September 30, 2005

Responsibility Runs Up, Not Down

Joseph Galloway (hat tip: Intel Dump)

There have been 17 separate investigations of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other prisoner abuse scandals. All have gone straight to the bottom of every case. All have consistently claimed that no one higher up the chain of command, including the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, bears any responsibility for any of this.

Hogwash. BS. Nonsense.

If the lowest private fails, then others have failed in training, leading and directing that private. The chain runs from sergeant to lieutenant to captain to lieutenant colonel to colonel to one, two, three and four stars, on to the longest serving, most arrogant secretary of defense in our history, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and beyond him to the commander in chief, President Bush.

It's long past time for responsibility to begin flowing uphill in this administration. It's time for our leaders to take responsibility for what's being done in all our names and under our proud flag. It's time for Congress to do its job if the administration won't do its job.

What he said.

P.S. This isn't some America-hater writing this, Norman Schwarzkopf has called Galloway "(t)he finest combat correspondent of our generation--a soldier's reporter and a soldier's friend." ( link) Yes, people who care, really care, about the repute of our military are simply outraged by the lack of real accountability. Rumsfeld has brought dishonor on the nation, and Bush has been too clueless to realize it. This is the sad reality we face.

P.P.S. Yes, Bush desparately needs a Clark Clifford. But where is he?

Posted by Gregory at 02:02 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

Secrecy is For Losers?

Judge Hellerstein:

The terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan do not need pretexts for their barbarism; they have proven to be aggressive and pernicious in their choice of targets and tactics. They have driven exploding trucks into groups of children at play and men seeking work; they have attacked doctors, lawyers, teachers, judges and legislators as easily as soldiers. Their pretexts for carrying out violence are patent hypocrisies, clearly recognized as such except by those who would blur the clarity of their own vision. With great respect to the concerns expressed by General Myers, my task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government.


Suppression of information is the surest way to cause its significance to grow and persist. Clarity and openness are the best antidotes, either to dispel criticism if not merited or, if merited, to correct such errors as may be found. The fight to extend freedom has never been easy, and we are once again challenged, in Iraq and Afghanistan, by terrorists who engage in violence to intimidate our will and to force us to retreat. Our struggle to prevail must be without sacrificing the transparency and accountability of government and military officials. These are the values FOIA was intended to advance, and they are at the very heart of the values for which we fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a risk that the enemy will seize upon the publicity of the photographs and seek to use such publicity as a pretext for enlistments and violent acts. But the education and debate that such publicity will foster will strengthen our purpose and, by enabling such deficiencies as may be perceived to be debated and corrected, show our strength as a vibrant and functioning democracy to be emulated.

Shorter Hellerstein: Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And strong societies let the sun shine in.

To wit, the judge quotes the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan who, in turn, quotes George Kennan:

[A] huge proportion of the government’s effort at classifying is futile anyway. Let [George F.] Kennan have the last word. In a letter of March 1997 he writes: “It is my conviction, based on some 70 years of experience, first as a government official and then in the past 45 years as an historian, that the need by our government for secret intelligence about affairs elsewhere in the world has been vastly overrated.”…

A case can be made…that secrecy is for losers. For people who don’t know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage. We put it in peril by poking along in the mode of an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most pervasive of Cold War-era regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us.

This is not to say confidential information must not be zealously safeguarded at times. But this is manifestly not one of those times, and the Abu Ghraib pics are not strategically sensitive. The contention that release of these pictures will lead to renewed insurgent firepower and the deaths of American soldiers is grossly exaggerated. It is rank hyperbole and fear-mongering. We know the killers in Iraq have no qualms about massacring innocents for no reason whatsoever, and similarly they will kill every single American soldier that they can get their hands on--Abu Ghraib pics or no Abu Ghraib pics. Ah, you say, but the ranks of the insurgency might grow? Bunk. The dirty little secret about Abu Ghraib is that it shocked the West more than it did Iraqis. They were so used to horrific mistreatement under Saddam, most of it much worse, that while disgusted and cynical (Abu Ghraib under new management!) the earlier revelations from Abu Ghraib had not lead to as much outrage as, say, the faux-Koran desecration story. No, these pictures won't swell the ranks of the insurgency. But they might force more Americans out of their sad stupor about how our reputation as leading avatar of human rights is being sullied and morally compromised in the international arena.

At least this is my hope. Meantime, I repeat, where are our 'leaders' on this? Why is McCain not louder? Warner? And why the so deafening silence by Democrats (Hillary Rodham, anyone)? I think I know. The Democrats have no spine and are scared to be deemed anti-troop--the kiss of death with its ghosts and connotations of Vietnam/McGovern era defeatism. But these are the times when leaders are meant to buck popular disinterest and lead, explain, agitate--so as to improve and rejuvenate this great nation's moral fiber and adherence to bedrock aspects of international law like the Geneva Conventions. (And, to boot, Fishback's travails provide a relatively easy avenue. Here is an honorable Army Captain, a man who struggled in vain to seize his superiors of abuses taking place around him. And he was instead ingloriously ignored and told to remember the honor of the unit and hush hush and so on. I say, defend this man, loudly, and by defending him, defend the greatest and most noble traditions of our military. Hillary could navigate this tight-rope, but she isn't, is she?) Instead, the silence of cowardice and mediocrity reigns. Is it any wonder most Americans are disgusted by their political class?

Posted by Gregory at 05:26 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Department of Delicious Ironies

From Hellerstein's opinion:

The government also opposes production because, it argues, doing so would conflict with the United States’ obligations under the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3316, 74 U.N.T.S. 135 (the “Third Geneva Convention”) provides that a detaining power must protect a prisoner of war “particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.” Art. 13. The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 U.S.T. 3516, 75 U.N.T.S. 287 (the “Fourth Geneva Convention”) provides that civilians under detention are entitled to “respect for their persons, their honor...shall at all times be treated humanely, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.” Art. 27. Defendants present evidence that the United States historically has interpreted these two conventions to forbid the taking and publishing of photographs of detainees, see Decl. of Edward R. Cummings, Ass’t Legal Adviser for Arms Control and Verification, Dep’t of State, dated Mar. 24, 2005, ¶¶ 12-17 [hereinafter Cummings Decl.], and argue that publication of the photographs in this case would conflict with the United States’ treaty obligations thereunder. See id. ¶ 19; Decl. of Geoffrey S. Corn, Special Ass’t to Judge Advocate Gen. for Law of War Matters, Dep’t of Army, dated Mar. 25, 2005, ¶¶10-11 [hereinafter Corn Decl.]. The government’s treaty interpretations are entitled to respect. See Kolovrat v. Oregon, 366 U.S. 187, 194 (1961) (“While courts interpret treaties for themselves, the meaning given to them by the departments of government particularly charged with their negotiation and enforcement is given great weight.”). The government argues that “[e]ven if the identities of the subjects of the photographs are never established,” those subjects could suffer humiliation and indignity against which the Geneva Conventions were intended to protect. Corn Decl. ¶ 11. It also states, without supporting documentation, that the ICRC has taken the position that the Third Geneva Convention forbids publishing images that “show prisoners of war in degrading or humiliating positions or allow the identification of individual POWs.” Cummings Decl. ¶ 17. The redactions and withholding that I ordered should protect civilians and detainees against “insults and public curiosity” and preserve their “honor.” Production of these images coheres with the central purpose of FOIA, to “promote honest and open government and to assure the existence of an informed citizenry [in order] to hold the governors accountable to the governed,” Nat’l Council of La Raza v. DOJ, 411 F.3d 350, 355 (2d Cir. 2005). Accordingly, I hold that the government may not withhold the Darby photographs, redacted to eliminate all identifying characteristics of the persons shown in the photographs, under Exemptions 6 and 7(C).

Hey, sometimes the GVA Conventions matter, and sometimes they don't!

Posted by Gregory at 05:15 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Fishback's Motivation to Whistle: Rumsfeld's Misrepresentations

USA Today:

Fishback said his interest in reporting the abuses was sparked by congressional testimony in May 2004 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld said that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan follow rules in the Geneva Conventions barring prisoner abuse. That "raised a red flag," Fishback said. He said that he believed U.S. troops were not adhering to the conventions and that there was confusion over what behavior was acceptable.

Fishback said he considered it his duty to come forward. But, he said, "A lot of men I hold a great deal of respect for are going to hate me right now."

That's OK Mr. Fishback. You've got balls, and honor, and dignity, and courage, and integrity. And that's a lot more than can be said for many of your superiors. Stay strong, and rest very much assured you did the right thing.

Posted by Gregory at 04:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kill the Lawyers!

--"Hellerstein should be drawn and quartered."

A guest (a Col. Hunt) on Bill O'Reilly's show, reacting to SDNY judge Alvin Hellerstein's decision (which will of course be appealed) to allow release of the next batch of Abu Ghraib pics. The scary thing? Colonel Hunt was the one arguing accountability went above Karpinski to Sanchez--the other guest wouldn't even countenance that.

Mr. Murdoch, are you ever embarrassed by it all, in quiet moments of self-reflection? I know Roger Ailes isn't, but you, just perhaps?

P.S. O'Reilly: "The Bush Administration has a big problem." No, not because of the moral stain of the growing abuse scandal, O'Reilly appears to intimate, but because he is worried the Bushies may be too weak-kneed to appeal Hellerstein all the way up to SCOTUS. It's almost funny it's so absurd, until I remember millions are imbibing said absurdities with credulity.

P.P.S. Dan Senor, former Bremer spokesman: Playing chummy with O'Reilly on Hellerstein's decision being bad for the troops. Pity, I thought Senor had character...but he does have a cool documentary on Saddam airing on Fox over the weekend!

UPDATE: O'Reilly's nightly 'memo':

Now I firmly believe most Democrats are as angry with Hellerstein's ruling as I am. I heard from some of them today on the radio. This is a far left problem, not a mainstream problem.

Finally, where the deuce is the Pentagon? How many generals stepped up today to denounce Hellerstein's ruling? They should be all over the media. There's an old adage in the military, look out for your guys. Are they looking out for their guys? And that's “The Memo.”

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack


In the midst of a good deal of Administration-bashing in this space of late, I should pause and take note of the excellent job getting John Roberts approved as Chief Justice. He is a near-perfect pick, and I can only hope Bush can replace O'Connor as skillfully as he did Rehnquist. In this vein, don't miss this old Jeffrey Rosen piece.

Money quote:

But the more important distinction is between principled conservatives (who believe in deference to legislatures through judicial restraint) and conservative activists (who are determined to use the courts to strike at the heart of the regulatory state). The activists want to resurrect what they call the "Constitution in Exile," enforcing limits on federal power, that have been dormant since the New Deal, in part through narrow interpretation of the interstate commerce clause.

I'm with the so-called principled conservative wing, and I'd urge the President to go with either J. Michael Luttig or Michael McConnell. Both are quite young, and so will be a strong presence on the court for decades. I'd probably lean Luttig all told, but would guess Bush might go with McConnell. Why? He's personally pro-life, so that might assuage suspicious social conservatives and evangelicals and such, but note, per Rosen:

McConnell is the most respected conservative legal scholar of his generation, and liberals and moderates throughout the legal academy would enthusiastically support his nomination. Liberal interest groups, unfortunately, would aggressively oppose it because he is personally pro-life and is also a vocal and effective critic of Roe. As usual, though, a single-minded focus on Roe would be misguided: McConnell has a deep respect for precedent. More than anyone else in the country, McConnell is responsible for persuading the Supreme Court to abandon the rigid church-state separationism that prevailed during the 1970s, arguing instead that the state should be neutral toward religion. As a result, he supports school vouchers, but, unlike Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist, he argued that graduation prayers in public schools were unconstitutional even before the Court struck them down in 1992. On federalism, McConnell's record is especially encouraging. More than the other candidates on Bush's short list, McConnell believes that judges should defer to Congress's power to define illegal discrimination. [emphasis added]

No to Edith Brown Clement, to Janice Rogers Brown. And no to Garza and Gonzalez (he of defining torture down). No need to artifically fill a 'Hispanic' seat, let's go with the best qualified 'principled' conservative out there. Memo to POTUS: Give yourself another break, go with Luttig or McConnell (the former, ideally). It will make your life easier, and you'll be doing the right thing by the Supreme Court to boot.

UPDATE: Oh no, Pej is reprimanding me on my (too) approving Rosen quotes...

Posted by Gregory at 03:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005


We get nice mail for a change!

I have previously written you about my own frustrations and disgrace at defending this administration about the war in iraq, but I would just like to write you a brief note to let you know that you are by far the most coherent, reasonable and honest blogger I have seen so far concerning the the war. I honestly believe, to the core, that it is of the utmost importance to american security that we succeed (whatever that may be at this point) in iraq and I think you provide a noble and needed service by holding those in charge's feet to the fire regarding the conduct of the war.

keep up the good work up, b/c when all is said and written, history will look back on people such as yourself (not the cheerleaders) as the disregarded minority who truly wanted to win this war. blind support of the war does not equate to advancing its goals, i wish more people would recognize this. the way things are going, if this war fails, conservatives will blame liberal opposition for the failed iraq policy, but in reality it is these very conservative pundits who purport to hold accountability and ability as their standards (as do I), but failed to apply these valuable principles to their own leaders who will be at fault.

Posted by Gregory at 11:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Not Paris?

The 7/7 bombings were all about the Iraq war, right? Ah, but alas the French don't appear to get a pass as a result of their noble non-interventionist policies...

Nine Islamic militants arrested outside Paris on Monday were plotting a terrorist attack on the Paris subway system, an airport or France's intelligence headquarters, an intelligence official said Tuesday, raising fears that the capital could face bombings similar to those that killed more than 50 people in London in July.

"The moment that there is a verbal threat, we have to act," the intelligence official said, adding that the nine suspects had been under surveillance since the beginning of the year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official's organization requires it.

France has stepped up surveillance of its subway system in the wake of the London attacks and updated its emergency response plans to take into account multiple bombings.

On Monday, the Interior Ministry warned that France was facing a "high level threat" of attack.

Posted by Gregory at 04:54 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack


Even the most committed Rumsfeld-phobe (which I most assuredly am) struggles to believe this:

Another source informs that the word is around that Rumsfeld has taken a strong interest in this. He is quoted as saying "Either break him or destroy him, and do it quickly." And no doubt about it, that is just what they are doing. Expect some trumped up charges against Fishback soon, similar to what they did to Muslim Chaplain Captain James Yee, whom they accused of treason with no solid evidence and then, when those charges evaporated, went on to accuse him of adultery. The bottom line, as the NYT reports today, is that the military and the Bush administration are determined to stop any real investigation about how torture and abuse came to be so widespread in the U.S. military. The scapegoating of retarded underlings like Lynndie England is an attempt to deflect real responsibility for the new pro-torture policies that go all the way to the White House. It's a disgusting cover-up and it rests on breaking the will and resolve of decent servicemen and women brave enough to expose wrong-doing.

Would Rummy, who while despicable on many levels, I wouldn't accuse of being dumb (aside from his dim inability to plan for the post-war and an insurgency), really say "(e)ither break him or destroy him, and do it quickly"? I will say this. If I conclude in the coming days, analyzing data as rationally and reasonably as I can, that a cover-up to silence Fishback is being mounted from the top, that's when I get off the bus.

Posted by Gregory at 03:57 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Mono-Narratives on Iraq

Go read this blogger for a glass half-full chronicling of the real pressure al-Qaeda and affiliates have faced in Iraq of late. We can commend and appreciate his dutiful blogging on this score, but one can't help wonder, is he serving up something of a mono-narrative? To wit:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's network of al Qaeda-linked insurgents is emerging as a self-sustaining force, despite repeated blows by U.S. forces and the reported death of his second-in-command, U.S. intelligence officials and other experts say.

The Zarqawi network, responsible for some of the Iraqi insurgency's bloodiest attacks, has grown into a loose confederation of mainly native Iraqis trained by former Baath Party regime officers in explosives, small arms, rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

Since U.S. counter-insurgency assaults forced many of its operatives to exit Iraq's cities, counterterrorism officials say al Qaeda has been trying to set up a safe haven for training and command operations in western Anbar province.

"The suggestion is that this has shifted from being a terrorist network to a guerrilla army," said Vali Nasr, a national security affairs expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

"If this were not checked, the insurgents would become not only militarily more powerful, but politically more powerful. We're definitely trying to deny that milestone to Zarqawi."

U.S. military officials on Tuesday said they had killed Zarqawi's No. 2 in Iraq, an operative identified as Abu Azzam. Al Qaeda did not verify the U.S. claim.

But intelligence officials said the death of Zarqawi himself would not mean al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, partly because he has ceded authority over day-to-day operations to regional commanders and tribal leaders who operate according to his strategic guidelines.

"If he died in the cause, that's huge. That's what everybody wants. Then he's a giant figurehead and everybody can do something in his name," one intelligence official said.

"He has enough force in place to sustain operations," the official added. "Al Qaeda in Iraq ... regenerates very quickly. You knock off a guy who's in charge in a certain area, another person steps into the gap."

Zarqawi's network, believed to consist of 2,000 to 5,000 hardcore fighters and an equal number of active supporters, represents 10-15 percent of the Iraq insurgency in numbers of fighters, officials say.

Defense and counterterrorism officials said Zarqawi's insurgents have recently been joined by elements of Jaish Mohammad, a 4,000-member insurgent group loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. The addition gives Zaraqwi new tactical skills inside Baghdad, a defense official said.[emphasis added]

Some quick takes. Does the blogger address the possibility that al-Qaeda in Iraq, particularly through its tactical alliances with outfits like Jaish Mohammad, may be more self-sustaining that he appears to let on with his alluring charts of myriad ensnared leadership cadres? As for the reporting in the linked Reuters piece stating that al-Qaeda may be trying to reconstitute itself in western Anbar in more of a guerrilla guise, I do espy some good news on this score despite the article's more negative spin. al-Qaeda and friends do appear to be under more pressure in places like Tal Afar and Mosul, and thus are needing to find safe havens further removed from such key strategic locales. Nor, with threats of beheadings in these remote hamlets, do I think they are winning much by way of hearts and minds in far western Anbar. This said, there is something to the argument that Zarqawi's network is increasingly local Iraqi rather than foreign jihadist, and might be able to make a play in certain areas for more 'guerrilla' type standing (of which more later). Also, I strongly suspect the operational defeats that have been reportedly dealt them in places like Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi, Samarra (click through for a story on this last town) have been quite over-stated by some. For instance, the blogger I linked above writes: "Today, Fallujah, Ramadi, Hit and other towns along the eastern branch of the Euphrates River are under Coalition control [with the exception of Haditha, whose status is unclear]." Sorry, but that's just not true (or perhaps it depends on what the meaning of "control" is?), as this Army Times story makes clear. I could go on, but you get my point, no? People are busily constructing the narratives they want to believe in, often conveniently glossing over ugly realities. It's the POTUS bubble exported out to gullible blogospheric readers, many of whom are evidently all excited that WWIV is afoot and they can drop comments in cool blogs full of sexy, jingo-talk about operational tempo and insurgent kill ratios and such (and no, I'm not talking about Roggio's site here, which is more credible than many)--but it's certainly not contributing to educating policymakers about the situation on the ground in any serious fashion.

Meantime, many have gotten all in a tizzy about the latest Zarqawi right-hand man to get nabbed, an Abdullah Abu Azzam. Look, doubtless this guy was a ruthless killer responsible for significant carnage. But this wasn't Zarqawi's right hand man consiglieri-for-life etc. I mean, if this guy was such a big swinging dick, why the hell did we only have a 50K price on his head (compare that to 25MM for Zarqawi!)? Let's cool down, yes? The U.S. Army is performing noble work (apart from the odious minority of troops abusing prisoners and sending around jpegs of dead prisoners to porn sites, that is) hunting down these nihilistic thugs. Azzam was a middle to large-sized fish, and it's good we got him (better if we'd gotten him alive, of course).

But let's keep a lid on the hype, as if we're desparate for good news of something, and stay sober. In this vein, where are the big boys? Where is Bin Laden? Seriously. I live 6 blocks north of Ground Zero and think about that almost every day. Ditto Zawahiri. And, yes, Zarqawi too. Where are the king-pins? Why is our President reduced to hyping the capture of one of the many lieutenants of a Jordanian born terrorist scum? As Isikoff and Hosenball [ed. note: You still angry at me Mark?] report:

...veteran counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said today there are ample reasons to question whether Abu Azzam was really the No. 2 figure in the Iraqi insurgency. He noted that U.S. officials have made similar claims about a string of purportedly high-ranking terrorist operatives who had been captured or killed in the past, even though these alleged successes made no discernible dent in the intensity of the insurgency.

“If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they’ve arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d be a millionaire,” says Kohlmann, a New York-based analyst who tracks the Iraq insurgency and who first expressed skepticism about the Azzam claims in a posting on The Counterterrorism Blog. While agreeing that Azzam—also known as Abdullah Najim Abdullah Mohamed al-Jawari—may have been an important figure, “this guy was not the deputy commander of Al Qaeda,” says Kohlmann.

Three U.S. counterterrorism officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, also told NEWSWEEK today that U.S. agencies did not really consider Abu Azzam to be Zarqawi’s “deputy” even if he did play a relatively high-ranking role in the insurgency.

The characterization of Abu Azzam as No. 2 to Zarqawi is “not quite accurate,” said one of the officials. According to this official, it would be more correct to describe Abu Azzam as a “top lieutenant” to Zarqawi who was involved in “running” terrorist operations in Baghdad—not all of Iraq. Other top lieutenants operate in other parts of the country, the official indicated.

Two other officials agreed that Abu Azzam was a senior figure, perhaps the emir (leader), of Al Qaeda operations in Baghdad, and that he was of critical importance in moving funds to insurgent operatives in the Iraqi capital area. “He’s a money guy,” one official said. “He is significant but not No. 2 [to Zarqawi],” said another official.

Look, check this list out. Again, we were offering 50 grand, a pittance, for his capture. And now it's like we've caught UBL himself or something. Forgive me if I have to call BS. TCR, keep that 'trusted lieutenant' watch goin'....looks like you're gonna be busy for a while..

UPDATE: According to the Fourth Rail this town is under "coalition control." Again, sorry to be a party-pooper, but it just doesn't appear so...

Posted by Gregory at 02:46 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack


Kind of a sad statement, isn't it, that the travails of the Majority Leader of the party B.D. ostensibly gravitates towards leave me with a good measure of schadenfreude. I suppose it's no secret I've never liked DeLay, and while I am not an expert in TX electoral law and he deserves a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise, rest assured I won't be losing any sleep as this sordid saga plays out. Of course, on the other side of the aisle, the Nancy Pelosis and such are abject train-wrecks too, so there you are. I guess--despite moments of policy wonkdom withdrawal--B.D's happy to be in NYC and not Washington DC. Sad times in the Beltway, with enough cronyism, mediocrity and ass-covering to repel all but the heartiest souls. Back a little later this evening on other subjects du jour.

Posted by Gregory at 02:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Constitutional Wrangles

From the conclusion to a recently published ICG report:

The process of drafting a constitution has revealed -- indeed, exacerbated -- profound truths about the current state of Iraqi politics and society. First of all, the polity is marked by growing ethno-sectarianism in which Iraqis identify strictly with their own preferred, self-defined community and interpret events exclusively through an ethno-sectarian lens. Like the 30 January elections, the rushed constitutional process encouraged such polarisation as Iraqis sought to maximise their political gains on the basis of group identity. The political process thereby has become a dangerous sociological process of affirmation of one's ethnic/sectarian identity. The Kurds are a prime example, as they seek to maximise the possibility of later secession. But they are not alone. The Shiite political parties are also seeking to maximise their benefits regardless of the viability of the future Iraqi state, and Sunni Arabs are in a reflexive, "anti-everything" mode to protect what they have left. Initiatives to establish non-sectarian political parties or movements have largely failed. The only such movement of any significance today is the highly informal and purely tactical alliance between Muqtada al-Sadr's Shiite followers and segments of the Sunni Arab community.

A second truth is that the disparate class of former exiles and expatriates that has ruled Iraq since the war and has drafted both the TAL and the current constitution is virtually as out of touch with popular sentiment as it was April 2003. Some are seen, with a certain justification, as carpet-baggers intent on capitalising on skills learned in exile. Others have proved incapable of bridging the yawning gap between their worldview and that of most Iraqis, who have never had the chance to express themselves freely, develop their political views or travel outside the country. Muqtada al-Sadr's brand of fiery nationalism feeds in part on the resentment many ordinary Iraqis feel toward these outsiders, who arrived to take power on the heels of a foreign military intervention that many experienced as liberating and humiliating in equal measure.

What these suggest is that the fissures tearing apart Iraq's body politic may be too deep to heal, certainly by a process as contentious as the drafting of a constitution. Such a process and its end product were never deemed sufficient by themselves to calm the feuding communities. Unfortunately, the way in which drafting was conducted has excited rather than pacified the situation. At this point, however, without a national consensus embodied in a permanent constitution, there is little that can halt the slide toward civil war, chaos and dissolution. Drafting a constitution based on compromise and consensus arguably could have been a first step in a healing process. Instead, it is proving yet another step in a process of depressing decline.

Today, only a determined political intervention by the U.S. might be capable of creating the elusive political consensus that could help prevent the country's violent break-up. Only Washington may have the leverage necessary to bring the sides around the table to forge a durable compact, as leaders of all three communities readily acknowledge. If the U.S. tries, it should suggest language to bridge existing gaps. The questions of federalism and Baath party membership will need to be addressed head-on. The administration should push leaders of the three communities to continue negotiations, not over amendments to the constitution, but over a political agreement that would serve as a guarantee that future legislatures would not threaten the existential interests of one of Iraq's principal communities.

Ultimately, while the successful negotiation of an agreement embraced by Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs may help restabilise Iraq, there is no guarantee it will do so. It must be accompanied by concerted steps to halt sectarian strife and pursue a broadly acceptable solution to the question of Kirkuk, whose unresolved status may ignite a war between Arabs and Kurds. If the U.S. fails to pick up the baton, Iraq may face a scenario in which the constitution is adopted on 15 October and a government is elected by 15 December that will lack a strong political compact underpinning its legitimacy. In that case, the country's feared descent into civil war and disintegration, with mass expulsions in areas of mixed population (including Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk), could well become a reality.

It has been suggested that the constitution could be rejected on 15 October, opening the way for new elections (one in which Sunni Arabs are presumed to drop their boycott and participate in large numbers), a new national assembly, and a renewed effort to draft the constitution within a year. This assumes the Sunni Arabs' ability to muster a two-thirds majority in any three governorates or, in alliance with other disaffected elements, a simple majority nationwide. While Sunni Arabs are thought to constitute the demographic majority in four governorates (al-Anbar, Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Diyala), the community is probably too divided -- over whether to vote and thereby legitimise the process or stay home and suffer a constitution harmful to their interests -- to be able to mobilise sufficient turn-out. And while other Iraqis opposed to the constitution, such as, potentially, followers of Muqtada Sadr, may come out in large numbers to vote "no", they are largely absent in predominantly Sunni Arab governorates, and along with the Sunni Arabs are unlikely to clear the 50+ per cent threshold needed to defeat the constitution nationwide.

Wouldn't that be ironic? Maybe Hinderaker is right, and this is good news! We should be rooting for a defeat of the constitution, and celebrating the prospects of high Sunni turn-out! The Sunnis would see that the ballot-box can work, and there would be new breathing room for a constitutional process that didn't appear to shove a Shi'a-Kurdish condominium down the throats of the aggrieved Sunnis. Maybe that would finally weaken the insurgency...yes, I'm being somewhat facetious (I think!). Seriously, however, one must wonder if the Shi'a and Kurds would be willing to wait out another year of constitutional wrangling, should the constitution be defeated (which is doubtful), instead of forgoing protracted negotiations for the temptations of crude majoritarianism. But that's where, of course, the U.S. troop presence comes in. If we are there, we can help guide the process and act as facilitator and behind-the-scenes arbitrator. If we cut and run, the chances of a civil war ratchet up hugely. I wouldn't be surprised, especially if the constitution were somewhow defeated, to see American forces more and more in a posture of animosity with the Shi'a (including non-Sadrites, in the first instance, as Sadr is opposed to the constitution--though he would then join a Shi'a insurrection) and Kurds--with U.S. forces playing more of a protective role vis-a-vis the Sunni (Zarqawi and fundamentalists groupings aside). Stranger things have happened...

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

The Beslanization of Insurgent Tactics

Sabrina Tavernise:

Armed men dressed as police officers burst into a primary school in a town south of Baghdad on Monday, rounded up five Shiite teachers and their driver, marched them to an empty classroom and killed them, a police official said.

Classes had just finished for the day at the Jazeera primary school in Muwelha, a Sunni Arab suburb of Iskandariya, when the gunmen entered the building at 1:15 p.m., forced the six men into the room and shot them dead.

The killings took place while some children were still at the school.

In the past, teachers have rarely if ever been singled out, and this attack raised fears that Iraqi schools, largely unprotected, could become targets. But the killings appeared to have been motivated more by sectarian hatred than any animosity toward the profession, said the official, who identified himself as Capt. Abu al-Hars.

He said the gunmen were disguised Sunni Arab fighters. Shiite civilians of all types have been victims of insurgent attacks in recent weeks...

...The attackers "are only animals - their only culture is of bloodshed," said Abdul Hassan Adaiy, a Shiite teacher at the Sajad primary school in Karbala, south of Muwelha, who said he feared that a precedent might have been set.

Teachers have largely been spared the violence that has struck at other occupations, including doctors, police officers and soldiers. Like members of other professions, they have gained since the American-led invasion, with salaries rising to several hundred dollars a month, up from less than $20 under Mr. Hussein.

There are few things lower than assassinating schoolteachers, particularly in proximity to young children. But these are the tactics of our savage enemy. Of course, such actions certainly won't win any hearts and minds. And with Sistani restraining movement towards wide-scale reprisals, the strategy hasn't succeeded in stoking a civil war yet either. And, yes, we are making progress on train and equip, on some counter-insurgency operations in Anbar. But might it be too little too late? I mean what, really, did the recent campaign in Tal Afar accomplish? Yes, for now, al-Qaeda and allies have been denied a sanctuary in the city (funny how so few feting the offensive advised us it had become one!). There has been some decent intel picked up, and networks have been disrupted (if just for a little while). But so many of the insurgents fled the city (not enough troops to truly cordon the entire area--the manpower problem that has plagued this invasion from the get-go), and while some Iraqi units performed ably, U.S. military leaders on the ground are worried about the deep sectarian fissures such operations reveal. Put differently, are we training an army that will disintegrate in sectarian tension? And how much you wanna bet we'll have to be back in Tal Afar in just a few months regardless?

So, no, victory is not yet assured, and that is not a position the sole superpower should find itself in now nearing three years into a war effort. How did we get here? In large part, because too many of our leaders assumed a "cakewalk." The grim reality is they were abysmally ignorant of the historic dynamics of Iraq, and many of them remain in power and continue to play Pangloss, as do their willing enablers in the media and blogosphere. Of course, a Kerry victory would have meant a speedy withdrawal from Iraq. Anyone who read the tea-leaves, with judiciousness and integrity, well understood that 'phased withdrawal' would have started quite quickly indeed in a Kerry administration, with some 'decent' interval and mostly faux linkage to 'conditionality'.

At least Bush is sticking it out. After all, of course, it would be much easier for him to pull the plug, would it not, in the face of difficult polling numbers? But simply 'staying the course' isn't good enough either--particularly in the face of an insurgency that remains quite resilient and adapts. Why not face these realities full-square, and think about how how, just maybe, all isn't going as swell as some claim in Anbar Province, say, or for that matter, in Baghdad and Mosul? More realistic appraisals of the situation on the ground, rather than perma-spin, would perhaps help lead to new strategies, and might not this be welcome? I took a stab at outlining one a few days back which, while far from perfect and open to all kind of criticism, at least acknowledges that we are much further from our Iraq goals than many of our leaders let on. Why is this some blasphemous crime for so many?

Meantime, the ICG is out with a new report. They share some of B.D.'s previously stated concerns re: the constitution-drafting process:

Instead of healing the growing divisions between Iraq's three principal communities -- Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs -- a rushed constitutional process has deepened rifts and hardened feelings. Without a strong U.S.-led initiative to assuage Sunni Arab concerns, the constitution is likely to fuel rather than dampen the insurgency, encourage ethnic and sectarian violence, and hasten the country's violent break-up.

At the outset of the drafting process in June-July 2005, Sunni Arab inclusion was the litmus test of Iraqi and U.S. ability to defeat the insurgency through a political strategy. When U.S. brokering brought fifteen Sunni Arab political leaders onto the Constitutional Committee, hopes were raised that an all-encompassing compact between the communities might be reached as a starting point for stabilising the country. Regrettably, the Bush administration chose to sacrifice inclusiveness for the sake of an arbitrary deadline, apparently in hopes of preparing the ground for a significant military draw-down in 2006. As a result, the constitution-making process became a new stake in the political battle rather than an instrument to resolve it.

Rushing the constitution produced two casualties. The first was consensus. Sunni Arabs felt increasingly marginalised from negotiations beginning in early August when these were moved from the Constitutional Committee to an informal forum of Shiite and Kurdish leaders, and have refused to sign on to the various drafts they were shown since that time. The text that has now been accepted by the Transitional National Assembly, in their view, threatens their existential interests by implicitly facilitating the country's dissolution, which would leave them landlocked and bereft of resources.

The second casualty was the text itself. Key passages, such as those dealing with decentralisation and with the responsibility for the power of taxation, are both vague and ambiguous and so carry the seeds of future discord. Many vital areas are left for future legislation that will have less standing than the constitution, be more vulnerable to amendment and bear the sectarian imprint of the Shiite community given its likely dominance of future legislatures.

On 15 October 2005, Iraqis will be asked, in an up-or-down referendum, to embrace a weak document that lacks consensus. In what may be the worst possible outcome, it is likely to pass, despite overwhelming Sunni Arab opposition. The Kurdish parties and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have a proven ability to bring out their followers, and the Sunni Arabs are unlikely to clear the threshold of two thirds in three provinces required to defeat it. Such a result would leave Iraq divided, an easy prey to both insurgents and sectarian tensions that have dramatically increased over the past year.

The U.S. has repeatedly stated that it has a strategic interest in Iraq's territorial integrity but today the situation appears to be heading toward de facto partition and full-scale civil war. Options for salvaging the situation gradually are running out. Unfortunately, it is now too late to renegotiate the current document before the 15 October constitutional referendum or to set it aside altogether, postpone the referendum and start the process afresh with a new, more representative parliament following new legislative elections. The best of bad options having evaporated, all that may be left is for the U.S. to embark on a last-ditch, determined effort to broker a true compromise between Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs that addresses core Sunni Arab concerns without crossing Shiite or Kurdish red lines. [emphasis added]

Now, perhaps it wasn't fair of the authors of the ICG report to strongly intimate the constitutional deadline was a function of an American desire to draw-down, come what may, by '06 (see the bolded section above). After all, if we hadn't imposed a deadline, the bickering could go on for months upon months with perhaps no constitutional draft in the offing either. But still, it's certainly worth mulling over. More on this soon.

MORE, from footnote 22 in the ICG report:

U.S. officials were adamant that the drafters should not avail themselves of the six-month extension permitted by the TAL. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, for example, declared at the end of July: "We don't want any delays [in the constitutional process]. They're simply going to have to make the compromises necessary and get on with it". Quoted in Eric Schmitt, "Iraq gets blunt talk from Rumsfeld", International Herald Tribune, 28 July 2005. An independent Kurdish drafter told Crisis Group: "We, the members of the Constitutional Committee, demanded a one-month delay. But Human Hamoudi [the committee chairman] said we had to finish on time. The political leaders all want to get it done on time. They are following American orders. Bush, you see, is waiting on the phone". Crisis Group interview with Mahmoud Othman, Baghdad, 15 August 2005. Another drafter, Raja Habib Khuza'i, said that in mid-July, just after Sunni Arabs had joined the drafting committee, there was a growing call for extending the drafting process, especially from UIA members: "This was the first time that so many people were calling for it". Crisis Group interview, Baghdad, 13 July 2005

Look, it was always going to be exceedingly complex to manage the ascension of the Shi'a, with the concomitant reduction of Sunni primacy (in effect for decades if not centuries). Six months more was not some magic panacea, and the strategy of pushing the parties along isn't non-sensical at all. Still, the ICG report is worth reading in its entirety. Again, if you believe that democratization in the Middle East is a major American priority and generational committment--and that civil war in Iraq could deal death blows to this vision--why the big rush?

Posted by Gregory at 03:13 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Larsen Weighs In...

Commenter Dan Larsen, responding to my post questioning some breezy 'spheric cheerleading, writes:

Greg, there are five options, not just three:

1: Constitution passes despite solid Sunni opposition. The Sunnis grudgingly accept the Constitution and field candidates in the December elections.

2: Constitution passes despite solid Sunni opposition. The Sunnis boycott the December elections and leave their country to be governed by Shia and Kurds with solid American support. (of course, I guess there's 2a: the Sunnis rise up in open rebellion).

3: The Constitution fails due to solid Sunni opposition. The Kurds and Shia accept the continued governance under the provisions of the TAL, new elections are held in December.

4: The Constitution fails due to solid Sunni opposition. The Kurds and/or Shia do something stupid.

5: The Constitution passes with modest Sunni support.

Personally, I really don't think very many Sunnis will come out for the Constitution--your 30% projection for option 5 is probably overly optimistic. But where you have dug yourself into depression is by forgetting options 1 and 3.

Options 1 and 2:

The Sunnis may be in a position akin to those of the Anti-Federalists of the American Constitution: opposed to it, but willing to work within its framework should they be unable to muster the political power to defeat it. Remember, they are not merely opposing the Constitution, they are opposing the Constitution within the framework of the TAL--and there is evidence to suggest that the Sunnis are prepared to abide by the terms of the TAL, whether in adoption or rejection.

"Boycotting the referendum and parliamentary elections (in December) would be a lose-lose proposition. Our hope will be in the next parliament that will hopefully be more balanced than this one."--Sunni Negotiator Sadoun Zubaydi shortly after the Constitution was passed over Sunni objections
link here

I think that Sunni powerbrokers understand that open rebellion is suicide and that boycotting the parliamentary election in December should the Constitution be ratified is stupid. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from it, for the Kurds and Shia will govern without them with American support.

Simply put, the fact that Sunnis are registering in droves within the TAL framework--despite that they are doing so to oppose the Constitution--is incredibly good news. The Sunnis are being brought into the political process. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether the TAL's legitimacy will hold: Sunni acceptance if the Constitution passes. I think it will. I regard option 1 as considerably more likely than option 2.

Options 3 and 4:

The question is now whether the Kurds and the Shia will abide by the TAL if they lose the referendum (a possiblity the Tradesports futures market has at around 30%). I am rather more worried about Shia/Kurd stupidity should the Constitution fail than Sunni non-acceptance should it pass; there has been irresponsible Kurd talk of seccession. The key periods will be the two months between referendum and new elections--once the new parliament is in place, the ability to do something stupid and get away with it will be considerably less--and then the risk that talks could break down next year and the Shia/Kurds do something stupid then. I think the US will be able to hold things together between October and December, and then hopefully the situation on the ground by next year might be better to facilitate constitutional negotiations, but there is good cause to worry about option 4.

Here's my personal estimate of the likelihood of each option (accepting the Tradesports estimate, so 1+2+5=70%, 3+4=30%):

1: Constitution pass, Sunni accept: 50%
2: Constitution pass, Sunni reject: 5%
3: Constitution fail, Shia/Kurds accept: 15-20%
4: Constitution fail, Shia/Kurds do something stupid: 10-15%
5: Constitution pass with modest Sunni support: 15%

These are good points, and I'll admit that I've heard there may be more pragmatism and so-called Sunni 'buy-in' than my initial post may have let on. It's just that I am so sick and tired of the constant spin and cheap triumphalism I see in wide swaths of the blogosphere. This war, if we really mean to succeed, will likely take years yet, and in so many quarters of the right blogosphere victory has already been all but declared (some have already declared victory, rendering their credibility going forward, shall we say, de minimis!). I'm sick of it, because I think it imperils the war effort and our chances of ultimate success--not because I'm some closet MSM baddie who has some defeatist agenda. Thus my so-called 'cheap shots' (though even those I've been snarky with I have usually responded to substantively, more often than not, as I believe many of my regular readers would agree) that seem to bother more ennobled, above-the-fray souls so.

Bottom line: To come up with a real success strategy you have to grapple with the reality on the ground. And it's not what, for instance, Hinderaker lets on in his post--though Dan Larsen makes a fair point that I may have dug myself into a bit of a funk and, much like Hinderaker was too optimistic, perhaps I've been swinging too much in the other direction...

Posted by Gregory at 02:46 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 26, 2005

The Iran Conundrum

A Ledeenian cri de coeur!

This is not a war on terror, it is paralysis at best, and appeasement at worst. The hell of it is that it is costing thousands of lives, and will cost many more until the terror masters are destroyed, or we surrender. Those words were inconceivable for many years, but it is a sign of our present fecklessness that they are now entirely appropriate. We can still lose this war. And we cannot win it so long as we are blinded by our potentially fatal failure of strategic vision: we are in a regional war, but we have limited our actions to a single theater. Our most potent weapons are political and ideological, but our actions have been almost exclusively military.

Our main enemy, the single greatest engine in support of the terror war against us, whether Sunni or Shiite, jihadi, or secular, Arab or British or Italian or Spaniard, is Iran. There is no escape from this fact. The only questions are how long it will take us to face it, how effective we will be when we finally decide to act, and how terrible the price will be for our long delay.

Why so shy Michael, amidst all this discontent on Iran policy, to pepper your NRO pieces with more concrete policy proposals? Put differently, what exactly is "serious action"? Sanctions? 'Free Iran' safe havens? Carte blanche to Uzi Landau to rev up the IDF's finest for commando raids around Isfahan? Loudly pouring money to the democratic opposition, the better so they be crudely painted as collaborators of the Great Satan, and brutally put down while we helplessly wail on about it in the commentariat? With all respect to Michael, with whom I correspond in cordial fashion, can he please point me to a portion of his Iran oeuvre where he details a realistic, implementable Iran strategy (with specifics!).

Meanwhile, Drezner writes:

I'm not saying that a move to the Security Council won't make sense at some point. But given the oil market at present, Iran has more economic leverage than they might in the future.

"...given the oil market at present..." Points for understatement of the week, Dan!

More from Hoagland:

A decision by the Bush administration not to press for economic sanctions against oil-producing Iran was sealed by the destructive force that the two hurricanes targeted on U.S. refining facilities and the resulting leap in crude oil and gasoline prices [ed. note: Well, it could be worse]. "We were already moving toward asking the Security Council to do no more than put Iran's nuclear program on its agenda for constant review and prodding," says a senior European official. "The prospect of a call for sanctions driving oil above $100 a barrel seemed to kill any lingering enthusiasm in Washington for such a move now."

I think it was Goldman, a good while back when oil was still in the 40s, that called the real prospects of a super-spike price floating around $105/barrel. We're not there yet, but sanctions in Iran would be one way to get us north of $80 might quick. The problem is, I can't imagine oil prices going under $40 for linking pushing Iran sanctions to lower oil prices seems like something of a recipe for inaction for a long time indeed. But, regardless, would sanctions even work? I'm not persuaded they would have the intended effect, not by a long shot. They are just as likely to lead to less modernization, re-invigorated (yes, even more than current conditions!) oppression, xenophobia, nationalist re-awakening, etc etc. And did sanctions expedite Saddam's fall, or did they instead enrich his regime while, instead, his people suffered? Why would it be different with the mullah's (but wait, it's the post-Volker era!)?

Let's throw this out to comments. Has the time for resucitating a dialogue with Iran come? If it 'worked' (just perhaps!) for NoKo, mightn't it for Iran? Or are we just going to rag on those fuddy-duddy Euros for not being able to get results in their troika-rounds--while stewing helplessly in the Beltway with no better strategy really on offer?

P.S. I still think this is the best way forward.

...better for Washington to propose to Teheran a "compartmentalized process of dialogue, confidence building, and incremental engagement. The U.S. should identify the discrete set of issues where critical U.S. and Iranian interests converge, and must be prepared to make progress along separate tracks, even while considerable differences remain in other areas."

The key tracks? 1) Iran's role in Iraq and 2) Iran's nuclear weapons capability. Of less immediate urgency, in my view, (though still obviously of significant import) are 3) Iran's support for terror groups like Hezbollah and 4) democratic reforms within Iran.

Yes, I know that we've pretty much had zero formal diplomatic relations with Iran since they took over our Embassy in 1979. We've singled them out over the years, and rightly so, for particular opprobrium. But that was over a quarter century ago, and limited engagement needs to, at least, be seriously debated, no? What's the (serious) alternative? Why not a Chris Hill for Teheran? We've got lots to talk about, after all....or would that be signaling 'weakness'--as compared to the bravura performance (Rumsfeld saying mean things about us in press conferences!) that is so cowing the mullah's at present?

UPDATE: Michael responds via E-mail:

I have given those proposal so many times that I gasp when you ask for them yet again. They were already in "The War Against the Terror Masters," which was published months BEFORE we went into Iraq. I said at that time that Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia constituted a united front, that they "came bundled," and that they were planning a terror war against us in Iraq, modeled on what they did to us in Lebanon in the eighties. And so it was. I wanted, and still support, political action against Iran first, and then a primarily political campaign against Saddam and Assad.

I know that nobody gets credit for being right, but I do think that good policy rests on good analysis, and if the analysis was correct maybe my policy ideas have some merit.

The policy proposal is to do to them what we did to the Soviets (and
Milosovic, Marcos, Baby Doc, et al): support democratic revolution. There are many ways to do this, including open support to the dissidents, building a strike fund for the workers, especially those in transportation and the oil fields, getting the pro-democracy groups good communications gear like servers and laptops, and shaming our Western allies into defending the human rights of the political prisoners, from journalists to professors and students.

You seem to have bought into the myth that if we loudly defend the
dissidents, it only goads the regime into taking more brutal action. But that is wrong. Ask the victims, they will tell you. Even prisoners in the Nazi death camps had a markedly higher survival rate if they were singled out for support from the Allied countries. Prisoners who got presents and letters lived longer than those who remained anonymous to the world at large. Don't you think that Akbar Ganji is alive today because of the (fairly modest) campaign on his behalf? On these matters, we should trust the victims, and they want our support, just as the Ginsburgs, Havels, Walesas, Bukovskys and Sharanskys did during the Soviet tyranny.

Silence equals complicity, in my view, and you should be ashamed at trying to ridicule active support for pro-democracy forces. Anywhere. Anytime. Support for democracy should always be at the center of American foreign policy.

I am against sanctions, they don't work against hostile regimes and they only further punish the innocent.

Lots of people disagree with my advocacy of democratic revolution, mostly arguing that it won't work and it may make things worse for the people I want to help. But they said the same thing in the eighties, when I joined the Reagan Administration because of the president's determination to bring down the Soviet Empire. It took about ten years, didn't it? And we did it with a relatively small minority of the Soviet population willing to say they wanted to be free. In Iran, even the regime's own public opinion polls show more than seventy per cent of the people hate the regime.

Faster, please.

MORE: Dan Darling's w/ Ledeen on this one.

Posted by Gregory at 05:20 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Cole's New Exit Strategy; Same As The Old Exit Strategy

Lookie here, what happened to Juan Cole's much ballyhooed 10 point Iraq exit plan? It's, like, history. Cole's got us rushing to the exits, asap, as he writes today:

The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.

Good thing consistency is but the hobgoblin of little's Cole not even a month ago:

Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76, e.g. People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.

The first time I read Cole's ten point plan, I immediately suspected it was little more than a thinly veiled plan to exit Iraq asap. And that's exactly what it was, wasn't it? I mean, how could you seriously take an Iraq policy prescription that recommended all U.S. personnel vacating the major cities of Iraq under current conditions? What was this meant to achieve, handing over the streets of Baghdad and Mosul to the insurgency? Or the militias?

Cole (in last's months incarnation of an exit strategy):

1) US ground troops should be withdrawn ASAP from urban areas as a first step. Iraqi police will just have to do the policing. We are no good at it. If local militias take over, that is the Iraqi government's problem. The prime minister will have to either compromise with the militia leaders or send in other Iraqi militias to take them on. Who runs Iraqi cities can no longer be a primary concern of the US military. Our troops are warriors, not traffic cops.

2) In the second phase of withdrawal, most US ground troops would steadily be brought out of Iraq.

Well, now not even a month on, Cole has ingloriously dispensed with the fiction that he was in favor of some phased withdrawal (which, with his suggestion to start with the so critical cities, was the height of recklessness to begin with). We're now at, put simply, get the hell out asap! How can a knowledgeable regional expert like Cole not more seriously reckon with the impact such a hugely precipitous withdrawal would have in terms of destabilizing the region? Just a month ago, he was at least pretending to grapple with that reality. But no more...

Posted by Gregory at 04:21 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Relax, Voter Registration Afoot!

John Hinderaker:

This strikes me as rather astonishing good news from Iraq. Haider Ajina writes with a translation of an article that appeared today in Iraq Al-Ghad:

The city of Felujah, part of the Ramadi province (100km west of Baghdad), announced that 70% of its eligible residence have registered to vote in the new constitutional vote, and the general election to follow. Abdul Sattar Al-Jumaily, a Felujah city council member announced in a press conference in Felujah, that the city witnessed a large turn out at the voter registrations stations, we had 70% of eligible voters register. This shows that the city is preparing for the constitutional & the following general elections. Initially we only had four voter registration stations, then (due to overwhelming turn out) each station expanded to four more stations in areas all over Felujah. This led to a high registration of citizens who want to vote about the constitution, which will be the foundation of the elections following it.

Colonel Salah Ghalil Alaani chief of police of Felujah said that the security situation in the city is very stable. "We have over 700 police in stations all over the city. This is a much better situation in which to hold elections. Especially since the local tribal chiefs, religious leaders and the city council have all pledged to protect polling stations."

Seventy percent voter registration compares favorably, I believe, with many American cities. And this is Fallujah, hotbed of the "insurgency"! Good news indeed.

Hinderaker's view would appear rather glib and under-informed, no? Sure, it's nice to see lotsa people registering to vote. But they are likely registering to vote in droves because they are hell-bent on defeating the constitution. True, U.S. diplomats and others are working assiduously on the ground to get more Sunni buy-in for the constitution in the coming weeks. There is always hope they will do a bang up job of it in the coming days. I certainly hope so. But, at best, we've still got our hands full. So why always drearily spin rather than face reality so that we are at least reacting to events with our eye's open rather than deluding ourselves with empty cheer-leading?


West of Baghdad in the restive Sunni city of Ramadi, more than 1,000 people rallied Sunday to protest the constitution, Reuters reported. Sunni Arab leaders have angrily criticized the document and called for Iraqis to vote against it in the referendum, saying its provisions on regional autonomy could cripple Iraq and create an autonomous region in the south that would be dominated by Iran.

Sunni leaders in western and northern Iraq have said they have the support of Mr. Sadr, whose followers have also said they oppose the constitution's federal provisions. But his spokesmen have contended that Mr. Sadr has not taken a position on the document.

The march in Ramadi came a day after thousands of Shiites marched in support of the charter in Basra. On Thursday, Iraq's most senior religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, indicated that he would release a fatwa, or religious edict, urging Iraqis to vote in favor of the document. That fatwa could provide crucial support for the vote, but appears to have further sharpened the sectarian division over the constitution.

If two-thirds of the voters in any 3 of 18 provinces vote against the constitution, it will be defeated, and a new temporary national assembly will be elected in December to write a new constitution.

The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization active in Iraq, issued an unusually strong statement saying that the constitution could lead to a civil war unless it was amended before the Oct. 15 referendum. At a minimum, the group said, the constitution must be altered to say that no more than four provinces can become a region through fusion, "to assuage Sunni Arab fears of a Shiite super region in the south."

The way ahead remains full of perils. If the Sunnis are able to muster up a ballot-box defeat of the Constitution, it's back to the drawing-board (at which time the Shi'a and Kurds might lose patience with the process, and decide to do whatever they please). Contra this scenario, if the Sunnis aren't able to muster up enough votes (let's say they can't get 2/3rds in 3 provinces)--well, isn't it pretty likely that will only strenghten the insurgency? There's a third option, of course, that I hinted to above. That we peel away enough moderate Sunnis, ie. get the requisite buy-in, so that the constitution, not only is approved, but also leads to a material weakening of the insurgency. But, and as much as I wish that was how things turned out, I'd put the likelihood of that scenario around thirty or so percent (at least at this somewhat, all told, premature and unsettled juncture). But, for Hinderaker, 70% of Fallujans are geared up to vote! It compares favorably with voter registration rates in the good 'ol US of A (why, we could be in Minnesota even!), and democracy has arrived at the former citadel of the heretofore "insurgency" (Hindrocket quotes the word, as if, what, there isn't one...?)! But what's to worry about? Fallujah is free....rejoice...last throes!

Posted by Gregory at 02:14 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 25, 2005

A Deal on North Korea?

Sam Nunn, on North Korea:

SAM NUNN: I think this a breakthrough. I think this gives the foundation for further negotiations, which can be meaningful. And it does lay out the North Koreans’ willingness to get rid of all of their nuclear weapons. At least, that’s what they say.

It also lays out the United States’ willingness to give pledges of no invasion, no toppling of the regime.

And it also lays out the premise of both parties to normalize relations.

I think there are two or three other important elements. One is the United States and North Korea did not talk for several years have been talking in the last year or so. The United States’ negotiator, Christopher Hill, had far more authority than our previous negotiator.

The second point I would make is China played a big role. And China played a very positive role here or this would not happen.

A third point I would make is that the North Koreans have probably already made a number of nuclear weapons. If this could have occurred two, three, four years ago, there would be a lot less nuclear weapons in North Korea now.

And the fourth point I would make is the details of how you calibrate the timing between the economic pledges for one side, the security pledges, and the North Koreans’ willingness not only to give up their nuclear weapons, but all importantly to provide access to inspectors to inspect all over North Korea. That’s what it’s going to take. Because all—anyone who’s familiar with Korean history realizes they dig tunnels everywhere. And they dig for the purpose of hiding things everywhere. I’ve been to North Korea only one time. But when I was there, I went out in the subway system that makes the Atlanta airport look like a foxhole. It was so deep. You go down, down, down, down.

So the verification, the timing, the sequence—all of that remains to be negotiated. But it’s a very good start and, in my view, a big step.

That's about right, though I disagree with Nunn that it would have been easy to strike this deal 2, 3, 4 years ago. It took a while for us to get the Chinese to play a really productive role on the issues at play. Also, we never kow-towed by agreeing to bilaterals outside the larger framework of the six party talks--which helped lead to conditions conducive to a more productive role emiting from Beijing. Bottom line: a hugely nascent deal, devils in the details and going forward verification, but chief American negotiator Chris Hill did a very good job indeed getting us to this stage. A good show all around, I'd say, with 'cautious optimism' the CW on what lies ahead.

More cautionary notes here.

Posted by Gregory at 11:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Big Job For Karen Hughes


As Karen Hughes, longtime presidential adviser and new public diplomacy guru at the State Department, prepares to leave this weekend on a "listening tour" of the Middle East, a congressionally mandated advisory panel to the department warned that "America's image and reputation abroad could hardly be worse."

The panel's report, which has been seen by senior officials but not yet officially released, said a fact-finding mission to the Middle East last year found that "there is deep and abiding anger toward U.S. policies and actions." The Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy cited polling that found that large majorities in Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia "view George W. Bush as a greater threat to the world order than Osama bin Laden."


Edward P. Djerejian, who chaired a 2003 panel that recommended changes in public diplomacy efforts, said his committee determined that 80 percent of the perception of the United States overseas was determined by policy choices and feelings about U.S. values. The other 20 percent, he said, could be affected by public diplomacy efforts, a margin that he noted could be a "critical factor for the struggle for ideas."

Djerejian has been assisting Hughes in drafting a strategy for her job. The plan, he said, draws on recommendations in his committee's report, including the creation of rapid-response teams to counter rumors.

Regular readers know Ed Djerejian is my father (he's a former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Israel, as well as a former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs). Last night, over dinner in New York, I expressed skepticism to him that Ms. Hughes (assuming there wasn't too much movement on the 80% policy component) could really make a major difference via the 20% public diplomacy component, ie. things like "rapid-response teams" and the like. Rather than me wax on about it in relatively under-informed manner, we agreed that he'd do a guest-blog comment or two on P.D. issues at some point relatively look for that as a coming attraction over here at B.D. Stay tuned in the coming weeks....

Posted by Gregory at 11:13 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"You Didn't See Anything, Right?"

Scott Horton:

The Army is the oldest of the nation's institutions, antedating the Presidency, the Congress and the courts. It played a unique role in defining and unifying the nation and in fixing the traditions with which the country has been associated since its founding. First among these may well be the tradition of humane warfare, articulated by George Washington after the Battle of Trenton, December 24, 1776. "Treat them with humanity," Washington directed with respect to the captured Hessians. He forbade physical abuse and directed the detainees be quartered with the German-speaking residents of Eastern Pennsylvania, in the expectation that they would become "so fraught with a love of liberty, and property too, that they may create a disgust to the service among the rest of the foreign troops, and widen the breach which is already opened between them and the British." (Things unfolded exactly as Washington envisioned). Washington also set the rule that detainees be given the same housing, food and medical treatment as his own soldiers. And he was particularly concerned about freedom of conscience and respect for the religious values of those taken prisoner. "While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of hearts of men, and to Him only in this case are they answerable."

Under Abraham Lincoln, in 1862, Washington's orders were expanded in the world's first comprehensive codification of the laws of war, General Orders No. 100 (1862), also called the Lieber Code. Among other points, Lincoln clarified what was meant by "humane" treatment. It could under no circumstance comprehend torture, he directed in article 16.

This tradition has been a source of pride for our nation for over 200 years. The pressing question today is whether this legacy has been betrayed by those in the highest positions of our Government and in the Department of Defense. The evidence to this effect is now overwhelming.

So true. I've been delayed (because of major professional and personal commitments) in writing a significant post on these matters. Still, I've dug into a huge amount of the literature these past months. What's become very clear to me is that, techniques that may have worked under the controlled circumstances of Gitmo (though these techniques were often offensive regardless), failed miserably when they 'migrated' to Afghanistan and Iraq. Besides, we could have pursued perfectly adequate interrogation tactics as enumerated in Army Field Manual 34-52 ("FM 34-52")--but top Pentagon and DOJ leadership insisted on defining torture down via eager enablers like John Yoo and Don Rumsfeld--and coming up with interrogation tactics outside the rubric of Geneva-compliant FM 34-52.

It didn't have to be this way:

...the Department of State had argued that the Geneva Conventions in their traditional application provided a sufficiently robust legal construct under which the Global War on Terror could effectively be waged. The Legal Advisor to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and many service lawyers agreed with the State Department's initial position. They were concerned that to conclude otherwise would be inconsistent with past practice and policy, jeopardize the United States armed forces personnel, and undermine the United States military culture which is based on a strict adherence to the law of war. At the February 4, 2002 National Security Council meeting to decide the issue, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were in agreement that all detainees would get the treatment they are (or would be) entitled to under the Geneva Conventions
(p. 34, Schlesinger Report)

Sadly, however, previously tried and true interrogation guidelines were deemed too wimpy for the brave post 9/11 world. Some brief background, courtesy of the Schlesinger Report. FM 34-52 has "long been the standard source for interrogation doctrine within the Department of Defense" (p.7, Schlesinger Report), and outlines some 17 authorized interrogation techniques. Rumsfeld decided on December 2, 2002 to authorize the use of 16 additional interrogation tactics at Gitmo beyond those enumerated in FM 34-52 (to better extract information from reportedly recalcitrant detainees). Rumsfeld later rescinded most of these additional measures--in the face of strong opposition by the Navy General Counsel. Of the still authorized tactics that went beyond FM 34-52, Rumsfeld declared that such techniques could only be used if he so explicitly authorized. As all this was occurring, Rumsfeld had convened a working group to study interrogation techniques that was headed by Air Force General Counsel May Walker. After extensive deliberation, the Working Group recommended approval of 24 interrogation techniques, leading to Rumsfeld's promulgation of a list of approved tactics on April 16, 2003--tactics that were intended to be strictly used solely at Guantanamo. Alas, of course, when you grossly underman a war effort, and don't provide adequate training to (the too few) guards and interrogators on permissible tactics, and blur the line between those entitled to POW status and those who aren't, and define torture down in legal memoranda, and generally keep real accountability at the Karpinski and below level--is it little wonder that abuses of detainees in U.S. custody have occurred well removed from the supposedly sole permitted venue and, even, after the moral debacle of Abu Ghraib?

But let's back up for a second. According to Schlesinger, all forces in Afghanistan were using FM 34-52 as a "baseline for interrogation techniques." (p. 8) But, "more aggressive interrogation of detainees appears to have been on-going." (ibid). Indeed, in response to a call from the Joint Staff on behalf of the aforementioned Working Group (that was debating suitable interrogation tactics), Commander Task Force-180 sent on a list of techniques that were in employ in Afghanistan--some that were not in compliance with FM-34-52. Reportedly, these techniques were later included in a Special Operation Forces Standard Operating Procedures document released in February of 2003. The 519th Military Intelligence Batallion, some of whom were later sent to Abu Ghraib, helped with Special Ops interrogations. Thus did interrogation tactics migrate, helped on by Rumsfeld's inability to diligence adequately his 2002 authorized list of tactics, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to Iraq.

As the Schlesinger report (for which I rely for most of the above information) put it delicately:

In the initial development of these Secretary of Defense policies, the legal resources of the Services' Judge Advocates General and General Counsels were not utilized to their full potential. Had the Secretary of Defense had a wider range of legal opinions and a more robust debate regarding detainee policies and operations, his policy of April 16, 2003 might well have been developed and issued in early December 2002. [emphasis added]

Note the passive verbiage: "had the Secretary Defense had a wider range of legal opinions..." What about the Secretary of Defense pro-actively seeking and ferreting out a wider range of opinion himself? It's, like, an important issue!

Look, let's posit, shall we say, that there are some ironies surrounding Guantanamo. First, it very much does have the worst enemies of the United States in captivity. And the interrogation techniques in employ there, while sometimes beyond the pale, have by and large been employed in a very controlled manner that has not lead to full-blown, mega-disgraces like Abu Ghraib (still they run contra Geneva norms and so must be spurned, imho, of which more another day). But these interrogation techniques, through confusion, inattention, poor leadership (among other variables)--were allowed to migrate to places like forward camps near Fallujah, or Abu Ghraib, or Bagram--where tempers often flared, interrogators weren't adequately trained, the ratio of guard to detainee was too low. Is it little wonder then, that the abuses of Camp Mercury would go on, even after Abu Ghraib?

In a bygone era, Wise Men would have stepped in and advised the President to sack Don Rumsfeld, and explained to the President the undue harm he was causing the reputation of our Armed Forces, the propaganda gift he was handing to the enemy, the corrolary risk of our own forces now being mistreated in the future if captured. We don't really have such men around any more, it seems, though I had hoped John Warner and John McCain would have stepped up to bat with more alacrity. What I want to better understand now is just how widespread detainee abuse has been. We know of Bagram, of Abu Ghraib, of Camp Mercury, of other camps in Iraq. I invite those with relevant knowledge to E-mail me with accounts from other locations. Please be assured your privacy will be respected.

Because this can't be allowed to go on anymore:

Interrogators pressed guards to beat up prisoners, and one sergeant recalled watching a particular interrogator who was a former Special Forces soldier beating the detainee himself. "He would always say to us, 'You didn't see anything, right?' " the sergeant said. "And we would always say, 'No, sergeant.' "

One of the sergeants told Human Rights Watch that he had seen a soldier break open a chemical light stick and beat the detainees with it. "That made them glow in the dark, which was real funny, but it burned their eyes, and their skin was irritated real bad," he said.

A second sergeant, identified as an infantry squad leader and interviewed twice in August by Human Rights Watch, said, "As far as abuse goes, I saw hard hitting." He also said he had witnessed how guards would force the detainees "to physically exert themselves to the limit."

Some soldiers beat prisoners to vent their frustrations, one sergeant said, recalling an instance when an off-duty cook showed up at the detention area and ordered a prisoner to grab a metal pole and bend over. "He told him to bend over and broke the guy's leg with a mini-Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat."

Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal became public, one of the sergeants said, the abuses continued. "We still did it, but we were careful," he told the human rights group.

Much more on this story to come. We've really just scratched the surface here in terms of culpability over at OSD and related precincts.

Posted by Gregory at 08:48 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Bolton: The Building Still Stands!

People were very cautious, to say the least, because of his reputation as a tough guy who didn't like the U.N." said Abdallah Baali, the ambassador of Algeria, who said he knew Mr. Bolton from working with him in Africa. "In fact, I was the only one who said that Bolton was an intelligent man who could be creative and constructive and wouldn't go around bullying delegations."

Instead of strong-arming delegations, Mr. Bolton won points for glad- handing them, making it a point to make contact with all 32 envoys who participated in the talks.

"I was struck by this almost hysterical notion of what having Bolton in the room would mean and how that would work out," said a European ambassador, who said he could comment on a colleague only anonymously.

"Quite frankly," he said, "not even one-third of what was feared about John Bolton, his style, his approach, the way he would work, actually came through in the room. All I saw was an ambassador who did his work and did it well." [emphasis added]

As I wrote repeatedly in this space, there was a lot of hysterical over-reaction (I'm thinking of you, Steve Clemons!) re: what a Bolton Ambassadorship to USUN would mean. Much like Harry Reid's absurd repudiation of John Roberts (exactly the kind of Justice we should all be urging Bush to appoint again to fill the O'Connor vacancy)--these kinds of hyper-ventilations don't help lend credibility to the opposition party, do they? And this coming from someone dismayed by each of the ever-growing abuse scandals, the lack of a clear success strategy in Iraq (risible and grotesquely under-informed blogospheric Iraq cheer-leading notwithstanding), and the bungling of the federal aspects of a coherent Katrina response.

Posted by Gregory at 04:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

B.D.'s Whereabouts

I got pulled away on a transaction last week based out of a hotel where internet access was unavailable late night when I might have had a second or two to blog. Lots happened, of course, (Merkel, NoKo, etc), not to mention the 82nd Airborne/Camp Mercury abuse story. More bad apples, I guess, huh?

Hopefully back Monday night at the latest to comment in more detail.

Posted by Gregory at 12:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2005

What to Do In Iraq?

The Problem With Phased/Timed Withdrawal

A while back Kevin Drum wrote:'s also true that calling for immediate withdrawal would be a singularly gutsy move, and that's not the hallmark of most politicians. What surprises me, though, is that none of them even has the guts to break ranks and advocate the course that's probably the most sensible anyway: a gradual timed withdrawal. There are at least three good reasons why a publicly announced timetable for withdrawal makes sense:

The presence of American troops is what's largely fueling the terrorism-driven Iraqi insurgency in the first place. Announcing in a credible way that we plan to leave — really leave — would at least partially draw its fangs.

As long as American troops are around, Iraqi leaders don't have enough incentive to make the hard choices needed to agree on a constitution and train troops to guard their own country. A no-nonsense announcement from the U.S. would force them to get moving.

The military can't keep up its current tempo in Iraq for much longer, and sometime in 2006 a drawdown is probably going to become necessary no matter what. If that's the case, it's better to do it on our own terms instead of waiting to be forced into it.

Kevin, along with other observers like Matt Yglesias, have been pushing for a "timed withdrawal" of late. Let's take each of Kevin's points one at a time. First, he believes that the U.S. presence in Mesopotamia is fueling the insurgency. Get our troops out, and the insurgency will diminish, the story line runs. Note Juan Cole too, with his misguided ten-point plan, appears to view U.S. troop withdrawals as something of a panacea--and stresses exiting the cities first because, his thinking goes, troops aren't suited for gendarmarie type tasks anyway. But Cole doesn't really grapple with the massive propaganda value that American withdrawals from towns like Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad would have for the insurgency, nor does he appear to seriously consider that significant insurgent firepower is holed up in such cities, and so much of the insurgent activity cannot simply be stopped by his suggested prophylatic of preventing insurgent attempts to mount 'set-piece' battles by marching into Baghdad from Anbar, say, with American air power called in to decimate the concentrated enemy forces.

Most important, however, is that Kevin and Juan both ignore that U.S. troop withdrawals, far from leading to a reduction in insurgent activity, will instead have precisely the opposite effect. Freed from being under pressure (however episodic at times) in towns like Tal Afar, or Qaim, or Haditha, or Ramadi, or Samarra, or wherever--insurgents would be emboldened to ratchet up their efforts in attempting to forment a civil war. Remember, if the Iraqi insurgents are successful in triggering a civil war--the U.S. will have failed strategically in Iraq. At very least, an embittered Sunni para-state will serve as terror haven, and, more alarming perhaps, the chances of neighbors getting increasingly involved in nefarious fashion will ratchet up too. Indeed, an American withdrawal would lead to an all out effort by an unholy alliance of Baathist restorationists, criminal elements, fundamentalists (domestic and imported) and irredentist Sunni nationalists--a full-blown, concerted effort to wreak havoc on Shia and Kurdish civilians so as to stoke a civil war. And while it's true the the Shi'a enjoy a major population advantage, and that the Kurds have the relatively very well developed peshmerga forces--one must recall that neo-Baathist forces have access to much materiel, foreign support (via Saudi, Jordan, Syria and perhaps even Turkey--looking to restrain the Kurds and protect their Turkomen kin)--so that the Jacksonian nationalist wing in Washington DC that appears increasingly content to let the 'Free' Iraqis fight it out, kick Sunni ass, and set up a Shia-Kurdish condiminium characterized by crude majoritarianism don't appear to fully grasp Iraqi and regional dynamics in my humble opinion.

Drum's second point is that we are providing the Iraqis the "welfare" of troop protection, ie. they can endlessly bicker and argue amongst themselves with impunity because the 800 pound gorilla of U.S. forces is in the room to bail each party out if things get real nasty. But this analysis is short-sighted on a variety of levels. For one, the only way that we can succeed in Iraq, if success is defined as leaving behind a relatively democratic, stable polity with potentially robust political governance structures taking root--is if we leave behind a fully trained Iraq army that has a multi-ethnic leadership and officer corps. Kissinger has wisely made this point, I've repeated it tirelessly in this space, and other people like Anthony Cordesman have been seized of it as well. Why does this matter? Because if our approach is to merely slap a national Iraqi army uniform on a peshmerga fighter (who will turn around and put the Kurdish flag insignia on his 'national army' uniform, or for some SCIRI types looking for a Shi'a-superstate in the south run by Badr militia--what we might end up doing is training an army that will end up--consumed by internecine intrigues--fighting each other. And, to return to Kevin's point, if we keep making noises that American troops are going to be pulled out we are going to disincentivize the militias from putting their arms down. Indeed, all the chatter about a U.S. withdrawal--far from 'concentrating' minds to more expeditiously force the various parties to reach a compromise in Iraq--is instead leading to calculations about what Iraq post-American forces present will look like. And, with no effective central goverment, woefully lagging reconstruction efforts, little if any credible rule of law to speak of--is it any wonder that it is each clan, tribe, sect, religion for him or herself? Put differently, what American forces provide is the breathing space to allow Iraqis, over the coming years, to broker compromises and adapt to political governance structures that enshrine minority rights and the rule of law. Take away the oxygen of this interval, and the whole project could blow up in much worse fashion than at the present time. We'd simply have the rapid-fire militiazation of Iraqi society--and perhaps an inexorable march to civil war. As Cordesman has written:

MNF-I and the Iraqi government have avoided bringing militias in as entire elements for very good reasons. The temptation of using militias as an expedient short-term measure to establish control somewhere in Iraq has a major long-range downside. The biggest single challenge to the Iraqi leaders is to get all ethnic groups, political parties, religious sects, etc., to work together as part of the Iraqi state and political processes. This means militias should not be legitimized and that the government should retain the monopoly on the legitimate use of power. There may be a need to find some mission for selected militia units that will ensure they do not become involved in ethnic/sectarian struggles, but Iraq does not need low-grade ethnic and sectarian forces. It needs effective national forces. [emphasis added]

Pull out U.S. forces in a hasty phased withdrawal and kiss a national Iraqi Army good-bye, and with it likely too the prospects, however dim they may be (of which more below), of an ultimately successful Iraq project.

Drum also points out another reason to withdraw, perhaps a more compelling one. We simply can't sustain this level of deployment, the conventional wisdom goes, without breaking the back of the Army and Reserves. I'm not so sure this is the case, and believe we might well be able to sustain approximately 138,000 men in theater for upwards of 3-4 more years. Put differently, I'm not persuaded Drum is right that a drawdown will be absolutely necessitated, no matter what, in 2006.

So You Want To Stay, But What's Your Success Strategy?

A fair point that might be raised at this stage is, if you want to stay put, well tell us how we have a fighting chance of making it worth it. Explain to skeptics why more Americans should die for a war that has been run so incompetently by the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Or, more to the point, explain to us how we have any real chance of succeeding there, otherwise we might as well pack up and go home, right?

Well, let me posit a few things on this score. Everyone who is serious agrees that a key component of our success strategy is the effective training and equipping of the Iraqi Army. As Bush likes to say: "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" (and as Bill Kristol, and B.D., like to admonish him--his line should instead be that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand up with them). On train and equip, very significant progress has been made. While I am dubious that anything more than a handful of Iraqi units are "fully capable" of independent counter-insurgency activity, and also quite dubious that more than 20%, say, of Army units are capable of leading operations even with major U.S. backup--we nevertheless still have seen tremendous progress made on train and equip with some 81 operating combat battalions trained as of early summer '05. As I said, their operational readiness and skill levels must be viewed with significant skepticism, and I suspect there are significant infiltrations of spies and other troublemakers within the force, but, make no mistake, we've made real progress on the T&E front.

Still, however, much more must be made. The usual suspects in the blogosphere have recently feted, for instance, the offensive in Tal Afar. But, aside from the fact that many of the insurgents fled to fight another day, and were also able to destabilize the capital city in a series of heinous bombings a day or so after the operation--another important aspect of Tal Afar that went largely unnoticed was that many of the 'Iraqi' forces fighting were Kurdish pershmerga (aided by Shi'a Turkomen). We must get to the point where Sunni Turkomen and Sunni are fighting the hardest of the recalcitrants within their own communities, as sending in peshmerga and Shi'a to Sunni areas is but inflaming local resentment and rendering the insurgency more viable, rather than less, by creating sympathy among the population.

It's a cliche, of course, but counterinsurgencies are ultimately won, not on the battlefield, but with the hearts and minds of the people via political compromises and solutions. Jason Vest, in a must read piece, manifestly shows us how long it has taken for senior Pentagon leadership to begin to grapple with this reality. I am going to excerpt it at great length, because I know people are often lazy to click through links, and I think it's an important piece (all emphasis B.D's):

Scholars and soldiers alike have often used the phrase "the American way of war" to describe not just a predilection, but a virtual strategic obsession, which holds that wars are fought by gathering the maximum in manpower and materiel, hurling them into the maelstrom, and counting on swift, crushing victory. While this approach may work against a conventional army, it's nothing short of disastrous when fighting insurgents engaging in unconventional guerrilla warfare. Thus far in Iraq, the U.S. effort, though not entirely devoid of successes, has been hallmarked by overwhelmed and underprepared troops effecting heavy-handed, large-scale roundups of civilians (in some cases errantly or overzealously harming them); or the destruction of large swaths of cities and towns. Meanwhile, cycles of insurgent attacks continue to effectively target current and newly recruited Iraqi police, soldiers, and politicians, as well as Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers...

In Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, the theory of modern war is enshrined in documents with titles like Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision 2020. These focus primarily on command and control systems heavily defined by technology and used to fight the kind of maneuver warfare that twice dispensed with Iraq's vastly inferior conventional army. "In the ideal world of JV 2020, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems like imagery satellites would gather data that troops need to 'see' areas of operations," the veteran army officer and intelligence specialist John Gentry wrote in 2002, illustrating the idealized Rumsfeldian future of battlespace. "Communications networks would instantly transmit information and orders to troops, who would promptly convert them into effective action. Precision munitions would rain on targets. Victory would be assured."

Gentry described this vision as a "fairy tale," and to a large extent events have echoed his view. The success of taking out the Ba'athist army and regime had less to do with technology and more to do with the sorry skill set of Saddam's army...technological advances that serve to enhance combat operations--or require battalion commanders to innovate their way out of being undermined by them--are merely a prologue to the actual modern war: occupying and pacifying a country in transition. It was not without good reason, for example, that 43 years ago, Col. Roger Trinquier, one of France's most insightful and controversial practitioners of unconventional warfare, titled his influential treatise Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency. Drawing on his experiences in pre-World War II colonial paramilitary operations against smugglers and pirates in Asia and the ultimately disastrous French experiences in Indochina and Algeria, Trinquier decreed the era of set-piece battles essentially obsolete. "Warfare," he wrote, "is now an interlocking system of actions--political, economic, psychological, military--that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement."

More (and with apologies for the lengthy quotes):

In Insurgency and Terrorism, O'Neill cautions that failure to grasp the gradations of insurgent type and strategy often leads government forces to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach, generally taking the militaristic overwhelming-force-and-firepower tack that actually prolongs and exacerbates an insurgency. He also notes that for nations transitioning to independence--an apt enough description for post-Saddam Iraq--overcoming two serious obstacles is key. One is economic underdevelopment; the other is a lack of national unity. Taking all these matters into account, from the vantage point of one of O'Neill's brighter former students, as of summer 2003 the die for a quagmire that would be increasingly difficult to get out of was already more or less cast.

The former O'Neill student I spoke with preferred to remain anonymous--not unreasonably, as he recently retired from a U.S. intelligence agency and, throughout his career, had ample opportunity to contextualize his fieldwork using O'Neill's lessons. When we spoke in mid-2003, he said that it seemed as if, in many respects, the occupation had read O'Neill's book and done the exact opposite. At Iraq's weakest economic moment in modern history, he said, disbanding the army--the country's one force for national unity--represented one axis of ineptitude. That axis intersected with another: the coalition's inability to establish basic legitimacy by providing necessary services, such as regular electricity and other civil support. Such things, he said, were likely to engender both passive and active resistance that would only worsen.

But he also noted that beyond giving people the universal basics, few in the occupation seemed to have much interest in understanding certain complicated cultural and political historic realities of Iraq... Others were looking on with a deep sense of foreboding. At Georgetown University, Don Vandergriff, an army major and scholar twice named ROTC Instructor of the Year, told his students he was not optimistic about what was to come. On November 2, 2003, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq, claimed that the mounting guerrilla attacks were "strategically and operationally insignificant." The Pentagon, meanwhile, was confident that a quick technological fix would stem the rising insurgent tide. (On October 16, 2003, Wolfowitz ordered the services to spend $335.5 million on exclusively mechanical "countermeasures" like aerial surveillance platforms and bomb-frequency jammers.) Vandergriff, however, was gloomy in his analysis. "This is just starting," he said in November 2003. "They're testing us, figuring us out, and I'm sure we're going to keep thinking that the way to solve this is attrition--blow up one building or square block to take out a few snipers or bombers, and sorry if anyone else gets killed in the process. It's not going to win us any friends. Stringing Baghdad with sensors or putting Predators [drones] over all of Iraq isn't going to stop this, either. We'd be better off with a division of MP's and civil affairs specialists that knew the turf, backed by good native intelligence and police."

Similar sentiments could be found among some soldiers on the ground. On November 14, 2003, three army intelligence specialists produced an unclassified but very closely held white paper whose assessments and recommendations stood in stark contrast to those of the uniformed and civilian leadership. Unequivocally stating that "a successful insurgency is preventing the [Coalition Provisional Authority and the Coalition Joint Task Force] from providing a safe and secure environment in Iraq," the report essentially slammed the U.S. occupation for its unwillingness to understand both counterinsurgency generally and cultural factors in particular. "Western cultural constructs constrain political and military thinking on the subject of counterinsurgency," the authors pointedly noted, adding that "undue emphasis on military action alone, one that disregards the cultural context for fueling an insurgency, will result in failure....

Rather, the report noted, the real target was Iraq's tribal socio-political structure. Continued failure to understand this was dooming the occupation's chances of success...So far, the report held, occupation forces had not only done a poor job of realizing this and engaging with tribal leaders in a constructive and validating way; they were also engendering ill will by, among other things, the "rough handling of family heads in front of their families." Such things were deeply offensive, the report held, and "the greatest wild card that the insurgents can exploit is the Coalition's lack of cultural understanding and ability to communicate with the rural population to reinforce the idea that our policies are attacks against cultural norms, honor, and way of life."

But as the report was being written and distributed, U.S. forces were perpetuating indignity by kicking in doors and rounding up civilians all over Iraq and, in many cases, wrongfully sending scores of people to army divisional detention centers or Abu Ghraib--where intimidation and torture took place. In this respect, the U.S. Army took the pages out of Colonel Trinquier's playbook that have been almost universally disregarded, as the smarter counterinsurgency specialists recognize both the inefficacy of torture and the counterproductive effect of arbitrary sweeps, detentions, and coercive actions against civilians. Setting aside the fact that little "actionable intelligence" is ever gained under duress, whatever short-term benefits are gained by draconian actions are usually undermined by the long-term festering ill will--both locally and abroad--they often engender...

Vest concludes:

According to a November 2004 Army War College report, in generic terms, the nature of insurgency is mutating, with the more centralized Maoist "people's war" receding into history [ed. note: Dismiss Rummy's oft-told talk show point that Iraq has no Mao, no Ho Chi Minh--so that this could never become a Vietnam redux] and being replaced with "twenty-first-century insurgencies" that "become increasingly networked, with no centralized command and no common strategy, only a unifying objective." [10] While this will detract from their ability to gain power or make political strides, it also will make them "more survivable in the face of effective counterinsurgent actions." The report outlines courses of action the United States could take in planning and executing a counter-liberation insurgency campaign, but it also notes that the United States will have to acknowledge that the best that can be hoped for in some situations is pursuing not a strategy of victory, but a strategy of containment, along the lines of Israel's approach to the Palestinians.

Yet what makes the report so striking is its implicit criticism of the current Pentagon leadership. Almost all of its recommendations for defining how the army thinks about the likely staple of current and future warfare--the need for more and better training and education of American troops, more civil affairs and engineering units, better relationships between the army and non-military government agencies, as well as simply an actual acknowledgment of the importance of counterinsurgency doctrine--are far removed from the type of "transformation" pursued by the Rumsfeld Pentagon...

I've quoted Vest's piece in great length not only because it is excellent (read the non-excerpted parts as well) but also because, in my view, it makes manifestly clear that Donald Rumsfeld should no longer be Secretary of Defense. He has proven a failure and must be removed if we are to increase our chances of success in Iraq. That said, and in fairness to Rumsfeld and to critique myself, one thing that does not necessarily follow from Vest's piece is that the answer must be more troops (even if they were available). It's more the kind of troops we have at our disposal.

As Anthony Cordesman has put it:

If the President has the magic wand necessary to create new forces, and is willing to ignore the impact on our all volunteer force structure of increasing deployments, he should make three immediate changes in the U.S. force posture in Iraq. First, he should deploy far more military specialists in civil-military and counterinsurgency operations with suitable language and area skills. Second he should extend all tours for the duration so that US troops acquire real operational expertise and establish stable and lasting personal relations with Iraqis. And third, he shold supplement the US military with large numbers of skilled and highly motivated civilian counterparts to handle the wide range of civilian missions in the field that now so badly undermanned or handled by the US military.

But let's put the past behind us and try to dwell in the realm of the practical. Yes, it was a massive blunder to disband wholesale the Iraqi Army. Yes, we grossly under-manned the immediate postwar peacemaking and peacekeeping component so critical to effectively winning the peace. Massive looting, conditions of anarchy through much of Iraq's important population centers, all this led to dramatically shortening any prospective honeymoon so that the American 'liberator' quickly came to be viewed as, at best, an ineffective interloper, and at worst, in Iraqis conspiratorial mindset, a malevolent outside actor purposefully stoking chaos to weaken Iraq's regional position. It all came down to providing real security, where we failed dismally, and to which was famously declared "stuff happens." Yes, it does, and it also marks something of a convenient epitaph for much of the excesses of Rumsfeld's 'transformationalist' nostrums. Instead, as Charles Krulak has written, we should be focusing on having forces trained and able to prosecute a 'three block' war:

Modern crisis responses are exceedingly complex endeavors. In Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia the unique challenges of military operations other-than-war (MOOTW) were combined with the disparate challenges of mid-intensity conflict. The Corps has described such amorphous conflicts as -- the three block war -- contingencies in which Marines may be confronted by the entire spectrum of tactical challenges in the span of a few hours and within the space of three contiguous city blocks. The tragic experience of U.S. forces in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope illustrates well the volatile nature of these contemporary operations. Author Mark Bowden's superb account of "The Battle of Mogadishu," Blackhawk Down, is a riveting, cautionary tale and grim reminder of the unpredictability of so-called operations other-than-war. It is essential reading for all Marines.

The inescapable lesson of Somalia and of other recent operations, whether humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping, or traditional warfighting, is that their outcome may hinge on decisions made by small unit leaders, and by actions taken at the lowest level. The Corps is, by design, a relatively young force. Success or failure will rest, increasingly, with the rifleman and with his ability to make the right decision at the right time at the point of contact. As with Corporal Hernandez at CP Charlie, today's Marines will often operate far "from the flagpole" without the direct supervision of senior leadership. And, like Corporal Hernandez, they will be asked to deal with a bewildering array of challenges and threats. In order to succeed under such demanding conditions they will require unwavering maturity, judgment, and strength of character. Most importantly, these missions will require them to confidently make well-reasoned and independent decisions under extreme stress -- decisions that will likely be subject to the harsh scrutiny of both the media and the court of public opinion. In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests -- the Strategic Corporal.

This all sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky, but the bottom line is pretty simple. We need forces, ideally some that have civilian units embedded with them, some locals too, and as many Arabic speakers as possible through each part of the mix--able to distribute humanitarian relief in the morning, fight a hot firefight in the afternoon, and separate belligerent factions in peacemaking vein by dusk--often without higher-up commands able to provide guidance in real time. This is so critical because of the basic reality that a counter-insurgency is not won by simply inflicting good kill ratios and chasing insurgents around Anbar province. You need to have the local population in insurgent areas vote, even if silently, with you and your agenda. Which takes me to 'ink spot', or this Krepinevich article recently published in the indispensable Foreign Affairs.

He writes:

Instead of a timetable for withdrawal, the United States needs a real strategy built around the principles of counterinsurgency warfare. To date, U.S. forces in Iraq have largely concentrated their efforts on hunting down and killing insurgents. The idea of such operations is to erode the enemy's strength by killing fighters more quickly than replacements can be recruited. Although it is too early to tell for sure whether this approach will ultimately bring success, its current record is not good: even when an attack manages to inflict serious insurgent casualties, there is little or no enduring improvement in security once U.S. forces withdraw from the area...

Instead, U.S. and Iraqi forces should adopt an "oil-spot strategy" in Iraq, which is essentially the opposite approach. Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot. Such a strategy would have a good chance of success. But it would require a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq, albeit at far lower force levels than are engaged at present. If U.S. policymakers and the American public are unwilling to make such a commitment, they should be prepared to scale down their goals in Iraq significantly....

Read the entire piece, another must-read on Iraq these days. I've got a few issues with Krepinevich's thesis. For one, focusing on reconstruction in the 14 relatively quiescent "Green Zone" provinces will lead to short term further embitterment among the Sunni and more separationist tendencies in the Kurdish and Shi'a Zones. As the big reconstruction works occur in the environs of Basra, say, locals will wonder why they need central government support. For another, as much as Krepenivich says it won't be so, too much focus on the 'consolidation of the Green Zone' strategy will almost inevitably lead to a diminishment of robust counter-insurgency activity in the Red Zone--even if we call in the cavalry if important towns like Fallujah look to be becoming insurgent safe havens again. Which is why I'm puzzled that Krepenvich is suggesting we draw down 20,000 men. Frankly, and unlike phased withdrawal types like Kevin Drum, I think we should be marshalling all our men in theater to secure places like Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghadad--while still doing what we've been doing in Anbar with limited resources--keeping the insurgents somewhat off balance and denying them rest and comfort and safe havens. Put differently, we need to be doing a better job of 'ink-spotting' in the major cities--while continuing operations in the Euphrates River Valley and along the Syrian border. To a fashion, what I'm saying is that we should focus on the so-called ink-spotting in strategically critical places like Sadr City, or other parts of Baghdad where insurgents still enjoy support, or Mosul, or Kirkuk--rather than deep in Kurdistan or a potential Shi'a super-state in the south--where such aid would only heighten separationist tendencies. Such strategically focused ink-spotting would have a corrollary effect, if we were successful, of dimininishing insurgent morale quite mightily. Remember, it would have a tremendous impact if we actually fully controlled Baghdad and, you know, the road to the airport. Just for starters! (Also worth noting, and contra Krepinevich, I'm not as sure that a few U.S. military embeds would so greatly improve the performance of largely Iraqi units).

All in all, the way forward in Iraq is likely thus:

1) No deadlines should be declared, whether phased or otherwise, but rather clear, persuasive statements that the U.S. doesn't seek permanent bases and will leave Iraq once conditions for security and democracy have been established, but not sooner, including adequate provision of minority rights;
2) Continue to move forward on 'train and equip', but never rushing the effort, and never being tempted to slap whole-sale militia units into the nascent army, the better to avoid sectarian conflict erupting within the Army we have trained;
3) Continue to marshall all of the resources of our diplomats in theater, as well as the U.N. and other actors, to keep the parties moving towards legitimate political compromises the three main actors can live with over a longer term horizon (Larry Diamond espies some reasons for optimism, if of the cautious variety, here);
4) Find the right balance between ink-spot and counter-insurgency in the Red Zone, but likely deemphasize reconstruction projects in the Kurdish North or Shi'a South in favor of projects in critical 'tipping point zones' like Kirkuk, or Sadr City, or in towns near the main aiport road to Baghdad;
5) Not assume more experienced Generals or efficiency gains in Iraqi units fighting with U.S. embeds will somehow magically allow for significant U.S. troop withdrawals in the short term, which they most likely won't;
6) Keep troop levels at least at current levels for now--while wherever possible and advisable allowing for 'surge' type increases-- and do our best to train forces better adept at prosecuting a Krulak-type three block war going forward;
7) Seek in nascent 'green zone' areas that have just been taken out of the red zone column to put in troops sensitized to local cultural norms (who won't embarrass the local sheikh in front of his family and tribe say), including whenever possible U.S. civilian and/or military Arabic speakers, and deploy economic aid or, dare I say, pay-offs, in more cogent and organized manner;
8) Consider a joint State-Pentagon task force, perhaps coordinated by NSC representatives (or senior Embassy staff on the ground) focusing on how to better streamline Iraqi federal, state and local governance structures (it matters there too!) so as to strike the right balance between central authority and federalism in a pragmatic, brass-tacks, works-on-the-ground kinda way;
9) (of which more in a follow on post, as it's too complex to tack on here), listen to Wes Clark's criticisms of our rather ham-handed handling of the regional dynamics (lots of whining, ultimatums, hand-wringing, exacerbated sound-bites, thinly veiled bombing threats that ring hollow...little constructive diplomacy that rings credible, sober, concerted and truly able to garner results)--to include consideration of a major regional conference attended by all relevant Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense and, speaking of;
10) get rid of our failed War Secretary. He's bungled the war and, like Brownie, needs to go.

I'll have more on all this soon, but here's a stab to get people thinking and get a debate going. Back later, and note I've relied heavily for ideas on people like Cordesman etc in sketching out the above policy copious hat tips and credits to all of them, obviously.

Posted by Gregory at 03:43 AM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

September 14, 2005

Bush Getting Off the Post-Katrina Mat?


Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility...I want to know what went right and what went wrong....I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? And that's a very important question.

I think it's probably fair to say that Bush's handling of Katrina has risen from its nadir of a week and a half or so back because of a confluence of variables, such as a) he's now visited the Gulf Coast three times (with another visit to follow tomorrow) rather than just done a quick fly-by and shot the breeze with Trent Lott, b) the death toll looks to be fewer than 1,000, let alone 10,000-25,000, so that Katrina remains a major tragedy but not an out and out mega-catastrophe of greater than 9/11 proportions, say c) Brownie was ingloriously bumped off-stage, and d) Bush has uttered the "R" (responsibility!) word today...

Still, I guess we'll all stay tuned for his speech tomorrow night... What will I be wanting to hear? Well, something better than today's ramblings quoted above. I mean, it's great to hear that it's a "very important question" to figure out how the feds can "better cooperate with state and local government." But we already know it's a very important Q, particularly in our post-9/11 world. What Bush must do tomorrow night is convincingly sketch out how the Katrina 'lessons learned', focusing mainly on the dismal lack of coordination among local, state and federal authorities, how they will be rapidly gathered, analyzed, digested and then translated into hugely improved disaster response procedures. A major terrorist attack could happen any day, and the reaction to Katrina has blown apart any faith that we are truly better prepared (save on the airliner front) for a major terrorist incident. Bush has to robustly move to restore confidence among the public that the government can prove competent and qualified to handle a major terrorist outrage that could happen any day. We'll see tomorrow, I guess, if can muster up a persuasive performance.

Meantime, in closing, a word on the "R" word. I seem to recall that Don Rumsfeld, around the time of Abu Ghraib, also said he accepted 'responsibility' for what happened. But it's one thing to utter the R word, another thing to really mean it. This seems to be something of a peculiar Washington phenomenon, doesn't it? Some grandee states, flatly, that they accept responsiblity for this or that outrage. And then, in practice, they really don't. Nothing happens to connect the statement of assuming responsibility to, you know, some action that might evidence a connection between stating they take responsibility and, well, taking it. But, hey, they said they did, and so, you know, all is well and one garners kudos for all the Trumanesque 'buck stops here' bravura. But we always knew Washington was a strange place, right?

Posted by Gregory at 04:22 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

September 13, 2005


I couldn't tell watching the two hour Aaron Brown/Anderson Cooper extravaganza/Katrina-rama last night whether it was more about the hurricane and its victims, or instead more about 'emo'-anchoring star Cooper's rise to bigger and better things...prob more the latter, all told. A star is born!

P.S. Austin has more.

P.P.S. Is it just me, or did Aaron seemed bummed as Anderson kinda stole his anchor seat from under him, what with all the welcoming of viewers to the show, and handing off of programing, and so on...can't they conceal the tiresome behind the scenes positioning and intrigues--particularly amidst such tragedy--a tad more tastefully and effectively?

Posted by Gregory at 04:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Are a lot of people getting the below message (italicized) when they try to comment? If so, let me know what's going on in comments and, if they are just not working at all, send a note to me at I'll then shoot an E-mail to my software guy to have him fix. Thanks!

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:

In an effort to curb malicious comment posting by abusive users, I've enabled a feature that requires a weblog commenter to wait a short amount of time before being able to post again. Please try to post your comment again in a short while. Thanks for your patience.

Please correct the error in the form below, then press Post to post your comment.

Meantime, Eric is chomping at the bit to respond to some comments in the Blanco thread below...go here for what he'd put in comments if my software wasn't letting him down...

Posted by Gregory at 04:52 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Brown Out

Brownie gets pushed out. That's good. More on Katrina and Iraq soon, perhaps tomorrow night...still fighting the clock with no time for substantive posts.

Posted by Gregory at 04:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

9/11, Four Years On

Pej commemorates the 4th 9/11 anniversary in his sleek new digs. Former guest blogger Joseph Britt is blogging in that space go check it out.

Posted by Gregory at 04:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005


I guess Glenn would probably put me in the "bitching" category this past week...but hey, I'm giving too!

Are we allowed to do both?

P.S. If you're curious, the Djerejians gave to the Red Cross and the Humane through if you haven't donated to Katrina victims yet...

Posted by Gregory at 03:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Mailbag

Eric Martin, who writes at this thoughtful lefty blog, sends the below in:

Greg, you wrote: "Ditto Governor Kathleen Blanco--who was simply too slow to declare a national emergency..." I'm not sure what partisan site you got that misinformation from, but it is misinformation. Blanco declared a State of Emergency for Louisiana on August 26. Link She made a formal request to President Bush for the area to be declared a National Emergency on August 27. Link On August 27, responding to Blanco's request, the White House issued a National Emergency: Link You owe it to your readers to correct this mis-statement of fact. How can you characterize an effort as "too slow" when in fact she called for a national emergency the day BEFORE the hurricane hit.

You're better than this Greg.

In an E-mail back to Eric, I took his criticism but queried whether Blanco may still have waited a tad too long--perhaps she might have requested a state of national emergency be declared before August 26th, as many already feared the hurricane might score a direct hit on New Orleans (and other parts of Louisiana) even before then.

To which Eric replied:

The claim that Blanco was too slow to act was predicated on a piece of misinformation from an "undisclosed White House source" quoted in the Washington Post. Given the track record, probably Rove. Here is the offending quote from the WaPo:

"As of Saturday, [Louisiana governor Kathleen] Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, [a] senior Bush official said."

That would be Saturday September 3. Which is approximately eight days after Blanco actually declared a state of emergency and one week after she made the request nationally - which was granted by the way on the same day. The Washington Post had to retract this statement because they were so off base.

In answer to your question, no I don't think she waited too long. The National Weather Center was only forecasting a Cat 2 up until August 27. On the 27, the day after she declared a state of emergency in the State of Louisiana, and the day on which she asked for national emergency, Katrina was upgraded to a Cat 3. She acted exactly when it was appropriate.

As for the timeline, I think we were both off on the day Katrina made landfall. It was actually the 29th so Blanco declared a statewide state of emergency three days prior to landfall. Two days prior to landfall she asked and received the national emergency status.

Someone in the White House tried to claim she waited five days. That would have been too long. Two days before the hurricane hit was reasonable given it was considered a Cat 2 up until that point.

This sounds like a pretty fair appraisal. Anyone have a different view on this particular Katrina narrative?

Posted by Gregory at 02:47 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Katrina: Materially Lower Death Toll?

It appears so. If ultimately confirmed, great, great news.

Posted by Gregory at 02:28 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 09, 2005

The State of the U.N.'s Management rather dismal per the recently published Volker report.

At a news conference at the Roosevelt Hotel, Mr. Volcker was unsparing in his criticism. "Our assignment has been to look for mis- or maladministration in the oil-for-food program and for evidence of corruption within the U.N. organization and by contractors," he said. "Unhappily, we found both."

Wednesday's 847-page report excoriated Mr. Annan and the Council for their management of the program and said the United Nations must be extensively overhauled if it is to earn global credibility and meet 21st century demands.

"The organization requires stronger executive leadership, thoroughgoing administrative reform and more reliable controls and auditing," it said. At stake, it said, was "the United Nations' ability to respond promptly and effectively to the responsibilities thrust upon it by the realities of a turbulent, and often violent, world."

Endorsing the harsh prescription, Mr. Annan asked, "Who among us can now claim that U.N. management is not a problem, or is not in need of reform?"

Mr. Volcker said responsibility for the program's lapses "must be broadly shared, starting, we believe, with member states and the Security Council itself."

The report blamed the Security Council and its sanctions committee for tolerating smuggling that went on outside the oil-for-food program. "Turning a blind eye to smuggling," it stated, "surely undercut a sense of discipline in conducting the program...

...The four-volume report examined in detail the history, conduct and unraveling of the scandal-tainted $64 billion program, which was intended to ease the effects of sanctions on Iraq by supplying food and medicines in exchange for letting the government export oil. It made recommendations for tightening up financial and management practices to make the United Nations accountable, transparent and efficient.

It faulted Mr. Annan for not curbing the corruption and shoddy administration of the program, but said it had found no evidence to support charges that he influenced a contract awarded to Cotecna Inspection Services, the Swiss company where his son Kojo Annan had worked.

This is one reason, among several others, that I found the huge hullabaloo surrounding John Bolton's nomination fight lacking in historical perspective. People like Steve Clemons, whose evident passion I respect, went about doing their damndest to crucify Bolton on a wide-ranging bill of goods (a good deal of which was drummed-up hyperbole, at least in my estimation). Meantime, we have endemic corruption through the U.N. (not merely oil for food) of extremely significant proportions. If this is the world body meant to act as guarantor of international stability, well, its control and administrative mechanisms are manifestly in need of critical overhaul lests its credibility be severely (even fatally) wounded. There is nothing about John Bolton, of course, that somehow makes him a knight in shining armor to magically effectuate far-reaching reforms, and, relatedly in terms of the odds of successfully bringing about real reform, there are also quite a few member states not fully seized of the urgency of the issue. But no one denies Bolton has a strong voice, or that he is highly intelligent--two traits that I think will stand him in good stead despite the awkward recess appointment--not least on the U.N. reform issue (on matters like Iran his credibility will obviously be more open to criticism, a matter I'll return to later). David Shorr (Bolton friendly) and Suzanne Nossel (Bolton unfriendly) have more on this issue well worth reading. For more on my views on Bolton (I supported his nomination, albeit with some reservations), just plug his name into the search function to the right.

Posted by Gregory at 03:29 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Leadership Gap

Lipton/Schmitt/Shanker quoting an anonymous admin spinner in the NYT:

Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a president of the United States of one party had pre-emptively taken from the female governor of another party the command and control of her forces, unless the security situation made it completely clear that she was unable to effectively execute her command authority and that lawlessness was the inevitable result?" asked one senior administration official, who spoke anonymously because the talks were confidential.

Yeah, I can imagine it. It's called leadership (and, by the way, the gender angle is screamingly bogus--POTUS has to treat the girls with kid gloves, now?). When there exists a reasonable presumption that a) the state and local authorities aren't going to be up to the job and b) a catastrophic Category 3-5 hurricane is racing towards a massively vulnerable (people knew, despite weak Administration protestations, that the levees might break) major population center--well, these are the types of events that cry out for de haut en bas federal leadership, foresight, contingency planning, proactive action. None were in the offing, alas. Again, Michael Brown must go--or this Administration simply disgraces itself. Chertoff should be eating humble pie, lots of it--rather than having Cheney effusively praise him on the Gulf Coast today. But I'm not holding my breath--even on Brown--though here I think we have a chance to see him step aside (Well Tim, I think I was becoming too much of a distraction and thought for the good of the President and country...). But there is simply too little real accountability in this Administration, I've sadly been forced to conclude of late (my critics on the left will doubtless say too late).

On this score, don't miss Ignatius who nails it, describing some of the weakness of our HBS-Grad-In-Chief's leadership style:

The most pointed criticism of Bush's management I've read over the past week comes from the conservative columnist William Kristol. "Almost every Republican I have spoken with is disappointed" by the administration's response to Katrina, Kristol told The Post's Jim VandeHei. "He is a strong president . . . but he has never really focused on the importance of good execution. I think that is true in many parts of his presidency."

The part of this administration I know best is foreign policy. While I respect some of Bush's decisions, I see an underlying weakness in decision making that is very similar to the post-Katrina fiasco. This White House doesn't move effectively to fix broken bureaucracies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Homeland Security; it doesn't use interagency meetings to force clear decisions and then implement them, as has been clear in continuing policy confusion on Iraq, North Korea and Iran; and it doesn't mobilize the government well to deal with crisis warnings, as the Sept. 11 commission reported.

What accounts for this management failure? Experts cite a number of factors. First, this White House lacks a strong, substantive chief of staff who could act as a kind of deputy president, riding herd on the Cabinet agencies. Bush's chief, Andrew Card, is good at organizing the president's schedule, but he hasn't played the broader, make-the-trains-run role of many of his predecessors. Another problem is Bush's own style: As a key adviser once told me, this president isn't interested in hitting singles and doubles; he wants home runs. This approach almost guarantees that the administration won't do well at crisis prevention -- which succeeds best when nothing dramatic happens at all, thanks to good planning.

Even on the issues Bush has identified as his priorities, there has been a surprising reactive quality. Take the war on terrorism: The two bureaucracies that are crucial for protecting Americans -- the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community -- have been in obvious disarray over the past two years. Yet Bush has not seized the initiative in either case and has let others set the agenda for reorganization. The disorientation today at those two mission-critical bureaucracies is genuinely dangerous for the country.

Iraq, too, has been a policy disconnect. The president insists (admirably, in my view) that America must stay the course, but as the situation there has deteriorated, he has failed to explain clearly what that course is. That's not a new problem: From the beginning, the administration has had difficulty framing a single Iraq strategy and mobilizing all the resources necessary for it to succeed. There hasn't been one Iraq policy but several competing versions.

Managing the government isn't as glamorous as politics, and on the political side it must be said that Bush has been very skillful. His top political adviser, Karl Rove, is one of the most gifted, if also ruthless, people ever to play that role. And this White House is good at reaction and damage control -- at mobilizing the apparatus of government after initial mistakes, as we're finally seeing on the Gulf Coast.

What this White House needs most is the tonic of honest accountability, as illustrated by an anecdote from presidential scholar Fred Greenstein. He recalls a moment in the 1950s when an aide walked out of the Oval Office, congratulating himself for telling President Dwight D. Eisenhower "what he wanted to hear." Ike's national security adviser, Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, overheard the aide and angrily sent him back to tell the president the truth, no matter how unpleasant.

The "tonic of honest accountability" starts with Exhibit A--he of the Arabian Horse judgeships. If Brown doesn't get the heave-ho after this debacle of epic proportions, well, to say it would speak volumes would be a massive understatement. I certainly know what conclusions I'll be drawing...and they ain't pretty.

More on Katrina (and Iraq, remember that?) over the weekend. The day job is rather crushing right now (12-15 hr days) and there's just too little time to blog at nights. See you over the weekend, however.

Posted by Gregory at 05:39 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

More Thoughts On Katrina

These are emotional times, and John Cole is right that we all need to calm down and take a deep breath, but people who are trying to mostly pin the Katrina disaster on the local and state authorities just don't get it. Let's posit a few things right out of the gates. Mayor Nagin was the very picture of an under-qualified local mayor totally overwhelmed by a developing catastrophe (Nagin: "Get people to higher ground and have the feds and the state airlift supplies to them--that was the plan, man"). It was 'man' this; 'man' that--this was a man, pun intended, unhinged. We weren't going to get a Rudy-esque performance out of him, unfortunately, and so John Tierney's "magic marker strategy" musings, while interesting, are not really all that apropos finally. Ditto Governor Kathleen Blanco--who was simply too slow to declare a national emergency and dithered underwhelmingly in terms of attempting to secure more help for her state. Yes, she too, was in way over her head given the scale of this calamity. So uber-partisans like Grover Norquist are indeed right, a Democrat Mayor and Governor performed in a piss-poor manner, like incompetents really, and it's a bloody shame. Happy now, Grover? Rah-rah! Let's have Ken Mehlman get an E-mail out on it, shall we?

Again, most assuredly yes, the local authorities should have done more preemptively on things like attempting to secure the integrity of the telecommunications infrastructure of the city, or at least stockpiling a minimum of food and hygiene supplies and basic medicines at the Superdome or Convention Center (though Nagin did warn residents to bring food to the Superdome, and it is true that many of those who fled to this so-called refuge of last resort, despite the gross deprivations, the unsanitary conditions, the mayhem--might have instead died if they had remained in poor largely minority neighborhoods like the ninth ward instead). And, again, Tierney's 'magic market' quasi-forced evacuation would have saved perhaps thousands of lives--but Nagin was simply not up to this task.

Given this background of so predictable local and state incompetence (this is Louisiana, people!), and given further that everyone knew that New Orlean's precarious position beneath sea level could invite massive disaster in the event of a Category 3, 4 or 5 Hurricane (don't you dare tell me no one thought the levees might be breached)--it was incumbent on the federal government, with its huge resources and reach and authority, to better position itself to respond to the horrific calamity we just witnessed over the past days. We conservatives are supposed to believe that a government's most basic and solemn duty is to safeguard the security of its citizenry, to act as bulwark against anarchy and effective steward of public order and safety. And this solemn compact was most assuredly torn asunder by the government, at least during the first week of this horrific disaster.

Indeed the federal reaction was dismal. Before we dig into that, however, let's posit a few little things up front. Let's all be sure to recall that this was one helluva storm, and that Bush was unlucky in the extreme that it hit on his watch, and that Democrat Underground musings that his energy policies or global warming or such had something to do with it are pure bunk. It was a horrific act of God. Period. Let's also put aside the argument about the budget cuts of levee support & refurb issue. Even if the budget hadn't been cut, the levees might still have broken in the face of this mighty storm (and we'd have to dig back into the 90's too on prior funding decisions to get a full picture on various degrees of culpability on this score). And let's also put aside, for now at least, the whole Iraq meme, that our deployment there meant there were fewer men available to patrol the streets of New Orleans. There were, all told, likely enough national guard available to ensure public safety in the streets of New Orleans--even with our troop/reserve/guard deployments in Iraq--and even with the disaster hitting neighboring states too so that Alabama or Mississippi units weren't available in as large number as if the storm had just hit Louisiana.

So what went wrong? Many things. The President and Homeland Security Secretary (incredibly) claimed that it took people by surprise that the levees were breached (remember, the night before the hurricane hit, we all went to bed thinking a Category 5 was going to slame directly into the city--the type of perfect storm one might fairly fear and anticipate would pierce the levees). And a smart man like Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff appears not to have been seized by the likely gross incapacity of the local authorities to have effectuated a serious evacuation plan or, if the town were gutted or flooded, the need to ensure basic security. Again, contingency planning and pre-positioning of resources appears to have been, alternately, overly sanguine and de mimimis. Meantime, the buffoonish head of FEMA displayed an appalling lack of situational awareness (go read Michelle Malkin who has a succinct round-up of why 'heck of a job Brownie' must go). In a fast-moving crisis situation, speed of response is key. To be effective, one must be apprised, awake, on point, in command. Brown wasn't. His performance was dismal. If the President doesn't fire him, the President disgraces himself by his bovine display of loyalty to a profound mediocrity. It's just that simple. Brownie must go, 'heck of a job' or not!

Meantime, and interestingly given how quickly DoD lawyers were given short shrift on reservations about junking the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to enemy combatants, there were reportedly, according to Newsweek, quite time consuming debates in Washington about legal issues surrounding federalizing the Guard. It appears there was concern that kids might not know how to enforce local laws (as compared to, say, the New Orleans police force!). So inertia and time was wasted on such legal debates--as the most damaging hurricane in the history of the nation led to conditions of anarchy in an important American city.

But there's more. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, there were crossed-signals, bureaucratic confusion galore, and Keystone Kops style ineptitude aplenty. And not only by hapless Mayor Nagin, but also quite often by the Feds. FEMA, particularly. No "firm procedures for directing people and materials," so that trucking companies that were under contract with FEMA to move supplies got orders to move cargo with substantial delays. And when the trucks arrived, as the WSJ reports, no FEMA, or National Guard, or any other personnel there to unload the supplies (Says the owner of the transportation company: "I almost told they guys to leave, but people are wanting the water. The drivers distributed it"). Meantime, a head of a New Orleans hospital relayed to the WSJ that for a "couple of days" he was told to direct patients to "what he understood was a FEMA mass casualty tent at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Causeway Boulevard." But, alas, "A number of them came back and said, 'there's no on there'. No one there. Put differently, the government, at all levels, abandoned its citizens in their moment of most dire need. And when shit hits the fan, even allowing for the intuitive fact that typically first responders at the local level must come to people's aid first, no one serious can say that the response orchestrated by FEMA and Homeland Security was not underwhelming in the extreme (And I am leaving aside, for now, questions about whether it might have been possible to get more helicopters to assist displaced persons so that they could be evacuated, or why problems with radio systems were not better foreseen, or whether all military forces in the area, especially soldiers based at Fort Polk, might not have been more speedily, and in greater number, deployed).

Look, I've already said Brown must go. Homeland Security chief Chertoff, well, he's very bright, I'm sure, but as Glenn has quipped: "lawyers have many virtues, but management skills aren't high on the list". We sure saw that last week. Yes, of course, this was an unprecedented calamity and there is inevitably chaos and disorganization in such situations that result. But the crossed signals, the abject lack of coordination among the local, state and federal authorities--or even just at the federal level itself--they were simply too numberous and worrisome to discount. Remember, we are all living in a brave post 9/11 world. The goverment is supposed to have prepped for such disasters (albeit more terrorist inflicted than by the force of God), for four long years. So, for example, they're surprised that the New Orleans police force simply largely disintegrated? Well, from an administration that didn't even game-plan the prospects of an Iraqi insurgency, I guess that's not surprising. But when a perfect Category 5 (remember, meteorologists though a 5 was going to score a direct hit, the situation might have been even worse!) storm is heading like a bulls-eye to the chronically corrupt and poorly governed Big Easy, is it too much to ask from our supposed best and brightest that they ask: what if the levees break? what if floodwaters render streets uninhabitable? what if looting breaks out? what if mayhem results? disease spreads? cops abandon their beats? I don't feel these questions were seriously analyzed, not by a long shot, by men of Chertoff's caliber who should have.

There are other issues too, of course. The Homeland Security office is clearly not ready for prime time, and subsuming FEMA and myriad other governmental agencies under it may have created a monstrous bureaucracy--monstrous perhaps foremost in that it has proven inefficacious in its first big test. These are very complex issues, and investigations will have to bore into the detail, but Homeland Security and its structure must be high on the list of matters needing follow up post-Katrina. As for FEMA, its response too often evoked disarray. 'Heck of a job' my ass. And so the President seemed removed, especially during the first days, from the reality of the full scale of the disaster (put down that guitar POTUS, and show some dignity in the face of such abject human tragedy!). Tone deaf, and it will take much Roveian and Bartlettian boulot indeed to get back ahead of message on this one (this problem of tone was compounded with his cheap frat-like jocularisms about Trent Lott's porch as well as Barb's Marie Antionette moment, as Sully put it well). As David Brooks has said, people are mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore. They want professionalism and rigor. They want accountability and seriousness. Above all else, they want competence, especially in ensuring basic security in their very own nation (or Iraq, for that matter). It doesn't get more basic than that, folks.

I don't know what this moment heralds. Whether people realize that government matters, mightily sometimes, so that some neo-liberalism a la FDR might be in the offing. I doubt it, as the Democrat party is hobbled by mediocrities up and down its sad ranks too. More likely, if I had to guess, I believe we will see a yearning for professional law and order a la Guiliani, as David Brooks also recently suggested--perhaps married to real national greatness Teddy Roosevelt style independent politics. People that walk the walk, rather than, say, just piffle along with just enough troops to lose in Iraq a la Don Rumsfeld (what I wouldn't do for a McCain-Guiliani ticket!).

Regardless, and returning squarely to Katrina, I really believe Bush must do the following, and quickly:

1) Fire Michael Brown (like, yesterday!);

2) Have an independent blue ribbon commission (no, you don't investigate yourself a la Rummy under such circumstances, at least not if you want to be taken seriously) to analyze what went wrong at each of the local, state and federal level (with particular attention to the role of the Department of Homeland Security as, you know, they are supposed to ensure we don't get hit by some 9/11 on steroids any day now, and confidence is waning big time that they will prove an effective presence at the helm should such an attack occur); and

3) ask Rudy Guiliani to leave the private sector and take up a "Gulf Coast Recovery Tsar" post to spearhead the reconstruction of this region to a new vibrancy, with tens of billions made available (employing as many of the displaced persons as possible in the reconstruction effort, where they can live near their original communities in conditions of dignity and comfort), in a massively ambitious revitilization project that takes place in an expedited time frame over the next 24-36 months.

For starters. Oh, and don't use Katrina as an excuse to pull out of Iraq, or ignore other foreign policy briefs like North Korea or Iran. Yep, it's a big job, and you might even have to work after 9 PM here and there to stay on top of it all. It's a big, messy world out there Mr. President. It's really show time now, and the time for empty talk is long since past. Real accountability. An independent investigation. No more empty bromides. We're fed up.

Posted by Gregory at 01:53 AM | Comments (131) | TrackBack

September 06, 2005

President "Heck of a Job" Bush

From the Times-Picayune:

Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don’t know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the Superdome not been opened, the city’s death toll would have been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially higher.

It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren’t they evacuated out of the city immediately? We learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened, that the Dome isn’t suitable as a long-term shelter. So what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn’t have but two urgent needs: "Buses! And gas!" Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You’re doing a heck of a job."

That’s unbelievable.

Well, it's not unbelievable, sadly. It has become standard operating procedure with this Administration. Colossal missteps are made (no serious attention paid to what might happen if the levees were breached, no thought of moving to expeditiously evacuate the Superdome, no apprecation that basic law and order might be grossly imperiled if the city became submerged in floodwaters, no contingency planning for an insurgency in Iraq, no appreciation of the full ramifications of tossing aside the Geneva Conventions) and time and again there is a staggering lack of accountability. Well, here at B.D. we're sick of the empty bear hugs and cutesy nicknames, the circle the wagons damage control mentality, cheap ass-covering and rampant buck-passing, the guitar-strumming and talk of Trent Lott's porch looking all antebellum swell post reconstruction and Kennebunkport 'let them move to Texas' insouciance. Above all else, B.D is sick of the sheer spectacle of grim incompetence that humiliated this nation as New Orleans descended into mayhem reminiscent of wartime Haiti or Liberia--with hundreds if not thousands perhaps needlessly dying because of government ineptitude (though the human toll would be immense even if the planning and governmental reaction had been far superior). There was massive culpability, to be sure, at the local and state level as well. But, make no mistake, the federal response during the first week was grotesquely amateur. Particularly with FEMA, of course, but also at the now so risibly named Department of Homeland Security. The government failed in its most fundamental duty--ensuring the basic physical safety of its citizens. And it failed miserably. Does anyone have confidence that, tomorrow say, if Tulsa or Peoria or Dallas or Chicago where attacked by a chemical or biological weapon--that our government would be able to mount an effective response? I certainly don't. After all, the government knew a Category 4 or 5 was about to slam into New Orleans. There won't be any such warning issued by al-Qaeda, of course. I'd like a tri-state national emergency area declared, as Newt Gingrich has suggested, with Rudy Giuliani in charge of mounting a massively ambitious reconstruction project through the Gulf Coast. I want to see adults at the helm, I want to see competence, I want to see seriousness of resolve and purpose, rather than clueless figures like Mike Brown being told they are doing a "heck of a job." I'll have my own in depth analysis of Katrina very soon, hopefully tomorrow night (I've been travelling non-stop since the disaster hit), but suffice it to say for now that, like David Brooks, B.D. has reached his "bursting point." See you tomorrow.

UPDATE: I see that comments were erroneously disabled here (and in another post a couple down). Apologies. They're back up now.

Posted by Gregory at 03:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Brooks on Katrina

David Brooks:

As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970's, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future...

...Americans in 2005 are not quite in that bad a shape, since the fundamental realities of everyday life are good. The economy and the moral culture are strong. But there is a loss of confidence in institutions. In case after case there has been a failure of administration, of sheer competence. Hence, polls show a widespread feeling the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.

Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970's. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change.

We're not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore.

Damn right. More on Katrina later tonight.

Posted by Gregory at 02:13 AM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

September 01, 2005


It has been a horrific end to the summer, alas, with the biblical-like destruction of Katrina's wrath and the massive stampede in Baghdad. Each are events that are hard to comprehend simply because of their sheer scale alone. I hope to comment next week in more detail, but travel will force a blog hiatus until at least Sunday night. Likely on Labor Day itself, however, I do hope to get back to the blog station.

Posted by Gregory at 09:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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