August 31, 2005
What You Should Be Reading On Iraq
Somewhere in this veritable morass of 'what to do in Iraq' cogitations lays the truth! Well, perhaps not. But we'll be mining all of this over here at B.D. in the coming days (early indications have me paying a lot of attention to Wes Clark, btw)....
P.S. Kick added suggestions for other pieces worth reading in comments below...
B.D. went to bed Sunday night braced for a horrific Category 5 hurricane-with the very most damaging part of the 'eye' itself--set to blast through New Orleans leaving in its wake prospective scenes of biblical-like plight. We woke up to reports that Katrina had weakened to Category 4, looked to spare New Orleans the worst punches, and generally would be a nasty storm, all right, but nothing cataclysmic. And then, today, I see the day after that this storm has indeed lived up to most of the dire Sunday evening billing and prognostications, that it is a horrific disaster indeed, and that the human toll through the Gulf Coast, particularly in Mississippi, is tragic. As for the Big Easy, she's pretty much submerged, and the city's many pressing crises (evacuations, looting, clean up, disease, levee support, power supply etc etc) will present huge challenges in the coming days given the sheer scale of the destruction. B.D's thoughts are with the many victims of this immense natural tragedy, and I gather that Glenn and Hugh (and doubtless many others, including some on the other side of the aisle) are looking to point bloggers and their readers to various charities/relief organizations that can help. So point your browser there...
August 28, 2005
Condi's Reception at State
Jim Hoagland writes that Condi Rice is facing some skepticism among some of the troops at Foggy Bottom. Eric Shimp, former FSO and trade negotiator, disagrees. He wrote a note to Hoagland and sent a copy on to me too. Here it is, below.
I appreciated your column today regarding Secretary Rice's essential internal objectives at State. As a former FSO, however, I'd hesitate to embrace fully your characterization that "Rice still invites skepticism from mid-level Foreign Service Officers". I served as an FSO from age 23-31, and left the Department 3 years ago -- those mid-level folks remain my contemporaries. Based on my relationships with current officers, I'd suggest that your assessment offers an inaccurate generalization of the state of mind of the Foreign Service with regards to SecState Rice and the Administration as a whole. I've certainly had conversations with FSOs who are vehemently opposed to the Bush Administration on more or less ideological grounds. But I'd offer that this type of response is a minority view. Instead, I think what has happened at State is that a cautious initial welcome has turned into a relationship of mutual respect, between the new Secretariat and officers in the field. Certainly, raising up immensely well-respected career officers like Nick Burns to the 7th floor has helped, as did kicking Mr. Bolton to New York. More importantly, however, this is a Secretary engaged in the essence of diplomacy. Dr. Rice is out there, in the field, working a travel schedule not seen since (and probably eclipsing) James Baker. Moreover, Dr. Rice is making practical decisions that don't detract from her overall value system; in doing so, she is effectively involving more of State's inherent expertise overseas. Do arguments still happen between Washington and officers at post who feel they know a country and its likely responses to US overtures? Well, of course, but that debate is now a more useful tool in making actual policy, whereas previously, during the first term, such debates occured in a demoralizing echo chamber (see: Iraq, occupation planning). If anything, I've sensed a certain energizing effect under SecState Rice among FSOs posted both in Washington and abroad. Under Sec Powell, regardless of his fine personal leadership and care for "the troops", State officers quickly came to realize that they often had very little influence on policy decisions. Sec Rice, by virtue of her own leadership skills, aggressive travel, policy acumen, and support from the White House, has brought State effectively back to the table. FSO's I keep in touch with regularly throughout Asia and the Middle East feel they're once again playing a valuable role, that their experience and insight is valued in creating a more effective US diplomacy. But back to your point. I won't deny that there's skepticism - but it's not generalized, it's compartmentalized to certain key areas that remain, essentially, "hangovers" from the first Bush term. The concerns I hear most about center around 1) public diplomacy 2) Iran and 3) China. Of the first, skepticism focuses on the fear that public diplomacy will be devolved further into the "style" of an ineffective political campaign, rather than an approach based on sound policy choices and legitimate outreach. Of the second, most concerns center around the realization that this Administration, like most of its predecessors, lacks any form of leverage with Tehran, and that changing this requires a wholesale change in the bilateral relationship (e.g. we actually have to develop one - but how?). And of the third, the concern is that a focus on China, largely driven by Congressional pressure, will reduce US-Asian relations to a subset of the China question. This may not only be counterproductive in the region, but will cause undue harm to relations with key allies, such as Japan and Australia. In any case, I return to my complaint - you've generalized overmuch, and in so doing, made an argument that strays from an accurate picture of Foggy Bottom. But by all means, please keep writing on the topic. One thing you might consider focusing on in the future is the high-degree of crossover of career FSOs who were on detail to the NSC under Rice, and their ongoing jobs now back at State.
August 26, 2005
Some Non-Iraq News...
Well, amidst all this flypaper brouhaha, a litle announcement. I've just gotten married in Manhattan City Hall! OK, it was just the civil wedding, with the main event to follow in a couple of months. But still, wish me and Mrs. Djerejian the best of luck...
August 25, 2005
The Flypaper Fallacy: 10 Reasons Not To Believe the Hype
President Bush gave a series of speeches this week to drum up support for the Iraq war effort. I am happy the President is doing so, as the main reason I supported Bush's re-election was because I felt he wouldn't precipitously draw-down from Iraq like Kerry all but declared he would (and as most of the Democratic party is currently clamoring for, and in a separate post I'll detail why that's a bad idea indeed). This said, his poll numbers are continuing to flag. Why? For one, there is the deluge of negative images and news from Iraq. Alas, it seems, not enough people are getting their news from the right blogospheric sources and such, and the dastardly MSM keeps showing pictures of mayhem from Baghdad, or reporting a "steady dribble" ( Australian blogger Richard Fernandez's phrase) of American casualties to IED's in Anbar, and so on. It's all a bit ugly, you see, and so the poll numbers are taking a hit--because Americans are smelling out something rather simple--we are not successfully achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq, that is to say creation of a viable unitary and democratic state there, in large part because of the dismally poor post-war planning run out of the Pentagon.
That is not to say we are condemned to fail. Far from it. Let's recall some basics. George Bush unseated perhaps the cruelest, most odious leader on the world stage in ridding Iraq of Saddam. Some 8 million Iraqis braved fascistic violence to come out and vote last January. Zal Khalilzad is making a yeoman's effort in cobbling together a workable compromise on a constitution that could, just perhaps, help breathe new life into forging a unitary, democratic Iraq--ideally striking a deft balance between central authority (which is critical so as to avoid the specter of ethnic cleansing and the concomitant imperiling of minority rights) and some degree of federalism (Shia, especially in the south, and the Kurds, of course, will demand it). And, to Bush's credit, despite the increasingly loud calls from various quarters, he appears (I say appears as we hear too much of troop draw-downs from points Pentagon) to be continuing to stand up with the Iraqi people during this hugely arduous process.
And yet, difficulties abound. Two years plus out now from the end of major combat operations, insurgents strike in the heart of Baghdad in broad daylight. Rumors are rife (it is not safe for reporters to travel there so reliable information is hard to come by) that towns abutting the Euphrates in Anbar Province are once again becoming insurgent sanctuaries. Largely unregulated Kurdish militias more or less rule the north with impunity, and they are said to be detaining extra-judicially myriad Arabs in detention centers. Strategically critical towns like Kirkuk remain potential tinder-boxes. There is a possible intra-Shi'a schism brewing, and Moktada al-Sadr looks set to start causing trouble again, though he continues to step back from the precipice as is his wont. And while the constitution might yet be agreed, it is unclear what, if any, real impact its passage would have on both the insurgency and your typical Iraqi on the street, worried more about security and, also, bread and butter related issues like jobs and the state of reconstruction efforts (unemployment is sky-high and reconstruction continues to seriously lag).
Again, all this is not to say we might not still prevail. Wars often last many years, of course, and the U.S. government and military continue to push on valiantly to get a constitution agreed, train and equip an Iraqi Army (after some false starts the effort is going better than in the past, though we have miles and miles and miles to go--particularly in ensuring such an army is not but Badr Brigades or peshmerga with a slapped on national uniform), beat back the insurgents, cobble together political governance structures that enshrine minority rights and allow for a unitary, democratic polity. But the Administration has been clumsy of late, emitting mixed messages about troop levels, and one smells a not insignificant amount of reactive, rather than pro-active, policy with regard to Iraq. Put differently, one espies drift and muddle.
But the above aren't the only reasons for declining poll numbers. After a while, audiences get weary, I suspect, of easy, stump lines, especially when they've been repeated over and over and over for several years now: "I understand freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is an Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world" or "Yet, despite the violence we see every day, we're achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq" etcetera etcetera. You know, I don't really care anymore, if I ever did, whether freedom is God's gift or the U.S.'s gift or France's gift or God knows whose gift "to the world." But I do know 'freedom' is not exactly flowering in Iraq, and so hasn't quite arrived as yet, which while eminently understandable given how massive an enterprise securing freedom there entails, nevertheless leaves us with the nagging problem of whether we have a persuasive 'success strategy' to achieve said freedom there--whether via the work of some benevolent omnipotent diety or, more realistically, the brass-tacks, hard work achieved via the expenditure of the blood and treasure of a great nation.
But, put all this aside, at least for today. Of all Bush's rote lines, the one that really gets my goat the most is this one:
Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.
Flypaper, let us recall, was a convenient theory first cooked up by a David Warren many moons ago. I say convenient, because I defy any intrepid Googler or Lexis-Nexis'er out there to find an unambiguous administration statement--before the war in Iraq--specifically stating that the precise policy goal, strategic objective, and principal rationale for war in Iraq was to fight terrorists 'over there' so they wouldn't come 'over here.' You won't. There were a variety of rationales proferred, the WMD, creating a democracy there, Saddam's dismal human rights record, the post-9/11 strategic threat presented by the intersection of terror states, transnational terror groups and WMD, hell, even allowing us to get our troops out of Saudi. But never do I remember, before the war, not even once, hearing about something called flypaper. It was and remains a spin-infused pseudo-narrative used as post hoc rationale because the Iraq going proved rougher than expected.
David Warren's statement of the grand these was thus:
The U.S. occupation of Iraq has done more to destabilize Iran than the ayatollahs could hope to do in Iraq; and then something. This "something" has befuddled the various "experts" on regional security, trapped within their Pavlovian assumptions. They notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.
Well it's quite a "playground" all right, with almost 2,000 U.S. servicemen dead, approximately 15,000 wounded, other coalition fatalities and casualties, not to mention myriad Iraqi ones, including many innocents. But let's put aside Warren's, shall we say, poor choice of tone, and, instead stick to a substantive rebuttal, OK? Here's what's wrong with flypaper:
1) It assumes a finite number of jihadis willing to die.
2) Indeed, and related to 1, it ignores that Iraq may be creating more jihadists--not all of whom are rushing to Damascus en route to parts Anbar.
3) It further ignores the fact that some jihadists, terrorists and fundementalist radicals are gaining valuable experience in terror tactics in Iraq, as CIA reports have indicated, and then heading back out of country to theaters like Europe to pursue attacks there.
4) Flypaper, of course, also ignores dozens of terror attacks outside of Iraq since the advent of hosilities there in early 2003, witness (and this is not a comprehensive tally): a) 12 May: More than 50 people are killed when a truck bomb explodes outside government buildings in Znamenskoye in north-eastern Chechnya; b) 16 May: Suicide bombers in Casablanca, Morocco kill 45 people and injures 100; c) 4 July: Two suicide bombers kill 52 people after blowing themselves up in a Shi’ite mosque in Quetta, Pakistan; d) 5 July: Sixteen people are killed by two suicide bombers at an open-air rock concert at Tushino airfield in Moscow, Russia; e) 1 August: A truck bomb explodes outside a Russian military hospital in Mozdok in the North Ossetia region; 50 people are killed and 72 injured; f) 5 August: Fourteen people are killed and 149 injured after the Marriot Hotel is bombed in Jakarta, Indonesia; g) 7 August: Seventeen people are killed when a truck bomb explodes outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, Iraq; h) 19 August: A Palestinian suicide bomber blows herself up on a bus in Jerusalem, Israel and kills 23 people; i) 25 August: Two cars bombs explode in Bombay, India. Approximately 52 people are killed and 150 injured; j) 4 October: A Palestinian suicide bomber kills 23 people in Haifa, Israel; k) 8 November:
5) As serious observers of international terrorist organizations well realize, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, PFLP-GC, DFLP, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen separatists (and quite a few other groups besides) are not rushing their forces into Iraq to fight the American Satan near the Green Zone or in Anbar Province--as they've got their own battles to wage.
6) It follows, of course, that Warren's argument that flypaper acts to protect Israel is risible (leaving aside, of course, why American policymakers should be hugely pre-occupied with creating "a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted" (Warren's words) as the very center of a war strategy ostensibly, one would think, primarily concerned with the U.S. national interest, rather than any other countries--yes even including close and important allies).
7) UBL and his henchmen know full well that a mega-terror attack on the scale of 9/11 in a London, New York or Los Angeles would have a hugely larger impact than dozens felled in the latest car bombing of a Shi's shrine near Karbala. You can hang the flytrap from Casablanca to Jakarta and al-Qaeda operatives will still be trying to hit major Western metropolises. Bank on it, as they well see how the intense media coverage of a half-assed 7/7 operation compares to that of terror attacks that kill two or three times as many in Iraq with some routineness. They are still coming after us, and they are not all in Iraq. Not by a long shot. This is because they realize hitting us in our towns and cities smarts much, much more, and also because people trained for operations in Western cities might not be the best kind of jihadis to send to the banks of the Euphrates.
8) Dare I even raise it, as so few seem to give a shit, the moral angle: As this excellent conservative blogger, a person who toils in the real world of finance in New York where cheap arguments and B.S. gets called mighty quickly, puts it: "...has anyone thought about why we're justified in using another nation as flypaper in the first place, even if it was a viable, effective strategy? What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here? Instead of flypaper, this should be called the "Night of the Living Dead Nation" strategy---using the undead, zombie-like carcass of a failed state for our own benefit. Beyond the sheer selfish immorality of it, has anyone thought about the potential for blowback? How would you feel if we were invaded by the Chinese on a false pretense, and they stated openly that their strategy was to attract and fight the scum of the earth in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago so they did not have to fight in Beijing?" A fair question, one that too few thoughtful bloggers on the right deign to address. Why? Do Iraqi lives just not matter?
9) Regardless, TCR's query begs another problem with flypaper related to the blowback issue he tangentially touches upon. What if, you know, B.D. is wrong? Flypaper is really happening. It's true! Iraq is jihadi central, big time, and they are pouring in in massive numbers. And what if, just, we lose Iraq, with more and more Iraqis radicalized (or cowed by insurgents and/or militias) because we have failed to provide security there because of said influx? Than what?
Look, we don't need to make up fake arguments about why we are in Iraq. We went in because Saddam was an uniquely dangerous individual whom was commonly believed to be in possession of WMD. In a post 9/11 world, caution demanded that the burden of proof that he had disarmed be on him. He never convincingly met this burden, by showing the world beyond a reasonable doubt that his regime didn't possess WMD, and Bush acted pursuant to various UN resolutions to bring him to task. But we were wrong, and he didn't have WMD, yet History had marched on by then. In turn, of course, the goal was not to disarm the regime, in the main, but now to go about the hard work of creating a democratic Iraq. But we are flailing, currently, in achieving this goal. And, if we fail, the ramifications will be immense. A splintering of Iraq could lead to interventions in that country by Saudi Arabia, by Iran, by Turkey. Ethnic cleansing within the country is a real possibility even if neighbors don't stir up too much trouble. Terror havens may take root in a prospective Sunni para-state.
Thus the critical need for honesty and serious thinking and fortitude. The stakes are immense. Failure is not an option. And the chances of success will be bolstered if we have a President who appears, not a broken record spouting tiresomely the same old about 'fighting them there so we don't fight 'em here' or 'god's gift of freedom'--but who is instead spelling out a convincing war strategy to win this conflict. What do I want to hear? Well, it's more what I don't want to hear. Even as the country is in the midst of huge turmoil, we keep hearing about troop withdrawals. Why? Such talk won't helpfully 'concentrate minds', or otherwise mitigate the potency of the insurgency, or reassure all those Iraqis out there reportedly so consumed about the specter of perma-bases and their oil supplies being stolen by the American interloper. It will more embolden insurgents and maximalists who will wait out the Americans to pursue their varied nefarious agendas. And the notion that Level 3 Iraqi forces, many of them who will flee the second they don't have U.S. backup, are going to take the fight to the enemy, by 2006, well, it's just utter bunk.
So, yes, I want to feel comfortable the President understands this, and understands that a cohesive Iraqi national army, representing the three main factions in the country, is going to need to be systematically built, in non-rushed fashion, over the coming years. And as that Army learns how to fight, the U.S. Army (wherever possible reducing its footprint but still available as it most assuredly will need to be) is ready and present and able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the New Iraq. This blog has been very critical of the Administration of late, and the hate mail and angry comments are growing, but that's the blogosphere, and you all are entitled to your opinions. And, yes, I do know this: John Kerry would very likely have had us pulling out large amounts of troops already or imminently, and we wouldn't even have had a chance to succeed. With Bush, there is at least hope.
But, unfortunately, the President is not explaining the stakes or the duration of this war frankly enough to the American people. Nor are his key surrogates. His Vice President said the insurgency was in its "last throes", and then his Secretary of Defense said insurgencies typically last 12 years. One report says troop-rotation planning is underway for 100,000 troops in theater for four more years, another says troops out by end '06. Is it little wonder the American public is confused? We need clarity and leadership Mr. President. And you are not providing it in requisite fashion at this juncture, in my view, and I say this as a prior and current supporter of this administration. Step up to bat and talk Texan plain and simple--but the real deal--not spin and empty bromides. The time is now.
UPDATE: More flypaper here!
The View from the Pentagon
Drift and Muddle?
The FT is giving this front-page treatment, but it's getting largely ignored in the U.S. press:
The US is expected to pull significant numbers of troops out of Iraq in the next 12 months in spite of the continuing violence, according to the general responsible for near-term planning in the country.
The President today gave another hard-hitting 'stay the course' speech. But there continues to be a sense of drift and muddle on the future direction of Iraq policy. I wonder if this explains some of the downward movement in the polls? 'Stay the course' and 'fight 'em over there so we don't have to fight 'em over here' (of which more later)--it's just not cutting it anymore. Does Karl Rove get this? People are starting to whisper--is this Administration being overtaken by events in Iraq? There are live gun-battles in the streets of Baghdad. There's a potential show-down between competing Shi'a factions. Many Sunni are seething--as the Shia and Kurds try to force-feed the constitution down their throats. Meantime, and it is still possible the constitution gets teed up, Iraqis are asking:
What can I do with a constitution if I have no water, gasoline and electricity?" asked Hanan Sahib, 29, a Shiite database operator at a telecommunications company in Baghdad, echoing Mr. Sami. The main problem, she added, was security, particularly for women.
Security. Security. Security. Let me say that again: Security. Security. Security. There still isn't a sense of it, now two years out from the invasion, through large swaths of Iraq and major population centers like the capital. And the President isn't persuasively explaining how he plans to change that, to materially remedy the lack of security plaguing much of Iraq. It's the same old each time he steps up to the pulpit to deliver an Iraq address, and it's starting to really sound like a broken record. So yes, people are whispering: do we have a plan? are we being overtaken by events? what is going on in Iraq? And conflicting signals on troop levels and the conditions by which they may or may not be withdrawn are not particularly helpful either. Like the public, the insurgents are smelling muddle too, I suspect.
Meantime, and this is the Guardian so take it with a sizable grain of salt, recall the 14 Americans felled in Haditha a week or so back? Here's a rare dispatch from the town. If true, it is a sobering reading indeed.
A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.
Read the whole thing, and comment on how much credence you think the story has below. Later tonight, I hope to post on the many fallacies of flypaper...
August 24, 2005
...re this story.
Virginia Sen. John W. Warner (R) said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a senior aide improperly manipulated the national base realignment plan announced earlier this year to compel the movement of more than 20,000 defense jobs away from the Washington area.
Anyone with more insight into this story, as well as info on the Warner-Rumsfeld relationship generally, is invited to email B.D. (reminder: belgraviadispatchAThotmail.com) or comment below. Thanks.
The Liberal Hawks and Iraq
The people on the right cannot possibly be feeling the kind of dissonance that liberal supporters are feeling. It’s not a simple matter to live with, I have to tell you,” said Mr. Wieseltier, whose name appeared on a letter to Mr. Bush urging the removal of Saddam Hussein in late 2001, and who said that the U.S. shouldn’t cut and run. “I think that it is impossible, even for someone who supported the war, or especially for someone who did, not to feel very bitter about the way it has been conducted and the way it has been explained.” For some writers who were accustomed to speaking only to tiny audiences clustered on the coasts, the invasion of Iraq and its implications presented an opportunity to actually influence something. It was a career-making moment for theorists who had cut their teeth in Bosnia and who were ready to test out their newly formed vision of American force as a tool to promote democracy and human rights and prevent genocide. It made media stars of academics like Mr. Feldman, who prior to the war was merely an “assistant professor who had been teaching for one year,” according to him, and the human-rights expert Michael Ignatieff of Harvard, who wrote various Iraq analyses for The New York Times Magazine. Writers such as Mr. Wieseltier, Mr. Berman and Mr. Hitchens were profiled admiringly in the months before the war, held up as avant-garde prophets.
Kerry 'finked out' (as this blog pretty steadily reported back then), and Dubya is living in something of a flypaper bubble. It ain't pretty.
P.S. Mr Wieseltier, there's 'dissonance' on the right too...
August 21, 2005
My vacation is over and I'm flying back to New York from Sao Paolo in a few minutes. This means a) no blogging for a little while and b) that when blogging resumes it will be during normal evening hours, usually after 10 PM on weekdays. On the blog agenda this coming week, time permitting? A bit on the Cindy Sheehan going-ons, and also a response to Kevin Drum per his post quoted below:
Greg Djerejian says the "status quo is becoming increasingly untenable" and admits that no one is convincingly explaining how we can beat the insurgents — but nonetheless hammers against the idea of any kind of near-term withdrawal.
Fair questions. More soon.
In an earlier post on the state of Iraq T&E, I had written: "Bill Roggio has more, and is more optimistic than B.D. perhaps, but I'd think he'd agree with my broad assessment nonetheless." I just wanted to note that several readers have written in suggesting that Roggio is not in agreement with my "broad assessment," and is instead materially "more optimistic" (to use my phraseology) regarding the state of Iraqi forces and their capability than me. Upon reflection, I feel I should note they're probably right that he's not on the same page as me, and I therefore want to apologize to Roggio for suggesting he was, more or less, in agreement with me. Roggio hasn't asked for an apology or anything, but I thought I should just clarify the record given some of the mail I've been getting. Having said this, I'd like to stress that I don't take this report too seriously (it's overly optimistic reportage in my view) with regard to how many Iraqi units are at Level 1 or Level 2, in other words, I certainly maintain my analysis--particularly given stories like these which beg so many other questions/issues. All this said, there is no need to enlist others in arguing on my behalf, especially if they likely share different views, so apologies are due Mr. Roggio!
"The Law Now, It's the Big Fish Eats the Small Fish"
From today's Wash Post:
Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.
Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru have written an important article, and I use that word very purposefully, because I've seen little reporting of this caliber of late. You should really read the whole thing. Their piece rings quite true to me on many levels. Having spent time in war-time Bosnia and Croatia, my gut tells me the power vacuums resulting from constitutional dead-lock (which deadlock may very well be broken, but will the forced back-room deals being cut in the Green Zone materially impact the militiazation of Iraq's provinces on the ground?) and, more important, the abysmal lack of centralized security--such large vacuums are being filled very much as they sketch out. That is to say, by local militias in the main--even when they are ostensibly coalition trained/equipped Iraqi 'national' forces.
And, of course, yesterday's oppressed quickly become tomorrow's oppressors (as we witnessed in Kosovo, say). Don't miss this part of the piece, on this score:
In addition to providing security in Mosul, the militiamen have helped the Kurds take control of much of the Nineveh Plain, a barren flatland of hundreds of towns and villages that includes Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Turkmens and a little-known sect of Shiite Muslims called the Shabak.
The law of diffuse (rather than centralized as under Saddam) brute force reigns in large part of Iraq today. This is largely a result of American failings, but the intent of this post is not to ascribe blame, engage in polemics, or call for Don Rumsfeld's head. Rather, we must look forward and attempt to sketch out a convincing path to success. What can one conclude from reports like these? One thing, of course, is clear. If we do as Andrew Bacevich advises in today's WaPo and just 'call it a day' (Bacevich: "While avoiding the appearance of an ignominious dash for the exits, but with all due speed, the United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do"), we will only leave behind the brute rule of the barrel of the gun in Iraq. Still, articles like Shadid's make me wonder--do we (by "we" I mean all of us, really, our leaders and policymakers and commentariat and informed public and so on), do we have the staying power and the skill and the fortitude and, yes, the nuance--to navigate and comprehend and intelligently act given the immensely volatile and complex maze that is post-Saddam Iraq? I'm increasingly unsure. And another question: are 'stay the course' people like B.D. becoming something akin to naive American Pyles, hoping against hope that we can get a credible central government afoot, in the face of voluminous evidence to the contrary? Or are we instead right that, with progress on the constitutional front (still very much possible), and a major American presence in theater, and continued oversight of the nation-building effort (make no mistake, that's what we're doing--while prosecuting a fierce insurgency)--we can still see a unitary, viable democratic Iraqi state through? These are not easy questions, and there are really no easy answers. The most that can be hoped for is that each of us try to be as honest as possible with ourselves as we try to comb through the proverbial fog of war and reconstruction and post-conflict recriminations and so on that is contemporary Iraq. To be very frank, when I read dispatches like Shadid's I wonder whether maybe Les Gelb isn't right, and that we must be mostly thinking instead how best to cobble together a loose confederation. But for the many reasons I've discussed, I still think the better option is to keep on keeping on towards a unitary state. And on this score, Bill Kristol is worthing reading again here.
Now, it is probably the case that a couple of years from now we will be able responsibly to reduce the number of American forces in Iraq. But the "stand up/stand down" formulation goes beyond that. It suggests--and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has repeatedly elaborated on this thought--that as Iraqi soldiers get trained, they will replace Americans, apparently regardless of our progress toward victory in the war.
I see no other better options now, and believe we can maintain this operational tempo for another three years at least yet. To precipitously withdraw would be to invite utter chaos. To preside over confederation would be to use American forces to help organize ethnic transfers--a sort of corrupting Milosevization of our Wilsonian/Reaganite traditions--with chaos still very likely in large, critical population centers like Kirkuk, Mosul and, not least, Baghdad. Therefore, as trite as this may sound to many, our default orientation must continue to be to 'see the effort through.' For I am not persuaded that postponing our exit is merely postponing the inevitable partitioning of Iraq, or civil war, or some other inglorious outcome. I still believe this project can be made roughly right. Putting it differently, I guess what I'm saying is that I don't believe we are simply creating more Cindy Sheehan's for no reason but empty sloganeering or nostrums about national prestige and such shouted breezily from the roof-tops of AEI or the White House. Iraq is still at a tipping-point, it is not yet a hopeless cause. Our continued presence there, our hand-holding of the parties on constitutional compromise (and on the inevitable, post-constitutional myriad haggles over interpretation of said document), our continued lead role in quashing a vicious insurgency (with more and more Iraqi forces participating alongside), our methodical, sober and non-rushed parceling out of equipment and training only to forces that will increasingly align themselves with a central government rather than local militias--all these imperatives argue for a major continued American presence. The stakes are higher than Vietnam, and so on realist grounds we owe it to ourselves to see this war and tremendously compex nation-building effort through. And, on moral grounds, we owe it to those who have died to date to fight this right and smart and make a success of it. Yes, those like B.D. arguing that we stay the course will face the reality that, not least because of Administration incompetence, we may still slog it out for two or so more years and end up still failing. With that many more dead. But I think we have turned the corner, perhaps, on the train and equip effort (after many false starts), that a prospectively viable constitution could be in the offing, that the insurgency can be defeated if we don't stand down prematurely. But all this requires a massive continuing American effort, on a variety of different levels (military, diplomatic, humanitarian and more), for a very significant period yet.
August 20, 2005
Iraqi Sunni vs. Foreign Jihadists?
From the Wash Post yesterday:
Gunmen in this northern city Friday abducted and publicly executed three Sunni Arab activists who had been working to draw the disgruntled Sunni minority into Iraq's political mainstream, and then draped their bodies in a get-out-the-vote banner, officials and witnesses said.
Sunnis slaughtered in front of crowds in Mosul by insurgents. 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' fighters (odd to hear it described as Iraq's "main insurgent group", perhaps?) killed by Sunni tribe members in Ramadi. Not your typical tale of massive car bombs by Zarq and Co. killing scores of Shi'a. What gives? Joseph Britt, ending a spell as guest-blogger chez Dan Drezner (who says there are no bravura second acts in America?), and when not showcasing my abymsal ignorance when it comes to all things agriculture-related, writes at this link:
Sunni Arab Iraqis may be fighting to avenge perceived humiliation, to restore Sunni political domination of Iraq or because they have nothing else to do, but they aren't fighting to become subjects of Saudi clerics and Jordanian professional terrorists -- and the foreign jihadis in turn are not fighting and dying just to uphold the honor of local tribal leaders or to restore a secular Baathist regime. They have had a common enemy, but no common goals.
I'm not so sure the Sunni nationalists/Baathist restorationists/domestic fundamentalists have "no common goals" with foreign jihadists and terrorists. For one, don't both segments want to evict the Americans (though, as I've argued, fewer and fewer Sunnis will be so inclined as they contemplate life alone, sans the Americans, with the crude majoritarianism of unrestrained Shi'a behavior increasingly the flavor du jour...)? And doubtless not all Iraqi Sunni shared Saddam's secular stripes, and wouldn't mind greater fundamentalism taking root in the country (which is probably one of the reasons Sadr doesn't mind, every now and again, making some common cause with certain Sunni factions). Regardless, we need to keep exploiting such trends--the growing discord between Iraqi Sunni tribes and foreign jihadists/terrorists. Who has got some bright ideas that, even per chance, aren't being actively implemented as yet? (P.S. Don't waste bandwith by saying something about bringing the Sunnis into the political process better etc etc. We know that part already....)
August 19, 2005
Rummy: "I don't happen to have it on the top of my head"
A telling exchange from one of the Pentagon press gaggles:
Q General Myers, you talked about some Iraq units working on their own combat support. Today, how many Iraqi battalions are completely independent, able to provide their own support and able to conduct their own operations?
Dear God friends, the President of the United States of America has made it abundantly clear that the very center and core of the U.S. exit (sorry 'success') strategy in Iraq is the training and equipping of an Iraqi Army (Witness his oft-repeated locution: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"). And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense don't even know how many Iraqi batallions can operate wholly independently? I'm all for delegating so as not to have an LBJ redux of POTUS and aides up and about at 2 A.M. picking what bridges near Hue to bomb--but, er, who is minding the bloody store--who is really excercising a real duty of care standard here? These guys should be going to bed every night with such figures firmly implanted in their head--even if Petraeus is currently doing a bang-up job of it and little corrective oversight is required at this precise juncture. Sure, this all comes amidst a backdrop of an improving picture on train and equip (a very, very nascent improvement, with many, many miles to go yet...). But the effort got off to a horrific start (because we disbanded the Baath Army wholesale, because we didn't even anticipate the prospects of an insurgency with carry over implications for the kind of Iraqi forces needed, because we distorted data about numbers of trained, and so on).
As Jeff Miller of Carnegie put it well a while back:
On the defensive, Secretary Rumsfeld asserted that “it is flat wrong to say that anyone is misleading anyone.” While that may be true, the secretary added: “Numbers are just numbers. Capability and capacity to do things are something other than that.” He cannot have it both ways. Either the numbers he and the president cite as evidence of progress mean something or they do not. If they do not, as the contradictory numbers and assessments increasingly suggest, we must face the question of what actually underpins the U.S. security strategy in Iraq. [emphasis added]
Now, as I said, things are getting better of late. But the whole T&E effort has been beset by a fog of disingenuousness, if not purposeful misrepresentations, from the onset. Witness, again from Miller:
The total number of all security forces was reported to have more than doubled in the three months from October 2003 to January 2004. “We’re making very good progress,” said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on CNN in March 2004. “We’re up to over 200,000 Iraqis that have been trained and equipped.” What he failed to point out was that 74,000 of those 200,000 were members of the Facilities Protection Service—building guards with less than one week of training. And of the 75,000 Iraqi police officers included in the total, 60,000 were entirely untrained. At the time, only a paltry 2,300 qualified as fully trained.
No, Rummy can't have it both ways. So which is it Mr. Secretary? Gross numbers, or how well/thoroughly they've been trained for the specific tasks they've been designated to handle? The answer, of course, is both. The further take-away, that Rummy's tries to obscure, is that we are far from having the requisite number of fully trained and equipped Iraqi forces. Rummy all but admits it here:
It's also -- it's also not a useful construct in this sense: If you take the 173,000 Iraqi security forces, a large fraction of 173,000 are border guards. They're functioning in the borders; they're doing what they do. A large number are police. A number -- very few -- are counterterrorism elements or special police commandos that function and do their thing. The army is the element that was originally designed to deal with external threats, and has been, obviously, reoriented to deal with the insurgency and normal security for the Iraqi people because the insurgency is what it is.
Well, I'm glad the border guards are "doing what they do" (allowing infiltration of materiel and enemy fighters from Iran and Syria, say?). And I'm glad we've got a lot of cops on the beat. But Rummy's obfuscations are there for a reason. He's hiding from stating the obvious, not only because he doesn't even precisely know, but also because the answers are quite damning. The actual amount of fully trained army units trained to prosecute a counter-insurgency, able to operate independently (not to mention, of which more below, that they need to be persuasively multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and such nettlesome details), is quite, shall we say, de minimis--even per this Pentagon friendly report:
Different readiness levels indicate different capabilities. Level 1 is the highest rating, where units are fully independent in all aspects. This includes being able to plan and conduct operations without coalition support. It also means the units sustain themselves through their own systems, handle all maintenance and have every piece of equipment needed to perform any mission.
Bottom line: the majority of Iraqi forces that have been trained are at Level III and below. Bill Roggio has more, and is more optimistic than B.D. perhaps, but I'd think he'd agree with my broad assessment nonetheless [UPDATE: Or maybe not!]. Petraeus is doing an amazing job given hugely challenging conditions, but we are still at a very early stage. And don't forget the importance of the army being multi-ethnic, truly a national institution, the better to act as glue to the nascent, fragile polity--keeping it from being torn asunder by conflicting sectarian/ethnic impulses. I'm sorry to sound like a broken record on this point, but no less a foreign policy authority than Henry Kissinger agrees it's critical too:
The Iraqi equivalent may well be the ethnic and religious antagonisms between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. In Vietnam, the effectiveness of forces depended on geographic ties, but the provinces did not perceive themselves in conflict with each other. In Iraq, each of the various ethnic and religious groupings sees itself in an irreconcilable, perhaps mortal, confrontation with the others. Each group has what amounts to its own geographically concentrated militia. In the Kurdish area, for example, internal security is maintained by Kurdish forces, and the presence of the national army is kept to a minimum, if not totally prevented. The same holds true to a substantial extent in the Shiite region.
Building such an ethnically diverse national army, in requisite number and in convincing fashion, to Level 1 (or even 2) levels, will take another 3-5 years yet in my view. Until then, American forces must remain in theater in very significant number--assisting Level 2, 3 and 4 Iraqi troops in fending off the insurgents. It's true, the more Iraqi forces are put in the lead, the less American an 'occupation footprint' will result. Another reason to keep focusing on T&E, but not a reason to cut bait and flee the coop. Democrats who believe the continued presence of U.S. forces is the biggest evil in Iraq have it wrong. It is the Sadr's and Zarqawi's who want U.S. troops out soonest. Indeed, increasingly many non-Zarqawite type Sunnis will realize it is in their interests to have U.S. troops in theater to protect them from large scale revanchist Shi'a slaughter. The American Army, in convincing number, must stand shoulder to shoulder with the broad middle of Iraqi society that still hopes to emerge into the post-Saddam era with a unitary, viable democratic polity.
It's still possible. The Shi'a know that an autonomous Shi'a south won't really fly with the Sunnis, and would likely condemn the country to civil war. They are likely merely using such demands to position themselves better in negotiations to gain other concessions (though there is a strong Iranian hand at play here, as such a region would represent added lebensraum for Teheran). Similarly, the Kurds know well that full blown independence is a non-starter, as it would lead to a major Turkish intervention. The path ahead, muddied and treacherous as it is, is relatively clear: 'soft' federalism with pockets of autonomy, yes, but still a persuasively credible central government.
Who acts as guarantor and protector of this so fragile central government? Only the U.S. can--until the Iraqi national army is truly prepared to help assume this awesome responsibility. If we leave hastily, on some declared timeline or otherwise via pretend faux-conditionality, the insurgents will wait us out, the various factions will busy themselves mostly with planning for the post-American future by pursuing maximalist objectives and other unhelpful intrigues, the chances of full blown civil war and discord will ratchet up hugely. Announcing an exit won't 'concentrate minds' in positive fashion, as smart and thoughtful Democrat commentators like Kevin Drum argue. It will lead to different calculations entirely, ones that are anathema to our policy goals in the region (negatives like greater Iranian influence in the south, a possible crisis with Turkey in the north, an embittered terror haven in the Sunni middle).
Let me put this differently. Final success in Iraq won't happen on George Bush's watch. But a disaster could certainly happen on his watch. True success is only possible and in the offing well past Inauguration Day January 2009. If we stick it out, that is, and hand off to Bush's successor a project that is moving in the right direction. If Bush resists making fake declarations of victory and stands firm--he will have proven a serious figure before the harsh verdicts of history. If he goes the easy road (the Rumsfeld path, in my view), and instead leaves the Iraqis to sort out their fate after some 'decent interval' in late '06/early '07, with civil war the likely result--every single American soldier, coalition soldier, and Iraqi who died in Mesopotamia will have died largely in vain--so that Bush will have proven a deeply mediocre, morally wanting, and tragic leader indeed. (I say largely because a brutish genocidaire in Saddam will nevertheless have been unseated. But no amount of suger-coating or revisionism or empty cheer-leading could hide the fact that this war would have been fought largely for very little, if we leave a country that is coming asunder before our eyes. Particularly given that the main realist rationale for the war was wrong (no WMD), is it too much to ask that we at least make a doubly serious effort of seeing a democracy take root in Iraq? Is it really impossible, so that we should throw up our hands in despair and walk away?)
Some people say, let them confederate merrilly away, with three new ethnically/sectarian defined para-states for each main group. But am I alone in fearing that the bloodshed and chaos, even more than we see today, particularly in ethnically mixed locales like Baghdad, and Mosul, and Kirkuk, would be god-awful? No, the default option must still be all hands on deck to see a unitary polity through. And the effort must still be counted in years, in my view, not mere months or next year, say. Perhaps we will not leave a perfect democracy behind even in 2011. But at the very least, we must leave a stable polity behind--but one that is not just run by another strong-man leader--rather one that is moving to further democratize but under conditions of general stability. Needless to say, we aren't there yet. Not by a long shot. So why all the talk of exits?
Hey, It's 'Auto-Rocket' Time!
That is Israel's strategy. There are two problems with it: What about the rockets? What about the world?
Heh. "Perhaps three aimed at the launch site and vicinity..." "...no human intervention in the loop..." Who gives a eff if the "vicinity" is full of civilians? Or if the perpetrators, you know, have vacated the "launch site" and non-bad guys are now hanging there instead? But hey, they're all towel-headed terrorists anyhow, right?
What risible, hysteric fare from one of the smartest oped writers in the biz! Look, we all have our off days, this hapless Junior Walter Lippman very much included, but if this is what is passing for serious security policy recommendations to dispense to the Israelis from our Beltway commentariat elites, well I'd recommend that Arik Sharon and his generals turn to more sober sources for going forward advice (yeah don't worry, they know this already).
Yes, by all means retaliate, fiercely even, if rocket attacks occur. But please have human beings manning the retaliatory effort, OK, and please do your utmost to kill those actually responsible for the attacks--yes, to include destroying their logistical support assets. But note that "predetermined military and strategic assets" get, er, moved around now and again. And those behind the rocket attacks don't stop and hang at the launch site all day enjoying a rustic picnic and the Gaza seaviews. In a densely populated area like Gaza, Krauthammer's irresponsible musings would result in the routine death of innocents. One difference between IDF helicopter gunships strafing densely populated areas to kill militia and terrorists is that there is no purposeful intent to kill innocents (though it often happens)--unlike your Hamas or Jihad Islami operative who purposefully aims to slaughter as many Israeli innocents as possible. Krauthammer's 'idea,' if we want to dignify it with such a moniker, would blur such moral differences quite materially in my view. Shouldn't Charles K care about that? One party tries to contain, really contain, collateral damage--the other doesn't care a whit, indeed, purposefully kills civilians whenever possible. What would 'auto-rockets' do to Israel's reputation on the world stage? How would it really enhance Israel's security? Would fewer rockets then really be in the offing, given such macho, auto-deterrence? Of course not. Or perhaps we should ask a more apropos question. Is anyone out there reading this really taking this laughable fare seriously? I fear the answer is yes, but tell me I'm wrong!
August 18, 2005
Get Real, Sayeth Gideon
Gideon Rose cuts through a lot of chaff today in the New York Times:
SEVEN months into George W. Bush's second term, it is clear that whatever his expansive second Inaugural Address may have promised, American foreign policy has taken a decidedly pragmatic turn. In practice, the Bush administration has recently begun to pursue interests rather than ideals and conciliation rather than confrontation.
As I said before the November election, a Thermidor of sorts was on its way. By the by, look for some of the less intelligent and more (blindly) exuberant of the neo-cons, ironically, to now try to lay the blame for any failure on the 'stabilicist' cowardice of the much derided realists. Yep, the ironies will be rich...and the shamelessness breathtaking. Exhibit A, perhaps not surprisingly, comes from David Frum!
Seeking cause for optimism, Hadley noted that the latest round of talks on North Korea ended a 13-month boycott by Pyongyang. "They were basically testing us to see if they could split the [other] five . . . and they failed," Hadley said. "Similarly now, the Iranians are trying to test the E.U. Three to see if they can split them."
Since David Frum is dwelling in la-la land, let's play pretend, just for a naughty second, and consider parachuting the Frumites into 'strategic rear-theaters' like Teheran and Damascus first, OK? David can then ponder whether Bush is being emasculated by the Foggy Bottom status quo'ers from his new gravity-defying perch there....while us feckless and short-sighted realists meekly keep the home fires burning over here.
Better yet, let's get real, as Gideon says. Precipitating a military confrontation with either Syria or Iran right now would be a mistake of epic, catastrophic proportions--all but guaranteeing that Iraq plunges into chaos. Not to mention, though I know tough guys aren't supposed to care about such things, that the rest of the world would go full-blown ape-sh*t. Even Tony Blair and John Howard wouldn't follow us into Iran or Syria. So what are people like Frum talking about? What status quo is getting them so hot under their collars? That we are negotiating with the North Koreans and, via Euro proxies, the Iranians? Can Frum provide a serious alternative course of action to this--given the so difficult state of play in Iraq and other resource constraints--rather than instead just breezily piss on State? I'm all ears, David....really, polemics aside, I'd like to hear Iran policy prescriptions better than Ray Takeyh's or Ken Pollack's. I haven't yet. Whose got 'em?
P.S. I'd just like to add, for the record, that there is a strain of idealism in American foreign policy that, on some level, has always appealed to me. At times, of course, it has been part and parcel of a belief in some form of American exceptionalism. And there is much of this idealist strain in neo-conservatism, of course, much of it at least superficially compelling. Yes, democratic states are less likely to start wars, breed terror, otherwise be rogue state actors. So democratization is indeed both a worthy goal on a idealistic as well as a practical, brass-tacks level. Still, however, the reason there have been some schisms in the neo-con camp as, for instance, between the Fukuyama and Krauthammer wings, is because some neo-cons like Frum do not appear to wholly comprehend how difficult democratization is (a process, not an event!), how long it can take, and how it may yet run aground in Iraq.
My point is that I don't mean to denigrate such nostrums and beliefs (the importance of spreading freedom, as it were), but such ambitious doctrines must be linked to the hard facts that prevail in the real world. In Iraq, we replaced brutish neo-Stalinism with, often, rampant anarchic conditions. To Dostoevsky's eternal query, whether people prefer to be free or to obey, the answer is more likely to be the latter, alas, if freedom means chronic chaos and disorder. This is not to say I believe many Iraqis are nostalgics for Saddam, he was a brute monster, and the vast majority of Iraqis well understand his exit is a net positive, even more Sunnis than we might realize. And yes, it's early days in Iraq, and we must keep at it and attempt to secure a better outcome in the months and years ahead. But we have taken up a massive project indeed there, and have our hands more than full, thank you very much. After all, is it really any surprise that a society that never went through the Enlightenment, and that is riven by class, sectarian and ethnic discords, that it takes more than a snap of a finger to get Jeffersonians rosiliy manning the polity as beacon to all those crude Cairenes, say, still haplessly wallowing in authoritarian despair? But I digress. The real way to make progress with Iran and North Korea is to show we will really try to see Iraq through in meaningful fashion. This is what will get the attention of our enemies. Not fanciful talk of new adventures that buckle some presumed nefarious status quo. Again, our idealism must not become unmoored from reality. Fantasists don't enjoy real credibility on the world stage.
Precarious: The State of the Mosul Police
The state of police training in Mosul:
Under heavy protection of United States troops, the Mosul police are rebuilding. Compared with some nastier hot spots - like Anbar Province and Tal Afar - they are further along. But the effort to resurrect the police has encountered huge sectarian, cultural and even tribal obstacles, and now exemplifies a central question for American planners: Have the police force's improvements been contingent on careful and continual hand-holding by large numbers of American soldiers, and will they evaporate when American forces begin pulling out?
If the job is rushed, the country will go to hell in a handbasket. I realize some of you believe this space has gotten too heated of late, and perhaps the temperature will ebb lower in the days ahead--but this is one point I plan to hammer in repeatedly in the coming months--at least as long as I feel there are swaths of the Republican Party and/or key Administration players pushing an Iraq withdrawal that is not truly linked to conditions on the ground.
Meantime in Iraq, 43 were killed today in a series of car bombings in a major Baghdad bus station. It appears the intent was to massacre scores of Shi'a heading south from the capital. Sooner or later, the Shi'a are going to start slaughtering Sunnis in large number too in retribution. In other words, Zarqawi's strategy might work--with large scale sectarian violence in the offing. Unless, of course, we can provide security in this country by decisively beating the insurgents. Can we? Who is convicingly explaining how? My confidence is waning. Perhaps we could start holding towns, really holding them, like Ramadi. Consolidating control so that the people realize their loyalty must be to coalition and Iraqi national forces. Right now, we're stuck trading towns and the locals are hedging their bets. Which means they are, more often than not, either voluntarily or involuntarily providing succor to the insurgents. The better to allow conditions for assembling materiel and methodically planning coordinated car bombings in Baghdad that kill scores now two years plus out from the American invasion. We can and must have a plan to do better. The rough status quo is becoming increasingly untenable in my view.
August 17, 2005
Partitioning Iraq Is Still a Bad Idea
Michael Signer is accusing me of "demagoguery", though I'm not sure why really. If he means because I'm not ready to sign on to Les Gelb's plan to partition Iraq into three zones (Shia, Sunni and Kurd), well, OK guilty as charged. Cuz it's clear as peach that moving to partition Iraq into three zones will lead to large scale ethnic cleansing given the ethnic and sectarian mixes in cities like Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul. Below, reprinted in full, is my reaction to Gelb's WSJ op-ed from many moons back (late 2003). While I wrote this a long time ago, I continue to stand by every word. Look, if I were in a room with Les he might well admonish me and say I'm a rank "illusionist"--that reality in the form of a largely botched (though not wholly) Iraq occupation has rudely intruded on my November '03 musings. He has a point. But I'm not ready to recommend the expenditure of significant diplomatic thought, effort and capital (these being finite commodities) into figuring how best to divide Iraq into three ethnic/sectarian para-states (for many of the reasons I sketched out below). At least not at this juncture. And I'm sorry that I was a tad snarky Michael, but I still wish serious Democrats like you (and my friend your co-blogger Suzanne) were pulling for a 'success strategy' built around a democratic, unitary and viable Iraqi polity rather than looking to divvy up the country already (not that I think Suzanne thinks this is the way forward, and I gather she will be blogging more about Iraq in the coming days). Yes, it's tough, hard, ugly going--but if we remain strong and see this as a five to ten year effort I'm not sure the gig is up yet. Anyway, my Nov '03 musings follow:
Rarely have I been as shocked to read an opinion piece as this morning when I first saw Les Gelb's NYT op-ed (and particularly given how Gelb's moving op-eds about the Balkans in the early '90's had helped contribute to my decision to work in the former Yugoslavia).
If you're curious for more on this subject from B.D.'s perspective, click through this link and go to the multiple "here" links.
Yesterday: "Last Throes"; Today: "We Cannot Predict the Length..."
From the Caspar Star Tribune (Wyoming's News Source!), we have Dick Cheney:
"We cannot predict the length or course of the war on terror, but we know for certain with good allies at our side this great nation will persevere and we will prevail."
Translation: I'm not quite man enough to admit I was full of it with the "last throes" comment, so instead I'll talk about 'dictionary meanings' and avoid discussing Iraq in my public utterances (better to conveniently conflate Iraq under the 'war on terror' rubric which, while accurate, nevertheless, shall we say, conveniently elides the main point).
Hardly Churchillian straight-talk, huh? More by way of Roveian 'stay on message' herdism. But these are mediocre times and we, sadly, appear to be led by mediocre men...Look, if our leaders cannot communicate honestly to their public the real state of play with regard to the most pressing issue of the day--well, they will lose the public's trust and the war effort will be increasingly imperiled because of it.
P.S. And no, the oft-heard locution 'as they stand up, we will stand down' just doesn't cut it as a frank assessment of where the war stands. See Fred Kagan below for some of the reasons such utterances are largely chimerical and bogus at this early stage...
Department of Short-Sighted 'Leveraging' Strategies
I've been reading both Larry Diamond's "Squandered Victory" as well as David Phillips' "Losing Iraq" while down in Brazil this week. They are both good reads and I'll have more on them soon. In the meantime, here's a gem from Diamond's book (pp. 30-31) that well clues us in to how astoundingly talented a Defense Secretary we are blessed and lucky enough to have manning the war effort:
Rumsfeld zealously opposed any role for career State Department experts, whom he regarded as too soft for the hard job of remaking Iraq, and whom his subordinates assumed (incorrectly) to be uniformly dismissive of the prospects for democracy in Iraq. Initially, Rumsfeld did not know who Bodine was [ed. note: a former, widely respected U.S. Ambassador to Yemen], but he and his senior staff were nevertheless uninterested in her expertise. When Bodine briefed the defense secretary in mid-March, just before the war began, she explained the urgent need to figure out a way to make sure Iraqi civil servants got paid in the aftermath of the war, so that government services could continue and opposition could be preempted. The operating assumption had been that the Iraqi civil servants would be in their offices after the war, ready to work, and that the occupation would have a fully functioning Iraqi government within a matter of days. Rumsfeld insisted that it didn't matter whether Iraqi civil servants got paid. "They can wait two weeks or two months," he said. What mattered, he said, was that the American taxpayer wouldn't stand for the United States paying Iraqi civil servants. When someone suggested that there would be riots in the streets if the civil servants didn't get paid, Rumsfeld replied that this could be used as leverage to get the Europeans in to pick up the burden." [emphasis added]
The sheer stupidity of this takes your breath away, doesn't it? Frankly, I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read tales of incompetence like these so grotesquely abysmal they reek of gross negligence/reckless misconduct that rise to the criminal. And this from someone occupying such a critical position! C'mon now people, is it just Joe Biden who is going to demand this incompetent's head on a platter? Shipping Wolfowitz to the World Bank and pushing Feith out, like sacrificial lambs so Don can stick around, well it just doesn't cut it anymore in my book...
More From the Reality-Based Right
The Bush administration is making it clearer day by day that it intends to withdraw American troops from Iraq rapidly and roughly in step with the increase in the number of Iraqi troops deemed capable of taking over security responsibilities. Even while denying rumors of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, President Bush has declared that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."
There's more. Read the whole thing.
P.S. The "reality-based" right, in case you're curious, is the non "last throes" wing.
What are the best one stop sources of info on "Able Danger"? I'm on vacation this week so have been a bit out of the loop but want to get up to speed quickly. Thanks in advance.
Asleep at the Switch
State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden's move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam "well beyond the Middle East," but the government chose not to deter the move, newly declassified documents show.
The Clinton Administration, shall we say, had other priorities. Meantime, of course, George Bush is castigated for not somehow divining via the August 6 PDB that, you know, 9/11 was in the offing. Recall, the salient language from the PDB read:
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [redacted] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of the "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar' Abd al-Rahman and other U.S. held extremists.
Via Dowdification, perhaps, one could arrive at "hijack...U.S. aircraft..attacks....buildings in New York..." Why, Bush shoulda known UBL was orchestrating a bulls-eye direct hit on Towers 1 and 2--but instead he sat around Crawford and didn't do diddley-squat about it. For shame! Well, no, not really. An intel brief hit his desk that made vague reference to federal buildings in New York being staked, that there was some "sensational threat reporting" about possible hijackings (that didn't reference turning the aircraft into flying missiles--the PDB was more by way of signaling some conventional hijacking as some trade to gain release of Rahman) and so on.
Don't miss the beginning of the PDB either:
"Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin
August 16, 2005
Downed Helicopter Near Herat
Many of us have heaped scorn on post-Aznar appeasement-minded Spain, but it behooves us to recall that their military is fighting, and dying, alongside the American one in Afghanistan. Today Spain lost 17 soldiers in a helicoper incident (it is perhaps an accident but no one is yet ruling out possible enemy action--particularly as a second chopper needed to make an emergency landing in the area too). Zapatero is interruping his August vacation in Lanzarote and returning to Madrid to speak to the nation this evening.
UPDATE: Fair point, D Lange....
The Gaza Withdrawal
I'd be remiss if I didn't blog the historic events underway in the Gaza Strip at this hour. After almost forty years of occupation, Israel is withdrawing from Gaza. This is an act of not inconsiderable political courage by Arik Sharon, particularly given the opportunistic shenanigans of Bibi Netanyahu taking place at a time that instead begs for national unity. Indeed, I can't say it better than Arik himself (if a touch hyperbolically): "I don't know why he quit. He backed the disengagement plan once or twice...One thing I can say: Quitting a week before the most complex, most difficult move in the State of Israel's history--the disengagement plan--I would not say this evasion warrants a medal of honor." That said, political opportunism has its benefits and occurs for a reason, of course. The latest polling data shows that in a Likud leadership primary run-off, Netanyahu would poll well ahead of Sharon in a three-way race (with ultra-rightist Uzi Landau in the mix too). Yet these polls are being taken in the midst of the hugely emotional and difficult scenes currently underway in Gaza with the settler evacuations. No one can take away from these settlers their evident passion and deep love of the land. But to cede the ground to such religious maximalists is to all but beg eternal conflict in the Holy Land. Painful compromises must be pursued in the interests of potential peace. There is no other viable way.
With this major Israeli concession now comes the need for real Palestinian leadership and seriousness of purpose. Mahmoud Abbas cannot allow a vacuum to result post IDF withdrawal in Gaza that facilitates in any way the military wings of Hamas and Jihad Islami mounting attacks against Israel. In this, the Americans and Egyptians will be playing key roles in assisting the Palestinian Authority (both out front and behind the scenes) in cracking down on unauthorized terrorist activity. This is critical because a relatively peaceful transition (though 100% success is likely impossible) will bolster Sharon's argument that Israel withdrew from a position of strength rather than one of weakness. The compelling need for Abbas' important security crack-downs aside, however, Sharon's position was the only rationalist one that could seriously be contemplated. It was always the height of folly, after all, to expend IDF resources to protect a relative handful of a few thousand settlers in a veritable sea of a million plus Palestinians. It was also morally not a viable position in the long run. This said, however, the Palestinians must now be told in no uncertain terms that something akin to a Hezbollah/Shaba Farms rationale for continued attacks into Israel from Gaza will not be tolerated in any respect. Recall that despite Israel's withdrawal from most of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah argues that it remains entitled to attack targets in northern Israel because Israel continues to occupy the Shaba Farms. There will be many in Hamas that see the situations as roughly analagous, as of course Israel still controls the West Bank. This argument is disingenuous and unacceptable, and cannot be countenanced in the least. Negotiations on the West Bank are the way forward, not violent attacks out of a new Gaza beach-head. As for Jihad Islami and irredentist swaths of Hamas, they will see attacks on Israel as warranted until all the Jews (including those dwelling in '48 Israel) are pushed into the proverbial sea. Those actors must be steadily marginalized and, to the extent they are carrying on terrorist attacks, captured or killed before they can do their evil deeds.
To repeat, Sharon has made a very painful compromise this week. He now deserves real help from the other side. It perhaps bears noting, too, that B.D. is not one of those terribly concerned that the Gaza withdrawal was but a Sharon 'Gaza First, Gaza Last' gambit. In this, the roughly contemporaneous withdrawal from four West Bank settlements transcends mere symbolism. If (and this a big if) the Palestinian Authority can exert sufficient control over Gaza so that it is not used as a base for attacks against Israel, it is not hugely implausible to see the Gaza withdrawal as helping resucitate the moribund road map a few months hence. This, of course, would involve further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and, ultimately it is hoped, mutually acceptable resolution of the so-called 'final status' issues. This is but a hope, for now, but one that becomes a more serious prospect if the Gaza pull-out goes relatively well in the main. Another reason Abbas must step up to the plate, with critical assistance from Cairo and Washington, and ensure that Hamas and Jihad Islami are not militarily active. In this, I suspect, economic aid will be critical. When unemployment is near 50%, after all, people will do horrific, odious things. Gaza's economy is a horrific shambles, and the international community must help in making it better. Quickly.
Finally, I'd like to say a brief word about those lap-top nay-sayers who poo-poo Abbas and Israeli appeasers (Sharon!) for, alternately, hiding the ugly true face of the Palestinians through faked moderation (Abbas, the story-line goes) or weak-kneed, terror-friendly policies (quite incredibly, such charges are now being lobbed at Sharon from his Right). What I've found in life is that those who actually dwell in the conflict zones, rather than sunny California say, better realize that painful compromises must be made in the interests of a frustratingly elusive peace. After all, those living in the Holy Land are the ones who must deal directly with the ramifications of maximalist policies that lead to abject hatred and seemingly endless cycles of violence. So it is often wise old warriors (men like Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan) who best understand this. In this vein, this Haaretz analysis of Sharon's speech to the Israeli nation is of interest:
Sharon displayed understanding for the suffering of the Palestinians crowded in the refugee camps in Gaza "in greenhouses of growing hatred." His statements were reminiscent of Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan's eulogy to Ro'i Rotberg, the security officer of Kibbutz Nahal Oz who was murdered in 1956 in a field bordering the Gaza Strip.
This is a painful appraisal, but it has the benefit of being unflichingly accurate. Despite the de-humanization of the Palestinian 'other', their aspirations and hopes are not that different than those of their Israeli neighbors--namely, to raise families and lead productive lives in conditions of dignity and peace. This is why solid majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis supported the Madrid and Oslo processes at various junctures--read: a two-state solution with an independent Palestine living side by side an independent Israel.
Don't miss this moving part from Sharon's speech either:
Residents of Gaza, today we end a glorious chapter in Israel's history, a central episode in your lives as pioneers, as realisers of the dream of those who bore the security and settlement burden for all of us.
These are strong and good and wise words. Make no mistake, Sharon's move was the right one. The calculated risks were and are worth taking. And holding on to Gaza forever was simply not tenable. Let us now hope the handover is handled by all parties, especially the Palestinian side, with utmost professionalism and seriousness of purpose. The entire world is watching, and success now can lead to more progress in reaching a viable two state solution later. There is really no other way forward that would avoid condemning the region to permanent war.
August 15, 2005
Why I've Been Emotional on Iraq
I've been getting lots of mail/comments that I've become 'unhinged' on the Iraq issue and such. Look, I'll grant that some of my recent posts were shrill and perhaps too emotional. But this is a blog, and we hyper-ventilate now and again, and these posts weren't rough cuts for comme il faut FT op-ed submissions or Foreign Affairs pieces, but my gut take based on informed speculation about a lot of alarming noises emitting from Washington. What got my goat last week? Lotsa talk about draw-downs that sounded suspiciously like fait accomplis rather than merely potential moves truly linked to carefully gauged conditionality pursuant to the actual situation on the ground in Iraq. And I'm certainly not alone, on the conservative side of the fence, in having such concerns.
Witness Bill Kristol:
The president seems determined to complete the job. Is his defense secretary? In addition to trying to abandon the term "war on terror," Rumsfeld and some of his subordinates have spent an awful lot of time in recent weeks talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq--and before the job is complete.
I agree with virtually everything Bill Kristol writes above. The President needs to hear this message loud and clear from conservatives who care about our national resolve and the stakes in Iraq. Think the stakes are just some mid-sized Arab country and, should they not be able to 'get their act together' (in large part because of our abysmal failure to create secure conditions from the get-go), well, tant pis--let a civil war run its course a la Lebanon and, 15 years hence, freedom will finally ring in Firdos Sq (as it did in Martyr's Sq!)--the Ignatius meme? That's just not serious folks. Go read Henry Kissinger on the stakes at play.
The war in Iraq is less about geopolitics than about the clash of ideologies, cultures and religious beliefs. Because of the long reach of the Islamist challenge, the outcome in Iraq will have an even deeper significance than that in Vietnam. If a Taliban-type government or a fundamentalist radical state were to emerge in Baghdad or any part of Iraq, shock waves would ripple through the Islamic world. Radical forces in Islamic countries or Islamic minorities in non-Islamic states would be emboldened in their attacks on existing governments. The safety and internal stability of all societies within reach of militant Islam would be imperiled.
The stakes are immense. I mean, how dare we be seriously talking of withdrawing in '06 given the dismal state of affairs in Iraq? It's laughable, really. As John McCain put it well yesterday:
The day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the green zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq. We not only don't need to withdraw, we need more troops there. And if we aren't able to get more troops there, which I've been advocating for years, as you know, then the Iraqi military, as they're trained up, should be a supplement to the American forces that are already there, not a replacement for.
Bottom line people. For the forseeable future Iraqi forces can only supplement U.S. forces, not replace them. Or we risk losing this war (Yes, rampant sectarian violence is a 'loss'). If we really are lucky enough to turn some corner, and it really looks like we can pull 30,000 guys out in late '06, well God Bless. But cheap talk that sounds suspiciously like a timetable for pulling out men without regard to conditions on the ground provides, to use a Rumsfeld phrase, a 'lifeline' to terrorists and insurgents. So whoever is emitting such signals out of DoD needs to shut up. Now. If they can't, the President must exert leadership and force them to. His recent comments about staying the course in Crawford are to be welcomed. We'll see if they did the trick. If not, and such noises keep seeping out of DoD--again, he will need to exert leadership. And if it is Rumsfeld, in the main, making such noises (as I strongly suspect and as is much of the Washington scuttlebutt)--it is yet another reason he should be fired.
Mr. President, this hubris-ridden, incompetent Secretary is increasingly becoming a major liability to you. Think beyond Andoveran codes of loyalty and such. This isn't the Andover cheerleading squad or Skull & Bones. It's really, really important--the ramifications of failure in Iraq are immense--and so the effort must be seen through with steely resolve. If a key member of your team doesn't understand that an Iraq characterized by civil war or dueling militias is a strategic and moral failure, he must be taken off your team. National interest must trump any residual loyalty. Again, how can we be talking about troop pull-outs when, in the capital city itself, the mayor is sacked in some putsch, one cannot drive safely from the airport to downtown, and dozens of Shi'a police recruits are massacred by Sunni insurgents? Again, this is in the capital itself. Not to mention there is a roiling insurgency throughout the strategically critical Sunni heartland (as well as recent, and very alarming, moves towards Shi'a autonomy in the south of which more later)? Was this pull-out talk perhaps meant as some tactical signal to the Sunnis that they need to start playing ball or we will leave them to the bloodthirsty revenge-minded Shi'a? Absurd. Again, an Iraq characterized by large scale sectarian killings will be a strategic defeat for America, as well as a massive moral failure. Thinking conservatives cannot allow this to happen. We supported Bush because we thought he was likelier to provide serious war leadership with the rock-gut conviction to see it through even past '08 (hopefully handing off to his successor a project moving in positive direction). If his Defense Secretary is not on this page anymore, his Defense Secretary must go. And I bet if you were in a room with George Schultz, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger--off the record of course--they'd be telling POTUS the same thing. Rummy's not up to the job. He's failed you Mr. President. Repeatedly.
Repeat After Me: The New Iraqi Army Officers Corps Must Be (Convicingly) Multi-Ethnic/Sectarian
I get regularly chastised in comments for having the temerity to suggest that any new Iraqi Army must have a cohesive, ethnically diverse leadership/officer corps. Who cares about such trifles, the commenting more or less goes? Apparently I'm not alone in thinking this is critical. Witness Henry Kissinger:
What is the real combat effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, and against what kind of dangers? To what extent are the Iraqi forces penetrated by insurgents? How will Iraqi forces react to insurgent blackmail -- for example, if a general's son is kidnapped? What is the role of infiltration from neighboring countries? How can it be defeated?
This won't stop all the 'Don's the Man!' gaggles from spouting off on how we've got some 170,000 plus men all teed up and ready to take the fight to the enemy. Still, I just thought I'd pass this on...serious people think a multi-ethnic Iraqi national army, you know, matters. Oh, and please note: such an army won't convincingly be up and running by late '06.
On the Road
August 11, 2005
Quote of the Day (II)
From the IHT:
Asked for his reaction, Mr. Naser, the head of the Iranian delegation, issued a biting retort.
Translation: As long as the United States appears to be making a muck of it in Iraq, tied down and slogging through clumsily, we'll more or less do as we effing please.
P.S. And Rummy's whining about cross-border arms smuggling makes us chuckle. How infinitely worse it could be if we really wanted to scuttle you with our all in Iraq. Consider yourself warned...
Yes, like Clintonian fecklessness led our enemies to question the seriousness of our national purpose and resolve, so will a half-assed Iraq fiasco that leaves us looking a paper tiger. No, we're not there yet. But it's possible we end up there, just maybe...yes, even despite assorted blogospheric eminences who've generously advised us we've already won. Now, you might say there is no way the Iraqi insurgents could defeat us militarily on the battlefield. They've been 'defeated' after all! But let's talk turkey and cut through the B.S., shall we? Precipitating a gradual U.S. withdrawal, with militias taking up security in the Shi'a south and Kurdish north (rather than a pan-national army with a multi-ethnic officer corps that serves as cohesive glue for the nation), with some freed up US troops then being moved into Anbar but still not putting down the insurrection--so that the basic pattern remains one of U.S. withdrawal and Kurdish and Shi'a entente cordiale (for a spell)--with Sunnis seething and large swaths of the country unstable--well, it's a recipe for civil war, no? And states that are wracked by civil war are essentially failed states. Failed states become terror havens. This is all GWOT 101 (or G-SAVE! 101) Iraq's neighbors, of course, have major interests that become threatened if the country splinters as well: Turkey protection of its ethnic kin the Turkomen, and denying the Kurds too many trappings of independence and bases from which to mount operations in Turkey proper, Iran perhaps an appetite for greater Shi'a lebensraum in the south (with Basra increasingly fundamentalist), Saudis (and Jordanians) worried about too much Shi'a revanchism and growing Iranian sphere of influence. It's all too terrible to contemplate.
Now, as Anthony Cordesman point out in the FT (no link available) it's not all doom and gloom (though methinks he is gloomier than he lets on). He believes insurgent numbers are remaining roughly constant and that they have no sanctuaries (for now, anyway). Trained Iraqi forces are on an uptick moving towards the magic 270,000 (I'm hugely dubious of the vast majority of same's caliber and ability to fight alone, btw). Jaafari and Iraq's new leaders, Cordesman goes on, have not proven to be engaging in malicious purges or religious confrontations (though the municipal mayoral coup of the Mayor of Baghdad was worrisome, no?). But, like me, Cordesman is going on faith. That troop reductions will truly be conditional, that political progress will help dampen the lethalness and appeal in some quarters of the insurgents, that there is no "fixed timetable" for withdrawal aside from "reacting to the pace of Iraqi success." Cordesman says this likely means "leaving strong elements of US forces as long as they are needed, and sustaining US military and economic aid for five to ten years." Is this Rumsfeld's strategy? Put differently, does he have a success strategy? Or is he moving to an exit, with the Iraqis who 'couldn't get their act together' left to lick their wounds and ponder ruefully why they couldn't quite grab the ennobled fruits of the so generous American adventure in Mesopotamia? Ultimately, this is the President's show, of course. I believe he still is more devoted to a success rather than exit strategy. But the fact that he hasn't sacked his Secretary of Defense gives me major pause. Could it be, as commenter Joe Britt has said, that Bush is so hands-off he has become dependent on Rummy? That he can't imagine prosecuting the war effort without him? Weak, if so. Very weak.
Quote of the Day
Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia. The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'état. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.
Well, the Old Iraq was all about using force to achieve goals too. Only thing is that Saddam didn't claim any different. We did, of course. I mean, how can we be two years plus into this invasion and have the Mayor of the capital city be so ingloriously sacked by militias not operating (ostensibly, as god knows what Jafaari signaled? Though he is Dawa not Sciri...) via central command from on high?
Another Ineffective Counter-Insurgency Operation
The American military also announced the conclusion of a weeklong offensive in the Euphrates River corridor in Anbar Province, where insurgents had been attacking American-led coalition forces. The start of the mission early last week came amid a series of sharp attacks in the region against American forces, including two ambushes that killed 20 marines. The offensive was only the latest in a series of such attempts by the American command to choke off insurgent strongholds and supply routes along a corridor that runs from the Syrian border to Baghdad.
"Disrupted"? Yeah, for a few days maybe, if that. Look, the Marines are performing nobly and valiantly. They are doing the best they can, with too few men, in the stifling heat and sandstorms of an ugly August in Iraq. But no offensive that has taken place in Iraq in or around Anbar of late, whether Dagger, Lightning, Matador, New Market, Spear, Thunder and now Quick Strike--none of them are fundamentally shifting the dynamic of the counter-insurgency effort. The best we can hope for, as the Colonel's comments manifest, are disruptions in insurgent activity. But to win this thing we need to be decimating the enemy--not disrupting him--with overwhelming force. And we simply don't have that amount of force in theater. So we are doing the best we can with the resources at hand (do we really need all those troops in Germany, by the way?), scraping by really, and hoping against hope that the political process will improve and help us turn some corner in the not too distant future. But hope isn't a strategy, and to all those (and there are more and more) ready to give up (or fakely declare victory in that we weren't strictly 'defeated' on the battlefield) and say to hell if Iraq degenerates into civil war, we gave it our best shot--let me be clear. An Iraq mired in large-scale sectarian conflict, let alone full-blown civil war, would be a cluster-f*&k of epic proportions. Why? Because it would mean a failed or failing state smack in the center of the Middle East. We would have created an embittered Sunni para-state, a terror haven really, roiling and destabilizing the region (such an unstable state of affairs would help foster radicalization of Shi'a behavior also, of course, in ways not helpful to the U.S. national interest). Iran, Turkey, Syria and even Saudi Arabia and Jordan would have direct interests implicated too, of course. Need I sketch this out more? (Hint: Borders wouldn't be treated with any sanctity by the neighbors, friends). The point is, leaving Iraq to fend for itself without a viable, stable polity in place would be a disaster--for the thousands and thousands (coalition and Iraqi alike) who will have died in vain, for the region, for our national prestige, for the war on terror generally.
Are we heading down this path? I'm unsure. The President says he will stay the course. I still trust he will. But unless we start making material gains in the battlefield the slow deaths of 14 here, 5 here, another 2 the next day--for what are these men dying? To slowly lose or stalemate away so as to prepare for some bullshit facesave-style retreat in late '06 or '07 (look 'ma, they have a constitution but, er, can't really enforce it!)--or because we have a real plan for victory (read: quashing the counter-insurgency, leaving a viable, peaceful, democratic polity behind). I'm increasingly concerned we don't really have such a plan (put differently, are we getting further and further away from a 'success strategy' to merely an 'exit strategy'?). When the Mayor of Baghdad is just sacked, just like that, by Shi'a militia--what kind of signal does this send to Iraqis of all political stripes? That the law of the jungle, of sheer strength, is the only law. Mayhem breeds mayhem. Stuff happens and, you know, freedom is messy. Militias spawn. Score-settling and differing political visions are settled at the barrel of a gun, not around a negotiating table. It's very, very ugly.
I briefly caught Don Rumsfeld on CNN today, as is his wont, spouting from a lectern warning this or that party to behave better--as if he were refeering a Princeton wrestling match. He was talking about the Iranians and how arms/ordnance were getting in from the Iranian side into Iraq. Don can strut and preen and wail and bitch all he wants to the cameras--but what did he think the Iranians were going to do when their avowed enemy is at their doorstep? Smile and say pretty please and ask them to kindly cross the border and serve up same in Teheran? No, they will deviously pursue their national interest--as we all must do at the end of the day. The Iranian goal? Keep Iraq from degenerating into total catastrophe (a net negative for them given refugee flows and such major destablization events), the better to get a relatively friendly Shi'a government with some coherent power to wield in place in Baghdad, but also keep slowly bleeding the Americans so as to ensure they aren't ready for another excursion in the neighborhood. Mr. Secretary: nations act according to their self-interest. Stop bitching about Syria and Iran. You have yourself to blame in the main. With 350,000 troops, say, the borders would have been much more secure. Ditto if the Baath Army hadn't been disbanded wholesale (the top leadership cadres needed, of course, to be expunged). You wanted to run this show, brusquely push State aside, and be the Big Cahuna--not only on the war, but for post-war planning too. Well, you were and still are a big player. You still (baffingly) have the President's confidence (or is Bush dependent on Rummy's war management, unable to step into his shoes and name a successor?). But you are presiding over a possible disaster right now. Step aside and let new blood in the building. Your departure would be a short term propaganda victory for the insurgents, but a mid-term plus for the war effort likely. For you sir, are a failed War Secretary. Let me repeat: you have proven a failure. Step aside without delay!
August 08, 2005
Iraq Troop Levels
From the NYT:
In a classified briefing to senior Pentagon officials last month, the top American commander in the Middle East outlined a plan that would gradually reduce American forces in Iraq by perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 troops by next spring if conditions on the ground permitted, three senior military officers and Defense Department officials said this week.
I'm heartened to see there will be a short term increase towards year end in troop levels and that conditionality for withdrawal (status of train and equip, size/strength of insurgency, new Iraqi government's democratic bearing and viability) appears to be for real rather than merely for face-saving, public consumption. Still, I can't help thinking that, while not giving a direct 'lifeline' to terrorists and insurgents by providing an exact exit timetable--there is still amidst all this talk of potential '06 draw-downs some comfort to be had by the insurgents. That said, this could also be about focusing the minds (particularly of the Sunnis) that American forces may not be around forever, so as to help Sunnis better think about what their future might be like in a post heavy U.S. presence Iraq, not least so that they are dealing at the constitutional negotiating table with a greater sense of urgency. At the end of the day, however, it's all about how the conditionality will be adjudged. The test must be having an Iraqi Army armed with the requisite equipment, with a multi-ethnic officer corps, with enlisted men truly willing to stand and fight a savage foe (forces that are not overly infiltrated by enemy groupings); a sense that political governance structgures are adequately maturing and enshrining real minority rights, and a materially weakened insurgency that can more and more be fought head on by new Iraqi forces operating without U.S. back-up. Is it just me, or is it somewhat hard to see this all coming about in spring '06 in convincing fashion?
Peter Jennings, RIP
Peter Jennings died tonight of lung cancer. Jennings was my favorite anchor, and while I didn't watch his broadcast regularly (it was too early to catch given work schedules), I always thought of him as the best of the lot. This is likely not surprising, given that Jennings was more interested in foreign affairs, it's probably fair to say, than Brokaw or Rather or many of the mediocrities that pass for anchors on CNN or Fox today. I also had the chance to meet Jennings in his offices in New York after graduating college. I was thinking of a career in journalism, and was somehow able to get a meeting with him to gets some tips and pointers. While I ended up doing humanitarian work in the Balkans and then going down the well worn path to law school, it was of course generous for him to share a few minutes with me, and he was obviously a man in love with his craft and career. The kind of journalism and anchoring that Jennings did--intellectually honest and judicious, delivered with a steely calm (rather than the shrill hysterics or 'emo-anchoring' now in vogue) appears a dying breed today. Ditto the extensive focus on international news--as today so many overseas news bureaus are being shut down and fewer correspondents are based abroad. This is a shame not least because--just as much if not more than during the Cold War--developments in regions like the Middle East and Asia will be major determinants on our lives at home. And, alas, there are fewer people around capable of explaining these developments to us today in sober, cogent fashion like Peter Jennings could. He will be missed by many.
Aside from Fahd's death and Abdullah's accession to supreme power in Saudi Arabia, there's also been an important change in the ambassadorial ranks in Wash DC. Rachel Bronson, CFR guru on all things Saudi and more besides, has the details:
Q: Two weeks ago, it was quietly announced that Turki al-Faisal was chosen to replace Prince Bandar [bin Sultan], who's been there for years. What's the significance of that?
"We're in a period of slow recovery," said Rachel Bronson, a Middle East specialist at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York. "The administration is willing to publicly acknowledge they are working with the Saudis on the war on terror. But I don't believe things will ever be the same. You will never have the ease of the intimate relationship that existed in the 1980's."
Perhaps not. But aside from the need for continued cooperation on the war on terror (or GSAVE, or GWOE, or whatever we are calling it these days...), there are other reasons, of course, why the U.S.-Saudi relationship remains so very critical:
"All the countries we thought we could diversify our production away from Saudi Arabia haven't lived up to our expectations," said Amy Myers Jaffe, the associate director of Rice University's energy program in Houston. "We are definitely more dependent on the Saudis, absolutely, than we were before 9/11."
With Iraqi oil production, shall we say, lagging--and relations with Iran (the world's second largest producer) all but certain to remain very troubled over the coming years (not to mention Venezuela)--it's pretty safe to say that this is a dependency that's isn't going away anytime soon. That's not to say, however, that we've been reticent to forcefully broach with our Saudi interlocuters critical terror-related issues on the bilateral agenda, particularly, of course, since 9/11. But it bears keeping in mind that these discussions must always take place within the overarching context of continued U.S. dependency on Saudi oil. That not anybody's fault really, and it's likely not a surprise to anyone reading this, but it's nevertheless worthy of noting amidst the Abdullah succession and the beginning of Turki al-Faisal's Ambassadorship.
August 05, 2005
The Forgotten War
...Afghanistan DOD briefing here.
Don't miss this interesting snippet:
And we have seen some tactics. In southern -- in Kandahar City in particular -- the use of suicide bombers on three occasions, once at the -- to kill one of the mullahs that did renounce Omar and the Taliban, and then a suicide bomber came to his funeral the next day. And the fact that they came in, entered a mosque, entered a funeral and killed these people during a sacred event like this, killing these innocent victims, that is something we have not seen in Afghanistan before.
Guess you can read this a bunch of ways. Is General Champion making the Afghan locals out to be more coalition-friendly than they really are in terms of helping on IEDs? In most of the country, I'd say, probably not, but input from those with first hand experience there (particularly in the Pasthun areas) would be appreciated. This apart, note his frankness with regard to Iraq. He's saying that the Iraqi population have not been "key players," as in Afghanistan, when it comes to warning the coalition forces about the location of IEDs. In other words, he's basically intimating that the Afghan populace is with the coalition, but the Iraqis, well, aren't as much ...No definitive judgments to be made here, really, I'm just putting it out for discussion (are Iraqis more fearful of insurgent retaliation for 'collaboration?' do more of them wish for the coalition's defeat? Or is there really not as much of a distinction to be made between Afghanistan and Iraq's civilians when it comes to cooperating with the coalition? If not, was Champion just spinning a rosier Afghan narrative? Or was he too pessimistic w/r/t the Iraqi one?) Also worth chatting about? Are we going to see more insurgent tactics from Iraq (IEDs, suicide bombings) exported to Afghanistan in the coming months and years? And might some of the materiel and know-how be transiting overland via Iran?
Effective July 22nd...Your Bags...May Be Subject to Search...
If someone had told you twenty years ago, say, that your old prep school buddies would be living on Avenue C (D, even!), that smoking would be disallowed in all New York City restaurants and bars, that you wouldn't necessarily seriously risk getting mugged on Upper Broadway on your way to hail a cab, that Columbus Circle and Bryant Park would become big, gleaming, wifi-enabled malls (the whole city, even!), that one room studios would change hands for US $ 1MM, that new neighborhoods with strange names like Bococa or SoHa would somehow come on the scene and, er, by the way, that your bags would be subjected to searches on your subway commute--you'd probably tell your interlocuter he was on crack and to lay off the pipe. But hey, it's 2005, and the New New York is really as I describe it. Of course, there's been the long bull market (capped by the NASDAQ 5000 follies), and Giuliani's strong anti-crime hand, and epoch-making 9/11, and then 7/7 in London--so you can kind of sketch out how it all came to be! Still, it's quite something to digest in the aggregate, no?
Perhaps, however, the most shocking change of all is how low-key the reaction among fiercely independent New Yorkers has been to the fact that their belongings can now be ingloriously searched if they wish to subject themselves to the deep sorrows and stenches of the August subway here. Today, I finally saw two cops at my very own subway station this A.M.--ostensibly there to peform bag checks--though they weren't checking as I went down the stairs on my way to take the 4,5,6 uptown. Anyway, and like TCR reportedly, I guess you could say I look a tad swarthy, but, lucky me, no one deigned to peer into my briefcase. What do I think of these new security measures? Oh, I don't know...the reaction in most of the circles I run in has been something of a grudging recognition that, post-London especially, it probably strikes about the right balance between security and privacy concerns. But, as is his wont (and one of the reasons he's so good), TCR gives us the anti-herd, contrarian take:
How about with a fundamental question: can this actually work? Will it make us safer? While reasonable people can debate it endlessly, my sense is that this is folly. There are thousands of points of entry into the New York City public transportation system. If a terrorist is trying to enter the subway system, for example, and sees a cop waiting, he can simply turn around and leave. He can come back later, try another point of entry, or get on a bus or commuter train. And if he somehow does get singled out for a search, he can simply refuse and be allowed to leave the system. Someone intent on a subway attack is not going to be deterred by an average beat cop standing at a turnstile any more than a serial killer is deterred by the death penalty. Essentially, the system is too large and open to "protect" in any preventative sense.
OK New Yorkers (particularly you strap-hangers in the house), what sayeth you? I happen to think the police presence is likely a greater deterrent than TCR makes it out to be. Many of these suicide bombers are cowards, fearful of being caught if they don't pull off their mission, and so there might be some deterrent factor in this respect. Also, of course, the police appear in my experience over the past two odd weeks to be moving about randomly. They aren't, say, always huddled at Grand Central or Penn Station or Union Sq. They are showing their faces at odd and more obscure entrances, like mine, and I think that helps keep the potential bombers off-balance. And even if this deployment isn't uber-efficient, if it stops even one massacre on the J or Z or N or R trains--won't it have been worth it? Well, civil liberatarians will argue, at what expense? What is the cost in terms of extinguishment of personal rights? TCR is concerned freedom dies in such small-scale fashion, agreggated over time, so that we wake up 10 yrs hence and find ourselves in some Manhattan-Reich (even worse than Rudy's!). How did it all happen, we will then regretfully ponder, in silence of course, for fear the Stasi-on-the-Hudson come a-knockin'. I guess I don't think we're there really, and I don't think this action is risking us galloping there either, as best I can tell. But I'm happy to hear your views...either way...so comment below pls.
Lessons from Mt Igman Road
I disagree with the author that strong American leadership couldn't have gotten the Euros on board for 'lift and strike' (Warren Christopher sure had an 'exchange of views' with the Europeans on the topic, recall this quip: "It was an exchange all right: Warren Christopher went to Europe with an American policy and he came back with a European one"). But the writer merits real street cred because he's worked in the NSC, knows Washington well, and has, yep, started a blog! Go check it out.
'Cretinous' Caffeine Intakes
Joseph Britt says I'm getting too little sleep and drinking too much coffee. He's prob right. FYI, it's usually 6 hrs a night (1-7)--and then a triple shot latte, followed by three additional filter coffees (black, or with one sugar), and then a Diet Coke or two and a couple espressos rounding out the late morning and early afternoon. Yeah, I know, Houston we have a problem...but is it as bad as Brad DeLong's?
August 04, 2005
Dude, Got Pics?
I have to say I find these 'photo-blog offs' truly moronic. I think I did one of these kinds of photo essays back in 7th Grade, and I was damn proud of it (what with all the cool explanatory text!), but, you know, it was a long time ago, and I've chosen to move on in life. Even, malheureusement, the estimable Poor Man (via Atrios)-- while ostensibly condemning the phenomenon--can't help himself (and he's really put in a yeoman's effort finding the goriest ones he could dig up--promote him to Eagle Scout, already!). Sad. Yeah, the blogosphere has been degenerating of late somewhat, hasn't it? (I'm certain I've been to blame on this score too--and hey, watch for a 'photo essay' in this space soon too!). It's becoming more and more like talk-radio, alas, with all the various camps clustered in their various echo chambers, recycling all the predictable approved talking points, and with the assorted amen corners chortling with delight at the great wit and insights of the esteemed auteurs in question. But yeah, it's still a helluva a lot better than Paula Zahn (aka Nanny in Chief--'watch this show, it could save your life!') and such--so I guess I'm not going anywhere soon. After all, this wouldn't be a blog post without at least a hint of cheap 'spheric triumphalism, right? What, we've almost unseated Kofi on the heels of Dan, after all...the future is bright, if only we have the courage to courageously grab it in our Turnbull & Asser PJs from the front-lines of the New Citizen Journalism (TM)!
Homicidal Interrogations: Did Interrogators Believe Tactics Were Geneva-Compliant?
A must-read by Josh White in the WaPo.
When Army efforts produced nothing useful, detainees would be handed over to members of Operational Detachment Alpha 531, soldiers with the 5th Special Forces Group, the CIA or a combination of the three. "The personnel were dressed in civilian clothes and wore balaclavas to hide their identity," according to a Jan. 18, 2004, report for the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
...On Nov. 24, the CIA and one of its four-man Scorpion units interrogated Mowhoush, according to investigative records. "OGA Brian and the four indig were interrogating an unknown detainee," according to a classified memo, using the slang "other government agency" for the CIA and "indig" for indigenous Iraqis.
Dreadful, of course, but here's the really scary part:
In a preliminary court hearing in March for Williams, Loper and Sommer, retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard Manwaring, an interrogator who worked with Welshofer in Iraq, testified that using the sleeping bag and putting detainees in a wall locker and banging on it were "appropriate" techniques that he himself used to frighten detainees and make them tense.
I think Marty Lederman has it right when he writes:
It's possible that many military (and other) interrogators have come to believe that the techniques used in Iraq comply with Geneva. How is that possible? Here's the key quotation from today's story: "It was a time when U.S. interrogators were coming up with their own tactics to get detainees to talk, many of which they considered logical interpretations of broad-brush categories in the Army Field Manual, with labels such as 'fear up' or 'pride and ego down' or 'futility.'" In other words, the interrogators convinced themselves that these techniques were described in Army Field Manual 34-52—a Manual that has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions.
My read so far of the voluminous paper trail with respect to this specific issue (and I am well aware I still owe interested readers a major report on my overall conclusions)--is quite similar to Marty's speculations above. What is even more interesting is how the senior leadership contributed--likely in material fashion I'd say from my review so far--to the climate whereby interrogators actually really thought they were acting in compliance with supposedly Geneva compliant Army Field Manual practice. All this said, and I know I say this a lot, but more detail on this will have to wait (I am writing this past 1 AM and my time is severely limited)--detail that will focus particularly at the Lt Gen Sanchez and above level.
August 03, 2005
... last throes of a defeated insurgency, doubtless. By the way, there seems to be quite a bit of talk in the air of late regarding major prospective policy adjustments re: Iraq troop withdrawals. We've been quietly following that story, and as soon as time allows, we'll be sharing our take in some detail in these cyber-pages (it's not all necessarily doom and gloom, btw). That said and somewhat relatedly, perhaps, suffice it to say for now that those beginning to argue: 'we gave them our best shot to get a democracy teed up, those damn natives couldn't get their act together, it's really their fault if a civil war erupts (which, incidentally and so conveniently, might be just the ticket to get the Sunnis in more sober mien!)'--those starting to increasingly propagate this line with straight faces are largely morally repulsive cretins, in my view, and we'll have much more on their specious line of argument soon too.
UPDATE: I've deleted an insulting comment in the below thread (I think it was a repeat because I think I had deleted a similar one earlier). Frankly, the person being slimed isn't necessarily one of my favorite commenters, truth be told, but I find personal attacks like the one employed in hugely poor taste and simply unacceptable discourse at this blog. If this keeps happening more often I'll just turn off comments as I don't have the time to monitor regularly. All this said, thanks for the provocative comments I get here so often. They are appreciated, and I sometimes learn from them. Thanks.
August 02, 2005
Broadly speaking, there are two types of jihadists in western Europe: call them "outsiders" and "insiders." The outsiders are aliens, typically asylum seekers or students, who gained refuge in liberal Europe from crackdowns against Islamists in the Middle East. Among them are radical imams, often on stipends from Saudi Arabia, who open their mosques to terrorist recruiters and serve as messengers for or spiritual fathers to jihadist networks. Once these aliens secure entry into one EU country, they have the run of them all. They may be assisted by legal or illegal residents, such as the storekeepers, merchants, and petty criminals who carried out the Madrid bombings.
Read his entire article, which is excellent. Meantime, quite a few readers have sent in via Email a somewhat related piece that appeared in the FT a few days ago. I can't find a link to it just now, but it was written by a Faisal Devji a few days back. Some money quotes:
The religion al-Qaeda follows possesses no established tradition, being made up of fragments snatched from discordant Islamic authorities. There are, at most, very general patterns, of thought that are neither codified nor propagated in any systematic way. Rather than being recruited to a well defined movement, the jihad's disparate soldiers franchise al-Qaeda's expertise and brand name for a variety of equally disparate causes that exist comfortably within the structures of everyday life. It is too complex a war to have been contained by absurdly simple expedients like not invading Iraq.
I wonder if we aren't witnessing something of a routinization of jihadism borne of some of the factors Devji identifies. Particularly interesting, in my view, is Devji's description of al-Qaeda as almost postmodern in its discordancy and pastiche-like myriad influences. Something of a brand to which varied individuals affix their pet causes and grievances du jour (today Iraq, yesterday Chechyna or Kashmir, tomorrow the Next Bad Thing). In conjunction with a skewed and relativistic sense of 'ethics'--one can see why Devji is concerned less by the specter of sweeping revolutions or dangerous ideologies than by the seeming routinization of an almost faddish suicide terrorism in the supposed ethical service of some beleaguered other.
There is much to mine here, and I'll be returning to related topics soon. In closing, however, I should also point to the below quoted portion from the F.A. piece. It queries what the specter of homegrown Islamic radicalism portends for the oft quasi-utopic conception of multiculturalism--one so beloved by wide constituencies in Europe from the de haut en bas removed political elites to Berlin rave-goers popping E and listening to all the groovy world beats en masse:
The new mujahideen are not only testing traditional counterterrorist practices; their emergence is also challenging the mentality prevailing in western Europe since the end of World War II. Revulsion against Nazism and colonialism translated into compassion toward religious minorities, of whatever stripe. At first, Muslim guest workers were welcomed in Europe by a liberal orthodoxy that generally regarded them as victims lacking rights. In some countries, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, that perspective spawned a comprehensive form of multiculturalism. London's version verged on separatism. While stepping up surveillance, the British authorities allowed Islamists refuge and an opportunity to preach openly and disseminate rabid propaganda. Multiculturalism had a dual appeal: it allowed these states to seem tolerant by showering minorities with rights while segregating them from, rather than absorbing them into, the rest of society. Multiculturalism dovetailed with a diminished Western ethos that suited libertarians as well as liberals.
A re-jiggering of the balance between rights and responsibilities strikes me as long overdue in many contexts throughout the West, not least with regard to radical Islamist fire-brands dwelling-on-the-dole in Euro-land, say. As Robert Leiken points out, after all, the person who impaled a note on Theo van Gogh's dying body was collecting unemployment benefits disbursed by the Dutch social welfare kitty. This speaks to something of a fundamental flaw in the current societal compacts being struck through Europe between the state and some of its most deeply alienated citizens. Much thought and work lies ahead, that much is sure, as these are issues of huge import to, not only the global struggle against terrorism and extremism, but also the future of Western liberal polities writ large. Yes, evoking a sense of 'Britishness' or 'Dutchness' is important. So is reaching out to moderates within the Muslim world so as to help spur on something of a reformation within Islam. But one can't help thinking these ideas, while generally sound, are more by way of ad hoc damage control measures, thinly conceived and in nascent form, than anything systematically thought out in disciplined fashion. That's not to say they shouldn't be pursued, assiduously even. But much more thinking is required yet. Reformations take decades; and 'Britishness' cannot necessarily be force fed to a radicalized Somali or Eritrean, for instance. These issues will be worked out over a generation or more--and there will not be any easy fixes. All this said, I wish to stress again that conflict resolution in all this would be a huge boon. This means Chechnya, and Kashmir, and Palestine, and Iraq, among others. Instability and hate metastasize more easily when gaping wounds bleed daily and are beamed around the world via satellite television and the Internet.
UPDATE: Yes, as some commenters point out, conflict resolution doesn't just happen, you know, with a snap of the fingers. We will revisit that angle in more detail.
August 01, 2005
Frist and Stem Cells
Yes, Majority Leader Bill Frist has risen in my esteem this past week from a dismal Schiavo-era nadir. And I suspect in the minds of many of his old M.D. colleagues and friends too. To hell with the Dobsonites and their reactionary ilk--this was the right move on principle, and politically nimble to boot. Frist needed to carve out some space in the center, and I suspect many social conservatives will either have forgotten or not hold against him this position two/three years hence. In all likelihood, this blog will be pulling for John McCain in '08, of course. But it's good to see Frist wrestle with his conscience, seemingly genuinely, and choose the ideals of his profession and scientific progress over kow-towing to the supposed 'values voter' brigades.
UPDATE: On re-reading this, and after reading some of the comments (this one, especially), I think my treatment of this issue was pas a la hauteur, as the French might say. It's not just varied Dobsonites who have valid ethical concerns regarding the handling of stem cell research, and I was too quick to dismiss more reasonable constituencies that may have been discomforted by Frist's move as well. That said, I'm still with Frist, and will choose to conveniently align myself in substance and tone with the irrepressible Plameologist Tom Maguire on this issue. Yes, the federalist 'let the states decide' position certainly has an appeal--but I'm concerned about losses in efficiency, and I think it's simply too important an initiative (perhaps too optimistically, as I'm certainly no expert on the potential of stem cell research to cure the world's ills, with my previous and esteemed guest blogger, for instance, more dubious)to leave solely to the modalities and caprices of state funding programs.
A final update, this time on McCain: I didn't mean to all but pre-announce that I'm definitively on board with McCain should he run in '08 as there are certainly other potential candidates (Hagel, Giuliani, and perhaps others still...) that I would weigh supporting very carefully too. Just for the record.
The NYT and the Niger/Uranium Story
Steven Weisman, in yesterday's NYT in a piece on the latest Bolton going-ons, writes thusly:
The State Department has admitted that, as Mr. Biden charged, Mr. Bolton had been interviewed in a previous inquiry into one particular intelligence failure on Iraq, the finding that Iraq had tried to buy raw uranium from Niger for a nuclear arms program. That finding turned out to be based on forged documents. [emphasis added]
Over at W 43rd Street, I guess, the Butler Report (PDF) has been consigned to the dustbin of history or, at least, appears to be blissfully ignored. Let's quote, at length, from said report:
6.4 URANIUM FROM AFRICA
So when Weisman writes, in a non-opinion hard news story in the leading paper in the land, that "the finding that Iraq had tried to buy raw uranium from Niger for a nuclear arms program...turned out to be based on forged documents"--he's being, shall we say, a bit economical with the truth. The finding was based on something more than just forgeries, it would seem, at least if you believe the report of a leading independent U.K. jurist. Of course, the NYT has been quite sloppy about this story for at least over a year now (click thru for how Weisman's piece is poorly worded indeed even if you are just dealing with the SSCI report and the U.S. intelligence side of the fence).
I know I beat on this story a bit like a dead horse. I do so largely because the sixteen words of the SOTU have been used by many as partisan talking point to scream 'Bush lied'! But if you dig into the weeds of the investigations that have taken place--one must judiciously conclude that he didn't. This is not to say that intelligence was not analyzed aggressively or that there were not people at the CIA or State who were more dubious than others in the intelligence community about the Niger/uranium information available. Look, would it have been better if Bush had said in the SOTU: "The British Government suspects (rather than "has learned") that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa"? Yeah. But the statement wasn't some horrific Big Lie, even if the formulation wasn't ideal. And it's not as if, but for the Niger/uranium claim, Bush's case for war would have crumbled. Read the '03 SOTU...there was a long list of Iraq related grievances indeed...
A final point. You'll hear a lot from the predictable quarters that the Iraq Survey Group turned up no uranium. That's true, of course. But this doesn't have a bearing on whether Bush lied. Intelligence is a murky realm, and definitive judgments are hard to come by. One must weigh evidence and make reasoned analyses. The British did so, and are on the record stating that there were non-forgery related sources that Iraq was seeking uranium in the late 90s from Niger and perhaps the Congo too. Similarly, the SSCI references some DIA intel unrelated to the forgeries that, while no slam dunk, at least left open the possibility Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa. The fact that no uranium turned up after the invasion certainly means our intelligence gathering needs to be improved, and that we must continue to strenuously keep vigil that intelligence is not crudely politicized to fit pre-determined agendas. But nothing about the Iraq Survey Group's post-war uranium findings (or lack thereof) points to an administration that was knowingly, intentionally, purposefully lying on the issue in the advent to war.
Guy Dinmore, the FT's intrepid man about Washington:
The US is working with Britain and France to undermine the appeal of Muslim extremism by reaching out to moderate groups, in a sign that its counter-terrorism strategy is moving beyond the “war on terror”. US and European officials say the Bush administration's review--expected to lead to a formal declaration of a new national strategy--represents not just a shift to a more multilateralist approach towards foreign policy but also an important development in thinking away from the emphasis on the military.
Zelikow is tight with Condi so this effort is definitively blessed from the very top. This strikes me as smart policy. Not all Islamists are created equal, after all, despite what you read in certain boorish quarters of the blogosphere. To conflate all Islamists as akin to the worst al-Qaeda fanatics is, of course, the height of idiocy (more on this here). I'm not saying anyone in the administration necessarily thought this (though Frumites and such doubtless dimly do), but it's nice to see that words like "sophisticated" and "nuanced" (the horror! the meekness!) appear to matter more in Bush's second term than in the first.
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
What You Should Be Reading On Iraq
Condi's Reception at State
Some Non-Iraq News...
The Flypaper Fallacy: 10 Reasons Not To Believe the Hype
The View from the Pentagon
Drift and Muddle?
The Liberal Hawks and Iraq
English Language Media
New York Times
The New Yorker
Real Clear Politics
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
Katrina vanden Heuvel
The American Scene
Winds of Change
The Reliable Source
Law & Finance
Bull and Bear Wise
Corporate Counsel Blog
Corp Law Blog
Deal Lawyers Blog
New York Observer
Central and Eastern Europe
Across the Bay
Bliss Street Journal
American in Lebanon
B.D. In the Press
The Sunday Times(UK)"If It Makes America Look Bad It Must Be True, Musn't It?"
The Guardian "Trial and Error"
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