget his evacuating felled Pentagon personnel on 9/11. I was thankful he was in office during the Afghanistan campaign. He is clearly a hugely accomplished man--in both the public and private sectors. But I believe in accountability. And he's simply gotten too many passes. He needs to go. He won't just yet, of course, but I think he will in '06.
Bush and Religion
By and large, Mr Bush has not associated the workings of providence with America or himself. The best evidence is his frequent assertion that “the liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world. It is God's gift to humanity.” To many Europeans, this formulation seems unnecessary. They argue that liberty is good in itself, not because it is God's gift. But to Americans the association is almost axiomatic, since it is rooted in the declaration of independence (“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”). In some ways, Mr Bush is actually rejecting the “exceptionalist” claim that America is a unique nation singled out by its liberty.
What Do All These People Have in Common?
Stormin' Norman. Thomas Donnelly of AEI. Trent Lott ("I'm not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld...I don't think he listens enough to his uniformed officers...") Norm Coleman (that leftist Kofi enthusiast!). Susan Collins. It ain't just the McCain-Hagel-Kristol rogue wing folks--with a few, er, "stray hawks" thrown in. It's gettin' bigger than that.
Excerpts from Donnelly's piece (which you should read in full):
Thus we have a Defense secretary more concerned about the Army and the force he'd like to have--the high-speed-low-drag transformed force of the future--than the force with which he actually has to fight today's wars. And, in fact, Rumsfeld and his lieutenants would also simply like to fight the wars they'd like to have rather than the war as it is. How else to explain the Pentagon's conduct of operations in Iraq? The administration is still patting itself on the back for the initial invasion; this week's ceremony honoring retired General Tommy Franks, President Bush acted as though the problems of the post-invasion period didn't exist: the invasion was "the fastest, longest armored advance in the history of American warfare" with "a force half the size of the force that won the Gulf War" and "defeated Saddam Hussein's regime and reached Baghdad in less than a month."
December 16, 2004
Putin's Ukraine Agenda...and Ours
According to JID's sources in Kiev, on 28 November the pro-Russian Yanukovych met in Severodonetsk with an aide of former Russian prime minister, and current Russian Ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov and the 16 oblast governors. Top of the agenda was a discussion on greater autonomy for the eastern and south-eastern oblasts of Ukraine.
All quite plausible.
But, and well worth noting, things do look different in places like Dnipropetrosk than they do in Kiev. Read this for more:
These 10 million Ukrainians may be just as fed up as Kiev and Lviv are with the post-Soviet oligarchs and with the corrupt semi-authoritarian regime of Leonid Kuchma, the outgoing president. They may have groaned at Putin's cack-handed appearances on the campaign trail and the blatant attempts to fix the vote for Yanukovich in the east (as also certainly happened in the west for Yushchenko). But are 10 million people who did not vote Yushchenko all to be dismissed as latterday Soviet clones? Do they only jerk into life when Putin and the revamped KGB press the remote control? What do they want? How do they think they are going to get it?
That's about right. The "Orange Revolution," like many revolutions, contains within it seeds of going forward oppression that must be kept well in mind--along with all the jubilant talk of liberation emiting from the streets of Kiev. Let's not get too carried away just yet (see Nick Kristof for an example of full-blown cheerleading from the scene). Don't get me wrong. I support the democratic revolution underway in Ukraine. But Russia has hugely significant historical links to eastern portions of that country, and many inhabitants located there feel more affinity to Russia than western parts of Ukraine. They have aspirations, fears, legitimate concerns too.
The U.S. and EU must be heavily involved in ensuring that those regions aren't cast aside or slighted should Yushchenko prevail. That will increase the chances that said regions don't separate via some deep autonomy arrangements or de facto secession so as to more fully enter Russia's orbit--a bad result for the U.S.--because, of course, we seek to limit Russia's control of its so-called "near abroad." That said, however, we cannot too fully rub Russia's nose in it. Put differently, declining powers must be managed with tact--overt humiliation of Russia on matters so important to their national interest (eastern Ukraine, parts of Kazakhstan, Belarus) might backfire in the not too distant future.
Bottom line: support Yushchenko, ensure eastern Ukraine's rights are fully respected going forward, allow Russia special trade/economic links in said areas, coordinate closely with Moscow and Brussels to maximize transperency so as to foster greater trust among the key parties. This is, after all, a very delicate period fraught with not insignificant risks that Ukraine could split in two-a result B.D. considers contra the U.S. national interest.
More Rollback from Presumptive Sunni Boycotters
A few weeks back major media was full of stories of mega-Sunni boycotts of the impending elections in Iraq. Over here, we predicted many of the presumptive boycotters would end up playing ball. Here's more rollback which, of course, is good news vis-a-vis helping give the impending elections a greater imprimatur of legitimacy.
Also announcing his candidacy today was Adan Pachachi, an Iraqi elder statesman and prominent member of the country's long-dominant Sunni Muslim minority. Pachachi had previously joined more than a dozen other Sunni and secular groups in calling for the elections to be postponed and raising the prospect of a boycott if they went ahead as scheduled.
More than 230 political organizations! What a burst of political energy after the decades of cowed submission to Baathist totalitarianism. But all was better when the brutish Saddamite yoke prevailed, right? No, of course, if we finish the job and see this through. I continue to see the glass more half full than half empty over an approximately five year time horizon.
December 15, 2004
Middle East Democratization Watch
Ray Takeyh sent in the below piece today. Comments on it welcome (particularly as I've been meaning to blog about the status of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative for about a week now so feedback on Takeyh's take would be helpful in further forming my views). Be sure to read this too. Back later, but don't miss this either.
I'm particularly interested in the timing and relative weight as between economic versus political reforms in the region. Is the China model better--with economic reform preceding political? Or must political reform come first? I think the answer is that, given current realities on the ground (of which more later), we should concentrate on economic liberalization but with concommitant (if more modest, but still material) progress on political reform. But people like Takeyh, and others as one of the links showcases above, are very skeptical of such an approach. Here are some snippets from people who wrote in to the "Across the Bay" blog reacting to some relatively nascent and undeveloped B.D. musings:
"Well, of course the regimes will be comfortable with economic reforms since no one stands to benefit from such movement as much as they do--look at Gamal Mubarak. Economic liberalization without social and political reforms, in the PA oranywhere, is a potential disaster: there are no political reforms in the offing in places like Dubai. I think it's time we started hitting hard at both Arab and Western officials who think economic liberalization is a panacea; rather, it will just further consolidate the elites' hold on power."
"The paradigm of economic reforms coming before and paving the way to political reforms have been tried in Egypt, Jordan, and even Syria over the last few years, and did not work. Lack of public accountability and the corruption of the ruling elite made sure of that. The Morocco Forum is going to be a big failure because more emphasis is going to be put on economic reforms. Seeing that the Bush Administration is now adopting the economic approach, the Europeans can feel quite justified now with their approach to their Medditerranean partners which always emphasized economic reforms over everything else."
Lots to digest here. Here Takeyh's piece in full (which I think is in today's CSM). Throw it into the mix too and comment if inclined.
Flagging winds of American idealism across the Middle East By Ray Takeyh and Nikolas Gvosdev
At least the topic of those conversations in the Pentagon isn't boring. Indeed, Rumsfeld assured the troops who have been cobbling together their own armor, "It's interesting." In fact, "if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up." Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.
Rummy's abdications of responsibility are becoming breathtaking in their gall and frequency. What is leadership divorced from real responsibility and being held to account? Cowardice, really.
Oh, on the 'we have enough troops in Iraq' crapola don't miss this either:
MR. RUSSERT: General Meigs, Senator Biden also reported the following: "We were in Fallujah spending time with the operational commanders in there. As I'm leaving, they're putting us on a Black Hawk helicopter. One of the commanders...with stars on his shoulder, waited until the noise was loud enough from the helicopter, leaned up and he said, `Senator, anybody tells you that we have enough troops here, you tell them they're a G.D. liar.'"
This is worth reading too:
MR. RUSSERT: Forty percent to 45 percent of the troops on the ground are reservist or Guard.
Of course, Rumsfeld doesn't get any of the above. He's in denial, he's become bovinely bull-headed, he's taken transformationalist projects (some of which are indeed critical) to an irresponsible degree (the ability to put large amounts of boots on the ground still matters mightily Mr. Secretary). Which is why John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Bill Kristol (and doubtless more people coming out of the woodwork soon) have lost confidence in this Secretary of Defense. I've too, as my regular readers doubtless well know, and I fear I'm likely boring them by returning to this theme so often. But so be it--as I think Rumsfeld's continued presence at the Pentagon is increasingly imperiling the successful prosecution of the war effort.
MR. RUSSERT: General Meigs, are we winning the war in Iraq?
Indeed it is. Why can't the Secretary of Defense see this? Because he has a too myopic transformationalist agenda, is hubris-ridden and stubborn in the extreme, and is running around his fiefdom in overly cocksure manner because POTUS too rarely reins him in. Still, let's keep the heat on. It's in our national interest (and Iraq's) that he go within a year or so. Bush, whom I supported, won and gets to pick his Cabinet, of course. But Bush, imho, needs to reappraise whether Rusmfeld should indeed continue in his post once we've gotten past the Iraqi elections. Here's hoping he decides to move this (quite elderly) Secretary of Defense off stage by '06 at the latest.
December 13, 2004
Apologies for the light blogging. I plead a heavy workload, travel, and Christmas shopping. Hope to have more in depth commentary up this week. Check in late evenings for fresh content. I'm trying...
UPDATE: Lots of 15 hour plus work days right now. Simply too exhausted to blog coherently. Let me at least take this opportunity to thank all who voted for B.D. in the 2004 Weblog Awards. We were lucky enough to win the "Best UK Blog" category. Your continued support is appreciated--particularly during times when I am too busy to post new content. Thanks for your patience. And your votes! Back as soon as able.
Good news. A schism within Fatah would not have been helpful at this juncture. This development increases the chances of forward movement on the peace process in the coming months.
Regime Change at Turtle Bay!
While some are trying to run Kofi out of the East 40s (prematurely, in B.D.'s view, let Volker's investigation play out)--others appear intent to do the same with respect to ElBaredei. Check out this story out about telephone intercepts being reviewed for evidence of overly pro-Iranian leanings.
Isn't this more a case of shooting the messenger? There is no evidence ElBaredei is actively in bed with the Iranians. Would a Brazilian nuclear specialist brought onboard instead be parroting John Bolton's talking points if he were rotated into the position? Er, no. The bottom line is that we have no coherent Iran policy. It's not ElBaraedi's fault. And it's not John Bolton's either. But that is the reality--and time isn't on our side. Frankly, it's becoming likelier every day that we need to begin preparing ourselves for the prospects of a nuclear Iran and the strategic implications thereto. And spending resources beating up on ElBaredei isn't making that unfortunate outcome less likely. It's a sideshow and waste of time. Let's skip the diversions and focus on the main show, shall we?
The Limits of Cartesianism
After recently spending nearly two weeks in Paris and having many conversations with old friends from France's national security elite, I conclude that intellectually, most French want the Bush administration to succeed in Iraq. But emotionally, many want it to fail.
Bob Blackwill writing in today's WaPo.
P.S. Is it just me, or is Blackwill's prose a bit odd? Sample:
So, on the subject of Iraq, the French are torn between rational analysis, which is so admirable a part of France's national character, and volcanic feelings generated lower in their anatomies.Hmmmm.
December 12, 2004
Polls Close Tomorrow
P.S. I'm not really into endorsements, but Tom Maguire of Just One Minute should be leading his field, imho.
I hope this trail doesn't lead to Moscow. If Moscow played pool that dirty, even via proxies, a fundamental reappraisal of the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship will be necessitated.
December 10, 2004
The Soi Disant Rogue Agency
Is it just me, or does does Larry Kaplan have a lil' case of Newt Gingrich p*n@s-envy? Sometimes it really feels that way.... He needs to get around more and knock on a few more doors at the State Department. His depiction of Foggy Bottom as some nefarious rogue agency is so tiresome in its hyperbole and predictability. I mean, it feels like he's written this same article ten times before. Get a new shtick already. Yawn.
UPDATE: As a commenter points out, this is a tad snarky. I owe a bit more by way of explanation. Just give me a day or two given time constraints.
Get Your Chrenkoff On
My favorite blogger from Down Under (OK, so I like Tim Blair too, but isn't the underdog always the one to root for?) has some interesting thoughts on why a revitalized Palestinian economy is of such critical import. His post touches on some themes I've wanted to broach but haven't had the time to. (What I've wanted to discuss is why Middle East democratization efforts through the broader Middle East might best be spearheaded via economic reforms preceding political ones, ie. more of a China model). More on that soon. Until then, go read Arthur for his take on the importance of Palestinian economic reforms accompanying any political liberalization there.
Lexington on Rathergate, Blogs and Big Media
A tad old (Nov 25) but still worth reading if you missed.
For most of the post-war era the American media were dominated by a comfortable liberal consensus. The New York Times was the undisputed king of the print news, while the network anchors lorded it over TV news. That consensus is now under siege. The attacks are partly coming from the cable networks—particularly from conservative Fox News. (Charles Krauthammer once quipped that Rupert Murdoch had spotted a niche market—half the country. Sure enough, Fox is now America's top-rated cable news network.) But old media also face a newer and more unpredictable source of competition—the blogosphere. Bloggers have discovered that all you need to set yourself up as a pundit is a website and an attitude.
As Glenn so aptly puts it: "If you've got a modem, I've got an opinion!" And usually one with an attitude! Oh, a reminder. I'm still trolling for votes. The estimable Samizdatistas and B.D. are in a dead heat (each with 28.8% last time I checked!) Do your part to get B.D. to 30%... vote here. Remember, you can vote again every 24 hours. So what are you waiting for? Vote for B.D., even if you think Rumsfeld is the greatest thing since sliced bread or that Bush is the devil incarnate. We run a big tent over here...
A couple weeks back I poo-pooed the notion, rather breathelessly reported in the NYT, that a full-fledged "second front" had opened up in Mosul. I still think it's not the new Fallujah or such--but David Ignatius has a pretty gloomy dispatch from there. It's well worth reading. Some key grafs:
A year ago this northern Iraqi city was a model for American commanders of how to do it right. U.S. troops worked closely with Iraqis and gradually gained their trust; they found ways to finance thousands of popular reconstruction projects; they even helped produce offbeat programs for local television, including a Mosul version of "Cops" and a talent show they called "Iraqi Idol."
Mosul is Iraq's third largest city with a population of some 2 million inhabitants. It's something of a bellwhether, therefore. Local security forces are in "disarray," says Ignatius. Meanwhile, we have fewer troops than we did a year back. Who will fill the resulting vacuum, then? Hamiltonian democrats? Of course not. Moderates are fearful of losing their heads, literally. So, all told, we likely need a larger force posture there. Have we enough men on the ground to so accomplish?
Iraq has become, not to sound too simplistic a note, a battle between chaos and order. Chaos favors the brutish Baathist restorationists and fundamentalists. Order, all told, favors the coalition and those aspiring to a democratic Iraq. Order comes from security. Security is the critical enabler for all else we seek to accomplish in Iraq. We are not doing a good enough job of it. Bush is trying, with real conviction and with limited resources (that his military advisors need to come clean on), to make a strong effort of it (much more than Kerry would have). But I am concerned that we continue to be undermanned in theater.
Regardless, and sooner or later, there will be a tipping point one way or the other. Let's hope the elections, in the main, are not too bloody and garner decent participation. That would be a big help indeed--particularly in conjunction with serious mopping up operations of insurgents in the southern approaches to Baghdad. We could then turn to major population centers like Baghdad and Mosul and target the rejectionists--who will, with any luck, begin to become more isolated as Iraqis feel more enfranchised (at least many non radicalized Sunnis)-- post elections that enjoy some imprimatur of legitimacy. Fingers crossed....
December 09, 2004
Iraqi Elections Watch
As B.D. predicted a little while back, some Sunni groupings appears to be backtracking and indicating that they will participate in the January elections in Iraq:
Iraq's leading Shiite political groups agreed Wednesday to unite under a single banner, a move that could help them win a dominant share of votes in the coming national elections.
--from today's NYT.
These are the kinds of developments that give me continued faith that Iraq could still prove to be, five to ten years hence, a major success of historic proportions rather than an imbecilic, colossal blunder. And I still think a positive outcome is likelier by a material margin.
Secretary of Denial
"Troop frustration is growing," especially as some soldiers head back to Iraq for their second occupation tour as the security situation there deteriorates, said another retired four-star general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Officers and senior sergeants are worried, he noted, because, in his view, "we are breaking a small, great professional force."
45% Guard and Reserve. It's a "temporary" problem though.
Our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality. He publicly states the situation on the ground in Iraq is being distorted by the media and characterizes the violence as comparable to Washington, D.C., crime levels. He has denied there is a "guerrilla war" and insisted that the only opposition is a handful of "dead enders." He points with increasing defensiveness to the small number of coalition forces (besides the courageous Brits) and the increasing hours of electricity per day as evidence that his policies are working.
But when denial is just a river in Egypt--candor ain't forthcoming.
We're realizing strategic victory is about a lot more than annihilating the enemy," says one senior defense official in Mr. Rumsfeld's office. Victory also requires winning the support of locals and tracking down insurgents, who can easily elude advanced surveillance technology and precision strikes. In some cases, a slower, more methodical attack, one that allows U.S. troops to stabilize one area and hold it up as an example of what is possible for the rest of the country, could produce better results, according to emerging Army thinking...
Maybe, like Rumsfeld indicated in Kuwait, his age is getting to him. After all, it shouldn't take 19 months to figure this stuff out--especially when many were saying it before the invasion. Harsh? You bet. But we have had a real failure of leadership at the Pentagon for many long months now. POTUS needs to start hearing this from more people than John McCain. Pity many in the serried ranks of Washington officialdom are often too cowed by the Secretary to speak out more. Accountability, less stubborness, flexibility--all our desparately needed at the Pentagon. Now more than ever given all the critical challenges awaiting us.
P.S. Rumsfeld should also recall some of his own fabled "Rumsfeld's Rules".
Here are a couple worth keeping in mind:
"Don't think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles de Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men."
"Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance."
Oh, and he never did help do a good job of this one, did he?
"Establish good relations between the departments of Defense and State, the National Security Council, CIA and the Office of Management and Budget."
The Grunts Speaketh Out
Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. My question is more logistical. We’ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we’ve always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don’t we have those resources readily available to us? [Applause]
Rumsfeld, speaking today at a Town Hall meeting with U.S. forces in Kuwait.
"As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
Why, even for a mighty "transformationalist"?
Don't miss this exchange either:
Q: Mr. Secretary, Specialist McKobiak (sp), 116th Calvary Brigade. My question is what is the Department of Defense, more specifically, the Army side of the house, doing to address shortages and antiquated equipment that National Guard soldiers, such as the 116th Calvary Brigade and the 278th ACR are going to roll into Iraq with?
December 08, 2004
The Long Honeymoon Ends?
"I honestly say that I cannot imagine how elections can be organised under a full occupation of the country by foreign troops." "I also cannot imagine how you on your own will be able to restore the situation in the country and stop it from breaking up."
Jacques Chirac? Gerhard? Kofi? Nope, Vladimir Putin.
Ljubljana seems far away, doesn't it? Still bilateral relations, all told, are likely still pretty OK. That said, it has been a choppy couple of weeks...What do commenters think? Are U.S.-Russian relations a) set to steadily decline in Bush's second term, b) just going through a temporary hiccup born of a confluence of events (Ukraine, Iraq, etc), c) in reality just status quo behind the scenes or d) none of the above?
Out of My Control
The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things that’s really out of my control. I mean, everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person and I guess that’s fine [ed. note: what happened to the buck stops here?]. But the number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted, the number of troops we have had every day since has been the number of troops that the field commander thought appropriate. They have not been increased or decreased over the objection of any of the field commanders and, indeed, I don’t believe that there’s been a request by Abizaid or Franks or General Casey that has not been agreed to. So those who go around constantly saying that there’s too few troops or too many troops are saying basically that they believe they know better than the people on the ground who are responsible for deciding the number of troops. My personal instinct is to go with the people in whom I’ve got great confidence, or they wouldn’t be asked to do their jobs. And I think that what the debate and discussion ignores is the reality that there is a tension between not having enough troops and having too many troops. By having too many troops, you have to provide force protection for the troops. There are that many more targets that can be shot at. There’s that many more troops that could be hit by an IED and you very clearly have to have a darn good reason for having them. You have to have support for them, the force protection for them. And so, you need to know precisely why you want them and what it is they’re going to do because it puts a very heavy footprint and it creates much more an impression of occupation. This is a poor analogy, but in Afghanistan, the Soviets had somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 troops and lost and we have 17,000 and won. So a fixation with sheer numbers, it strikes me as a 20th century phenomenon more than it is the 21st century phenomenon.
Perhaps a fitting epitaph for Don Rumsfeld--once he finally exits stage left (hopefully in under four years). It was "out of my control." Sh*t, stuff happens.
Don't miss this depressing snippet either:
Well, the last analysis, the Iraqi people are going to have to do it. And it’s pretty clear for all the people fussing about the Iraqi security forces, it’s reasonably clear to me that the extremists have decided that the Iraqi security forces are a danger to them. Else wise, why would they be running around trying to kill so many of them. They have to have decided that they’re effective. They have to have decided that that’s a threat and therefore, they make it a point to try to kill policewomen and Iraqi soldiers. And the Iraqi security forces have lost considerably more people killed in action than have the coalition forces in recent months.
Hey, it's almost good news that the insurgents are killing scores and scores of new Iraqi security forces we need to train, for several years and in large number, if we are to have any hope of a viable and morally justifiable exit strategy! So stop "fussing." Goodness gracious. After all, it's "reasonably clear" that the insurgents think the Iraqi troops are a danger. Well, hot damn then! All is just swell. Oh, woe that Rumsfeld might express some regrets to the families of the hundreds upon hundreds of Iraqi forces slaughtered like lemmings by the insurgents--in large part because of our failure to provide for secure conditions because of inadequate manpower inserted into theater (a quaint 20th Century concept in mondo Rummy). Instead, ugly hubris and the same faux-macho talk--peppered with this trademark insouciance that makes his fans swoon (how big and tough he is!)
Sad, really. But there is some comfort in all this. History will have the last laugh--not Donald Rumsfeld. And it will not be a pleasant verdict. Abu Ghraib and his dismal stubborness in not providing adequate manpower in Iraq will ensure that. And, yes, that verdict is "out of your control" too Mr. Secretary.
Egyptian Peace Processing Watch
There is clearly a very significant amount of diplomatic activity currently underway as between and among the Egyptians, Israelis, Syrians, Gulfies (Kuwaits/Saudis etc). Much of it quite positive--what with Israeli-Syrian feelers in the air and talk of establishing diplomatic relations between Kuwait and Israel (perhaps a tad easier with Saddam gone, no?).
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is visiting Kuwait trying to widen the circle of participants in a peace process with Israel, and appears to be coordinating his efforts with the Palestinians. Mubarak is trying to persuade Kuwaiti ruler Prince Jabber Ahmed al Sabah to open negotiations with Israel for diplomatic ties, and to pressure Syria to demonstrate more daring political moves that will persuade Israel of Damascus' seriousness about renewing the political process with Israel.
Palestinians and Israelis have agreed in principle to proposals which could serve as the basis of a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Egypt's official news agency MENA said on Tuesday. Egypt's official news agency said that significant progress had been made in international efforts to end Israeli-Palestinian violence. But both sides to the conflict termed talk of a deal premature.
We're not there yet (not by a long shot). Even just for a so-called "agreement in principle." But, and keeping in mind that major caveat, material progress certainly seems to be underway nonetheless. Just don't look for too much in depth coverage about it in the predictable quarters. Such good news, after all, doesn't fit the oft-ordained narrative that Iraq has plunged the Middle East into utter chaos and that Bush is simply getting ready for Iran (variant: wants to go in, but can't, b/c Iraq is a quagmire) so as to keep on keeping on performing Arik's bidding. The reality, of course, is quite a bit more, er, nuanced. For one, Arafat's death has opened up many new avenues for resucitating the peace process and Bush, it appears, is asking Mubarak to take an early lead (importantly, on an ambitious region-wide basis) to generate some positive momentum for the peace process. Higher level American involvement, doubtless, will ramp up as real, tangible progress looks achievable on varied fronts.
Smart. One of Clinton's errors was not to get enough backstopping from Fahd and Mubarak on how far Arafat could go on Jerusalem concessions--helping ensure that the Palestinians (who, in any case, "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" per Abba Eban's quip) would be too fearful to make decisions impacting the entire Arab world and, indeed, 1 billion Muslims. We aren't talking Jerusalem and other such final status issues right now, of course. But it's still good to see Mubarak hitting the hustings (doubtless King Abdullah too) taking the post-Arafat pulse of the region. Also smart? A regional approach aimed at a general Arab-Israeli peace settlement. Thus the Israeli-Syrian track (and so the Lebanese track too) don't get lost in micro-managing and obsessing solely about the latest roadmap intrigues on the Israeli-Palestinian front. And also good to see a move to have some of the Gulf States like Kuwait at least think seriously about establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. After all, much of this is quite inter-connected--so best to undertake such peace processing initiatives in concerted, 'macro' fashion. As I said; lots going on. I predict good tidings in '05 from the Holy Land (fingers crossed!)
P.S. The day job is pretty much going around the clock this week. I'm sorry I haven't gotten to the Middle East democratization and Roger Cohen pieces like I said I would a couple nights back. There is simply no time given marathon work days/nights. I'll do my best to get some more material up later this week, however. Oh, B.D. is truly neck in neck with an excellent, widely read blog in the 2004 Weblog Awards for "Best UK Blog." Go give me a boost in the polls if you like what I try to churn out here, usually at least five days a week, on matters foreign policy and such. Yeah, the whole thing is a bit silly, as Sully has said. But, what the hell. A little cyber-trophy wouldn't hurt. Back soon. In the meantime, go vote. Who knows? Maybe a win would make me feel better about why I take the time to eke out post-work posts when I'm already exhausted...so help a guy rationalize the too bleary eyes!
P.P.S. If I haven't responded to E-mail, please accept my apologies. I'm a couple weeks behind on most of it...but will (at least) read each note. Thanks.
December 06, 2004
Items of Note from Today's NYT
The United States has a strategic problem: its war on terror, unlike its long fight against Communism, is not universally seen as the pivotal global struggle of the age.
Read all of Roger Cohen's piece and feel free to comment below. I have some problems with his thesis that I plan to turn to tomorrow night. Also on the blog agenda? The state of broader Middle East democratization efforts. Perhaps not suprisingly, my take is more optimistic than that of the NYT on both counts. More soon.
Harry Reid, the soft-spoken Nevadan who will soon become the Senate Democratic leader, rejects talk that he is the most powerful Democrat in Washington. But asked to pinpoint the leaders of the Democratic Party, Mr. Reid left out one obvious name - John Kerry - and perhaps tellingly put himself at the top of the list.
Reid? Pelosi? Richardson? I'm sorry, but that's pretty sad.
WALLACE: I want to pick up on this because you're saying that we've been reactive, that we allowed this sanctuary to be in Fallujah in the first place for far too long.
McCain, on Fox News Sunday.
And no, 150,000 troops isn't enough.
WALLACE: The Pentagon announced this week that it's going to increase the American military presence by 12,000 to 150,000 in time for the elections in January.
Yes, we are busier reacting to the insurgents then proactively stamping them out via overwhelming force. Because we don't have enough resources on the ground to do so. Kerry would have, in all likelihood, drawn-down our force posture in Iraq. Bush, at least, has increased it. But extending tours is devastating to morale. And relying so heavily on relatively inexperienced Guard and Reserve units is far from ideal. Taking Fallujah but allowing insurgents to flee to parts south of Baghdad (because we didn't have enough troops to blanket both areas simultaneously) is evocative of what McCain is getting at when he says we are in something of a "reactive" posture. We took the fight to the enemy in Fallujah, yes. But not having enough troops to keep the bad guys who escaped from getting to new sanctuaries has mitigated the success of the Fallujah offensive. It was an important victory, to be sure. But not an overwhelming one. Put differently, it's not that we are losing so much as we aren't decisively winning. If such a situation is allowed to fester for too long, of course, there will be a tipping point. We aren't there yet. But it's clear that, going into a period of heightened violence with elections looming, it wouldn't hurt (to say the least) if we could have more non-Guard, non-Reserve troops on the ground. Grown-ups like Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, and John McCain get this. We must hope the President does too. But I'm concerned. The lack of accountability at the Pentagon is a somewhat worrisome sign. But the Kerry alternative was even bleaker. So here we are. Who will have the courage to say what is so obvious and act on it? Our military is too small for the tasks it currently confronts. We are simply too stretched.
The new pressures on the Army recently led a bipartisan group of 128 members of the house to call on President Bush to increase the Army's overall size, called end strength, and to reduce the time reservists must spend on active duty. Republican Heather Wilson of New Mexico is a leader of the effort.
More here. Rumsfeld believes increasing our "end strength" is perhaps prohibitively expensive (given other defense funding needs) and might not be necessary as the overstretch is temporary. But how temporary is it? In my view, we need to remain in Iraq for at least another half-decade. Will the world sit back and wait for that chapter to be neatly closed before new crises emerge necessitating dispatch of highly trained troops, in good number, to other theaters besides? Probably not, unfortunately.
MORE: Related to the above, don't miss this John Burns dispatch. After Fallujah, we are, to a fashion, re-taking the initiative with respect to counter-insurgency efforts. But do we have the requisite muscle to really get the job done?
American forces moved into this area as Baghdad fell, but a shortage of troops, and command decisions that limited offensives, led early this year to a situation in which much of the region became a rebel stronghold. Journeys through it became a deadly lottery, with daily bombings, ambushes and kidnappings.
But wouldn't the local residents believe we were going to "stay and go after the bad guys" even more if we had a more robust force presence through this entire region? If the main airport road to Baghdad was secured? If we had soldiers staying back during the Fallujah offensive waiting for the bad guys to flee back home (rather than have to rotate British forces into the area)?
December 04, 2004
Was Yushchenko Poisoned?
Elisabeth Rosenthal (non-blogger!) is on the case:
New details of Mr. Yushchenko's hospital admissions in Vienna raise disturbing questions: Was the candidate poisoned or infected with some biological agent, and, if so, with what? What is his current state of health, in the middle of a pivotal battle for power?
Any M.D.s out there with thoughts? Anyone else have two cents to kick in? If so, comment below.
December 03, 2004
The NYT-NYRB Echo Chamber
We are losing the war in Iraq. There has been a steady increase in the assaults carried out by the insurgents against coalition forces. The attacks over the past year have risen from about twenty a day to approximately 120. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront our hubris and the lies told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, we will not so much defeat dictators like Saddam Hussein as become them.
Hey, what liberal media!?! And, of course, the fact that Hedges has concluded we are an "isolated and reviled nation" that uses "force and violence" as its "primary form of communication" so that we are in danger of becoming just like a leading genocidaire of the 20th Century (what a heady, hyperbolic brew! some evidentiary moorings, please!)--that won't impact his reporting a wit, of course. Cuz, you know, it's the newspaper of record and it serves up its fare de haut en bas. Humbly accept these pearls of wisdom, friends. For they come from wiser and mightier folk than you and me...
Here's another beaut from the NYRB worth checking out too:
In the end, the war in Iraq did not have the decisive impact on the election that many had expected. In the weeks before the vote there were the massacre of forty-nine Iraqi police trainees; a deadly attack inside the previously impenetrable Green Zone in Baghdad; the refusal by an army unit to carry out a supply mission on the grounds that it was too dangerous; the explosion of several car bombs at a ceremony where soldiers were handing out candy, killing dozens of children; the abduction of contractors, journalists, and aid workers, including the director of the CARE office in Baghdad; the release of a report holding the highest reaches of the Pentagon and the military responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib; a report by President Bush's hand-picked investigator confirming that Iraq had long ago lost its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction; and the spread of the insurgency to every corner of the country, bringing reconstruction to a virtual halt. All of this, in the end, counted for less to voters (if the exit polls are to be believed) than such issues as whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry and whether discarded embryos should be used for stem cell research.
But wait, maybe it wasn't about gays after all (more here, from Glenn)! But that wouldn't fit the NYRB narrative of primitive red-staters all in a tizzy about the death of the nuclear family--and heading to a poll near you to pull the elephant lever. Woe that, you know, some people voted for Bush both a) knowing Iraq was tough as hell and b) thinking he would be better than Kerry at dealing with it and the GWOT (as their main issues).
Then there's this unintentionally hilarious part:
The biggest bombshell (ed. note: cute pun!), though, came on October 25, when the Times, in a two-column story on its front page, reported that nearly 380 tons of high-grade explosives had disappeared from a bunker south of Baghdad, and that this had likely occurred after the US invasion. The story was quickly seized on by John Kerry, who for the remaining days of the campaign cited it as further evidence of the administration's mishandling of Iraq. On the day before the election, CNN analyst William Schneider said that the missing-explosives story seemed to be an "important" factor in a last-minute turning of the polls away from Bush.
For "predicted" subsitute "hoped" to cut to the chase so as to get to the real meaning of these two grafs. Indeed better to say, perhaps, that a huge percentage of assorted journalists, doubtless with fingers-crossed, were in deep wish-mode that al Qa Qaa would blow Bush out of the White House. It wasn't really about the Bill Schneider's of the world predictions going awry; it was about massive gaggles of journalists, mired in deep group-think, all but openly hoping Bush would get TKO'd because of stories like al Qa Qaa.
All this said, I do agree with the author about the truly imbecilic coverage one so often finds on channels like CNN and Fox.
This fear seems especially apparent on cable news. Given the sheer number of hours CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have to fill, it's remarkable how little of substance and imagination one sees here. CNN still bills itself as "the most trusted name in news," but one wonders among whom. Its breakfast-time show, American Morning, offers a truly vapid mix of bromides and forced bonhomie. In mid-October, with a grinding war and bruising electoral campaign underway, the show spent a week in Chicago, providing one long, breathless promo for the city. Every hour or so, correspondent Brent Sadler would produce an update from Baghdad. For the most part, he offered rip-and-read versions of US press releases, with constant references to "precision strikes" aimed at "terrorist targets" and "Zarqawi safehouses." Not once did I see Sadler make even a stab at an independent assessment.
Fox, often, is even worse in its rampant idiocy (though CNN, of late, has been giving it a real run for its money). And, in different fashion, BBC is tiresomely dreary in its almost uniform, anti-American slant (one female reporter from Baghdad's voice still haunts me now several months out of London on a temporary assignment--the constant doom, doom, doom relayed in such hyper-gloomy, self-consciously high-serious baritone). When in my London flat, I used to try to piece together the 'truth', so to speak, by taking in a bit of (from right to left) Fox, CNN Int'l, the Beeb, EuroNews (this last, specializing in such stories: Euro election monitors heading to U.S.! de Villepin in Teheran! Unemployment rising in, er, the U.S.!). The "real" story was somewhere in the middle of all the narratives these channels espoused (with varying degrees of self-consciousness). But, overall (and even throwing in the mix that CNN Intl is much better than the domestic version) it was grim, underwhelming fare indeed.
I mean, thank God for blogs! I got (and still get) more juice and real news from reading Sully, Glenn, Dan, Oxblog, War&Piece, TPM, and so on than from these tired, bloated networks (I'm not talking about the print media here, of which us bloggers rely on heavily, of course, as launching off points from which to analyze the passing show). More self-congratulatory blog triumphalism from the pajama and boxers set? Kinda. But it has the merit of being largely true, doesn't it? I mean, when is the last time you watched a cable or network newcast and felt you had really learned something (apart from simply breaking news or a policy pronunciamento from some politician on, say, Tim Russert's show)?
Get Out the Vote!
Some kindly and charitable soul has nominated B.D. for "Best U.K. Blog" in the 2004 Weblog Awards. Here's your chance to a) let a crude Yank crash the Brit party and b) keep the hegemonic aspirations of that "bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world" at bay. Who knows what could happen if they (shudder) won (and aren't they nominated in another category already, anyway)? Vote for them there instead--the better to help little solo-player B.D. go against the collective Goliath of the sinister Samizdatistas. Or, er, something like that. Go vote!
P.S. Mom, have I become a dork? Be truthful...
A new site for all you Iran junkies out there.
A Vacancy at Turtle Bay
Who will (or should) replace outgoing UN Ambassador John Danforth? Comments welcome.
December 02, 2004
The Crobar Follies
If it isn't a parlor game already, Gawker or someone should make it one. It seems that every year or so--the NY Observer puts up an article so hugely embarassing to the person featured so as to cause some major blow-back for the poor soul in question (the interviewees usually appear blissfully unawares that the piece will be greeted with widespread, round derision). One year it's a hyper-arrogant I-banker showing off his toys (check out my Plasma flatscreen!) and getting the heave-ho from mothership Deutsche Bank or such for his gauche display, another year some newbie B list hipster/rocker--who thinks he's the next Mick Jagger--and ends up getting roundly mocked for his risibly effervescent folie de grandeur--another year, another sucker.
Well, here's this year's entry--perhaps not surprisingly--it comes from an "artist"!
Mr. Tunney gets up at noonish, walks his pit bull Britney Spears, then has a long, leisurely lunch at Cipriani on West Broadway, where pretty girls flock to his table.
This part almost makes me like the guy, however:
Mr. Tunney, who has no cash, no credit card, no bank account, trades art for food and rent. He doesn’t have to pay for drinks at his various downtown haunts like the Pink Elephant, One, Capitale, because his art is on the walls. In a jam, he’ll find a piece of paper, doodle something, sign it "Peter Tunney" and give it to the maître d’, the cab driver, the doctor, the deli owner. He calls it "Tunney Money."
Only in NY folks.
The View from France
A French blogger who seems open to the notion that the phrase "Bushistes modérés" is not necessarily an oxymoron! Check out his blogroll. Methinks the 'Bushistes' category is stock-full of Kerry voters, however! (Perhaps once a Bushistes; always a Bushistes...)
UPDATE: From comments I see that the term "Bushistes moderes" was meant ironically. Mais bien sur...! Still, Emmanuele's blog, especially if you read French, is well worth your time. Check it.
Nietzsche Is Peachy
Pej blogging on Richard Posner and Nietzsche. Highly recommended.
December 01, 2004
Civil War in Iraq (Already)?
Matthew Yglesias--seemingly largely based on the murder of some Kurds in Mosul by perpetrators beholden to an unholy alliance of fundamentalist radicals and Baathist restorationists--appears to have made up his mind that a civil war has already begun in Iraq (he also points, quite unconvincingly, to the fact that a police commander in Tikrit is blaming Israel and Iran for terror in Iraq as more evidence of a percolating civil war).
Matt's strongest point comes in this graf:
Thus, contrary to the Bush administration's hopes, elections themselves will not solve Iraq's problems. The trouble is not merely that some factions within Iraq are opposed to the very idea of democracy (though no doubt some are), but that what's at stake in these sorts of disputes is the very nature of the political community to be governed democratically. A community that might be quite happy to govern itself democratically still has no reason to support a conception of majoritarian democracy that will guarantee its own subordination to a larger community to which it happens to have been yoked by the mapmakers of the British Empire.
Unfortunately, in his rush to declare the existence of a civil war, Matt ignores a bunch of critical variables in his too pessimistic analysis:
1) Turkey will almost certainly never accept an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. This acts as a major break on Kurdish national aspirations. Thus, and for the foreseeable future, Kurds must be relatively 'good citizens' vis-a-vis helping to cobble together a federalistic Iraqi polity. This is one of the big reasons Kurdish leaders are, if not yet declaring it loudly to their publics, scaling back maximalist Kurdish national aspirations.
Significantly, however, the tough bargaining and rhetoric during the TAL negotiations and the friction in Kirkuk mask a profound shift in Kurdish strategy that is yet to be broadcast and understood publicly. The top leadership of the two principal Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is offering Iraqi Arabs what amounts to an historic compromise: acceptance of an autonomous region as the maximum objective of the Kurdish national movement they represent and, even more importantly, a willingness, expressed in interviews with ICG, to abandon the exclusive claim to Kirkuk in favour of a sharing arrangement under which the city and governorate would receive a special status.
Therefore, contra Matt, the Kurds will be (if not happy) utimately willing to play ball within the confines of "a conception of majoritarian democracy that will guarantee its own subordination to a larger community to which it happens to have been yoked by the mapmakers of the British Empire."
2) On the Shi'a angle, Matt sees myriad localized militias through the Shi'a south devoid of any loyalty to the national government of (Sunni friendly pace Matt!) Iyad Allawi and ready to spark a civil war at their earliest opportunity. Look, it would be foolish to think that the specter of large scale revanchist inter-communal violence spearheaded by the Shi'a against the Sunnis is negligible. Perhaps 300,000 Shi'a were killed at the hands of Saddam. The wounds are very real and very recent. But, again, Matt ignores some key factors, including the fact that there remains a sense of residual Iraqi nationalism among both Shi'a and Sunni (not Kurds, but they are stuck in a federal Iraq as fleshed out above).
Be sure to read this exchange between Les Gelb and Martin Indyk from a while back.
I think it's a fundamental mischaracterization of Iraq to say that it's been held together. The Shiites identify themselves as Iraqis, they fought Shiites in Iran, loyally, as Iraqis, for 10 years, and died in larger numbers than the Sunnis did. Yes, this was a state created by outside powers, as just about every state in the region has been created by outside powers, with the exception of, I think, Egypt. But, it's just a fundamental mischaracterization to say that this has only been held together by a strong man, and now we should basically take it apart, and return it to its natural state. The natural state that you seem to be describing never existed before.
3) Another issue Matt doesn't address is Baghdad. It's pretty much in the Sunni Triangle--yet is approximately 60% Shi'a. There is a long history of cohabitation across Shi'a and Sunni communities there. As it's the capital city and largest city in Iraq--this issue cannot simply be discounted as trivial. Keeping Baghdad from descending into chaos will act as a powerful incentive for community leaders to keep cross-ethnic relations on a pretty good keel.
4) Worth noting too, the army we are busy 'training and equipping' reflects Iraq's ethnic makeup. This army needs, er, a lot more training and equipping before it's ready for prime time. But, just maybe, it could end up proving a stabilizing factor two or so years hence--in terms of creating a national institution that could act to dampen the prospects of inter-ethnic/religious violence.
5) Finally, Matt needs to address (but doesn't) some of the efforts the U.S. will take to stave off a civil war. For one, we've got 140,000 troops on the ground and, again contra Matt's musings, I'm pretty confident that Bush will not declare some victory to assorted gaga red-staters after the Iraqi elections and, just like that, pull out. Rather, in my view, he's committed to creating a viable, if imperfect, democracy there. So, perhaps imperfect, but not a country on the brink of disintegrating into civil war. Indeed, John Negroponte will doubtless be navigating constitution-making from the sidelines trying to get such policy prescriptions in place:
While encouraging the devolution of power to regional and local levels, we should build up those institutions that would foster national cohesion and identity. In particular, maintaining a strong central role in the administration of Iraq's oil wealth would create an incentive for cross-ethnic collaboration. A professional national media will be indispensable to creating shared Iraqi images as well as enhancing the protection of minorities. Likewise, a new Iraqi state would greatly benefit from a strong central bank capable of regulating monetary policy, federal business and trade organs responsible for facilitating internal and external commerce, and a national army representative of the entire Iraqi populace.
Like some pessimists, and particularly given Saddam's brutality against the Shi'a and their feeling of historical disenfranchisement over hundreds and hundreds of years, I harbor fears that a horrific civil war could, of course, break out. As Les Gelb, a gentleman and all around great guy, put it in his debate with Indyk:
...this country is on the verge of civil wars. I think if you don't see that, and if you think that everybody considers themselves a happy Iraqi and there's no ethnic strife, then you're missing what's really happening in that country, and you're missing the tidal wave that's about to hit us. That's what I'm worried about. I want to act, based on these ethnic realities, and they are the underlying realities, before that tidal wave hits us. As soon as we begin to get out, these folks will start killing each other, unless we prepare for it in the way I describe.
Maybe. But I'm not going to prejudge the outcome. And I remain optimistic Iraq will remain a unitary state for some of the reasons I've sketched above. The Kurds aren't getting out of Dodge. Their leaders realize this--their hands are simply tied. The historic curse of statelessness for the Kurds will remain for a good while yet. Perhaps forever (whether we like it or not). Meanwhile, a good deal of Iraqi Shi'a are not necessarily totally in bed with the Iranians and do harbor some residual Iraqi nationalism. For this reason, among others, there are some areas where representatives of both communities can find common cause going forward. Yes, many Shi'a would love to engage in some score-settling with Sunnis. Yes, Zarqawi will do his damnedest to kill peshmerga and Shi'a to help set off a civil war. But our presence on the ground, likely needed for a minimum of four or so more years, maintained in concert with the creation of federalist governance structures and relatively robust national instutions (per Pollack's recommendations above and others)--could set the conditions for a viable polity that doesn't descend into Yugoslavian style carnage. Put simply, civil war can't simply be treated as a present-day reality or foregone conclusion.
More: Don't miss James Joyner and Total Information Awareness on this too. James seems to mostly agree with me; Eric crafts a middle position as between Matt and B.D. Both pieces are well worth reading.
So Tom Ridge is out. How will the first three years of the new Homeland Security Department be viewed going forward? On the plus side of the ledger--the bottom-line--look at the scorecard. Namely, no terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. On the negative side of the ledger: al-Qs long operational cycles mean the first argument may end up proving cold comfort, the color-coded alert system is likely destined to be viewed by historians as pretty laughable fare, and the whole Steve Flynn containerized cargo meme (and related variants) regarding still extant major vulnerabilities. Discuss as able.
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Iraq: Ripple Effects in Northeastern Syria
Berkeley Provincialism Watch
Is Islam the Next "Ism" Confronting the West?
Advantage Johnny (and CJ, Dee Dee, Tommy, Marky, Richie, Joey et al.)
A Ghastly Toll
Iraq: What Next?
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Online Journalism Review "Feeling Misquoted? Weblogs Transcripts Let the Reader Decide"
Online Journalism Review "Bloggers Rate the Most Influential Blogs" (see chart)
The Sunday Times (UK) "Rise of the Virtual Soapbox"
Middle East-Peace Process
U.S. Foreign Policy